This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Resurrection". See series.
Bodies are a pain. I know a body can be beautiful. I saw Baryshnikov dance once. And I have held babies. And I agree with the psalmist: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." But I still think bodies are a pain. There is so much we cannot do—so many times my body's desires and demands or its faults and frailties stymie my heart and my mind and my spirit. No wonder that when the Greek philosophers were shaping religion in their minds, many of them ditched the body after it died and envisioned immortality as spirits free of the millstone of their bodies.
Some of those people who thought bodies were a pain were among the first Christians in Greece in the first century. Perhaps they were happy to hear that Jesus was the Savior who forgives our sins, that he was the Son of God, even that he would live forever. But they denied the whole resurrection-of-the-body business. "Can't be!" they said. "Bodies are a pain. They're baggage. Once they're in the ground, that's where they stay. Good riddance!"
So the Apostle Paul wrote them a letter. "There are two things every new Christian gets right at the beginning," Paul said, in effect. He continued:
I received these two truths when I became a Christian, and these are the first two things I preached to you, and that you received: 1) Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures and he was buried. 2) He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared in his new body to all kinds of witnesses in all kinds of places …. Whether you heard it from those witnesses or from me, this is what we preach and this is what you believed. 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?
Today, there are all kinds of reasons why people do not believe in physical resurrection. And there are many who do not believe that Jesus himself rose physically from the dead. In this part of this long chapter on the Resurrection, Paul says this: If bodily resurrection is not possible, you take away the resurrection of Jesus. And if you take the resurrection of Christ from Christians, you take all we have. In verse 13 through 19, Paul tells us what we lose if we lose the resurrection of Jesus. Let talk about these implications:
Without the resurrection of Christ, our faith is empty.
In verse 14, Paul says that without the Resurrection, "our preaching is useless, and so is your faith." In verse 17, he uses a synonym for "useless" when he says, "your faith is futile." Both mean that without the resurrection, our Christian faith is worthless. Here in verse 14, Paul's saying that our faith would be worthless because it would be it would be empty. Someone sells you this big treasure chest. You give all you have for it. But when you open it, there's nothing inside. It's worthless. To deny the bodily resurrection of Christ is to gut Christianity. Let me explain some things that would be lost "if Christ has not been raised."
The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, remains as we last saw him on the cross: humiliated, scorned, dead. The very Godhead is sundered; the Trinity is, at the very least, not what it was. Jesus may still be seen as the paragon of love and goodness, if you like, but he is not Lord of all. God's Messiah has not assumed the throne of his father, David. He is not "the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." God's Son made his assault on sin, Satan, and death, but he did not succeed. Put away your music for the Hallelujah Chorus. The kingdom of this world has not become "the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" if Christ has not been raised.
No King means no kingdom. God will not bring us home to a beautiful place, for our great Pathfinder failed to open the way. There will be no heavenly city with great pearl gates or golden streets, no happy reunions, no end to tears, no springs of living water. The world will not ever be set right. The wicked get away with their wrongdoing. All heaven looks in vain for someone worthy to open the scroll of a better ending and finds no one—if Christ has not been raised.
If Jesus died but did not rise again, the love of Almighty God has been stymied. Unrequited. Perhaps he tried to save us; he gave all he had, put all his omniscient genius into it, moved time and history, but in the end, it could not be done. We wait on the balcony crying, "Wherefore art thou?" but even the love of God was not mighty enough to reach the likes of us—if Christ has not been raised.
Not only this, but Satan, the dark prince, has won. Eve's greatest Son did not, after all, "crush his head." It is Satan who holds high the cross! God can condemn him to the lowest hell, but Satan won the world and stole away the glory of God—if Christ has not been raised.
Thus, all the preaching of the Christian gospel has been empty. "Our preaching is useless." From Peter's first sermon down to mine here today, no matter how eloquent or compelling, it has all been useless. Whatever hope was held out by Chrysostom or Calvin, Savonarola or Luther, Jonathan Edwards or D. L. Moody or Billy Graham or you, in urging the gospel upon a friend—all of it has been empty. Useless. Promises that will never be delivered, if Christ has not been raised from the dead.
What's left of Christianity if all that is taken from us? Nothing is left. The treasure chest is empty.
Without the resurrection of Christ, we've all been wrong about God.
We tell people all the time what God is like. We get our information from all over the Bible, but we get our most significant proof from the death and resurrection of Christ. But if God did not raise Jesus from the dead, we have misrepresented him. It was all speculation, at best, and lies, at worst. To give God credit for a resurrection that never happened is to do him a grave disservice! God is not at all what we said he was. Our theology is not the queen of the sciences, but rather the beggar—if God did not raise Christ.
For one thing, we are wrong about God and his creation. The deists were right, apparently, in saying that God started the world like a watch and then walked away. Or those Greeks were right, who said that matter—nature, bodies, this earth—is not worth saving. There will be no new heavens and new earth. Creation will groan on under the burden of food chains and entropy and the survival of the fittest till all is dust and ash. Macbeth's lines were not too pessimistic—life is "but a walking shadow … a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."—if God did not raise Christ.
And we were wrong about God in this, too: God either cannot or will not save dying sinners. Either God does not love us as we've so fervently believed, or he is not strong enough to save us. Thinking ourselves "children of the heavenly Father" is the pathetic dream of orphans. Perhaps God did love us but simply could not deal with that most intractable human problem—death—or maybe he did not really care at all and left us to our own hopeless devices—if God did not raise Christ.
