The story is told about the young son of an undertaker who was puzzled one Easter morning when he heard from his Sunday school teacher about the resurrection. “Do you mean,” he asked, “that Jesus really rose up from the dead?”
“Oh yes,” the teacher replied.
The boy shook his head. “Then I know my daddy didn’t take care of Jesus after he died because if he had then Jesus never would have got up again!”
Some people are resistant to the idea of the resurrection. In fact, that is probably the reason why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter in the Bible, to help us overcome our resistance. Listen for God’s word to you from 1 Corinthians 15:12-34…
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
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? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
Paul apparently wrote chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians because some in Corinth were resistant to the idea of resurrection. As we touched on last week, in ancient Greece there was a strong belief in the immortality of the soul. But the Greeks, did not believe in the resurrection of the body. That was an idea, a belief, stemming from Second Temple Judaism.
Resurrection was, in fact, repugnant to the Greeks. They wanted to escape from the body into disembodied spiritualism. The idea of being trapped in a body for eternity was not pleasing to them. They viewed the body as evil and spirit as good. So, the ultimate good to them was to escape from the body.
But among the Jews there arose a different idea. Jews viewed the body as God’s good creation, though our bodies now are adversely affected by sin. Some Jews, after the return from exile, came to believe that redemption from sin would ultimately involve a restoration of the total good and blessed state of the body. Granted, there were some, like the Sadducees who were in charge of the Temple who did not believe in the resurrection. That is why they are “sad you see”. But there were others, like the Pharisees, who did believe in resurrection. They believed at the end of time, in the new age, God would raise all the righteous dead to a newly embodied life.
One thing that no Jew in the first century believed until Jesus came along was that God would raise one righteous person in the middle of history. That is why Jesus’ resurrection was so unexpected, even to his own disciples. They were blinded by a worldview in which they were steeped, a worldview that did not expect resurrection in the middle of history, in the middle of ordinary life.
There are people in our time who are resistant to the idea of bodily resurrection for different reasons. Rationalists are resistant to the resurrection because of their presupposition that dead people do not rise. Rationalists are naturalists. The naturalist rejects all miracles because he or she believes we live in a closed universe. For them, there is no God, no supernatural realm, no God who can invade our world to perform any miracle.
Then there are deists, like many of the founding fathers of our country, people like Thomas Jefferson. Deists believe that there is a God who created the universe but now that God leaves the universe to operate according to natural law. And God never violates the laws he has established. Therefore, for the deist and for the atheist/materialist, when people die, their bodies decompose, they do not rise from the dead, death is the end.
Another group of people in our time who reject the resurrection are Reincarnationists. In fact, some Reincarnationists try to reinterpret the Bible and say that what happened to Jesus was reincarnation, not resurrection. Reincarnation is a popular tenet of New Age thinking that draws much of its philosophy from Hinduism. The Hindus believe in the transmigration of the soul. They believe that souls must have bodies to live in and that when one body dies, then the soul migrates to another body. If your karma is good, then you get to migrate to a better body. If your karma is bad, then you migrate to a lesser form of life, a lesser body, like maybe an animal body. This is why Hindus are vegetarians, because, as Stuart Briscoe says, “No one wants to eat Grandma!” By contrast, the Bible says, “… humans are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27)
I heard about another group of people who were resistant to the idea of the resurrection. They called their movement CBJ, following the initials of the names of their founders. The group was based in Scottsdale, Arizona and they would host what they called “convergences” all around the world. Their basic belief was that you don’t have to die. It is a matter of mind over body. If you simply realize that you don’t have to die, then you won’t. Basically, you can become your own Messiah. CBJ has no room for resurrection because they have no room in their worldview for death. When I first heard about this group, I thought that they would last until C, B, or J died, then the jig would be up. But not so. I looked them up online recently and found they still have a web site. One of their founders died in 2014 from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. So, they changed their name and call themselves People Unlimited. Of course, now they say that the problem with C was that he didn’t completely practice what he preached!
Yet another group that is resistant to the idea of resurrection is what I call the revisionists. They seek to revise or update what the Bible says to fit our modern, scientific age. The revisionist is uncomfortable with the miracles of the New Testament because they seem to go against what science says is possible. The revisionist wants to make the Bible palatable for modern people and so they seek to reinterpret or demythologize the Bible. Revisionists will say they believe in the resurrection but what they are talking about is a spiritual resurrection. Some of them say that Jesus rose spiritually into the preaching of the church. New Testament scholar, Rudolph Bultmann, was a leader of this viewpoint in the twentieth century. Bultmann once wrote, “An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is inconceivable.” Bultmann’s presuppositions did not allow him to believe in a physical resurrection of Christ from the dead. But Jesus’ own words contradict Bultmann. According to Luke 24:39 Jesus’ disciples doubted the physicality of his resurrection and so he said to them “a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Over against all this resistance to the resurrection, both ancient and modern, the Bible provides evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus. We looked at some of that evidence last week in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Most notably, Paul, writing in the mid 50s of the first century, said that there were 500 people, most of whom were still alive, who had seen Jesus physically risen from the dead.
Now, in the rest of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul notes five things that are true if Jesus has not been raised from the dead. It is essential that we mark these five points so that we realize just how important, how central, the resurrection of Christ is to the whole Christian faith. First, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, Paul’s preaching and our faith is useless. In other words, if Christ has not been raised, you ought to make me get a real job, and you ought not to keep coming here Sunday by Sunday. We might as well give up our whole religious thing and “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I would become the biggest hedonist possible. I would live for pleasure, and you might as well too, if this life is all there is.
