I wonder if you have ever daydreamed about what life would be like, if things were different?
What would our world look like if Hitler had won? What would your life look like if you'd been born into a different family? Or in a different country?
How would life be different if football had never been invented, chocolate didn't taste so good or Gateshead was always sunny?!
At the start of the film, 'It's a wonderful life' George Bailey is standing on a bridge getting ready to jump, when an angel appears to him. He takes him on a journey to show him what life would be like if he decided to jump. (And he doesn't because "It's a Wonderful life")
Well, on our passage this morning Paul takes us on a similar journey. He shows us what life would be like if Jesus had died on Good Friday, and stayed dead. He shows us how different our world and our lives would be like if Jesus never rose from the dead.
Paul wrote this letter, that we call 1 Corinthians, to the church which he had started in a city called Corinth. And if you've read 1 Corinthians you'll know that after he left the members of the church began to fall out with each other. They began forming into groups. And some groups didn't talk to other groups. And some people in church had begun to think of themselves as better than other people in church. They began arguing and fighting. And so Paul wrote this letter to help restore unity in the church.
And now, at the end of the letter, he reminds them of what it is that makes then united. The thing that binds them all together is Jesus. They are brothers and sisters because they have all put their faith in the good news about Jesus. The heart of being a Christian is the gospel; and the heart of the gospel, is the resurrection. The wonderful news that on the third day, Jesus rose again.
So how is it, Paul asks in v12, that some of you who call yourselves Christians are denying that, vv 12-14…
"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
'How can you call yourself a Christian and say that there is no resurrection?' 'That makes no sense at all,' Paul says.
'Because without the resurrection there is no Christianity!' If Jesus never rose from the dead…
1) Christianity is truth-less
Look at vv 13-15…
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised."
Paul and Matthias and the other 11 apostles who had been Jesus' disciples all taught that Jesus had risen from the dead. Look at vv 3-5…
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve."
That is Paul's summary of the gospel. Here's what C. S. Lewis wrote, "To preach Christianity meant (to the Apostles) primarily to preach the Resurrection. … The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts."
Every gospel says the same thing. Every book of the NT teaches the same thing. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. So if he didn't…then it's all a lie.
If Jesus never rose from the dead then Paul is a liar, and Peter is a liar and Matthew and Mark and Luke and John. They're all liars. And Jesus is a liar too. A self-deluded madman who claimed that 3 days after he died he would rise again.
Do you see? You can't say, 'I'm a Christian, I believe in Jesus and the Bible…but I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead.' That makes no sense at all. If Jesus didn't really, actually, physically rise from the dead then Christianity is truth-less. We can burn our Bibles, and turn HTG into a cinema, and all enjoy a lie-in on Sundays!
Secondly, if Jesus never rose from the dead, then
2) Faith is meaningless
Look at vv 16-17…
"For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."
The message of Christianity is very simple. You and I and everything around us, were made by God. He is our creator and we are part of his creation.
He rules over us, we owe him. But we don't like that.
We don't like someone else being in charge, we don't like the idea that we're not in charge, and we certainly don't like the idea that we should live our lives worshipping someone else. So we all choose to reject God. The Bible calls that sin. And sin is serious.
It's serious because we're rejecting God, but at the same time we take everything that he gives to us every day. Life and breath and families and food and everything else. That is wrong. And so it's right for God to punish our sin, and the punishment is serious because sin is serious.
He must punish sin, he can't just ignore it, because he is a good God and a fair judge, but he doesn't want us to receive his punishment because he loves us. So he sent his son Jesus to save us
God became a man, he lived a human life and then he chose to die on the cross. Why? So that he could be a substitute for us. And just like a substitute in football comes on the take the place of someone else, so Jesus came to take our place. He chose to die on the cross to take the punishment that our sins deserve. Now, how does that work?
How could Jesus' death, and the punishment he suffered, be a sufficient substitute for all the sins that all of us commit? How could the death of one man, Jesus, take the punishment of not just one other person but deal with all of our sin? Yours and mine? For Jesus' death to deal with all of the punishment that all our sins deserve he needed to be more than just a man, he needed to be God.
That is the message of the Bible. That God chose to become a man, called Jesus, so that he could die in our place. That the punishment that he received was the punishment that our sins deserve. So that if we recognise the Jesus is our king and we put our faith in him, God will count his death as taking our punishment, and we can be free. The message of Christianity is that God died on the cross to save us.
And the one way that we could be sure that Jesus really was God, and that when he died he really did pay the price for all of our sins…is if Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus was God.
But if there is no resurrection, if Jesus never rose from the dead…Well then, Jesus wasn't God. He was just another man.
And if Jesus never rose from the dead and was just another man, well then his death was no different to anyone else's. Tragic, maybe, but no different. And if, when Jesus died, he was just another man…well then his death didn't pay the price or take the punishment that all our sins deserve.
He was just a good man dying.
