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Ancient Answers
What If There Was No Resurrection?
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
 
It’s a well known fact that from the very beginning there were those who doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  On that first Easter Sunday when the chief priests heard that the tomb was empty, they called the men who had been guarding the tomb and offered them money to say that the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body during the night (Matthew 28:11-15). That certainly wasn’t the last time someone tried to cover the facts of the resurrection!
 
As the years have passed and time has come and gone, the ultimate point of attack on Christianity has always been at the empty tomb.  That Jesus was born in Bethlehem isn’t a big deal.  Everyone can celebrate the birth of a baby. 
 
That Jesus was a good man or a moral teacher or a great humanitarian is celebrated in virtually every culture in the world.
 
Even the crucifixion doesn’t cause any conflict or argument because the world understands death.  Read the newspaper, turn on the TV. Death is forever with us. The funeral homes never go out of business because we are a death-sentenced generation.
 
Read the obituaries. They change every day because people keep dying—mostly older, but sometimes younger, and sometimes the very young. No one can claim an exemption.
So the world does not struggle with the notion that 2000 years ago, in a remote province at the edge of the Roman Empire, a man named Jesus died. Death happens to all of us eventually.
 
But the world has enormous problems with Easter because the world knows nothing about resurrection. Those without faith struggle with it and be skeptical that it happened and as we’ve seen, even those who are closely connected to Jesus can have their doubts. 
 
So what difference does Easter make?  Is the resurrection that big of a deal?  And what difference would it make if Jesus had not risen from the dead?  What would be different in our world today if we found out conclusively that Jesus was still dead?  And while we’re asking, what would be different in your life if Jesus hadn’t risen?
 
That’s not a new question. The question “What if” has been asked for nearly 2,000 years.  It’s a biblical question. Listen as the Apostle Paul explores that thought with the Corinthian believers. 
 
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
 
 
If you were counting, you noticed that no less than seven times in these verses Paul uses the little word “if.” He is raising the question of the necessity and validity of the resurrection to show us just how much hangs on the bodily resurrection of our Lord.
 
Here we get down to the cold, hard facts of our faith.  Paul isn’t trying to be cute or trite or fill space with useless thoughts or words.  This is the whole enchilada.
He is teaching his listeners what matters most. And I would suggest in a world that is pre-occupied with Easter eggs and bunny rabbits, we need to be reminded that at the heart of our faith lies an amazing miracle. 
 
We believe something absolutely incredible that causes the world to be skeptical and faithless people to doubt.  We believe that a man who was dead came back to life three days after He was crucified.  We believe that God raised him from the dead.
 
That is a stupendous thing to say. Sometimes we Christians forget how amazing that sounds. After all, if you go to the cemetery and stay there waiting for a resurrection, you’ll wait a long time. There are lots of people going in and no one coming out. You will see plenty of funerals and no resurrections.
 
What are the chances that a man who had been tortured and then crucified and then buried in a tomb would be raised from the dead? The odds would seem to be against it. You can’t start with what your eyes see or what you can figure out. And you can’t trust your feelings in something like this because your emotions can play tricks on you.
 
So when we come to this passage we need to be calm and clearheaded as we read it. It’s as if, just for a moment, Paul says, “Let me leave the church and let me stand on the outside among the doubters and skeptics who are looking in and let me as ask the question ’What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?’”  What if? What if Easter isn’t really true?
 
What if? 
Well, Paul not only asks the question, he answers it by showing us four disastrous consequences if Christ did not rise from the dead.
 
And I want to carefully consider these because if there is no resurrection, then these four things are true.   First,
 
1. If there is no resurrection, our preaching is without purpose.  
 
verses 14-15
 
Focus on just one word—"empty.” Some translations say “vain or useless.” The word means “without content.” It means that all that we have learned has come to nothing.
 
That’s how many evaluate the preaching of the Word of God.  It’s empty.  It means nothing.  How many times have I listened as foolish people (usually men) have complained about the length of sermons.  Generally they are the same ones who get their spiritual belly full in one service a week. 
 
They have no regard for the preaching of the Word of God.  That tells me a great deal about what they think of the resurrection.  Paul says if there is no resurrection, then preaching is useless.  It means nothing. 
 
