Maybe this is the first time you've ever stepped foot into a church. Or maybe you don't normally go to church unless it's Christmas and Easter, and you're used to preachers trying to convince you about the truth of Jesus, the Resurrection, and Christianity. You've heard all the same sermons, with the same evidences, texts, and arguments used—Easter after Easter after Easter. I'm going to try not to do that.
Or maybe one of your objections to all this is that so many Christians do not live in a way that's consistent with what they claim to believe. You're very put off by this. Well, you'll be happy to know that the Bible actually addresses that; it actually confronts that problem head on, and that's the emphasis of our text today. This Easter text is not so much convincing the non-Christian as it is challenging the Christian. Now don't get me wrong: This text is a challenge for me, and it's a challenge for all of us 21st-century Christians who claim to believe in the Resurrection and yet—if we're honest—live like it isn't true.
Are you living like it isn't true? Let's take a look.
(Read 1 Corinthians 15:32-34)
Why does it matter—and what should we do?
I have titled this Easter message "The Key to a Meaningful Life" because as we're going to see, for the apostle Paul who wrote this letter, the Resurrection wasn't just some event in the past or an event in the future. The resurrection of Jesus wasn't just the receipt of assurance that Jesus had sufficiently paid for all our sins on the Cross, and it wasn't even just a reminder of our future resurrection at the end of history. No, for Paul, the Resurrection was the cardinal truth that brought meaning to everything he did. His purpose in life, the meaning of life itself, was oriented around the truth that Jesus was alive.
I really appreciate the way Paul communicated his faith. He loved to reason with his readers. For Paul, Christianity is essentially reasonable. This is what he's doing here—he's reasoning with us and showing us that there are life-altering implications to whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. If he was, then there are strong implications and imperatives for our lives. Imperatives are commands, "dos" and "don'ts."
He deals here first with the implications of the resurrection in verse 32 and then the imperatives of the resurrection in the next two verses. In other words, why does the resurrection matter? And if it did happen, what should we do about it? Those are the two things I want to look at in our time together: the implications and then the imperatives of the resurrection.
The implications of the Resurrection
There are several reasons why what you believe about the Resurrection really matters, but the one Paul hits on here is meaning—meaning in life! For Paul, the Resurrection was the key to finding meaning and purpose in life. Listen: You don't have to be super religious or a philosophy major to be searching for meaning. All of us are wired for meaning.
Let me give you a few examples. Every parent of a two- or three-year-old will tell you there comes a point in their kids' life when their child starts asking one particular question over and over again: "Why?" "Why do we eat food, Mommy?" "Why do we need sleep?" Why, why, why?"
You don't teach them to ask this; they ask it because we are all wired for meaning. We're all looking for some purpose that ties things together. Think of it like this: You're watching some suspenseful movie or reading some mystery novel, and what do you begin to find yourself asking? "Why did he do that? Where are they going? What was that noise?" You see what you are really asking? "What is the meaning of this?"
I came across a post on social media the other day from a mother who was sharing about the monotony of cleaning dishes only to see them get dirty again, changing diapers only to see them get messy again, and round and round it goes. She said, "Sometimes I wonder, What is all this for?" What's the meaning of all this?
You take someone who is going through unspeakable tragedy and suffering, and they ask the same exact question: "Why is this happening?"
What are we all looking for? We're looking for meaning. We're all looking for meaning and purpose.
What Paul argues for here is astounding. He says the grand purpose in life that reaches beyond ourselves, the deep meaning in life that we're all looking for, is tied to one thing: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here's his main point: If Jesus is physically alive, then he's in a category all by himself, and the only logical purpose is to live for him, to live with the future in mind. But if he's not alive, then the only logical purpose is to live for yourself, to live for the here and now. The fork in the road, the deciding factor where you'll try to find meaning in life, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To prove that point, he says, "Just imagine if it didn't happen—just think for a second what it would mean if the dead are not raised, if there's no future, and this life is all that there is."
