It is a comforting thought to Christians who have lost loved ones in death for they will see their loved one in bodily form. But the Bible teaches that the physical resurrection of the body is more than just a comforting fact; it is vitally important and necessary to our faith. That is the point that Paul is making to the Christians in Corinth. The Bible doesn't just teach the resurrection of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Let’s read I Corinthians 15:1-22.
I. We first need to understand the problem at Corinth.
Some Christians in Corinth evidently denied the physical resurrection of dead bodies. Most likely, the Corinthians were being influenced by Greek philosophical thought. The Greeks believed that while the soul of a person was good, the body was evil. Thus in eternity, only the soul would survive while the body would be discarded. Thus, perhaps the thought of a physically resurrected body was an embarrassment to Greek Christians and so they wanted to avoid any talk of physical bodies rising again. This may not seem to be heretical since they weren’t denying Jesus’ resurrection. Yet it was a wrong teaching that Paul had to correct.
Many today as well believe that when they die, their bodies become irrelevant. They would just as soon leave their pain riddled or weakened bodies behind. “When Jesus comes back again, I’ll be in heaven in my soul, but not my body.” However, Paul makes it clear that the resurrection of the body is not just for Christ, but for us as well.
Notice how Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15. In verses 1-5, Paul reviews the basic content of the Gospel that he has been preaching. He reminds them that Jesus did indeed die for their sins. He reminds them that Jesus was indeed buried, rose again and appeared to many. And Paul reminds them that they had received what he said; this is what they believed! They had believed this before, but now they placed their faith in something else.
II. So let’s look at Paul’s argument as he poses the question if Christ is not risen.
Verses 12-13 say, “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? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” Paul is saying, “You agree that Christ’s resurrection is true; yet you also say that there is no bodily resurrection of the dead. How can this be?” You can’t say that there are no resurrections and still say that there was one! If there was one – that is Christ’s – then it is certainly possible that there will be more.
But Paul doesn’t leave it there in case they were to choose not to accept Jesus’ resurrection. He gives 4 logical results if they want to maintain that Christ didn’t bodily rise from the dead. In verse 14 Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Paul’s preaching may have sounded nice and all, but it was basically gibberish! And if there is no content to the preaching, then the Corinthian’s faith is empty or vain as well. In verse 15 Paul says, “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.” If Christ is not raised, then Paul has been deliberately misrepresenting God. He has been nothing more than an elaborate con man selling a product that doesn’t exist and by saying things that he knew were not true.
Moreover, in verse 17 Paul says: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” If Christ has not been raised, than your faith is ineffective and doesn’t work. Jesus then didn’t destroy the power of sin and you are still trapped in your sins. Finally, look at verse 18: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” If Christ is not risen, then there is no hope for the future beyond the grave. Whoever has died, remains dead and gone and will be so forever.
In conclusion, in verse 19 Paul says if Christ has not been raised, there is nothing! “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” Then all believers are fools; so naive in fact that we deserve to be pitied. We are not foolish; we are pitiful deluded fools. Jesus’ resurrection is not just a doctrine or an interesting historical event. The resurrection of Christ is the very heart and soul, the very foundation of our life. If it isn’t there we are relying on something that is false.
The Corinthians must see that everything they believe and base their life on hinges on the physical resurrection of the dead, including the resurrection of Jesus. However, since Jesus is raised, then so are we. Paul joyfully proclaims in verse 20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus has been raised from the dead and so we have a center, a core for our lives.
III. Christ’s Resurrection is central to the heart of the Gospel.
This is stated very powerfully in Question and Answer 45 in the Heidelberg Catechism. Question: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” The answer is three-fold. First, through Christ’s resurrection, we share in his righteousness. Let’s read together the first part of the answer: “First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he makes us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death.” This refers to the doctrine of justification. Jesus shouldered the burden of our sins so that our sins can be removed. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can stand before God as though we were completely sinless. And even more, we get credit for what Jesus did in his perfect life!
I think of it like it’s me back in college taking calculus. I’m failing miserably and I am simply not able to grasp what is being taught and how to do anything relating to the class. On the final day of the class, the professor walks up to me smiling and says that I not only passed, but I got a straight A in the class. Now I know that is not possible because I know what I’ve done and yet when the grades come out, there is that perfect 4.0 right there on the transcript! When I ask how that is possible, the professor would say that he knows that I was failing and that I didn’t get it, but that the smartest kid in the class, the one who really was acing the class, traded grades with me. I wouldn’t deserve it but the professor did it anyway. That’s crazy!! But that is what Jesus does for us. He takes all of our sin and weaknesses on himself and dies for us. And he gives us all of his perfect obedience so we are perfect before God.
Second, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our life now. The second part says, “by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life.” The first part refers to our justification; this refers to our sanctification. Without Jesus’ resurrection, our life today would be futile, completely meaningless. Our worship would have not meaning at all. We could just as well come here this morning, listen to some music, read some poetry and listen to a few stories. There would be nothing important to say except “try to be a little kinder.”
Moreover, our lives as a whole would be one grand lie. All that we would try to teach our children would be a big, deliberate lie. We could teach them to have good morals and have good conduct, but there would be no real reason for them to live their lives that way. Our struggle to do our jobs with integrity would be meaningless.
Finally, our faith which helps us endure life would be completely ineffective. We would be simply relying on something that wasn’t there. The result is that we would be pitied by all around us, especially the unbelievers. All that money and energy wasted; all that time they could be enjoying life.
But Christ is risen and our lives do have a solid core that we can firmly rely on. We continue to struggle in this world, not in our own strength and resources, but with the power of the risen and living God. Since Jesus, as our living Lord is at the center of our lives, our faith should saturate every part of our lives; every dark and remote corner.
Finally, Christ’s resurrection gives us the real hope that we too will rise again. Answer 17 says, “Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.” Christ is, in Paul’s words, the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He is the guarantee that more resurrections to eternal life will be following. That brings us comfort and hope as we contemplate death. Some of you know the comfort that brings when a loved one dies. The comfort knowing that the person you love is now with the Lord. All the talk about resurrection is not just hopeful, positive thinking. The talk of eternal life is real, solid and certain; and it gives genuine comfort.
If Christ had not risen, then it would be tempting to say, “What’s the point?” We have this sure assurance: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” We aren’t just celebrating our defeat of sin and death. We are celebrating the fact that someday, we too will be raised to new life because Jesus has been raised from the dead. We have this as a solid assurance. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!! Hallelujah!