If Christ Is Not Risen...
Some of you know it was my privilege to lead another group on a pilgrimage to the Land of our Lord earlier this year. What a tremendous blessing it was to walk where Jesus walked, not necessarily in the same steps, but in the same places and in the same land.
Among the most moving experiences we shared was the visit to the empty tomb. While that may not have been the exact tomb, it was obviously a tomb near the place most of us believe the crucifixion occurred and belonged to a wealthy individual who had a beautiful garden and vineyard there.
While spending time meditating there the question came to my mind again. Where would our Christian faith be if there were no resurrection? It’s a question worth considering.
Did you know Paul was asked the same question? He gave a very direct answer in I Corinthians 15:12-19. “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? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
If there is no resurrection from the dead, that’s the worst news any of us could hear. “If there is no resurrection there is no hope at all, no hope for a better here and now and no hope for any there and then!
Paul makes four simple, yet profound statements about the resurrection in the verses above. He says we might as well give up on preaching, our faith won’t do us any good when we die, we will live in a world where sin reigns and Christ is still in the grave. That’s pretty stark, but even more shocking if it were true.
Examine with me the course of his logic. Preaching is useless if Christ is not raised from the grave. Think of all the people who have gone to church through the years. They were all foolish if it is not true. All the gifts given, missions planned, revivals held, and funeral sermons preached are all in vain if Christ was not raised. “Without the resurrection, the good news would be bad news and there would be nothing worth preaching. Without the resurrection, the gospel would be an empty hopeless message of meaningless nonsense. Unless our Lord conquered sin and death, making a way for men to follow in that victory, there is no gospel to proclaim.”
Further Paul surmises that faith will do us no good when it comes our time to leave this earth through the door called death. “Dead saviors cannot give life to others.” Consider this with me, “if there were no resurrection, the hall of the faithful written so eloquently in Hebrews 11 would instead be the hall of the foolish. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and all the others would have been faithful for nothing. They would have been mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, afflicted, ill-treated and put to death completely in vain. All believers throughout all ages would have believed for nothing, lived for nothing and died for nothing.”
In the same passage Paul asserts the sad reality that without the resurrection, we are still under the control of sin. Instead of receiving forgiveness and hope, we are like flies caught in the spider’s web, hopelessly trapped. It’s easy to see the blatant sin of those who commit crimes or fall victim to other obvious failures in their live and presume their lostness. Perhaps some might even venture the thought that in death they would get what they deserve. However, when one remembers that heaven is a place where no sin can enter, not even the smallest error of judgment, temper or thought, then all of us would be under the condemnation of our sins. “If Christ was not raised from the dead, then Christians would be no better off spiritually than non-Christians.”
Paul is clearly affirming that while Christ died on the cross for our sins, the resurrection is also essential. “The reason is that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then sin won the victory over him and therefore it will continue to be victorious over all men. If Jesus remained dead, then, when we die, we too will remain dead and condemned.” There would be no forgiveness or reconciliation with God either now or in eternity without the resurrection.
Finally, Paul declares that without the resurrection, Christ is still dead. A dead Christ is no good to anyone. Death really is a sad proposition. It reminds me of some words written by Mark Twain shortly before his death. In his weariness and depression he wrote, "A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;...they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; ...those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last--the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them--and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence, a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever."
These are such incredibly sad words. Just imagine if that is all you had to look forward to. And yet, I know some people who have no more hope than that, not because it is not offered, but rather, because the word is not accepted. I hope that would not be the case for any of you!
The great truth of Easter is the fact that Christ did come forth from the grave. He lives! “Paul here calls Jesus the first-fruits of the dead. In the Old Testament, before the Israelites harvested their crops, they were to bring a representative sample, called the first fruits, to the priests as an offering to the Lord. The full harvest could not be made until the first fruits were offered. That’s the image that’s used here. The fact that Jesus is the first fruits indicates that the rest of the crop is going to be harvested. His resurrection implies that there is more to follow.”
I hope you will take the time to read the Easter story in the Gospels. Meditate on these words, "The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.’"
Writer Raymond Lindquist said: “Easter is to our faith what water is to the ocean, what stone is to the mountain, what blood is to your body. It is the first and final word in the dictionary of God. It says that Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith.”
Sometimes you learn a lot about a subject by considering its opposite. To me, that is well illustrated by asking the question, “what would it be like if there were no resurrection?” I can’t fully comprehend what it would be like, but I know enough to know what it means to me that He rose from the grave. I trust you possess the same faith and hope in the living Christ who died for our sins and rose again triumphant over death and the grave!