He says, "Well, for one, it would make absolutely no sense at all to be a Christian. If Jesus isn't alive, then living for Jesus would be a colossal waste of time." That's what he's saying here—"What have I gained?" (v. 32). What was the point of facing so much opposition in Ephesus for the name of Jesus if there's no afterlife and bodily resurrection? He'd be taking the one body he gets and risking it and depriving it from so many pleasurable things for no reason at all. That's why, earlier in this chapter, he says that if Christianity turns out to be false, "we are of all people most to be pitied" (v. 19).
But do we really think this way? Do we really live that way? I was recently speaking with a Christian gentlemen not too long ago, and he said, "The way I look at it is: If Christianity turns out to be false, then at least I've lived a good and moral life. But according to Paul that's just, well, stupid! That doesn't make any sense."
If there's no future hope, if this life is all there is, if all you've got is one body and just the here and now—what does Paul say? We might as well "eat and drink, / for tomorrow we die" (v. 32). We might as well squeeze out as much pleasure from this life as we can before we're dead. Whatever feels good to you, do it! You only go around once. Do you remember about four years ago or so that annoying expression that was all over social media, "YOLO"? You only live once. You know what Paul would say? That's actually the logical conclusion to secularism, not Christianity—because if Jesus is raised from the dead, then it's proof you live twice. What would that be, "YOLT"? Probably not as catchy, but it's much more accurate.
You may think, But wait a minute—if there's no afterlife, my only option isn't hedonism, living for pleasure. I'm going to live to build a legacy for myself so my name will go down in history.
Well, besides the fact that the chances of you and I being remembered in history for thousands of years are slim to none, that would mean everyone who isn't famous lived a meaningless life. Do you really want to say that? Just think: What are the names of your four great-grandparents? What did they do for work? Is that really all you want to live for?
But someone says, "Yeah, but I'll live to help people, and if there's no God and there's no afterlife, at least I've had the joy of helping people." That's very kind, but it's not very logical. You're still not thinking this through—you may be afraid to think it through. Some of the famous secularists—like Nietzsche, Stalin, and others—thought it all the way through, and if there's no God and afterlife, and if this world is eventually all going to turn in on itself and disintegrate into a black hole of nothingness, then the only meaning is try and acquire as much power and pleasure in this life as possible. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it, it would mean that "life is an empty bubble, floating on the sea of nothingness." How would you like him at your Easter dinner? But he's right: That is the logical conclusion to atheism.
The hinge by which all this turns one way or the other is the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus wasn't raised, then we have no historical credible certainty in a bodily afterlife, future rewards, or hope beyond the grave, and so we might as well just live for ourselves here.
If he's not alive, not only is the purpose and meaning for life just limited to the here and now, but there's also no spiritual power that can come into our lives to help us to change. There's no new life in Christ. The only power available for us to change and improve would be in ourselves. You think education is going to do the trick? D. L. Moody once said that if you see a man stealing nuts and bolts from the railroad track, and you send him to college because you want to change him, the higher education is only going to give him the tools to steal the whole track. He needs something more than education; he needs transformation. He needs a power to come into his life from outside of him.
This is what we have in Jesus. If Jesus is raised from the dead, we have the certainty that this life is not all there is, and there's a purpose and meaning in life that transcends this life, and there's a new spiritual power that can break into our lives to transform us. Because the implications of the Resurrection are huge, and because it's happened, Paul says, here are the imperatives—the commands, the "dos" and "don'ts" that follow this truth.
The imperatives of the Resurrection
There are really three imperatives here, three commands that Paul gives us in these next two verses: "don't be deceived," "wake up," and "stop sinning."
The first thing he says in verse 33 is "[d]o not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'" Now, listen—he's not saying to completely distance ourselves from outsiders. He's simply reminding us to be careful with whom you spend most of your time. They will always have an influence on you. But who's the bad company here? It was the people who were claiming that the Resurrection didn't matter or doesn't happen. It's very clear what Paul is doing. He's linking belief with behavior. Doctrine matters! Ideas have consequences. What your closest friends believe matters to your behavior. It's going to have an impact on your way of life, and he's showing us that a departure from Christian belief will always mean a departure from Christian behavior. Don't be deceived into thinking that the doctrine of the Resurrection doesn't matter.