So, do you see? If Jesus never rose from the dead, your sins are still your own. If Jesus never rose from the dead, and if Jesus wasn't God, Well then faith in him doesn't change anything. Your sins and the punishment that you deserve are still your own "your faith is futile," v17, "you are still in your sins" and you face God's judgment alone.
Do you see? The whole Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection. If Jesus stayed dead, and the resurrection was all a big lie or a joke or a conjuring trick with bones, then Christianity is truth-less, and faith in Jesus is meaningless.
Take out this card, and the whole house comes tumbling down. Pull this thread, and the whole thing unravels.
And that's important. It's important for you this morning if you're not a Christian.
Perhaps you're just looking into Christianity? You wouldn't call yourself a Christian, but you're interested and you've got questions.
Well if that's you then I hope you can see that you need look no further. Christianity stands or falls on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.
No-one seriously doubts whether or not Jesus was a real person. And no-one doubts that he died. The question that you have to answer is… Did he stay dead? And my question to you is, have you looked for yourself? Have you investigated and examined the evidence?
Have you taken an honest look to see if Jesus stayed dead or rose again? Because if you haven't, then you need to.
If Jesus died and stayed dead, then Christianity is truth-less and faith is meaningless and you should walk away from HTG and never come back. But if Jesus Christ did rise from the dead, then he must be God, and he must be your God, and you must bow your knee and trust in him. If you are not yet a Christian, then find out for yourself, look at the evidence and decide.
But this is also important for you this morning if you would call yourself a Christian…but you still have questions and doubts.
Maybe it's been a long time since you looked at the evidence for yourself? Maybe it's been a while since you read the eye-witness reports that we find in the gospels, and looked at the facts and considered all the alternatives? Or maybe you've never really done that?
Well then, let me encourage you to take some time to examine the resurrection. Because when you do what you will find, as incredible as it may sound, is that all the evidence only points in one direction.
As amazing as it undoubtedly is, the clearest and most compelling explanation for all that happened on that first Easter and in the days and weeks that followed was that Jesus really did rise from the dead, just as he said he would.
And once you have that foundation set in place, well then, all your other questions are put in the right perspective. We all still have questions, and it's good to ask them. But once you're sure about the resurrection, you approach the Bible with more confidence, and can trust God with his answers more easily.
The wonderful truth is, Jesus did rise from the dead. And that's good news, it's great news, because if Jesus never rose from the dead, then…
3) Death is hopeless
If there is no resurrection and Jesus never rose from the dead, well then we have no reason to believe that anyone else will. If there is no resurrection, and Jesus isn't God, then death is the end, and there is no hope. And no justice. And no meaning to life.
That's what the writer of Ecclesiastes saw, that we read earlier. We usually don't like to admit it but it's true. And if life is meaningless and death is hopeless, well then living life as a Christian now is ridiculous, look at vv 17-19…
"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
Living life as a Christian is hard. The world doesn't like what the Bible teaches us, and it doesn't like those of us who follow what the Bible teaches that. Paul knew that better than most.
Everyone who follows Jesus is called to suffer, and we endure suffering because we believe that when we die we will live again, and our faith in Jesus will save us and God will welcome us into heaven. But if Jesus never rose from the dead then death for the Christian is just like death for everyone else. It is hopeless.
Christianity is truth-less, Faith is meaningless and Death is hopeless, if Jesus never rose from the dead.
But…Jesus did rise from the dead, v20…
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."
Jesus didn't stay dead, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty on that first Easter morning.
Paul was convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead because he had seen him with his own eyes! But he also knew that the Christians in Corinth, and you and me 2000 years later, who never saw Jesus could also be sure. Just look at v5. After he was raised from the dead, Jesus "….appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve" vv 6-8…
"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."
When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians he said, "I know you haven't seen Jesus with your own eyes, but why not speak to the people who have?" Jesus appeared alive after his death to more than 500 people.
And today we can't speak to those people ourselves, but we can do the next best thing. Because those eyewitnesses wrote down what they saw and we can read it in the Bible. We can investigate and we can examine the evidence and we can discover for ourselves…that Jesus really did rise from the dead!
He really did rise from the dead, so Christianity isn't truth-less…it is the truth. We can believe every word that Jesus and his apostles said, because he is who he claimed to be. God himself, come to earth. No-one else could rise again.
Jesus really did rise from the dead and so faith in Jesus isn't meaningless. He rose again because he is God. And so his death on the cross did take the punishment that all of our sins deserve, and if we put our faith in him we really can be forgiven.
Jesus really did rise from the dead, and so death is not hopeless. Jesus rose again to new life, and so will we. He's like the firstfruits we see on the trees, that show that the full harvest was on its way.
Jesus rose from the dead, and if you follow him in this life then you will follow him all the way through death and into the next life.
If Jesus never rose from the dead, then Christianity would be truth-less, and Faith would be meaningless and Death would be hopeless. But thank God, "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" Come and see for yourself, examine the evidence, and you will find that he is "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep"