If that’s you this morning, you’ve come to the right place! And I want to assure you that YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY! Because that is the exact question that the apostle Paul – the most famous Christian of all TIME, who authored half of the New TESTAMENT – that he’s trying to answer in the 15th chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth. 1 Corinthians, ch.15, for those of you who have your Bibles; if you DON’T have a Bible, we’d love to gift you one of those as well. But apparently, some of these 1st c., 1st generation Christians in the church in Corinth were ALSO struggling with this idea of RESURRECTION. Paul admonishes them in v12: “how can some of you
say that there is NO resurrection of the dead?” Well, my study Bible answers Paul’s question, and gives us some historical context here: “Their confusion was a result of their experiences with pagan philosophies and religions. A basic tenet of much of ancient Greek philosophy was dualism, which taught that everything physical was intrinsically evil; so the idea of a resurrected body was repulsive… In addition, perhaps some Jews in the Corinthian church formerly may have been influenced by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection” (MacArthur Study Bible, 1708). So they’re beginning to question: “Is Jesus even risen? And why does it MATTER?”
And in vv1-20, Paul is going to offer them – offer US – five reasons why Christ’s resurrection isn’t just important; it is absolutely CENTRAL… it is the MOST important doctrine, in all the Christian faith… it’s the most important REALITY in all of human experience. Why?
#1 – Jesus’ resurrection is the gospel that saves us. (vv1-4)
Paul opens ch.15 in vv1-4: “Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
Now, what is the GOSPEL? The gospel, euangelion in Greek, literally means, “good news”. It is an announcement. A declaration. And Paul claims here that it is “the gospel… by which you are SAVED.” He reiterates that in his letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). Believes WHAT? Saved HOW? Saved by WHOM? Saved… from WHAT?
Paul answers ALL those questions here in vv3 & 4 in perhaps the clearest, most concise articulation of the gospel good news found anywhere in Scripture; he writes: “I delivered to you as of first importance [if it’s really the “power of God for salvation”, then this is the most important news you are EVER gonna receive! Listen up!…”] – that 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.”
That’s the good news of the Christian faith, in a nutshell, friends:
*That there is a God. And you and I are not Him.
*But most of the time, we live like we are. Our lives center on US, instead of on GOD. And the Bible calls this SIN.
*But the good news is that God so LOVED the world, that He gave His only Son – Christ DIED for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures – that whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish, but have everlasting life. On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin – everything that once separated us from a holy, pure, perfect God – Jesus traded his righteousness for our UN-righteousness, and he paid the penalty for our sin – the
Bible says “the wages of sin is DEATH”; what you and I rightfully deserved because of our sin against a holy God – a punishment is determined not just by the TYPE of crime, but by its TARGET.
If you slap ME in the face, I’ll do my best to turn the other cheek, like Jesus told me to. If you slap Officer Mullins over there, who’s on duty in the face, you’re gonna get tazed and go to jail.
If you try to slap President Biden in the face, you probably won’t make it out alive, if the Secret Service have anything to say about it.
But every time you and I SIN, we essentially slap the Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the UNIVERSE in the face! And the JUST penalty for our perpetual rebellion is eternal, spiritual death.
But the GOOD NEWS is that Jesus died for our sins. And He has now made a way for sinners like you and me to be RECONCILED to a holy God, if we simply believe; simply trust in JESUS for forgiveness, and you will be SAVED!
But how do we know that Jesus really accomplished all that? v4: because “he was buried, and he was raised on the third day”. Christ’s resurrection is the VALIDATION of the salvation that he purchased for us on the cross. Jesus’ final words on the cross: “It is FINISHED!” – he said, “I have COMPLETED the job that God the Father sent me to do! Paying the penalty for your sin and SAVING all who would trust in me by faith.” And His resurrection 3 days later was like the RECEIPT proving that the check Jesus wrote for sin had cleared. “Forgiveness: PURCHASED”. Our debt: PAID IN FULL.
So what difference does the resurrection make? No resurrection, no gospel; no gospel, no salvation from sin. And no forgiveness of sin, no eternal life. In short, the resurrection makes ALL the difference! An ETERNITY of difference.
Now, we could just end right THERE! Declare “He IS risen!”… Happy Easter… and head to brunch. But Paul’s not done! He’s got four MORE reasons for us, why Christ’s resurrection is absolutely imperative.
#2 – Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for historical fact. (vv5-8) In contrast to the eastern religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – the foundational basis for the Christian faith does not lie in spiritual experience. Unlike atheism and agnosticism, the most important truth claims of Christianity are not rooted in the shifting sands of scientific speculation. Unlike the “prophets” Muhammed and Joseph Smith, who conspicuously received their revelations from God privately – the Quran and the Book of Mormon; no one else around… – No, unlike ALL of them, Jesus of Nazareth did something really interesting when he founded the Christian faith.
Not mystical experience. Not ever-changing scientific theories. Not private revelation. The basis for Christianity is HISTORICAL FACT. And Jesus’ resurrection makes the best SENSE of the evidence that we have from history. Now, that is quite a claim! Because as I’ve already acknowledged, of the estimated 101 billion people who have ever been born, lived, and died on this planet, approximately 100 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand, 999 of them have STAYED dead. (We do know of 8 others in the Bible who died and were raised from the dead once, only to eventually die a second time and stay dead THAT time.)
