“The Resurrection Difference”

(1 Corinthians 15:12-20 – Epiphany 6 – February 17, 2019)

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 – Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ, our risen and living Savior:

How many times have you heard the statement, “What a difference it makes!” “What a difference it made that we left just five minutes earlier. We would have missed the flight!” What a difference it made that you put your seatbelt on. You could have lost your life!” “What a difference it made when you stopped to help me that time. We might never have met and gotten married!” What a difference it can make – a simple thought, word, or deed done at the right time may completely change the course of life, for better or worse.

Today, we discuss a matter that makes all the difference in the world, and all the difference in eternity. It is “The Resurrection Difference.” What a difference it makes for all of us that Christ has been raised from the dead! For 1) Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end; but 2) With Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope.

1) Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end

When the apostle Paul originally visited the city of Corinth, he preached to the people about Christ’s resurrection as a matter of first importance. Before our text, he reminds them: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). What a difference the preaching of the Gospel had made! The Holy Spirit had work faith in human hearts, and a body of believers had formed at Corinth. But now, false teachers were promoting a lie in that young church, convincing people that there was no resurrection of the dead. So Paul here must remind them of the resurrection difference.

Denial of the resurrection was typical among philosophers of the day. Popular philosophy taught a view of nature that said everything spiritual was good, while everything physical was bad. That which was spiritual was linked to the divine, but not that which was physical. Therefore, this view considered a resurrection of the body to be a bad thing; because the afterlife was supposed to be an opportunity for a person’s spirit to escape the prison-like body.

The late Roman philosopher, Seneca, expressed this view of death when he said: “When the day shall come which shall part this mixture of divine and human here where I found it, I will leave my body, and myself I will give back to the gods.” The Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, expressed the typical pagan attitude toward bodily resurrection when he said: “When the dust has drunk the blood of man, and he’s once dead, there’s no uprising.”

Unfortunately, some members of the Corinthian congregation were “getting with the times.” They were embracing such worldly ideas, and therefore holding inconsistent beliefs. On the one hand, they accepted part of the Gospel, that Christ had risen from the dead in some way. But they treated His resurrection as a special case, as if it did not provide a resurrection for all. So Paul shows that faith in Christ’s resurrection includes faith in the resurrection of believers, too.

These must go together – Christ’s resurrection and ours. As Paul explains: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.” In other words, if one denies the bodily resurrection of humans, then Christ’s bodily resurrection must be denied too. For though He is the Son of God, He also fully took on our human nature. As the Son of Man, He became what we are in every way, except for sin, so He could save us humans in every way. He had a human body and soul, so He could save our human bodies and souls. So Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, in body and soul, are not to be divided.

And contrary to false beliefs in Paul’s day, physical resurrection to eternal life is a very good thing. The problem of evil is not rooted in physical things. When God created the physical world, including our bodies, He called it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He meant it to be this way forever. There is no shame in the way God made our physical bodies. Jesus was not ashamed to take on our human flesh.

The problem is when sin enters in and corrupts God’s good creation. Our fallen sinful nature, and the sins we commit in the flesh, now bring guilt and shame on us. Our sin would bring God’s righteous punishment on our body and soul in hell. Daniel 12:2 says that on the Last Day, when God raises the bodies of the dead: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” What an unthinkable prospect that would be to be cast, body and soul into hell. For there, the lusts of the flesh and the pride of the heart that once delighted a person in this short life, become nothing but misery – as guilt gnaws away like a worm that never dies, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48).

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into our flesh to save us sinners from that total death. On the cross He received the full justice of God in our place, suffering in His body and soul the punishment we deserved. The eternal welfare of our body and soul depends on the truth of both Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection – as God in our human flesh.

As Paul shows here, the resurrection difference is as logical as it is scriptural. For if there is no bodily resurrection from the dead, then neither could Christ, as the Son of Man, be raised. Paul goes on to state what this would mean: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” If the body of Christ remained in the grave, then He would not really have the authority He claimed, when He said: “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20). Nor then could He have said in truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). If Christ were not risen from the dead, then His words from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) could not have described the victorious completion of His saving work, but only the bitter end of His own life. As Paul goes on to say: “Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” For without Christ’s resurrection, sin and death would remain on all who put their hope in Him, and they would perish forever in their sin.

