We have witnessed a stunning number of tragic circumstances. Flooding which destroys homes and farmland, tornados that rip through communities, earthquakes that kill thousands, hurricanes, tsunamis and criminal acts that leave us stunned. As we look around we wonder, “What is the world coming to?”
Some people look at 1 Corinthians 15 and wonder what in the world it could possibly say to these situations. The message is clear; The Resurrection of Jesus is the one thing that keeps us from despair when the trials of life invade our lives.
Paul has already declared the historical reality of Jesus rising from the dead. He pointed to the fact that the resurrected Jesus was seen by hundreds eyewitnesses. Apparently however there were some in Corinth who either thought there is no life beyond the grave (“we live and then we die . . .that’s it”) or they adopted the Greek notion that the soul lives on after we die but the body we will have no future physical resurrection. Paul argues that we will physically rise from the dead some day.
Rick will address the nature of our resurrection and some of the questions associated with that resurrection next week. This morning we want to ask the simple question: will we physically live beyond the grave? Paul approached the issue by looking at the logical implications of thinking there is no physical resurrection.
What If There is no Resurrection?
Paul asks a number of rapid fire questions that we can summarize into five points. First, if there is no bodily resurrection then Jesus could not have bodily raised from the dead (as was the testimony of the disciples). It would be like saying man cannot distinguish various tastes while you are seasoning your food! The two are contradictory. You cannot say Jesus literally and physically rose from the dead and then say that people will not rise from the dead physically.
Second, Paul says if there is no resurrection of the body then our proclamation and our faith is useless. The Christian message proclaims “He lives! He is living indeed!” We declare that the resurrection proves that Jesus was who He said He was and accomplished the work of salvation that He said he would accomplish. If Jesus did not rise from the dead everything else is false.
The Christian life is like a house. The house may look good on the top but if the foundation is bad the house is bad. Christianity is built on the foundation of the Resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection is not true, the rest of Christianity crumbles.
Third, if the resurrection is not true, we are still in our sins. In the world of medicine drugs are often tested by using two groups of people. One group gets the medication while the other (called the control group) gets a placebo. A placebo is something that looks like the pill but contains none of the active ingredients. The test is to see whether those who get the medicine fare better than those who do not. If they both do well then the wellness is from a state of mind rather than from the drug. If neither does well then the drug also is useless. However, if the ones getting the drug do well and those getting the placebo do not get better, then the drug holds promise.
The thing about these trials is that you don’t know which group you are in. You can take the pill every day and think you are being treated for your problem when in reality nothing is happening.
Paul is saying the Resurrection is the active ingredient in our forgiveness. It shows the acceptableness of Christ’s sacrifice. It proves that he was not simply a man dying for a cause: He was the Savior dying to give us new life. Without the resurrection all we have is a placebo which makes us think we are right with God, when we are not.
Fourth, Paul says if there is no bodily resurrection then the people we have loved and buried are gone forever. There is no hope of reunion. It is all simply a delusion that is just a coping mechanism.
Fifth, Paul said if there is no resurrection then we should be pitied above all men. In verse 30-32 Paul wrote,
why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Paul’s point is clear: as believers we try to discipline ourselves to pray, we try to serve others, and we try to turn the other cheek when we are attacked. As Christians we give to the church, we invest in missions, we devote time to reading and studying the Bible and we give up our Sunday mornings for worship as an act of love to the Lord. Paul says, “if Christ did not rise from the dead it is all a waste of time and energy. Why not simply get all you can and indulge fully?” As the beer commercial states, “You only go around once in life so grab all the gusto!” Christians believe we don’t only go around once. We believe we are living now to live again. If the resurrection is not true . . . we should be pitied.
In verse 29 (you thought I was just skipping over it didn’t you?) he wrote, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them.” This is a passage that has caused many to stop and scratch their heads. This passage has led the Mormon Church and other non-Christian religions into a practice of being baptized for the dead.
What was this practice? One possibility is that this baptism may have been a way to publicly declare the salvation of someone who had died before they were baptized. In other words, I would get baptized at the grave of someone I knew as a way of testifying to the salvation of that person. In such a case there was no thought that the baptism was actually gaining salvation it was only declaring it what was already true.
The other possibility is that people were getting baptized with the idea that they would obtain salvation for those who had died. This would be a pagan practice (and approximates what the Mormons do). This would mean we were saved by baptism rather than the work of Christ. Paul would have rejected such an act.
I believe Paul is simply commenting on a pagan practice rather than prescribing a Christian practice. In other words, Paul is not saying we need to be baptized for people who died and were not baptized. He is saying that the very fact that even the pagans are baptizing people for the dead shows that even they believe there is a future resurrection.
Think of it this way, we might say today, “If Christ has not raised why do you . . . “
- Embalm a body and place it in an expensive casket?
- Bury bodies with their heads facing the west (the idea being we will rise to face the eastern sky)?
- Why do we talk of seeing a dead family member again?
We would not be saying that you should do all these things . . . however, by doing them we presuppose a resurrection of the body. In my opinion, that is all Paul is saying. To create a theology of baptizing the dead from this passage is a serious mistake.
All of these arguments show that the physical (actual) Resurrection of Jesus is a major issue. It is not only the cornerstone of our faith; it is the foundation on which we build our lives in the present. We must take the issue seriously.
Pictures of the Bodily Resurrection
Paul, it must be remembered was declaring the resurrection of Jesus not refuting it. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that the Resurrection of Jesus is “a big deal”. As he returned to explaining the significance of the resurrection he uses three word pictures to help people to “get it”.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”
The image of firstfruits. Paul said Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. This is a picture that may not be clear to us. In Leviticus 23 the Jews were told that they were to bring the very first parts of their harvest to the priest. It was presented as an offering to the Lord acknowledging that the full harvest belonged to him. It would be like selling the first load of corn and giving the money to the church. It was a way of acknowledging that it was God’s crop and they honored Him before they did anything else. In Jewish practice the barley could not be brought in and sold in shops and bread could not be made from the new flour until the firstfruits had been offered.