But how can I stand up here, as an otherwise intelligent, mentally stable, enlightened 21st c. person and claim that Jesus’ resurrection is historical FACT?! Well, if you too are skeptical as I once was, I would simply encourage you to do the research for yourself. We don’t have time to examine all the evidence together this morning, but we’ve got another little book at the Info Bar we’d love to send you home with, called “The Case for Easter”, by Lee Stroebel. Stroebel was an investigative journalist and an atheist whose wife came to faith in Christ, and encouraged him to put his skills to work scrutinizing the evidence for the resurrection. And after months of interviewing medical, biblical, and historical experts and primary source documents, Stroebel himself was converted. Pick up a copy on your way out.
But here in vv5-8, Paul highlights just one of the questions that every skeptic must answer: “If Jesus WASN’T raised from the dead, then how do you explain the eye-witness testimonies of the HUNDREDS of followers who claimed to have SEEN Him in his resurrected body?” Paul writes: “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive”! Paul says, “If you don’t believe me, go ask any ONE of the FIVE HUNDRED+ people who saw him!” How could Paul get away with writing something like this if it was a bold-faced LIE? How could the four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? How could “Cephas and the 12”, v5? Or “James and all the apostles”, v7? How else do you explain Paul HIMSELF, v8, who gave up his cushy life as a Pharisee atop the socio-religious ladder of his day, to endure shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments and ultimately to be BEHEADED, all for the sake of the gospel. Paul says elsewhere, “For the sake of Christ, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).
There are really only 3 possible explanations:
1) They were all LIARS. They simply fabricated the whole story about Jesus being raised from the dead. Maybe for POWER? They were mostly poor, disadvantaged fishermen, carpenters and the like; starting a new religion was a means to power and influence? But that doesn’t explain the conversions of those who were already
influential like PAUL, Luke, Barnabas, Philemon, Lydia, Cornelius, who gave UP power to follow Christ. And it DEFINITELY doesn’t explain why ANY of them were willing to go to their DEATHS, as the vast majority of Jesus’ earliest followers did, rather than renounce their faith in him.
Listen: “Sane people don’t die needlessly for a known lie.”
It’s all fun and games, convincing people to come listen to your preaching every Sunday, until the Romans start rounding you up and feeding you to the LIONS. When your NECK is on the line, a sane person won’t die needlessly for a known lie. They might die need-FULLY for a lie. A prisoner of war might lie to protect his country. But if the resurrection wasn’t true, then Jesus’ followers died NEEDLESSLY. People die for lies they don’t KNOW are lies. Islamic terrorists strap bombs to their chests because they think it buys them a one-way ticket to Paradise with 72 virgins; they just don’t REALIZE it’s a lie. But Jesus’ followers claimed to personally SEE him with their own two eyes – if it was a lie, they knew so full well.
And a martyr might die for the TRUTH. But sane people won’t die needlessly for a known LIE.
2) So that brings us to a SECOND option: maybe they WEREN’T sane; maybe they were all LUNATICS. Certifiable. All 500+ of them… Convinced of the same deranged fantasy. The so-called “Hallucination theory”. They all started SEEING things… the SAME things. See, that’s the problem – Michael Licona explains: “Hallucinations are like dreams. They are private occurrences … You can’t share a hallucination with someone any more than you can wake up your spouse in the middle of the night and ask him or her to join you in a dream you were having.”
The “stolen body” theory. The “mass conspiracy” theory. One by one, they all fall apart, until you’re left with only one other alternative: maybe, just maybe, the resurrection actually HAPPENED. (DuVal, “Joy Amidst Toil”, Dec 13, 2020)
#3 – Jesus’ resurrection is the power to change us. (vv9-11)
Paul says in vv9-11: “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
See, before he was Paul, he was Saul. And SAUL was famous… for killing Christians. But the book of Acts, ch.9 recalls Paul’s own eye-witness account of the resurrected
Jesus, and his subsequent 180-degree, supernatural conversion, from persecutor OF the church, to persecuted FOR the sake of the church. From rebelling against Christ, to reveling IN the love of Christ.
But Paul says: “It wasn’t I, who did it; I don’t have the power to pull off that kind of a radical transformation! We’re not just talking about some minor, personal makeover; you remember that show: “Extreme Makeover”? I think the spin-off, Extreme HOME Makeover might still be running, but the original got cancelled after 2 or 3 seasons; turns out it’s okay to admit your HOUSE needs some work, but Extreme PERSONAL Makeover goes too much against the grade of the prevailing idea in our society that no matter WHO you are, no matter WHAT you’re like, you are perfect just the way you are; you don’t need to change a thing about you. And to be fair, if all you’re changing is what’s on the OUTSIDE, like they did on the show – lose some weight and get a haircut – then yeah, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
But Jesus is OFFENSIVE. Jesus has the audacity, the downright RUDENESS, to look at every single ONE of us, and not just what we look like – not just “ditch the JORTS and get a NOSE job” – not just what’s on the outside, but who we ARE, our very innermost BEING, and say: “There is something WRONG with you.” The Bible says, “NONE is righteous; no not one… we have ALL sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” We were created BY God, for HIS glory. But we’ve fallen short.
