empty tomb

A sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 on Easter Day 2018 by Rev Richard Keith

People tell themselves comforting lies all the time. Comforting lies are the things people tell themselves to help them get through the day, to put up with whatever they have to put up with. But they aren’t true. They don’t have any basis in reality.

People say to themselves, “If I work harder, I’ll get the promotion next time.” They keep saying it until the day they retire. It never comes true, but believing it helped them get through.

I tell myself comforting lies all the time. I’m afraid of a lot of things, but I’m never afraid of walking along the street at night. I tell myself, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m the scariest thing out here.” Which is so obviously not true. I mean, even the puppies and kittens are scarier than me. But it doesn’t have to be true. It just has to work.

We tell ourselves such things all the time. But the gospel isn’t one of them. If Jesus Christ did not die for our sins, if he was not raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, the gospel has no comfort. Its only comfort is that it is true.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the apostle Paul considers the unthinkable: what if the gospel isn’t true? What if Christ has not been raised? What if there is no resurrection for those who believe in him? Now, it’s important to realise that for Paul this is a completely hypothetical situation. In verses 12 to 19 Paul talks about some pretty negative things. Some of them are quite confronting. But he doesn’t believe them for a minute. I mean, we’re talking about the Paul to whom Jesus showed himself alive on the road to Damascus. We are talking about Paul who gave his life to the Saviour who had given his life for him. Paul is in no doubt about the truth of the gospel.

But in this passage he’s trying to deal with people who are questioning the truth. There are believers in the church at Corinth who were saying that there is no resurrection at the end of the believer’s life. Instead, they said we experience the resurrection here and now in this life with the experience of joy and power and freedom in Christ. We are already living heaven on earth. We are living the best life now. This is as good as it gets. It’s an idea that gives believers hope for the present. It says, Isn’t it good? Isn’t it great here and now? But it is an idea that feeds on our hope for the future. They were saying, what we have is the resurrection here and now. But there is no other resurrection.

In our passage this morning Paul drives this teaching to its natural conclusion. Not because it is possibly true, but because it is so obviously false. Paul talks about some pretty negative things, but if you turn them around they are great positives. This morning I want to talk, not about comforting lies, but the comforting truths of Easter.

For example, in verse 13 Paul says,

“If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised.”

It reminds us that Jesus was, if anything, a real true human being. A person like us who got hungry and thirsty, who ate and drank and slept and cried and grew weary. Who bled and suffered and died. Paul’s point then is true. If there is no resurrection for us – if there is no time in the future when we will be restored and made new and stand alive, body and soul, before God – then it never happened to Jesus. His body still lies in its tomb.

But then the opposite is also true. If Christ has been raised – if his tomb was empty, if he appeared alive to his disciples, so that they saw his scars, if his disciples proclaimed him as the risen Lord and even suffered and died for this faith, if their enemies were never able to produce his body to prove them wrong – if Christ is risen, then everything he went through was for us. He was our trail-blazer who has gone before us through suffering and death to make a path for us to follow. He is our shepherd who has been through the valley of the shadow of death in order to lead us out of that shadow and into the light of his life.

If he is risen from the dead, then he will raise us up to life on the last day, for he has promised, “that where I am, you may be also.”

In verse 14 Paul says,

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless.”

Paul means that if his message is not true, then it is empty. Its content is meaningless. It is just words that add up to nothing. Like promising that a pot of gold lies at the end of the rainbow, if the rainbow never ends.

Worse than that, Paul says in verse 15,

“we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from dead”

which isn’t true if it never happened. Every Christian pastor, priest and minister, every missionary and evangelist, every rank and file believer who ever shared their testimony is then a liar. Maybe deluded, but still a liar.

And yet, the opposite is also true. If Christ has been raised, if he holds the keys to death and hell, then the gospel is the power of God. One simple message about the life and death and resurrection of Christ contains the power to set us free. To release us from all our fears. The message of Christ is like telling the thirsty where they can find water. It’s like telling those dying of hunger where they can get food for free. It’s like knowing that there is a cure for the disease in our heart and being able to tell the sick that it is theirs if they want it.

The message of Easter is that death is still deadly, but it does not have to be fatal, since Christ is risen from the dead, he holds the power to raise us up too.

In verse 13 Paul says,

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless too.”

Worse than that, he says in verse 17,

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

If the gospel is false, if it is not true, then we have believed for nothing. It makes great promises, it inspires great sacrifices, beautiful art, heart breaking songs, impressive buildings, schools and hospitals and aged care facilities, but if it is not true, then it is worse than nothing. If it is false, then the gospel is like a parasite on society, feeding on the gullibility of people, distracting them from what is really important, making them devote their energies into illusions and lies.

But then the opposite is true as well. If Christ has been raised, if our lives are safe in his hands, then our faith in him is the most valuable and powerful thing we have. Every sacrifice we make, every suffering we endure, every danger we risk, every endeavour we attempt in his name has meaning and purpose and eternal value. And nothing we lose is really lost. Even if we lose our health, our dignity and our lives, but not our hope and faith in Christ, then we haven’t lost a thing. Nothing is a sacrifice if we devote it to Christ. It is simply an investment that will reap a dividend of eternal blessing. As missionary and martyr Jim Elliott said,

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In verse 18 Paul says,

“If Christ has not been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”

The gospel speaks of the lost as those who do not know God and have no hope. They do not trust in Christ and so they do not know the way to the Father. They need to hear the message of Christ and believe so they may be found, so they may be saved. But if the gospel is not true, then it is we who are lost. Like people trapped in the desert, following a mirage. We think we are headed to water, but we are going the wrong way. We are lost. And those who have gone before us, who have trusted in Christ and have died, they are gone. Forever. And we are following them into non-existence.

And yet the opposite is true too. If Christ has been raised, if he is the Lord of the living and the dead, then the dead are in good hands. Those who have trusted in him, followed him, and forsaken everything for him, and have passed away, may be lost to us for a moment, but they are not lost to him. They are safe in his keeping. They will see him face to face. And they will bow their knee to him, and whatever crown they have earned in life they will throw down at his feet. And so will we.

The grave could not hold him. Death was powerless to restrain him. And a day will come when he will summon the living and the dead to himself, and will give us a dwelling place in his Father’s vast mansion. We will not be lost. But we will be forever found.

To finish up, in verse 19 Paul says,

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.”

The gospel is not a comforting lie. It is not a motivational tool that gets us through our troubles, but has no basis in fact. The gospel doesn’t say, “Work hard and you’ll get that promotion.” The gospel doesn’t say, “Don’t be afraid, you’re the scariest thing out here in the night.” The gospel says, “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day.” It’s not a philosophy. It’s not a system of morality. It is not a bribe to make you behave. It is a report of events, which if they never happened, it just isn’t true. And if you devote your life to it, it will be a waste of the only life you have. No second chance. No money back. And the world should feel sorry for you.

But if those events happened, it is true. All of it. Jesus is who he said he was. He was, he is the Messiah, the bearer of the Spirit, and the Lord of all. And in his name the Church proclaims the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Hope for this life and for the next.

These are the fruits of the resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then we will not die, but we will rise to life. Our message is the power of God, the cure of our heart’s disease. Our faith is of infinite value. Everything we sacrifice is only an investment in the kingdom of God. Those who have died in Christ are not lost but forever found. And we have hope, not just for this life, but for the next.

Every day we tell ourselves comforting lies. They are not true, but they help us get through. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of them. Because its comfort rests upon the fact that it is true. It is the promise that where Jesus is, we will be also, and that nothing we entrust to him will ever be lost.

Christ died. Christ was buried. Christ is risen from the dead. And he is Lord. It’s a message that summons us not to trust in comforting lies, but in the truth of the gospel, so that we believe it and speak it and live by it.