Sermon Transcript: Easter 1 Corinthians 15:12-34
Paul is writing to a church in the city of Corinth, a place a lot like modern California - very diverse, very progressive, very educated, very wealthy - the kind of people that just KNOW, before you say anything, that there can be NO resurrection from the dead.
After all, the people we’ve studied have all told us so. Socrates, Pythagoreas, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Michael Scott, they all tell us that there’s no resurrection. Oh sure, maybe Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Facebook or somebody will figure out how to stuff us into a digital afterlife. But not yet.
And it was Christians saying this. Paul’s writing to a CHURCH. They had been told eyewitness accounts of Jesus rising from the dead, but they, like many today, could only go so far as to say, sure, I agree about the IDEA of transcending this world, and becoming more spiritual, and being a better person, and being enlightened. But they could not go so far as to believe in, you know, the literal dead, coming back to life, after being REALLY buried in the ground - no of course not.
So in 1 Corinthians 15, starting in v. 1, he reminds them of the gospel - that Jesus died, and was buried - he always mentions the burial - and then Jesus ROSE again. And then, in v. 12 - 19 he says, let’s tease out what you’re REALLY saying, or if you can’t bring yourself to say it, but you’re LIVING AS IF, there’s no resurrection. Let’s really think it over.
But then in v. 20, he says, but now let ME tease out what’s true, if Christ IS raised from the dead - and he is.
And then he ends in v. 29, with a very practical SO-WHAT. If Christ is raised, so what?
What If There Is No Resurrection?
So First, what if there is NO resurrection? V. 12. And we immediately catch an EDGE in Paul’s words - how can you say there’s no resurrection? How can you live this way? There’s an edge here of a fatherly “shame on you” - Paul was indeed their spiritual father.
But the edge comes from the fact that the resurrection is one three events at the center of the THE ONLY gospel that there is. There is only ONE gospel, and at its center is not a jumble of complex philosophies or theologies, but three very simple EVENTS, that a MAN experienced, in time and space, in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. With every other religion, you take away the central events of the founder’s life, and all its rules and philosophies remain. But not so with Christianity. It all hangs on three central events, in time and space, in the life of one real man, Jesus: crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
So Paul’s edge here IS a fatherly finger-wag, but the finger-wag is based on simple logic: how can you call yourself a Christian, while proclaiming or living like 1/3 of our religion is simply not true? How does a three-legged stool stand, with only two legs? Better, as we will see, to just chuck the stool.
So let’s keep following Paul’s logic. And he teases out three implications if there is no resurrection. Verse 13 - If you start with the premise that there is NO such resurrection from the dead, period - then not even Jesus has been raised from the dead.
And if that’s true, v. 14, then - first implication - everything the CHURCH does is but a WASTE - a vain exercise in futility - now, and all throughout history. Your dear grandmother, who was so faithful, or her husband who simply worked a job and believed, AND those who gave up everything to the martyr’s fire, or left their families behind to share the gospel in distant lands - ALL in VAIN. A waste.
But worse than that - keep teasing this out - these men and women, v. 15, were - second implication - misrepresenting God. Lying.
Oh sure, every religion has its charlatans. That’s not what Paul is saying. He’s saying your grandmother, who taught the little children in Sunday School that Jesus is risen from the dead, was leading those kids astray. Misrepresenting God. And so was Billy Graham, AND the apostle Paul, AND the women who claimed to be the first to see Jesus risen . . . And, by implication, v. 16, even Jesus himself.
But Jesus was, even by ATHEIST scholars, one of the greatest teachers in the history of humanity. So it couldn’t be that he was inadvertently, mistakenly misrepresenting God. Jesus explicitly said that he would rise again. So if there is no resurrection, then Jesus was a LIAR. About God. And all these people were following a LIAR, spreading his LIES, all across the world.
To which, some OUTSIDE the church will say, well, yeah. Exactly. And Paul will address this in a moment.
But Paul reminds Christians, in v. 17, that IF there is no resurrection, and if Jesus is not therefore raised from the dead, then not only have we all been misrepresenting God by following a liar, but then also your faith is futile, worthless - because the object of your faith is a liar.
