What If Jesus Never Rose from the Dead?
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
Sunday, April 5th, 2015 – Easter Sunday
Do you ever wonder, "What if…?" For example: What if there were no cars? How would you get to work? Would you ride a bike? Would you walk? Would you ride in a buggy drawn by a horse? How would you get where you need to go? (And as Alaskans, if there were no cars, there would be little use for oil, so there would also be no PFDs.) J
How about this one: What if there were no computers? Well, you'd need to buy more paper and more stamps without email, right? Or maybe you'd get a typewriter. Forget online banking, most credit card machines, navigation systems, and most of what run modern vehicles, not to mention all your video games!
Or how about this one? What if there were no phones? Communication with the lower 48 would be a bit more difficult wouldn't it? No emergency calls could be made from the side of the road. And there would be no calling home to ask about that weird item on the grocery list. I'd be in trouble for sure.
But this morning we ask a question of much greater importance: What if there were no resurrection from the dead? And specifically, what if Jesus didn't physically rise from the dead?
Some in Paul's day were saying just that; that there was no resurrection from the dead, not really. "Maybe you could live on in people's memories as they remembered what you did while you were alive. Maybe you could leave a legacy behind that would improve the lives of others because of what you did. But to rise, bodily, physically, to come back to life after being dead… well… that's the stuff of fiction," they said.
But Paul challenged their thinking. He considered what life would be like if they were right. What if Jesus never rose from the dead? Listen to the conclusion he reached if that "what if…?" were true. Listen to his certain confidence that it is not! Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:12-22…
12 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? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
What if…? Do you ever wonder that? I mean we all do, don't we? What if it rains when I want to go fishing? What if I get fired? What if I fail this class? Or what if I don't get better?
But I mean, do you ever wonder "What if…?" on the bigger questions of life? What if this life is all there is? The Beatles famously sang, "Imagine there's no heaven—It's easy if you try—No hell below us, Above us only sky." Can you imagine if they were right? What if there is nothing more than this life?
Well, Paul answers that question. If Christ did not rise, then Christianity falls apart. If Christ did not rise, then there is no resurrection at all. If there is no resurrection, this life is all there is. Enjoy it. Then die. Become worm food. We have no moral responsibility, no obligations to serve anyone but us, so, "Eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die."
Well, that's what the "skeptics" want you to believe, right?
But hold on. Before we go further, I have to let you know that I think we often misuse the word "skeptic." We all ought to be skeptical. That is, don't believe everything you see on TV or read on the internet.
So let's be skeptical. Let's look at the evidence… First, let's agree to the following historical facts that nearly all scholars, Christian and Atheist alike, all hold to be true:
- Jesus died by Roman crucifixion
- Jesus was buried in a private tomb.
- His disciples were discouraged after that event.
- Jesus' tomb was found empty.
- His disciples thought they actually saw the risen Jesus on a number of occasions.
- Due to these experiences they were willing to die for their belief.
- James, a skeptic, was converted and became a leader of the early church.
- Saul of Tarsus, an opponent of Christianity, was converted and became a major proponent of Christianity.
I think we can also agree that the New Testament story is not a legend. It was written within two generations of the events by eye-witnesses and was corroborated by non-Christian historians. More than thirty historical figures are confirmed by sources outside of New Testament. The accounts we have are not legends.
Likewise, the New Testament story is not a lie. The authors include embarrassing details about themselves, difficult saying that they didn't understand, and clearly distinguish Jesus' words from their own. They also reference verifiable facts and witnesses and provoked their readers and their enemies to check it out for themselves! And if that wasn't enough, their martyrdom certainly removes all doubt. Who dies for what they know to be a lie? The accounts we have are not lies.
The last "out" that those who want to deny the Gospel have is to suggest that, "They were deceived. They believed it, but were mistaken, or fooled."
Here are the five most common explanations offered…
#1 - "The disciples were hallucinating." But hallucinations are experienced by individuals, not groups. No one says, "Remember the dream we had?" Not to mention, Jesus didn't just appear once to one person, but dozens of times to hundreds of people who physically touched him and watched him eat food. Plus, a hallucination still doesn't explain the empty tomb.