Second, if Christ has not been raised then the apostles were false witnesses. This means that if Christ has not been raised then Christianity is the greatest hoax foisted upon humanity and ought to be rejected in total.
Third, if Christ has not been raised then you are still in your sins. If you still believe there is a God, apart from the proof of the resurrection, if you still hold on to belief in the holy and righteous God of the Hebrew Scriptures, then you are separated from that God by your sin. What hope do you have?
Fourth, if Christ has not been raised then those Christians who have died are lost. If you have loved ones, who were believers in Christ, and they have died, then they are simply dead. There is no hope for them. There is no future life. This life is all there is and you can have no valid hope for seeing your dead loved ones again.
Fifth, if Christ has not been raised, then we are to be pitied more than all people. If our hope in Christ is only for this life, if his teachings only help us to make the best of a bad job but do not in fact offer hope for eternal life, then what a pitiful condition is ours. Why? Because we have been hoping for an everlasting life that will never be ours. We have suffered and sacrificed in this life with no return on our investment in a future life.
Paul draws these five conclusions simply to point out that Christianity without the resurrection is meaningless and worthless. But, as Paul has shown by the evidence he has brought forward, Christ has been raised. And if that is so, then we can draw five very different conclusions. Here are five things that are true if Jesus did rise from the dead…
First, Christ’s resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Paul says in verse 20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
The first fruits refer to the first sheaf of the harvest grain that the Jews would give to the Lord as a token of the fact that the whole harvest belonged to him. Christ has been raised as a first fruits offering given to the Father in token of the fact that all believers in Christ will also be given to the Father in bodily resurrection. Christ’s resurrection guarantees your resurrection if you put your trust in him.
Second, Christ, by his resurrection, has undone the results of the Fall. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Because of the sin of the first human beings, death came into the world. By Christ’s sacrificial death he has paid the penalty once for all for those who believe in him. Thus, he is undoing, or reversing, death itself. Christ’s resurrection is proof that this is indeed what is beginning to take place. Granted, our resurrection will not take place until Christ returns. And if Christ tarries, we may die first. But this is merely physical death. We will not have to experience the second death of separation from God. And even our physical death will be undone, reversed, when we receive our resurrection bodies.
Third, Christ’s resurrected body is the model of our resurrected body. If we want to know what our resurrection existence will look like, then all we must do is look at Christ’s resurrection. We will talk more about this next week.
Fourth, Christ by his resurrection has robbed death of its fangs.
Paul writes in verses 55 through 57,
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, Christians still have to face death until Christ returns. But death no longer has a sting in it for the Christian. There need be no fear of death for the Christian, the kind of fear that holds so much power over so much of humanity. Yes, we may fear the process of dying. We don’t look at cancer, or heart-disease, or any other sickness with glee. But we don’t fear death because we know where we are going. Christ’s death and resurrection assure us of heaven. Carl Armerding once recounted his experience of watching a wildcat in a zoo…
As I stood there, an attendant entered the cage through a door on the opposite side. He had nothing in his hands but a broom. Carefully closing the door, he proceeded to sweep the floor of the cage. I observed that the worker had no weapon to ward off an attack by the beast. In fact, when he got to the corner where the wildcat was lying, he poked the animal with the broom. The wildcat hissed at him and then lay down in another corner of the enclosure. I remarked to the attendant, “You certainly are a brave man.” The attendant replied, “No, I ain’t brave.” “Well then that cat must be tame.” “No, he ain’t tame.” “If you aren’t brave and the wildcat isn’t tame, then I can’t understand why he doesn’t attack you.” The attendant chuckled and said, “Mister, he’s old and he ain’t got no teeth.”
The same is true of death in relation to the believer in Christ. Death has no teeth and so we need not be afraid.
Fifth, the risen Christ lives to spur us on to action for him. Paul says in verse 58…
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
If Christ is risen from the dead, then our work, everything we do, matters to God. Nothing we do for Christ is ever lost. We can give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord knowing that we will receive an eternal reward. We do not labor for the rewards of this life, but rather we work to please the Lord so that one day we will hear him say to us…
Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25)
A chaplain who was ministering to a seriously wounded soldier was requested by the dying man to write a letter to his former Sunday school teacher. “Tell her I died a Christian because of what she taught me in that class in church. The memory of her earnest pleas and the warmth of her love as she asked us to accept Jesus have stayed with me. Tell her I’ll meet her in heaven.” The message was sent, and sometime later the chaplain received this reply: “May God forgive me. Just last month I resigned by position and abandoned my Sunday school pupils because I felt my work had been fruitless. How I regret my impatience and lack of faith! I shall ask my pastor to let me go back to teaching. I have learned that when one sows for God, the reaping is both sure and blessed!”
We need to beware of letting mere feeling guide our decisions in life—especially negative feelings. We need to trust in what God tells us. If God says our labor for him is not in vain, then it never is, whether that is our labor as parents, or grandparents, or as Sunday school teachers or whatever work we do that is offered to the Lord. Our work can have eternal significance. Will there be someone in heaven because of your witness to them? I hope so.
A Sunday school teacher was determining how much religious instruction her new students had. While talking with one little boy, she found out that he had never heard the story of Jesus. She told him about Jesus dying on the cross. He asked what a cross was. She picked up some sticks and fashioned a crude cross then explained that Jesus was nailed to a big cross and died on it. The boy responded, “Oh, that’s too bad.” But in the very next breath the teacher related how Jesus rose again from the dead and the little boy’s eyes got as big as saucers. He lit up and exclaimed, “That’s totally awesome!”
If we believe only that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried then we are the bearers of only bad news. But if we believe that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, then we truly have good news to share with others. In fact we have totally awesome news and Jesus can make something totally awesome of our lives.