Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
Text: 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? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
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.
If you take a course in logic, you will learn that there are different types of arguments. One of the most basic is the conditional argument, namely, “If A, then B.” An example of this would be, “If it rains, the sidewalk will be wet.” The second part is the consequence of the first. As we study God’s Word together, the apostle Paul is going to use a logical argument to combat what some were saying in the Corinthian congregation. He bases his refutation of this fact by saying BUT CHRIST HAS RISEN! 1. To Give Us Pardon. 2. To Give Us Hope. 3. To Give Us Life.
In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is teaching about resurrection. He takes the truth of Christ’s resurrection and applies it to an error that was troubling the Corinthian congregation. While they were willing to admit that Jesus rose from the dead, they didn’t believe that there was a physical resurrection from the dead for the believers. Apparently, they were influenced by the pagan world around them. They taught that the spiritual part of the being was good, but the physical was evil. When a person died, their spirit went to live with the gods. However, since the body was evil, why would you want to go back to it? Others held the popular idea that, once you died, there was no coming back. Dead is dead. In this section of his letter, Paul shows what happens if that were true. He writes in verse 13, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” From there, he goes on to show the consequences, if Christ was not raised.
Paul writes in verse 17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” What a terrifying thought! We would still be in our sins. What would that mean? It would mean that there would be no end to our consciences bothering us for the things that we have said and done that were at variance with God’s will. There would never be a moment’s peace from the torturing accusations of the conscience. It would keep us up all night and plague us throughout the day. In addition, we know that we could never make up for all of our sins. We could never come to God with payment for our sins, because the only payment that he accepts is absolute perfection. We could try and try and never get there. Ultimately, we know that the only thing that lies in our future is an eternity of punishment in hell. If there is no resurrection, we would still be in our sins.
However, Paul proclaims, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” (Verse 20) Christ’s resurrection means that our sins are forgiven. Elsewhere, Paul would write, “[Jesus] was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) As you recall, the word “justify” means to declare “Not guilty!” Since Jesus rose from the dead, we have been justified; we are forgiven. What does that mean for us? It means that, when our conscience or Satan himself accuses us of sin, we can say to them, “Yes, I did commit that sin, but Christ has been raised, so I am forgiven.” Christ resurrection means that we don’t have to constantly chase trying to make up for our sins. It assures us that Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. The Father accepted Jesus’ payment for our sins. Christ’s resurrection means that, instead of being eternally separated from God’s love in hell, we will spend our eternity with him in the joy and peace of heaven. This is why we rejoice to hear the words, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection gives us pardon.
In verse 19, Paul notes another consequence is Christ was not raised from the dead, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Jesus were just like the other leaders in this world that have died, why would we put our hope in him? He would be good role model, someone we might take inspiration from, but that would be about it. Moreover, if believing in Christ only has value in this life, then Christians are fools who have made a tragic mistake and should be pitied by others. Saying that we are not the masters of our own lives, but that we trust in someone else, would be foolish. It certainly appears that the unbelievers who indulge in the sinful pleasures of life are wiser and are far better off in practical terms. As we are reminded in verse 14, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Why would Christians make sacrifices and suffer for the sake of the gospel, sometimes, even to the point of death, if there were no resurrection?
However, Paul reminds us, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” This means that we do have hope for this life. It means that we have an almighty God who loves us with an everlasting love. For that reason, we gladly surrender our lives to God, because we know that he will always lovingly lead us in the way that is the best for us. Christ’s resurrection gives meaning and direction to our lives. It means that we no longer selfishly serve ourselves. It means that we look at the opportunities that God places in front of us to serve him. The world may offer a sinful pleasure, which will last for only a moment. We have the opportunity to say “No” to those things; because we want to thank God for all that he has done for us. Our life has real meaning, because we will not be chasing here and there to try to find happiness. We have our happiness in our relationship with our loving God. Yes, there may be times when we are called upon by our God to suffer for our faith. Yet, we know that this is yet another opportunity to praise him. In addition, we have God’s promise recorded in Romans 8:18. There the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” This is why we rejoice to hear the words, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope.
This brings us back to the initial thought as it is expressed in verses 15&16, “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.” If Christ was not raised from the dead, there is no resurrection for us, either. If there is no resurrection from the dead, a funeral would be the saddest place in the world. If there is no resurrection and this life is all that there is, we would be endlessly chasing things that would have no lasting meaning. If there is no resurrection, we would have every reason to fear death. We would know that it is silently biding its time to take us with its icy grip. If there is no resurrection, there is no life. There is only death.
However, as Paul reminds us, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (Verse 20) The resurrection of Christ is called the firstfruits. This is the part of the harvest that ripens and is harvested first. It is a sign that more is to come. That’s what Jesus’ resurrection is. Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19) That is the promise that he makes to us. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Elsewhere, Jesus said of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25&26) Jesus makes a promise to us that, if we should die before he returns in glory in the Last Day, we won’t be forgotten; we won’t be left behind. He will raise us from the dead on the Last Day. Note the way that Paul describes those who have died. He speaks of “those who have fallen asleep.” What a comforting picture for us. First of all, just as sleep does not alter a person’s existence, neither does death. At death, a believer’s soul goes right on living with God. In addition, we know that, when night comes to its end, we wake up in the morning. We go to sleep with that confidence. In the same way, we can close our eyes in death, when the Lord calls us home, confident of the fact that when the night has ended and dawn has broken, we will wake from the sleep of death to be with our loving Savior for all eternity. This is why we rejoice to hear the words, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection gives us life.
The teaching of the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most fundamental in all of the Scriptures. Without it, the other teachings fall apart. That is why the teaching of the resurrection of Jesus is so important. However, this teaching is more than just cold, hard facts. It is the teaching that gives our hearts joy, because we know that our sins are forgiven. The account of Easter gives meaning and a purpose to our lives. Christ’s resurrection assures us that we will rise from the dead and be with our God for all eternity. May these words fill our hearts and lives with joy, comfort, and peace. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Amen.
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