Does the Resurrection of Jesus Matter?

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:1-5)

            As you know, we have had more than our fair share of deaths in this congregation over the past 18 months.  And we are reminded time and again that death is real and it’s powerful and it breaks our hearts.  Death is like the ultimate bully.  He’s out there.  We all know he’s out there.  He hides in the shadows.  You can ignore him; you can pretend like he’s not out there, but we all know that he’s there and we all know it’s only a matter of time before he kicks in the door and breaks our hearts again.

            So, here’s the deal — if the body of Jesus is still in a tomb somewhere around Jerusalem, then it’s, “Game over!”  There’s no hope.  Your loved ones have died, and you will never see them again — end of story!  But, if the tomb is empty, well now, that changes everything!  And that’s what we want to talk about this morning. We’re going to be in I Corinthians, chapter 15. 

            The way I Corinthians is organized is sort of a question-and-answer format.  Paul deals with a lot of problems in the church of Corinth, but the Corinthians had also sent him a list of questions, and Paul answers those questions in this letter.  For example, in chapter 7, they had a lot of questions about marriage.  In chapter 8, they wanted to know if it was alright to eat meat which had been offered to idols.  And in chapter 15, they had questions about the resurrection.

            In verse 12, Paul says, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Corinthians 15:12)

            So, the issue for the Corinthians was this: “Are we going to be resurrected from the dead?”  Now, what’s meant by that is more than just life after death.  Both the Jews and the Greeks believed that there was life after death.  That’s not really the question.  The question had to do with whether or not there will be a literal, physical, bodily resurrection of the dead.

            Now, a lot of people today believe in life after death.  Just about every religion has some concept of what life after death will be like.  I found this fascinating chart online, and to answer your questions – No, I do not expect you to read this and no, I am not going to read this.  I merely put this up here to show you that most every religion on the face of the earth has some concept of life after death.

            But Christianity is different from all the rest.  We believe there is a literal, physical, bodily resurrection to come and that belief is rooted in our belief that Jesus literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead.  Because Jesus has been resurrected, we can be certain that we will be resurrected.  That’s a summary of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians chapter 15.

            If God has the ability to raise one person from the dead, then he has the ability to raise other people from the dead.  Which is why the resurrection of Jesus is so very important.  There is nothing in this world that gives us hope like the empty tomb does.

            That’s why Paul says at the beginning of this chapter that the most important thing he preached about was that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

            Paul tells us that Christ, the Messiah, died on the cross, but he didn’t just die. He died for our sins, which was the fulfillment of promises made in the Old Testament.

            Like in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 53, where Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would die to bear the penalty for our sins: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6).  The book of Isaiah, written 700 years before Jesus was ever born, makes it clear that the Messiah would pay for our sins by dying in our place. 

            It was pictured and foreshadowed again and again through Noah, through Abraham, through the law, through the tabernacle, through the temple, through the animal sacrifices, all the way to the fulfillment in the death of Christ.  Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.  He became the ultimate sacrifice.  He made the offering that satisfied the wrath of God, that he might offer forgiveness and salvation.  He died for our sins according to the scriptures. 

            Now, what that means is that the death of Jesus was not, as some would like to believe, a plan that went horribly wrong.  It was God’s plan from the very beginning, from Genesis 3 all the way through.

            But it is not merely the fact that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross that makes people look to him for salvation.  It is the fact that three days later, his tomb was empty.

            And again, the prophets in the Old Testament predicted the resurrection of Jesus.  For example, in Psalm 16, David wrote, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol (Hades), or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10)

            Jesus himself predicted that he would rise from the dead.   In Matthew 16, “From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”  (Matthew 16:21). 

            Furthermore, Jesus said that his resurrection would be the single greatest sign to mankind about who he truly was.  If it had not been for the resurrection, the ministry of Jesus would have ended, his claims would have been ignored, he would have been merely anoth­er religious martyr, and he probably would have been forgotten long ago.

            So, there’s really no way for us to over-emphasize the importance of the resurrection of Jesus.  There are a lot of things that we may disagree about in the church, but the resurrection is not one of them.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential to our Christian faith. 

            The theological logic goes something like this:  It was sin that brought forth death — eternal spiritual death, which is pictured by physical death.  When Jesus paid the price for sin, Jesus conquered the consequence of sin.  Therefore, death itself was defeated. 

            When Paul talks about Jesus being raised from the dead, he means more than just Jesus was dead and then he was alive again.  There were other people in the Bible who were raised from the dead.  The difference with Jesus is that he didn’t just rise from the dead; He conquered death once and for all, and now death no longer has power over us.

