Christians get queasy when they talk about the resurrection. We often think of it so abstractly that it holds little applicative power for our present. Or we wonder if any rational, educated, and progressive person can believe in the resurrection.
Well, the answer is yes. And Paul tells us that the resurrection is more than something for forward-thinking. The implications of the resurrection press into our present. Let’s see what Paul has to tell us in 1 Cor 15!
(A) The Truth of Resurrection Power (1 Cor 15: 1-26)
The Truth of A Resurrection
Before diving into the implications of the resurrection, Paul begins by establishing certain truths about “the gospel” that he preached to them. 1 Cor 15:1-2 tell us why this gospel, or good news, is so important. This good news is something they received, stand in, and are being saved by - on the condition that they hold fast to every word that Paul preached. Put another way, the good news that the Corinthians received was not earned by their good works and diligent efforts. It is also more than a ticket stub that gets them past Heaven’s front doors. The good news is what their lives are immersed and saturated in. Crucially, this is something that concerns their eternal destiny, and all of it hinges on staying the course of what Paul preached to them.
The same can be said for us. How do you understand the gospel today? And do you know it well enough to know if you have deviated from it? Friends, the gospel, as we will soon see, is something of first importance. It concerns your salvation. Hold fast to it!
But what exactly do we have to hold on to? Paul stresses 3 key elements:
Jesus Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3).
He was buried and was raised on the third day (1 Cor 15:4)
He appeared publicly to many (1 Cor 15:5-8).
Each of these elements deserve individual lessons, but for brevity’s sake, remember the following. A real person, Jesus Christ, who was wholly God and wholly man died - not because pernicious forces acted upon him (although they did), nor by accident and natural calamity (although it was a grievous calamity). But he died for our sins. In our sins, we deserve the full span of God’s judgment - a part of which is death itself. Still, Jesus died for our sins that we might be raised to life the way He was raised to life. If Jesus were not raised to life, then there would be no good news. This was not a metaphorical return to life. The real Jesus received a bodily resurrection, and appeared publicly to many who would make up some of the early church.
Gary Habermas famously put forth the “minimal facts argument” as proof of Jesus’ divinity. Whether or not you agree on the strength of the argument, bear in mind these facts! At the very least, they give us thought-provoking space for consideration. Here are 3 of them:
The historical Jesus was sentenced to death on a Cross, and died there.
There is an empty tomb.
Jesus’ disciples, who were initially dejected after His crucifixion, really believed that they saw, communed, and dwelt with Him some 3 days after His cruxifixction. And some of these disciples include James, Jesus’ brother, and Paul, the strident persecutor of the early Christian movement - these are some of the most unlikely converts!
Paul’s point, like Herbamas’, is simple: Jesus really rose again, and the truth of His resurrection changes everything.
The Truths of the Resurrection
In line with this epistle’s purpose, Paul proceeds to address a doctrinal error in the Corinthian church. We learn from 1 Cor 15:12-13 that some in the Corinthian church disbelieved that Christians would be raised the way Jesus was raised, but Paul shuts down their logic. If Jesus is the firstfruit (1 Cor 15:20), and we share in His blessing, the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that Christians will share in His resurrection. But Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes beyond a logical argument to press out the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.
1 Cor 15:4-23 give us 4 broad categories. While 1 Cor 15:14-19 take the form of “If Christ has not been raised, then …”, we remember that Paul has already established that Christ was raised! This means that the negative implications of Christ’s non-resurrection can be inverted, which informs us of the blessings that are ours because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul ells us that our preaching, our faith, and our testimony of God is dependent on Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:14-16). Preaching is something we tend to take rather lightly in Singapore. Apart from the occasional disbarment of allegedly incendiary preachers, preaching is a pretty comfortable affair. But remember that this is Paul speaking; the same Paul, who in 2 Cor 11:24-29, tells us that he, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
It is necessary for us to remember that the testimony of the gospel often comes at a great physical cost to many of our Christian brethren around the world. Christians in the Middle East-North African (MENA) region are faced with unprecedented levels of persecution that borders on genocide, simply because they hold fast to the gospel. Are their hardships and toil worth it? Paul, the tormented, says yes. For Christ has been raised.
Our faith is also affected. The essence of faith is not its strength, but in the reliability of its object. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, that He is able to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God. What sort of faith would it be if Christ were dead in the tomb? An utterly meaningless faith, says Paul. But because Christ is risen, our faith is not in vain. He is powerful to save. Not only that, but we are also innocent from the crime of misrepresenting God. This is no light matter, although our culture takes God and His stature as something easily diminished. If God is God, then we definitely do not want to be found misrepresenting Him.
