Text: 1 Cor 15
1. WHAT? – The Fact of the Resurrection
Vv1-11, esp. v4 – ‘He was raised on the third day.’
Think back over the events surrounding the execution of Jesus. Pilate released a common criminal, and had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers swarmed around him, stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. Then they made a crown out of thorns and put it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and laughed at him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spat on him, and then grabbed the staff from him and beat him over the head with it, again and again. Then they fastened him to a couple of pieces of rough timber by hammering nails through his wrists and his ankles. And they just left him to hang there. People who walked past shouted insults at him, “You said you could destroy the temple and build it gain in three days. Well, if you’re so clever, save yourself. Just come on down from the cross, if you’re the Son of God! He saved others; but he can’t save himself.” And he didn’t save himself; he didn’t come down from the cross. He just hung there in agony, until all the life drained away from his injured and exhausted body. And then his cold and lifeless form was taken down, and put into its grave. His friends rolled a big boulder across the opening of the tomb to seal it up, and prepared to get on with the rest of their lives. And that was about it. Dead and buried.
Except that he didn’t stay dead, and he didn’t stay buried. That body came back to life. That boulder was rolled away. That tomb was vacated. Those disciples who thought he had gone for ever saw him again, and talked with him and before long were eating breakfast with him.
And those same disciples, once so pathetically weak and disillusioned, were soon taking the message of a risen Christ to whoever would hear it. ‘God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was not possible for death to keep its hold on him.’ Acts 2:24.
And the resurrection of Jesus continued to be a leading theme of the Christian message, as it spread far and wide across the globe. It made its way to Corinth, through the preaching of Paul and others, vv3-4 – ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’
Notice what Paul makes special and detailed mention of some of the witnesses to the resurrection. I like especially what he says about the appearance of Christ to the five hundred brothers at the same time, v6. ‘Most of whom’ he says, ‘are still living.’ As if to say, ‘Well, if you have any doubts about this, there are plenty of witnesses around you can go and interrogate.’
Friends, I want you to be completely sure that Jesus Christ rose from the grave. The evidence for this amazing event has been scrutinised time and time again, and found to be absolutely compelling.
That’s what. That’s the fact of Christ’s resurrection.
2. SO WHAT? – The Significance of the Resurrection
1 Cor 15:12-57, esp. v17,20 – ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.’
Actually, the main focus of this chapter is not Christ’s resurrection at all, but our own. Christ’s resurrection is introduced to demonstrate and illustrate our own. Some of the Corinthians, it seems, were denying the resurrection of the body. They were probably quite happy with the idea that the soul survives death – that was a very commonly-held notion among the pagans of the ancient world. But they couldn’t cope with a resurrection of the body. And, they would have reasoned, if you don’t take your body with you into the next life, then it doesn’t much matter what you do with it in this life; you might as well give it over to a life of sensual pleasure, v32, ‘If the dead are not (bodily) raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”‘
Paul’s answer to this is a piece of simple logic: if dead bodies do not rise, then Christ has not risen. If Jesus lives on only as some kind of ghost, then he has no more ability to help us than any other dead person who may be surviving as a ghost. And if Christ has not risen from the grave, your faith is futile. Get the point: if there is no resurrection of the body, there can be no Christian faith; if there is no survival of the whole person beyond death, then everything we have and believe and hope for as Christians is a pitiful sham. ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men,’ v19.
If there is no resurrection, you can’t even begin the Christian life. A person begins the Christian life by putting his or her trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life. But how can Jesus possibly save anyone, if dead? ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…’ says Paul, and still calls people to himself.
If there is no resurrection, you can’t continue the Christian life. A person continues the Christian life by means of a day-by-day relationship with the Lord Jesus. But how can Jesus possibly be a friend to anyone, if dead? ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…’ says Paul, and we cann sing, ‘he walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.’
If there is no resurrection, you can’t complete the Christian life. A person completes the pilgrimage of faith on this earth in joyful anticipation of eternal life in glory. Once more, how can Jesus come back and take us to be with him for ever if dead? ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ Christ’s resurrection the illustration and demonstration of our own.
That’s so what. That’s the significance of Christ’s resurrection.
3. NOW WHAT? The Consequences of Christ’s Resurrection
1 Cor 15:58.
Faith in the resurrection has far-reaching practical consequences.
Be stable. ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.’ Paul is ending this great chapter on the same note on which he began it, ‘Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.’ We need more of that kind of stability today. We need a generation of Christians who know what they believe, who are committed to the fundamental truths of the gospels, who are not infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching;’ but who are prepared to ‘speak the truth in love.’ Where does such stability come from? Look to the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is the cornerstone of your faith; it’s a foundation that will never be shaken. Build on that and you will build for eternity. Your own resurrection is the goal of your faith, it’s the destination towards which everything else in your Christian life is heading. Keep your sights on that target and you will never go off course, you will never swerve from what is true and right and good.
Be hard working. ‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.’ But the Christian faith was never designed to be a spectator sport. It only works, for people who will work at it, who will throw themselves into it, seven whole days, not one-and-a-half hours of one day in seven. But where does this energy come from, to labour on in this kind of way, to spend and be spent in the work of the Lord? Look to the resurrection. The resurrection is the mightiest demonstration of power there has ever been. And that same energy, that resurrection power, is at work in you. If only we knew this better; if only we appreciated the divine resources that are at our disposal. We walk around like beggars, forgetting that our pockets are stuffed with +20 notes. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that they might know the ‘incomparably great power’ of God ‘for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.’ Eph 1:19f.
Be encouraged. ‘You know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ Why make any effort at all to live a Christian life? Why keep struggling against the world, the flesh, and the devil, when they all seem such potent adversaries? Why keep trying to share Jesus with a world that doesn’t seem to care? Indeed, one of the hardest things in the Christian life is to keep on keeping on in the work that God has called you to do. There will be setbacks and disappointments. People you trust and respect will sometimes let you down. You will continue to discover within your own soul such hidden depths of evil and unbelief as will make you disgusted and dismayed. But take heart. Look to the resurrection. Think of Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before him that Christ endured the cross.’ It is just such a joyful prospect that spurs us on in the face of our own, much less severe, trials. The Christian life, with all of its ups and downs, begins to make sense the moment we realise that this life is a prelude, a preparation, an apprenticeship, for a life which is yet to come. Because Christ lives, those who belong to him will live also. What greater encouragement do we need, than this? ‘We will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed…’