The Resurrection Difference (April 1, 2018)
The Resurrection Difference
1 Corinthians 15:12-23
What if it was all just an April fool’s trick that went too far. A clever deception by the loyal disciples to save face and continue in a dead man’s teaching? What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Have you ever thought through that? Have you ever wondered what your life would be like, what Christianity would be, if Jesus never rose from the dead? Let’s put ourselves in that position for a moment this morning. Let’s consider it an April fool’s trick for just a moment as we get a handle on the resurrection difference.
The apostle Paul, who wrote this first letter to the Corinthians, actually spells it out for us. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Cor 15:14-18). If Jesus did not rise from the dead on Easter Sunday, well that vastly changes things. Christianity hinges upon the resurrection difference. So if there was no resurrection, then these four things end.
First, we have no hope of a bodily resurrection on the last day. In this reading, the author actually attacks it from a different angle. You see, in the Corinthian congregation they believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but they doubted a bodily resurrection of all people. So the author is arguing that if God cannot resurrect people, he could not have resurrected Jesus either. The two go together. In our day and age, it’s the resurrection of Jesus that people tend to attack, but the result is the same. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then you also have no hope of a resurrection. You will live your life here on earth, and one day you will die. That’s it. That’s all there is to your story if Jesus’ resurrection was just an April fool’s trick.
Second, and related to the first, those who have died before us are lost. Your loved ones, your grandparents or great grandparents, your father or mother, your siblings, any of those you have lost in this life to death are lost forever. There is no hope of a joyful reunion in heaven because if Jesus has not been raised then there is no resurrection.
Third, you are still in your sins. Jesus died and took on the wrath for sin. He did this as a substitute – he hung there in the place of every sinner. Yet, if he did not rise, then that meant he did it only as man and not also as God. And God clearly says in his word that “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them – the ransom for a life is costly” (Ps 49:7-8). The only way that Jesus’ death could mean anything, could ransom the lives of every sinner, is if he were more than just a mere man. If he died and rose, then that would be proof that his ransom payment, his death, was more than enough – that it was accepted by God as full payment. But if he did not rise, then the evidence would seem to be against this, and there would be no hope of redemption for sinners.
That would mean, therefore – and this is the fourth point – that we are false witnesses, and our faith is useless, in vain. Because what are we even doing here then? The whole point of Christianity is to be redeemed from our mountain of sin which condemns us. It’s to have a silver lining to the gloom that accompanies the death of a loved one. It’s to have hope that there’s more than just this broken world; that there’s a resurrection to a new and perfect world. Yet if the resurrection of Jesus never happened, if it was all just a trick, then one by one all the things we hope in come unraveled and our entire faith amounts to nothing. We would be living our lives devoted to a lie only to meet a hopeless end.
The apostle Paul declares what would be the blunt truth in verse 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). If believing in Christ has value only for this present earthly life, then Christians are fools who have made a tragic mistake and who should be pitied by others. Without the resurrection, Christianity is pointless. Renouncing oneself as the master of your own life, making sacrifices in life, enduring persecution for the sake of Jesus – these are all senseless things if Jesus did not rise. Unbelievers who indulge in the sinful pleasures of life, then, are wiser and far better off, because this would be all there is. The Christian life is not worth living if the hope and promise of the resurrection are removed. What a hopeless end to a hard fought life.
So the question we have to ask ourselves, to make any of this mean anything, is: “Did he rise?” Did Jesus rise from the dead? The common arguments that some would bring against his resurrection is that his disciples stole his body and spread the story that he was alive. This was the story that the chief priests paid the guards to tell after the guards reported to them everything that had happened (Mt 28:11-15). But this is also the very thing the chief priests worked so hard to prevent! Make no mistake about it, these chief priests were wise, they were powerful, and they had all the right connections to make sure this didn’t happen. Yet, ironically, this is the report that they spread making themselves look like fools. These powerful enemies of Jesus, who wanted nothing more than to make this Jesus go away – that would have loved to have smothered Christianity in its cradle” – only needed to come up with his body. They didn’t. All evidence that we have goes against this argument, and, in fact, even includes the origin of this false argument!
A couple other arguments are that Jesus had a twin brother who made a few appearances after Jesus died and then he himself disappeared completely. Or there was some sort of mass hypnosis that took hold of the more than 500 people Jesus appeared to, or this was all some huge and extraordinarily clever conspiracy. And yet one more, slightly more plausible explanation, is that this all was just a legend that developed many years later. But yet we have so many prophecies that are so detailed about what Jesus would do, and they come long before Jesus even stepped foot on this earth. The truth is, these theories have no evidence. In fact, they run contrary to all the evidence that we have.
