If Christ Had Not Risen

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 - 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 empty, and your faith also is empty. 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 only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Easter is a unique feature of Christianity. This is not because more "Christians" go to church on that Sunday, but because Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christianity teaches that its Founder is living today! No other religion of the world makes such a startling claim. Other religions may claim that the "spirit" of their founder lives on today in his religious teachings, but Christianity claims that its Founder, Jesus Christ, lives today--bodily! Biblical Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ really died but then arose physically (not just spiritually) from the grave, and presented Himself alive to many different people on many different occasions over a period of 40 days. (See Acts 1:3 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Christianity further teaches that after these undeniable physical appearances, Jesus Christ bodily left this earth and promised to return physically some day. (See John 14:1-3 and Acts 1:9-11.) Although we Christians know and experience the spiritual presence of our living Lord Jesus now, we look forward to His physical return. True Christian faith holds that Jesus was resurrected from the dead bodily, ascended into heaven bodily, lives today in glory in a body, and will someday return to this earth bodily.

The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the keystone of the Christian faith. Christianity stands or falls at this point. In other words, Christianity is ultimately based not only on ethical and religious teachings (as are other world religions), but on an historical event! The foundation of our faith is not just what Jesus taught, but what He did in history to back up His claims. You see, any self-styled religious leader can proclaim certain ethical and noble teachings, and may even dare to say, "I am the good shepherd." Some would go even further and say, "I lay down my life for my sheep," and then actually die for some "good cause." But who can continue these statements as Jesus did (see John 10:14-18) and claim a physical resurrection? "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again." What a claim! The ethical teachings of Jesus are inseparable from His claims about Himself and His power over death. If Jesus Christ did not rise bodily from the dead, then He was a deceiver (not even a good man), and Christianity is a fraud and a farce; Christians are just playing around at religious games!

Such radical statements are exactly what Scripture teaches to be the logical conclusions if indeed the resurrection of Christ did not take place. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 we are given several conclusions to which we must come if Christ has not risen from the dead. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ, Christianity is stripped of its basis and its power!

When the apostle Paul wrote this passage, the situation in the church at Corinth was as follows. The Corinthian believers were "hung up" with the concept of the future physical resurrection of Christians who had already died. They weren't doubting the resurrection of Christ--they believed in this wholeheartedly. (See verse 11 and previous verses for the content of the teaching that the Corinthians had received and believed.) But the concept of a bodily resurrection for believers was hard for them to grasp. Apparently they didn't have any problem with the idea of the spirit living on in some other world, because the immortality of the soul was certainly part of the prevalent Greek philosophy. But the resurrection of the body was a revelation for them--and it was a real mind-blower!

In order to deal with this problem the apostle directed the attention of the Corinthian believers to the resurrection of Christ. If they believed in the physical resurrection of Christ, why should the concept of the physical resurrection of the Christian be so hard to handle (v12)? If God raised the Man, Jesus Christ, from the dead, it was logical that He could raise any person from the dead. But the opposite was logically true, too! If there was no such thing as the physical resurrection of persons from the dead, then even Christ could not have been raised from the dead (vs13,16). After all, Jesus, although He was God, was a real flesh and blood person who really died. What is the logical conclusion, then? If Christ was not raised, we must conclude that everything about the Christian faith is without a solid foundation and "up for grabs" (vs14-19). This logical conclusion is as valid today as it was then, and the conclusions which follow in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 are equally true.

If Christ is not risen, our preaching is empty (v14). There is no reality behind the nice-sounding words. What authority do we have for even preaching "love your neighbor as yourself" (let alone the resurrection!) if Christ is still dead? We become humanistic teachers with no higher authority than what the majority of the people in our culture "feel" is right--and this is totally subjective and relative! If Jesus is not living today, the message of the Bible is without authority and hollow--our preaching is empty!

If Christ is not risen, our faith is empty (v14). There is no foundation for our Christian faith if the resurrection is a hoax. Pinning our destiny on the teachings and claims of a man who is dead is nothing more than wishful thinking. What guarantee do we have that there is any hope beyond the cemetery if the One who claimed that He could conquer death is in reality dead Himself? Christian faith based on the teachings of a dead Christ is like a beautiful castle built in thin air!

If Christ is not risen, we are false witnesses of God (v15). We are not just deluded religious fanatics who are "playing church." We are downright liars! Of course, if God doesn't really exist then it doesn't matter much if we're liars, since there would be no absolute standards. However, if God does exist and He did not raise Christ from the dead, then we are distorting the truth and are false witnesses against God Himself if we go on preaching the resurrection and celebrating Easter! Follow this argument in verse 15. This is what we mustconclude if there is no physical resurrection from the dead (v16).

If Christ is not risen, our faith is worthless and we are still in our sins (v17). Not only is our faith without foundation (v14), it is useless! What good is it? Does it give us salvation? No way! Not if the One who claimed He could take away our sins is still in a Jerusalem tomb. If payment for wrongdoing is not made, there can be no forgiving and forgetting of sins in a moral universe. If the One in whom we placed our faith as Savior never really triumphed over death, what proof do we have that the debt for our sins has been paid? Without the resurrection, the death penalty for our sins remains (see Romans 6:23). We are still held liable for our wrongdoings. We are still in our sins--guilty! If there is no resurrection, there is no redemption and no reconciliation with God.

If Christ is not risen, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (v18). If Easter is a sham, Christians who have died are forever lost. There will be no awakening from the grave. The familiar Christian epitaph, "Asleep in Jesus," is just a euphemism for "Gone Forever." The word "perished" (v18), does not mean annihilation or extinction, but rather loss or ruin. It is not loss of being, but loss of well-being. Any so-called "light at the end of the tunnel" (which certain "clinically dead" persons allege to have seen) may not be the "light of heaven," as many people would like to assume. (See Hebrews 9:27).

If Christ is not risen, and if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (v19). Why? Because we have sacrificed, surrendered, suffered, labored and hoped for nothing but an illusion! We are superstitious fools living in a dream world if Jesus is not alive today. This fantasy may give us "peace of mind" and "hope" is this life, but so what? Why all the sweat and tears if it's all just a delusion? As far as the apostle Paul was concerned, if there is no resurrection the more logical lifestyle would be to live it up and do your own thing. This is exactly what he says in verse 32! "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Without Easter, dead Christians have perished (v18) and living Christians are to be pitied (v19).

But Christ has been raised from the dead (v20)! What a glorious relief! All those previous deductions are swept away with this one great truth. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the proof and power of Christianity. The empty tomb is the guarantee of the Christian's hope. As the early fruit is the promise of the harvest soon to come, so the resurrection of our Lord is the guarantee that death has been conquered for every Christian. Hallelujah!
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