Paul said Jesus is that first part of the harvest that is to come. He had to be raised before anyone else could know life beyond the grave. His resurrection opens the door of eternal life to everyone else.
The second picture is of Adam in the Garden. Paul takes us back to the Garden of Eden and the sin of Adam and Eve. As a result of this sin all of creation was stained. The balance of the universe was altered. That one sin caused even the creation to groan for redemption. In the book of Romans Paul wrote,
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8)
This may be the explanation for many of the “natural disasters” that we witness: it is the result of sin (not the sin of the people who are affected but of sin’s effect on creation in general). Unbalanced nature at times causes havoc.
Adam’s sin had a “domino effect”. His actions caused us to be born with a predisposition to sin. We were stained by Adam’s sin.
Paul says Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection also has a “domino effect” in a different direction. Just as we were stained by the act of one man, so we can be cleansed and made new because of the actions of one man. Because of the resurrection of Jesus even creation looks forward to a die when it will be set free from the stain of sin and death.
The third picture is that of a military battle. Paul says our bodily resurrection will come “in time” much like victory in war comes in time. Paul says,
Each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits, then when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come. . . . (v. 23-24)
Paul wants us to know that the Resurrection of Jesus is not some isolated event; it is a key point in the Lord’s work to redeem the world. The resurrection of the body will be at the conclusion of the battle, when Christ has won the victory.
In every great battle there is a moment when the victory is guaranteed. In World War II it was the Battle of Normandy. Many think the Battle of Gettysburg was the key battle in the Civil War. With these key victories it became certain who would ultimately win the war. However, even after the decisive battle, the war continued for many months.
In the same way, the decisive event of the battle of good and evil was waged on the cross and at the empty tomb. The resurrection of Jesus was the declaration that God has won. However, the battle is still being fought even as victory is sure. Paul said the final resurrection of all the faithful will take place when the war is over and God is recognized as King.
The Significance of the Resurrection
The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is because of the resurrection that we can have hope as we stand in a cemetery in front of the grave of someone we love. The Resurrection shows us that this life is not all there is. There is more to come.
The Resurrection gives us our assurance of forgiveness. The resurrection declares that the good news is true: we can be made right with God! No matter what we have done in the past, it can be forgiven if we will put our trust in Christ. You may be in a physical prison or in a prison of guilt in your own mind. The resurrection declares that the payment for sin on the cross was sufficient! You can be forgiven!
The resurrection also provides us a reason to live a life of obedience. What we do now matters for eternity. The Resurrection was not simply an event we celebrate and remember . . . it is an event that properly understood, changes the way we live our lives. No longer do we try to “fit God” into our schedule. Instead, He becomes the starting point for everything we do. Our life truly revolves around Him. As we live our lives we understand that we are currently, if you will, making deposits into our eternal retirement account. The sacrifices of this life will yield a blessing in life of eternity.
William Barclay wrote that there are four great truths that are proclaimed by the resurrection. I think they are pretty good. The Resurrection shows us that,
- Truth will Triumph over Falsehood
- Good is stronger than evil
- Love is Stronger than Hatred
- Life is Stronger than death
Paul reminds us: “Bad company corrupts good character”. The message is simple: when we maintain “Christian fellowship” with those who deny the physical resurrection of Christ we will experience an erosion of our faith and our character. When we follow teachers who deny the bodily resurrection of Christ we drift from the truth and begin to move toward falsehood. Paul does not say this because He wants us to become harsh, and judgmental people. We should certainly seek to reach out to those who are outside of the faith. People need to know about the life-changing news of the gospel.
However, Paul is cautioning us to be discerning in our Christian fellowship. Sadly I know of Pastors who talk about the resurrection but they mean something different than the clear teaching of Scripture. They would say that Jesus lives on “in the sense” that He lives on in everyone who believes in Him. If you push those people and ask if they believe Jesus physically came back to life they would tell you “No”. This is an important and necessary distinction! We must be sure that we know what someone truly believes before we allow them to influence in our lives. Paul says a denial of the physical Resurrection of Jesus is sin . . . it is a denial of what God says is true.
May I ask you an honest question? Have you ever seriously thought about the Resurrection of Jesus? I know you have heard the story in Easter sermons throughout your life. The question is not “are familiar with the story?” The question is: “have you ever asked yourself whether or not you believe what is written, and if so, what the implications of that belief are?” Have you gone beyond a mere profession of belief and allowed that belief to change your orientation of life?
If you have never done so I encourage you to settle this issue in your own heart. Do you believe Jesus really rose from the dead or don’t you? If you are not sure, examine the evidence. We can give you resources that will help you to decide for yourself.
Heed Paul’s words. If the Resurrection is not true, you are wasting your time here today. However, if it is true, it is worth embracing and following with every ounce of our being. If Jesus has risen from the dead we should pay attention to what He says. We should do what He commands. We should give Him the first priority in our lives. In other words we should stop dabbling in our faith as if it were some hobby. It should be the passion of our lives to put Him first and to serve Him wholly.
Because Jesus lives we know that even the most tragic circumstance is only temporary. We know that when we stand at the grave of one who truly trusted Christ, they are not gone forever but we will see them again. We know that even when things look bleak, we are reminded that the story of life ends in victory. We know that it may feel like a dark Friday of death and heartache . . . but Sunday (and resurrection) is coming! We can be sure of it.