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1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-20
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
12 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? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Christ is Risen!
Does the resurrection matter? It might seem that it doesn’t. A recent survey of over 2000 adults (commissioned by the BBC) found that 25% of those who would call themselves ‘Christians’ do not believe in the resurrection of Christ, against 31% who believe the Bible’s account ‘word for word’. Among ‘active’ Christians (who attend a service at least once a month) 57% believe in the resurrection. Of all those surveyed, 50% do not believe in the resurrection. Perhaps it really is a matter of opinion, and not that important.
The attitude of the Apostle Paul was very different. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’. In fact, the resurrection of Christ is crucial to Christianity – a dead Christ means an empty and futile religion. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15 and remind ourselves that ‘Christ is risen!’
1. Did he rise?
The whole of the New Testament, including all 4 Gospels, answers ‘Yes!’ The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is overwhelming (however you explain it). There is no doubt he died on the cross – the Romans made no mistakes about things like that – and equally there is no doubt that on the third day he rose again.
All the Gospels contain accounts of the empty tomb – it is an essential part of their message. To suggest that despairing, defeated disciples could or would steal his body and pretend he had risen is incredible. If the authorities had still had the body, they would have produced it and snuffed out the Christian movement at its very beginning.
Notice what Paul says in v5-7 – he provides a list of post-resurrection appearances of the Saviour – to ‘Peter…the Twelve…more than 500 of the brothers at the same time…James…all the apostles…me’. It is impossible that this could be some kind of psychological hallucination or delusion. Many of the witnesses were still alive when Paul wrote and could be consulted. Our conclusion must be – he has risen!
2. What did he achieve?
Accepting that Christ really did rise, we now ask – what does his resurrection mean? What did it accomplish? The New Testament clearly leads us to view the resurrection as a victory. It is a victory in 3 ways:
- Victory over sin: Note v3 ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’. In fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, Christ in his death took the sin of all who would ever believe in him, along with the punishment they deserve. All that our sin deserves from a holy God has been taken by Christ. In 1 Peter 3:18 we read, ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’. God’s Son was a willing sacrifice. All we need in order to be forgiven is provided in him. The resurrection proves that the full payment has been made.
- Victory over Satan: It is sin that gives Satan power over sinners. If our sin is dealt with, Satan’s claim on believers is destroyed. Jesus’ death on the cross, therefore, includes victory over Satan. The first gospel promise is in Genesis 3:15 the promise that the ‘seed’ of the woman will crush the head of the serpent – the promise has been fulfilled in Christ’s defeat of Satan at the cross and the empty tomb. In Colossians 2:15 Paul writes of how God ‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’. The resurrection is the guarantee that Christ really won the victory. Satan’s dominion over believers is broken.
- Victory over death: Death is ‘the last enemy’ (v26). It is a fearful thing for most people, but the empty tomb is proof that Christ has conquered death. Death exists because of sin – the sin of Adam (v21) that we inherit. Christ has dealt with sin and so, in the words of Peter in Acts 2:24, ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’. Those who belong to Christ will share in his victory – he is the firstfruits (v20), and at his return, the very presence of death will be abolished (v26).
3. What does it mean for us?
- The answer to sin: Christ crucified and risen is the answer to our sin. Note Matthew 1:21 ‘he will save his people from their sins’. Having taken the burden of our sin, he saves us from the punishment due to us. As Isaiah 53:5 tells us, he was pierced for our transgressions’. There is now no punishment due to those who trust in Christ as Saviour. We are righteous in God’s sight. Christ also saves us from the power of sin as day by day he gives us grace and strength to ‘walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4).
- The answer to tragedy: In the resurrection, we have proof of Christ’s victory over all the forces that damage our lives and cause us pain. The risen Christ is ‘head over everything for the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). All his power and authority are used for the benefit of his people. Thus he gives us all the grace and help we need to face pain, loss, uncertainty, disappointment, bereavement. For the Christian, Satan is a defeated enemy and so we may, by the Lord’s strength, resist his attacks and temptations. The Lord always says to us, ‘my grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
- The answer to death: Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ share in his victory over death. As ‘the firstfruits’ (v20) he guarantees that the rest of the harvest will follow – ‘when he comes, those who belong to him’ as Paul puts it in v 23. Having been raised from spiritual death at conversion, we will be raised from physical death at his return. Our bodies share in salvation. Although much must remain mysterious, we know Christ ‘will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21). There is nothing for us to fear in death. On account of Christ’s resurrection, Paul can ask triumphantly, ‘Where, O death, is your victory?’ (v55). We have a glorious hope in the risen Christ.