A regular monthly website feature by faculty members of Manna Bible Institute
NO IMAGINING NEEDED. NOW IS CHRIST RISEN!
1 Corinthians 15:12-26, 54-58
It was the fall of 1971. John Lennon of “The Beetles” had just written IMAGINE, destined to become one of the group’s greatest songs. Some people say it was best song the Beetles ever produced, and some people think it was one of the greatest popular songs of all time.
“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
“Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”
In John Lennon’s world, there’s no place for religion, no place for God, no belief in heaven, no belief in life after death, and no need to trust in a Savior.
In the Beetles world, by this time in the 21st century, we were supposed to be living in a world where faith had been put aside, with many other quaint “Victorian ideas,” as they liked to call them.
And everyone, everywhere would be living in love and peace, where the last generation would have passed on to us the Coca-Cola theme of the 70’s:
“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to give the world a Coke, and keep them company.”
That jingle sold a lot of Coca-Cola — but “perfect harmony? How’s that going?
In John Lennon’s utopia, there’d be no heaven above, and certainly not a hell beneath. The Beetles envisioned a world where there’d be no fear of what might happen after we die, where everyone would think only of living for the moment, with the idealistic thought that everyone would be so caught up in the euphoria of living in such a utopia that there’d be no thought of that last breath on earth when consciousness would be annihilated forever, or so they imagined.
Because, according to their new age philosophy, nothing exists beyond death — so let’s make this world a “paradise on earth.”
Wonder how that worked out? Well, it did contribute to a godless society, but “paradise on earth”? Hardly!
Two realities destroyed the idealism of John Lennon’s generation:
The first reality is that so-called “archaic” idea of SIN, but sin proved its existence and demonstrated its destructive power a zillion times over.
And the second reality is death. John Lennon died of an assassin’s bullet, but, according to the Bible, the annihilation of consciousness did not occur as imagined.
And all those “flower people” who wrote the songs the world is supposed to be singing today, well, they’re almost all gone, many killed by their own doing through drugs and promiscuity. It was, after all, the beginning of the “free love” with no consequences movement, but for all of them — with everyone else born into the human race — the prospect of physical death is inevitable.
In the conflict between the imagined idea of paradise on earth now through progressive advancement of ideas and effort — and the stark realities of sin and death — sin and death win every single time.
Except for the reality behind another song that came around about the same time “Imagine” became a popular expression of the humanistic philosophy of the 70’s:
“They say I am a dreamer, blind and cannot see; that the principles I cling to won’t stand reality. Well, if that’s what I am, Lord, won’t you care for me. I only want to be like the Man of Galilee.”
But its not always a bad thing to imagine. Sometimes a little imagination can help be helpful. In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul asks us to imagine. Imagine that there was no resurrection, that no one could be resurrected. No one! Not even Christ. Imagine that death is final and inescapable. Imagine.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul puts it in language of “WHAT IF” — what if Jesus didn’t rise from dead. We know what happened that morning, but let’s imagine for a few minutes that nothing happened — nothing at all.
Imagine that Sunday almost two thousand years ago, a bright, sunny morning in Jerusalem after a terrible weekend that started on Friday afternoon with another one of those despicable Roman Empire executions by crucifixion. And wasn’t it a shame what they did to that wonderful Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth.
It’s hard for us who believe in his resurrection to fathom the idea of no resurrection.
Maybe for a few years, the followers of Jesus would have continued to meet and reminisce about Jesus. What a good man he was!
In fact, if there was no Christianity, many scholars believe that Judaism would probably have honored Jesus as one of the greatest rabbis in history of Israel.
His love of the Torah and his intimate understanding of the God of the patriarchs was well known by his contemporaries in Judaism.
His teachings concerning compassion, mercy and justice would have likely been incorporated in the Talmud, the rabbinic commentary on the Scriptures.
His biography, perhaps on Wikipedia, might have read something like this:
“JESUS (c. 6 A.D. – 33 A.D.), a teacher and philosopher of Judaism. He traveled through the villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Many of his followers associated him with the expected Messiah of Israel.
“His sayings concerning love and mercy influenced the development of Western civilization until modern times when many of his teachings were re-evaluated as very idealistic and for, the most part, impractical in modern society.
“The number of his followers diminished each year after his death by crucifixion. He had mentioned that he would “build a CHURCH,” an association of people from all nations of the world, but this idea failed to gain much interest, and it was soon abandoned.
