Easter has come and gone. We remembered the incredible sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. We considered the horror of the cross. We are deeply thankful God has provided a way for us to come to Him. Then on Sunday we went to church (hopefully) and sang rousing songs about him rising from the dead.
Now it’s time to move on – right?
Not if the truth of the resurrection has hit you between the eyes hard enough. Not if you are left dazzled by the implications that Jesus actually rose, bodily, physically and is now seated at the right hand of the Father – waiting until the time when all his enemies will be put under his feet.
The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It was the most prominent focus in the preaching of the early church. It was what got the Jewish religious leaders so agitated. In fact they commanded the apostles to stop speaking about it (which they refused). They didn’t have a problem with them talking about Jesus’ life or his miracles or even his death. They could preach that all day long. What they didn’t like was them teaching on the resurrection
Why? Why was it such a big deal to them? Well if Jesus actually did rise from the dead then it gives powerful credence to all that Jesus said and did. If this is true then everything else about him is true also. That’s a big worry for them. Because now this little movement Jesus started has real validity.
There are some Christians who are more liberal in their thinking, who believe that something beautiful happened on Easter, but it wasn’t a physical resurrection. Resurrection for them is a way of expressing the ongoing experience of Christ in the life of the disciples and the early church. But as one leading agnostic in England said, if the resurrection of Jesus cannot be established, Christianity must go. The essential question he says, is Jesus Christ rise from the dead? If he did, it is easy enough to believe the other miracles. If not, everything must go.
Perhaps another way we could look at it is ask the question: What if it didn’t happen? What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? What difference would that make? That’s not a new question. It was a question that was asked by the Apostle Paul to a group of believers in the 1st century. Rumours were flying that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead – not physically. So Paul says, “OK then, what if Jesus never rose from the dead? What’s the big deal?”
There are at least four disastrous consequences:
1. If there is no resurrection, our gospel is powerless
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–14)
If Christ has not been raised our proclamation Paul says, is without foundation. Other translations have, “is in vain.” The Greek term means empty, having no effect, useless. I mean – sure, we could offer some nice moral lessons for people that might help them get along in life. We could tell people why it’s bad to steal and hurt people and talk about others behind their back. And we could say, “Now look at Jesus – he was nice to people. He didn’t steal or hurt people or talk about them behind their backs.” But what does that do? Absolutely nothing. They might try that for a day or two and then give up.
Only the gospel has the power to change people – to transform people from the inside out. And the reason the gospel has power is because of the resurrection. Take away the resurrection and the gospel becomes powerless. Why? Because the essence of the gospel – that human nature can be changed, that bad people can become good people, and there is hope of life eternal beyond the grave, is firmly bound to the resurrection of Christ. If Jesus is not alive there is no one who can help us. If Jesus is not alive, he cannot possibly change us.
2. If there is no resurrection, our faith is worthless
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (verse 17)
Think of it this way. We like to say that Christ died for our sins. But how do we know that his death actually accomplished anything? If Christ had remained in the tomb, we could never be sure that God had accepted his sacrifice. As long as he was in the tomb, it looked as if the devil had won and Jesus had lost the battle. Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” What was finished? If he doesn’t rise from the dead, then Jesus is finished. The story is over.
You say, but what is the connection, specifically, between Christ’s resurrection and our forgiveness? I thought it is by his death we receive forgiveness? That is true. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that “Christ rose for our sins.” It was on the cross that our sin was dealt with once and for all. What the resurrection did was vindicate that cross-bearing work. It was God’s public declaration that what Jesus did on the cross was sufficient. It was his stamp of approval for Christ’s work. This is the clear implication of Romans 4:25,
“He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
3. If there is no resurrection, our service is without significance
“If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” (15:19)
Sometimes well-meaning Christians say things like, “Well, even if it’s not true, it’s still better to be a Christian. Think of all the things you gain by being a Christian.” We’re talking about this life only – right? OK, so I’ve got no forgiveness, no salvation, no resurrection, and no heaven. What have I left to gain in being a Christian? Peace of mind? I’d have more peace of mind not believing it. Friends? Sure, but I had plenty of friends before I was a Christian.