And worse than that - the third implication - this is because you are still IN your sins.
We are, and all we love who have gone before us, v. 18. Your dear grandmother, she perished. That was it. Her life was a waste, and there’s no redeeming that waste of a lying life.
Which is totally pitiful, v. 19. If all we Christians have is hope in this life only, then we are MOST pitiable. Because being a Christian so often means suffering, and loss. We follow a Lord who says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He calls us to LOSE our life, in order that we may gain it. But if there is no life to be GAINED, well, then we’re just . . . LOSERS. And Christ is not just a liar, but a total LUNATIC for knowingly leading us to that place, where we are MOST to be pitied.
MOST to be pitied - which implies, so is everyone else.
It’s just that Christians could have been eating and drinking and sexing and powering and accumulating wealth all the way through, instead of giving it up or giving it away. Christians are MOST to be pitied.
When the soon-to-be executed prisoner is having his last meal, he is indeed filling his belly. His hunger is satisfied, with perhaps the FINEST meal of his life. And yet it’s still a pitiful sight, for tomorrow he perishes.
This is the state of the WHOLE world, absent any change. We are, v. 17, IN our sins. What does Paul mean by this word, IN our sin?
He means in a sense of a COVENANT, in the same way that that prisoner has BROKEN the covenant that we all live under, in our society. He broke it, and now he sits there, eating that delicious meal, IN his sins. And the only way OUT of his sins, OUT OF PRISON, he will experience tomorrow.
Except that he will PERISH in the process. In death, our soul will live on, but The covenant will STILL be broken. So we TOO will perish.
Absent outside help, we are ALL like that pitiable prisoner. We have ALL broken covenant with the God Who is the CREATOR of all, the giver of life. Just take a stroll through the Ten Commandments - we’ve all disrespected our parents; worshiped idols like cars and iPhones; we’ve all lied; we’ve all slandered others and murdered their reputations; we’ve all committed adultery in our hearts; we’ve all coveted our neighbor’s stuff; and then we’ve all stolen, if only time from our employers . . . Every last one of us is a dishonoring, idolatrous, lying, murdering, adulterous, lusting, thieving law-breaker.
Tis true. And it must be said so on Easter. Because it’s WHY Easter.
But if there IS a resurrection . . .
Which is WHY it is such good news that Christ in fact HAS been raised from the dead, v. 20
Because He is the FIRSTFRUITS of a harvest - of those who have fallen asleep. In other words, your dear grandmother, who lies in her grave, has not perished, but is part of the same vineyard from which Christ has already been plucked. If Christ is raised, Paul is saying, so WILL she.
Because verses 21-22. For, Paul says in v. 21, in Adam, all die. The way we got into the prison, IN our sin, is not just that we COMMITTED sins, but also because of the FAMILY, the RACE we were born into - the race of ADAM.
Again it’s because God works by covenant. That’s why humans do too. Our Constitution is a covenant that allows elected representatives in the FEDERAL government to go and BIND all of us, to treaties, or laws. The word “federal” is a Latin word that has its roots in the word COVENANT. And if the president breaks that covenant, it’s as if we ALL did. And then we ALL bear the consequences of that covenant breaking. And in the same way, Adam was our federal HEAD, in covenant with God. And when HE broke God’s covenant in the Garden, NOT just him but his entire race - all of us, regardless of “sub-race” - regardless of color or ethnicity - came under the same curse, the same condemnation, of breaking that covenant. And thus we all came under the same consequence of that covenant-breaking: the curse of death.
This is why God had to send Jesus as a man - so that he could create a NEW covenant, and beat the curse of death, v. 21: “by a man has come also the resurrection.” Jesus is the new and better Adam, who came to untie the knot that our first father put us into. Thus, v. 22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
“In ADAM”, we die TO our sins. When that prisoner is executed, and his body is taken out of the prison, the cops will not pull out their guns and chase the hearse. He has died TO his sins. But he has still perished.
