Introduction: Ancient and Modern Skeptics.
Many times I grow weary of modern arrogance. Many today say, “I have learned enough to know I know more than most,” instead they should be saying with the poet Propaganda, “I have learned enough to know that I don’t know that much.” Yet when many modern people look at the Christian belief of the resurrection and believe the ancient world was full of gullible-ignorant people who were duped into believing the historical Jesus died on a cross, was dead for 3 days, and rose from the dead. Yet even within the Bible itself there are people who were extremely skeptical of the resurrection of Christ.
In the Gospels Jesus’ own followers doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead. The apostles themselves did not believe the report of the women at the tomb at first. In Acts 17 people listened to Paul talk about the story of Christ until he mentioned the resurrection (Acts 17.32). Acts 26 tells us a story of Paul standing before two government officials proclaiming Jesus made a special trip back from heaven just to tell him to stop persecuting the Christian and take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Festus says, “Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26.24). And as we approach our text today we see the same thing—READ I Cor 15.12.
Even the Corinthian Christians believed the resurrection was not exactly what Paul described to them in his original message. Therefore, our text today Paul is continuing to deal with the doubts the Corinthian Christians had about the resurrection. If I would summarize the main thrust of our passage today it would be this...
Theme: When we are willing to die for Christ we also must be willing to live for Christ.
1. The seriousness of the resurrection—I Cor 15.12-19.
Paul opens this first section explaining to the Corinthians the seriousness of what they are claiming. All the scholars agree this is the most thorough theology of the resurrection in the NT. That should tell us how serious this is to Paul and it should be to us. So, let’s follow Paul’s train of thought.
I Cor 15.13 tells us if there is no literal, bodily resurrection, then Christ has not been raised. Then I Cor 15.14 builds on that and tells us that if Christ has not been raised then our faith is “empty.” Then Paul gives us what I believe to be the most important phrase in this section—READ I Cor 15.15. Essentially if these other two statements are true then we (the apostles), and Paul himself, is misrepresenting God. This was serious deal in the OT and NT. God wants us to seriously weigh the words of those who claim to speak on behalf of God. Listen to these passages from the Old and New Testaments:
And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.—Deuteronomy 18.21-22
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.—II Peter 1.20-21
Now consider what would happen to this false prophets:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.—Deuteronomy 18.20
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.—II Peter 2.1
Paul understands that if we misrepresent God there are serious results. Paul understood how those would affect himself and others.
Personally, Paul believed he was called by God (an apostle; cf. I Cor 1.1). He believed he had seen the resurrected Christ, and he called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. He left everything he worked for his life. He left it all behind because he believed what he saw was real. We are talking family, friends, reputation, his whole life. If Christ was not raised from the dead then what he built his life around becomes meaningless.
Corporately, according to Romans 6 “the wages of sin is death”—that is what a sinful life earns. Paul knows if that if Christ was not raised from the dead then either He was not sinless or the sacrifice He offered to God the Father was not a sufficient payment. If that were true then we would still be in our sins (I Cor 15.17), which means we are still under punishment—the wrath of God. The result is death, and not just an earthly death, but eternal death. Paul says anyone who was placing their hope in Christ is not coming back (I Cor 15.18), and those who are living for him are pathetic (I Cor 15.19). This opens the door for the next section our passage today, and in this section Paul addresses the consequences of our resurrection theology.
2. The consequences of the resurrection—I Cor 15.20-34.
Many people today consider their financial future, their legacy, what will be the outcome of their children, what kind of world will they leave behind. But not many think about life after death, because this world is all they have. I mean the Corinthian Christians were so stressed about death that I Cor 15.28-29 tells us they were having baptism services for dead people they cared about.
Paul opens I Cor 15.20-34 with a very hopeful, “BUT.” Paul affirms, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Once Paul asserts that proposition he proceeds to show the reader how that affects the future. He does this by going backwards before he goes forward. Paul reminds his reader how sin, suffering, pain, and death came into the world—READ I Cor 15.21-22. It all enter through our first father, Adam. His sinful nature spread to all his offspring. John Stott once said:
“Much that we take for granted in a ‘civilized’ society is based upon the assumption of human sin. Nearly all legislation has grown up because human beings cannot be trusted to settle their own disputes with justice and without self-interest. A promise is not enough; we need a contract. Doors are not enough; we have to lock and bolt them...Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them. All this is due to man’s sin. We cannot trust each other. We need protection against one another. It is a terrible indictment of human nature.”—John Stott, Basic Christianity, p. 76
But while this is what Adam brought into human history, Christ brought something new—READ I Cor 15.23. That “firstfruits” language is an agricultural metaphor that is to remind us that the firstfruits will tell us the health of the roots and how healthy all the proceeding fruit will be. Those who still have same nature as Adam will experience of the fruit of Adam, but those who belong to Christ are given a new nature, they are given new roots, which produce new and good fruit.
The resurrection declares Christ rule over creation. It is a reordering. We know from the garden that Adam was supposed to have dominion over creation. But every hurricane, tornado, animal attack, or even the killing of each other shows us we do not have dominion. But this passage reminds us Christ will come again, in His resurrected body and strike the final blow to our greatest enemy—DEATH (I Cor 15.26). On that day those who belong to Christ will be raised with Him.
This not only has bearing on our future, but it also has bearing on the present. Many people like to become martyrs like Paul talks about in I Cor 15.30. They don’t mind making a name for themselves, dying for a great cause. Don’t get me wrong we need Christians like that, and there are many across the globe still living that way. But all throughout this letter Paul is addressing the other side of resurrection theology, which is are we willing to live for Christ? The truth of the resurrection allows us to live truly free. We have not need live for the things of this world. When we are wronged we can let it go, because God make it right. When go through suffering we can rejoice, because are promised through the resurrection it will one day end. Paul wants to remind the Corinthians to stop living like they are still bound to the things of this world—READ I Cor 15.33-34.
Why would we continue to live like there is no God? Why would we continue to ignore the most important relationship in the universe? When you are in a relationship with someone there are certain standards you must keep. No one celebrates another person betraying them or rebelling against them. When we live how we want and not the way God is asking of us we are betraying Him, rebelling against Him, or even worst, ignoring Him. Acts 17.30-31 tells us:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.—Acts 17.30-31
We have knowledge of God—He has been kind enough to grant that to us. Those who know God cannot ignore Him. They have been called by God to live for God’s glory. Are going on sinning, or are we striving to take captive every evil thought and replace it with the overwhelming splendor of God? Are we ready to live for God?