As preached by Zach Thompson.
1 Corinthians 15:1-28
Good morning Christ Fellowship.
He is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Every Sunday, we gather to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, but today is Easter. It’s a day that the church has set aside as a special day of remembering.
On Friday, Jesus died, but on Sunday morning, he rose again, never to die again–never to see corruption.
Today, we join Christians throughout the centuries in the special celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.
So we’ll be looking at 1 Corinthians 15. To bring us up to speed with our text. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been addressing so many issues about purity and the community and the gospel, but this chapter might be one of the clearest and most important chapters in the entire letter.
Some in the Corithian church were claiming that the resurrection of the dead was clearly impossible. They were appalled at the idea that anyone could be raised from the dead. This chapter is Paul’s response.
If you haven’t turned there yet, open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 15. We’ll read verses 1-28 as our public reading this morning.
If you are able to, would you stand in honor of the reading of God’s word?
“15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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 “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
It was 10-15 years ago when my grandfather needed his second open heart surgery. It was a scary time. It was a time filled with fearful anticipation for our family. Open heart surgery is never a trivial thing, but the older someone is, the more it is filled with peril. When all of the cards are on the table like that, you just can’t know how things will fall on the other side. Are the days in the hospital prior to surgery our last days with him? Will he be able to function the way he always had before? Would the life of our family be unalterably changed?
These were the types of questions that were just under the surface for our family. No one was saying them, but you don’t have to be an empathy expert to know that there was genuine anxiety around the situation.
I remember hearing fearful comments from my mom and my aunt and my grandmother. And more than once, I remember my grandfather responding with what seemed like calm confidence.
The day of the surgery came. And as is the common practice, they gave him drugs awhile before he went into surgery to ease the eventual process of going under for the extended surgery. Different people respond in totally different ways to these early drugs, but for my grandfather, it took away all of his inhibitions.
And as they wheeled him down the hall toward the operating room, he began to sing I’ll Fly Away.
Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
My grandmother started crying something similar to angry tears in the hall as he continued to sing, and they took him past the doors where family members are no longer welcome as he sang the chorus again.
As she heard him sing that song, it seemed that he was resigned to death. As if he knew that in this operating room, he would find his end. But he wasn’t resigned to death. He was resigned to hope.
We won’t fly away when die. But that song captures a hope that infiltrates the fear of death. And my grandfather had a sure hope that regardless of how that surgery ended, his hope was in a better land. By the Lord’s grace, my grandfather is still with us to this day, but his hope hasn’t changed.
The resurrection is a real historical event, and for all of us who are in Christ, it has real implications for our life. There is real and lasting hope for us.
My fear for us here is that the resurrection could become like an old air freshener. You’ve probably been in that car. The one that smells a bit stale. There’s an old fast food bag in the floor board of the back seat. And there on the rear view mirror, there is a little tree air freshener. It’s old. It’s probably been years sense it had any type of positive fragrance. But it’s still there, because it makes it seem like the owner of the car cares.
Has the resurrection become like an old air freshener for you? It used to have an impact on your life, but now it’s just an old fixture you keep so that people will think well of you as long as they don’t get close enough to actually smell it.
Or maybe you treat it like some kind of memorized rite of passage. Believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus isn’t a secret code that you have to memorize to get into heaven. It’s a recognition by faith of a historical event, and it has ramifications for every single piece of your life.
The resurrection isn’t an answer to a test.
These types of inclinations are exactly what Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15.
My hope today is simple.
I want you to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I want your heart to respond appropriately.
I want us to simply recognize out loud together that the resurrection of Jesus really happened.
And that because it really happened, we have real, lasting hope that should infiltrate every moment of our lives.
So let’s begin with a simple statement.
The Resurrection is essential to the gospel (1-4):
Perhaps you hear this, and you feel that it goes without saying.
But we can never stop affirming this. We can’t just assume that everyone who shows up on a Sunday morning actually believes this. There are so many churches that are little more than community service organizations because they have denied that Jesus was actually raised. And they deny it because they don’t believe this statement.
That the resurrection is essential to the gospel. They think that the gospel is about doing good in the world or creating more positive in the world than negative. But without the resurrection, the gospel falls apart. What should be good news becomes one more law that will condemn you.
The resurrection is essential to the gospel.
Everything we talk about today is either an explanation of this statement or an implication of this statement.
Look back in verse 1.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,”
The Resurrection is essential to the gospel.
There are a couple of things in these first 4 verses that I want to point out.
REMIND AND BE REMINDED
First, this isn’t a hypothetical gospel that Paul is talking about. Paul is pointing back to a time when he already preached this gospel, and when they already received it with faith. These were people who had already heard this and responded to it.