It doesn’t matter how well-prepared the sermon or how much labor has gone into the presentation of the message.  No amount of education or preparation can compensate if at the heart of what you believe there is a gigantic lie. 
If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then all the education in the world can’t overcome that one fact. And all the Christian scholars and all the Christian colleges and seminaries and all the books of all the learned Christians across all the years, it all amounts to nothing.
 
That’s what Paul means. String all the degrees you want after your name. Write all the books you want. Preach until you pass out. Build the biggest church in the world. Fill huge stadiums with great throngs. Put your name in lights. If the tomb is not empty, you are wasting your time. 
 
2. If there is no resurrection, our faith is without forgiveness.
 
Verse 17
 
Now at first glance, it might appear he is just repeating the same thought.  But the word for  “futile” is different from the word for “empty.” The word “futile” means that which produces no results.   If our preaching is useless, then our faith is worthless.   
 
It’s a promise with no fulfillment.
It’s a trip with no destination.
It’s a story with no end.
It’s a seed that produces no crop.
It’s a dream that never comes true.
It’s a game with no winners.
It’s a company with no product.
 
Think of it this way. We like to say that Christ died for our sins. But how do we know that his death actually accomplished anything?
If Christ had remained in the tomb, we could never be sure that God had accepted his sacrifice. This is the greatest misery of all—not to know if our sins have been forgiven.
 
During the days the body of Jesus lay in a tomb, no one in all the world could be certain that the death of Christ had truly been sufficient. As long as he was in the tomb, it looked as if the devil had won and Jesus had lost the great battle.
 
And even though Jesus said, “It is finished”, if He doesn’t rise from the dead the only thin finished is Him.  That’s where the story of Christ ends and we still lost in our sins.  That’s why the resurrection is so important.
 
When Jesus cried out, “It is finished”, God said, “Amen!  Yes it is!” and raised his Son from the dead.  And because he is alive forevermore, we can know our sins are forgiven forever.
 
That’s the great issue in Paul’s mind. Are we truly forgiven or not?   If Christ has been raised, the answer is yes.If Christ is still in the tomb, the answer is no.
 
3. If there is no resurrection, our death is without deliverance.
 
Verse 18
 
Paul says that Christians who have died have “fallen asleep in Christ.”  We find an interesting play on words in this verse.  “Falling asleep” was Paul’s favorite way to describe the death of a Christian. 
And don’t misunderstand.  He’s not talking about soul sleep where we slip into some subconscious existence and wait for Jesus to wake us up. 
 
Trace the roots of the word Paul uses back a couple of generations and you will find the word from which we get our word for “cemetery”.  And originally, the word “cemetery” was a distinctively Christian word. It means the “sleeping place.” That’s where the Christians buried their dead—in the “sleeping place.”
 
Why did they say that? Because when you go to sleep, you expect to wake up eventually. Even so, Christians have always believed that one day the bodies of those who have died in Christ will wake up in the coming great day of resurrection to be reunited with their soul and spirit which has been resting in the presence of God.
 
Now I suppose, without exception, from the youngest to the oldest under my voice, we’ve all buried a love one in their “sleeping place”.  We know what it’s like to pay a visit to the cemetery.  For many of you, I’ve been there with you and you’ve been there with me when that time came.  
 
So what shall we say about the future of those we’ve placed in the ground?  What shall we say about their future? Is this the end? Will we ever see them again? Paul’s answer is very clear. If Christ has not been raised, death wins. If he is still in the tomb, there is no hope for anyone, this life is all there is, and all who are dead will stay dead forever and we are just as well to throw this Bible away.
 
 
4. If there is no resurrection, our service is without significance.
 
Verse 19
 
For Paul this is the ultimate argument because he means that if Christ is not raised, we are just fooling ourselves.
 
If Christ is still in the tomb, then Richard Dawkins is right when he said, “What happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus's resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.”
 
If Jesus is still dead, then Christopher Hitchens is right when he said, “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more.”
 
Al of the skeptics are right. If there is no foundation to our faith, then we are nothing but self-deluded fools.
 
If Christ is not raised, then we have no message to preach.
If Christ is not raised, there is no God to hear our prayers.
If Christ is not raised, we are not saved.
If Christ is not raised, then let’s bring the missionaries home.
If Christ is not raised, let’s close every church and sell the property.
If Christ is not raised, then every Christian for 2000 years has been wrong.
 