            Let me give you an illustration to explain what I mean.  Let’s suppose that you owe a large sum of money to the IRS.  You didn’t pay your taxes and now you owe the government tens of thousands of dollars.  You’re not able to pay the debt, so the consequence of your sin is that the government is going to foreclose on your home and confiscate your car.

            But there’s good news.  Someone has offered to pay off your debt in full.  What that means is that there will no longer be any consequences for your sins.  You don’t need to stay awake at night worrying about someone taking away your home.  You don’t need to be afraid of what might happen.  Once the debt is paid, the IRS no longer has power over you.

            It’s the same way with Jesus.  When Jesus paid off our debt of sin on the cross, death no longer has power over us, and there’s no reason to be afraid.

            Now, I understand that there are a lot of people today who find the idea that Jesus rose from the dead to be rather silly.  In fact, today, Easter Sunday, they will give little or no thought to the resurrection of Jesus. They don’t care about that; it’s not relevant to them.

            And when we talk with unbelievers, we will find that they may not believe it strange that we believe in God.  It may not even seem odd to them that we would give our allegiance to Christ.  Many people understand that Jesus was a good man and a great moral teacher.  But there’s one doctrine that non-Christians will utterly reject and that’s the resurrection of Jesus. 

            I heard about one scientist who said, “I can’t believe in the resurrection; I’m a scientist. People don’t rise from the dead.”  To which I would say, “You’re absolutely correct…People don’t rise from the dead.”  But, then again, isn’t that the point?  If people rose from the dead all the time, then what Jesus did wouldn’t be all that special.  But, if people don’t just rise from the dead, well then if Jesus actually did, wouldn’t we have to sit up and take notice of that?  Wouldn’t we have to come to grips with that — that there seems to be some sort of a miracle?  That something very significant happened if Jesus actually rose from the dead!

            Now, over the years there have been a number of theories put forth to explain away the resurrection of Jesus.  I think it’s interesting that people think that theories are necessary at all. If the resurrection of Jesus is just so ridiculous and silly, why would anybody need a theory to explain it away?  I don’t have a theory as to why there’s no Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster or unicorns.  You don’t have to have a theory as to why something isn’t true.  So, I find it interesting that people feel the need to have a theory as to why Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead

            But all those theories— the swoon theory (that Jesus never really died and then he revived in the tomb), or the idea that Jesus’ disciples stole the body, or the idea that his followers came up with a conspiracy to lie and fool people into believing that Jesus rose from the dead — all of these theories have, for the most part, gone away. They’re just so ridiculous. They’re so unsubstantiated. 

            One of the theories that’s been more popular in recent years is the idea that it’s just some sort of a legend — that somewhere along the way, this legend of a resurrected Savior sort of developed as the story of Jesus was passed on from generation to generation.

            Kinda like Paul Bunyan, one of our great American heroes.  He started out as a lumberjack in Wisconsin.  But as the story spread, it got more and more unbelievable.  Now, people talk about how Paul Bunyan cleared forests with one swing of his ax.  He and his trusty companion, Babe the Blue Ox, dug the Great Lakes to quench the thirst of his fellow loggers.  He created the Mississippi River by simply dragging his ax behind him as he walked along.

            People say that the story of Jesus was the same way.  People talked about how a wonderful teacher Jesus was.  But, as the stories spread, the stories got wilder and wilder, with Jesus performing all sorts of miracles, and eventually the story was that he rose from the dead.

            The problem with that theory, though, is this – we know for certain that the gospels were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events of that day, and we know that I Corinthians was written about 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus.

            In fact, Paul goes on in this passage to say, “By the way, here are the names of some of the people who saw the resurrected Christ.”  Cephas, which is Peter.  He names James. He says, “By the way, there were at least 500 people who saw the resurrected Christ at one time.”  And then he adds, “Most of them are still alive; feel free to go talk to them.”

            The church began in Jerusalem less than three months after the resurrection of Jesus.  If anyone wanted to prove the apostles wrong, all they had to do was walk over to the tomb of Jesus and open it up.  We know with great certainty that within just a few months, the apostles were declaring a message of a crucified, buried, resurrected Savior.  There’s just no way that it’s some sort of a legend that developed over time.  The church did not create the resurrection.  The resurrection created the church.

            Verse 12: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 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. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:12-19)

            So, here’s Paul’s argument: whether or not we will one day experience a literal, physical, bodily resurrection is directly connected to whether or not Jesus literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead.  One is connected to the other.  Paul’s argument is: “If Jesus is still in the tomb, then we’ve got nothing.” 