And worse yet, we are utterly POWERLESS to do anything about it, on our own. Let me just ask you this morning, because I’m convinced that deep down we all know there’s something wrong with us; Be honest: what do YOU want to change about yourself? I hope it’s not as superficial as: “My thighs. My receding hairline.” Listen: I KNOW I’ve got far bigger problems than being follicly challenged!
Maybe it IS your weight. But dig a little deeper – is your over-eating just a coping strategy to avoid dealing with some bigger, EMOTIONAL issues? Or maybe you are just truly addicted to food?
Maybe you’re addicted to alcohol. To sex. To pornography. To dopamine. Streaming and scrolling. That little hit you get when Facebook lets you know you’ve got new notifications. Maybe you’re addicted to others’ approval. You NEED to be accepted. Or you NEED to control others. Maybe you’ve got an anger problem that you just can’t
seem to get under control. An anxiety problem you can no longer manage. Depression.
GREED – how much is enough for you? “Just a little more?”
Or Success is your idol. You call yourself “driven”, but really you just get your identity from your work; you hide behind your performance, so you don’t have to deal with your inner PERSON.
Friend: what do YOU want to change? The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. The SECOND, is admitting that you can’t do a THING about it.
But do you know the One who CAN? Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. The world says, “Leopards don’t change their spots”; Jesus says, “Come watch ME change a leper’s spots, and melt a heart of stone.” He healed diseases AND forgave sins while he lived here on earth, and his resurrection means that he is STILL alive and working today, but NOW, he lives inside of YOU! Romans 6: the same power that rose Jesus from the dead now lives in YOU! If you have surrendered your life to him by faith.
You can’t change you. God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that HE can.
#4 – Jesus’ resurrection is the reason to believe in Him. (vv12-14) Paul says in vv12-14: “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.”
Let me be blunt: if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, most of us here have wasted a WHOLE lot of time at church, in Bible studies, in prayer… for NOTHING! Our preaching is in vain, and your FAITH is in vain. ALL of this… is absolutely pointless. Take away Christ’s resurrection and what are you left with? A good, moral teacher? What, who called people dogs and vipers and preached that we all deserve to burn in Hell? No thanks, if it’s not TRUE, if Jesus WASN’T who He said He was, then I’ll go be a Buddhist, thank you very much. I can find morality elsewhere. “Well, we’ve still got this nice, Christian community.” Listen, if this is just a social club, I’ll go join the country club down the street and I’ll pay for friends who are a bit more refined than some of y’all. I need more than morality, I need more than community; I need a SAVIOR!
And the ONLY reason to believe in Jesus is because HE IS RISEN! Jesus IS who He says He is, He DID what He said He did for you, and He is WORTH it ALL – your faith, your heart, your LIFE. Have you trusted in him this morning?
Lastly, #5 – Jesus’ resurrection is our hope for the afterlife. (vv15-19) You know, a LOT of folks have been coming to grips with their own mortality this past year. If you’ve been asking “Why does God allow Covid?”, that’s reason enough right there: to encourage you to get your affairs in order, your ETERNAL affairs. Covid was a WAKE-UP call, by the “grace of God”, for many people.
And Paul admits: “if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then not ONLY is your faith futile – not ONLY have we in the church been wasting a lot of time and prayers – but you are still in your sins.” Remember: no resurrection, no salvation. In THAT case, Paul says, v18: “Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” He doesn’t mean perished, PHYSICALLY; “fallen asleep” is a euphemism for physical death, so that would be redundant. No, he means perished SPIRITUALLY. ETERNALLY! And then he summarizes it for us in v19: “If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life ONLY, then we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If archaeologists unearth Jesus’ body later today, then you and I can all go eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will DIE TOO. And as Christians, we of ALL people, are to be PITIED, for how much of our lives we have WASTED on a LIE. A SHAM. A HOAX. WIthout the resurrection, that’s what all this is. If it’s all about THIS LIFE ONLY, then by all means: PARTY ON! Eat, drink, fornicate, accumulate, and INDULGE.
BUT. That is such a BIG, BEAUTIFUL “BUT” in v20: “But in fact Christ HAS been raised from the dead”! It’s ALL TRUE! And friends: that means you and I will one day be raised from the dead as well, either to eternal JOY in Paradise with Jesus, or eternal SUFFERING in Agony apart from Him, so I ask you again this morning, in closing: Do you have hope for this life only, or do you have a hope that TRANSCENDS THE GRAVE? Do you have your eternal affairs in order? If you don’t, I PLEAD with you this morning: do not wait a moment longer; you are not promised your next breath around this place. I just had one of you ask me this past week to pray for your cousin whose husband just dropped dead out of nowhere, 30 years old, thought he was in perfect health. You do not know WHEN your name will be called; but you DO know that it WILL. The question is: will YOU be ready?
Christ HAS been raised from the dead! He IS Risen! He is risen INDEED. Let’s pray.