|A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on May 2, 2010.
1 Corinthians 15
Time out. Whoa, David. Stop. Stop. (Interrupted David at the organ)
The words to the song, the familiar hymn you just played, “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.” What if it’s not true.
Christ the Lord is risen today...
Sons of men and angels say...
Raise your joys and triumphs high...
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal...
Death in vain forbids Him rise...
Christ has opened paradise...
Lives again our glorious king...
Where O death is now thy sting?
Once He died, our souls to save...
Where thy victory O grave?
Soar we now where Christ hath led...
Following our exalted Head...
Made like Him, like Him we rise...
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies...
What if none of that is true? Time out. Dead men don’t come to life again.
What if the body of Jesus is still captive to the grave?
What if the disciples went to the wrong tomb? Or what if someone stole the body?
What if Jesus were no more than another misguided, would-be, could-be Messiah who, in the end, couldn’t deliver – just like the rest who tried to revolt against Rome?
What if the disciples were so disillusioned by the death of their rabbi that they imagined the whole affair?
What if that resurrection morning never occurred?
In just a few moments, we will ponder with Paul the “what if” of 1 Corinthians 15.
What if Thomas Jefferson was right?
I hold in my hand a copy of the Thomas Jefferson Bible. He might have been a great American leader, but he removed the resurrection from the story of Jesus. He ends his Bible with these words:
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre wherein was never man yet laid.
There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
Cold. What if it ended at the tomb?
Paul starts out this well-known chapter by giving us the kernel of the kerygma, the center of the gospel.
“I make known to you, brethren, the gospel.”
Notice verse 2.
“By this gospel, you are being saved.”
It’s present tense. It is a continual process with a future reality. Paul saw the gospel as something like a baton. It had been handed to him, and now he was passing it forward to the Corinthians.
Notice the priority of the gospel. “It is of first importance.” That’s a way of saying, “These are the most important things.” And what is this kernel of kerygma, this gospel in a sentence? Christ died for our sins according to scripture and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. Christ’s atoning death is the central tenet of our faith.
Paul says in Romans 5, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In Romans 8:32, he said, “God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”
In Ephesians 5:2, he says, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
His death was not a sad misadventure, but something God destined for Him because of the sins of humankind.
It happened according to scripture.
Peter says the same thing – that the cross was according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23).
Passages like Isaiah 52 and 53 tell us that “all of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6). He died (Isaiah 53:6) for the transgression of God’s people to whom the stroke was due.
Basically he tells us not only did He die for our sins, but He was buried. It is a detail that verifies the reality of the finality of Christ’s death. The mention of the burial functions as a bridge between the cross and the resurrection.
Now, he uses the past tense when he says “Christ died and was buried,” but he shifts to perfect tense to describe His resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is not something that belongs to the past, but something that has an effect on the present reality. He tells us that He has been raised. It’s a passive voice. It assumes that it is by God Himself, the Father, that He was raised. Because it is unthinkable that anyone, even the Christ, could raise himself. And even His resurrection was, notice, according to the Old Testament.
After two days, He will revive us and on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.
Notice the flow of his thought: He died. Was buried. Was raised. And He appeared.
And then he gives us a litany of the resurrection appearances – to Peter. To the Twelve. To the 500 brethren at one time. To James, His brother. To all the apostles. And, last of all, He appeared to Paul as well.
Some in Corinth didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Look at verse 12. “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
They thought Christ, if He had been raised, was alone in the results of His resurrection.
“No, no, no. You can’t claim there is no resurrection of the dead,” Paul says (v. 13), “But if there is no resurrection of dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised....”
Here are the “What Ifs.”
What if Christ had never been resurrected? What would be the result?
He lists them out. Once you hit the first domino, they begin to fall.
(LINE UP DOMINOES ON A TABLE – AND START THEM FALLING)
The first domino that falls is “If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised.” And if Christ has not been raised, all of the gospel fails.
I. The preaching that led to your faith would be empty.
The word here is kenos – devoid of any real value. Doesn’t matter how persuasive the preacher or how convincing the orator. It’s bogus. Worthless. The gospel, what he just told them above – that Christ had died for their sins, been buried, raised according to the plan of God – would all be false.
II. The second thing to fall is their faith.
What if there is no resurrection from the dead? Then their faith will fall. If the core belief, the preaching of the story of Jesus, is devoid of meaning, then everything in which they had placed their faith was vanity. Faith fails when it is misplaced.
III. The apostles themselves are not trustworthy.
They are perjurers in the courtroom. They’ve declared in the courtroom of life that God has raised Him from the dead when, in fact, He has not. They speak in the name of God what they know to be untrue.
IV. We are still under the burden of our sins (v. 17)
No forgiveness. No freedom. No release. If the gospel disappoints you, then God has never forgotten your sins. You can no longer live life basking in the sunshine of forgiveness of God. Rather, you must live under the cloud of the darkness of the comprehensive weight of all of your sins. Forgiveness has been a hoax and freedom has been an illusion, for you’re still held captive to the power of your demonic sin.
V. Those who have died with faith in the Christ story have perished.
Paul says our only hope is in the gospel. Those stricken by the power of death – your husband, your wife, your child, your parent, your brother, your sister, your grandparent – those who cast their weight on the gospel story have, indeed, simply perished, rotted in the grave, if the story of Jesus is not accurate.
