God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Tonight we continue our study of what is perhaps the most foolish part of the Christian faith, that is, in the eyes of the world: the resurrection.
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15. 1 Corinthians 15. Paul has in this letter, as it were, saved the best for last. He’s addressed sins in the congregation at Corinth, divisions and quarrels, marriage problems, ethical problems, church order and polity problems, problems with the Lord’s supper. But now he’s turned to the cornerstone of the Christian message: the resurrection.
Last time we were in chapter 15 we saw the fact of the resurrection. Paul martials a list of evidence to explain and defend that Jesus Christ, though once dead, has been raised to life. And tonight, we will see the necessity and logic of the resurrection.
There were, apparently, people in the Corinthian congregation denying the possibility of any resurrection. Nobody can be raised from the dead; that was their argument, and Paul, in wonderful Pauline form, uses logic, which the Greeks and especially the Corinthians so highly valued, to show just how illogical it is to deny the resurrection.
But let’s begin by reading the text. I will begin at verse 1. And we will focus on 12 and following.
15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
From the hints found in verses 12 and following it appears that a sizable group of the Corinthians had embraced the view that the resurrection of the dead was impossible. That there has been and will be no resurrection. He doesn’t say why they taught that. Perhaps they were influenced by Jewish groups like the Sadducees, who denied the possibility of the resurrection.
More likely they were just caving to the pressure of the Greek pagan culture, which, similar to our own day, denies the possibility of any resurrection because such things just don’t happen. Dead things, and especially dead people, don’t come back to life.
But let’s see what Paul says to them. We’ll notice our first major point: the flawed logic of denying the resurrection. The flawed logic of denying the resurrection.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Paul says, “Ok, let’s assume you are correct. For the sake of argument, let’s assume your premise, that there is no resurrection of the dead.” He’s using logic, in fact, I wish I had turned to this text when I taught formal logic at Cornerstone because what Paul does is masterful. He’s using a formal logic tactic to show the absurdity of their position.
What happens if your premise is true? Verse 13:
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
If it is true that humans can’t be raised from the dead, then it necessarily follows that Christ had not be raised. The entirety of the preceding 12 verses is nullified, is made moot.
If nobody can be raised, then Christ cannot be raised. If it is true of the larger group, then it is true of an individual, like Jesus. That logic is simple enough.
Christ hadn’t been resurrected. Here is where many people, especially modern man, are actually tempted to go. Christ hasn’t been resurrected. Classic theological liberals go this way. They aren’t so crass with their logic. They usually couch discussions of the resurrection in very pious and faith filled terms, but they end up there nevertheless.
They might say: Jesus didn’t actually die. Rather, he was just unconscious when he was laid in the tomb. There was an entire theory, called the swoon theory, which argued that Jesus wasn’t actually dead in the tomb, just unconscious. And so when he came out of the tomb, he was just waking up from a deep, pain-induced swoon, like a coma.
Or maybe it wasn’t that Jesus was resurrected at all. He was actually dead, but it was his disciples who grabbed the body and hid it, so that they could continue the movement started by Jesus, and they could continue to build up his legacy by saying that he was raised from the dead when he actually wasn’t.
Or the more sophisticated today might even say that the resurrection story is more of a myth. You can read stuff like this in the New York Times, and people like Bart Erhman say things like this. They often won’t say that the story is untrue, but that it is myth depicting the greatest kind of truth: that God loves to side with the oppressed, with victims, with the poor and the righteous.
And that in the myth of the resurrection, God reveals his character, as one who likes to change all of our lives, and bring us all out of our individual graves. Your grave might be addiction. It might be poverty. It might be oppression or marginalization. Whatever makes you feel like you’re trapped in a tomb, Jesus is the picture of what God wants for you in your life. For you to overcome your individual tomb.
Do you see how that will preach or, at least, it will preach to people who don’t know their bibles very well? It makes people feel good. It tries to give hope. But Paul would have everyone in Corinth, and everywhere else today, to see that such a message actually produces the opposite. Denial of the resurrection produces hopelessness.
