If Christ Is Not Raised… We’re in Big Trouble! 4/11/99

I Corinthians 15:12-14

Jesus Christ’s resurrection is foundational to Christianity. It is the distinguishing feature that defines it from all other faiths on earth.

Those who knew and walked with our Lord had failed to understand His references to His resurrection when He walked with them. Before we fault them remember such a concept was foreign to human experience. The idea was alien to all reality.

Mary Magdalene was the first follower to see the open tomb. She interpreted it as a final insult and injury. To her it meant not had they crucified Christ, but now someone had stolen His body. She sprinted back to tell the disciples. From what was she running? Was it fear of further failure by the crucified Christ? The first persons she encountered were Peter and John. Her report was of a stolen corpse. She had no concept of a resurrection.

Peter and John ran to the empty tomb. Toward what were they running? Did evidence of a dead friend being further disgraced await? Their disbelief was confronted with the angels message: “Why seek you the living among the dead, He is not here, He is risen as He said.”

RADICAL! A dead man lives … resurrected! REVOLUTIONARY!

Such had never happened and if a thing hasn’t happened we normally think it can’t happen. For a thing to be real we feel it must be in our experience. That is ridiculous. However, for that reason some of our contemporaries thought men didn’t really go to the moon. It never having happened it was assumed it didn’t happen. It did!

No person having been resurrected it was not even imagined it could happen. It did!

Could all the heavenly bodies in the universe speak they would declare this planet has one feature unique in all creation. It would not be our atmosphere, or our hydrological system. The distinctive feature of planet earth is an empty grave in Judea.

Facts related to the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ were so abundant tens of thousands believed at once. To them it was the defining feature of His life. However, what many refused to believe was that all who believe in Him will someday also be resurrected. The idea of resurrection was not a common one.

Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection was a reality in conflict with normalcy. Not only was resurrection unheard of it was considered undesirable by many. For this reason Paul wrote I Corinthians 15.

Paul had previously preached of the resurrection of the dead in Corinth. They reacted with ridicule. Acts 17:32 “when they heard Paul speak about a raising from death, some of them made fun of him…” They did not believe this new truth. Why? Because they did not want to believe.

Greek culture of the period was dualistic. They believed in eternal forces of good and evil. To them the spiritual was the good side. The material was the bad side.

They believed the human spirit would go to heaven; but not the body. In their thinking they separated their body from their spirit. They believed that what they did with their body was not related to their spirit. Two schools of thought regarding the body developed:

HEDONISTIC – indulgence in sensual desires. Our current society has become a hedonistic society. “What’s in it for me” is the prevailing philosophy. Feeling good has become an end in itself. Feel-good Christianity is the churches way of identifying with the world. Feeling good is good but it is a by- product of a consistent Christian lifestyle, not an end in itself.

In Celicia there is a statue of a man snapping his fingers with the inscription: “Eat, drink, and play for all the rest is not worth this.” Though an ancient statue it might well replace our Statue of Liberty as a statue of liberality.

Because of the subtle but strong appeal of hedonism commitment is needed. Discipline your schedule, select friends carefully, and avoid improper influences. A tiger that lurks in the shadows and sun of the jungle has alternate stripes to conceal its presence. A polar bear is snow white to blend with his environment. A flounder takes on the color of the mud in which it lives. We tend to adapt to our environment also.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, artist and president of the Royal Academy of Arts advised a promising young artist to get all tasteless and crude Flemish art out of his studio lest his eyes become accustomed to it and his work be influenced by it. We too need to get out of the studio of our lives those things which if we become accustomed to them we will adjust to their standards.

ASCETIC – denying the body normal comforts. New groups emerge regularly professing virtue in self- denial. A current one now attracting adherents is known as “the Brethren.” Their same philosophy and tactics a few years ago was known as “the Way,” before them it was “the Children of God.” The name keeps changing the beliefs and methods remain the same.

Both hedonists and ascetics were happy to think of death as finally freeing them from the body.

We are free from the body but shall one day be resurrected in a perfect body.

A dad was walking along the beach with his little child when they happened upon a dead sea gull. The child asked, “What happened to him?” The dad said, “He died and went up to heaven.” The puzzled child inquired, “Why did God throw him back down here?”

News of a resurrected body to people who had such beliefs wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They resented it.

I Cor. 15: 23, 25 speaks of the phases of the resurrection.

A. Resurrection of Believers (Three phases).
1. Christ’s resurrection described in Matthew 27: 51, 53. This is perhaps one of the most unknown aspects of events associated with the resurrection of Christ.

“and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27: 52, 53).

2. The second part will take place “at the time of His coming.” This, called the rapture of the church, is described in I Cor. 15: 51, 52. I Thessalonians also speaks of this.

3. The third part will occur after Christ’s 1000 year reign on earth called the millennium. This is when Christ “will hand over the kingdom of God the Father.” I Cor. 15:24.

B. Resurrection of Unbelievers

These three speak of a “resurrection of life.” John 5: 29 speaks of a “resurrection of judgement.”

