“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!
Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
Are you living for a “hopeless end” or for an “endless hope”? The difference is staggering. Some of the believers in Corinth were influenced by the Greek philosophers and teachers of their day and were doubting or at least questioning the bodily resurrection of the dead and therefore also the resurrection of Jesus. In this section of chapter fifteen of First Corinthians Paul reveals: The Resurrection Difference 1. Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end! 2. With Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope! A denial of a general resurrection also denies that Christ rose. If no flesh rises from the dead, then Easter didn’t happen either. Those members in Corinth who said they believed in Jesus’ resurrection but did not believe in the resurrection of the dead can’t be right. Faith in the resurrection of Christ actually includes faith in the bodily resurrection of all the dead. The two must go hand in hand. In our text Paul is stating his thesis: If Christ is risen, then we cannot deny the possibility and the reality of the resurrection of the dead. Also in our text Paul draws some logical conclusions to show how absurd and eternally damaging it is to reject the reality of a physical resurrection. Paul is appealing to the Greek’s logical mind. He says that the consequence of denying a resurrection of the dead is that Christ then has not been raised. Therefore, everything that we teach—the whole gospel message—would be useless, vain, empty. Denying the doctrine of man’s resurrection logically leads to denying the fundamental doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. When that doctrine is lost, the entire message of salvation is lost.
Deny one doctrine of Scripture, and you will, if you follow it out, deny other doctrines as well, for THE SCRIPTURES CANNOT BE BROKEN. God’s Word is not just separate teachings that don’t affect one another, but it is a whole body of truth. Following Paul’s logical line of thinking means that when he proclaimed that Christ did rise from the dead, he must have been lying, for if nobody rises from the dead, then Christ didn’t rise either. Then the Easter story is only a fairy tale of enormous proportions that has deceived countless people around the world for almost 2,000 years; then too, Paul’s seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus was only a hallucination. In fact, Paul goes on to state that if Christ didn’t rise, then people who believe in Him have an empty, useless faith. Trusting in a Messiah who did not conquer sin, death and the devil would leave us no better off spiritually than those who do not believe in a hereafter or in a god. Paul had written to the Romans that Christ WAS RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION. If Christ was not raised, then we have not been justified. If we haven’t been declared righteous, our sins haven’t been forgiven, and we are still in our sins. That would be our hopeless end, our many sins still condemning us to eternal damnation and separation from God. Also for those who have fallen asleep in Christ, who died confidently believing in Jesus’ resurrection—such as longtime CLC members Roland Gurgel, Paul Larsen, James Pelzl, Ruth Reim, Adelgunde Schaller, Ruth Sydow, Myrtle Grams, Patrick Udo, Laurie Marzofka, and many, many more have perished eternally if Christ had not risen—theirs too would be a hopeless end without a resurrection to eternal life. Paul concludes the first part of his thesis with this final implication for our present life: IF IN THIS LIFE ONLY WE HAVE HOPE IN CHRIST, WE ARE OF ALL MEN THE MOST PITIABLE. If believing in Christ has value only for this present earthly life, then we Christians are fools who have made a very tragic mistake and should be pitied above all others. Without the resurrection, Christianity is pointless. Then all of our convention work this week is worthless, foolish, pointless. Then all who took vacation time to come and serve our Lord, who made sacrifices for His kingdom, who have been led to believe that the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing to the bliss and glory of the hereafter—are really to be pitied and are hopeless. Then our words of faith that we proclaim at the close of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe…in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” are not true but are a bunch of lies. Our words from the Nicene Creed would then be nonsense, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” We would be looking and hoping for something that would never come to pass. The Christian life is not worth living if the hope and promise of the resurrection is not true. But Paul’s thesis consists of two points. The second point makes the big difference. We read: “BUT NOW CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, AND HAS BECOME THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP.” In effect, Paul is saying, “Away with all doubt, unbelief and hopeless endings—Jesus Christ rose from the dead!” Easter is a fact that cannot be denied. The resurrection of Christ is a reality upon which we can rest our faith for an endless hope. Paul says that Christ is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep in Him. In the Old Testament the firstfruits were the first sheaf of grain or the first basket of wheat or bushel of corn or grapes that were offered to the Lord as a thankoffering to show that all the harvest was His and from Him and would be dedicated to His glory. The firstfruits also were an indication that the harvest of the rest of the crop was just beginning. The rest of the grain, wheat, corn, and grapes would follow. What a perfect picture of our Savior’s resurrection! Because His tomb was empty, so shall ours be. Because He rose from the dead, so shall we rise. Because He entered into eternal glory, so shall we follow Him into eternal glory. Christ is the first in the harvest of those who have fallen asleep. That means that the bodies of all who have died in Christ will be resurrected to everlasting life and be reunited with their souls to live forever in endless joy. Theirs and ours is not a hopeless end, but an endless hope! In reality the whole New Testament era is the Easter season. It began with the resurrection of the Redeemer and it will end with the resurrection of all the redeemed. So we live between two Easters—Christ’s resurrection some 2,000 years ago and our own resurrection on the Last Day. What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in your life and in mine? Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end— but with Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope! Amen.