In his arguments, Paul also reminds us of two serious implications concerning the validity of our faith (1 Cor 15:16-19). If Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins. What would it mean to still be in our sins? First, to be in our sins is to be under God’s wrath. Because sin is our active rebellion against the only Holy and righteous God, He has to exert His judicial wrath against all who are in their sin. Friends, this is a debt no man can pay regardless of the wealth of his treasures, or the span of his good works. God’s wrath is all-consuming, terrible, and devastating. As Jonathan Edwards frames it, we have as much chance of withstanding His wrath as a spiderweb has a chance of catching a boulder.
But Christ is risen. And this is the same Christ who promises us that because of His propitiating work, God loves us and makes His home with us (Jn 14:23). Have you let this truth sink into your heart yet? If you are in Christ, you are no longer under God’s wrath. Rather, you are under God’s amazing, restorative, and perfect love. Christian friend, this is a love that we should animate your life and lead you to ceaseless praise and rejoicing! Dwell on this truth.
The fact that we are no longer in our sins also means that sin no longer has dominion over us. In Paul’s words, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). Christian friend, does your life reflect this truth? No one ever drifts into holiness. If persistent sin is consuming your life, repent from it and flee to Christ. There is power in His name to overcome every sin. If subtle and everyday sin has been diminished in your view, look to the Cross. That was the price of your subtle and everyday sin. Flee to Christ, hide yourself in Him, and pray that God would make you more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Perhaps one reason why we struggle to grow in holiness is because we do not perseveringly ask for holiness. Change that today. God promises to respond to prayers like these (Matt 7:7-11).
Paul goes on to reaffirm the truth that we will share in Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-26). We will enjoy more than a victorious faith and freedom from sin. We will enjoy the ultimate restoration of all things. Have you ever longed for the restoration of the brokenness in this world and in your life as you know it? The resurrection of Christ guarantees this restoration. See how John writes of it in Rev 21:3-7: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Friends, if these words are true, then there is no way that the weight of eternity does not press into our present. If there is a guaranteed restoration of all things, then surely your present joys, sorrows, hardships, hopes, and ambitions have to be radically changed. Have the truths of the resurrections permeated your life today? How are you living your life at church, at home, at work, and in school in light of these truths?
There is also another side to be considered. Jesus is described in these verses not only as the risen King, but also the reigning King. He will put all his enemies under His feet. Rev 21:8 describes it as follows: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
This is not an attempt at fire-and-brimestone fear-mongering. It is a simple portrayal of the truth that inasmuch there is a heaven to be gained, there is also a hell to be feared. If you are resisting Jesus’ reign, the risen Jesus will crush you. Turn to Him! Delight in the riches of His grace, and reverence the might of His reign.
(B) The Power of Resurrection Truth (15:8-11)
Thus far, we’ve considered truths that are weighty and incredibly powerful. That’s wonderful. Still, the true power of Jesus’ resurrection is not found in what it tells us, but in who it brings us into relationship with. Read 1 Cor 15:8-11 carefully.
Remember that this is the same Paul who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus (Acts 9:1). The same Paul who was known as the “Hebrew of Hebrews” and had every ground for religious boasting (Phil 3:4-6). Now read 1 Cor 15:8-11 again. What changed?
Friends, there are many things that could lead one to adopt a different ideological position, but only one thing that can radically change the human heart to be humbled yet uncrushed. We see a Paul who wields utmost authority as an apostle, but embodies the humility of One who washes the feet of His disciples.
Paul changed because Christ is risen, and this Christ met with Paul. Encountering Jesus was the most important thing that Paul lacked to be complete. Paul had everything else, but not the only thing that mattered. It is the same for us today. You can have all the theological knowledge in the world. You can have all the status and the acclaim that comes with it. You can have all the power that moves nations and shapes history. You can have all the riches that brings you delight and luxury. You can have all the leisure that allows you a comfortable middle-class life. But it means nothing if you have not encountered Jesus.
The same Jesus that appeared to Paul promises us that we can encounter Him too. Turn to Him, and there you will find rest. Trust in Him, and there you will find abundant life. The power of resurrection truth is that it allows us to meet with the risen and reigning Jesus, and how we desperately need to meet Him.