I have two groups of people standing here with me. The people on my right are not
perfect, but they are all convinced Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and they
have made a personal and decisive commitment to follow him. They don't always
live up to this commitment fully, but they are serious about moving in this
direction. These people find themselves in a daily battle with what the Bible
calls sin. It is a struggle, but they find that God is helping
them. They are deeply convinced that at the point of death their souls will go
into the presence of Christ, and they also are deeply convinced that at some
future point in history Christ will return and raise their bodies from the dead, like the
body of Jesus. These people are different from each other, but they have all
made a life commitment to know and serve and follow Jesus Christ.
going to let these folks introduce themselves to you. They're not using their
own names; they are simply representing characters to whom we can relate:
I'm Pete. I've been a Christian for five years, and I don't find it easy to
live out my faith, because I don't always want to go God's way. So there's a
struggle inside of me. But I do know Christ is with me, so I keep pressing on."
my name is Jane. I'm 45 years old. I have been attending churches for years,
but it never really made a difference in my life until last year. A friend told
me that if Christ is alive then there must be a possibility to know him. That
was the start of a new adventure of faith."
I'm Todd. When I look back on my life, I can see there was a lot Christ needed
to straighten out. I was a self-centered person, and there was clutter in my
life. When I came to faith in Christ five years ago, I discovered God could
give me a new start and the strength to change."
I'm Mary. I've been serving the Lord for 40 years, but the best part of my life
still lies ahead. Being a Christian has helped me look to the future, because
God promises everlasting life with Christ to all who believe."
my left we have some folks who represent another point of view. These folks are
not perfect either, and they have had a bad experience with religion. Some of
them have seen hypocrisy, and that has made it difficult for them to put their
faith in Jesus Christ. Some have spent a lot of time in church. Some have been
in youth groups. They've heard sermons. They've been brought along to church by
parents. Yet they have not come to the point of making a personal commitment of
faith to Jesus Christ.
I'd like for them to introduce themselves:
I'm Dave. I've been coming to church for about 10 years, and I enjoy it. I've
heard a lot of sermons, but I've never felt I needed to make a commitment."
I'm Joanne. I'm here because it's Easter and some friends invited me, but I
don't find church easy. I have a lot of questions about faith, and I don't see
how anyone can suggest that only people who follow Jesus will be in heaven some
I'm Steve. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the end of the world and
whether there's anything after death. I've come to the conclusion that nobody
can know. I don't have a lot of time for organized religion, but my personal
belief is if you do your best to do a good job, you don't have to worry."
I'm Susan. I'm comfortable with my life right now. There may come a time when I
need Jesus in my life, but that time is not now. I don't want to make a
commitment that will tie me down. I want to be free to make my own
first thing I want to do is say a few words to you folks who believe Jesus
Christ is risen from the dead, and have made a commitment to serve him: What if you are wrong? What if Jesus Christ has not actually risen
from the dead? When it comes to the central claim of Christianity that Jesus
Christ rose from the dead there are only two possibilities: either he did this
thing or he did not do this thing. I want to look honestly at this first
scenario, a theoretical possibility that Jesus may not have risen from the dead.
Christ has not risen from the dead, our faith is futile.
people are so addicted to religion, they will tell you that even if
Christianity is not true, the Christian faith is still the best way to live.
You've probably heard people say things like this: "Even if it turned out Jesus
Christ did not rise from the dead and there was no such place as heaven, I
would still have no regrets about living the Christian life." You might have
said that yourself at some point.
I want you to notice that in 1 Corinthians
15, the apostle Paul absolutely disagrees with that position. He says in
verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied
more than all men." If Christ has not risen, folks who believe he has are the most miserable
people in the world. If Christ has not
risen, folks like you are a bunch of sad cases.
gives four reasons for this rather striking
conclusion. First he says in verse 17, "If Christ has not been raised, your
faith is futile." It's useless. You think it will deliver something to you, but
if Christ has not risen, it doesn't. It can't.
build their lives around the conviction that if you have faith in Christ, God
does something in your life and makes you a new person and will eventually
welcome you into everlasting life. But Paul is quite clear that if Christ has
not risen, that is a fallacy. You've trusted a lie. You've staked everything on something that has no substance, and
that's sad. If Christ has not risen, folks who believe he has are playing a mind game.
They talk about trusting Christ, but if Christ has not risen, there is no
Christ to trust.
When the drug companies
develop a new product, they run tests with two groups of people. They give one
group the new tablets, and they give the other group an identical-looking
product that is a dummy. They do this for a simple reason: the mind is
powerful, and some people feel that because they've taken a tablet they are
better, although the tablet has no substance that could change the body. It's
all in their minds.
Christ has not risen, Christians are like people who say they feel better after
taking a dummy tablet. They are confessing some change that has no substantial
basis. Like the dummy drug, such faith would not do anything except within the
individual minds of these people.
think faith saves them, but if Christ has not risen, faith does nothing outside
their own imagination. If Christ has not risen, all that has happened is that
church music has made them more cheerful; Christian friends have made them more
hopeful; A brighter outlook on life has made them more thankful. If Christ has
not risen, what they think God has done is nothing more than a figment of their
imagination, and that's sad. If Christ has not risen, we are the most miserable people in the world.