#2 – "The disciples went to the wrong tomb." But why didn't enemies reveal "right" tomb? Did the guards mess up too? Collective amnesia of Jews, Romans, Christians? Plus, empty tomb didn't convince them, but appearances. Especially Saul/Paul and James who both died as martyrs.
#3 – The "Swoon Theory." That is, they suggest that Jesus didn't really die, only swooned or fainted. Later, he revived and escaped. But professional executioners were convinced that he was dead. Pilate double-checked. Joseph and Nicodemus embalmed him. Who mistakenly embalms a living person? And, if he merely swooned, then how did he later get unwrapped and escape? How did he move the rock? How did he get past the guards? How would a bloody man near death convince his disciples he was risen and victorious? And how does it explain the conversion of Saul or Paul and James? Finally, non-Christian sources, including the Jewish Talmud (which not exactly friendly to Christianity), state that Jesus was killed on the cross.
#4 – "The disciples stole the body." But then they were the deceivers and not the deceived. Again, who would be arrested, beaten, tortured, and martyred for what they knew to be a lie? Who would perpetuate the lie if you could save yourself by simply recanting. And how would they get past the guards? And again, who appeared to Saul/Paul and James? Yet, that's what the guards asserted The body was stolen while they slept. But think about it: How would the guards know the disciples stole the body if they were asleep? And finally…
#5 – "A substitute (likely, Judas) was killed in his place." This is actually written in the Muslim Quran. But there is absolutely no evidence to back it up. This theory comes hundreds of years after the events and suggests that all the eyewitnesses were mistaken about Jesus' identity and it fails to explain why the tomb of the mistaken man was later found empty, why the Talmud reports Jesus death, and basically suggests that everyone from the 1st century was wrong.
Someone once said that, "Skeptics must provide more than alternative theories for the resurrection. They must provide first century evidence for those theories." And yet, there is no evidence of any other explanation. There are no other plausible theories. There is no evidence for any explanation of the facts other than this: That Jesus is alive.
Finally, add to this evidence the fact that not only did Jesus himself predicted his death and his own resurrection, but Paul could also point to the writings of men who claimed to speak for God hundreds and even thousands of years before Jesus and predicted this very event: his resurrection from the dead.
When you consider the evidence, there is only one reasonable conclusion: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…"
And when you consider the evidence and then flat out deny the logical conclusion because of your predetermined unbelief, then you're no longer a "skeptic," not really. You're just a denier. See why I think we misuse the word, "skeptic"?
It's okay to be skeptical. But then follow through. Examine the evidence. And come away with the right conclusion: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…" And thank God that you know this is true: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
For because of our sin, we have earned death. For all the times we've been too distracted by the entertainment the world throws our way to even consider the evidence or bother studying it, for all the times we've let satan keep us blindfolded, happy to never consider the "What if…"s, for all the times we've chosen not to believe the truth that stared us in the face because it would mean we couldn't do what we wanted to do and that our selfish desires would be unrealized… for our sin we deserve death. Death is what we earn as our wages for such sin. And we deserve eternal death in hell. "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." So if Christ had not been raised, that's exactly where we'd be going.
"But… Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…" Through Christ, through his perfect life lived on our behalf, through his innocent death on the cross, our sins are forgiven! He's paid the price that we owe! He gave us credit for all the good he did! And Jesus' resurrection is the proof that God accepted it! "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." (Romans 4:25)
Here Paul called Christ the "firstfruits." "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." In the Old Testament, Jewish farmers would bring the first part of their crop or fruits to the temple to give as an offering to God. It was one way they showed their trust in God. "We give this first crop to him, trusting that more crops will follow." Well, because Christ rose from the dead, we don't just know that our sins are forgiven, we also know that we too will rise to be with him in heaven. He is the firstfruits of the harvest of living saints. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
One commentator once wrote, "This present age is Easter time. It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer and ends with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life in Christ. So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter."
What if there were no cars? Well, we'd all be in a little better shape. What if there were no computers? Well, we'd have to come up with different ways to work. What if there were no telephones? We'd get used to telegraphs and passenger pigeons.
But so what!? None of that matters compared to this "What if…": What if Jesus had never been raised? Well, then, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
So thank God that you know this glorious truth: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…" Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!