How Important is Easter? (I Corinthians 15:12-20)
Easter Sunday 2011
I. Survey Says...
How important is Easter? I mean, c'mon...really.
Do you know where Easter usually ranks in surveys that ask people "What is your favorite holiday?" One survey I saw had Easter in the number four position of favorite holidays; that was with a whopping four percent of the total 554 responses. I bet you can guess number one. Yeah, Easter came in behind Christmas, Halloween, and New Year's Day.
A larger, nationwide survey a few years ago put Easter in the same position, number four. But this time it was trailing behind Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. And would you believe that Columbus Day was last on the list, with 0.1% of the total responses. Wouldn't you like to meet those die-hard Columbus Day people?
But even the marketing of Easter leaves a lot to be desired. Pastels? Eggs? The Easter Bunny? Would people really miss Easter if it were somehow erased from the calendar? Would anyone really be upset?
Well, I guess that all depends on what you mean by the term "Easter".
This morning we have been celebrating Easter, but the bunnies and the eggs have been conspicuously absent, haven't they? No, our focus has been where it should be. Our focus this morning has been on Jesus Christ and the fact that He did what no one else in the vast expanse of human history has ever done: He rose from the dead!
But...but how important is that Easter? How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Can Christianity exist if there really was no resurrection? If the body of Jesus is still lying in some Holy Land tomb right now, then is there any value to us sitting here this morning?
There are, in fact, many today, who believe that Christianity can exist without the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Here's how one writer expressed it:
Many liberal and some mainline Christian leaders believe that Jesus died during the crucifixion, did not resurrect himself, and was not bodily resurrected by God. At his death, his mind ceased to function and his body started the decomposition process. Returning to life a day and a half later would have been quite impossible.
Well, this morning we need to take this questions right back to the source, back to the New Testament. Turn with me to I Corinthians 15. This morning we are going to be looking at verses 12-20.
II. The Passage: "But If There is No Resurrection..." (15:12-20)
Now, before I read these verses let me give you a few details about what was happening with the Christians in the city of Corinth and why Paul was writing these words to them. Although the specifics are not completely clear, what is clear from this book is that the church was being plagued by divisions. And what is clear from this whole chapter is that one of the things the Corinthians were beginning to divide over was the idea of resurrection.
Apparently, there were some in this church, or some who were coming into this church, who were teaching that there would be no bodily resurrection at the end of time. These people probably believed that being resurrected simply meant you were spiritually reborn, right here and right now.
But this was a direct contradiction to what Paul and the other Apostles were teaching. They were teaching what Jesus taught: we will not live forever as disembodied spirits. None of this playing harps on a cloud somewhere. Yes, our spirits will live on, but one day, God will put us, like Humpty Dumpty, back together again, so that we will be remade spiritually and physically, so that we can dwell forever in a new heavens and a new earth.
But as I read through these verses, listen to how Paul takes this debate (a debate that maybe some believed was secondary), listen to how Paul takes this issue and shows them why they have to get this one right. I Corinthians 15:12....
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Now, what I want you to see is the method of Paul's argument here. Did you see how Paul is using the "domino" method as he tries to correct the thinking of some in the Corinthian church? When dominoes are arranged in a line, and one falls, what happens? Yeah, the next domino falls...and then the next one...and then the next one.
That's what Paul is demonstrating here using four distinct 'dominoes.'
A. From the Idea of Resurrection to Jesus' Resurrection (12, 13)
The first domino Paul sets up here is actually the one the Corinthians set up. It's the idea of resurrection in general. We don't know the exact reasoning behind the "no resurrection" group's position. The Jewish leaders known as the Sadducees also held to this position, that there was no resurrection; there was, in fact, no afterlife according to the Sadducees.
This might be what some in the Corinthian church believed, maybe some who fancied themselves as more theologically sophisticated. "There is no afterlife...p'shaw!" This may be why Paul says what he says in verse 19: If in Christ we have hope in this life only...
Many today, like in the quotation I shared with you a few minutes ago, many today label the idea of resurrection as impossible. They may or may not believe in an afterlife, but according to some, people simply do not come back from the dead. Not normally, not ever!
