12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. 24 Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Easter has always had its doubters. Today is no different. For many this is no more than an extra-long weekend, and an excuse to overindulge in chocolate. To a large degree, the world looks at Easter, shrugs its shoulders and says, “Easter. So, what?”
What difference does Easter make? From the very first Easter morning people have doubted the authenticity of the Risen Christ.
That morning, when the chief priests heard that the tomb was empty, they called the men who had been guarding the tomb and offered them money to say that the disciples of Jesus had stolen His body during the night. You could call that the original Easter conspiracy. It was the first but not the last.
The years have passed. Decades, generations and centuries have come and gone, and each time the authenticity of the Christian faith is questioned, the attacks are almost always centred on the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus.
Good Friday doesn’t pose this sort of problem because the world understands death. We’re faced with death every day.
There is enough historical evidence outside of the Bible to support the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who was put to death by Roman crucifixion in or around the year 33AD. Somewhere in a remote province at the edge of the Roman Empire, a man named Jesus died. Death happens to all of us eventually. That Jesus died is no problem for most people. But the world has enormous problems with Easter because the world knows nothing about resurrection.
We have a category for death. It’s a subject that no-one is really comfortable with, but we know it’s there and that it is real. When we see a hearse drive past, we know what that’s all about. But we have no category for rising from the dead.
So again, what difference does Easter make? Or maybe we should do what Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15 and turn the question completely the other way around.
What difference would it make if Jesus had not risen from the dead? How different would our world and our lives be if Jesus was still dead? What if some archaeologist discovered the tomb and proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the bones in that tomb were the bones of Jesus?
What difference would that make? The question may sound rather strange to ask on this morning of all mornings, and possibly even blasphemous, but Paul asked it, so why shouldn’t we? What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?
It’s actually not a new question, and has, in fact been asked for nearly 2000 years. It’s a Biblical question, one that you can find in 1 Corinthians 15. Seven times in these verses Paul uses the little word “if.” He is raising the question in order to show us how much our faith hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
This is where our faith finds it root, and what Paul is doing is what we commonly call playing the devil’s advocate in order to teach us what matters most.
We need to be reminded that an astounding miracle lies at the heart of our faith, and that consequently we need to be absolutely clear in our minds that the resurrection is true. If not, our faith will be on very shaky ground.
We believe something absolutely incredible - that a man who was dead came back to life three days after He died. We believe that God raised Him from the dead. That’s an incredible claim to make. Just think about it - if you were to go to a cemetery and stay there waiting for a resurrection, you’ll wait a long time. There are lots of people going in, but no one comes out. We see plenty funerals and no resurrections. What are the chances that a man who had been tortured, crucified and then buried in a tomb would be raised from the dead?
Remember that Paul wrote the letters we know as First and Second Corinthians to the Church – to Christians.
He asks them to consider just for a moment what if the resurrection did not happen. What if? What if Easter isn’t really true?
He then goes on to answer the question by showing us four disastrous consequences if Jesus did not rise from the dead. We’ll look at each of these, because these things would be true if the resurrection is false.
Firstly, if there is no resurrection, our preaching is useless.
Verse 14-15: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
The word ‘useless’ kind of jumps off the page as you read this.
If Jesus was still dead, then all we’ve ever learned about Him means nothing.
The Church as we know it, would cease to exist. In fact, it would never have begun in the first place. But just hold onto this thought for a while. The Church does exist, and it still proclaims the message of hope to be found in the Risen Christ.
But if the resurrection were not true, there would be no Church, no preaching and no proclamation of the love of God.
If the tomb is not empty, we’re wasting our time here.
Secondly, if there is no resurrection, our faith is without forgiveness.
Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Something which is futile is something which produces no results. The KJV says that our faith would be in vain.
It’s a promise with no fulfillment. It’s a trip with no destination. It’s a story with no end. It’s a seed that produces no crop. It’s a dream that never comes true.
It’s like a company with no product to market and sell.
Just think about this: As Christians we say that Jesus died for our sins. But if He is still dead, how would we know that His death actually accomplished anything? If He had remained in the tomb, we would never be sure that God had accepted His sacrifice. This would be one of the greatest tragedies – to not know if our sins have been forgiven. As long as Jesus remained in that tomb – and He did for three days, during that time no-one would know the joy of forgiveness. As long as He remained in that tomb, it looked as if the devil had won and Jesus had lost the great battle. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” What was finished? If He doesn’t rise from the dead, then Jesus is finished, the story is over, and we are still in our sins.
That is why the resurrection is so important. One commentator wrote that Easter is God’s great “Amen!” to Good Friday.
Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” And three days later God said, “Amen!”
He raised Jesus from the dead, and because He now lives forever, we can know our sins are forgiven forever.