If Christ has not risen from the dead, we would still be in sin.
apostle Paul gives a second reason that Christians are the most miserable
people in the world if Christ has not risen: If Christ has not risen, we are the most miserable people in the world, not only because our faith would be
useless, but also because we would still be in our
Our culture is awash with new spiritualities and new religions. The most
important question to ask of any religion is, "How will this teaching deal
with my sins?"
I sometimes ask this
question when I'm watching Oprah Winfrey, especially if she has a new spiritual
teacher who's telling us how life should be lived, what kind of meditation we should
practice, and what it will do for us: What will this do about
my sins? The usual answer seems to be that sin is not an issue. If sin is
not an issue in this new teaching, you know it is diametrically opposed to the
Bible and to Christianity, because the central issue you need to
deal with before you can enjoy a relationship with God is sin.
is important, because all you Christians are worried about your sins. It's why
you've come to Jesus Christ. For you, sin is an issue. But if Christ has not
risen, you are still in your sins. You have staked your eternal destiny on a
man who, it turns out, died 2,000 years ago and can do no more for you than
Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. Your problem is even worse, because by
your profession of faith in Jesus, you have actually added to your sins. If
Christ has not risen, people like you have been praying to Almighty God in the
name of a man who died 2,000 years ago. That's blasphemy. You have put a man in
the place of God. Frankly, it would be better if you lived an entirely secular
life under these circumstances.
if Christ has not risen, you're the most miserable people in the world.
Christ has not risen from the dead, we hold onto false hope.
if Christ has not risen, Christians are the most miserable people in the world
because they are holding to a false hope. Look at verse 18: If Christ is not
risen, "then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost."
of you have stood at the grave of a loved one, and those who are Christians
have drawn comfort from the conviction that the person they love is now in the
presence of Jesus Christ. But Paul is brutally honest here. He is saying if
Christ has not risen, it is false hope. For if even Jesus wasn't raised, there
is no hope whatsoever that anyone else is going to make it into everlasting
life. If Christ has not risen, they are simply lost, and you folks are living
people think even false hope is better than no hope. The truth is, false hope
is the saddest thing in the world.
One of the privileges of
being a pastor is getting to walk with people through painful times in their
lives. I had that privilege with a young missionary several years ago. She had
married a Rwandan pastor, a Tutsi, and they had established their home in that
country. She had gone on a short trip to Kenya on her own when the awful
Rwandan tragedy erupted. Hutu militia moved in from the north, butchering
people wherever they went. The militia came to the area of their home, and
anarchy reigned. It was impossible for this lady to return to her home. The
borders were closed, and the situation was chaotic.
she came back to England and waited for good news. The church surrounded her with
love and prayer. Days turned to weeks, and we heard nothing. She told me many
times she had an absolute conviction her husband was alive. The more certain
she became about that, the more concerned I was about her. There was only a
slim chance of that being a reality. I tried as a pastor to say some words to
open the door to the possibility that her husband might already be
with the Lord, but she couldn't hear these words. To
her, they sounded as if her pastor lacked faith.
was months before we heard news, but then there was a firm report. Someone had
seen him taken and shot. The news was absolutely devastating. The pain
of the loss was bad enough, but the false hope made it a hundred times worse.
Every person who
has been by the bedside of a loved one and has seen them rally, only to see
them decline, knows what I'm talking about. Don't ever say hope is a good thing
even if it's not real.
apostle Paul is saying if Christ has not risen, you are the most miserable
people in the world, because you've staked your whole lives on a hope that will
ultimately prove to be false. There cannot be any worse way to live than that.
Christ has not risen from the dead, we are wasting our lives.
if Christ has not risen, believers are the most miserable people in the world
because they are wasting their lives. If Christ has not risen, you're wasting
your life, because "if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be
pitied more than all men" (verse 19).
must have written these words with passion. He had paid a high price for
following Christ. On five occasions he was flogged with 39 lashes. On three
occasions he was beaten with rods. On one occasion he was stoned. Three times
he was shipwrecked. He had been in and out of prison and lived in constant
danger. That was his life. Why? This man was a brilliant academic. He could
have had a comfortable life as a lecturer in a rabbinic school with a good
salary and the respect of the Jewish community. Why did he endure this
incredible suffering? One reason: for the sake of Christ. Paul says: If Christ
is not risen, I've endured all this for the sake of a dead man and a lost
cause. That simply isn't worth it.
