1 Corinthians 15:1-25
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
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, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The Point of All of This
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
He is risen! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
There are many things that are true - and many different sorts of ways that men have chosen to use the word, "truth". People talk about "true feelings", for example. What they mean by that is an strong feeling, or a feeling that seems appropriate, to them, for the situation. Sometimes "truth" is used as a synonym for perspective, or experience. The dictionary in my study has eight different definitions for the word "Truth". We have at least one meaning in the Church that no one else uses. Jesus is the Truth. He said so; "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by me."
Our text for this Easter morning is about a truth - which means a teaching which is true in the sense that it accords with fact or reality. I have called it THE truth because it is fundamental to the faith. It is the truth of fact which is fundamental and necessary before anything else that the Christian Church teaches is valid or important. Some like to pretend that they can operate in the church and in faith without this truth - or uncertain of it - but they cannot. It is true, or everything else we believe is either false or irrelevant.
When one thinks about it, there is much about Christian doctrine which, if denied or assumed to be false, throws the value of the whole body of doctrine down the tubes. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that is the way it always goes with truth. The Christian faith is not a myth or fable. Either the whole thing is true, or the whole thing is, as the kids say, bogus! But among the catalog of true things in the Christian faith, this one is the corner stone of doctrine. With it, we have the Christian faith and hope. Without it, we have a fraud - not even a reliable standard for morality, since the entire religion would be based on a lie. The church cannot stand if this is false or even if it is considered false. Our theme this morning is, The Point of All of This.
Our Easter Epistle is, appropriately, the apostle Paul's great resurrection chapter in 1 Corinthians. It isn't the whole chapter, of course, but a good portion of it, and the most significant piece of it. First he preaches the Gospel. He doesn't get into the meaning of the Gospel - he just lays out the wonderful facts. The one thing that is so often missing today in so many churches and in so many sermons is the heart and core of it all - the facts, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sermons will talk about the benefits of this death and resurrection, although many seem to forget to talk about that, if you want to be accurate. Others preach about what our response to the resurrection ought to be, without mentioning sin, as such, or actually saying that Jesus died on the cross for our sins according to the fore-ordained plan of God, and that He rose from His grave. I suppose they make the mistake of thinking that the reasons for the death of Jesus are already known and so it is unnecessary to preach about sin - or even mention it and make the Easter crowd uneasy.
The mistake is not the assumption that the facts of sin and the cause of the cross are known, for they are, usually, by those who come to church. The mistake is that such preachers assume these things do not need to be repeated. The result is often that people get confused, thinking that something else is more important, and mistaking our response to the Gospel, or some program of moral reform urged by the preacher, as the point of all of this. The truth is that the Gospel is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from His grave, which is God's unmistakable way of telling us that the payment made was sufficient and was accepted. He is risen! And because He has risen, our sins have been forgiven, and we, too, shall rise! That is the point of all of this.
How we respond to this message is not the Gospel. It is significant for us, but not important to the truth of the Gospel. Our supposedly better behavior is not the Gospel. It is a significant factor in our response to the Gospel, but it is not the Gospel. The generalized lessons about love and humility and caring for others is not the Gospel. They many times do not even actually have a relationship to the Gospel. Our sense of peace and comfort day by day is not the Gospel. It may be a response to the Gospel by a heart filled with faith, but it is not the Gospel. Jesus' death, and His resurrection are the Gospel - and His resurrection is the singular truth of the Christian faith, the Christian Church, of salvation, and of the Gospel itself. Without the resurrection as a true, historical fact, the rest of the faith falls apart like a cheap and poorly constructed house of cards.
His death is important too, vitally important, but very few people argue whether or not Jesus has died. The meaning of His death is critical to understanding the Gospel, too, but it is not important in and of itself without the resurrection. The one truth we absolutely cannot do with out in this whole religion, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul writes, But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
The debate, back at the time of the writing of the letter to the Corinthians, was whether it was possible to rise from the dead. Apparently, there were those who taught that it - meaning an actual, physical resurrection - was not possible and we should not look forward to one ourselves. After all, who among us has ever witnessed a physical resurrection? Spiritual resurrection is enough. Of course, this teaching separates us from Jesus, putting Him into a special class totally unlike us, or it ignores the fact that what died on the cross was His body - and so anything like a resurrection would necessarily include the resurrection of His physical body. It must be made alive again or there is no actual resurrection!
