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Original Date: 
Sunday, February 24, 2013

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (20?) Victory!: Useless

Check In But Don't Check Out?
Our society is obsessed with death, in an avoidance sort of way.

Nobody wants to die, everybody wants to live longer. From health food diets to exercise programs to radical surgeries of every kind, the avoidance of death has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Americans want to recapture their youth, increase their longevity, put off the inevitable.

You see this obsession shining through in some of our most modern controversies. Take stem-cell research for example. "Why shouldn't we do it?" the science community asks, "if a new procedure holds out even the slightest possibility that we might be able to help some people live longer, shouldn't we do it? Why ask ethical questions about that?"

Or steroids. It’s more of a sports world question, but the underlying principle is the same: if a chemical will make you recover faster, get stronger, or run faster then why not use it? What’s wrong with a little deer antler spray? Why not rub on a little cream?

It makes sense, too, since so many people in our society are convinced that this life is all there is. If we are just random results of some accidental mutations who rose up from the sludge only to return to it in the end, then we ought to make the most of the time we have--and work to get as much time as possible. If this life is all there is then we had better milk it for all it is worth.

But, of course, try as we might, we are fighting a losing battle. A bumper sticker slogan sums it up well: "Eat right. Stay fit. Die anyway." No matter what we do, this life will come to an end.

For some, this realization leads to more than a little desperation. I wonder if some of you remember Dr. Timothy Leary. He was a "one-time guru of the counterculture." He tried and advocated the use of mind-altering drugs. He dabbled in Eastern Religions. He epitomized everything the 1960s are notorious for.
Several years before he contracted the cancer that eventually killed him, a news story reported that he had paid $35,000 to have his head cut off and frozen after his death in the hope that one day medical science would be able to bring it back to life again. When asked about it Leary replied, "I know it's a long shot, but the only alternative is to let the worms get you." (Source, David Bast, Easter Hope, p. 56)

Is that really the only alternative? Must we work like crazy to avoid death and pin our hopes to groundless fantasies? Are we all destined to become nothing more than food for the worms in the end? Is our society right? Is this all there is?

For Christians, the answer is no. For Christians, there is hope for something more. For Christians, there is certainty of life beyond the grave because Jesus left the grave behind.

Does it Matter?
Last week we looked at one of the oldest statements in Christianity. Scholars believe that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is an ancient creed, originating within years of Jesus’ time on earth. And Paul quotes it to emphasize that from the beginning belief in Jesus’ resurrection has been central to Christianity. Because Jesus has been resurrected, we have hope that we too can rise from the dead.

But the Christians at Corinth had a problem. There were some teachers who had come among them who were teaching that there is no such thing as resurrection from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15, verse 12:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead

It was common sense. Cadavers don't cavort. Corpses don't converse. Remains don't reanimate. Dead people stay dead. People back then were just as skeptical as they are today. It’s no easy task to convince people that someone can rise again.

So some of the people at the church in Corinth were saying there is no such thing as resurrection. Now, that’s a simple problem: if they don’t believe in resurrection they’re not Christians, right?

Well, not in this case. These teachers who denied the resurrection were saying it didn't really matter. They claimed to be Christians, and they said the Corinthians could still be Christians too. They just didn't want them to believe in something as "far out" as resurrection.

You see much the same thing today. There are Christians (at least they call themselves Christians) who say there really is no resurrection. A survey taken a few years ago revealed that up to 35% of those who call themselves "born-again Christians" do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. (Source: BreakPoint with Chuch Colson, support-letter dated 02/15/02, cited by Matt Mitchell, Futile Faith, A.M. sermon, March 3, 2002).

They say that you need to believe in the "new life" offered by Jesus in the spiritual sense, they say that what really matters is that we keep the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule, but they don't think the resurrection really matters.

The Apostle Paul disagrees. Verses 13 and 14:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

From the Apostle Paul's perspective, everything hinges on the resurrection of the dead. As far as Paul is concerned, if there is no resurrection then this life is desperate, dark, and dismal. The way he looks at it, Christianity is a sham without the resurrection. A waste of time. A cruel joke.

Useless. That’s the word Paul uses. If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless.

If there is no resurrection, then Christianity is as useless as a snow plow in Miami;
• as useless as a surfboard in the Sahara.
• Take away Easter morning and Christianity becomes as useful as a screen door on a submarine
• or an ejector seat on a helicopter.
• Christianity without life after death is as useless as a rib shack at a vegan convention
• or a personal trainer at a cupcake factory.

What I’m trying to say is: if there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity.

But with it...if Jesus really did rise from the dead...then Christianity offers hope and purpose and the certainty of life after the grave. If there is resurrection, then we can be confident in Christ and fervent in our faith.

As I said: Everything hinges on the Resurrection.

Empty Faith
So, to make his point, Paul asks: What if the doubters are right? What if there really is no resurrection of the dead? What happens if the grave really is the final answer?

