Now if you would please take your copies of the Scriptures in hand or turn in one of the church Bibles to page 961, to 1 Corinthians chapter 15; 1 Corinthians 15. Last Lord’s Day Morning, you may remember, we considered the opening eleven verses where Paul sets forth in a positive fashion a summary of the Christian Gospel – “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and the apostles and to more than five hundred.” And then, last of all, “as though to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” Paul is laying the groundwork to respond to a problem, a theological error, that had begun to arise at Corinth. You can see it in verse 12. Some of the Corinthians were asking, or were actually arguing, that there was no such thing as the resurrection from the dead. So in verses 1 to 11, Paul has articulated the Gospel and the centrality of the resurrection and the historicity of it – that it is true and reliable and dependable in a positive manner.
Now, this morning, beginning in verse 12, we’re going to see him engage more directly with their mistake. And as we read verses 12 through 34 together, I want you to be on the lookout for three themes. Three themes to see here. First, in verses 12 through 19, the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ. If there’s no resurrection, well then, so what? What difference does it make? Paul’s going to show us the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ. That’s 12 to 19. Then in 20 through 28, the precious consequences of the risen Christ. The fact is, Christ has risen and there are marvelous implications that result from it. Then in 29 to 34, in the third place, the practical consequences of following Christ. Paul presses the implications of the resurrection of Jesus down into three areas as we’ll see in particular of practicality for the church and for our lives. So the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ, the precious consequences of a risen Christ, the practical consequences of following Christ. That’s where we’re going. Before we turn to consider the passage, however, let me invite you once again to bow with me as we pray. Let us pray.
O Lord, would You please now pour out the Holy Spirit upon this assembly of Your people and to take up Your Word and apply it, press it down, push it into our hearts. We ask that, despite our proneness to distraction, despite the coldness of our hearts, You might arrest us and grip us and draw us, all of us, to Christ, who lives and reigns and is returning. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
1 Corinthians 15 at the twelfth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that 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 futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
I was reading a report the other day about the engineering issues involved in the collapse of the Twin Towers at 9-11. You know, the sort of structural issues. How did it happen? Most large buildings like the World Trade Center have structural redundancies built into them so that when one structural component is taken out, the others can compensate and bear the stresses that are placed upon the building and the whole thing will remain standing. But when multiple components of the structure fail, as happened at 9-11, the shifting loads eventually overstress all the adjacent structural elements and the collapse occurs like dominoes, you know – one after the other, all knocked down in a row. There’s a sort of cascade effect as the pressure mounts and the whole thing comes crashing to the ground. The Corinthian Christians thought that you could remove a structural element from the Christian Gospel with no effect. The apostle Paul is going to show us that if you take out, as they were doing, taking out the resurrection of the dead from the Christian Gospel, the whole thing will come crashing down.
The Pitiable Consequences of a Dead Christ
Let’s look at verses 12 through 19 first of all and notice how he spells out the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ. Some of them were saying, verse 12, that the dead are not raised. Well, so what? Right? What are the implications of that? Well here's what, Paul says. "If the dead are not raised," verse 13, "then Jesus is still dead too." Isn't He? If you have no place at all in your system of thinking for bodily resurrection, then you must have no place in your system of thinking for the risen Christ. And Paul explains the implications of that conclusion by showing us two pairs. Implications for preachers and hearers; that's the first pair. And for the living and the dead, or the dead and the living; that's the second pair.
Implications for Preachers
Let’s think about the implications of Christ still being dead, of their being no resurrection, on preachers and hearers, first of all. Verse 14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain.” The word means “empty, hollow.” Think of an empty, cavernous room with meaningless sounds echoing back and forth. That’s my preaching. Why am I wasting my time pouring myself out preaching this message if the message itself is futile, empty, in vain. If Jesus is dead, that’s all it is. What a waste of time.
And look at verse 15. He goes on to say, “Not only am I wasting my time preaching, I am found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God, that He raised Christ whom He did not raise, if it is true that the dead are not raised.” Not only am I wasting my time preaching an empty message; far worse, I am blaspheming God, saying things about Him that are simply not true. Christ is dead. The message is utterly empty. If you’re too modern, too educated, to enlightened to believe in the resurrection, well then, Paul says, let’s stop preaching. Let’s stop worshiping. Let’s stop sending missionaries. Let’s stop planting churches. Let’s stop sharing our faith. Let’s just quit because it’s all a colossal waste of time.