Ok, Paul: what happens if Christ has not been raised? Next conclusion, verse 14:
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Paul says our preaching is in vain. Literally, our preaching is empty. It is void. It is a shell containing nothing of substance. Preaching that denies the resurrection is like cotton candy. It dissolves, and leaves nothing behind on which to build.
It’s as if Paul is saying, remember when I was at Mars Hill, which is described in Acts 17. Remember when I said that God will judge the world according to righteousness by a man named Jesus whom he appointed. And that future judgment is assured because he raised Jesus from the dead. Do you remember that?
If you deny the resurrection, then my sermon to them was useless. It was impotent and pointless; in vain.
Or Paul could say, and remember Peter’s sermon, on the Day of Pentecost, I know you remember that, especially the group of you in Corinth who say “I follow Peter.” Do you remember what Peter said?He said:
This, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
That entire mighty sermon of Peter was pointless, it was empty, if Jesus had not been raised. Preaching is an entirely fruitless exercise if you deny the resurrection from the dead.
“What’s the point?” Paul says. The central core of the Christian faith is the Jesus died for sins and that he was raised. He made that clear up in verses 3 & 4. These are matters of first importance. If you give them up, you don’t have a simple modification of the Christian faith. Nor is it an ill-advised, slight aberration of the faith.
If you give up the resurrection, you’ve lost the whole message. Preachers can go home. The apostles were fools.
But if you read scripture, you see that the apostles were not fools. They were committed. They were willing to be whipped, and starved, and face wolves and lions and death, even death on a cross, because of their message, a message that necessarily included the good news of the resurrection.
To quote another pastor, Men will die for a conviction, but they will never die for a concoction. If the resurrection is a myth, then you have no explanation for the devotion that these men and women had to be willing to die for their faith, a faith that necessarily included a belief in the resurrection.
But it is not merely the apostles who are preaching in vain if you deny the resurrection. Paul also says that their faith was in vain, if there is no resurrection.
Without Christ being raised from the dead, then your faith is of no value. You may try to be a better person, you may strive for a better marriage or financial stability or parenting improvement. But it’s all meaningless in the end.
You will still end up in the grave as a rotting corpse, if there is no resurrection. No amount of striving can change that. It doesn’t matter how much you work out and diet and exercise, you’re still going to die.
Many pagans realize this about their own lives. That’s why so many people end up hedonists or nihilists. They say, I’m going to just end up as worm food, so I will live it up while I can. Or they will say that this life is all that there is, and there’s nothing else, and this life is terrible and hard and full of suffering, so nothing has any meaning.
Indeed, that’s where professing Christians ought to land if they deny the resurrection. Hopeless and barren. More on that in a minute.
Because it is not only our faith that is made empty by a denial of the resurrection of the dead. We also lie about God:
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
If we say that no dead can be raised, including that Jesus has not been raised, then God is made to be a liar. Scripture is very clear. You can’t honestly read scripture and come away thinking anything other than the fact that a previously dead guy named Jesus was now alive.
To say something otherwise is to say that God is a liar. God hinted at a coming resurrection in the old testament. He made it happen in the gospels, and he spread his message of the resurrection of Jesus through the apostles, and he has made perfect and certain promises of a future resurrection to come.
You can try to mask it, try to soften it, you can try to make it more palatable to the watching world. But People are not idiots. They will see that your message and the bible are at odds. There’s no way to reconcile a proclaimed denial of any resurrection, and a bible that so clearly teaches it.
So the people, out of wrong intentions, who try to soften the less popular doctrines, like the resurrection, in order to reach more people, all they are doing is pushing people to reject the rest of scripture. If God was wrong about the resurrection, then what else is the bible wrong about? That’s where they end up.
It’s no wonder that preachers and churches that begin to deny the resurrection also begin to err on all other sorts of stuff. If God was wrong about resurrection, then of course the bible is wrong about marriage and homosexuality. He’s wrong about divorce. He’s wrong about greed and the love of money. He’s wrong about everything.
