************ Sermon on 1 Corinthains 15:20 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 27, 2016

1 Corinthians 15:1-34
1 Corinthians 15:20
Easter Evening 2016

"If a man dies, will he live again?" Do you know who asked this question? "If a man dies, will he live again?" This was Job's question as he struggled with life's troubles and trials and losses (Job 14:14).

"If a man dies, will he live again?" The question implies a negative answer: "No, if a man dies, he will not live again." Death is the end. Once you are in the grave, you will never come out. So, it's a question of despair and not of hope. It's a question borne out of doubt. It's a question that assumes there is no more to life that this life and this body and this earth.

"If a man dies, will he live again?" Though the book of Job is inspired, what Job says here should not be regarded as divinely inspired truth about death. On this Easter Sunday we know what Job doesn't know when he asks his question: We know that if a man dies, he will live again because of Jesus.

I The Cornerstone of the Christian Faith
A Did you notice the language used by Paul in verse 3? Paul uses the phrase "of first importance." "What I received I passed on to you as of first importance." He is talking about the doctrines of the Christian faith. "Of first importance." How I love that phrase.

We love the idea of first. The wife of the President is known as the first lady. I suspect the spouse of a female President will be known as the first husband. When there is an accident, people rush to give first aid. The first flight and the first landing on the moon grabbed world-wide attention.

When it comes to the Christian faith there are doctrines and teachings that are important and there are doctrines and teachings that are of first importance. The Ten Commandments are important. The Trinity is important. Spiritual rebirth is important. Rejection of the world is important. Helping your neighbor is important. The Kingdom of God is important. Missions and evangelism are important. The return of Christ is important. Covenant theology is important. The sovereignty of God and election are important. Loving one another is important. But more important than all of these, of first importance, are four central truths:
-that Christ died for our sins
-that He was buried
-that He was raised
-and that He appeared

Of these four truths, which is most important?

B Here we come, congregation, to the cornerstone of the Christian faith. What is the cornerstone of the Christian faith? Some, quoting from earlier in Corinthians, say the cornerstone of the Christian faith is, "Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23). Though Paul preached "Christ crucified," he admits in our Scripture reading that this is not the whole of the Gospel message. In fact, as Jesus Himself indicates, the cornerstone and capstone of the Christian faith is the risen Christ (Lk 20:17).

The early Christians knew this. As I said this morning, the earliest Christian creed is "He is risen!" Not, "He suffered." Not, "He is crucified." Not, "He is buried." But, "He is risen." The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the resurrection.

C We looked at the obscenity of the cross on Good Friday. But, you know, many people were crucified by the Romans in the first century. If Jesus had stayed dead, His crucifixion would have had no more significance than the crucifixions of the thousands of unnamed and forgotten individuals of that era. Let me state this positively: A resurrected Jesus is needed for His crucifixion to mean anything. Jesus’ death means nothing unless He also rose again.

D Tonight I want to ask a simply awful question. I want to ask, "What if Christ is not risen?" What an awful, unthinkable thought. Yet, the Apostle Paul considers the possibility in our Bible reading this evening. He makes us think through five terrible consequences that would result if Christ Jesus had never been raised from the dead.

II Five Terrible Consequences
A First, if Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless (1 Cor 15:14). Christ’s resurrection was the most important event in the New Testament. Christ preached about it frequently before it happened, and the Apostles preached it repeatedly afterward. Take Easter's resurrection out of the Gospel message and you have nothing left. It is like trying to build a house without nails, bake a cake without flour, grow a flower garden without flowers: it is pointless and useless and empty.

A preacher without Christ’s resurrection is a preacher without a message. He has nothing useful to say. He is just wasting his time preparing and preaching sermons and preaching them, and we are wasting our time hearing him. Without the resurrection, I am easily wasting more than thirty hours of my time every week.

B Second, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17). If our faith is in Christ, and Christ remains buried in Jerusalem, then our faith is in a pile of dust and ashes. Then the chief priests and teachers of the law were right -- if He saved others but can't save Himself, He must not be the Christ, the King of Israel (Mk 15:32-33).

Christ rested the validity of all His teaching and claims upon His resurrection. Without it, the foundation cracks, crumbles, and turns to dust -- as does our faith.

Christ’s death was proof of His love and willingness to save, but without His resurrection, there is no proof of His power and ability to save. Without Easter's resurrection, all hope of salvation lies dead with Him. Our faith clings to what remains of a crumbling skeleton. Such faith is futile. Empty. Vain. Useless. A wallet full of nothing. How much is an empty wallet worth to a pick-pocket? Absolutely nothing. Likewise, a faith without Easter's resurrection is worth absolutely nothing.

C Third, if Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins (1 Cor 15:17). Our sins have not been removed from our account. They still exist, charging us and condemning us before God. We remain unfit for heaven and unprepared to meet God.

Moreover, if sin has not been removed from our account, it cannot be removed from our nature either. If Christ remains dead under sin’s power, how can He deliver us from our sinful nature? Our only choice, like the pagans, is to uselessly try to be good in our own strength.

D Fourth, if Christ has not been raised, the dead are lost (1 Cor 15:18).

Now, did you happen to notice the beautiful phrase Paul uses to describe the believing dead? Paul describes believers’ death as sleep. He pictures believers as simply and quietly falling asleep in the arms of Jesus. Their souls are immediately perfected in heaven, and their bodies rest in their graves until the resurrection. What a magnificent picture!