Implications for the Hearers
And the implications for his hearers, not just for the preacher but for the hearer, verse 14 again. “Not only is my preaching in vain, but your faith is in vain, those of you who believed my message, what a useless thing your faith it.” Or verses 16 and 17, “If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If you think you can slide the resurrection out of the structure – did you ever play Jenga? You know Jenga, the wooden building blocks that you set up in a tower and you have to slide a block out and not cause the whole thing to collapse? If you think you can slide the resurrection, the bodily resurrection out of the Christian faith without the whole thing coming crashing down, you are sadly mistaken, Paul says. You are crazy. Actually, worse than that, you’re in deep trouble. Because it means that the death of Christ – “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,” Paul says in verse 3 – that message fails. The death of Christ has been an empty sacrifice. You’re still in your sin. You’re lost. We’re in a terrible predicament. The implications for a preacher and hearer.
Implications for the Dead
What about the dead and the living? Look at verses 18 and 19. Eighteen first – the implications for the dead. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished if Christ hasn’t been raised. We need to stop saying at the graveside at a Christian funeral, “We now commit the body of our brother or our sister to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.” We need to stop saying that. If Christ is not raised, there is no resurrection. Death is the final period at the end of the sentence of your life. It’s over. The dead have perished. They’re gone.
Implications for the Living
And, not only are there implications for the dead, there are implications for the living. Verse 19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” When I was training for the ministry in the Church of Scotland, which is the mainline Presbyterian church in Scotland, I was one of only one or two among all the students or the faculty that was an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian that believed the Bible was the inerrant Word of God. I believed in the bodily resurrection. I never could understand what all the other students and all the other professors were doing there. They don’t believe in the resurrection. What is the point? Their Christianity was for this life only, you see. It was about making people’s lives better with a vague, general message about God and being nice to your fellow man. Hope only for this life. But I never could understand why bother with all this Jesus stuff. Why not just go and be a social worker? Why not go and ditch all the empty religion? If Jesus is dead, that’s it! Game over! Christianity is a sham.
“If only for this life we have hope, we are of all men most to be pitied.” One commentator puts it like this. “If life here on this earth is all there is, it makes no sense to base our hope on the groundless promises of one who made empty assertions about eternity,” meaning Jesus. “If the Christian faith is thus based on an empty Gospel and a fraudulent Savior, anybody is better off than the Christian.” We are of all men most to be pitied. What fools we are. The pitiable consequences of a dead Christ.
The Precious Consequences of the Risen Christ
But then on the other hand, and by way of contrast, look at verse 20 through 28. Here are the precious consequences of the risen Christ. Now just notice how Paul has been arguing, the way his logic works. He has pressed the Corinthians to understand that their general principle – there is no resurrection of the dead – has implications when taken and applied to the particular – the resurrection of Jesus. If there’s no resurrection of the dead, there is no resurrection of Jesus. Paul now, as he responds to that mistake, flips it round and he begins with the particular – the resurrection of Jesus – and he works to the general – the implications for all of us.
Look at verse 20. “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” And that has implications, he says, for you and me. “Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That expression, “the firstfruits,” is important. It means, “the sample, the representative sample of the greater whole that is inevitably coming in its wake.” It’s the language used in Leviticus 23 of the firstfruits of the grain harvest that was dedicated to God in the temple. A sample of the greater harvest. Jesus’ resurrection, Paul is saying, is the firstfruits; the representative of the greater harvest of resurrections that will follow. There is, you see, an inevitability to this if you’re a Christian. Because Christ has been raised, we also will be raised one day. Like couplings, you know, that connect carriages together in a train. All of them linked ultimately to the engine. Wherever the engine goes, the train follows behind. We are linked to Jesus Christ and as He has been raised, so we also must be raised one day. There’s a certainty to it, an inevitability to it.
He even tells us the nature of the connection of the link between us and Jesus. Look at verse 21 and 22. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam, all die. So also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Now notice that parallel between Christ and Adam carefully. Do you see it there in verse 22? The parallel between Christ and Adam. Christians, Paul says, stand in relation to Jesus in the same way that the world, the human race, stands in relation to Adam. You will remember God entered into a covenant with Adam, "not only for himself but for his posterity," as our catechism helpfully puts it. Adam was a representative figure acting on behalf of humanity. A bit like high government officials today who will enter into treaties or trade agreements representing the United States of America. And their actions, their representative actions, may have far-reaching implications for every citizen in the land. Adam acts as a representative. And so when he failed to keep the covenant, when he broke it by eating the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, he fell into sin and misery “and we sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.” And as a consequence, we died. We die. Death is the wages of sin. The curse of the covenant. And so in Adam, Paul says, all die.
The Second Adam
But praise God, another has come! A greater than Adam. A kind of second Adam. Christ has come and He did what the first did not do. He kept covenant with God. He obeyed. With Him, God was well pleased. Actually, more than that, He not only kept the covenant Himself, He paid the penalty for Adam’s covenant breaking and for your covenant breaking and my covenant breaking so that the covenant curse, death, satisfied itself. It was spent as it was poured out upon Christ at the cross in our place. So that now, verse 22, “in Christ all shall be made alive.” If we are in Christ and not in Adam, Christ’s resurrection makes our resurrection an inevitability; not a possibility, an inevitability.