You can see what Paul is doing here as he plays the devil’s advocate. He wants the Corinthian Church to ask themselves if they can know with absolute certainty whether they are forgiven or not, and he gives them the two possible options, and how they can know which is the correct one. If Jesus has been raised, the answer is yes, but if He is still in the tomb, the answer is no, and they are still “in their sins” – still condemned.
The third “if” he poses is, if there is no resurrection, our death is without deliverance.
Verse 18: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” The NLT says, “In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!”
Paul says that Christians who have died have “fallen asleep in Christ.” The Greek word for fallen asleep is the word koimao from which we get another Greek word koimeteria from which we get the English word cemetery. In the early days, the word “cemetery” was a distinctively Christian word. It means quite literally the “sleeping place.” That’s where the early Christians buried their dead - in the “sleeping place.” Why is this important to know? Because when you go to sleep, you expect to wake up. Christians have always believed that one day those who have died in Christ will wake up in the coming great day of resurrection. Paul encourages us in Romans 13:11-12 when he writes, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” That is the firm hope of the resurrection the Church has proclaimed for nearly 2000 years.
But if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then death wins. If He is still in the tomb, there is no hope for anyone, this life is all there is, and all who are dead will stay dead forever. With the resurrection, Christians have an endless hope, but if Jesus is still dead, all we have is a hopeless end.
And the fourth point Paul makes is that if there is no resurrection, our very existence and serving each other has no point.
Verse 19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
For Paul this is the ultimate argument because he means that if Jesus is not raised, we are just fooling ourselves. If He is still in the tomb, then all of the scoffers, sceptics and doubters are right. We’re just cosmic accidents floating briefly in time and space with no purpose and no meaning. (What a miserable way to live – believing that at the end of your life, that’s it. Game over.)
If the resurrection is not true, then we have a reason to be just as miserable.
If there is no foundation to our faith, then we are nothing but self-deluded fools.
If Christ is not raised, we have no message to preach.
If Christ is not raised, there is no God to hear our prayers.
If Christ is not raised, we are not saved.
If Christ is not raised, let’s close every church permanently.
If Christ is not raised, then every Christian for 2000 years has been wrong.
If He is still in the tomb, you have nothing, and you are nothing, because beyond this life, when you breathe your last and your heart beats for the final time, there is nothing. Game over, thank you for playing.
What Paul means by saying that we are to be pitied more than all men is that if this whole thing is a lie, then we deserve pity more than any other group of people because we have believed the greatest lie.
So if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is without purpose, our faith is without forgiveness, our death is without deliverance and our very lives are without purpose.
And then we come to verse 20: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (NKJV).
He answers all of his “what ifs” with “But now.”
The chorus of Robert Lowry’s hymn answers all of Paul’s “what ifs.”
But now… Up from the grave He arose,
But now… With a mighty triumph over His foes.
But now… He arose a victor over the dark domain,
But now… He lives forever, with His saints to reign!
But now… He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
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 us who put our faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross will be left in the grave.
We will all be raised. We will marvel at the grace of God forever, we will see Jesus and bow down before Him, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I mentioned earlier that it is an historical fact that Jesus died in about 33AD. There is just as much factual evidence to prove the resurrection. The Bible is not the only source of the reality that Jesus rose from the dead 3 days after He was buried in the tomb. There are writings and documents from the time which unequivocally support the resurrection. Those who still deny it are simply ignoring the facts. Jesus Christ is alive today.
This is our hope, our faith, our confidence, this is the faith of our ancestors who believed then what we believe now. This is what the earliest Christians believed, and this is what Christians around the world believe today.
It is an astounding claim to say that a person who dies will someday rise and live again, but this is precisely what God has promised, and He has proven that He will deliver on that promise because Jesus walked out of that tomb on Easter morning.
Two thousand years ago Jesus came back from the dead never to die again. He was taken up to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And one day soon He will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for His bride, the Church, and on that day the dead in Christ will rise.
Let the doubters doubt if they will. Today we join our Christian brothers and sisters across the world in declaring that Jesus Christ is alive.
Because He lives, we will live. Death will not have the last word. The grave will not win.
Our preaching has purpose, our faith has forgiveness, our death has deliverance and our lives have meaning.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Corinthians 15:12–19
The actual resurrection of Jesus is often referred to by Christians as one of the most important doctrines of our faith.
Why is this? Why is the resurrection so important?
Read Matthew 28:1-8
Pay particular attention to the reactions and emotions of the two women. Discuss some of the feelings they must have experienced that morning.
How do you think you would have behaved had you been there that day?
The Christmas and Easter stories are so well known in the Church, yet there is a danger that we can easily lose the wonder of the mystery of just what God has done for us.
What can you do to guard against taking the love of God for granted?
In which ways have you missed the awesome truth of the empty tomb?