1 Corinthians 15:12-23
But in Fact…
1 Corinthians 15:12-23
At first light, after what was probably another sleepless night, a couple of women were getting everything ready to go give a last bit of honor to a man they revered and esteemed so highly. This man that they followed, this man who they gave up their normal lives for, this man that they believed would bring hope to their world had died, murdered by his jealous rivals. His body unceremoniously placed in a tomb, now in need of care according to their religious customs. But little did those women and the other fearful followers know, that morning changed everything. That morning, they did not find a dead body and dashed hopes, but an empty tomb. That morning they did not find death, but life. That morning Jesus Christ was alive, never to die again because death had been defeated. That morning changed everything.
That is the claim at the heart of Christianity; the gospel message is good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. And far from just a baseless claim, we hold this to be true, historical fact. Truth that changes everything. And I want to challenge us this morning to consider the gospel message, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and respond to it, to actually do something with those claims instead of just seeing them as words about something that happened 2,000 some odd years ago. Because Jesus Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, we should rejoice and come to him for everlasting life.
- Most to be pitied
Let’s start with a little historical context to help us understand what is happening in our passage. The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in the city of Corinth, located in modern day Greece. And throughout this letter Paul tackles a lot of issues taking place within that church. Everything from divisiveness, moral failings, and false teaching, like here in chapter 15. Some people in the church believed and were teaching that there was no resurrection from the dead. They said that once you die your soul lives on, but your body is gone forever. Paul challenges this belief by showing them what this teaching leads to and all of its problems when it is played out: if there is no resurrection of the body, he says, then Christ had no resurrection. The early church, the first Christians, taught, believed and witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, not just the spirit of Jesus, but his actual, physical body. He died, his body was buried in a tomb, and that same body came out again, resurrected from the dead. That is what Paul taught, that is what the earliest Christians believed and that is what the Christians in Corinth believed as well. But, again, there is a group of people that believe there is no bodily resurrection. And Paul says you can’t hold these two things to be true, Christ’s resurrection and no resurrection for us, they are logically inconsistent, they are contradictory. If there is no bodily resurrection, then Jesus Christ did not have a resurrection either. And if that is the case, we have some problems.
Paul then gives us several hypotheticals if these false teachers and their beliefs happened to be true. If the resurrection is not a thing, and Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, then, verse 14, our teaching and faith is in vain. Our teaching, and preaching, our beliefs, all of this church stuff, it’s useless. He says the same thing again in verse 17; our faith is futile, it is empty, without hope, without truth, it is all for nothing. If Christ is still dead, if his body is decaying in a tomb somewhere, we are wasting our time here.
And what’s worst, verse 15, we aren’t just wasting our time, we are misrepresenting God! We have been telling people that God raised Jesus from the dead, we believe that and we teach it, and if it isn’t true, we are false teachers! We are saying God did one thing and that God is one way, when in fact he is not! That is serious stuff!
Verse 19 gives a good summary: if Christ isn’t raised, if his body is still dead, we are of all people most to be pitied. We who follow Jesus, who claim the title “Christian,” who say that we have hope in this life and the life to come because we believe in a risen Savior, if none of this is true, we are to be pitied above everyone else in the world.
Have you ever heard it said by well-meaning Christians, “If none of this stuff turns out to be true, at least I led a good life”? I understand the sentiment behind it, but that is not what Paul says here, is it? If the Christian life and the teachings of Jesus only have benefit for this life, we did not lead a good life, in fact just the opposite is true because we believed a lie. We are miserable, pathetic, misled fools. If Jesus was just a good teacher that died, then who cares what he taught? We are still in our sins, our faith is futile, it’s useless, it has no benefit! If Jesus is dead then we will be dead too. We have been given over to a lie and we have wasted our lives away from the truth so we are of all people most to be pitied.
- But in fact…
But thank God for verse 20! “But in fact.” But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead! Praise God it is not true that we are wasting our time. Thank you, Lord, that we are not wasting our lives, we are not misled by a lie, but we are, in fact, worshipping and following a risen Savior!
We who follow Jesus are not to be pitied, but the exact opposite is true: we should be the most joyful, the most celebratory! Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead! His body is not decayed and gone in a tomb, he is alive, forever! And because he has been raised, because he lives, we know that we will live forever with him. We who believe that should be the most joy-filled people on the planet! We know the truth, we know our Savior lives, we know that he has defeated sin and death, we know that this life is not all there is and someday we will be raised with a new body, an imperishable one, a perfect one, just like his and we will be with him forever! We have hope in this life and the one to come, we cling to a promise of eternal life with God himself. How can we not rejoice? How can we not be the most happy, joyous people around, how can we not share this good news, because, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. We know that death is not the end, but only the beginning of a new and everlasting life.
The 17th century English Pastor, Thomas Brooks said it beautifully. “A Christian knows that death shall be the funeral of all his sins, his sorrows, his afflictions, his temptations, his vexations, his oppressions, his persecutions. He knows that death shall be the resurrection of all his hopes, his joys, his delights, his comforts, his contentment.”
In fact, Christ has been raised and we will be raised with him. Therefore, we should rejoice and praise God for all he has done through Jesus Christ!
But maybe you hear that statement and wonder about its factuality. We say, in fact, Christ has been raised. And admittedly that is something completely outside of our normal lives. People don't come back to life once they are dead and buried. But I believe without a doubt that Jesus Christ lived on this earth, was crucified, died, was buried, and was bodily raised from the dead. never to die again. And maybe you don’t believe that and you want to know how much of a fact it truly is; you want some evidence and proof.