Some of you have asked your friends, you know the great EE diagnostic question – “If you die tonight and you stand before God in judgment and He was to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” You’ve asked that question and you’ve heard these kinds of answers quite often. Something like, “Well, I’m a pretty good guy. I give to charity. I never miss a Sunday in church. I serve on the board of this mission organization or that charitable trust.” And so the litany of self-reliant good works is trotted out before us. Let me say, Paul, I think, is making it really clear here those are feeble, feeble answers to death’s ultimate challenge. Unless you can say this one thing, unless you can point to this and only this, you have no credible reply. This, this must be your answer when you stand before God. “I was in Adam. And in Adam, I was guilty with the guilt of his first sin and guilty with the guilt of all my own sin. And I stood condemned. But now I am in Christ and His righteousness is my hiding place. I was in Adam, guilty and condemned. Now, I am in Christ who lives and reigns and because He lives, so also I must live as well.”
What is the little song? I learned it as a child; maybe you did too. "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, I know who holds the future. Life is worth the living just because He lives." He lives, and I live in Him. He is my hiding place. Can you say that today? Are you in Adam or are you in Christ? Jesus is the only safe refuge, the only place where life may be found. It's not really a question, you see. When you stand before God, it's not really a question of what you do or don't do. Not first. It is rather a question of who you are and whose you are. A question of status and standing. Are you in Adam or are you in Christ? Everyone in this room is in one or other category. Every one of us. You’re either in Adam or you’re in Christ. There’s no third option. Which is it, in your case? In Adam, there is only death under the wrath and curse of God. But in Christ who rose, there is glorious life. Life here and resurrection life hereafter.
The Last Day
And look quickly at verses 24 through 28 because Paul wants to do more than simply give us the theology of the principle. He wants to paint the picture of how it’s all going to happen at the last day when Christ comes. Do you see that in verses 24 through 28? He wants to sort of awaken in our hearts a longing for the day so that we cry out with the apostle John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus! Come!” And so here’s the order of things, he says. First of all, Christ, the firstfruits, has risen on the third day in victory over the grave. Then, when He returns, those who belong to Christ, they shall rise. Then comes the end when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. So when Jesus comes back, He will take the church to glory and He will judge the world in righteousness.
In the meantime, verse 25, He must reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in submission under his feet.” When death itself is undone at the resurrection of the dead, Christ’s mission will be finished at last. And He will hand the kingdom to the Father that God may be all in all. There’s a glory to that, isn’t there? Doesn’t it awaken longing in your heart for that moment? What if it was this afternoon as the doors open in the back of the sanctuary and we make our way out? That moment when the trumpet sounds and we hear the voice of the archangel and the sky splits before the blazing majesty of our returning King. And every eye sees Him and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye, made at last like Him, and the dead in Christ shall rise and the end comes when sin is gone and sadness is gone and weariness is gone and hurting bodies and tired minds are gone and we are made like Him. “For we shall see Him as He is.” Don’t you long for that day? That’s what Paul wants to happen in your heart. To say, “Come, Lord Jesus, I’m longing for the day. I’m not living for here. I’m living for hereafter. My horizon is not immediately before my feet, but way down there I’m looking or a world that is yet to come. I do not have hope only for this life. Rather, my hope is a resurrection hope.”
The Practical Consequences of Following This Risen Christ
And so, first of all, the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ. “If Christ is dead, then we are of all men most to be pitied.” But the precious consequences of a risen Christ. He is not dead. He lives! And we will live in Him. Then finally, let’s look at the practical consequences of following this risen Christ. Verses 29 through 34. Paul lists three of them. He talks about sacraments, suffering, and sanctification. Sacraments, suffering, and sanctification.
Sacraments first in verse 29. “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” There has to be about thirty or forty different interpretations of that verse. I’m going to quickly run through each of them – I’m just kidding! Just kidding! Breathe! It’s going to be okay! Here’s one interpretation that I found helpful. We don’t really know what Paul means here, but here’s one way to read it that I think helps. The words “on behalf of the dead” – “What do those do who have been baptized on behalf of the dead?” can mean “because of the dead” or “on account of the dead.” And Paul has been arguing all along that if there is no resurrection then Jesus has not been raised and He, like everyone else, belongs in that category. He is among the dead. Jesus is just another dead man. A pile of moldering old bones among all the others. That’s what I think he means by “the dead.” He’s saying if that’s where Jesus really is, what’s the point of being baptized for someone who’s just another dead guy? Just another one of the dead. What possible value would Christian baptism have if Jesus Christ is not alive but dead? It would be such a silly, empty ritual. Wouldn’t it?