Paul plays it out. It’s an argumentation technique called reductio ad absurdum. He reduces the argument to its absurd implications. He shows that those who claim to be Christian while denying the resurrection are actually cutting off the very branch they are sitting on.

Paul lists no fewer than 5 implications for a world without the possibility of life after death. If there is no resurrection from the dead, then these 5 things would be true:

First, if there is no resurrection from the dead, then our faith is empty. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then there is no reason for us to be here right now. Verse 14 again:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

If Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, then what I’m doing right now is a waste of breath. If you could conclusively demonstrate to me that Jesus is still dead, there is no way I’d keep doing this job. No way at all. And there’d be absolutely no reason for you all to be sitting here week after week.

I sat in one of those pews for awhile earlier this week, and a thought occurred to me: they’re not that comfortable. Plus, I’ve listened to some of my sermons. And I know: I’m not that interesting. I’ve heard better speakers, much better speakers.

So, if Jesus hasn’t been raised, there’s no conceivable reason for you to come and sit here week after week. It’s a colossal waste of time.

More than that—more than just preaching being useless—Paul says your faith would be useless. Empty. Devoid of content.

The thing that is weird to me is that the people who were saying there is no resurrection still considered themselves Christians. They still wanted to be considered followers of Jesus. It makes you wonder: what did they believe in? Apparently they felt Jesus was a great teacher, or that he was a good example, or that the stories of his resurrection were simply symbols pointing to the triumph of the human spirit. But they just couldn’t swallow the idea that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

And there are people who call themselves “Christians” today who believe the same sorts of things. Just this week, after last Sunday’s sermon, I got an email from one of you describing a prior church experience. I won’t give away any details that will tell you who wrote the email or what church or denomination is being talked about, but here’s part of what it said:

We had a team of ministers… and during a visit from [one] young man [on the pastoral team] he told us "I have never believed there was a bodily resurrection of Jesus." I was appalled to hear this. I think this was soon after having communion at a service, and I wondered how he could even serve communion. There were other incidents that just didn't seem right including a letter from one of the team that said the Old Testament was just a bunch of Jewish balderdash. We attempted to talk to other members… but they didn't seem to think anything of it.

We transferred our membership soon after. I don't know what happened to these young men, but I wish they could have heard your sermon yesterday.

I appreciate the note. But it makes you wonder: what did they believe in?

Paul's response to this was to say, If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty. It’s useless. As useless as a bicycle at the Daytona 500. (I’ll give you a couple more: It’s as useless as a water gun in a monsoon. It’s as useless as a flashlight on the surface of the sun.) There’s no point to it.

**Get the Story Straight^^
There's more. The second implication of a world without a resurrection is this: If there is no resurrection then our Bible is a lie. If the dead can't be raised, then our Bible is not trustworthy. Verses 15 and 16:

More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.

If Jesus hasn't been raised, then the apostles are liars. Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of them are "false witnesses." The heart of the message they preach is that Jesus rose from the dead, and if it isn't true, then how or why should we trust them on anything else?

That means that the books they wrote--the New Testament (which talks about the resurrection again and again and all over)--aren't reliable either. Oh sure, they probably got some of their facts right, but if they are wrong on something which is so central how can we know what they got right and what they got wrong? If you go to the doctor for an earache and he starts checking your knee, you’re going to find a different doctor. If he can’t get something as basic as remembering where ear is located, how can you trust him on anything else? Same thing here with the apostles.

So people who say they believe in the teachings of Jesus but not in His resurrection need to really reconsider their sources. If the gospels lie about Jesus coming back from the dead, why should we believe they record His teaching accurately? There’s just no good reason to say one part is true and the other false. So either Jesus did come back from the dead, or we can’t be sure we know a single true thing about Him.

If there is no resurrection, then the Bible is a lie. It can't be trusted.

Stuck in Sin
Third, if there is no resurrection from the dead, then our sins are not forgiven. If there is no resurrection, we are still stuck in our sins. Verse 17:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

There's absolutely no point in preaching that our sins have been paid for at the cross, there's no point in putting our faith in Him, because if Jesus is still dead then it's hard to imagine that He's capable of saving anyone.

If there is no resurrection, then the cross is meaningless. Everything we believe about Jesus substituting Himself in our place to take our punishment comes to naught. We are still guilty, still enslaved, still stuck with the burden of our sins. If there is no resurrection, then we are going to have to bear that burden ourselves.

But that's not all. The fourth answer Paul gives to our question is this: If there is no resurrection from the dead, then our dead are lost. If there is no life after death, then there is no hope of anything beyond the grave. Verse 18:

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians it was at least 25 years after the Crucifixion. In that time, there had undoubtedly been some followers of Christ who had died. What happened to them?

Well, if there is no resurrection, then nothing. They are gone.

If Jesus hasn't been raised, then they won't either.

If there is no such thing as resurrection, then you can forget about ever seeing your loved ones again. They've gone to pay the penalty of their own sins, just like you will when you die. It doesn't matter if they put their faith in Jesus, and it doesn't matter if you do either. They're lost. Doomed.

