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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:12-19
SUBJECT: Easter 2016
One of the surest signs of getting old is the tendency to repeat yourself. In private conversations, I've been doing this for years; but now, my advancing age has seeped into the pulpit! A few weeks ago, I told you a story, and today, I'm going to tell it again-almost verbatim!
When I was in college, I had a professor who called herself an 'Ethical Christian'. She very much admired the ethics of Jesus, but she did not believe He is the Son of God, or that He was:
Conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and was buried,
Descended into hell,
No less that:
The third day, He rose from the dead.
She celebrated Easter in traditional ways, but she thought of it as more-or-less a spring festival, a holiday that reminded us of the cycle of life, but not as the day when a truly dead man truly came back to life. Metaphorically, symbolically, in our hearts or in the Faith of the Church? Maybe. But not in time or space: not in the real world.
She believed Jesus was the greatest teacher-and Man-who ever lived, but that's all He was. That was her Christian testimony, and I don't doubt for a moment that she was sincere.
It is possible to be an Ethical Christian: My professor was and millions of other people are as well. What isn't possible is to be an Ethical Christian without also believing two things that cancel each other out.
To the Apostle Paul's way of thinking, believing in the ethics of Christ only makes sense if you also believe in His Divinity, His Atonement, and most of all, in His Resurrection.
This is the topic of I Corinthians 15:12-19 and the subject of this year's Easter Sermon.
THE APOSTOLIC KERYGMA
Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians what he himself had preached to them during his six months in town. Except for Ephesus, Paul stayed longer in Corinth than any other place; and, unlike most towns he visited, he had a relatively easy time of it there. He wasn't persecuted much in Corinth, and so he had the leisure to preach, explain, and defend his message.
What was his message? He tells us in no uncertain terms, v.12-
Christ has been preached that He has been raised from the dead.
Whatever Paul might have left unsaid in Corinth, the one thing he certainly said is: Christ is Risen from the Dead! 'Resurrection' is the usual word for this event, and the word is worth thinking about with some care.
'Resurrection' does not mean 'life after death'. In the Greco-Roman world, almost everyone believed in this. But whenever Paul preached 'Resurrection', he was laughed at or persecuted, or even stoned and left for dead! Why? Because 'Resurrection' and 'life after death' are not the same thing. The Gentiles knew they weren't, and so did the Jews.
The word, 'Resurrection' literally means 'to stand up again', and this signifies the work of God in raising dead bodies back to life, reuniting them with the spirits, and investing them with immortality, with 'un-die-ability' you might say!
This is what Paul preached in Corinth-and everywhere else he went. On trial for his life, he summed up his whole ministry as affirming-
The hope and resurrection of the dead.
He wasn't 'hoping' for the Resurrection in the sense of wishful thinking: he was expecting it with an iron clad certainty. There was no ambiguity in Paul's message. Whether people liked what he said or not, they knew what he said. He preached the Resurrection without apology.
The message was not unique to Paul. Some scholars say Paul 'invented Christianity' as though it was something else till he got his hands on it. This is not what the New Testament teaches!
The first distinctly Christian sermon was not preached by Paul, but by Peter, on the Day of Pentecost. What was it about? Acts 2:24 leaves no doubt. After speaking of the Crucifixion of Christ (of which many of the people there were eyewitnesses), Peter says-
Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible that He should be bound by them.
A few verses later, he spells out what he means by the 'raised up'. The word he used was-
This was the central content of the Apostolic Preaching, including Paul's. Resurrection, that's what it's all about. Not 'being nice' or 'making a difference' or 'doing religious things'. Resurrection.
At first, all of the Corinthian Christians believed this. But, after Paul left town, other teachers came in with a very different message. They weren't what we call 'Rationalists' denying the Resurrection of Christ because, after all, 'miracles are impossible by definition'.
They were Gnostics who said the Resurrection of the Body is unworthy of God! Because all matter is evil, then, of course, it cannot exist in Heaven. The Resurrection, therefore, is purely spiritual and has nothing to do with flesh and blood.
As of yet, it seems, the Gnostics had not reasoned back to Christ, and so Paul does it for them! If there is no Resurrection-he says in v.13-
Then Christ is not risen.
This is Logic 101! The first thing you learn in Logic is to reason from the Greater to the Lesser. For example:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
This should have been enough to make the Gnostics ashamed of themselves and free the church from their influence, but Paul isn't so sure about that. Maybe his friends need more proof of the Resurrection of Christ, and so he provides it in vv.14-18. Once again, he appeals to the logic of the argument. If Christ is not risen six conclusions must follow.
PREACHING AND FAITH IN VAIN
Preaching and believing in Christ are a complete waste of time, v.14--
Our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain.
There's nothing to them. If Jesus is still dead, every Christian preacher is a fool! Not just the charlatans, the nut jobs, the cult leaders, the phony faith healers, or the liars who preach 'God wants you to be rich'! Every one without exception is a fool! If he's an ignorant man, he is misguided; if he's an educated man, he's nothing but a fake.
In this day of low standards for ordination, we're tempted to feel this way, but we cannot limit ourselves to the phonies we see on television or read about it the paper!
We also have to say Paul was a fool! Peter was a fool! John was a fool! And worst of all, Jesus was a fool! For whatever else He believed in and preached, He very much believed in the Resurrection in general-and His own in particular-
As touching the Resurrection, the dead do rise.
Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.
I lay down my life that I might take it up again.