Times haven't changed in that regard as much as we would like to think. Many people today don't believe that rising physically from the dead is possible, except perhaps as some sort of brain-eating zombie, but people that believe in zombies are not generally in the Church. Back then, there was a group within the church teaching that resurrection was impossible, and they were spiritualizing salvation into some great "lesson", or into an unobservable event in the realm of the spirit - which ultimately means in the realm of make-believe.
There are people in the Church still teaching the same old lies - I once read the Easter message in our Bible Class of a former pastor of a local congregation that discarded the resurrection as insignificant. Oh, he said he believed in it personally, but the reality of it - the truth of it - was not important. When I was in college, I read the account of a Lutheran Pastor - a member of one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA - who claimed it was absurd to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, "teeth, hair, eyeballs, and all." Churches where they deny miracles and call the Bible "myths" (by which they say they mean 'religious stories that teach or illustrate some "spiritual truth"') or where the facts of the Bible are called into doubt, are everywhere, and in most every denomination. The denial of the reality of the resurrection is more prominent in some church bodies than in others, but such congregations, wherever they are found, are home to those who teach faith-destroying deceit.
Anyhow, Paul was writing to those who were being confused, and who were wondering if that sort of thing was really possible. Some were even saying that, "Okay, Jesus rose from His grave, but we will not and cannot!" They were saying that His resurrection was a special case, and no one else could rise like that.
Who was telling the truth? How are we supposed to know?
Paul was explaining to them, that the Christian faith is nothing without the resurrection. Your resurrection is just as important as Christ's, because if you cannot rise from the grave, meaning that resurrection is simply impossible, then Christ could not - and did not - either, and if Christ did not actually, physically rise from His tomb, alive and whole, then the Christian faith is a meaningless fiction and you are better off sleeping in an extra hour or two on Sundays. Worse yet, if Christ did not rise, then we are guilty of bearing false witness about God, and God isn't going to like that. The modern version of that last thought is probably something more like, if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then God doesn't exist in reality either.
This is not a debate in the unbelieving world. They do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and if they entertained the idea that He might have, they would not understand what the resurrection meant - they would think it was merely one of those cosmic oddities. This passage was written for Christians who are hearing these things and may be troubled by the sort of Easter cheer that says, "Well, it wouldn't hurt my faith if they found the bones of Jesus!" For those who are haunted by the oh-so-reasonable sounding doctrine that Christ did not rise, at least not physically, or that we shall surely not rise, Paul wants everyone to clearly understand that the resurrection is the centerpiece and the keystone of the Christian faith. It is the point of all of this! Without the resurrection, my preaching is empty and worthless, and so is your faith. That is what the word "vain" means - empty, worthless, without power. You are still lost in sin and doomed to eternal destruction, if indeed, Christ has not been raised from the dead!
But then Paul joyfully adds, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." He is Risen! That is the meaning of Easter. That is the heart of the Christian faith. Without that, there is nothing, which is the point of all of this. He is risen! Just as sin and death came by a man - Adam - so also by a Man came righteousness and resurrection of the dead - Jesus Christ. Resurrection to life is guaranteed to all who believe. We do not see resurrections taking place - and that is the chief argument of the opponents - because each rises at their time and in their order. First comes Christ - and then, when He comes again in glory, the rest of us who are identified here in our text as "those who are Christ's."
It is by grace through faith, that he that believes and is Baptized shall be saved. It is this truth, and the fact that the resurrection is the one, central, and indispensable truth of Christianity, that accounts for Sunday worship! Every Sunday is Easter among the people of God! We celebrate the one thing that makes all of this worthwhile, the resurrection. We celebrate it because the resurrection of Jesus is our resurrection. We rise in the same rising, just not at the same moment. Our rising is linked to Christ's resurrection, and actually part of the same event in eternity, so that we may say, as Christ does, because He lives, we shall live also. Our resurrection is as certain as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is history! It is as certain because it is linked to His and caused by His. That is why I say it is the point of all of this.
Here is the singular Truth of the Christian faith. There are many things we can point to and say that they are true, that they must be true, even that they are vitally important, but this is the truth to which your salvation is inseparably linked - and that is the point of all of this! He is Risen! Hallelujah!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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