The Realities of the Resurrection
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that bhe raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep
The passage 1st Corinthians 15:12-20 is authored by a man named Paul. He was a staunch Jew, a rigorous devotee to Pharisaical law, and no friend to Christians. He systematically oversaw the identification and murder of scores of Christians. Yet here he is, defending the faith and the claims of Jesus. Why?
Peter was a hot-headed, blue collar fisherman. He often stuck his foot in his mouth. Jesus was his friend, yet at his friend’s most vulnerable time, he denied even knowing him. Yet in the book of Acts, Peter is the bona fide leader of the church, speaking boldly and eventually dying for the faith. Why?
Jesus’ followers included educated and non-educated, men and women, Jew and Gentile. At his death, they were devastated, broken, and scattered. Yet suddenly, they are together, devoting themselves to care for the needs of each other, assist the poor, and boldly insist that Jesus was Savior and King to a secular culture. In fact they risked their lives and even lost their lives for the gospel to be heard. Why?
Two words: “He appeared.” Looking back at verse 5, he appeared to Cephas. He appeared to the twelve apostles. He appeared to a group of 500. He appeared to James. He appeared to all the apostles. He appeared to Paul. In large groups and individually, he appeared. At different times and different locations, he appeared.The resurrection was the watershed moment.
The resurrection is the lynch pin for Christianity. Put simply: if the resurrection is true, then Christianity is true; if the resurrection is false, then Christianity is false. The gospel thus invites historical scrutiny. What other religion does this? The gospel puts forward Jesus as the Savior you and I need, and the resurrection verifies that Jesus is the Savior we can trust.
NY pastor and author Tim Keller puts it this way: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” This is exactly what Paul is saying in this passage before us this morning.
The resurrection is a reality that gives birth to realities to celebrate. I want to show you from verses 12-19 at least four such realities of the resurrection to celebrate.
The realities of the resurrection: because Christ has been raised,…
I. You will be forever transformed by the gospel (v. 14b)
a. Paul has heard that some in the church doubt the bodily resurrection from the dead. This sets off his comments in verse 12: “2 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain …”
b. If the resurrection never happened, the ministry of God’s word is futile. I should immediately stop speaking. You should immediately stop attending church. The telling and retelling of the gospel would simply be a waste of breath. But if the resurrection did occur, the proclamation of the gospel effects change. And the gospel has been doing so for over two thousand years. Paul says in another letter, in Colossians 1:9, that the gospel is “bearing fruit and increasing” in “the whole world.”
c. Today people from Australia, Zimbabwe, Memphis, Iceland—from around the entire globe—a living proof of the gospel’s effect in their lives as they gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection also means for you personally that you can and will experience lasting change when you sit under the faithful teaching of the gospel. You can change from a prideful hypocrite to a humble servant. You can change to love your spouse sacrificially out of an overflow of love toward God. You can change to have hope and meaning in your career because you know that your work glorifies God. You can change to experience peace in the midst of disappointment, suffering, and even death. And this all is made possible by the resurrection that fuels faithful gospel preaching.
II. You will receive reward (v. 14c) a. Back to verse 14: “14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Or another way to translate the Greek is to say, “Your faith will leave you empty-handed.” Just like preaching, the response to it would be equally useless without the resurrection.
b. As humans, we want to know our lives count for nothing. That one day we will receive recompense for our efforts and striving. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once said: “My question—that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide—was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man…a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
c. The resurrection answers Tolstoy: for those who trust Christ, dealt is not final. You will receive life! God will reward faith. Listen to Hebrews 11:6: “6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Notice the parallel in that verse: faith is believing that God is there and that he rewards. The resurrection verifies the reward is coming.
d. Some of you have been maintaining faith in God’s promises despite the fiercest of trials. You are praying for the salvation of a loved one. You are seeking peace in the midst of battling illness. You are trusting God to provide for your financial means. The resurrection reminds you: God will stay true to his promise. Your faith will be rewarded. It may not be rewarded in the way you envisioned it, but it will be rewarded in the way God promised it. And ultimately, it will be rewarded by God’s presence: his life in you and for you.
III. You will possess something of matchless worth (v. 17b)
a. Let’s pick up Paul’s words in verse 15: “15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…” That word “futile” can also mean “worthless.” The absence of the resurrection leaves nothing of worth in the Christian faith. Inversely, that means of course that the resurrection means faith in Jesus is of matchless worth.
b. In other words, faith cures the “if only” disease. If only I had that promotion. If only my kids exceled in school. If only my husband made more money. If only we could afford that house. If only I was healthy. This disease infects a resurrection-less world or a people who simply reject the reality of the resurrection. But for those with faith in Jesus Christ, because of the resurrection, you can say with Paul: “8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” The resurrection takes that sentence and underlines “worth.” It justifies treating every “if only” as if it were a pile trash in view of the worth of knowing Christ.
IV. You will escape the power and penalty sin (v. 17c-18)
a. Back to verse 17: “17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” The resurrection verifies that the cross effectually canceled the sin payment of all who trust Jesus. Romans 4:25: “Jesus our Lord…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
b. From God’s perspective, everyone has sinned. That is, we have disbelieved God’s word and disobeyed God’s command. In fact, the Bible describes our condition even more bleakly: we are “in sin.” Sin, or rebellion against God, is part of our very nature. To put it another way, each of us chooses our own morality and our own salvation. By living a life independent of God, we attempt to de-god God. Eventually God will judge all sin for the rebellion that it is. But God sent his Son Jesus Christ to live the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died. Paul tells us in verse 3 that the most important news you and I can hear is the gospel: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” While we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were sinners, Christ rose from the grave and demonstrated and vindicated his power over sin and death.
V. You will have a life that others want (v. 19)
a. Last verse, verse 19: “19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” To pity someone, you feel sorry for their misfortunes. If the resurrection never occurred, pity the Christian more than you pity anyone else. Put conversely, if what the Christian believes is true and Jesus did rise from the dead, then you’re going to want their life.
b. I’ll never forget one entry in my senior year high school yearbook. One entry struck me profoundly. I had known this guy since middle school. Played soccer with him. Shared classes with him. We never had one meaningful conversation about God. And yet he wrote, “I envy your relationship with Jesus Christ.” Why did he say that? I think by God’s grace he saw joy. No, I wasn’t in the cool clique. No, I wasn’t the star of the soccer team. He saw that I was free from the need to be those things because I stood convinced I had received so much more.
I am aware that these realities may not be your reality. Paul says elsewhere, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I urge you this morning to believe in what is sure, what is true, what God has verified. And then join us in this grand celebration today. Let us pray.