“His followers continued to meet significant opposition after his untimely crucifixion by the Romans. One Pharisee in particular, Saul of Tarsus, never gave up his bitter opposition to Jesus and relentlessly persecuted the rabbi’s followers until the day of his own death forty years after the death of Jesus.”
That account, fortunately, was never written because the crucifixion wasn’t the end of his story. And that persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, became apostle Paul. That’s why we have book of 1 Corinthians.
Paul wrote the letter partly because of false teachings that were dividing the congregation. Among other heresies, the false teaching of one of Judaism’s political parties, the Sadducees, had started to make inroads into the Corinthian church. The Sadducees did not believe in bodily resurrection.
Paul begins his “WHAT IF’S in verse 12. So let’s imagine with Paul for a few minutes.
1 Corinthians 15:12-13 – “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, hos say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen.”
That makes sense! Paul is saying: “Let’s be logical about this. If you’re not going to believe that resurrection is possible, then that includes the resurrection of CHRIST.
And if you’re not going to believe that — then you might as well forget the whole thing, because without a resurrection, Christ is nothing more than a likable person who met a terrible death, and it shouldn’t have happened to such a good man.
And Christianity then is nothing more than just another interesting religion based on some very noble ideas that can help you to get the most out of this thing called life, before you take that last breath of consciousness and they take you to your final resting place six feet under a plot of ground in some cemetery.
If you have a Christ whose life ends with a funeral, instead of a celebration, you’ve destroyed the foundation of ANYTHING that can even remotely be called a Gospel, good news of salvation.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lists seven results that happen IF — instead of a risen Christ — the Garden Tomb was the final resting place of a great and wonderful Teacher.
You have two IF’s in verse 14. If Christ be not risen — then is our PREACHING vain. Paul is saying: If Christ didn’t rise from the dead — why bother preaching”
Which to some people might not be a bad thing. A lot of people think that preachers could improve their sermons the same way you make biscuits — with a little shortening. A seminary professor once told his students in preaching class: “If you don’t “strike oil” in the first thirty minutes of your message, stop boring.”
Paul is saying, “Why bother with the process at all if there’s no resurrection?” That word, “vain” in verse 14 means “hollow.” Without the resurrection of Christ, preaching is hollow, without any lasting importance.
A good pep talk, maybe, for a Sunday morning, but hollow because — in end – nothing that’s said from the pulpit can give hope to change the inevitability of death.
But what’s really tragic is OTHER thing Paul, in verse 14, says is useless: your FAITH.
It’s not just that the preaching would be hollow. A lot of good people LISTENED to those empty words — and they believed them.
If Christ didn’t rise from the dead — they believed all those hollow words in vain.
But it’s even worse than that. There’s something else we can add to useless preaching and hollow faith:
Verse 15: “More than that, we are found false witnesses of God, because we testified that he raised up Christ, whom he did not raise, if it is so that the dead rise not.”
We’re in big trouble, then. If the life of that good man, Jesus, ended with his death — then you and I — and every other Christian who’s ever witnessed for Christ — is what a false witness really is, a LIAR.
It would be bad enough — if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead – to dishonor that good man, with his fine reputation, and his noble death for something he believed in, with all this hollow talk about his rising from the dead.
But worse than that, we’ve lied about God. We’ve said that God did something he NEVER did, if there’s no resurrection.
Let’s take it step further, because Paul did in verse 17. He wrote, “And f Christ be not raised, your faith is FUTILE.” That’s a different word than the word “vain” in verse 14. It has the added significance of “wasting your time and energy.”
You’ve given your life over to Jesus. You’ve served him all these years. You’ve given up fame and fortune. Everything you’ve done since you became a Christian has centered on the Lord.
Well, you’ve basically wasted your time, your talent, and your energy. Paul says it was all futile if there’s no resurrection of the dead.
Without a resurrection, why in the world would you want to waste your time going to church and serving a God whose relationship with you will end on the day you die?
But you might be saying at this point: “Okay, but even if there’s no resurrection of the body, how about the SOUL. At death, the body goes into the ground, but the soul of the person who believes in Jesus, well, that’s different. As long as my soul goes to be with the Lord, that’s what really counts, anyway!
But there’s some bad news here also. Verse 17 describes a greater tragedy than the lack of a bodily resurrection. Far more devastating are the words, “you are still in your sins.”