But Paul shows the Corinthians here, in verses 12 and 13, that if they believe this line of reasoning, he show them how the domino falls. If we knock over the idea of resurrection in general, then not even Jesus could have risen from the dead. Verse 13: But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
B. From Jesus' Resurrection to the Gospel Message (14-16)
But then look where he goes from here in verses 14 through 16. Paul wants to see that if the domino of "resurrection" is knocked over, then that would topple Jesus' resurrection, which in turn would knock down the very message of the gospel itself.
Verse 14: And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. The gospel (which simply means "good news"), this message of Good News that Paul declared, the same message the Corinthians believed, would be false if the body of Jesus was still sealed in some tomb.
Just scan up to the beginning of this chapter and you'll see how Paul described the contents of this "good news", this gospel. Look at 15:1-4....
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
The resurrection of Jesus is like one of the legs on a three-legged stool. It just doesn't work if the resurrection is not a part of the message.
But if resurrections don't happen...ever, and Jesus was not raised, then not only is the gospel message wrong, but Paul has been travelling all over the Roman world, verse 15, "misrepresenting God". If Jesus did not rise from the grave, Paul is nothing more than a two-bit huckster and the Corinthians are simply sad suckers.
C. From the Gospel Message to Our Redemption (17-19)
But there's still one more domino left to topple. Look at verses 17 through 19. If there are no resurrections, and therefore Jesus has not been raised, and therefore the gospel message is a fabrication, then, verse 17, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
But what does that mean? Still "in your sins". Well, it means they are still guilty before God, still guilty of living me-centered lives in a God-centered universe; still guilty of first loving what is created rather than living as those created to love God above everything else; still guilty of hurting others, still guilty of greed and envy and lust and indifference and sexual immorality and impatience and deception and unforgiveness.
We are still guilty, not only of all the wrong we've done, but also of the right we've failed to do.
Remember what Paul said about this gospel message in verses 1 and 2. The gospel is not only the message they received in faith, but it's the message in which you stand, by which you are being saved.
You see, when Jesus took our place on the cross, when He received the penalty for our guilty verdict, when He, verse 3, died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, God's plan was net yet complete. Yes, Christ had to die in our place, but He could not stay dead. If He did not rise from the dead, how would He be any different than the rest of us. Death would once again, as it always does, Death would have the victory.
To defeat death, which robs us of physical life, is to restore to us physical life through the restoration of spiritual life. Christ has to rise physically, not just spiritually.
Jesus Christ died in order to defeat death, and returned to life in order to give us life forever with God. So if He did not rise from the dead as Paul's message had declared, if resurrections just don't happen, then, verse 18, even those who have fallen asleep [those who have died..] in Christ have perished. If Jesus was unable to overcome death, then how would those who placed their faith in Him and what He did, how would they do any better?
If all the dominos fall, we are left in our helpless condition. We cannot pay the debt our sins have accumulated. No amount of good works will balance out our sins. No, when all the dominos fall, all hope is lost.
How important is Easter? How important is the first Easter? It is everything.
D. From the Reality of His Resurrection to the Hope of Ours (20)
But look at verse 20 again. Paul is done with these speculative dominos. No more "what ifs". Verse 20: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Jesus did the impossible. As we sang about, "he trampled over death by death". And because He did, He was simply the first of many. All those whose bodies now sleep, all those who now dwell, in spirit, in God's presence, one day...one day they will arise just like the One in whom they placed their trust.
I love what God's word tells us about why Jesus can represent us before God. Hebrews 7:16...Jesus has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent [that is, not because He was born as a Levite and descendant of Aaron], but by the power of an indestructible life. (Hebrews 7:16)
III. The Linchpin of Your Life
This morning we've talked about how important the resurrection of Jesus is for the Christian faith, but...how important is the resurrection, how important is Easter for your faith? For your life? Is Easter the linchpin of your life?
Here's how the dictionary defines the word "linchpin":
1. A locking pin inserted in the end of a shaft, as in an axle, to prevent a wheel from slipping off.
2. A central cohesive element. (the glue that holds it all together)
Paul effectively showed the Corinthians that the idea of resurrection, specifically, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the linchpin of our faith. Without this reality in place, the wheel might start to spin, but it will quickly spin right off the axle...and the results would be disastrous.
