Hello, and good morning. Before we go any further, let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your living Word. Help us by your Spirit to understand it, take it to heart and live it out. In Jesus name. Amen.
Have you seen the quiz show called ‘The Unbelievable Truth’? The contestants take it in turn to tell an amusing pack of lies on a particular topic. But they sneak in amongst the lies a few statements that sound unbelievable and untrue, but which in fact are true. The other panellists get points by spotting them. The resurrection is like that. It sounds incredible and untrue – an unbelievable claim that becomes believable as it dawns on us that it is true.
We’re back to our series learning from chapter 15 of the apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The section we’ve come to today is 1 Corinthians 15.12-19. My title is ‘The Results of the Resurrection’. And that’s what the apostle is talking about here – but he does it by considering the opposite. He’s doing a kind of mental experiment to make his point. So he’s asking, 'What if there were no resurrection? What if Jesus was not raised bodily from the grave? What then?'
And the reason he’s talking like that is because that’s precisely what some people were saying at that time in Corinth – that resurrection simply cannot happen – whether that’s the resurrection of Jesus, or the resurrection of everyone when Christ returns.
After all, they well knew 2000 years ago that dead people stay dead. The immensity of the claim that Jesus had been raised was clear. And there were those who simply couldn’t stomach it. Take a look at verse 12:
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?"
Paul wanted to drive home to these resurrection-deniers just how wrong they were – and just how serious and deadly their mistake was. So in the rest of this passage, Paul comes up with a series of ‘if’s’ – followed by a massive BUT there at the start of verse 30:
"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead …"
I want, then, to spell out what he’s saying are the results of the resurrection, in verses 13 to 19. And I want to do that in four main headings. So:
1. Because Christ Has Been Raised, the Dead Will Be Raised
Here’s verse 13:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised."
And he emphasises the point in verse 16:
"For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised."
So he’s got two resurrections in view here: the resurrection of Jesus, and also the resurrection of all believers on the Last Day. And he’s making the point that the two are very closely connected. You can’t have one without the other. Why is that? It’s because the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the resurrection of us all.
This wretched virus we’re trying to cope with illustrates this. There was a day not long ago when the virus was transmitted for the very first time from an animal to a person. One person. Without that happening – no crisis. But when it did happen, just once – given the virulence of the virus and its vicious effects on the vulnerable – the rest followed inevitably. That one case of animal to human transmission brought an explosion of viral infection bringing disease and death to the world.
By wonderful contrast, when the one bodily resurrection of Jesus happened, the rest inevitably followed – a far, far greater explosion of life that will come to full fruition with the bodily resurrection to eternal life of all those trusting in him.
Because Christ has been raised, the dead will be raised. Hallelujah! Then:
2. Because Christ Has Been Raised, the Gospel is Powerful
In another of his great letters, to the Romans, the apostle Paul spells out the explosive impact of the gospel. Romans 1.16:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes …"
And now Paul spells out four connected implications of the truth of this good news – again, by contrast with what would be the case if it were not true. Verse 14:
"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain."
And then linked to that, verses 17 and 18:
"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."
One: our evangelism is effective.
Paul says in verse 14:
"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain …"
But it’s not in vain because Christ has been raised. Paul’s preaching of the cross and resurrection was not in vain. To prove the point, if you’re a believer all you have to do is take a look at yourself! 2000 years on and the apostle’s God-given gospel has reached you and brought you to saving faith in the living Lord Jesus. You are the result of the resurrection.
And if you’re not yet a believer, think about this. Through all the centuries since, nothing has been able to stamp out the good news of the death of Jesus for our sins and his bodily resurrection. And today its promise has reached you. Your sins can be forgiven, and you can receive eternal, resurrection life, the moment you put your trust in Jesus and believe in him as your Saviour and your Lord.
Our evangelism is effective.
Two: our faith is fruitful.
"… if Christ has not been raised … your faith is in vain."
And verse 17:
"… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile ..."
But in fact Christ has been raised! So our faith in him is neither vain nor futile. It’s neither fruitless nor useless. And we need to know that, because it can very easily feel as if it is both fruitless and useless. Why? Because fruit takes time to come to fruition, and in the meantime we can’t see the results.
Last weekend I sowed out flower and vegetable seeds in pots and trays. It’s that time of year. And I have faith that those seeds will grow and be fruitful – or veg-ful. Why? Because the seed packet tells me, and because I’ve done it many times before, and I know it works. And in fact already some of the flower seeds have popped right up. No flowers yet, of course, but I can see something’s happening. But what about all the rest? Nothing. I have to wait, not give up, and keep watering.