Having studied the life of our Lord and His Apostles all of my life, and also the leaders in Church History, as well as the many pastors I know personally, I cannot believe they're all fools and phonies! But that's what it means to say-
Christ is not risen.
It also means that every Christian is a fake. Not only is preaching the Resurrection vain, but so is believing in it. And all Christians believe in it (that's what makes you a Christian, after all).
Many professed Christians are fake! They're in it for various reasons, not all of which are worthy, and some are downright crooked! But if this is true of Christians today, how can we apply it to the Early Church?
What was in it for them? It wasn't tradition that's for sure, for the all the first Christians were Jews, and had to break with the traditions of Israel to follow the Lord fully.
It also wasn't security, for Christianity was illegal both in Israel and in the Roman Empire. Nor was it respectability, for Christians were thought of as heretics among the Jews and Atheists among the Gentiles. And certainly there was no money in it for anyone! All the Apostles were poor men and rich Christians were expected to share the wealth with their poorer brethren.
Why would anyone at that time pretend to believe in Christ? What was in it for them? Exclusion? Ridicule? Poverty? Persecution? Martyrdom? Maybe a handful of fanatics would pursue these things, but by the end of the First Century, the Empire was full of Christians!
Every one of these people were fools, as were the Christians put in labor camps in the Soviet Union and are now being beheaded in Saudi Arabia! I cannot believe reasonably intelligent people would live and die for a Christ who-
Is not risen from the dead.
APOSTLES OF DECEIT
Secondly, Paul says, if Christ is not risen, v.15-
We are found false witnesses of God.
This greatly ups the ante. For he rules out the possibility of being 'honestly mistaken'. We see three categories: people who tell the truth, people who lie, and people who think they're telling the truth, but are mistaken. Paul excludes the third possibility!
He doesn't say, 'If Christ is not risen.well, we thought He was'. He says in affirming the Resurrection we are, in fact-
False witnesses of God.
Here, 'witness' means 'witness in court', someone swearing he's telling 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God'. In other words, if Christ is not risen, Paul and the Apostles are perjurers!
This is bad in every system of justice. But in Israel it was crime worse than murder! Because in invoked the Name of the God to cover up a lie. It was blasphemy, the very word Paul and all Jews recoil from!
Paul will not be patronized by 'people in the know', ancient, modern, or postmodern. Either Christ is risen or he and the others were-literally-God damned liars!
STILL IN YOUR SINS
A third unpleasant truth that follows from no Resurrection is this: There is no salvation for anyone, v.17-
Your faith is futile, you're still in your sins.
Faith saves because it lays hold on a Living Savior. But if Christ is dead, there is no Living Savior, and so your faith is attached to a powerless and rotten corpse! And because you are, your sins are not atoned for.
The Bible doctrine of Salvation depends on Atonement. But if Christ is still dead, there is no reason to believe that His death did anything more for you than Adolf Hitler's death! I am glad German dictator is dead, but his death did not take away my guilt or make me right with God!
And neither did Jesus's-unless-
Christ is risen from the dead.
DEATH HAS THE LAST WORD
If Paul hasn't cut us to the quick with his deadly logic yet, he does now, v.18-
Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
There is no Jewish or Christian doctrine of Eternal Life outside the body, of becoming something like methane gas, floating through the sky forever!
That's gnosticism, one of the deadliest heresies in the history of the Church and everywhere condemned both in the Bible and in the great Creeds. In the Bible's worldview, God is both the Creator of the whole person (body and soul), and in Christ, the Savior of the whole person!
But if God did not save Christ's body through the Resurrection, He won't save ours either! On this point, the choice could not be more stark: Either the last word belongs to God or to the maggot!
I refuse to believe that human beings are nothing more than food for the worms! But if Christ is not risen, that's what we are!
CHRISTIAN LIVING IS A CRUEL HOAX
Finally, if Christ is not risen, the whole Christian life is a cruel hoax, v.19-
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
Instead of respecting or admiring the martyrs, the pioneer missionaries, and others who have sacrificed so much for Christ and their fellow man, we ought to feel sorry for them. Everything they did they did only because they were stupid enough to believe a lie and to devote their whole lives to it.
In 1956, Jim Elliot the 29-year-old missionary, was killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. He was a brilliant man, well-educated, and amazingly focussed on his work. Had he gone into business or medicine or the law he might have made something of himself. Instead, he 'wasted' his life serving a lie. Give up the sappy, sticky feelings! That's the truth about Jim Elliot and the idiotic and wasted life he lived.
Unless the Story of Easter is true! Unless Jesus is whom He says He is-
I am He who lives,
And was dead,
And am alive forever more
And have the keys and have the keys
Of hell and death.
THE EASTER CHOICE
This is the Easter Choice, the choice every one of us has to make today-and every day. Is Christ risen from the dead? If He is, the Gospel is true, your faith is well-placed, your life means something, your dead loved ones are not lost to you, and your sins are forgiven.
All these benefits-and more-flow from the literal, actual, physical Resurrection of Christ. And without it, you cannot have them because they don't exist.
The Gospel is both inclusive and exclusive. It's for everyone, but no one will have it outside of faith in Christ, crucified, and risen.
The Resurrection cannot be demonstrated the way a mathematical formula can be. But that's all right: nothing that really matters can be. They have to be taken on faith-not blind faith, stupid faith, but faith built on the character and promises of God.
Easter is no myth! What the first Christians said to each other every Sunday was true then-and now:
The Lord is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed!
Amen. Happy Easter. The love of God be with you.
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