Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 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. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV)
Roughly 2,000 years ago during the time of the Jewish Passover, our Lord Jesus was a corpse. And if he remained in the grave like all other corpses do, and if his body over the centuries decomposed like all bodies eventually decompose, and if His flesh began to decay as all flesh eventually decays, and if He is still dead like everyone else who has died, then you and I are wasting our time this morning and we would have been better off sleeping in. If Jesus is not alive right now then we might as well go home this very minute and watch television, or finish up that project around the house, or go back to bed.
The apostle Paul tells us in the Scripture we just read that if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead than our faith is useless and you and I are pathetic. He says we are of all people most to be pitied. Why is that?
Paul says the reason why is because if Jesus is still dead, your biggest problem and my biggest problem is not dealt with and things will only get worse from here on out for us.
The Bible tells us that our biggest problem is sin. Long ago, God created the heavens and the earth. He created a good and perfect paradise and he placed our ancestors, Adam and Eve in that paradise. He loved them and provided for them and they had everything they needed. Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with each other and with God. There was no pain, no suffering, no sorrow, no sickness, no death.
And then things went really bad. God and man’s ancient enemy, that old serpent, the devil, enticed Adam and Eve to join him in a revolt against the loving king of the universe, and when Adam sinned, everything changed.
God had lovingly warned Adam that should he choose to break fellowship with God, death would come. And that’s exactly what happened. There was immediately death in relationships as Adam and God became estranged from one another and as Adam and Eve began to fight and contend against one another.
There was death in the physical body. God had made Adam from the dust and God proclaimed that the effects of sin would reverse life itself and Adam would grow old and weak and in death his decaying body would go back into the dust.
But worst of all there was spiritual death which includes a relational separation from God and slavery to sin. This spiritual death is climaxed after death in a place called Hell, which is the opposite of Eden. Where pain and suffering and sorrow and torment go on and on and on and on without restoration, without relief….
And because we are all descendents of Adam and because Adam was our representative, we too are under the curse of death. We too, have been slaves of sin, unable to be good on our own and following in Adam’s treasonous and rebellious footsteps. We too, have experienced the breach in human relationships that sin causes. We too, live in the valley of the shadow of death and our time is short, and we too, live under threat of condemnation by God to an eternal Hell that each and every one of us deserve because we, like Adam, are guilty.
Adam and Eve were banished from paradise, but not without a word of hope. God promised Eve that an offspring would come from her to do battle against the serpent and this offspring would deliver mankind from the dominion of the devil. God said though the devil will bruise the heel of this offspring, the offspring would crush the head of the serpent.
There is a desire in the heart of God to do justice and judge sin. There is a desire in the heart of God to show mercy and save men. And the line of God’s justice and the line of God’s mercy intersect in the person of Jesus Christ.
You and I are crushed under the weight of an enormous sin debt. That debt cannot be swept under the rug. If you and I are not going to pay the debt ourselves in Hell, then someone else has to pay it for us.
Jesus, hanging on the cross experienced all the dimensions of death that come through sin. He experienced that relational death between men. Not only had he already been betrayed by one of His disciples, not only had many who had shown enthusiasm for him just days earlier demanded his crucifixion, but even on the cross Jesus is enduring scorn and mocking from others.
He also experienced physical death. Jesus really did die. He didn’t just fall unconscious and people thought He was dead, and the coolness of the tomb woke him up. The Romans weren’t idiots. They knew how to kill people. If on Saturday you would have went into the tomb and hooked Jesus up to an EKG you would have gotten a flat line.
But still worse than physical death, Jesus also experienced the full force of spiritual death. He experienced God’s terrible wrath. When He cried out from the cross “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus Christ was experiencing the anguish and torment that comes with God’s abandonment. It wasn’t that Jesus descended into Hell as much as Hell descended on Him on the cross. The sins of the world were placed on Jesus and punished in Him. That’s the justice of God, but it’s also the mercy of God.
Because if the sinner’s punishment has already been poured out on Jesus, if the debt has already been paid, then the sinner who receives by faith Jesus’ payment as his own owes God nothing anymore. He doesn’t have to go to Hell because he’s already been to Hell in Christ, and the sinner doesn’t have to be perfectly good to be a part of the family of God because on the cross a glorious exchange takes place. Jesus takes the sinner’s sin, and in salvation the sinner receives the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
That’s great news, but if Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead, then it’s all a sham. And Good Friday was useless.
Because if today the body of Jesus is a rotted corpse somewhere in Palestine, it means that Jesus’ sacrifice was not acceptable to God. It means that despite all the good things Jesus may have said and despite all the good things that Jesus may have done that at the end of the day Jesus Himself was not an innocent man and is under the dominion and power of death like any other sinner.
This is why the resurrection of Jesus matters. And this is why we need a real resurrection. Some people will say that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, “but that’s ok”, they say, because really the resurrection is all about Jesus living on in our hearts and in that way He continues to live. But if that’s all the resurrection is, then you and I are still hopelessly in bondage to death, and sin, and Hell is on the horizon for every one of us. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But thank God that is not the case.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death…. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, ESV)
The Bible is clear that there are only two groups of people in this world. You either belong to one group with Adam as your representative or you belong to the other group with Jesus Christ as your representative.
If Adam is your representative, everything he had you inherit. It’s an inheritance of slavery to sin, an inheritance of separation from God, an inheritance of death.
If Jesus is your representative, everything He has you inherit. It’s an inheritance of freedom from sin, an inheritance that includes union with God who becomes your Father, it’s an inheritance that includes ruling the Universe with Christ in the Next Age, it’s an inheritance of abundant life now and in the age to come. It’s an inheritance that includes a triumphant resurrection.
Jesus Christ came to not simply pay the price for sins but to reverse the effects of Adam’s initial rebellion. Jesus, in redeeming sinners not only rescues them from a future Hell but begins to transform the sinner right now so that they become less and less like Adam, and more and more like Christ.
If you are trusting in Christ you will more and more over time grow to follow in His footsteps in this life. But, should Jesus delay His return, you will also follow Him in death and resurrection. And as Jesus walked bodily out of the tomb to newness of life so all who are united to Jesus one day will come forth from their graves renewed and perfected.
Jesus resurrection is a down-payment, a sign of things to come. He brings life and renewal not just for all who trust in Him, but to the Cosmos itself. The whole universe is under the sway and dominion of death and decay, but when He returns He will restore all things to its perfected state. The paradise lost in the book of Genesis gives way to paradise regained in Revelation. A people estranged and separated from God and one another become united and reconciled to God and to each other. There will be no more pain, no more crying, no more suffering, no more sin, and no more death. All who trust in Jesus have this glorious inheritance in their future.
And the reason we can be certain of these things to come, is because of the certainty of what has already taken place. Roughly 2000 years ago on a Friday, Jesus was murdered and laid in a tomb. And roughly 2000 years ago on a Sunday, a heart starting beating again. Blood starting circulating through veins again. A finger twitched, a breath of air was deeply inhaled, closed eyes were opened, and a Man who was both a Middle Eastern Carpenter from Nazereth and a Divine King from Heaven walked out of a tomb with power and vigor. You and I worship not a fantasy, and not a skeleton buried somewhere in the Middle East. You and I worship an ex-corpse. Jesus Christ, the promised offspring of Eve has come, and through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead He has crushed the head of the serpent, proving His sacrifice was acceptable to God, proving He is the Son of God, and giving us a preview of coming attractions. And all who put their trust in this Man will be saved. Contrary to one popular book, if your trust in Jesus, your best life isn’t now. Thanks to the resurrection, all who receive Him today begin a new life now and look forward with eager anticipation for an even better life to come.
Grace and Peace,