Let's play the "what if" game for a few moments.
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if certain events had happened differently? For ex-ample:
What if the assassin's bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald had missed President John F Kennedy in 1963? If President Kennedy had finished his first term, he probably would have been re-elected for a second term. Would we have involved our-selves in the war in Vietnam? there have been an arms race with the Soviet Union?
What if the Titanic hadn’t hit that iceberg?
What if the terrorists had been foiled on September 11?
What if Adolph Hitler had died of a childhood disease?
History would have been different in many ways!
Let’s come closer to home. What if you had never met or married your spouse? What if it had been some-one else? You wouldn’t have these children. You’d have others, or maybe none at all! What a vastly different life you’d be leading!
But all of this is senseless contemplation", someone will complain. Those bullets did find their target in 1963. You and your spouse did meet, and marry…and your life has gone this way. What’s the good of asking “WHAT IF?” Just this.
Sometimes we take for granted the good things we have. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until we are in danger of losing it. We take for granted our good health. We take for granted a faithful and loving spouse. We take for granted that we have a steady job.
Every Easter Sunday we will sit in church in church doing what we do each year. We will sing resurrection songs. We will hear the same story. Perhaps we will take it all for granted, waiting for tomorrow’s routine to resume.
But let's stop and think about something. WHAT IF THERE HAD BEEN NO EASTER? What if Jesus hadn’t risen to life on that spring morning 2000 years ago? What would the world be like? There would be no Easter parades. There would be no Easter baskets, no Easter Bunny stories, no Easter lilies, and no Easter Easter egg hunts.
But those are superficial things. Let's get serious. What would your life be like? What would be your HOPE? What would be your reason to live? This is no child’s game of “let’s pretend.”
Let's look at the Bible for a moment. Paul raised it in the section I read a moment ago. His world scoffed at the idea of the dead coming to life. Apparently the church at Corinth had some members in the congregation who had trouble with this part of the Christian message. To them and to us, Paul poses this startling question: WHAT IF Christ did not rise from the dead? One after another, Paul draws out a string of 5 sobering answers.
I. Our Fundamentals are Flawed (1-4)
If Christ is not alive the fundamental truth of the Gospel is flawed. It is missing the most important ingredient. Later on Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is vain. In other words, it is empty. All of the sermons being delivered today by preachers are empty words. There is no reason to go soulwinning.
It is like your boss handing you a pay envelope and when you take your money to the bank, you find that it is full of Monopoly money. How embarrassing would that be. You couldn't pay your bills with that kind of money.
Without the resurrection there is no Gospel. One preacher years ago said that "the body of Jesus Christ still lies in a nameless tomb, but his deathless spirit marches on."
This message of a crucified Savior who has come back alive is the heart of all we preach and teach. But if there is no resurrection, then our message is meaning-less because our fundamentals are flawed.
II. Jesus' Followers Were Fraudulent (5-11, 15)
Notice what Paul said in verse 15: "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." Paul is not saying that we are mistaken. He's saying that we are fraudulent. We are just as guilty as the Roman soldiers who paid people to say that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15).
A false witness is someone who goes into a court-room and willingly lies. He commits perjury. He tells a lie. He knows better. That's what Paul says we are without the resurrection.
We are misrepresenting God. Preachers, evangelists, missionaries, are liars. The church is one gigantic fraud. As one preacher said, it is "a cathedral built on a foundation of whipped cream."
If Jesus is not alive let's close the doors of our churches. Let's stop our evangelistic efforts. Let's call our missionaries home. Let's find better uses for the money we spend on tithes and offerings and stop using money on a useless cause. Let's stop passing out tracts and all soulwinning efforts. Preachers, evangelists, and missionaries should resign and get an honest job. We're wasting our time and money.
Flawed Fundamentals and Fraudulent Followers are bad enough but there is something worse.
III. Our Faith Is Futile (16-17a)
Faith rests upon what is preached. What if you had been an investor who, in good faith, put your life savings into a fund managed by Bernard Madoff. Your faith is futile because it was built on what has become commonly known as a Ponzi Scheme. You lost all of your money.
Paul says that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. The peace that supposedly passes all understanding? It is an illusion. It's like a prisoner who awakens from a beautiful dream, only to realize that he is still in chains.
Think about all of the temptations you resisted. Think about all of the money you gave to your church, to missions, to building programs, and other worthy causes. Think about all the time you spent in church worship services. Think about the prayers you offered up to heaven. Think about all of the time you spent witness-ing to others about what you believe. Without the resurrection it was a huge waste of time, money, and energy.
But this story does not end.