What does this mean for us? It means that it is important for us to remind each other of basic, fundamental truths. The resurrection is of first importance, and they needed to be reminded of its importance.
They had forgotten it’s fundamental importance, or maybe in this case, they just hadn’t connected these dots. If I say there is no resurrection, then that means Christ hasn’t been raised, and if Christ hasn’t been raised, then all kinds of things follow.
When you speak to a brother or sister, don’t just assume that they are believing the right things. Don’t assume that they have connected the dots. It was probably the case that some of these Corinthians making these claims affirmed that Jesus rose from the dead in some way. But they might have said that it was only spiritual or that it was a figure of speech. But what we actually believe matters. It matters when we say that Jesus rose physically from the dead.
So many times, our sins and doubts come from bad beliefs. We aren’t believing what is true, and so we act or feel in a way that is contrary to the truths that we claim.
This was happening to the Corinthians. And it can happen to us. We are spending our time today remembering a basic tenet of Christianity, and it may be that a brother or sister needs you to remind them this week of something that seems basic. If you see an opportunity to remind a brother or sister, then you should probably take it. And as a word of warning, if a brother or sister is seeking to remind you of something that you find basic to the Christian faith, and your first reaction is to feel offended or angry, let that be a sign. You are already not responding in Christ-like way, and it may be that you need to slow down and consider what they are saying. We are a people who remind. And we are people who need to be reminded.
ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
Another thing to notice here is that Paul wasn’t just preaching a gospel that he thought was logically consistent and appealing to the Corinthians. It was, but that’s not the basis for the gospel. What was the basis for the gospel he preached? He was pointing to historical events that were attested to by the Scriptures. Look in verses 3-4 again. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
We read one of these scriptures for our call to worship today. In Psalm 16, it promises that God wouldn’t “let his holy one see corruption.” That’s Jesus, and there are so many other places we could point to. (Jb 19:25-26; Ps 17; Ps 21; Ps 91; Hos 6; Hos 13:14; Isaiah 25:8; Ezek 37; Dan 7; Dan 12:2).
Historical events, attested by the Scriptures.
The resurrection was a historical event. It really happened. And it happened according to the Scriptures. Paul preached according to what the Scriptures said, not merely according to a subjective testimony that God had given. Not merely in light of a rational argument.
But this takes us to our next point.
The Resurrection is essential to the gospel because:
It’s a historical reality (5-11)
This is Paul’s point in verses 5-11, and don’t brush this off. It’s a really big deal.
It’s important for us to pause and consider this.
The resurrection of Jesus is a historical reality.
Verse 5, Jesus appeared to Peter and the 12. Maybe the reader would read that and they would feel skeptical. Well, the 12 had a vested interest in acting like Jesus was raised. Didn’t they? But look in verse 6. Jesus appeared to more than 500 people after he died, and most of them were still alive.
He isn’t just saying this because it’s cool. He is telling the Corinthians to go talk to them! These people who saw Jesus after his resurrection were still alive!
And let’s be explicit here. These people really saw Jesus. They didn’t claim to see him with spiritual eyes. They didn’t claim to see him in a vision. They saw the bodily resurrected Christ.
The Bible is a historical document written by eye witnesses during the life times of other eyewitnesses and it records supernatural events.
This wasn’t a few people in a closed room.
And Paul doesn’t stop with the 500. Jesus appeared to James. This was one of his biological half brothers who mocked Jesus because they didn’t believe. this man who was a public skeptic of Jesus became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
And Paul himself was radically changed after encountering the risen Christ. He went from persecutor to preacher.
Paul is laying out a lot of evidence here. About 500 living people they could go speak to and publicly figures who had major lifestyle changes after an experience with the risen Lord.
This is a big deal.
Maybe, in your heart, you still feel skeptical on this, but let’s dig in here.
Don’t be guilty of chronological snobbery. Death isn’t a new thing. People knew back then that this doesn’t happen. We haven’t progressed in our rationality. It’s not as if people back then were gullible and people today are intelligent.
People thought it was ridiculous then too! That’s why Paul is writing this.
And apart from that, think about this. Jesus was buried in the same place that the church was founded. If someone simply produced a body, then the hoax would have died. There was a Roman guard at the tomb. Do you think a group of fishermen could have handled them so handily? Even the fact that the pharisees paid the soldiers to keep quiet proves something. The tomb was empty. They had to deal with the fact that the body was gone.
