************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12-23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 27, 2005
1 Corinthians 15:12-23
1 Corinthians 15:14,20
"If Christ Has Not Been Raised ..."
Of all the religions in the world the Christian religion is unique in believing in a risen Savior.
Subtopic: Proofs of Christ's
A conversation between a Christian missionary and a Muslim illustrates this point. The Muslim wanted to impress the missionary with what he considered to be the superiority of Islam. So he said, "When we go to Mecca, we at least find a coffin, but when you Christians go to Jerusalem, your mecca, you find nothing but an empty grave." To this the believer replied, "That is just the difference between Christianity and all other faiths: Mohammed's tomb – occupied. Confucius' tomb – occupied. Buddha's tomb – occupied. Jesus' tomb – empty! Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha are all dead and in their coffins. But Christ is alive and in heaven and all power has been given to Him!
I The Necessity of Christ's Resurrection
A In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul sets straight those church members who doubt the resurrection of the body. Paul knows that this denial hits at the heart of the Christian faith. He says,
(1 Cor 15:13) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
As I mentioned this morning, the Easter story is so totally awesome and terrifying that many people, including friends and companions of Christ, have trouble believing it. Take Mary Magdalene, for instance. When she comes to the open grave she says,
(John 20:2b) "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"When the disciples are told by Mary and the other women that Jesus has arisen, they do not believe them because their words seem to them like nonsense (Lk 24:11).
People today also scoff at the resurrection and dismiss it as nonsense. As in Corinth, some of them are to be found within the church. We have a name for these church members. We call them liberals. Some liberals say that Christ didn't really arise; rather, His disciples stole His body and only said He arose. Other liberals say that Christ didn't really die; rather, it only looked like He did; the cool air of the tomb revived Him and brought Him back to life. Or, consider this letter printed years ago in a newspaper along with the response:
Subtopic: Suffered and Died
On Easter our preacher said that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health.
What do you think?
Beat your preacher 39 times with a heavy whip; nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.
B Let's say Christ has not been raised from the grave. What's the result? What are the consequences? According to Paul (in verses 12-19), if Christ has not been raised:
-our preaching is useless and so is your faith
-we are then found to be false witnesses about God
-your faith is futile
-you are still in your sins
-then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost
-we are to be pitied more than all men
Let's put Paul's list in today's language. If Christ has not been raised:
-faith and going to church and making a sermon are useless activities
-we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by living decent and chaste lives
-there is no comfort for a widow as she stands beside a fresh grave
-the parents of brain-damaged or physically disabled children have nothing to look forward to
-Christian martyrs die in vain
-missionaries are wasting their time and our money
C In our text Paul uses one word that sticks out in all of this: useless. If Christ has not been raised, everything is useless. The Greek word is "kenos." It means empty, vain. Endeavours, labors, and acts result in nothing; they are fruitless and without effect. I prefer to translate the Greek word as "vanity." Without the resurrection of Christ, all is vanity.
Vanity. We hear that word used by the Preacher of Ecclesiastes. The topic of vanity is an endless refrain in his book. Vanity means emptiness, fluff, a fistful of wind, a pocketful of nothing. It means to pinch pennies for years on end in order to pay off the mortgage and then die on the day you make the last payment. It means working hard and running fast and getting nowhere. Vanity is a political speech that means exactly nothing. Vanity is the hope that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Vanity means there is no purpose, no meaning, no goal, to existence. Wisdom and folly, hard work and laziness, laughter and tears, and everything else is vanity if it leads nowhere, if it has no purpose or meaning.
Vanity is a word that sums up so much of present-day life. There is so much purposelessness, meaninglessness, and emptiness in life today. Very few people are able to answer the question, "What is the meaning or purpose of my existence?" As a matter of fact, in our culture people try to avoid all mention of meaning or purpose.
Vanity, emptiness, uselessness. We see it all around us today. But this is nothing new in the history of mankind:
While excavating Roman ruins, archaeologists kept coming across the inscription "NFFNSNC." They finally determined that the letters were an acronym that reflected the pagan philosophy of the Romans: "I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care." In other words, life is empty, meaningless, void.
As we look at 1 Corinthians 15, we see that the Apostle Paul hangs the meaning and purpose of everything on one nail: the resurrection. If Christ did not arise all is useless, all is vanity. But if Christ has arisen, then life and death, then work and ministry, then godliness and faith, has purpose and meaning. Christianity stands on the resurrection of Christ.
D At the beginning of the chapter Paul tells us what is "of first importance":
(1 Cor 15:3-5) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (5) and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.The crucifixion and the resurrection, the cross and the grave, they are both of first importance, they both lie at the very center of what we believe. What every Christian should believe, what every Christian must believe, is that Christ died and Christ arose.
So many Christians talk about the cross and the suffering of Christ. And they stop there. I need to tell you, congregation, the cross means nothing apart from the empty grave. If Christ did not rise, then His death was in vain. So, we should never mention the cross of Christ without also mentioning the grave of Christ.