IV. Our Forgiveness Is False (17b)
Paul argues if the dead do not rise, then Christ has not risen from the dead. If Christ is not risen from the dead, he concludes, "your faith is vain..." (17a). This means that if Jesus did not raise from the dead, God did not accept payment for our sins. The resurrection proved that full payment had been made for our sins. I will share more on this truth later.
But this point gets worse. Jesus' death is not important without the resurrection. If Jesus died and is still in the tomb, He is no different than any man who ever lived. If there is no Savior there is no resurrection. If there is no resurrection there is no justification. If there is no justification there is no cleansing of your sins. If you sins have not been cleansed, then the penalty of sin is still upon you. You are destined for hell and you are still in your sins.
In other words, we have no hope, and that brings me to the final point.
V. Our Future Is Fatal (18-19)
What does it mean that we are "most miserable? It means that if this is all there is, it is bad news. The few good times you experience are fleeting and are going to get worse. It's all downhill from here. Every day you live moves you closer to the grave. You are never going to be healthier than you are today. Your body will eventually break down. You're going to have problems. You're going to be infirmed. Some disease will start eat-ing away at your body. One by one you are going to see your loved ones disappear by death. This is what we have to look forward to if there is no resurrection.
Without Christ we are of all men most miserable.
Think for a minute about someone you have lost in death. What about that dear spouse you loved for so many years? Many of you have lost parents or grandparents. Some of you have lost very good friends.
I think about a young man named Jody Walker. Jody was my brother's best friend. In October, 1977, Jody called our house and talked with my brother. Like the rest of our family, Jody was a big Alabama football fan and he and my brother were discussing the beatdown Alabama would give to the Georgia Bulldogs later that day.
About five minutes after Jody and my brother finished talking, my mother was on another call. An operator broke into the call and said that there was an emergency call on another line. My mother hung up the phone and ran frantically from the kitchen to our den. In anguish and tears she yelled to my father, "Come talk to Mildred (Jody's grandmother). Jody was just killed in a car accident in front of his house."
Jody had gone out to mow the yard. While he was mowing the yard, he saw the mailman deliver the mail to their box which was across the street from their house. Jody had stopped the mower, walked across the street, and picked up the mail. Just as he was getting ready to cross the street again, he failed to look both ways. He stepped out in front of a car doing 30 miles an hour (about 5 miles under the speed limit). The car hit Jody in his midsection, killing him instantly.
If Christ is not alive, then Jody has perished without hope. All the passing years will erase his Christian testimony, his memory, and the good things he did during his short time on earth. What a terrible thing to con-sider for those who loved Jody.
But thanks be to God, Jesus is alive. He has raised from the dead. Because Jesus is alive:
1) Our Fundamentals Are NOT Flawed. They ARE Fixed (1-4)
Jesus is alive! The Gospel message is true. Our message is not empty. No preacher can preach the Gospel unless he preaches the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel has no equal. Recently I typed the word "Gospel" into the Microsoft Word Thesaurus. Under the synonyms section appeared the words, "No results were found". There are no other single words to describe the Gospel. Paul also said, "…it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth…" (Romans 1:16).
As we celebrate the resurrection this Easter week-end, let's remember the command of Jesus to "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every crea-ture" (Mark 16:15). Because of the resurrection we can carry this message of good news to the world. Jesus is alive. Our fundamentals are fixed.
2) Jesus Followers were NOT Fraudulent. They WERE Fearless (5-11, 15)
These disciples had actually seen Jesus after His resurrection. They talked with Him. They listened to Him. They ate with Him. They touched Him.
How do we know they were telling the truth? How do we know that they didn't just concoct a story to save face? Because these disciples were willing to die for their belief in the resurrected Christ. They were beaten, imprisoned tortured, and died for this belief. They sealed their testimony with their lives.
A man may live for a lie but few are willing to die for one. If Osama bin Laden was so confident in his belief in Allah, why was he not willing to fly an airplane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001? Why does he not strap a bomb to his back, walk into a mall or a foreign embassy, and blow up himself? Why did it take the bullet of a US soldier to kill him? Why was he not willing to die for his beliefs? Because he was fraudulent.
Jesus' followers were not fake or fraudulent. They were not liars and con artists. They did not pawn a colossal fraud on the world. Jesus is alive and His resurrection confirmed that His followers were not deceived.
These disciples who, at one time, could not fathom that Jesus had to die also had a hard time believing His resurrection. But once they saw the resurrected Lord and witnessed His ascension, they returned to Jerusalem. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit descended upon them as flaming tongues of fire. These same disciples preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3000 people were saved. These same disciples took the Gospel to the known world. These disciples were fearless because of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the story gets better.
3) Our Faith Is NOT Futile. It IS Fruitful (16-17a)
The peace that supposedly passes all understanding is the peace that Jesus gives. It is not the peace of this world (John 14:27). We are not living in a dream world.