Do you see how much is at stake here? And then think of Christian service. Think of the millions of people around the world (perhaps you included) who pour hours and hours of their time into preparation and teaching and serving in the church. All of it is a complete waste of time. Think of the countless billions that have been given to the advance of the gospel around the world – all of it wasted. Think of those who have given up successful careers to go into full-time Christian work.
I think of my own example. At the age of 23 I gave up the opportunity to start a very lucrative career as a mechanical engineer. I sold my house, my possessions and everything I had to go oversees to train to be a bible expositor. My education cost well over $100,000 dollars. For the past 20 years I have laboured, taught, disciple, counselled, worked days off, stayed up late, risen early – for what? Do you see what is at stake? If Jesus has not risen, I have wasted half my life.
I don’t want to come to the end of my life and discover that I’ve preached something that isn’t true. And I don’t want to mislead others into thinking that something is true when it’s not. If Christ is still dead, then we all deserve to be pitied because we have believed a lie.
4. If there is no resurrection, our death is without deliverance
“Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.” (15:18)
Paul says that Christians who have died have “fallen asleep in Christ.” The Greek word for fallen asleep is the word from which we get the English word cemetery. In the beginning “cemetery” was a distinctively Christian word. It means the “sleeping place.” That’s where the Christians buried their dead—in the “sleeping place.” Why did they say that? Because when you go to sleep, you expect to wake up eventually. Even so, Christians have always believed that one day those who have died in Christ will wake up in the coming great day of resurrection.
I think of all those dear people that I spent time with at their bedside in their final hours, comforting in the hope of life after death. I think dear old Pat Cantlon who came to know Jesus in her 40’s, and spent the next 40 serving Jesus and loving his people. I think of Anne Power, a gifted pianist and music teacher, who served on the mission field with her husband Mike. Cancer took her life a few years ago while she was only in her early 60’s. I think of Ken McIntosh and Don Armstrong, who served faithfully in the eldership at Howick Baptist Church. Ken built up a very successful business that became known worldwide for the advanced he made in using laminated wood for internal roof trusses. He used that business to fund much of the Lord’s work. Don owned a men’s clothing business in town. But his main business was the Lord’s work. Weeks before he passed away, he was still serving.
All of these saints, who died holding fast to resurrection hope – have eternally perished. If Christ has not risen from the dead.
And that’s why verse 20 is so critically important:
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (15:20)
The term “firstfruits” refers to the first part of any harvest. For the Israelites, it meant the first part of the barley harvest that was offered to the Lord. But it was just that – the first part. A bigger harvest was still to come. Even so, the resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago is God’s way of saying, “One day all my children will rise from the dead.” Not one of them will be left in the grave. Every single one will be raised. The Apostle Paul will be raised. Those who gave their lives for the cause of the gospel will be raised. Pat will be raised. Anne will be raised. Don and Ken will be raised. Up from the grave they will come – bones and flesh that have turned to dust will be resurrected and formed into something new – something beautiful, something better than what was before.
D.L. Moody, one of Christianity’s greatest evangelical preachers wrote this for his epitaph:
Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody, of East Northfield, Massachusetts, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; gone out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body like unto his own glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.
Each and every one of us here is faced with a choice. We can live for the here and now. We can spend our lives here on this earth eating and drinking and being merry believing that when breathe or last breath that’s it. There’s no heaven and no hell. There’s no life after death. And there’s no resurrection.
Only to face the final judgement of God.
Or we can let go of the things of this world and pursue something that outlasts this life. We can put our hope in God. We can get things right with him now, while we have the chance. We can secure for ourselves a place in heaven where there will be no more tears or death or suffering.
I know the choice that I have made. What about you?
 an agnostic is someone who believes that the existence of a greater power, such as a god, cannot be proven
(Note: this is based on a message I preached on Easter Sunday. You can access the full sermon here)