Now some might say, "Well, listen, whether or not Jesus really came back to life is not really the point. If we find spiritual support together, if we're happier doing what we're doing, if we're all better people and our children are learning the value of tradition and community, then isn't it all of this worth it."
But this is like asking a cancer patient, "Does it really matter if any of these treatments are actually effective? If you feel better coming to the hospital and sitting for hours and getting stuck with needles, if you feel better just doing something, then isn't it all worth it? Isn't that what really matters?"
No, no, that's not what really matters...because no matter how much you convince yourself that everything is fine, when there are treatments, and without those treatments, you will still die a painful death. The same is true for us. The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin.
In verse 19, Paul sums up all that he's been trying to communicate to the Corinthians with an unambiguous statement about the importance of Jesus' resurrection. He writes:
If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Police around the country often have to deal with what could be called 'psychic scams'. Men and women alleging they have psychic abilities promise grieving and/or lonely people that they can predict their future or communicate with loved ones who have died. When you hear about some of the outlandish ways these so-called 'psychics' take advantage of people, you are left feeling sorry for their victims. They are to be pitied.
If Christ is just a temporary fix for what really is an eternal problem, if the hope of new life that springs from Jesus' resurrection from the dead is all in vain, then our message is not worthy of the world's consideration. We are only worthy of their pity.
If you've come here this morning, and consider yourself to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, I want you to notice something about Paul's argument.
Notice that a critical part of Paul's argument here hinges on the present reality of a transformed life.
The question then for us this morning is this: Would Paul's argument here carry the same 'punch' if he were writing to us...to you?
If Jesus' resurrection never happened, would your life be significantly different? Would those who know you, your neighbors, your co-workers, your family, would they feel pity for you if it was discovered that Jesus' body was still in some tomb?
The only reason they would pity you, as Paul argues here, the only reason they would pity you was if they clearly understood that you spoke, and acted, and lived your entire life in light of the fact that Jesus is alive.
Sure, the fact that we go to church, the fact that we do 'Christian' things would be affected if Jesus never rose. Maybe our radio would have some different presets. Maybe our checking account balance would look a little different. But lots and lots of people who go to church and do 'Christian' things still do those things even though they don't really believe Jesus ever rose from dead.
Imagine if someone could make all the nails in your house just disappear, what would happen? You wouldn't want to be in that house, would you?
What I'm asking you this morning, what Paul is asking you this morning, what I believe God is asking you this morning is this: is the reality of the risen King so intertwined in your life, so crucial, that if it were taken away, everything about who you are would crumble? Are Jesus and His resurrection, the linchpin of your life?
Paul knew that his life would be radically different if Jesus never rose from the dead; it would make him a laughingstock and a fool, because everything that he did and said was based on the reality of that one event.
The hope of Easter, the reason that you and I are sitting here this morning, when many of us would otherwise be watching a game, or reading the newspaper, or maybe still in bed...the reason I hope all of us are here is the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
Just as we've come here this morning, so too did those women go to Jesus' tomb. And just as we've rejoiced this morning and sung praises to God, so also did those first followers stand in awe of what God had done. And just as Jesus himself stood in the midst of his people, so too is He here with us this morning.
There is a man who has done something no else has ever done: he conquered death.
And so, if He claimed that he was God's son, that He was God in human flesh, then shouldn't we trust Him? Shouldn't we listen to Him? Shouldn't we listen to what He said about our desperate condition, about forgiveness, about a new beginning, about true freedom, about real rest, about never having to thirst again? About the promise of life beyond this life? Shouldn't we trust Him?
May God help each of us to understand and appreciate in a deeper way the importance of Easter. May it always be first on our holiday list because Jesus is first. May Christ and the reality of His resurrection be the linchpin of our lives. Real hope. Real life.
Listen to the final words of an Easter sermon preached over 1600 years ago by a pastor named John Chrysostom:
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it! He descended into the Grave and took the Grave captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! ...It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"0 Death, where is thy sting? 0 Grave, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To Him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
(from the Easter Homily of John Chrysostom)
other sermons in this series