Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 3/30/97
I Cor. 15:12 Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised, 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive, 23 but each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, and after that, those who are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
I don’t suppose there are many here today who would say that they disbelieve in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. If that were the case, you probably would not have come. So why then with Paul do I ask you this rhetorical question? “How then do some among you say there is no resurrection?” I ask it because there is a level on which many of us do disbelieve in the resurrection. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.
It is important to realize that there is more than one way to be an atheist. There is Theoretical Atheism. This is the most easily recognized kind. The theoretical atheist holds it as his opinion, and states it with his mouth, that he does not believe there is a God. But there is another kind of atheism that is more subtle and infinitely more dangerous to the church and to your Christian faith. That is what I will call Practical Atheism. The practical atheist says that there is a God, but he acts like there isn’t. That is what I want us to think about for a few minutes on this Resurrection Sunday.
Is your Jesus really alive? Now, before you say, “Yes,” let me ask you another question. How do you treat the dead whom you loved in life? You remember them; you might even share those memories with others who knew them. You might visit their graves. You might honor them by planting flowers on their graves. But here’s what you don’t do: You don’t talk to them. You don’t run errands for them. You don’t go places with them. You don’t share experiences with them. You don’t do things for them. All that ceased when they went into the grave (unless you are into the Occult!).
Now, here’s my point. Is this not the way some of us worship the Lord? He is part of our lives, not always, but only on special occasions when we “remember” him—like Easter Sunday! To come to church only on Easter Sunday is thus a denial of the resurrection, not an affirmation of it. But what if we come every Sunday, indeed, twice a Sunday, and Wednesday night to boot? Is it in the spirit of an hour taken out of your week as a memorial to a dead man, or is it rather a time of more concentrated attention to the living Lord who is always present in your life? You can confess the resurrection of Jesus with your mouth, and the whole time your life—the more credible testimony, by the way—is the confession of a dead Jesus. How many of us are really members of Hazel Motes’ Church without Christ, where the lame don’t walk, the blind don’t see, and the dead stay put? Well, how can you tell? That leads us to the next point.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is living and active. Why? Because it is the Word of a living Christ! If you do not read your Bible it is because to you it is just dead words on a page, not the living voice of your living and risen Lord. Robert E. Lee said, “The Bible is a book compared with which all others are of minor importance. In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible never failed to give me light and strength.” Why is this true? Because the Bible is the Word of the living Christ. If your Bible is merely a decoration for your shelf or your coffee table, you might as well shut Jesus back in his tomb. If the Bible is an object to be dusted rather than a message to be trusted; if it is an artifact to be revered rather than a word to be feared; if it is an ornament to be displayed rather than a command to be obeyed; then, no matter what the confession of your lips or even the conscious commitment of your mind, you eloquently testify to your belief in a Jesus who is still deader than a doornail.
If you believe that Jesus rose and ascended to the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us, you will pray. If you believe he received a name that is above every name so that on the last day every knee shall bow to him, that he is sovereign and mighty to answer, you will pray. If you believe that he even now at the right hand of the Father is receiving the worship of myriads upon myriads of angels, bright spiritual beings of incredible splendor crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” then you will join your voice to theirs in worship and adoration, and you will pray. If you believe that he conquered death and wields that power even now, so that he is mighty and able to do more than we can ask or think, you will pray. And if you did not believe these things, why would you ever pray in the name of this poor, wretched, ancient martyr? So if you do not pray, you testify eloquently to your conviction that he is still safely locked in his tomb.
The original disciples, because they had experienced the resurrection, and their disciples, who believed their testimony, were transformed in the most radical way imaginable by that belief. Cowards turned the world upside down; dullards became brilliant theologians. What did it? The belief that “the spirit of Jesus lived on”? You could say that about anyone. No, they were changed by a risen Christ who lives and reigns and sends his Holy Spirit to convict us, regenerate us, indwell us, empower us, purify us, and sanctify us. Paul says that if Christ was not raised, we are yet in our sins. So if you confess the resurrection with your mouth but live as if nothing has happened, if you are still in your sins, if your life is not marked by a change that is deep and powerful and ongoing, then you are living as if the resurrection had not occurred. You testify eloquently to your real opinion that Jesus’ body still lies rotting in the ground.
I think I’ve used this illustration before, but it bears repeating. Imagine that the crucifixion has taken place and the disciples are scattered in fear. You are, say, Thomas. You weren’t with the others in their first meetings. A couple of weeks have passed. You notice Mary Magdalene passing in the street and stop her. “Hey, Mar’, long time no see. That sure was awful about Jesus. I really thought he was going to be the Messiah. How have you been? Did you and the other Mary ever get to anoint the body?” And Mary replies, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? Must have slipped my mind. Jesus rose from the dead.” I will just pause for a minute to let the absurdity of this scenario sink in. One thing we know: whatever happened back there in Jerusalem, this wasn’t it! You cannot believe something as stupendous, life-changing, assumption-overturning, and world-shattering as this and keep quiet about it. If you pride yourself on your “silent witness,” you give eloquent testimony to your real position that Jesus is nothing but a pile of bones crumbled utterly into fine and quiet dust.
So I ask you again: Why then do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead? Let’s face the facts. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God, the Lord of the Universe, the King of Kings. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then his death was the atonement for the sins of men, and faith in him is the only way to have forgiveness and acceptance with God. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then all who belong to him will be raised too, to experience an eternal life of joy and fulfillment unspeakable and full of glory. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then he lives today as Savior, King, Shepherd, and Friend to all who call on him. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then the Bible is a real message from God, prayer is real communication with God, and following Jesus is real walking with God. If Jesus rose bodily and objectively in history, then life has purpose and meaning: to know Jesus, to love him, to serve him, to please him, to enjoy him forever, and to share him with others.
But if not: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most miserable” (I Cor. 15:17-19). It is really as stark and as simple as that.
So: Make up your mind! It is the most important question you will ever answer: Did Jesus rise from the dead, or didn’t he? And on what basis do we answer such a question? Well, something rolled away that Stone sealed by the authority of the Roman Governor. Something frightened away a band of hardened soldiers and made them take hush money to say the disciples stole the body. Something turned the disciples themselves from sniveling cowards into men who turned the world upside down. Something turned Paul from a hater of Jesus Christ and persecutor of his church into its greatest missionary and spokesman. And something met me two millennia later and took the burden of sin from my heart and replaced it with peace and purpose and joy. What do you think did all this?
Well, you can believe in and build your life around a dead carpenter if you want to. But for me and my house, we will serve the risen and triumphant and living Lord of Glory. May God help us all to do so with our lives as well as our lips, to the glory of our risen Lord. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams