We like to think that we are living in a unique time in history, a time unlike any time that has ever happened before, but Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9,
9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV)
This is certainly true when it comes to the question of the possibility of life after death. People living in Corinth had all kinds of ideas about what happened once life ended. Is there life after death or is the last breath in this life the final period at the end of the sentence of our existence? The Epicurean philosophers of Paul’s day believed and taught that once the body dies the soul can no longer exist–life comes to an end. Paul ran into Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens and they wanted to debate him because he was teaching about Jesus and the resurrection. Look at Acts 17:18 with me.
18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18 NIV)
There are those in our day, people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens who have dismissed any possibility for the existence of God or life after death. They’ve written books, lectured all over the world, and preached their sermons with passion:
You are an accidental by-product of nature, the result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death. Your life is but a spark in the infinite darkness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever. (Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith. pg. 71)
There were those in Paul’s day as well as people today who believe that you live, you die, and that’s that. At the same time, the most prevalent belief in Corinth was that the soul was immortal and lived beyond the life of the body. The great Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates both believed this to be true. Plato and Socrates were Dualists. In Dualism, which is still with us today, everything spiritual is good and everything physical is bad. Plato and Socrates believed our bodies are like a tomb or a corpse and that our souls are shackled to our bodies until death when the soul is freed. For Dualists, the last thing we would want to take with us into the next life would be our bodies.
This past week, as I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 15, I’ve been reading about what people believe about the possibility of life after death in our own day. Some believe in annihilation, the permanent end of life. Many believe in reincarnation, we die and are reborn either to a better life or a more difficult life based upon the quality of life we lived in our former life. Some believe in absorption, when we die our spirit is joined to the infinite spirit of the universe. Most people believe in some form of life after death, but most of the ideas are just that…nothing more than “I think that when I die I will…” Paul had a very definite belief and it is based on the experience of Jesus when He died and was raised, physically raised to life, by God the Father. Let’s read our Scripture for today and see what we can learn. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
12 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? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NIV)
The followers of Jesus in Corinth believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but it seems like there was confusion about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul insists that Jesus was raised physically, He was given a new body when God raised Him from the grave. We’ve taken a look at that the past two times we’ve been together. The bigger problem for most of the people in the church at Corinth was understanding the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and their own. How would it be possible for mere humans to be resurrected from the grave after their own deaths? How can a body which dies and rots in the grave be resurrected? What kind of body would that be? That’s not only a good question for those in Paul’s day–it’s such an important question for us today. Paul will answer that question in verses 35-41 by saying that the new body we will be given is not like the body we have now. We’ll talk about that when we get there. For today, Paul wants to stress to the brothers and sisters in Corinth, and to us, that Jesus’ resurrection is a model for every follower of Jesus. All of Jesus’ followers will be given new life, a new body, not some ethereal spiritual existence, but a new body as a new creation of God.
In our Scripture for today Paul shows how futile following Jesus would be if there were no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection for the followers of Jesus then there was no resurrection of Jesus. If you will take a look at our Scripture with me one more time, I need to point out something that is very important for us to know. Five times in these verses we see the phrase “been raised” in referring to Jesus. The Greek word, “??????” (egeiro) means to “raise up, raised, or lift out.” The word is in the present perfect tense which describes a past completed action with a continuing ongoing effect. Paul is teaching the people of Corinth as well as you and me that if Jesus was not resurrected then there is a permanent negative effect that pertains to you and me. In these verses Paul lists seven things that are true if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead.
- There is no resurrection at all (1 Corinthians 15:13, 16)
- Our preaching is empty (1 Corinthians 15:14)
- Your faith is empty (1 Corinthians 15:14)
- The apostles are false witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:15)
- You are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17)
- The followers of Jesus who have died are simply lost (1 Corinthians 15:18)
- Christians are to be most pitied of all people (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Paul wants the followers of Jesus to understand the logical end result of their belief. If the dead cannot be raised then Jesus was not raised. This is what Paul sets before them to consider. Jesus’ disciples never struggled with His humanity, but shortly after Jesus’ resurrection there were those who emphasized the divinity of Jesus and downplayed His humanity. This was their workaround for explaining Jesus’ resurrection as something entirely different than what is possible for normal people made of flesh and bones. The leaders of the early church battled this false teaching. We can see evidence of this in Scripture. Turn with me to 2 John 1:7 and let’s read together.
7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7 NIV)
What God did for Jesus in raising Him from the grave is not possible for mere mortals like you and me because Jesus was not human in the way we are human. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible emphasizes the fact that Jesus was fully human, human just like you and me except for the fact that He never sinned. Luke 2:7 tells us that Jesus was born. Luke 2:40 reminds us that Jesus grew like every young child grows. We learn from John 4:6 that Jesus became tired just like you and I get tired. John 19:28 tells us that Jesus got thirsty in the same way you become thirsty. Matthew tells us Jesus was hungry. Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that you and I are tempted, but He did not sin. Jesus was fully human–a living, breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, and suffering human. If the dead are not raised, then neither was Jesus raised from the dead.
The second truth Paul wants us to consider this morning is this: If Jesus has not been raised then the preaching of the Gospel is useless. The Greek word means “empty, meaningless, or without worth or value.” If Jesus has not been raised then everything that has ever been said or written about Jesus is worthless, not worth the time spent to speak or the paper it is written on. But that is not what Paul believes. Earlier in this chapter Paul reminded the Corinthians that what he delivered to them about Jesus was of “first importance,” there was nothing more important than the Good News he shared with them. Read along with me.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NIV)
Men and women from the day of Jesus’ resurrection until this very day have dedicated their lives, been willing to suffer and even die, for the blessing of sharing the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection with people from every walk of life and in every continent on the planet. Our message is not empty, it is not meaningless, it is our only hope. John MacArthur wrote,
Apart from the resurrection Jesus could not have conquered sin or death or hell, and those three great evils would forever be man’s conquerors. Without the resurrection the good news would be bad news, and there would be nothing worth preaching. Without the resurrection the gospel would be an empty, hopeless message or meaningless nonsense. Unless our Lord conquered sin and death, making a way for men to follow in that victory, there is no gospel to proclaim. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 411)
Paul is not even close to being finished in laying out for the Corinthians the ramifications of Jesus not being raised from the dead, if that is what they believed. He goes on, in verse 14 to say that if Jesus has not been raised all preaching is useless and so is our faith. People believe all kinds of things, but that doesn’t mean they are true. I can remember several years ago when a young college student was attending BCC. She wanted to talk to me after worship one Sunday so we went into my office. She was looking at the books on the shelf when she saw an old book by Shirley MacLaine called “Out On a Limb.” Back in the day Shirley MacLaine was becoming well known as a New Age guru and her book highlighted her belief in reincarnation. The young woman pulled the book off the shelf and asked me if I had read it? I said that I had and she asked me what I thought about reincarnation. I said, “What do you believe?” She said, “I believe in reincarnation.” I asked her, “What do you base your belief on?” She said, “Well, I just believe that nobody can get it right the first time in life so we have to come back and do it again until we get it right.” I said, “I don’t know about you, but I think no matter how many lives I was given I would never get it right.” She said, “So you don’t believe in reincarnation?” I said, “The Bible teaches that ‘…each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27 NLT) She said, “So you think my belief is strange?” I said, “I have some beliefs that some people would think are strange as well.” She said, “Like what?” I said, “Well, I believe the moon is made out of cheese. If you go outside on a clear night and look up into the sky you can see it! I just know in my heart it is true.” She kind of rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t really believe that?” I said, “I sure do, why would you make fun of my belief?” She was speechless. I said, “You are right. I don’t really believe the moon is made out of cheese and it wouldn’t matter how much I believed it in my heart it still wouldn’t be true. What we believe needs to be based on something other than what we feel in our heart.”
Today, most people’s belief about God, Jesus, the spiritual realm, life after death, reincarnation, etc. is based on what they feel or what they believe in their heart with no connection to anything else. What we believe as followers of Jesus is based on God’s Word. Paul based his belief on Jesus’ resurrection on Scripture that prophesied God would not abandon His Messiah in the grave, on the testimonies of those who saw Jesus after His resurrection, including Paul, and on Jesus’ own claim that He would be killed and rise on the third day. In Matthew 16:21 we read,
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21 NIV)
In John’s Gospel, the antagonists of Jesus demanded a sign from Jesus to prove His authority. Jesus said He would give them a sign and the sign would be His resurrection. Read with me from John 2:18-22.
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 NIV)
Paul continued to lay out the facts for all of humanity if Jesus had in fact not been raised from the dead. He says, in verse 15, that all of the apostles are found out to be false witnesses if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead. We can also add that if God has not raised Jesus from the dead then every follower of Jesus who has shared that message, that God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead, is a false witness.
Before Paul was ever a follower of Jesus he was a devout Jew who followed the law to the letter. One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not give false testimony” (Exodus 20:16.) In Proverbs 19:5 we read,
5 A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free. (Proverbs 19:5 NIV)
Paul would never have willingly given a false testimony and broken a commandment of God, and the people of Corinth knew that was true. But, if Jesus hadn’t been raised…Paul is a liar and so is every person who made that claim.
Next up, if Jesus has not been raised all people are still in their sins. We hear less and less talk about sin coming from churches today, even less talk about sin outside the walls of the church, but sin is undeniable. Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact and at the same time it is the most intellectually resisted.” We can eradicate the word from the dictionary and refuse to ever allow its use in public again, but there is no denying the effects of sin on our lives and in our society and world. The question is not whether or not sin exists or whether or not we are sinners, but what now? What can we who are sinners do about our sin? We can simply stop using the word and shout at the top of our lungs that all people are basically good, innocent, decent people, but where has that gotten us? Or, there is another path. We can recognize that God has done for us in the death and resurrection of His Son what none of us could ever do for ourselves or another person. The Bible says the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are also told that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That’s what God’s Word teaches us, but if that were all we had to go on it still would not solve our dilemma…what can we do to fix this problem, to absolve ourselves of our guilt? God provided the solution for you and me. Read Isaiah 53:5-6 with me.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV)
God has laid all of my sin, all of your sin, on Jesus. The punishment that was due each of us because we turned away from God and thumbed our noses at God, that punishment was willingly taken on by Jesus as He suffered on the cross. But…if Jesus has not been raised we are still in our sins. David Garland writes,
If Christ was not raised, then they are still damned in their sins and will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9-11). Death’s stinger (15:56) still spears its victims; its shroud will forever bind them. Sin’s wages must be paid (Romans 6:23), and redemption has been foiled by the last enemy. Paul asserts in Romans that Jesus was raised “for our justification” (Romans 4:25), which enables us “to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4-5). He visualizes the resurrected Christ at the right hand of God, interceding for us against all who would condemn us (Romans 8:34). But if Christ has not been raised, none of this is true. (Garland, David. 1 Corinthians. pg. 702)
Next, Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised then the dead are lost, they are gone, they are dead, and never to be seen or heard from again. I’ve been with so many families who have lost a loved one and I’ve lost track of the number of funerals I’ve spoken at through the years. The encouragement and comfort that the Lord provides to those who know their loved one died “in Christ” is beyond description. This is why Paul wrote,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NLT)
We who are followers of Jesus have eternal hope because Jesus was raised from the dead and assured His followers that He would come back for them one day. This is why we grieve, but not like those who have no hope.
Last of all, Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised then those of us who are followers of Jesus are to be pitied more than any other group of people on the planet. What Paul actually says is even more descriptive than this. Paul wrote,
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV)
The books about how to have your best life now, how to improve everything from your diet to your marriage to your relationship with your kids and more fly off the shelves and make up the New York Times bestseller list each and every year. I checked this week and the top two sellers: James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” and Tony Robbins’ new book, “Life Force” are great examples of what people are looking for in life. All of the wise sages who have ever lived can’t even begin to touch the wisdom Jesus shared about God and all of life, but make no mistake about it Jesus was no self-help guru. He was God incarnate who came to give His life for those who are broken, lost, and separated from God. If we are only looking to Jesus like we look to Tony Robbins on Oprah or James Clear then we are to be pitied more than anyone. He is our Savior! The One who promised to come back for us one day, what a day that will be!
I know that some of you think it just doesn’t make sense to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is living today. You find it even harder to believe that you, a mere mortal, can look forward to your own resurrection one day. You are much more like Thomas Jefferson who went through the Bible and cut out every reference to every miracle recorded in it. Jefferson only believed in the moral teachings of Jesus. When Thomas Jefferson finished carving out all of the miracles and laid down his scissors, the final words were: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.” But that’s not how it ended and that’s not what turned the lives of Jesus’ followers upside down and moved them to give their lives to sharing the good news that He is alive! Do you believe it? If you are not a follower of Jesus this morning then I hope you will reach out to Him as He is reaching out to you right now. Confess your sin and receive His gracious gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Britton Christian Church
March 6, 2022
1 Corinthians 15:12-19