Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
What are you willing to stake your life on? If there is anything at all to wager your life on, what would it be? I’m sure we would say our spouse or our children, that we would be willing to die for them. But what about someone else? What about a complete stranger? That is precisely what Christ our Lord has done for you. Not only has Christ our Lord died for you, but He has also risen from the dead for you.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians, there is an issue they are facing – what does Christ’s resurrection mean? There was debate at the time as to whether or not there was truly a resurrection from the dead. For the Church to be debating this is indeed troubling. To presume that the resurrection is false, is as Luther says, a “disgrace and an abomination on the part of those who desire to be called Christians.”
Paul stakes everything on the basic factor with which he began, namely, that Christ rose from the dead. This is the chief article of the Christian doctrine, for if there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity. No one who at all claims to be a Christian or a preacher of the Gospel may deny that, and yet, this is what was being promoted by some in the Corinthian Church. Luther, in his commentary on our text says this: “With this he wants to confront them and force them to the conclusion that their denial of the resurrection of the dead denies even more definitely that Christ rose from the dead; for if the former is not true, the latter must be fabricated also.”In English, Luther is saying that if you deny the resurrection from the dead, then you mustdeny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
How could you deny Christ’s resurrection? That’s the million-dollar question to the Corinthians. And so Paul says, “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.”If Christ is not raised from the dead, then why are you here? Why am I here? This thing called faith that you have, it is nothing more than rubbish and make-believe thoughts. Everything that we believe about Christianity is nothing more than a sham because we are going to die and we are going to stay dead.
Vain preaching. Empty preaching. Damning preaching. Because the Christ whom we preach is only a dead man, and our faith rests upon a dead man instead of upon the Son of the living God, who has the keys of death and hell, then everything we believe in is in vain. You trust, then, in a Savior who cannot deliver Himself, and, therefore, much less save others; and your faith is then vain, for it rests upon an empty delusion. That was the thought of some of the Corinthians, some who professed to be believers in Jesus Christ.
It’s one thing for those outside of the Church to think and speak and believe in this way, but how can the Christian, the blood-bought and redeemed, believe like this? That’s what Paul wants to know. That’s why Paul says what he does. This line of thinking is damning to a person. And this is what some of the Corinthians believed.
Let that soak in for a moment. This wasn’t a group of non-believers who thought like this; this was the thinking by some of the Corinthian Christians. This was something which Paul could not let go unaddressed, and with good reason. The resurrection is central to creation’s salvation. Christ died so that creation would not die. His death was only half of the equation, with the other half being Christ rising again from the dead. They accepted part of the truth of the gospel, Christ’s death, but they were rejecting another part, the resurrection of Jesus and of all the dead.
This is a serious problem. If false theology like this creeps in, what else can creep in? At this point, it doesn’t matter because they have Jesus wrong on the most fundamental level – Christ never rose from the dead. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”There is no salvation because you are still captive to your sin. No forgiveness, no salvation because Christ is still in a tomb. For all those who believe in Paul and the message of the cross, they have a fruitless, empty faith and are still hopelessly lost in the condemning, controlling power of sin. It means that the population of hell has greatly increased. And so Paul contends that trusting in a Messiah who did not conquer death leaves believers no better off spiritually than unbelievers. With a Christ who did not rise, sin wins the victory over everyone, and the defeat of damnation is our sure eternal destiny.
What poor Corinthians! To have the Gospel and then to forsake the Gospel for that which is damning. But when you fast forward the Church 2000 years, we have done the exact same thing. When Scripture is clear that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves, the Church perpetuates a false teaching of Jesus plus, with any number of things being substituted for the plus: good works, a false idea of doing something to earn God’s favor, adherence to the Law which is usually manmade. You can substitute any number of things into the plus category and all will lead you away from the truth of salvation earned by the death andresurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul points to an implication for this present life in believing in a Christ who has not risen. He asserts that if believing in Christ has value only for this present earthly life, then Christians are fools who have made a tragic mistake and who should be pitied by others. Without the resurrection, Christianity is pointless.
Paul is not content with this false theology in the Church. The resurrection is at the center of everything Christians are asked to believe. Ten times in this short passage he employs one form or another of the Greek verb “to raise.” Six times the verb occurs in the perfect tense, indicating the completed action with a present implication, meaning that the effects of the resurrection are ongoing. Apart from Jesus’ resurrection there is no resurrection of the dead and therefore no hope for the departed, no forgiveness of sins, and therefore only a pitiable shell of a religion.
That is why our Epistle ends with these words: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”Turning away from the tragic implications there would be for people if there were no resurrection, he emphatically states that Christ has risen from the dead, as he had previously declared. By calling Jesus the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,”Paul is declaring that the risen Christ is the pledge and proof of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people to eternal life.
Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end. This was a reality of the Corinthian church, and unfortunately for too many churches today. With Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope. More than that, we have the promise of resurrection as well, for Christ has indeed risen from the dead so that we too will rise again. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.