            As a matter of fact, he goes so far as to say that preachers like me are liars.  We’re deceivers.  We’re actually offending God by proclaiming something that isn’t true.  He says, “If the body of Jesus is still in the grave, your faith is worthless.  Your sins are not forgiven.  You stand condemned before God.  And, by the way, all your loved ones who have perished, they’re gone for good.  Game over.  No hope.  Gone forever…and those of us who are Christians are just a bunch of people to be pitied.”  Those are some pretty strong words! 

            It’s interesting to me that what Paul is doing is to put a target on the resurrection, and he says to the critics and opponents of Christianity, “If you want to destroy the church, here’s the jugular.  All you have to do is prove that the body of Jesus is rotting away in a tomb somewhere and Christianity falls apart.  End of story.  We go away.”  Now stop and think about this. There were many, many, very powerful people that wanted Christianity stopped — to such a degree there was a slaughter of Christians in the first century, and yet here is the apostle Paul twenty years after the resurrection saying, “All you have to do is show me the body of Jesus and everything we believe falls apart.”

            But what history tells us is, “That’s not what happened.” What happened is just the opposite of that.  In Jerusalem alone — the very place where the resurrection took place — the church exploded.  Under great persecution, the church grew to over ten thousand people in just a matter of months.  How do you explain that, apart from the fact that the tomb was empty, and people believed?

            If that’s true, then our faith is not worthless.  It’s of great value.  We’re not still in our sins.  Our sins have been forgiven.  Our loved ones have not perished.  It’s not game over.  They’re not gone forever.  Death does not win.  The bully is not victorious.  Jesus conquered sin and death.  The story is not over.  The best is yet to come.  The future is glorious and that’s at the heart of the resurrection of Jesus!

            Verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (I Corinthians 15:20-26)

            At the end of the story, death doesn’t win.  Death will be destroyed because Jesus conquered sin and death once for all time.  For those who are in Christ, there is a resurrection that lies ahead — a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.  And, because that’s true, it changes everything. 

            I feel certain that some of you here in this room this morning, before we gather again next Easter, will experience the pain of deep, deep loss. The bully is still out there, and he is real, and he is going to kick down your door, and he is going to break your heart and inflict pain like you’ve never known before.  In that hour of deep pain and loss, you need to remember that Easter isn’t about family gatherings. It’s not about bunnies and eggs. 

            It’s about the message of hope — that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and in that hour of deep pain, you need remember that the story isn’t over.  It’s not over…Death doesn’t win!  The bully is not victorious.  Jesus has conquered sin and death.  And for those who are in Christ, the best is yet to come and, in your hour of pain, you need to remember that.  Because that is the message of Easter.

            Some of you here this morning, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Over the past 18 months, you have experienced deep loss.  Some of you have lost a spouse, a parent, a dear friend, and you know that pain is real.  It’s devastating and there are days when you’re not sure you can make it one more day. 

            Suppose we all gathered together, and we talk about that and we share our stories of the loved ones we have lost.  And then somehow, miraculously, a time machine takes us back to first century Jerusalem, and we gather around the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea that Sunday after Jesus was crucified, understanding what’s at stake. 

            Understanding that what’s at stake is this: my sins, and whether they are forgiven, or will they condemn me?  What’s at stake is my loved one is gone, and I want to know, “Is it game over, or will I see them again?”  Everything is at stake in that moment, and we gather around that tomb, and we wait.  Imagine what it would be like if we just waited, and waited, and waited.  At the end of the day, the sun sets and there’s the body of Jesus still in the tomb. In that moment, we of all people would just be a people to be pitied. 

            But contrast that to what actually happened.  We go back in time and we gather around that tomb, and we understand what’s at stake in this moment is everything — and suddenly out of nowhere there is the glorious resurrected Christ — He walked.  He talked.  He ate. They touched him.  He bore the scars from the cross.  It was the resurrected Jesus who had conquered sin and death once and for all!

            In that moment we would know, “My faith is not worthless. It has great value. I’m not still in my sins. My sins have been forgiven!”  I would know that my loved ones have not perished. It’s not game over.  There will be a resurrection, and the best is yet to come, and we are of all people — a people filled with hope!  

            You need to remember: “This is the message of Easter…and it’s a message filled with good news!  A message filled with hope. Jesus rose from the dead…the tomb is empty and that, my friends, changes everything!”

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