I Corinthians 15:17-22
Imagine a world in which there is no water. It is hard to do, especially with high river levels and lots of rain. At this time, we might be tempted to say that it would be a good thing, but it wouldn’t take very long before we would remember that we can’t live without water. Crops don’t grow without water, trees die without water and we can’t survive without water. I remember learning in school that a person can survive as long as 7 days without water, but that is all. We can’t imagine a world without water because it is so essential to life on earth.
Imagine a world without sunshine. It is hard to do. Where there is absolute darkness, nothing grows and nothing lives. The sun is essential to life on this earth. It is necessary for light and for heat and to cause growth. People who live in the north during the winter suffer psychological effects because of sunlight deprivation. It is essential to life as we know it. We can’t even imagine a world without sunlight because it is essential to life on earth.
Imagine Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Thomas Jefferson, a great man, nevertheless could not accept the miraculous elements in Scripture. He edited his own special version of the Bible in which all references to the supernatural were deleted. Jefferson, in editing the Gospels, confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson's Bible are these: "There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed."
It is hard for us to imagine that someone could be raised from the dead, yet, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead what kind of a Christianity do we have? Just as the world cannot function without water or the sun, so Christianity cannot function without the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection provides the power behind Christian belief.
This morning, we will examine the truth of the resurrection and be encouraged by the power of the resurrection. The Scripture passage that we will look at is I Corinthians 15:17-22.
I read a story about how “every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the "stations of the cross" to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped.” Many people in history have considered Christianity without the resurrection. The apostle Paul, raises this possibility in I Corinthians 15 speaking about some who have taught that there is no resurrection.
What would Christianity be without a resurrection? Paul’s conclusion is that if there is no resurrection, then we have a faith that is empty. NIV Says, “your faith is futile,” Good News Bible says, “your faith is a delusion” and The Message says, “if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.”
At Universal Studios in Hollywood, there are numerous beautiful buildings. If you would see a picture of those buildings, you would probably imagine a solid structure with a well decorated inside and appropriate furniture, but you would be disappointed, because they are merely facades, empty fronts which have nothing to them. Without the resurrection, Christianity is a façade with nothing to it. It is filled with promises that it cannot fulfill, it boasts great power and possibilities that are empty.
Gambling is big business these days and sadly, many people become addicted. It is a pitiful thing to see someone addicted to gambling. They put their hope in the next big win. They always think that the next time they make a gamble, they will strike it rich. Such hope in something that seldom delivers and does not satisfy when it does is pitiful.
It would be even more pitiful if we, as Christians, staked our whole life on the risen Lord Jesus Christ if Jesus was just a man who died. Paul says that if we have hoped in Christ when all we really have is this life, then we are of all men most to be pitied. In that case, we have given up much, have changed our life, have subjected ourselves to persecution all for the sake of nothing. Instead of the hope of a richer, fuller life, all we have is a special form of hardship. If this world is all there is, anybody is better off than the Christian. “If we have believed in the future when there is no future”…we are pitiable.”
After contemplating life without the resurrection, Paul begins verse 20 with the word, “But…” which changes everything. It is as if you are going one way and suddenly you turn around completely. If Christ has not been raised, we have an empty faith and are pitiful creatures, but that is not the case. Contrary to all human expectations, the most amazing thing has happened. Christ has been raised from the dead, and there is no doubt in Paul’s mind that this is true!
There are many reasons to believe that Christ actually rose from the dead.
First of all, there is the empty tomb. The explanation which the chief priests gave for the empty tomb is that the disciples took the body. But that makes no sense because it would have been too easy to force the disciples to produce the body. The explanation that Jesus merely swooned and then later came out makes no sense because the evidence of death was too strong in the fact that blood and water flowed from his side. Furthermore, how could he have pushed the stone away in his weakened state.
Paul himself was convinced of the resurrection because he was among a large group of people who had seen Him alive. In I Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells about those people. He tells about Peter and Paul knew Peter and would have checked this out. He tells about 500 who saw him at one time, many of whom at the time of writing were still alive, and could verify this. Some have suggested that the appearances were a vision, but that also makes no sense, for 500 people do not all have the same vision. He knew that Jesus had appeared to James and Paul himself had also seen the risen Christ.
Probably the most powerful evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the lives that were changed. Paul is one such person. George Lyttleton lived between 1709 and 1773. He was a famous English writer and statesman. When he was fully persuaded that the Bible was an imposture, he together with a friend determined to expose Christianity as a falsehood. He chose to study the conversion of Paul. After much study, he determined that the evidence was just too strong. The change that occurred in Paul, the persecutor of the church who became a preacher of the gospel could only have come by the power of the resurrection.
The evidence that Jesus Christ died and rose from the grave is strong and assures and encourages us that Jesus rose and that He is alive today.
Recently we have heard a lot about power to change. The reason there is power to change is because Christ rose from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we discover the power of what Christianity is all about. What is the power of the resurrection?
In verse 17, Paul says that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then “you are still in your sins.” The power of the resurrection is that it makes it possible for sins to be dealt with.
Those of you who use email may at some time have received an email message with the words, “permanent fatal error.” If you send someone an email and use an address that doesn’t work because you type it in wrong or the person no longer has that address, you get it back a while later with the message “permanent fatal error.” That sounds awful and I always feel bad when I get it that I have caused such a breakdown of the system. That it is permanent suggests to me that it can never be fixed. That it is fatal suggests that it results in some kind of death. Of course, it isn’t nearly that serious. All it really means is that the system stopped trying to send the message because it couldn’t find the address and so it returned it with the message that it wasn’t going to try to send it again. To overcome this, all I have to do is get the right address and send it again.
