When a loved one dies our lives are forever changed. The sadness and sorrow of death is overwhelming. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t hear about its devastating effects. Five killed in Aurora. Impaired drivers and weather conditions lead to fatal crashes. In recent days cancer has led to the death of a 13 year-old girl in Groton, SD and a 17 boy at Shiloh. Death is the cost for our sin. The Scriptures are clear. The wages of sin is death. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one is exempt from this paralyzing curse. We need hope in this dead and dying world.
In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul points us to the one and only remedy for sin and our death sentence. St. Paul reminds us again how very blessed we are because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. He does so in an effort to dispel the lies these Christians from Corinth believe. Greek philosophers taught something called Gnosticism which holds that the body and things physical are inherently bad and things of the spirit were inherently good.
In the verses leading up to our text, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the basics of the faith, centered in Christ Jesus. Paul writes: Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Paul clearly states the fact that Jesus died and rose again. This is the very truth upon which the Church stands or falls. As proof of Christ’s bodily resurrection he states that Jesus had appeared to the disciples, to more than five hundred brothers at one time. Even Paul himself had a face-to-face encounter with Christ after the resurrection. Paul makes the point that there can be no question as to whether Christ physically rose from death.
Paul challenges them to face the many consequences IF Christ has not been raised.
If Jesus rose physically from death, how can you say there is no bodily resurrection? Let’s use your conclusion, he says. If, as you say, there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. AND If Christ has not been raised from the dead we have other, much bigger problems. For example, our preaching is in vain and your faith is futile. In other words, if it is true that Jesus is still dead, I am wasting my time preaching and you are wasting your time listening to my empty words.
There are other serious consequences that Paul mentions if Jesus has not been raised from death. Your faith is futile and you are still in your sin. That means that everyone who has died with faith in Christ has died trusting a lie.
No resurrection means sin has defeated Christ and continues to win over all people. If Jesus remained dead, then we remain dead. Therefore, the power of sin remains. The power of sin is death (1 Corinthians 15:56). If Jesus was not raised, then his death accomplished nothing for me. We should be quaking in our boots knowing what awaits… If Christ has not been raised.
If Jesus has not been raised the apostles are liars. All witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus are liars. They claim Jesus rose from the dead but must be considered false witnesses worthy of death. Then the people who wrote the Bible are liars. Their writings are false, and they are not to be believed at all.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the destiny for all people, even believers in Jesus, is eternal torment. If Jesus did not rise, then the dead stay dead and there is no hope of eternal life. If Christ is not raised, then when we die we are at best rotting away and at worst in eternal torment. If Christ is not raised, weeping and gnashing of teeth, unending pain is our plight.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the Christian life looks foolish. We must be pitied… for our whole life has been a sham, a charade, and a joke. We deserve the compassion reserved for fools. The apostles have suffered and sacrificed for nothing. Christians have suffered and sacrificed for nothing. We have been living the wrong way if this is the only life to live. No resurrection means we need to revert back to selfish living because this is your one and only time to live. “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” should be our new mantra. We must be pitied for not doing so for we have wasted our lives and wasted our time if Jesus has not risen.
Sadly, there are times in our lives when we live as though Christ were still dead. We wrestle with the struggle as St. Paul. Sin reigns in our lives. We live as though my need and my concern is the most important. Consider how we treat our bodies. Certainly not as the wonderful temple of the Holy Spirit as the Scriptures declare. We live for the moment. We either make of our bodies a god, clinging to our youth, showing more skin than we ought, desiring the spotlight, glitz and glimmer OR we are ashamed of our bodies with our rolls, wrinkles, and silver hair. We eat too much… or too little. We drink too much. In addition, we ingest and digest chemicals into our bodies that destroy the body. We engage in actions with our body that are offensive to the Lord. Many in our society condone the destruction of bodies and lives of the unborn. Persons who hurt deeply seek to stop the pain by ending their life through suicide. Pornography and adultery are rampant. No matter how serious or insignificant our sin, we are called to repent, to turn away from sin which leads to death. If we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This is only possible because it is true that Jesus died and rose, body and soul.
Jesus Is Risen As The Firstfruits (15:20)
Verse 20 declares the reality. Christ has been raised from the dead. His resurrection is a fact. But here is the key: Christ guarantees our resurrection. Paul describes Christ’s resurrection as a firstfruits. The firstfruits in the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 23:10-11, 17, 20) was not only prior to the main harvest, but was the assurance that the rest of the harvest was coming. The firstfruits were a representative sample of the crop. The full harvest could not be made until the firstfruits were offered. Therefore, the firstfruits of the harvest meant that there was more to come. Jesus’ resurrection requires our resurrection! Jesus experienced a permanent resurrection of the body, never to die again, unlike all the other resurrections we read in the scriptures. Jesus’ resurrection was the only one where the person never died again. Jesus was the first to rise and never die again. His act guarantees our resurrection, never to die again. Jesus did not experience a spiritual resurrection. He experienced a bodily resurrection. They saw him and he was not a ghost. They talked with him and touched him. Jesus ate with them. Jesus rose from the grave in a bodily resurrection. The teaching that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection is powerful. It means that what happened to Jesus will happen to us. His resurrection is the proof of our resurrection.
Jesus is the ultimate antidote for our sin. Listen to the very next verses that follow our text. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
Because Jesus died and rose again, we have peace and joy. When a loved one who believes in Jesus dies, we mourn not as those who have no hope, but with sure and certain hope that because Jesus lives, we shall live also. Not just in spirit, but in body as well. His resurrection means that sin is forgiven. Eternal life is secured for all who believe. This is not a silly, vain practice or preaching and believing. It is a matter of our eternal well-being.
It is also the very reason that we consider ourselves blessed. Even when we experience persecution and hatred for the faith, we are blessed. Listen to Jesus’ word of blessing in the Gospel. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Because Jesus lives, we can rejoice and leap for joy. The Last Day is not one for us Christians to fear. Rather we can anticipate and look forward to the Coming of the Lord.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul clearly states that we will be raised with a physical body on the last day.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Because Jesus lives, we are confident that there is a bodily resurrection of the dead. Because Jesus lives, our preaching is true and our faith is sure. Those eye witnesses told the truth. Many of them died proclaiming the truth that Jesus has indeed risen. Because Jesus lives, you are no longer in your sins. His rising to life means that your sin is forgiven. Like the empty grave of Jesus, your grave will also stand empty. You will live with Him in the splendor of heaven, body and soul, for all eternity.
It is because Jesus lives that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.