A psychologist remembered the death of one of his colleagues on the staff of the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. The man who had passed away had served on the university medical faculty for more than 25 years. During his tenure as a professor, he had earned the respect and admiration of both professionals and patients. The doctor had reached the pinnacle of success in his chosen field and had reaped many financial rewards that accompany such accomplishment. He had tasted of everything good by the standards of the world.
At the next hospital staff meeting following the physician’s death, the chairman invited the entire staff to stand, as was their custom for such situation, for one minute of silence in memory of the dead colleague. The phycologist wrote, “I have no idea what the other members of the staff thought about during that sixty-second pause, but I can tell you what was going through my mind. I was thinking, ‘Lord, is this what it comes down to? We sweat and we worry and labor to achieve a place in life, to impress our fellow man, we take ourselves so seriously overreacting to the insignificant events of each passing day. Then finally, even for the brightest among us, all these successes fade into history and our lives are summarized in a five minute eulogy and sixty seconds of silence. It hardly seems worth the effort, Lord.’”
The psychologist was struck by the collective inadequacy of the staff to deal with their colleague’s death. Where had he gone? Would he live again?
Without the resurrection of Christ, those who have placed their hope in Christ have perished, for theirs was a misplaced faith.
VI. All hope is dashed (v. 19)
Christians then become pathetic dupes, taken in by a colossal fraud. And all that we do here in this room is make believe.
But Paul doesn’t end with the “what if?” He begins in verse 20 with the “what ifs”, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
But give thanks to God that, indeed, the gospel will not fail us because:
A. It is the plan of God (all has happened according to the scriptures) – Romans 1:16
I Corinthians 15:3-4. “According to the Scriptures.” Paul was a Jew. A good student of the Jewish scriptures, what we would call the Old Testament. As we read his letters, it becomes evident that never far from Paul’s mind was the scripture. One of the reasons that Paul was sure that the story of Jesus would not fail those who are counting on it as the source for eternal life was that the Old Testament pointed to Jesus as both sacrificed and resurrected Messiah. That Jesus story was not independent from Judaism. Rather, the story of Jesus was a continuation of – yes, even the climax of – the story of the Jews, God’s covenant people. All was done according to the scriptures. The prophets had seen the story of Jesus long before and now what had been a promise before had become a reality in the person of Jesus. Paul had confidence in the story of Jesus because he had confidence in the Jewish scriptures which pointed to a suffering Messiah, a lamb who would take away the sins of the world.
We too can take confidence in the Jesus story, precisely because it is a continuation of the working of God with humankind, because Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets.
B. Eyewitnesses give testimony (verses 5-8)
Paul calls upon the Corinthians, Paul calls upon us, to have great confidence in the Gospel story because of the presence of eyewitnesses.
The story really is difficult to believe. Perhaps you have heard it so long that the claim of the Jesus story has been lost on you. The story claims that a dead man lived. That a rabbi by the name of Jesus, who had followers as would any good rabbi, was crucified as the son of God and that He was made alive again, in bodily fashion, from the dead. That is a very difficult story to accept. Even his own disciples refused to accept it until the evidence was overwhelming.
But you can believe, says Paul, because there are many eyewitnesses to testify to the resurrection. Their testimony harmonizes in such a powerful symphony that they will not be silenced. They saw Him. No one could take that away from them. They had seen the empty tomb. They had seen the risen Lord. He had eaten a meal in their presence. They had touched his wounded hands, brushed up against his pierced side. Though skeptic before, especially James the brother of Jesus, they had seen Him and He was alive. At first, the men tried to brush off the reports of the resurrection as the mere gossip of excited women. While God had chosen women to be the first to witness the risen Lord, finally the men saw Him too. When Paul writes this letter to those in Corinth, most of the witnesses to the resurrection are still alive. God ask them, Paul says, they will testify He is alive, He is alive indeed. There is no mistake: Peter saw Him, all of the apostles saw Him, more than 500 people saw Him at one time, James saw His brother alive. And don’t forget I saw Him too, Paul says.
The witnesses testify with a voice so strong that even today the echoes are heard. “He is alive.”
C. The resurrection of Christ gives us assurance (15:20-26)
Paul gives us a final reason to take great confidence in the hope of eternal life as promised by the gospel story.
Christ himself was resurrected. Our resurrection is just as certain as was the resurrection of Jesus. Paul understood the resurrection of Christ in cosmic terms. With the resurrection of Christ, God began the age of the resurrection of the dead. What God started, God must finish. The defeat of death had been inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, it must be completed by the resurrection of all of His followers. The chain of events had begun in the resurrection of Christ, and that resurrection, like our own, demonstrated the authority of God over all things, especially the final enemy: death. Christ’s resurrection demands our resurrection; otherwise death has not been defeated and God is not all-in-all.
This is a passage of epic grandeur. It decries the fact that some believers in the city of Corinth were teaching that there was no resurrection from the dead for those who had died before the return of Christ. Theirs was an inadequate view of the sovereign Lord of history. Paul explains like the first fruit of a harvest is a pledge of the full harvest to follow. Just so, the resurrection of Jesus serves as a pledge from God that a full resurrection of His disciples will follow. Yes, we can place our faith, life and limb, upon the Jesus story because it is guaranteed by God Himself.
As death came through a man...
...so life came through a man, to those (v. 18) who are asleep in Jesus.
We can ponder with Paul the “what ifs” of a dead and crucified Christ, but we can praise the “that is” of a living Lord. Christ the Lord, indeed, has risen today.
Play David, play.