I do believe that there is very strong evidence, historical facts, that bolster the claim of the resurrection. And there is a little booklet at the back of the church you can take, if you’d like, called The Case for Easter, that discusses some of those things. But I am not going to get into that because I want to look at it from a different approach. The thing is, while evidence and arguments are helpful, they are not able to give indisputable proof that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact beyond any doubt. That is just not how historical science works for any historical claim in any capacity. For example, I can’t prove to you with 100% certainty that George Washington existed. I can give convincing evidence, but because we can’t see and test it like we would something here in the present, there is always room for argument to the contrary. That is how history works. So, while there is very strong evidence for the resurrection, we need to be honest and say that evidence can only go so far and ultimayely it is not going to change any hearts.
And the Bible is realistic about that, even right here in our passage we see it. Look back at verses 3-8. In discussing Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul does go into evidence, namely eyewitnesses. He mentions the apostle Peter, and the rest of the disciples as having seen Jesus, raised in his body. Then there were over 500 people who saw him at one time, some of whom were still alive when Paul was writing. He is saying, if you need to you can go find these people and ask them! That is pretty convincing evidence. And Jesus’ brother James saw him, and all the apostles, and Paul saw him, too. There are eyewitnesses! But Paul does not base his claims for the resurrection on the evidence only, nor does he even start there. Where does he start? With that phrase, “according to the Scriptures.”
Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection were all foretold by God through his prophets in the Old Testament. God revealed his plan for Jesus long before it ever happened. This was all done according to the Scriptures, the Word of God. That is what Paul bases his claims for the resurrection on, not the evidence. While the eyewitnesses are there, and having evidence is helpful, that is not what he is ultimately resting on.
And I think the reason for that is because at some point we have to say, “God I trust you and I trust that you have revealed the truth about Jesus Christ more than I trust my ability to judge, and feel and test and sense the evidence.”
If we are only willing to believe God in what we can judge to be the truth, then we are putting ourselves above God, we become the ultimate decider of truth, not God, not his Word. Instead, we have to ask him to change our hearts and to help us believe. The Bible says elsewhere that without faith it is impossible to please God. We have evidence, that is not bad, we can know it and study it and it can help, for sure. But without faith we cannot come before him, we cannot truly know him and follow him. We need to come to the end of ourselves, the end of our ability to judge the facts above all certainty and simply trust God for who he says he is and what he has done through Jesus Christ.
- Eternal Importance
And the importance of doing this cannot be overstated. Notice what Paul says in verses 21-23. He speaks of two men: Adam and Christ, each being the head and representative of different groups with different endings for each. In Adam all die; in Christ all will be made alive. We need to ask, who is in which group and how do I make sure I am in that alive group? Because that one sure sounds better than that dead group.
First, we have Adam. Adam was our representative head, our spokesman, so to speak, the first created man, way back in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. He did not follow God’s Word, his commands, but instead, Adam chose to disobey. As our representative, he brought sin and death upon every single person of all time born after him. And this is not just talking about regular death, like your life is over, you are buried, the end, kind of death. While that is included it is much more than that. This is eternal death, the greater death, the consequence of sin, which is being separated from God forever in a literal place called Hell. A place with no hope, no joy, no chance of change, but sorrow upon sorrow, anguish upon anguish everyday, forever.
The Bible says that we were in Adam when he sinned, as if we sinned right there with him. His decision was our decision and we all suffer the consequences for it. Sin and death have come on all of us. You, me, all of us. No one escapes this. We are all born into Adam, we are all sinners from the start, we all sin, we all fall short of God’s perfect standard and therefore we are all deserving of eternal death, separated from God forever.
So, who is in Adam? Everyone. How did we get in Adam? We were born into him and so we all deserve death.
But then who is in Christ? Is it also everyone? The verse does say, “in Christ shall all be made alive.” This is really important to understand so please hear me, I don’t want anyone to miss this. Paul is not saying everyone will be made alive, but only those who are in Christ. All who are in Christ will be made alive. Just as all who are in Adam die, all who are in Christ will be made alive.
Who, then is in Christ? Everyone who comes to him by faith as their savior from their sin. Everyone who wakes up to the fact that they are in Adam, in need of rescuing from sin and death, and believes that the only way to be saved from their fate is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He is the one who took the full penalty for all of our sin on himself, who died the death that we deserved, who became sin on our behalf so we could be saved from the fate we earn. And he was resurrected, raised to life again, to bring us new life with him, a new life in this life and the one to come. A new life today, a life of resurrection now where we are made truly alive, made whole again, together with him; not perfect and sinless, not yet that comes in the next live, but we are made alive to hope, and real and lasting joy, through a restored fellowship with God as we were meant to be from the beginning, life to the fullest with him.
Without this faith, without being in Christ, we are still in Adam, we are still stuck in our sins, and our coming fate is death and separation from God forever. And it is those who are still in Adam that are the ones who are most to be pitied, because they have no hope in this life or the life to come.
But those who are in Christ, who know that he has died in their place, who believe that he was raised to life again, we know that he has brought us new life for today and eternity, and in that we rejoice! Our Savior lives and we live with him!
Everything changed that first Easter morning, over 2,000 years ago. Sin and death had been conquered. True life had risen.
Don’t leave here unsure where you stand before the God of the universe. Eternity is much too long to waste and you are being given this chance to see your path laid before you. Don't pass it up. Are you still in Adam? If so, you are lost, and without hope.
Are you in Christ? The one who lived, died, was buried, and rose again to give us resurrection life, a new and lasting hope and joy for today, tomorrow and forever, with him, our living Lord and Savior.