Christian life is so hard that if Jesus Christ has not risen, it isn't worth
it. The Christians in Corinth had not been persecuted, but the apostle Paul says to them, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we
are to be pitied more than all men." They may not have been persecuted, as most
of us have not been persecuted physically, but all of them made costly
commitments to Jesus Christ.
there is no resurrection, then the cost of your commitment to Jesus is merely a
register of your mistaken choices. If Christ has not risen, you have fought
battles with sin, you have struggled, and you need never have bothered. You
have prayed, and it's been like sending letters that never arrived. If Christ
is not risen, you have given money you could have saved and enjoyed. If Christ
has not risen, you've spent hours in service for a cause that amounts to
people say they think the Christian life would be a good thing even if there
had been no resurrection, I wonder if they've never actually taken up the
cross and done anything that is costly for
Christ. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and
take up his cross and follow me." Real Christians know it costs to follow Christ, and if Christ hasn't risen, it
simply isn't worth it.
many times have you heard this phrase: "I'm really glad your faith works for
you"? When a person says that, what they mean is that it doesn't matter whether
Christianity is true or not; all that matters is it's a positive experience for
people like you. Paul absolutely disagrees. If Christ has not risen, your faith is an emotional crutch. It is unhealthy, and it is a miserable thing to build your whole life
around something false. If Christianity is not true, it is not a positive personal experience; it's actually a dangerous delusion. If Christ has not risen, folks like you are
the most miserable people in the world. There are many who would agree with that assessment, and that is why they have not come to Christ. They have not believed because they perceive that Christians are the most miserable people in the world. If Christ has not risen, that
position would be justified. That's what the apostle says in the Bible with great
honesty. There's no special pleading, no "We must keep the church going at all
costs. We must keep pastors in jobs. We must prop up Christianity in the West."
Christianity stands or falls on its claim that it is true. If it is not true,
integrity demands that we shut down the whole operation. If Christ has not
risen, there is no validity for what we are doing. If Christ has not risen, I
quit. There are easier ways to live this life.
has indeed risen from the dead.
at verse 20. The apostle Paul, having painstakingly made his point clear that
everything stands or falls on whether or not Christ was raised, declares, "But
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead." He does not paint this second
scenario as a possibility; he declares it as a fact. In the Bible God confronts us with a
message. My task as a preacher is to say to all who will hear: the Word of God
to you is Jesus Christ has risen!
Christ was not raised from the dead, Christianity falls apart. We would all
be the most miserable people in the world. But this is the declaration: Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. Jesus, who claimed to be
the Son of God, was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day he rose.
The tomb was empty. He was no longer there. He lives in the power of a new
life. He is alive.
does this declaration actually mean? It means your faith has substance. You're
not believing in nothing. You've placed your trust in One who lives. When you
pray, he hears you. When you worship, it brings joy to his heart. You have
placed your trust in the living Lord Jesus Christ, and those who trust in him
will never be put to shame. It means your sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ not
only died for our sins, but he was raised again for our justification. That
means God accepted his sacrifice, and what he did is big enough, great enough,
and good enough to cover all your sins and the sins of everyone who will
confess and put their trust in Jesus.
means you have a certain hope. It means that when you talk about heaven, you're
talking about something that is going to happen, for you are going to see Jesus
Christ. He's alive. It means costly discipleship is the greatest investment of
your life. That's what Paul says in verse 58: "Let nothing move you. Always
give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor
in the Lord is not in vain." When following Christ becomes costly for you, it
is the greatest investment opportunity of your life, because Christ is alive.
I have to say something to all of those who would identify with the position of
not yet having come to a clear commitment to Jesus: Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. That means unbelief is the most futile thing in the world. If faith was just a mind game, taking a position of unbelief would be a reasonable thing to do. But since Christ has risen, unbelief becomes ridiculous. Unbelief in the face of the risen Christ is
futile. The reluctance of people to believe in the risen Christ will not change
the fact that the risen Christ is seated on the throne in heaven with all
authority, calling men and women to obedience and faith under him. All over
the world, people are doing this in response to Jesus Christ. Staying in a
position of unbelief in the light of the Resurrection is futile.
who take a position of unbelief are going to have to face up to the fact that
they're still in their sin. Christ has risen. That means you are going to have
to stand one day in the presence of God. You're accountable to the Lord who
made you, who is risen from the dead. Your guilt could be washed away, but it
is not washed away, because you have stood at a distance from Jesus Christ. Why
stand at a distance from him any longer? He's risen.
If you don't believe, you are holding onto false hope. Those who have taken this position
are cherishing the hope that there will be no consequences to their unbelief.
If Christianity were just a mind game, you would be right. But Christ has
risen. That means he's coming again, and one day we will stand before him,
accountable for our failure to believe, our refusal to repent, and our
unwillingness to offer our lives in service to the King.
the greatest tragedy we need to face in light of the Resurrection is that those
who hold the position of unbelief are wasting their lives. The risen Christ
comes to every person and offers you the greatest opportunity of your life. You
can invest your life in eternity, but by this passive reluctance to make a
commitment to Christ, the years are passing you by, and your life is wasting
away. You're missing its greatest purpose. By your continuing to ponder over
questions, you are refusing to believe. By refusing to believe, you are missing the greatest
opportunity of your life.
who stand at a distance from the risen Christ are the most miserable people in
need to make the move. You need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to come to Christ. If you do, your faith will not be futile. It will be the strongest thing in the world. As you do, your sins will be forgiven. You will have the hope and the certainty of everlasting life. You will see Jesus, and you will be with him forever. As you believe, you
will begin to grasp the greatest opportunity of life, the opportunity that God
in Christ offers to you today. Christ has indeed risen from the dead.
Smith is senior pastor of Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church in
Arlington Heights, Illinois.