So it is with our faith in Jesus, and all the sacrifice and service that flows from it. Maybe it all seems hard and with little or no good results. But the fruit will come. So when we get to the end of this whole chapter the apostle’s going to leave us with these words ringing in our ears – this is 1 Corinthians 15.58:
"… be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain."
Our evangelism is effective. Our faith is fruitful.
Three: our debts are dealt with.
"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
Even the death of Jesus without the resurrection was not enough on its own. The wages of sin is death, and death was conquered when Jesus rose from the dead. Without the resurrection, we would still be “in our sins” – still under condemnation.
Jesus often talked about our sin as like a huge debt that must be paid if we’re to go free. So getting free from our sin is like a bill being paid.
The other day I bought a birthday present for Vivienne. (Admittedly I was a bit late, but we’ll let that pass!) I paid for it when I bought it. Then a while later, the email came through confirming my order and confirming that the bill had been paid. There was nothing left to pay, either by me, or by Vivienne who was to receive the gift.
When Jesus died, the debt that we owe our heavenly Father because of our sin was paid once and for all. When he was raised on that third day, it was like the invoice arriving with written on it in black and white, “paid for”. Nothing to pay. The gift is on its way.
That’s what the resurrection does. It’s our guarantee that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ for all eternity.
Because Christ has been raised, then, our evangelism is effective, our faith is fruitful, our debts are dealt with, and:
Four: our faithful dead have not died.
Verse 17 and on to 18:
"And if Christ has not been raised ... Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."
Or to turn that on its head – because Jesus has been raised, those who have died trusting in Jesus have not in fact perished. They’re safe with Jesus. Their bodies have died, but even that is only temporary, while they wait for the resurrected, eternal bodies that they’ll get when Jesus comes back again.
There’s a moving song that you can find on the internet that tries to put into words this wonderful truth. Anne Atkins wrote it recently after her elderly father died. His family and friends sang and played it in a virtual choir and band, because they couldn’t gather for his funeral in the lockdown. Speaking of the risen Jesus, it says:
He will wipe all tears away.
He will shine as bright as day.
He will make creation new.
For His words are sure and true.
You can find it if you just Google ‘Anne Atkins song’. Give it a listen!
So: our evangelism is effective; our faith is fruitful; our debts are dealt with; and our faithful dead have not died. Such is the power of the gospel.
Then my next main heading is this:
3. Because Jesus Has Been Raised, the Apostolic Faith is God's Truth
Take a look at verse 15:
"We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised."
That is, 'If resurrection were impossible and so hasn’t happened to Jesus, then I, Paul, would be lying through my teeth when I say that I saw Jesus alive. And what’s more, I’d be making God out to be a fraud, because I said that God had done it. But God is true and I’m no liar because it really happened.'
So the gospel that the apostles preached to the world, and that we read in the pages of the New Testament, is God’s truth. We can with confidence rest the whole weight of our lives on it.
Finally and …
4. Because Christ Has Been Raised, We Have Hope Not Just For Now But For All Eternity
This is verse 19:
"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied."
Those are really strong words. Paul knows that the Christian life is hard. He was himself bashed and beaten and pushed from pillar to post all through his Christian life, until in the end he was executed. And yet he was full of joy. Why? Because of his hope of resurrection through the risen Jesus.
We need to be clear that Christian hope is above all, future hope. Yes, we experience great blessings in this life. But without that massive future hope, present hardships would outweigh present blessings. If Jesus was not raised, we’re living deluded lives. But he was, so our hope is sure.
It’s exactly 50 years since the amazing Apollo 13 mission to the moon. There’s another great film for your lockdown viewing! I’ve been listening to the voices of those involved in the mission on the World Service podcasts that tell the story. On its way to the moon, there was an explosion in the Apollo 13 Command Module that caused it to stop functioning. The three astronauts had to get back to earth using the landing craft that was designed to take them down to the moon. They went through an extraordinary series of crises. Their living conditions became almost intolerable. But one thing kept them going. The hope that they would get safely back down to earth. For them, it wasn’t a certain hope. But it was enough.
Life following Jesus can be hard. He never promised otherwise. But we do have a certain hope. The hope of a new creation. The hope of bodily resurrection. Jesus has given us that hope, because he has been raised from the dead. Hallelujah!
Heavenly Father, thank you that you raised your Son Jesus to life on the third day. And because of him, we too will one day share in his resurrection life. While we wait, teach us, we pray, to keep going and to keep trusting, in the sure and certain hope that our faith and our labours are not in vain. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.