What WE need is some way that we might die TO our sins, and yet WALK OUT of our prison, not in a hearse, but on our own two feet, FREE and ALIVE.
This is WHY God sent Jesus, so that he might DIE and be RAISED, FOR our sins, FOR us. And faith in him unites us to him - and to all that HE experienced - it’s all counted to US, too, who believe. And thus when he died, he died TO sin - in his death, sin no longer has any claim upon him - this is Paul’s argument in Romans 6.
And this is why Paul always emphasizes that Christ was buried - he was REALLY dead. But this he did FOR us. That by faith WE TOO might DIE, in the covenant, so that the LAW of sin and death might no longer have any claim upon us.
So if you are IN Christ, by faith, you ARE dead. You DIED to sin. You WERE buried, because Christ was.
But you were also RAISED, in HIS resurrection. You ALREADY walked out of that prison, justly FREED, and sin and death no longer have any claim on you.
And secondly, V. 23, when he returns at the end of time, those who have died in him will rise from the dead with him. And then, v. 24 Jesus will complete the restoration of all CREATION - that is, His KINGDOM, and he will hand it over to God.
A creation restored to its FULL GLORY - the utopian dream of environmentalism, Jesus will deliver to God, at the end of time.
This is so that, v. 28, God may be GOD over all. The fundamental characteristic of sin is the de-throning, the de-godding of God in the world. And Jesus is working to bring all things BACK under the RIGHTFUL, JUST and GOOD rule of God.
A restored rule of God, over a resurrected, glorified people, who enjoy heaven on earth, a restored EDEN - this is the Christian’s hope.
But before that happens, all the de-godding of God must be brought to an end. This is the core of sin - the de-throning, the de-godding of God. And so, v. 24 Jesus cannot hand over His kingdom to the Father until he has “destroyed every rule and every authority and power. For, v. 25, he MUST REIGN, until he has put ALL his enemies under his feet.”
This is the third implication of the resurrection: that Jesus reigns as King, right now, today.
When this RESTORED CREATION took its first step, and that STONE moved out of the way, so that this new Adam could step out of that tomb, it was as if that stone was bowing down, and saying, “All hail the living King. Make way for God’s new vice-regent over ALL creation. All hail, the Lord of Lords. He is no Liar, and he is no Lunatic - he is LORD.”
Just like David, who faced Goliath on behalf of ALL of God’s people, THIS greater King has gone before us, to defeat OUR greatest enemy, death. V. 26, The last enemy is death. And when you’ve been your last enemy, that makes you KING. Period.
And so now, v. 27, the only thing in ALL creation that is NOT subject to his lordship is God Himself. He is KING.
Thus Christianity does not seek to MAKE Jesus King - we PROCLAIM that He ALREADY is. WE do not impose his kingdom on the kingdoms of the world - he’s already doing it. We are but his emissaries, his messengers, telling the world, BEFORE he comes with the ROD of iron, here is how you can sue for peace. Here are the terms of surrender, THE GOSPEL.
The gospel proclamation leaves no room for a neutral, relativistic middle, no room for, well, that’s your belief. Because at the center of it is an EVENT - that Jesus is risen from the dead. His resurrection cuts through all our relativism like a red-hot knife through warm butter.
He is Risen. He reigns. And he will soon RETURN.
So then, so what?
In his closing paragraph, in v. 29-34, Paul gives us three angles of application.
The first is very simple: because Jesus is risen, subject yourself to your King.
Why else, Paul says in v. 29, would be people be baptized on behalf of the dead? A strange phrase, but it’s difficult to translate into English. And the phrase “on behalf of” can just as well be translated, “on account of”. It seems best to understand it that way - Paul simply referring to people who had seen their beloved family or friends die. And so, when they heard the gospel, it was the reality of death, seen in their loved ones, that finally MOVED them to take the step of faith, and follow Jesus in obedience and baptism.
(Oleg’s church . . . baptism today . . . no help is coming, except the one who is RISEN)
Those new brothers and sisters in Ukraine are a living parable for us - that it truly is either Christ or chaos. There is no neutral middle. The entire world is being brought to this sharp point.
