“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, but if true, is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
In that statement, C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor and author of the Narnia books, challenges us to re-evaluate our assumptions.
What would make Christianity either true or false? What is the ultimate claim? Where is the tipping point?
The ultimate claim of Christianity is that Jesus was born, lived, died, was buried... and rose from the dead. The resurrection is the tipping point.
We are not talking about Jesus rising in the hears and minds of his disciples. We are not talking about the body being moved or misplaced.
We are saying that Jesus's heart ceased to beat. There were no brainwaves. His physical body lay in a lifeless condition for three days.
And then... life. The heartbeat returned. Brainwaves were ignited. His eyes opened and the stone was rolled away.
Did that really happen?
We have to ask. For intellectual honesty, and spiritual honesty, the burning question we need to face is this: What if Jesus is still buried?
This is the question Paul answers in 1 Corinthians 15:12-32.
There are 3 implications.
Be warned. Things are going to get dark. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
1 Corinthians 15:12-32
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? 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.
15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
What if Jesus is still buried?
Let's consider Paul's 3 implications.
In this passage, Paul shows us that the resurrection confirms the entire redemptive message of the Bible, which centers on the cross.
If Jesus was not raised, Paul says in verse 17, "we are still in our sins." He is saying that without the resurrection, the cross is wishful thinking.
That is how central the resurrection is. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, Christianity itself is dead.
If Jesus is buried somewhere, the cross becomes utterly devoid of its power and meaning. It becomes an empty though attractive and sentimental religious symbol.
We pity people who believe lies, don’t we? Whether Buddhists or Hindus bowing down to stone objects, or Muslims, Mormons, religious moralists, cultists and the run of the mill American who believes that are unaware that Charles Darwin's theories of human origins has been thoroughly debunked.
I hope we do pity them and do not take a stance of anger or animosity toward them? Remember, Christians are saved by grace. Anything we get right is grace, and there is plenty that we don't get right. Not to mention that I could just as easily have been born to a Buddhist in Nepal.
But what if Christians are the ones to be pitied?
As Paul says in verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
If Jesus is still buried somewhere, we are fools and faith is futile.
In verse 20, when Paul says asleep, he means dead. The term asleep allows for waking up, which is what Paul has in mind if the resurrection is true. When we die, it is as if our bodies are just asleep. The Lord will wake them up and transform them -- which is the focus of the last part of chapter 15.
If Jesus rose, the best is yet to come.
But if there was no resurrection of Jesus, death is the end.
In the mid-1800s, the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx wrote, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
If there is no resurrection. He is right.
Without the resurrection to confirm the cross, there is no salvation from sin, no reign of Jesus now, nor a return to come.
Eternal life is but an empty fantasy and death is the end.
Christianity becomes merely a man-made drug we must embrace to keep from going insane with the futility of life's meaninglessness, which is the third implication.
We see this in verses 29-32. By the way, I have no idea what baptism for the dead means (and neither does anyone else!)
The main point here is that if Jesus is still buried, Nihilism is the only honest and plausible philosophy that remains.
Otherwise, we are like children playing make-believe, living lives of wishful thinking without any concrete evidence for hope. The same is true for every religion. Without concrete evidence, religion is just empty sentimentality.
People are born, live, die, and then just rot in a box.
Have you ever heard the “dash” sermon? It is a popular message to deliver at funerals, “What did you do with your dash?” How did you live your life between your birth date and death date?
But if there is no resurrection, it doesn’t matter what I do with my dash.
As Paul writes in verses 30 and 32, “Why do we endanger ourselves [and sacrifice our lives in following Jesus]... Rather, we should eat and drink [not to party, but to self-medicate]… for tomorrow we die!”
I told you this would get dark. But it must, for the sake of intellectual and spiritual honesty.
That changes the sermon entirely! It changes everything entirely. If Jesus was raised from the dead, then...
In a Wall Street Journal article that appeared in March 2018, George Weigel gives a combination history lesson and apologetic for the Resurrection:
"There is no accounting for the rise of Christianity without weighing the revolutionary effect on those nobodies of what they called “the Resurrection.” They encountered one whom they embraced as the Risen Lord, whom they first knew as the itinerant Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, and who died an agonizing and shameful death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. The first generation answered the question of why they were Christians with a straightforward answer: because Jesus was raised from the dead…. As they worked that out, their thinking about a lot of things changed profoundly."
- George Weigel,
“The Easter Effect and How it Changed the World,”
The Wall Street Journal (3-30-18)
One major change affected the day of worship, which for over 1,000 years had been on the Sabbath, which was Saturday. But the early Christians, who mostly were converted Jews, moved the day of worship to Sunday -- the day when the resurrection took place. It was that monumental of an event.
A second major change was the willingness of Jesus's disciples to embrace death as martyrs. In view of the resurrection, they knew that death did not have the final word in the human story. This gave them supernatural COURAGE, HOPE, and PURPOSE. So much so that they were able to live lives that now demands an explanation.
That can be your life, too. You can live a life that demands an explanation.
Courage. Hope. Purpose.
If you will be convinced. That is what faith is -- a conviction based on evidence that something is true.
Be convinced that Jesus, the eternal God, took on flesh in his birth, lived a fully-obedient life, died a substitutionary, atoning death for our sins, that he was buried... and rose from the dead to live and reign and return.
Be convinced that...
If life has seemed meaningless for you up to this point, let me invite you to believe and be convinced that Jesus rose and the gospel is true.