Let me put it like this. Imagine that someone very wealthy, with incredible power and influence, calls you up and asks you to take care of their entire estate for the whole summer: to mow the lawn, trim the hedges, clean the pool, and sacrifice your entire summer to help them. They tell you it would be very pleasing to them and it would be really worth it to you—that at the end of the summer you'd be paid $1,000 an hour and the entire estate would be transferred over into your name. What would that mean for you? It wouldn't take away the sacrifice; it would instill motivation and hope in the midst of the sacrifice. But what if you had a bunch of friends who always kept trying to convince you that the whole thing was a sham? That the owner was actually broke and there was no way he could give you any money, and that he didn't even own the house and it wasn't his to give? They keep telling you they're certain of this: that you're going to receive nothing in the end, and you're going to wind up wasting your entire summer. Eventually the pressure of that thinking is going to affect your behavior. It's going to cause you to cut corners, to skip days, and maybe to give up on the whole thing altogether.
What Paul is doing here is saying, "Don't be deceived. It's not a sham. I saw Jesus alive! The owner exists; he owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and he's promised you that every sacrifice in his name will be rewarded 100-fold in the future." You see his point: For Paul, the reason to invest in the future is because there is a future. His future bodily resurrection freed him from materialism and consumerism and only thinking of the here and now. All the sacrifices were worth it because the Lord does care what we do, and the rewards in that day are going to be so amazing that it is going to be worth it all. That's why, at the end of the chapter, he says, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. 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" (v. 58). What you do in this life really matters—it carries over into the next!
The next imperative is to "wake up." Paul says, "Come back to your senses as you ought" (v. 34).
To illustrate this, I can't help but share this scene from what is, in my mind, one of the most intellectually stimulating films of all time: Disney's The Lion King. Simba had run away; he was trying to run away from his past, and he thought he'd just live it up, do his own thing, just enjoy life, "hakuna matata," until Rafiki, the baboon, shows Simba that his father Mufasa is alive. Mufasa appears to Simba in the sky and says, "Simba, you have forgotten me." Simba says, "No, how could I?" And Mufasa says, "You have forgotten who you are and thus have forgotten me. You are my son. Remember who you are." He repeats it over and over: "Remember, Simba, remember." It's this great scene; it's the turning point of the movie, in which Simba finally wakes up and remembers what his father had done for him, that his father had sacrificed his life for him, that his father was "alive," and that Simba was part of the royal family and had the responsibility to live out the family name.
I think this is like what Paul is doing for us here. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was meant to be like a spiritual alarm clock: waking us up to the truth of Christianity, of what Jesus has done for us and who we are in him. It's like he's grabbing us by the collar and saying, "Look—wake up. Remember what Jesus has done. He's paid for all your sins. He gave his life to pay your debt, and he's alive." When you see his love, you realize you don't have to run from your past. You can run to him with your past, and when we trust in him, he'll not only pardon us, but he'll empower us. A new power will come into our lives for change and transformation.
This is why he gives the last command to "stop sinning." The only reason he can give this command is because there's a new power in our lives to obey it. We're told that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now dwells in every believer. He's not teaching sinless perfection; he's reminding the church of their spiritual potential, of the new life and new power we have in Christ, reminding them to draw on it and to live in light of it. Are you living like he's alive? Are you living with the purpose and the power that's available to you?
The alarm clock of the Resurrection has gone off today, but I've got to be honest: One of the things that disappoints me is I know there are going to be people who are going to just hit "snooze." They're going to go on living like Jesus isn't alive. But one of the things that excites me is I know God's Word does not return void. I know there are going to be people who are going to wake up. They're going to wake up and take more risks in the name of Jesus, to be bolder in their faith, to live more and more for the one who died and rose again for them. The Resurrection happened. The Resurrection matters. In fact, it's the key to living a meaningful life.
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA.