“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12)
The Congregational Church of Goffstown will gather on April 8th to celebrate the empty tomb, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Other churches in our community will also gather but some will be celebrating a different resurrection, one that is not literal, but metaphorical. From their perspective, Christ’s resurrection is no longer relevant or not something to be taken literally, serving only as a good example to follow. In these places, the resurrection becomes an opportunity to remake oneself, turn over a new leaf or rise up against those who do evil. The message for the day will focus on how the blooming trees and flowers of spring serve as God’s reminder that we all need a fresh start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of doing good to others and improving one’s moral character. These behaviors provide tangible evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. But this is not a view representing the essential nature of the resurrection.
Lest you think this is something new to our age, I want you to know that the forces behind this kind of false teaching have been misrepresenting the resurrection ever since the first century. In fact it is one of the reasons the Apostle Paul addressed the matter extensively in1 Corinthians 15. Christ’s life, death and even His resurrection are historical facts that Paul affirms – “But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (15:20). He reports that there were over 500 (nearly all living) eyewitness accounts to Christ’s resurrection; so it puzzles him (15:12) that some would say there was no resurrection from the dead. Other, non-Christian, first century sources affirm that eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection were quite prevalent at the time.
Paul was uncompromising on this matter and was willing to risk his life for the truth. When he stood under arrest before the governor he said “concerning the resurrection of the dead I stand trial before you this day” (Acts 24:21). The resurrection of Jesus Christ was more than symbolic; it was a matter of critical importance.
Yet, there were some, calling themselves Christian, who did not share his conviction regarding the resurrection. Perhaps holding to this truth was a cost they were not willing to bear. Addressing them, Paul said, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is useless – He’s saying it’s basically a joke. In other words, if Jesus is still dead we have a dead faith. Our faith essentially becomes not much more different than any other faith. Our church becomes a moralistic religious cooperative and a place for a good chicken dinner. At that point, why even claim Christ? He said, if our hope is only in the benefits available to us through Christ in this present life, we are to be pitied. That’s because the promises of God for the new heaven and earth far exceed those of this present fallen world. The world we now live in is filled with incurable diseases, catastrophic accidents, heinous criminals and a variety of other horrors. If it doesn’t get any better than this, why believe? If the present world is all we have, Paul suggests that we “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32)
Thankfully, Christ has risen and has displayed the power of God to overcome not only Christ’s death but ours as well. His resurrection is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” – Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of the future bodily resurrection of all believers. The proof that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was an effective sacrifice for our sins lies in His resurrection. Without the resurrection, we will all die in our sin, subject to the wrath of God on the day of judgment. We can remake ourselves and recommit to doing good as much as we like but we will never see the resurrection of our own bodies, the hope of a heaven or even the fruit of a regenerated Christian life unless we believe Jesus really did rise from the dead.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)