But no, he says Christ is alive. And so what we did just a few moments earlier in the service with those three precious covenant children is filled and pregnant with significance and promise. Romans chapter 6 – Christian baptism is the sign of our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection. It is the Gospel pictured and promised and held out to everyone who believes, so that when you trust in Christ, the thing that baptism signifies becomes yours. You pass from death to life. Baptism matters because Jesus Christ is alive.
Then secondly, suffering. First sacraments; then suffering, verse 30. Listen to Paul's questions. "Why are we in danger every hour? I protest brothers, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day. What do I gain if humanly speaking I fought with beasts at Ephesus if the dead are not raised? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." "Why am I killing myself? Pouring myself out, preaching and pastoring and planting churches and enduring all manner of privations and suffering and hardship – shipwreck, being beaten, being stoned?" And on and on the litany goes. “Why bother if Jesus Christ is dead? We may as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” That is, after all, all that can be waiting tomorrow if Christ has not risen. Just death. And so why endure suffering? Why press on in the midst of suffering? Why not simply live for pleasure and ease to minimize the pain, to do everything we can do get away from it? If Christ has not been raised, suffering is empty and meaningless and my service is empty and meaningless.
But if Christ has been raised, and He has been raised, then my sufferings and my service take on a new significance. Paul can say in 2 Corinthians that my “light and momentary afflictions,” he can call these great sufferings, “are preparing for us a greater weight, a surpassing weight of glory.” He’s saying because Jesus has been raised it’s all worth it. Because He lives, I can keep going. I can press on. I fact, I will endure a thousand times more if I might bring one or two more out of darkness into the marvelous light of the risen Christ. Suffering only makes sense, it can only make sense if the tomb is empty and Jesus Christ has triumphed. Sacraments. Suffering.
Sanctification, holiness, last of all. Look at verse 33. “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals. Wake up from your drunken stupor, as it right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” Paul wants them to see that theology, doctrine has implications. And the implications of their bad theology – there is no resurrection – is an immoral life. They were drunkards. They were living in all kinds of debauchery as we’ve seen as we’ve worked through 1 Corinthians. There is a connection, you see, between what you believe and how you live. And so now Paul calls them to a heavenly-mindedness; to a firm conviction that Christ is risen and this world, this is not our home. His resurrection and ascension and reign, that’s but the firstfruits of the final harvest, the destiny into which every one of us will be swept up at last. And if that is true – and it is – that means we are not citizens of this world at all. Brothers and sisters, if you are bound for a heavenly kingdom, if you’re citizens of another world, you are called to live here in such a way to make it apparent. To live here, like citizens who don’t belong here but who belong there, where Christ is, where we one day shall be also.
You know they say that about expats, don’t they? Scottish people not living at home but in a foreign land. They become even more Scottish than their friends and family back home. You know, they cling to their culture. They cling to their history and their language and their food and their traditions and they assert it with greater determination and resolve because they don’t live at home anymore. They live in a strange land. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are strangers in a strange land. This is not your home. You are to live here as someone who belongs there, who makes it plain that you are a citizen of another country. So Paul says, “Do not go on sinning. Stop living as though the old life now characterized you. Live, rather, the resurrection life that is yours and will be yours in all its fullness when Christ comes.”
So the pitiable consequences of a dead Christ. If He’s dead, we have no message; we have no hope. We are of all men most to be pitied. The precious consequences of a risen Christ. He’s not dead! He lives and reigns and is returning! And if we are in Him, not in Adam but in Christ, we shall live too. And the practical consequences of following this risen Christ. Sacraments become sweet and filled with meaning and promise and hope. Suffering is not any longer something simply to be avoided but something through which we can persevere for the glory of Christ, knowing that “the testing of our faith produces perseverance and perseverance character and character hope.” And sanctification. While we endure all of it because Jesus Christ is alive, we have become citizens of another world already called to live resurrection life. Showing those who look at us, hear us, see how we spend our money, give to the church, support global mission, endure hardship in Jesus’ name, witness to our friends, showing those who look at us we don’t belong here. We are heading for the Promised Land, for the heavenly city, for a New Jerusalem, for the home of righteousness, the hope of glory.
May the Lord give us grace to hear and respond in faith to His Word. Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank You that Jesus Christ is alive. That He sits now, today, at Your right hand. That one day the last enemy shall be destroyed, death itself, and all things placed in subjection to Him. One day He shall come in triumph and the open display of His great glory. How we long for that day. We pray for grace now to persevere, to live as citizens of the world yet to come and not to put down our roots into the toxic soil of this world. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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