Summarily the Scripture notes what life without the resurrection would be like.

Paul, who as the representative of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the era, put together the most comprehensive file on the resurrection conceivable. Knowing it to be a reality he nevertheless lists what it would be like if it were not true.

I Corinthians 15: 14 – 19:
Our preaching is in vain. It is empty.
We are false witnesses, liars.
Our faith is futile —- groundless, with basis.
We are still in our sins.
Our deceased loved ones have perished; dead and gone.
We have no hope.
We are of all people most pitiable; unhappy beyond words.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was radical. It resulted and results in dramatic transitions in lives.

Today, unlike believers of that day, people want to keep the shell of Christianity and discard the heart and soul. A faith is sought that makes us feel good, deal better with the stresses of life, and assure financial prosperity. Unfortunately many seem to think Christianity is merely an additive to life like herbal tea in the morning, or air-bags on a car, or anti-oxidants and beta carotene to ones diet, or a higher speed modem for your computer.

Feel-good faith doesn’t inspire radical change, the resurrection does.

Scripture doesn’t promise that the Christian faith will make us better adjusted or sanitized or spiritualized. He says we shall be changed. The resurrection is world shaking reality. It demands a look at life that is completely different.

The results are noted in I Corinthians 15: 58

A. Consistent. Be ye steadfast = “from now unto death be and remain steadfast.”

Paul, the prototype of a skeptic set out to discredit reports of the resurrection, became its chief exponent, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write most of the New Testament.

Because of the resurrected Christ hope is alive. Hope has sustained many in hopeless conditions.

In 1838 and 1839 Native Americans were moved from this area. The event not unlike what is happening in Kosovo today was brutal, the people hopeless. The movement from these beautiful mountains to land unwanted by the white man is known as “The Trail of Tears.” We have lost our sense of history regarding this event. The Cherokee had lived, hunted, fished, and worshiped according to “The Way.”

John Ross was among those leading the way from these mountains. The red men walked with soldiers flanking them on either side and the rear. Native Americans, male and female, were spoken of in that day simply as “the red man.” The “red man” walked with his eyes up and his gaze straight ahead. He looked to neither side of the trail along which mockers sneered and laughed. The “red man” did not laugh. He kept his eyes straight ahead.

Empty wagons followed. The “red man” had too much dignity and pride to ride in the “white man’s” wagons. With dignity he walked.

Along the long trail hunger and disease began to weaken some of the tribe. Some were lame, sickly, old, and others with child. For a while the soldiers let them bury their dead every day. Soon it was felt this was too time consuming so they allowed burial only every third day. When a child died its mother carried it till time of burial. When a wife died the husband carried her for up to three days before burial.

The people who stood along the trail and the soldiers stopped laughing. Even they began to cry. The “red man” never cried. He never rode in the white man’s wagons. He kept his head up and his eyes straight ahead.

You can take away a person’s land but not his hope.

Secular historians dare not tell this part of the story. By the time the trail ended in Oklahoma every soldier in the escort had been converted to faith in Christ. The “red man’s” faith in Christ was lived out. Hope had kept it alive. The resurrected Christ had sustained them. Their example was the witness that won the soldiers. Hope had inspired faith. It still does.

B. Conscientious. Unmovable = fixed, settled, firm, solid. A reference to inner faith and conviction.

One of the most distinguishing proofs of the resurrection is the change in lives. Peter, who because of his fear of what might happen to him, denied Jesus and swore he never knew him. Forty days later he is seen and heard fearlessly standing on the steps leading to the temple preaching the resurrection. That single day 3,000 believed and were baptized.

The resurrection is the only explanation for the emergence of the early church.

Before the close of the first century over 100,000 believers were in and around Jerusalem.

Polycarp: “Eight and six years have I served Him…”

C. Constant. Always abounding = not shifting from your position. Always = all ages, all conditions, all extents.

Don’t be an exuberant believer in high school and a skeptic in college. Don’t be an active church member when your children are growing up and a hard to find empty nester using the Lord’s Day as your play day.

D. Compensating. Abound in His work because it isn’t empty. This is a negative way of expressing the positive truth that it is “wonderfully productive.”

Labor = exertion that is hard and tired. Strenuous efforts in abounding work need something sufficient to stimulate and sustain them. An awareness of “The Victory” does this.

All who believe and die in Christ shall experience a resurrection and Christ’s resurrection is proof of it.

I Corinthians 15: 20 speaks of the first fruits of those who have died. In ancient Israel at the time of harvest some grain naturally ripened before all other. Some of this early maturing grain was cut and bundled. A procession to the temple involved those who had harvested early grain marching through the streets on their way to the temple waving the grain and singing. It was to be an offering of gratitude and an expression of confidence there was more to follow. This was called “the first fruit.” It evidenced gratitude and confidence there was more to follow.

The resurrected Christ was the “first fruits” of the resurrection. There is much more to come.

John alerts us to two ultimate resurrections. Every deceased person will be in one or the other.

There will come a day of announcement: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).

The great divide follows: They shall obey Christ’s voice … “and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29).

In which group will you be?