And apart from all of this, even if someone whole-heartedly disagrees with the claim that Jesus was raised, it’s clear from the various accounts in the New Testament that his followers genuinely believed that they saw him bodily resurrected. All of the people Paul lists here changed their entire way of life because they truly believed that they had seen Jesus resurrected bodily.
The Resurrection is essential to the gospel because it really happened. It is a historical reality.
Next, the Resurrection is essential to the gospel because:
It’s a theological necessity (12-34):
Without it, faith is futile (12-19)
The Resurrection is a lynch pin to the gospel. If you take this out, then the gospel falls apart, and all that’s left are religious looking pieces from a broken thought system.
This is Paul’s point in verses 12-19.
The specific claim that Paul is arguing against is in verse 12. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
People were saying that there couldn’t be a resurrection from the dead.
But Paul’s response can be summed up in this statement. If the dead cannot be raised, then Jesus was not raised. And if Jesus was not raised, then nothing we believe has merit. It is futile.
Why on earth would you make a point to wake up earlier than you would prefer to come stand and sit and stand and sit in a semi dark room and sing songs about quaint ideas? Why would you listen to someone monologue for 45 minutes about ideas that don’t have any foundation?
That’s his point in verse 14. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” It’s futile. If Jesus was not physically and eternally raised out of the tomb, then all of this is fake and meaningless.
And not only that, if Christ wasn’t raised, then our entire religion is lying about God. That’s in verse 15, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”
And not only that, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then there are other theological implications. Look in verse 17. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
If Christ hasn’t been raised, then the atonement didn’t happen. In Romans 4:25, Paul wrote that Jesus was “raised for our justification.” What does this mean?
It means that If Jesus was not raised, then we don’t have justification. If Jesus wasn’t raised, then Death had the victory. And you are still in your sins.
But it doesn’t stop there. Look in verse 18, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
If there is no resurrection and all of us are still in our sins, then all of those who perish, truly perish. They are gone, and there isn’t hope for them. And there isn’t hope for you. There is no rejoicing mixed with sorrow at any funeral. It’s only sorrow and bitter despair.
But someone might say, “Even if it isn’t true, it helps me live a better life.” And don’t think that’s just an example. I have several friends who have said exactly that. And several more who have turned away from every kind of faith but still think that way.
But Paul won’t put up with that. Look in verse 19. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Don’t put on a charade. If this isn’t true, then we are wasting our time.
If Christ wasn’t raised, then good theology isn’t enough. If Christ wasn’t raised, then a good ethical life isn’t enough
If Christ wasn’t raised, then you don’t hope, and you shouldn’t act like you do.
If Christ wasn’t raised, then your addiction will define you, and even if you beat it, you will still die in the futility that characterizes every wretched human life. You will work all your life to scrape by and leave something for your children, but after you are gone, the government will tax the inheritance, and within two generations, all you have done and earned and fought for will be forgotten.
If Christ is not raised, then the milk given to every baby is given in futility. The bread that you eat is only sustaining you for work and life that is ultimately meaningless. The medicine you take for your blood pressure is only prolonging the suffering you have in this world.
If Christ is not raised, then we are still under the law, and we will be condemned by it. Because God is still just, and we would still be condemned.
If Christ is not raised, then we are of all people most to be pitied.
But thanks be to God for verse 20. Look there, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
This brings us to our next point.
The Resurrection is essential to the gospel because it’s a theological necessity. Without it, faith is futile, but:
With it, we have hope and eternal purpose (20-34)
The resurrection changes everything.
Where there was uncertainty, we have confidence. Where there was fear, we have hope. Where there was defeat, we have victory. Where there was condemnation, we have righteousness. Where there was weariness, we have perseverance.
We could read verse 20 then go back to verses 12-19 and read the opposite truths into what was said. If Christ has been raised, then we will be raised. If Christ has been raised, then our preaching and faith have purpose. If Christ has been raised, then all who have trusted him are no longer in their sins. If Christ has been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have hope.
We could back read all of that into verses 12-19, but Paul doesn’t just give us verse 20. He spends the rest of the chapter talking about the reality of the resurrection.
And if I had to sum it up, this is what I would say, “Because Christ has been raised, we have hope and eternal purpose.”
We have hope because we have been justified. We have hope because we look to the new heavens and the new earth. Every moment of our lives can be filled with eternal purpose because Christ has been raised.
In verse 20, Paul says that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Firstfruits is an agricultural term. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tree or a stalk or a vegetable, when you get the first fruits of a harvest, it means that you better get ready, because the harvest is right around the corner. It’s an indicator of more fruit to come. It’s a guarantee–a downpayment.
Paul is saying that If Christ has really been raised, then there is more coming down the pipeline.
But what is he the firstfruits of? Verse 20 says he is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” (15:51). The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of a future resurrection for all who are in Christ.
This is what Paul writes about in verses 23-28.
At the coming of Christ, the saints will be resurrected to eternal life, and at that time, every enemy will be defeated. Every ruler and authority and power will bow to him. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
That’s why life will be eternal.
At the resurrection of Christ, the bell that tolls for death was rung for death itself. and for all its thrashing, death is already dead. Death is itself like a man awaiting the fulfillment of his death penalty without any hope of parole. Revelation 20. Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire.
We will dwell with him as his people. Every tear will be wiped away. There will be no more fear or pain.
All of this is secured for us because of the resurrection of Jesus.
Praise be to God. He is risen.
But let’s seek a moment of reflection here. Up to this point, has the resurrection seemed like a hollow thing to you? Has the resurrection been like the little tree air freshener that has gone stale?
Consider it anew today.
How can you stoke this in your heart?
Let me offer a couple of suggestions.
When you see sin and its results, let it cultivate longing for the promised resurrection.
When you see every kind of brokenness, trial, and sin, let it be a reminder that there is a better world coming. It’s good to encourage your heart to long for the promised resurrection.
This is part of what Paul is getting at in verses 31 and 32. I’m not going to read it right now, but for his point is getting to this point. Because of the resurrection, we can walk into every kind of trial knowing that there is eternal hope and eternal purpose in it. Paul faced death every day, and because of the resurrection, he had hope.
The resurrection of Jesus guarantees a day when all brokenness and every enemy will be no more.
Do you have chronic illness? Or do you feel like you are stuck at home for weeks at a time because strep throat is working through your kids one at a time instead of all at once?
Does it seem like you are pouring yourself out over and over, and no one even notices?
Is the grief from the death of your loved one a wound that won’t heal? Does it come in waves that you can’t forecast and with an intensity that you can’t avoid?
Do you find yourself battling with the same sins over and over? You have a season of victory, then you let your guard down and the sin comes at you like an assassin against a sleeping child.
At all of these things, where there is sin, repent. Where there is brokenness, weep. And in all of it, raise your eyes to see beyond the futility and pain. There is a day coming when we will have real peace without fear and without pain.
Our second application flows from the first.
Take every opportunity to invest in heavenly treasure.
Embrace the reality that if you are in Christ, the free gift of God for you is eternal life. And you are a citizen of a different kingdom.
So invest in the kingdom where you will dwell for eternity.
Consider this. You have just inherited your dream home. It has everything you’ve ever dreamed of having in the home. But you currently live in a shack. Your lease only lasts a couple more months, then you will be free to move into a home that is everything you could possibly need for the rest of your life. It is your forever home.
Would you invest in an addition for your shack? Or would you rather invest in your forever home?
Invest in the dwelling where you will be for eternity.
It’s good to invest in your retirement. And it’s not inherently evil to make a lot of money. In fact, I think that God wants you to make more money.
But do you put the same thought into your heavenly investments as you do your worldly investments? Do you practice the same care and detail oriented diligence?
Let me give you three categories for heavenly investments: Service, Holiness, and Proclamation.
I remember a story of an older widow at a small country church. She was a great servant to everyone in the church. Time and again she would sacrifice her own preferences and wash the feet of other saints. And when the pastor caught wind of it, he would publicly praise her, and every time, after the service, she would reprimand him. “You’ve stolen my blessing,” she would say. She was taking Jesus’ words seriously.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt 6:3)
Now, she was a bit off on this. It’s not evil to be thanked. It’s about the heart of why you are doing. But I love her heart. She was seeking the pleasure of the Father, and her eyes were on eternal reward.
But in 1 Corinthians 15:33-34, Paul actually points to holiness and proclamation at the same time. “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
Paul draws a direct line between our holiness and our proclamation of the gospel. I’m going to go into detail on all of the connections here, but the resurrection is the foundation for all of this. The resurrection gives purpose to self denial because there is an eternal kingdom that will be better. The resurrection gives purpose to proclaiming the gospel because if people believe, then they will live.
And if you aren’t living consistently with the truth of God’s word, why would anyone listen to you?
Make heavenly investments. Serve. Live righteously. Proclaim the gospel.
The closer we get to heaven, the closer we are to drawing on our inheritance, and that is a thing worth anticipating. It’s a thing worth building up.
In the same way that every kind of brokenness and trial and sin is an opportunity to long for the the resurrection, those times are also opportunities to make investments.
In your sickness, in the futile things of life, in thankless service, in the mundane moments that you seem to endure every single day– in all of them, you can make investment into the lasting kingdom.