The same cannot be said about sin. In the case of sin, the message “permanent fatal error” is very true. If we sin, it is fatal. We will not be able to escape the consequences of our sins. Romans 6:23 speaks the condemning word, “… the wages of sin is death…” But is it a permanent fatal error?
Apart from the resurrection, it would be, but the resurrection has the power to change a “permanent fatal error” into a non-permanent, non-fatal error that can be forgiven.
Have you heard about Murphy’s law? Murphy’s law says that if something can go wrong, it will. Murphy’s law is the pessimistic view of life that suggests that bad things are an inevitable consequence of life. For example, one corollary to Murphy’s law is that if you drop a piece of toast, it will always land with the jam side on the floor. Now, of course, these things are not inevitable consequences, they are a pessimistic person’s view of life.
There are, however, some things that are inevitable consequences. It is an inevitable consequence that if you do not stop at the gas station, you will run out of gas. It is an inevitable consequence that if you cut yourself with a knife, you will bleed. It is also an inevitable consequence that if you sin, you will die. In fact, the only way to die is if you sin. Sin and death are inextricably linked. They go together. If you sin, you will die. If you die, you must have sinned.
Jesus died, but the Bible tells us that he never sinned. How did he die? The only reason he died was because he took on all the guilt of our sin. It would not have been possible for him to die, if he had not taken on our sins.
When he rose again from the dead, a very powerful thing took place. It showed that God accepted his sacrifice and that the punishment for sin was accomplished and our sins were forgiven. The resurrection demonstrated God’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice. “Christ dead without resurrection would be a condemned, not a justified Christ.” That is why the resurrection is the power of sins forgiven.
Because our sins are forgiven, the power of the resurrection also gives us the ability to live a new life apart from sin.
In I Corinthians 6:9,10 Paul gives a list of sins, mentioning idolatry, homosexuality, greed, drunkenness, slander and so on. These are the things for which the wages are death. But, Paul goes on to say in verse 11, “that is what some of you were…” The power of the resurrection means that we are able to speak of sin as past tense.
The power of the resurrection is the power to receive forgiveness of sin and to live in victory over sin.
Because the power of the resurrection is to forgive sins, it is also able to give eternal life. Earlier, we talked about “inevitable consequences.” If the precondition is changed, the consequence will also changed. If you fill up with gas, you won’t run out. If you don’t cut yourself, you won’t bleed. If sin is removed, you won’t die. Since sin has been removed through the death and resurrection of Christ, we will live!
The text tells us that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of those who will be raised. One of the great joys of growing a garden is the great joy of eating that first strawberry or tomato. You eat it with great joy and anticipate that it is only the first of many you will enjoy. First fruits implies later fruits. Because Christ rose, we will also rise.
There is an interesting word used in this passage. You will notice that it says, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For pagans, death was the end; for Christians, it was sleep. That is “…radically different from anything in the heathen world. Nothing is more characteristic of even the best thought of the day than its hopelessness in the face of death.” Not so for those who are in Christ.
A story is told about a distinguished man, the only white person buried in a Georgia cemetery reserved exclusively for blacks. He had lost his mother when he was just a baby. His father, who never married again, hired a black woman named Mandy to help raise his son. She was a Christian, and she took her task seriously. Seldom has a motherless boy received such warmhearted attention. One of his earliest memories was of Mandy bending tenderly over him in his upstairs bedroom each day and softly saying, "Wake up--God's mornin' is come.
As the years passed this devoted woman continued to serve as his surrogate mother. The young man went away to college, but when he would come home on holidays and in the summer she would still climb the stairs and call him in the same loving way. One day after he had become a successful statesman, the sad message came: "Mandy is dead. Can you attend her funeral?" As he stood by her grave in the cemetery, he turned to his friends and said, "If I die before Jesus comes, I want to be buried here beside Mandy. I like to think that on Resurrection Day she'll speak to me again and say, 'Wake up, my boy, God's mornin' is come!"'
To speak of those who are dead as asleep implies that they will awaken. Because Christ rose, the power over death is broken so that it can now be spoken of as sleep.
About 1930, the Communist leader Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev. His mission was to address a huge assembly. His subject, atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling argument and ridicule. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. "Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
Have you experienced the power of the resurrection in your own life? Have you experienced the resurrection power of forgiven sins? Have you experienced the resurrection power of new life in Christ? Have you experienced the resurrection power of eternal life?
The other day we were in a store which has all kinds of devices for people who have physical handicaps. Among other things, there were chairs there which lift you up so that you are almost in a standing position. If you haven’t got the strength in your legs and arms to lift yourself up, they are a great thing to help you get into and out of a sitting position. If someone with a physical handicap had such a chair available to them, would they try to lift themselves up by their own strength when the power was available to lift them?
Through the resurrection, God’s power has been made available to overcome the area of our great weakness - sin and death. Will you try to continue to lift yourself up on your own or will you accept the power of the resurrection into your life? It is simply a matter of admitting that you need His power to help you overcome sin and death, accepting His forgiveness by faith and receiving the living Jesus Christ into your life. What a great day to deal with sin and death - Easter Sunday as we celebrate the risen Lord. If you would like to make this decision today, I invite you to write a note with your name and phone number on it and give it to me after the service. I would like to encourage you in your faith. I invite you to respond to the invitation God is making in your life.
After the choir sings, we will conclude the service by reciting the orthodox greeting. I will say, “Christ is risen” and you may respond, “He is risen indeed.”