Yet people today ask, aren’t any of these explanations, weak as they are, more plausible than the story written by John, or Matthew, Mark, and Luke? No, they were eyewitnesses and recorded their testimony! Any historian will tell you that there is no better category of historical verification than letters and similar documents written by contemporary witnesses of the events in question. The evidence becomes overwhelming, from the historian’s point of view, when it is recognized that those documents were widely disseminated and received as credible at a time when thousands were still living who could have discredited them. And the manuscript evidence we have for the New Testament is far more abundant with far less variants than any other historical documents we have from that same time period. Many of which historians have no problem accepting as accurate recordings of history.
We have the written eyewitness testimonies of those who were present, who gave the rest of their lives to the telling, and called it joy to spill their blood rather than let go the simple words, “Jesus lives!” Consider that when they claimed to have seen Jesus physically raised from the dead, they were making the most difficult and dangerous case they could have imagined, if it were not true. Since the disciples had demonstrated their belief in ghosts on other occasions (a naïve leftover from their former spiritual confusion) the easiest and most natural fabrication would have been to say that they had been met by the spirit of Jesus. … But this isn’t what they ran shouting. Their startling reports of a bodily resurrection, supported by the detailed descriptions of having touched Jesus and even of having seen him eat, meant making a claim that could have been easily demolished if it were not the simple truth. They only needed to come up with his body. But they didn’t. This deafening silence of opposition only gives further credence to the true historical account.
Finally, what about the testimony of Paul, who wrote 1st Corinthians. He was against Jesus. He hunted down Christians in an attempt to snuff out that fragile ember. He did this with a passion – and let me tell you, Paul was no dummy. He studied at the finest schools and was a skilled debater. He had the power he needed. If anyone could have exposed the Christian lie, it would have been Paul. And yet, seeing the resurrected Christ himself, he makes a complete 180 and becomes one of the strongest proponents for Christ!
With all this evidence, is it really the Christian who believes whatever he wants to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary? Far from it! The arguments against the resurrection of Jesus are the complete and utter fabrications. Those are the notions that have nothing whatsoever to do with even the tiniest shred of evidence. And yet they hold to these arguments why? Because it isn’t reasonable to think that someone can rise from the dead? When you think about it, all the truth of Easter really requires to be plausible is the condition that God exists. Because “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
So what does all this mean? With all this credible evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus, what is the resurrection difference? It means everything he ever said is true. Everything he ever claimed to be he is. Then everything he ever promised will come. It means that we are no longer met with a hopeless end, but rather, anyone who believes this has an endless hope.
It means that death has indeed been defeated! Since Christ went into death with the very flesh that you and I have, yet came out the other side, you can be confident that you also will live even though you die. And that means all your loved ones who have gone before you are not really lost eternally. You will see them again! I’ll be able to talk about the joys of ministry with my Grandpa Ehlers. I’ll be able hug my Grandma and Grandpa Menke once again. In fact, the time that you’ve had with your loved ones so far will merely be an introduction compared to the endless years you will have with them in the life to come! And not only will you have them, more importantly, you will be with your Savior. You will finally be able to see him face to face and finally be able to enjoy the full measure of all his blessings. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18).
It also means that there is forgiveness for all your sins. The sacrifice that Jesus made was more than enough to cover the debt of sin. Now we don’t have to earn our salvation, which in reality none of us ever could. Now salvation is a free gift, given to you out of the love of God’s heart – his grace. And that means you never have to wonder or worry about your salvation. It’s not in your hands, it’s in God’s hands. He does all things well. He never gives up, never lies, never fails. Your salvation is certain with him.
Finally, it means that your faith is something. It means that the sacrifices you make, not giving into worldly pleasures, is received by your living Savior as an act of thanks and praise. It means that the suffering or persecution that you endure for your risen Savior are not in vain. It means that when Jesus takes hold of your life and becomes the master of your heart and mind, there are no better hands you could be in.
Put quite simply, the resurrection difference is that you have an endless hope. And it’s a certain hope because it all hinges upon Christ’s resurrection. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). God gave you proof. He gave you something you could put your finger on, something you can cling to. He raised Jesus from the dead so that you can be certain of all these things and have an endless hope.