One day you will be rewarded for your faithfulness to the Lord. The temptations you resisted were worth-while. The money you gave in tithes, to missions, to church building programs, and other worthy causes are wealthy investments. The time you spend faithfully at-tending church services will not be wasted.
Oft times the day seems long,
Our trials hard to bear,
We're tempted to complain, to murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away,
All tears forever over in God's eternal day.
Sometimes the sky looks dark with not a ray of light,
We're tossed and driven on, no human help in sight;
But there is one in heaven
Who knows our deepest care,
Let Jesus solve your problem
Just go to Him in prayer.
Life's day will soon be o'er, all storms forever past,
We'll cross the great divide, to glory, safe at last;
We'll share the joys of heaven
A harp, a home, a crown,
The tempter will be banished,
We'll lay our burden down.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.
(Words and music by Esther Kerr Rusthoi)
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, it will be worth it all.
Let's look at more good news.
4) Our Forgiveness Is NOT False. It IS Factual (17b)
God did accept Jesus' death as payment for our sins. Romans 4:25 says, "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." There was a resurrection. Jesus is alive. His death has been authenticated. We have a Savior. We have forgiveness. We have justification. Our sins have been cleansed. The penalty of sin is not upon us. We are not destined for hell. Hallelujah we are on our way to heaven.
One songwriter put it this way:
"One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore.
Living He loved me, dying He saved me,
Buried He carried my sins far away;
Rising He justified, freely forever,
One day he's coming, Oh Glorious day."
(Words by Henry Ostrom, 1910,
Music by Charles H. Marsh)
But here is the best news of all.
5) Our Future Is NOT Fatal. It IS Fantastic (18-19)
Jesus has taken the sting out of death. Later in this chapter Paul said, "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (54-55).
Because of the resurrection we do not have to fear death. Because of the resurrection we do not have to fear the grave. We may die and worms may destroy this body as we know it but because Jesus raised from the dead, we have the promise that we will also raise.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus we know that we will see our loved ones again. My dad's father died when he was 16 so I never met my grandfather on my father's side. I'm looking forward to meeting him one day and let him tell me how mean my father was as a young man. :) I'm looking forward to being reunited with my other grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends who went to heaven ahead of me.
Let me finish the story of my brother's friend Jody Walker. I will never forget leaving the ceremony that fall afternoon. I was standing close behind Jody's father Bill. Bill and his wife Peggy were understandably heart-broken because they were getting ready to lower their son's remains into the ground. Just prior to leaving the cemetery, Bill put his hand on the casket and said, "He's not here Tommy. He's in heaven with Jesus." With tears in my eyes (and again as I recall that memory), as a 16-year-old boy I put my arms around Bill, hugged him tightly, and said, "I know Bill." And we wept together for a few moments.
How could Bill do that? Because Jesus is alive and He has promised that the dead will rise again one day. Did they continue to grieve? Of course they did. They may have grieved more for a child than any parents I have ever seen. But they did not grieve as those who have no hope. Their weeping endured for a night, but joy came in the morning.
A few years ago Jody's mother Peggy died. A couple of weeks before God gave me this sermon, Bill died. I told my wife Kandi that I would loved to have been a fly on the wall in heaven when God called Bill home. What a glad reunion that must have been.
Because of the resurrection our future is fantastic. Whether we leave this earth by rapture or by death, we have the hope of eternal life with our Lord in heaven.
Recently I heard a fable about a spider who saw a great massive go into a cave. The spider was envious of the great king of the jungle and the spider said to him-self, "I will imprison that lion, that beast, in this cave." So while the lion was asleep in the cave the spider began to spin a web across the mouth of that cave. Back and forth and up and down he spun and spun and spun until he almost spun himself away. And then the little spider sat down by the side of the tomb, by the side of that cave as it were, and said, "Now the mighty beast is my prisoner. No longer will he seek his prey in the dark of the night in the jungle. No longer will he bask in the golden sunlight. Now I have taken him captive. He is my slave."
But the old lion awoke from his nap, shook the dust from his mane, gave a yawn and stretched himself. He then let out a roar that echoed through the valley and over the hill. Then he walked out of that cave and never even knew that the spider's web was there.
Infidelity and hate wove a web of unbelief across the tomb of our Savior Jesus Christ. But the lion of the tribe of Judah has risen from the dead and he's never even known that the devil's flimsy web was there. Jesus is alive. He's alive. And he lives in my heart.
I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He's always near.
In all the world around me I see His loving care,
And tho my heart grows weary I never will despair;
I know that He is leading thro' all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing will come at last.
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing,
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The Hope of all who seek Him,
The Help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives, He live, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
(Words and Music by Alfred H Ackley)