That’s another way of saying: Not only is there no hope of your body being resurrected, there’s no hope for your soul, either. Romans 1:4 tells us that Jesus “was DECLARED with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”
Christ has no power to bring us from death unto life — if he has no power beyond his crucifixion. It’s his resurrection from the dead that testifies of the power of his cross.
If there’s no resurrection, there was no dealing with sin — no atonement at the cross. If Jesus didn’t have the ability, or the authority, or the power to rise from the dead — if death holds him captive to this day — if his body has corrupted in the grave — if a tomb outside Jerusalem read, “Here lies Jesus, a good man and heroic martyr,” then he had no ability to die for the salvation of anyone else.
So not only does the body perish, but the soul is lost as well.
That brings us to the saddest verse in the chapter, verse 18: “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Jesus” — all those believers who have already died — “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus have — perished.”
No word in Bible more tragic than the word PERISH, the perpetual state of being forever without God and, therefore, without any hope in this world that there’s life after death.
Paul’s talking about all those generations of believers down through the centuries since the church began who’ve trusted in Jesus.
They listened to all those sermons. They attended those Bible studies. They sung in the choir. They lived their whole lives seeking to do the Lord’s will.
But if there’s no resurrection — they’ve perished. That beloved verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” — that verse would not be true if there was no resurrection of the dead.
And then Paul lists one more consequence of that “no resurrection” idea. Verse 19 isn’t the saddest verse, but its probably the most pathetic: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” The English Standard Version translates it, “we are of all men, most to be pitied.”
Pity those poor, pathetic Christians. They’ve spent their lives following Jesus — agonizing over lost souls — evangelizing the world — building churches — and working all their lives for a cause that ENDS when they do — the moment they take their final breath. They take their blood, sweat and tears to the grave. Pity the poor Christians if Jesus did not rise from the dead.
But Easter Sunday happened. It’s not imagination, and because it’s real, EVERYTHING changes.
Good Friday happened once 2000 years ago, and it will never have to be repeated. What God wanted done for our salvation was accomplished on the cross, guaranteed in those words of a dying Savior, “It is finished.”
But if the women came to that tomb on that Sunday morning, and there they found the crucified body of Jesus, if they had the opportunity to anoint his body, if they looked at him lying there, eyes closed forever, reposed in death, then death was the ultimate winner. It claimed the life of that good man.
But when the women got to the tomb, the stone was rolled away. They found no body. He wasn’t there. He will never be there.
I like the way Paul expressed it in verse 20. It’s one of the greatest statements in the whole Bible: “But NOW is Christ risen from the dead.”
The verb is in the perfect tense. It doesn’t just say, “Christ rose from the dead” or “Christ has risen from the dead.” It’s not just stating a fact of history. The perfect tense means that the results of the action continue into the present.
It’s saying that at this moment in time — NOW — because he rose from the dead 2000 years ago — he IS risen today.
Jesus Christ remains always as RISEN from the dead.
He wasn’t just raised. He didn’t just rise. He will never die again. He doesn’t have to. He said in Revelation 1:18: “I am the living one. I WAS dead — and behold, I am ALIVE forevermore.”
Paul goes on to tell us what that means. Because Christ lives, he GUARANTEES that someday, we’ll rise just as he did.
In verse 20, Paul calls him the “first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The “first-fruits” is an Old Testament term for first bunch of stalks gathered in the harvest. You see that first bunch of stalks and you KNOW there’s going to be more.
Easter Sunday is the PROOF of a larger harvest of people who will someday stand before God in resurrected bodies, clothed in white robes, with palms in their hands.
And because he rose, the curse of death that Adam caused is overcome.
Verses 21 & 22: “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.”
When Adam sinned, he represented everyone born into the human race, but when Christ died, he represented in his death everyone who believes in him as Savior. And because he rose, if we die before he returns, we’ll rise again. Verse 23: “But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
What a wonderful assurance that is. When we die, our souls will be in the presence of the Lord, as our bodies decay in the ground, but when Christ returns, we’ll have resurrected bodies, and in those bodies, we’ll see the Savior face-to-face.
Job had faith that a grave could never hold a powerful God — even though he had no comprehension that God would have to become a man in order to die to save men from death. Job said prophetically, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end, he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet IN MY FLESH I will see God.”