A denial of the resurrection never says where it is; it will necessarily continue to the further erosion of biblical clarity and authority.
And that erosion inevitably leads to hopelessness. To emptiness. Why? Verse 17:
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
If there is no resurrection, that means that Christ hasn’t been raised. And if Christ hasn’t been resurrected, then you are still in your sins.
Paul knows that forgiveness, that being made right before God, that justification and being declared righteous are necessarily tied to the resurrection. Why is that, Paul?
Well, we can read in Romans 4 exactly why. Romans 4 ends with a glorious statement that says, righteousness, “is counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our Justification.”
What do we need? We need our trespasses forgiven. What else to we need? We need to be counted righteous, we need to be justified. And what happened at the resurrection? We who believe were justified.
When God raised Jesus from the dead, he was declaring Christ’s sacrifice to be enough. It was efficacious. It was pleasing and atoning and sufficient for his sheep to be justified.
And therefore, when you deny the resurrection, when you deny that even Jesus could be raised, then what is the result? No justification. No forgiveness of trespasses. You’re still in your sins. That’s the logic Paul is using, and it is air tight.
And what does it mean to be still in our sins? It means we are dead. That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 2. Dead in your trespasses and sins.
Ironically as it may seem, when you deny that the dead can be raised, then you declare yourself to be dead, even while you are alive. Dead in sins, dead in trespasses. Dead to God. Spiritually empty, worthless, and therefore hopeless. Your past is gone, your present is rendered futile, and your future is likewise in vain.
But it is not just you. Verse 18:
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
Everybody who has already have died, is gone. Any funeral you’ve been to, that’s it. It makes no sense at all for there to be preachers to deny the resurrection to then say anything of comfort, anything of substance and meaning, at a funeral.
We have a message that is no better than the pagan Greeks, or the modern rationalists. Death is simply the cessation of our cardiovascular function, and the transition point for when our physical matter begins to decay back into the dust. That’s it.
And those that have already passed that transition point, they’re dead, and they are likewise dead in their sins, just like you are, if there is no resurrection. Do you see how hopeless a message that is? It’s an empty, ultimately meaningless message. That’s why he can conclude with verse 19:
19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If Christianity is simply a message that pertains to this life, when we are the most pitiable group. Paul certainly wouldn’t deny that living according to Christian moral principles would produce temporary blessing in this life, but his major point is this: that if you deny the resurrection, it’s all meaningless in the end.
We all end up in the grave, dead physically, and dead spiritually because we’re still condemned by our trespasses. No future. No hope now, and no hope then.
That’s the reality of a denial of the resurrection.
I hope that you can feel the weight of hopelessness that comes with this denial. That’s the weight that is carried by most of the people you meet outside these doors. They wander around, scurrying through their lives, trying to find meaning and hope, but never do.
They medicate the hopelessness with things like alcohol, or with pleasure, or with distractions. But they can never escape it. Despair is the only logical end point of a denial the resurrection.
I hope you see the gravity too of denying the resurrection. Young ones let me address you for a moment. You might grow up and move on from this congregation. You may be tempted to find another church that isn’t clear on this issue. They may something that sounds virtuous like, we believe everyone needs to find their own truth about the resurrection.
If you hear things like that, you need to run. Don’t linger, even if the coffee is really good and you love the music. Run. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they are self-deceived. When you give up the resurrection, you give up everything.
And now before I move onto the second point, which is more hopeful, thankfully, let me apply this point to the rest of us. I doubt many of us believers would deny the resurrection. We know better than that. But how many of us actually ever apply the resurrection to our lives?
Let me ask the question this way: if Jesus hadn’t been raised, would your life change at all, on a day to day basis? If Jesus was still in the grave, would it have any practical impact on your marriage? On your parenting? On your work?
