If Christ Be Not Raised
The Centrality of the Resurrection
I recently read a story by an unnamed author about a little boy with Down's Syndrome. He attended his church's 3rd grade Sunday School and the other children there didn't seem to accept him. With the help of their loving teacher, the kids began to understand that they needed to love him as he was. But he still wasn't fully seen by them as a part of the group.
One week, shortly after Easter, the Sunday School teacher brought some plastic L'Eggs pantyhose containers and asked the kids to go out and look for signs of new life outdoors that comes in the Spring. All the kids went out and brought back things like flowers and the buds of trees and new leaves and even green grass.
However, when they opened up one egg, it was totally empty. All the kids said that this was dumb and that someone hadn't done their assignment! Well little Phillip spoke up and said: That's my egg!! One student told him that he never did anything right and that there was nothing there! Phillip replied: "I did the assignment. There is something there!" It's the empty tomb!
The class all went silent and realized that little Phillip indeed had brought back the greatest sign of new life that ever was or ever will be. The empty tomb, symbolizing Jesus the resurrected Savior!
Shortly after that little Phillip died and the class attending his funeral with the teacher each took turns placing empty plastic eggs on his coffin, knowing that they would see their dear friend again, whom they had finally fully accepted as a vital part of their group.
What little Phillip seemed to understand in an innocent way is that without the resurrection there would be no new life. Indeed Jesus' resurrection is the most important event in human history. And without it we would all be eternally lost.
I. Paul Versus the Gnostics
Paul, in I Corinthians 15 was writing to a Christian audience heavily influenced by a Greek philosophy known as Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed to have a superior knowledge. They taught that the God of the Bible was a lower being called a Demiurge. The absolute Supreme being was unknowable. They also taught that matter or the physical world was evil and therefore Jesus could not be God in the flesh. And they certainly wouldn't allow for the resurrection of the body and bringing back the evil flesh that had died.
1. Beginning the Discussion: What Was Taught
Paul begins his discussion with these people by wisely reminding them what they had been taught and had believed in order to become Christ followers. In 15:1-11 he states:
"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed."
2. Continuing the Discussion: Gnostic Teaching is Incompatible (12-15)
Paul, realizing that Gnostic teaching was incompatible with the truth revealed and preached by him, goes on to point out in the next few verses the obvious conclusion that if there is no resurrection from the dead that not even Christ has risen. And if this were true then his preaching would be useless as would be their faith. Not only that but Paul and the other Apostles would be false prophets because of their claim of Christ's resurrection.
The great Apostle shows the utter hopeless situation that we'd all be in if there was no resurrection and Christ is not alive today. He says that our faith would be useless and that we are still lost in our sins.
And what a miserable condition it would be if the only hope we have is in a dead Christ. The most we could hope for is an 80 to 100 year time span on this sin-cursed earth full of disease, aging and death. And that is not mentioning all the other things that sin continues to cause in this world such as wars, theft, lost loves and lost friendships, and man's total inhumanity to his fellow men. These and many other burdens would make us to be the most miserable people of all time. And rather than celebrating we should be in mourning and are to be pitied (16-20).
2. Ending the Discussion: Jesus is Indeed Raised from the Dead! (16-28)
Paul then goes on to quickly put an end to such a horrible contemplation by saying that Jesus Christ is indeed alive and is the first fruits of those who will one day follow him in resurrection! Death came through Adam. Life comes through Christ. Christ has been raised! We will be raised in the future! Jesus will reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet. The very last enemy is death itself! Then Jesus will turn over his Kingdom to God the Father and will be subject to him so that the Father may be all in all (28). What a wonderful and glorious future we have who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ!!
Keith Green: Easter Song
II. The Historical Fact of the Resurrection
It was C.S. Lewis who wrote: "Christianity, if false is of no importance, and if true of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." As Paul told the Corinthian Christians in so many words, the one event that proves the eternal importance of the Christian faith is the fact that we serve a risen Savior.
It is interesting how many have sought to disprove the Christian message only to became followers of Jesus Christ themselves. They include:
1.Frank Morrison, an English journalist 80 years ago who tried to disprove what he called the myth of the Christian faith. He ended up writing the classic Christian apologetic "Who Moved the Stone?"
2. Lee Strobel, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who, upon conversion, has written a series of books including "A Case for Christ."
3. Josh McDowell who set out to write a paper in college to disprove Christianity as a myth only to become convinced that it wasn't. He has written the book "Evidence that Demands a Verdict."
4. Sir William Mitchell Ramsey who was a highly respected archaeologist. Ramsey set out to prove that there were historical inaccuracies in the Book of Acts. After 15 years of research he became convinced of its accuracy and wrote books on the subject in which he called Luke, who was the writer of Acts, the greatest historian who ever lived.
5. Andre Cole who is considered a giant in the world of magic. He was the man who came up with the trick made famous by David Copperfield of making the Statue of Liberty disappear. Cole was commissioned to disprove the miracles of the Bible by exposing them as magic tricks. Instead he became a Christian and now has dedicated himself to spreading the Gospel by using magic and has now performed in more countries than any other magician in history.
As these men came to realize, the conclusion that one can't deny is the fact that Christianity is based upon some historically verifiable evidence that can be researched if a person would care to take the time to do it. And the central teaching of the Christian faith, the resurrection, has much evidence to support it.
Paul, as we have seen in I Corinthians 15, makes use of some of the evidence when he says that Jesus appeared to many after his resurrection, including Peter and the twelve apostles. He also appeared to more than 500 brothers all at once. Many of those 500 were still alive at the time and could corroborate the story. And, of course Paul includes himself among those who had seen the risen Lord (5-11). How do you say that this many people were lying or hallucinating?
Another example of evidence is the question: How can a tomb, heavily guarded by Roman soldiers who would forfeit their lives if the body was stolen, be empty without the soldiers knowing what happened? Later there was made up a story that the disciples stole the body while the soldiers slept. But that would be an admission that the Roman guards neglected their duty and should have been executed. This myth only took root in Jewish circles.
Still a further evidence for the veracity of the resurrection of our Lord rests in the Apostles themselves. How can a bunch of frightened men who ran away and hid when Christ needed them most suddenly be turned into men willing to be martyred for their faith and went on to turn the world of their day upside down? It is highly unlikely that they would allow themselves to be martyred for a lie if they could save themselves by confessing to it.
The more that you look into it the more you'll see that there is indeed evidence that demands a verdict. And the verdict is that Jesus Christ is indeed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who died on the cross for the sins of the world and that believing you may have life through his name.
So now we've come full circle. If Christ is not risen we would be the most miserable people on earth. But since he is indeed risen from the dead we are the most blessed people in history to know the one who gave his life as our substitute. He became sin for us so that we could receive his righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21). God the Father accepted his sacrifice and raised him from the dead. Now his life assures us that we too will live again when we die and those we love, who have died in the faith are not gone forever. They are now in the presence of our Lord and will one day, along with us who remain, receive resurrected bodies like our Lord. And we will all reign with him forever.
The question is not: "What if Christ hasn't been raised from the dead?" The question is: "What are you going to do with the fact that he is risen?" For those who get the answer wrong and reject the salvation that he offers, there is no future except an eternity without God in hell.
But you don't have to live without hope. Jesus' resurrection from the dead makes it possible to change your future forever and live with the blessed assurance that he offers. Accept his gift of salvation today and you too can serve a risen Savior whose love for us goes beyond the grave itself and will continue throughout eternity! He is risen! He is alive! And we are forever secure in Him!
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© 2018 Jeff Shirley