And because Christ is risen, some other good things are going to happen. According to verse 25, he’ll reign forever as King. And then we have verse 26. It’s a short verse, but one of the most powerful statements in Bible, and what a comfort it is to grieving hearts: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
That word for “destroy” is a strong word. It means “to abolish, to overthrow, to render helpless.”
The risen Christ delivered the knock-out punch to death itself. Paul tells us in verse 54: “Death is SWALLOWED UP in victory.” He quoted Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”
The Hebrew and Greek words for “swallowing” are simply common words for eating food. You chew the food and swallow it. When a little kid who’s just learned to talk eats all his vegetables, he might say to his mom and dad, “all gone.” And that’s really what being “swallowed up” is all about. In verse 54, it means that death is ALL GONE.
But think about that for a moment. When you see the body of a loved one in that casket, you know that physical death hasn’t been eliminated yet. It’s still a part of reality.
But Christ’s resurrection assures us of two things. Because his resurrection proves his power to overcome sin and death on the cross, the souls of those who die in Christ go immediately into the presence of the Lord, to be with him forever.
But it assures us also that someday our mortal bodies will put on immortality. Our corruptible bodies will put on incorruption. We’ll rise in resurrected bodies. Physical death will be overcome forever.
Paul asks two interesting questions in verse 55. They’re rhetorical. They need no answer: “O death, where is YOUR sting? O grave, where is YOUR victory?”
We sometimes think of the “sting” of death as the grief and pain it causes. We say the sting is what we experience because someone we love has physically died, but Paul explains what the real sting is in verse 56: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”
If the sting was grief — and that, of course, IS a sting. It deeply hurts the family left behind, but for believers, there’s relief for the pain in the peace that God provides, in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, in the promises of the Bible, in the assurance that our loved ones in Christ are at rest in Jesus — and that someday we’ll see them again.
So that “sting” isn’t as great as it would be if we didn’t have hope in Christ.
But the sting Paul had in mind is far greater than grief. What gives physical death its real BITE is the reality of SIN.
The solemn words of Hebrews 9:27 are not imaginary: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this, the judgment.”
If physical death meant annihilation, then the sting wouldn’t be there at all. Do all the imagining you want, however, but the Bible teaches that there’s consciousness after physical death.
And it also teaches that human beings are accountable for sin after physical death occurs. That really bites. It adds a real STING to death.
And what adds real weight to that — real strength and power — is the law of a holy God. The law condemns the sinner. It renders us guilty as charged. It measures how far short of God’s glory we’ve fallen.
But Christ took that sting out of death when he died on the cross and rose again on the third day.
A little boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring day. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bee flew in the car window. Since the little boy was seriously allergic to bee stings, he was petrified.
But the father quickly reached out his hand, grabbed the bee, squeezed it, suddenly feeling a sharp pain from the sting of the bee, and then he released it.
But as soon as he let it go, his son once again became frantic as the bee continued to buzz around his head. The father saw the panic-stricken look on his son’s face. Once again, he reached out his hand, but this time, he pointed to it.
There, still stuck in his hand, was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he said to his son. “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you. The bee can’t hurt you now.”
The power of death has lost its sting, and the grave will someday lose a multitude of occupants, because on that Sunday after Christ’s crucifixion, he rose from the dead.
Death has lost its sting. The grave has lost its victory, but verse 57 declares the real victors: “But thanks be to God who gives US the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, verse 58, expresses the way we should live in light of the empty tomb, because Easter Sunday isn’t the only day to celebrate the resurrection. We can live every day in its power. Verse 58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
The fact that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive is truth for today and for all of our tomorrows , and it’s truth that should make a difference in how we look at life, and how we live.
A. B. Simpson called Easter “the New Year’s Day of the soul.” John Stott wrote that “Christianity is in its very essence a “resurrection religion. The idea of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”
A scientist by name of Henry Morris went further than that. He said, “If Christ’s resurrection did not take place, then Christianity is a false religion, but if it happened, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is truth.”
Because of the resurrection, Joseph’s tomb wasn’t a tomb at all. It was just a stopping place for Christ on his way to heaven in a glorified body.
Let the world imagine what they want, but THIS is not imagination. It’s history, with a living Christ for us today, and a blessed hope for the future.
So we can live today, and for all of our tomorrows, with joy, confidence, assurance, and anticipation of good things to come, for “NOW is Christ risen from the dead.”
Robert J. Figge, D.Min., Faculty, Manna Bible Institute