If not, then might I suggest that while you mentally affirm the resurrection of Jesus, you might actually be denying it practically, with your life?
But if Jesus has been raised, how might that impact your life? What practical utility does the resurrection offer? We could apply it many ways.
If Jesus has been raised, then I am justified, declared righteous. Which means I don’t have to get defensive when my spouse says something that threatens my ego.
If Christ walked out of the tomb on that first Lord’s day, then I am righteous in God’s sight, which means I don’t have to be threatened personally when my children misbehave, worried that people might think I am a bad parent and judge me.
If Jesus is alive, then I can have hope, rather than crushing despair, when I am sad about saints who have passed on to glory. Because Christ has promised that they will be raised, and that I will be raised, just as sure as he was when he walked out of the tomb.
Ask yourself, when you are struggling with any kind of sin, what does the FACT of Jesus’s resurrection mean for me in this moment, as it relates to this sin? If Jesus is raised, then we can have hope.
Praise be to God that we are not left without hope. We’re not left to wonder about the future, and wonder about the trustworthiness of scripture’s testimony about Christ being raised from the dead.
Let’s look now at verse 20 and see the second point: The glorious logic of God. The glorious logic of God. Paul’s logic turns on a hard conjunction: a but. A glorious transition in the logic. Verse 20:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Contrary to the resurrection deniers, Christ has been resurrected. That’s the unequivocal testimony of Scripture, that’s what all the eye-witnesses mentioned in verses 5-8 say, that’s the truth.
And IF Christ has been raised, what does that mean? What is the significance of that resurrection?
He says first, that Christ is the firstfruits. That word, first fruits, is language used the in old testament, and would have doubtless been known by his hearers. The first fruits are the first bits of produce gathered in at harvest times. It was the first taste of what was going to come in, a foretaste of even greater abundance ahead.
Specifically, Paul says that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. That means that he was the first to be raised, and that he the first of many more to come. To change the analogy a bit, his resurrection is the appetizer; it whets our appetite for the abundant feast that awaits us in the main course.
And this appetizer serves us in two important and related ways. His being raised from the dead is both the exemplar of what resurrection will look like, and his resurrection is also the means by which all future resurrections are made possible.
Because he has been raised, God has declared authority over all things, even death itself. And even though the last enemy, death, still reigns in this age, Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee that death will not reign forever.
And that glorious experience will be shared by all those in him. That’s verse 21 & 22:
21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Paul here explains that Christ is our head. Just like Adam is the head of all humanity, and because Adam sinned and brought death to all of his sons, so too has Christ’s defeat of death and Christ’s resurrection bring life to all in Him.
That’s the framework. You will either have Adam as your head, or you will have Christ as your head. You either have hopelessness and death, or you have glorious resurrection and life.
So I ask you, which will you have? Will you ignore the teaching of scripture, ignore the testimony of hundreds of people, and say that Christ was never raised? If so, you will suffer death, both physically and spiritually. You will spend an eternity in hell, suffering in body and soul.
Or will you hear the clear testimony of the gospel: which is that Christ has died for sins and been raised so that we might be justified, declared righteous?
The choice is yours. Hear this message and consider it. Don’t fall for the temptation of rejecting the message because the world finds it foolish. The world says the gospel is ridiculous, and fanciful.
Paul would have you remember that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to [we] who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The power of God is found in the message, and that message necessarily contains the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, which is the foundation of all our hope.
Indeed, that message of resurrection is proclaimed before your eyes every time we gather to hear God’s word, and to eat at his table.
The Lord’s table pictures for us the death of Christ. That his body and blood were separated. That he died and was buried.
But the table also proclaims to us the resurrection of Christ. Do you know why? Because Paul has already said in chapter 11: every time we eat the bread and partake of the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes. Until he comes.
You know who can’t come? People who are dead. But Christ isn’t dead. He is risen. And because he has been raised, his death has meaning, and his coming brings us hope.
 Alistair Begg, “If Christ Has not Been Raised” a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, preached 3/5/1995.