So Paul continues: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” If believing in Christ has value only for earthly life, and Christ is not raised, the Christian faith and life is meaningless. Why should we lose our lives for Christ’s sake, if He is dead? What would be the point of denying ourselves as master of our life, walking in the way of the cross, and enduring suffering for the sake of Christ – if He is dead and gone? If Christ is not raised, then unbelievers should pity us for believing such a big lie. Those who indulge the sinful pleasures of this life would be far wiser and better off than we are, if only in this life we have hope and our destiny is the grave. What is the point of life without the resurrection difference?

The apostle Paul knew the times, the culture, and all the temptations Christians faced. Today with Paul, we respond to worldly philosophy and religion by preaching Christ’s resurrection as a matter of first importance. For we also live among many today who deny Christ’s resurrection.

Even some who call themselves Christians say: “We need to get with the times. Everyone knows people don’t rise from the grave!” They may give lip service to Jesus’ resurrection, explaining it in some spiritual way. They say: “We need to get past the myth of Scripture, and apply the moral of the story, the spiritual truth it is supposed to teach us.” They say: “We don’t need a literal physical resurrection to make the Gospel practical! Instead, let us learn from Jesus how to take a stand for what we believe in, knowing it’s the idea of what we stand for that will live on.” Or “Let’s preach Christ’s way as a solution to social problems, as a way to world peace. Let’s preach the resurrection of Christ to show how we can rise up and overcome adversity.”

But we reject such worldly views! We stand with Christ, who showed Himself alive that first Easter, not as a spirit but in His flesh, touched by His disciples (Luke 24:39). With the apostle Paul we know there is no Good News, no hope at all, without Christ’s bodily resurrection. For “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end.

2) With Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope

But Paul does not leave believers wandering among modern interpretations of Christ’s resurrection. He sounds the Gospel trumpet clearly: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And because of His resurrection, instead of a hopeless end we have an endless hope. Let us see the resurrection difference!

Since Christ has been raised, our faith is eternally meaningful. His resurrection is proof that we stand before God forgiven. Romans 4:25 says Christ died because of our offenses, “and was raised because of our justification.” His physical resurrection proves that in God’s court we stand “justified,” declared “not guilty.” Christ’s resurrection proves that His work of saving us was truly “finished” (John 19:30), as He shouted in triumph on the cross. God is pleased with His Son’s payment for all of our sins. Therefore, who will bring any charge against us? “It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:33-34).

And Christ’s resurrection is the powerful proof that we too will rise with Him to eternal life, even if our bodies sleep in death before He returns. For Christ “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the first sheaf of the harvest grain, which God’s people were to offer to Him as a thank offering. By this, they showed that the whole harvest was the Lord’s and was dedicated to His glory. The firstfruits showed that the rest of the harvest would follow (Leviticus 23:10). Christ presented Himself to His Father as proof that you and I will follow in His resurrection. Just as God the Father raised His Son from death and the grave, “because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24), so also He will raise us up with Himself in eternal life – in body and soul.

Therefore even in the hour of death, we look forward to our resurrection in Christ. We say with Job: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

See the resurrection difference! In Christ’s resurrection we no longer face a hopeless end, lost in sin and eternal death. Now we have an endless hope, “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In His name, we have the peace of forgiveness with God; and we have the joy of “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Live in the joy of the resurrection difference! Christ lives to give us true comfort and strength by His Words of eternal life. Christ lives to work powerfully in our baptism, washing away our sin and giving us life by the Holy Spirit. Christ lives to give us His Body and Blood in His Holy Supper, for our forgiveness and strengthening of faith unto life everlasting. Christ lives to hear our every prayer, to know our every need, and to speak in our behalf at His Father’s right hand. Christ lives, and one day He will raise us by His voice (John 5:25); and in our flesh, we will see His loving face with our own eyes! Share the joy of the resurrection difference! Proclaim to all your “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.