Christ died and Christ arose. Do you realize what this means? This means we believe in an empty cross and in an empty grave.
The hospital in the last town I served as pastor was owned and operated by a Roman Catholic charity. Every room of the hospital has a cross with the figure of Christ upon it. One of the members of the church was in the hospital. Every time he saw that cross he shook his head. "That's not right," he said. "We believe Christ is off the cross." He was right; but I need to add that we also believe that Christ is out of the tomb. That's the reason we celebrate Easter. Easter is not a celebration of nature's life cycle. Easter is not a time for the church to confuse people with eggs and bunnies – as we saw in many of the church advertisements in yesterday's newspaper. At Easter we celebrate an empty cross and an empty grave. At Easter we celebrate that Christ has both died and risen.
Imagine, for a moment, that we had only the cross and not the grave, that we celebrated only Good Friday and not Easter Sunday. Then ours would be but half a Savior and half a salvation. I think here of what Paul writes in another place:
(Rom 4:25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Christ died and Christ arose. In the theology of the church both ought to be of "first importance." But is it?
Topic: ResurrectionMichelangelo was right. Even though the cross is vitally important because of the redemption Jesus accomplished for us there, we must not emphasize His death to the exclusion of His resurrection victory. For don't forget, both are "of first importance."
Subtopic: Of Christ
On one occasion Michelangelo turned to his fellow artists and asked them with frustration in his voice, "Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures on the one theme of Christ in weakness, Christ on the cross, and most of all, Christ hanging dead? Why concentrate on the passing episode as if it were the last work, as if the curtain dropped down there on disaster and defeat? That dreadful scene lasted only a few hours. But to unending eternity Christ is alive; Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!"
II Christ's Resurrection the Firstfruits
A If Christ has not been raised the consequences are too terrible to even contemplate. But, thank God, He has been raised. He was seen by Mary, Peter, the Twelve, James, and Paul too (vs 3-8). Says Paul in our text:
(1 Cor 15:20) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul uses the word "firstfruits." This vivid image comes from the law of Moses. At the start of harvest the Israelites were required to bring the best of the firstfruits of the soil to the house of the LORD: the first of the grain and the first bread made from the grain (Ex 23:19; Lev 23:10,17). The firstfruits was a promise of more to come, that God would bless His people with a full harvest.
B The resurrected Christ is the firstfruits. He is the promise of more to come. Because He has arisen from the dead, all in Christ will also arise from the dead.
If Christ is the firstfruits, what do we do with all the other resurrections mentioned in the Bible? I think of the widow's son at Zarephath (1 K 17:17f), the son of the Shunammite woman (2 K 4:18f), the widow of Nain's son (Lk 7:11f), the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8:41f), and Lazarus (Jn 11). Every one of these people died, were raised, and died again. But Christ died once, never to die again; and He rose once, never to rise again.
Compare Jesus to Lazarus. How did Lazarus come out of the tomb? He came out still wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face (Jn 11:44). But, then, his body was still a natural, perishable body; and, he would need those strips again. Christ, on the other hand, came out of the tomb without any linens wrapped around Him. His body, you see, was and is imperishable; and, He has no need for the burial cloths ever again (cf 1 Cor 15:42-44).
C Christ is the firstfruits of those raised from the dead. He is the promise of more to come. Someday, the dead who are in Christ will be made alive; and they – like Christ – will rise, never to die again, never to be raised again.
This means two things for you and for me. First, it means comfort.
What is it that gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave?You know the answer. It is the hope and the promise of the resurrection that gives us comfort and strength.
What is the ultimate hope of the cripple, the amputee, the abused, the burn victim?
How can the parents of brain-damaged or physically disabled children keep from living their entire lives totally and completely depressed?
Why would anyone who is blind or deaf or paralyzed be encouraged when they think of the life beyond?
How can we see past the martyrdom of some helpless hostage or devoted missionary?
Where do the thoughts of a young couple go as they grieve the loss of their baby?
When a family receives the tragic news that a little daughter was found dead or their dad was killed in a plane crash or a son overdosed on drugs, what single truth becomes their whole focus?
What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents?
Second, as we face death we know we have nothing to fear. Christ has conquered death and removed its sting.
A couple of weeks ago I was riding my bike down Rocky Hill at 45 MPH. My jersey was zipped open because the afternoon was hot. I suddenly hit a bee, it got tangled in my chest hair, and it stung me in the middle of my chest.This is the message of Easter. Christ has taken the sting! As Paul says it, "Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55b). So we do not need to be afraid of death anymore. Christ faced death for us and conquered it. Christ has taken the stinger for us. He has risen!
A couple of minutes later I was biking down another hill. This time was jersey my zipped shut. I passed between two orange groves which were in bloom. You guessed it – I hit another bee and this one stung me in the shoulder.
A couple of minutes later I was feeling pain and swelling. When I complained about this one of my friends looked me over and pulled two stingers out.
(1 Cor 15:14,20) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (20) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Isn't this great and awesome news?!
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