If there’s no resurrection, then we better start taking all the health supplements we can, because this life is all there is and we’re going to want to make it last. If Jesus didn’t walk out of that tomb, then we have no hope. Beyond the grave is just empty, meaningless, non-existence.

Fifth, then, and sort of in summary of the other four, Paul says that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then our lives (as Christians especially) are pathetic. If Jesus didn't come back from the grave, then those who follow Him are a sorry bunch of losers.

Verse 19:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

If there is no resurrection, then any hope you put in Jesus Christ is only good for you in this life. And if He, Himself, is still dead, then what point is there in hoping in Him? What's He going to do for you? He can't forgive your sins. The book that tells you about Him can't be trusted. He offers no hope for life after death. He offers no hope for you at all.

If there's no resurrection, you've wasted your time. If there's no resurrection, then Christians are pathetic.
• Why spend all this time in church?
• Why put yourself out to serve others?
• Why bother to be good?
You're just wasting time, and you've got precious little of it to spare.

If there's no resurrection, then the only people who've got it right in this world are the ones who live for the moment and don't give a second thought to anybody else. Paul gets it right over in verse 32: "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

If this life is all there is, then those of us who have spent it for Jesus deserve to be pitied. We're nothing more than fools. Pathetic.

So Paul plays devil’s advocate. He gives us a look at what life as a follower of Jesus would look like if there was no resurrection. Then he gets to verse 20, and he begins with one of my favorite words in all of scripture: BUT…


If Christ hasn’t been raised, we ought to be pitied, BUT… “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” Without Christ, without resurrection, life is hopeless; BUT with Christ, with the resurrection, things look vastly different.

Jesus HAS been raised. Jesus HAS beaten the grave. Someone who was dead REALLY IS alive again, and it makes all the difference in the world. Because Jesus is alive, all those things we said are in fact true.

So, because there is resurrection, our faith is vital. We’re not just basing our lives on a vague hope of better humanity or a couple of teachings that might lead to world peace; we’re putting our trust in a real, living Savior who took on our greatest enemy and defeated it. As we saw last week, there are good historical reasons for believing in the reality of the resurrection.

Jesus is alive, and deserves our allegiance.

Or, again, since Jesus did walk out of that tomb, then you know that the Bible really is true. If you believe that the apostles were trusty witnesses of the resurrection, then you can believe that they were trusty reporters of everything else. So the things Jesus taught: things like loving your neighbor as yourself, turning the other cheek, giving to the poor and needy, practicing humility and servant leadership, and everything else—you ought to take that seriously.

Jesus conquered death, He’s worth listening too. He is a worthy guide by which to chart your life.

Third, because there is a resurrection, there is forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t just a senseless act of cruelty by a tyrannical government, it was a substitutionary act of atonement. It was the fulfillment of the Old Testament patterns of sacrifice. Like the scapegoat, Jesus took our sins and carried them far away.

And if you believe in Him, and accept His sacrifice on your behalf, then you will not have to bear the punishment of your sins yourself. You will be forgiven by God.

Moreover, since Jesus was raised, then you can be confident that you will be raised as well. There is hope. Hope for those who have already fallen asleep in Christ, and hope for me and you. That’s the whole point of Paul’s argument in verses 20-28, which we’ll focus on next week. That’s what the word “firstfruits” means in verse 20. Jesus is just the first of all the people that God is going to raise to new life. The grave doesn’t have to be the end for us.

Jesus has conquered death, not just for Himself, but for us too.

And finally, since the Easter story is true, not a myth, then Christians are not to be pitied but envied. Our efforts for Christ in this life are not pathetic, wasted opportunities but investments in an eternal future.

Because of the resurrection, the Christian faith is not futile, it is fantastic!

It’s wonderful. It’s worth getting excited about every day. It’s worth sharing. It’s worth suffering for. It’s worth dying for. It’s not useless, it’s ultimate reality!

If Jesus is alive today, our faith in Him is worth building our life upon. Are you building your life on Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He is alive today? It makes all the difference.

If He isn’t alive today, then we are wasting our time. There are better things we could be doing on a Sunday morning.

If He isn’t alive today, then the apostles have been lying to you. Don’t believe a word they say.

If He isn’t alive today, then you and I stand condemned, hopeless, in our sins, lost and doomed.

If He isn’t alive today, live it up, because this life is all there is.

If He isn’t alive today, then you and I should be pitied for wasting our short lives on Jesus. We have a futile faith.

But if He is alive (AND I BELIEVE HE IS!), then you I can trust what the apostles have said in the Bible, you and I can put our faith in the Resurrected Jesus and be
saved from our sins, you and I can have a fantastic, to-be-congratulated-for faith, worth dying for, and worth living for, and worth building our life upon.

Because of Jesus' new life, and His promise to include us in it, this life doesn't have to be desperate and dark. Because Jesus beat the grave, Christians can be confident of something more. The worms don't have to get the final say.