Do you feel that these days, that everything is getting SHARPER and HARDER - that there used to be more elbow room, but now things are more and more coming to a point? That’s not by coincidence. Because of the resurrection, the world is hustling and hurtling inexorably toward THIS choice: Christ, or chaos. The kingdom of life, or the defeat of death. If you have not, trust in this King. Subject yourself before Him, before He returns.
Then the second application is, surprisingly, suffering. We move from trusting in Christ the King on account of those who have gone before us, to suffering for Christ the King on account of those who go WITH us, v. 30-32.
Paul says, if Christ is not raised - and he is - why, an accomplished guy like me, who is smart enough and skilled and accomplished enough to literally do ANYTHING in life - why am I in DANGER every hour?
Why does it feel, v. 31, that I die every day? What drives me to such a life, if not that Christ is risen, and that, when I give my life away, I’m not losing ANYTHING? No one in their right mind would think this way - EXCEPT if Jesus is raised.
Those first Christians SAW Jesus risen. And it turned THEIR lives upside down. It transformed them from country bumpkin fishermen, into noble, royal heralds, who by their message consumed the Roman Empire. And each of those first apostles would preach that Christ is come and He is King, right up until the moment the sword separated their heads from their bodies . . . Or in Peter’s case, until he was crucified upside down, unworthy to be crucified in the manner of his Lord.
Thus Paul can say, in v. 32, what gain did he get in Ephesus, when two of his friends were unjustly hauled into an angry mob that filled an entire stadium, and he decided to go get them himself. What did it GAIN Paul, to fight entire mob HIMSELF, on behalf of his friends - all of it recorded in the book of Acts.
Nothing, except if Jesus is risen. If he is NOT risen, the first disciples SHOULD have lived by the axiom, “Let us eat and drink and spoke pot, for tomorrow we die, and then that’s it.” But that’s not what these first Christians did. They died for this Lord. That’s what the Moravians did, centuries later, when they boarded ships to take the gospel to the Pacific Islands, never to see their families again. Why, because of the hope laid before them, IN Jesus.
This is the way to be truly human. This King Jesus is the new Adam, and he leads us, a new race, Romans 6:4, in newness of life, in HIS resurrection, NOW. Really ALIVE, for the first time. It is JOY, and BATTLE. It is a life of COURAGE, and SACRIFICE. It is a life of LOVE, and VALOR. It is a life of NOBILITY and HONOR. It is THE only way to becoming a REAL man, or a REAL woman. It is a life FREE from the bondage of the FEAR of MAN, and instead a life lived in the LIFE of the Son of Man.
And so then, we must SUBMIT to him, and SUFFER for him, and then SURROUND ourselves with those who do the same.
Paul end with a proverb, in v. 33: “Bad company ruins good morals.” And then he charges us to wake up from our slumber, in v. 34. His point is this: the reason why so many find the resurrection hard to believe is that they are so steeped in “bad company” - in long hours spent with people who live every moment of their lives with NO regard for God, and only a superficial, sad hope in this life only.
We spend time with these people in The Office, either literally, or more often today, the TV show, or any others like it. Or by consuming social media from people that may agree with you, but again, have never bowed the knee to this King. Bad company ruins good morals. You spend enough time with those who have NO knowledge of God, and you will become like them. Spend all your time with those who live in a comedically drunken stupor, and so will you.
No the call of the hour for Christians is to believe the resurrection, and to LIVE as if it’s true - because it is - and then lock arms with those who believe the same. For their are schools to be built; missions to be fulfilled; ground to be gained; initiative to be taken; opportunities to be grasped.
As Jonathan told the young men who carried his armor: 1 Samuel 14:6 (ESV):“Come, let us go, for it may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
The reality is that WE see more clearly what Jonathan could only see dimly - that that’s true, because Jesus reigns, resurrected, and victorious. When we devote ourselves to HIM, and to those who have done the same, we will never again be content with “OK”. We will never be satisfied with anything less than a life of strength and honor, that gives all all that we have, for in HIM, we have ALL we could ever hope.