That’s what Paul means. Sometimes I hear well-meaning Christians say something like, “Even if it’s not true, it’s still better to be a Christian. Think of all the things you gain by being a Christian. You have Jesus in your heart.”
 
No, you don’t!
 
If he is still in the tomb, you don’t have him in your heart.
If he is still in the tomb, you are just playing religious games.
If he is still in the tomb, it’s not better to be a Christian.
 
I have put it in those terms because that’s how Paul puts it. He doesn’t want to play games, and neither do I. If Christ is dead, then above everyone else in the world, we are the most miserable and the most to be pitied. 
 
I don’t want to come to the end of my life and discover that I’ve preached something that isn’t true. And I don’t want to mislead others into thinking that something is true when it’s not.
 
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is without purpose, our faith is without forgiveness, our death is without deliverance and our service is without significance.
 
If … If … If …  Is there any answer, any hope, any reason to believe in the resurrection of the dead?
 
Listen to Paul’s answer.
 
Verse 20
 
“But now.”  Did you ever think about how much hangs on those two little words?  The resurrection of Jesus, our coming resurrection, and the resurrection of all those who those died in faith, all of it depends on those two little words.
 
But now!
     Up from the grave he arose,
But now!           
     With a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
But now!           
     He arose a victor o’er the dark domain,
But now!                      
     And he lives forever, with his saints to reign!
But now!           
     He arose! He arose!          
     Hallelujah! Christ arose!
 
The term “firstfruits” refers to the first part of any harvest. For the Israelites, it meant the first part of the barley harvest that was offered to the Lord. It was a happy day when you offered the firstfruits because it meant that there was a bigger harvest to come.
 
In the same way, the resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago is God’s way of saying, “One day all my children will rise from the dead.” Not one of them will be left in the grave.  
 
Every single one will be raised 
 
Immortal,
Incorruptible,
Perfected,
Completed,
Glorified,
Free from sickness,
Delivered from death,
With sin gone forever,
Supernaturally restored,
Made like Jesus,
All the defects finally gone,
All that is under construction finally completed,
With healthy bodies,
With clear minds,
With undivided hearts,
In company with all the saints of all the ages,
 
In a multitude that no man can number,
We will gather round the throne,
We will rejoice and laugh and sing,
We will know each other more deeply,
We will love more completely,
We will think more clearly,
We will still be who we are,
We will be more than we have ever been,
We will become what we always wanted,
We will finally see our loved ones who died in the Lord,
We will meet those who went before us,
We will see the saints of old,
We will get to know Abraham, Esther, Luther and Spurgeon,
We will see our grandparents and our grandchildren,
We will marvel at the grace of God forever,
We will see Jesus and bow down before him. 
And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
 
This is our hope!  This is our faith!  This is our confidence!  This is the faith of our ancestors who believed then what we believe now. This is what the earliest Christians believed, and this is what Christians around the world believe.
 
It is no small thing to say that a person now dead will someday rise and live again. As I said at the beginning, all that we see with our eyes seems to argue against it. But it does not depend on what we see with our eyes because our eyes only see is. They cannot see what will be. 
 
We see the present.
God sees the future.
 
Two thousand years ago Jesus came back from the dead never to die again. He was taken up to heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. One day soon he will return to the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And in that great day, the dead in Christ will rise first. 
 
Let the doubters doubt if they will. Let the skeptics wonder and question.  We gladly join with people of faith down through the centuries in declaring that Jesus Christ is alive forevermore.
 
We join hands with the saints who have gone before in proclaiming our faith in the risen Lord. Because he rose, we too shall rise. Death will not have the last word. The grave will not win in the end. Though we do not yet see it, one day the cemetery will become resurrection territory.
 
Therefore, 
Our preaching has purpose,
Our faith has forgiveness,
Our death has deliverance,
Our service has significance.  
 
In that “great getting-up morning,” we will all rejoice together, with our tears gone forever and death a distant memory. What a happy day that will be.
 
Let’s start the party now and dance and sing for our Lord has conquered the grave.
 
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
 
Amen.
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