We were wrong about another thing: God does not affirm that Jesus was his Messiah, nor his Son. If God is all-powerful, if nothing is too hard for him, and if Jesus was not raised, it was God who left him in the tomb, as if to say, "This is not my problem." Jesus, for all his assurances that he and the Father were one, was sadly mistaken. The mockers at the cross had said, "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" Well, God never came. The cross was not God's plan. Jesus was not the Word made flesh, not the only begotten Son of the Father. We were all wrong about God if God did not raise Christ.
Without the resurrection of Christ, our hope of salvation is futile.
Paul's use of the word futile ("your faith is futile") carries the idea that the Christian faith is worthless because it was either deceptive or powerless. It is a spiritual Ponzi scheme, the faith of one sucker feeding the faith of the next. In the end there are no assets—if Christ has not been raised.
What a chilling statement there in verse 17: "You are still in your sins." Even if Jesus died on the cross for our sins, even if he is the Son of God sent as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we are "still in our sins." Forget the testimonies and John 3:16. Even if Jesus started the work of saving sinners on the cross, if he is still in the grave, then the debt he came to pay is still being paid. Justice is still not fulfilled. The sentence for the sins of the world is still being paid, if it can ever be paid. Jesus' death wasn't enough and his last words on the cross—"it is finished"—were incorrect. It will never be finished, if Christ has not been raised.
If we "are still in our sins," still unredeemed, we cannot help but continue sinning, and we cannot be forgiven. We may come before God, readily pleading guilty, but there is no mercy to be found. The guilty must be punished and there is no doubt we are guilty. We can say, "But Christ died for me. He took my place!" God would respond, "That may be, but it was not enough. I have not accepted his sacrifice for your sins. He remains in the grave."
What's more, as verse 18 says, "Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost." Our Christian friends did not awaken from death on the other side to breathe celestial air. They did not awaken to reunions and the face of Christ. There was no "well done, good and faithful servant," for there was no Master alive to greet them. Instead they found Dante's sign, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." If Christ has not been raised.
And now, in this life, we are fooling ourselves. We may be too dumb to know it, but "we are to be pitied more than all men." If our hope of resurrection has been taken from us, why all the prayers and perseverance, why martyrs and faith? The power that we trusted to give us help in doing good, in living holy lives, in becoming like Christ—it was all in our heads. There is no power from God—nothing beyond ourselves. We have no union with Christ. There is no living Spirit of God in or among us. We are not the body of Christ, for Christ is dead. We draw no life from Christ our Vine, for he has no life to give. We are not God's temple, for there is no living God in residence within us. We are the widow of Christ. "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!
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!" The Scriptures said it would be so, and it is so. Eyewitnesses have seen him, and our own lives are proof of it. Christ is risen indeed! Therefore, our faith is not empty, but full and running over! We open the treasure chest to find treasures of every kind: the Son of God lives, and reigns in power forever, King of kings and Lord of lords; the Kingdom of God has begun and will one day come to fulfillment in the new heavens and the new earth, which shall be our home; God does love us and his love has triumphed; we are not orphans, but beloved sons and daughters; there will be a wedding supper of the Lamb and his Bride, the church, and we shall be there; Satan is defeated, his head crushed; it is not Jesus who was made a humiliated public spectacle on the cross, but Satan, because Jesus triumphed over him by the cross and seized from him the keys of death and Hell; the gospel we preach is indeed true. It is the power of God to save lost sinners. There is good news for the poor, healing for the broken-hearted, and freedom for captives. We were right: "It is well with my soul!" All of this is true because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!
What's more, we are telling the truth about God. He really is our Redeemer and Life giver, the triumphant lover of our souls and our selves. It is true that his creation will not go down to dusty death, groaning in vain for a day of renewal. Creation will be delivered by the Creator who said, "It is good." God will establish his kingdom. The kings of the earth will bring their treasures into it. There will be a great and endless time without weeping or tears. There will be springs of living water and trees of life and lions lying with lambs. It is true that God sent Christ to seek and to save the lost, and that our great God has designed a profoundly sacrificial salvation to rescue us when we had no hope. His arm is not too short to save! And it is true that Jesus is God's Messiah—God's own Deliverer and King. God really did say, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." God vindicated Jesus when he raised him from the dead. Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to save us to the uttermost. It is finished! There is a new race of the redeemed immortals. God is the God of the Living! All of this is true because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!
Our salvation is sure! We are not still in our sins. The Lamb who was slain for us lives, enthroned at God's right hand, worthy to take the scroll and open it. He will save all who call upon him, and he is not willing that any should perish. "We are justified by his resurrection." Our hope is sure: "Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
We can indeed draw our life from him now. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We really do have a treasure in these jars of clay. He ever lives to intercede for us. We are Christ's body and he is our living Head. He is our Vine and we are his branches. We are the temple of God, for God lives within us. We are the Bride of Christ and our Beloved lives.
And we shall be given new bodies, incorruptible, Christlike, bodies with no death in them, no sin. God will not do away with bodies, he will do away with the pain and weakness of them.
And those of us who die before he returns in glory are safe. We pass from this life to the presence of our living Lord. There is stored up for us a crown of life. We will sing the hymns of heaven. Our tears will be dried, and we will be robed in white. And when the day of Christ's appearing comes, we shall ride out with him in the great army of the redeemed. And we will be with the Lord forever! All of this is true because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.