But then Paul strikes an ugly note that destroys this beautiful chord. If Christ is not risen, those who have fallen asleep in Christ "are lost." Their souls are perishing in hell, and their bodies are perishing in the grave. They turned up at heaven’s gates, but when they looked for their Advocate and Intercessor, they were told, "Oh, He died long ago." So, all hope is gone. So, death can separate us from the love of Christ. So, those who died this year are lost. Christine Fukano is lost. Nick Ver Steeg is lost. Henry Visser is lost. Therefore, let us mourn as those who have no hope.

E Fifth, if Christ has not been raised, we are to be pitied more than all other men (1 Cor 15:19). Why pitied? Think of all the spiritual stress, strains, dangers, and sufferings that Paul went through to testify to the risen Christ. Think of the self-denial and self-sacrifice he went through. If there is no future life, then Paul underwent all this for nothing.

What is it that kept Paul going as he faced beasts and beastly men? Certainly not human reasons. It was the hope of the resurrection that kept him going (1 Cor 15:30–32).

If Christ didn’t rise, then neither would Paul. He has no life here, and he has no life hereafter. "Pity me," says Paul, "more than anyone else in the world." Anybody is better off than the Christian without a risen Christ. Better to be a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, agnostic, or atheist. Better to be anything than a Christian without resurrection hope.

F Some of the Corinthian Christians did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12). Paul sets them straight by telling them that what happens to believers also happened to Christ. And what happened to Christ also happens to believers. The two are inter-connected. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised" (1 Cor 15:13).

How do you think those Corinthian believers felt as the words of Paul were read to them? How did they feel as they heard the consequences of Good Friday without Easter Sunday? A Christ Who is still in the grave is a black hole of despair from which there is no escape. Those of you who know anything about astronomy, know what a black hole is: it is a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing -- not even light -- can escape from inside it. A Good Friday without Easter's resurrection is such a black hole.

A My sermon title this evening is "If" based upon what happens if Christ has not been raised from the dead. My sermon title could just easily have been "But" -- based upon the first word of our text this evening.

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians what happens if Christ has not been raised. They are in the darkness of despair as a consequence. However, just as the darkness of despair threatened to overcome them, Paul comes to them with the light of the Gospel: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15:20). But. But. But. What a wonderful interruption to all the bleak things Paul has been saying.

Don't despair, O Christian. Preaching is not in vain -- it is used mightily by God to call the lost and grow the saved. Your faith is not futile -- it is grounded in a living Savior. You are no longer in your sins -- filled with the righteousness of Christ, your sins have been wiped off your record and are being worked out of your heart. The believing dead are not lost -- Christine and Nick and Henry are alive in Christ. You are not to be pitied -- instead, you are to be envied. Why? Why all of this? Because He has risen, He has risen indeed. Because of Easter's resurrection.

"If Christ has not been raised ..." I can't bear to even think about such a thing. "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead ..." What joy this puts in my heart.

B Now remember, what happens to Christ also happens to those who believe in Christ. We who are Christians not only die with Christ but we are also raised with Christ.

As I was studying for this sermon I came across an email written by Dr. Jon Rainbow shortly before his death that speaks to this:
... the fact remains that we all live in a world of sin and death, and what we all really need is more than comfort. What we all really need is ... resurrection! The problem that lies at the very bottom of all of our problems is DEATH, death closeup, death far away, death. So, what we really need is not therapy, but resurrection. And what Jesus Christ has obtained for believers is not anything less than resurrection from the dead. To be clear ... resurrection for the dead, resurrection of the body, first Christ's and then, in God's ordained order, believers' too.

So, I've been talking a lot and thinking a lot, about resurrection. It's bigger than just an "Easter" theme. The traditional Easter is about only Christ's resurrection, but it's bigger than that! Christ must rise, the first fruits of them that sleep. Christ's body must rise, yes. But all bodies of all the saints must rise too! Christ is the harvest!

... resurrection. There must be a resurrection from death!
Because of Easter's resurrection, Jon Rainbow -- like Paul -- was looking forward to the resurrection of his body. Because of Easter's resurrection, all of us who believe can look forward to the resurrection of the body.

Because of Easter's resurrection, my brothers and sisters, because of Easter's resurrection, death is not the end. Death is never the end for those who have fallen asleep in Christ.

C The key phrase is "in Christ." If you fall asleep "in Christ," if you die as a Christian, if you die as a believer, death is not the end. As Jesus put it to Martha:
(Jn 11:25-26) I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; (26) and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
After saying this, Jesus asked Martha a question: "Do you believe this?" (Jn 11:26). "Do you believe this?" A question I ask of you congregation: "Do you believe this?" "Do you believe this?"

Earlier, we talked of doctrines that are of first importance. They all concern Christ. But now we come to a doctrine about man that is of first importance. The most important question we can ask of any man is the question Jesus asked: "Do you believe this?" Not, "How much money do you have?" Not, "How many cows do you milk?" Not, "Did your children graduate from college?" Not, "What is your job?" Of first importance, my brothers and sisters, is the question before us now: "Do you believe this?"

Let me tell you, death is the end if you don't believe this. Never ending death. Excruciating death. In a place of fire and gnashing of teeth.

But if you do believe this, then "Death has been swallowed up in victory" and "thanks be to God! He give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:54,57). "Do you believe this?"
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