“With No Resurrection, There’s No Salvation!”
04/05/15 PM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
For the Apostle Paul, this doctrine of the actual, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t just something “tacked on” to his religion. For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t something that was “dispensable,” or “optional,” as it is in so many denominations and churches today. As a matter of fact, one of the cornerstone truths upon which the OPC, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was founded back in 1936 was this very doctrine of the actual, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Ever since the liberal movement of the early 1900’s, the doctrine of Christ’s literal, bodily resurrection from the dead has been greatly challenged and questioned. Our own denomination, the OPC, parted ways with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) back in 1936, partly because they no longer required even their ministers to believe in a literal, bodily resurrection!
Prior to this separation there was a very significant event that led up to it. On December 26, the day after Christmas, in the year 1923, over 1,300 PCUSA ministers signed a document called the Auburn Affirmation. (No, that’s not the name of the Auburn football fan club!) The Auburn Affirmation was a confessional document that stated, among other things, that you could believe the “theory,” or not believe the “theory,” of Christ’s bodily resurrection, and still be a minister of the Gospel in good standing in the PCUSA! Belief in the literal resurrection was optional!
And as if that weren’t bad enough, at the very next General Assembly of the PCUSA, held in May of 1924, less than 6 months later, there was no action taken against those ministers by the GA! Amazing! That tells you how far the Presbyterian Church had sunk already, 10 years before the separation of the OPC from the mainline denomination.
Quite frankly, I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have signed that document, do you? For Paul, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was so completely central to everything he taught that he couldn’t have gone on preaching without it! For the apostle Paul, the doctrine of the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t optional! And we know this from our text today.
Some of the people of Corinth must have written Paul and asked him the question, “Is there really a resurrection of the dead? Can people really be resurrected after they die?”
And Paul’s answer, which we find in I Corinthians 15 is this: “Are you kidding?! How can you be so naïve?!”
He says in v. 12, “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection?”
In other words, “Don’t you realize the logical consequences of such an assumption? If the Gospel clearly proclaims that Christ has been raised, how could Christ be raised if there’s no resurrection?”
And then Paul proceeds to give them five logical consequences of assuming that there’s no resurrection.
The first logical consequence is this:
V. 13 says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised!”
There’s no way around that logical deduction! If there’s no resurrection of the dead, even Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead! And all of those to whom Paul was writing in Corinth would know, instantly, that it would be absurd to say that even Christ had not been raised. Many of these same people to whom Paul was writing had probably seen the risen Lord with their own eyes!
Of course, the liberals of our day would say, “So what if Christ wasn’t raised? As a matter of fact, Christ probably wasn’t literally raised from the dead. We all know that’s scientifically impossible, so there must be some other explanation for these reports in the NT regarding Christ’s resurrection. Perhaps it was only a spiritual resurrection. Perhaps it was only a resurrection in the minds of His followers.”
But Paul vehemently disagrees with such faithless thinking! In vv. 3-8, Paul has already given proof that Christ did, indeed, rise bodily from the dead. Paul has cited the fact that Christ was seen by hundreds of people at different times and in different places. He says, in vv. 3-8, “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. 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.”
Actually, if we look at the NT as a whole, there’s much more evidence for Christ’s resurrection than there is even for His birth! And very few people today would argue that Christ was never even born! (Although I’ve heard a few philosophy scholars with Ph.D.’s in skepticism try to argue that Jesus Christ never even existed.)
There are only two narratives in the NT that record the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet there are twelve narratives that attest to His resurrection. In addition to that, there are many more references to people seeing Him after the resurrection. So this wasn’t just a case of one or two people who might have simply had too much to drink or who perhaps hallucinated.
In John 20:14, Mary Magdalene saw Him and talked to Him. In Matthew 28:9-10, both of the women who visited the tomb saw Him, heard Him talk to them, and they clasped His feet and worshiped Him. In Luke 24:34, it says that He appeared to Peter. In Luke 24:13-33 the two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Him and talked to him and ate with Him. In John 20:19-29, all the apostles, minus Thomas, saw Him. He talked to them and showed them His hands and side. A week later, in John 20:26-29, Thomas saw Him and heard Him speak, and put his fingers in His hands and side. In Luke 24:36-49, Luke records the fact that the apostles saw Him and talked to Him. He showed them His hands and feet and had them touch Him. He even ate some broiled fish in their presence. In John 21:1-23, the seven disciples fishing saw Him, and heard Him, and He even enabled them to catch a huge catch of fish – 153 to be exact. Then they ate breakfast with Him and He taught them. In I Corinthians 15:6, it says that “…he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom [were] still living, though some [had] fallen asleep” by the time Paul wrote this. In I Corinthians 15:7, Pauls says that James saw Him, and that all the apostles saw Him. In Matthew 28:16-20, all the apostles together saw Him and heard Him preach to them. And in Acts 1:3-11, at His ascension, He was seen by all those gathered there. The text says, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men [the apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
A little later, it says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
In addition to all these appearances, after he ascended into heaven, He also appeared personally, in separate visions, to Paul on the road to Damascus, to Stephen while he was being stoned, and to John on the Island of Patmos.
So no, these Corinthians had no doubt that Christ arose! That fact was pretty much a “given” to them. Only a fool would be so absurd as to say that even Christ had not been raised from the dead!
Keep in mind, these Corinthian people weren’t writing to Paul to ask Paul whether or not Christ had risen from the dead. They all knew that for a fact! What they wanted to know was, “Are we going to rise from the dead? Is there going to be a resurrection of our bodies after we die?”
Evidently some false teachers had crept in and started teaching that there is no resurrection of men after they die.
And so Paul’s first point is, “If men are not raised from the dead, then even Christ was not raised!” Jesus Christ was just as human as each one of them. So if men aren’t raised, then the man, Christ Jesus, wasn’t raised either!
The second logical consequence, if Christ has not been raised, is this:
V. 14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless...” And v. 15 adds, “Even worse, we [preachers] are then found to be false witnesses about God!”
Paul’s point is this: “If Christ has not been raised, then the Gospel we preach is a damnable, useless heresy and we apostles deserve the death penalty for preaching such lies! And that means that all this ‘good news’ that we apostles are risking our lives to proclaim is nothing but a pack of lies. We’ve all testified under oath that we saw Jesus Christ alive. We’ve all staked our very lives on the fact that Jesus Christ arose from the dead! If that’s a lie, then you can’t believe anything we say!
The third logical consequence then follows...
V. 14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith!... and then a bit later, in v. 17, he adds, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. You are still in your sins!”
So if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a faith in Someone Who’s dead! How can a dead person save you? How can a dead person intercede for you at the right hand of God? How can a dead person send His Spirit of life-giving regeneration into your dead hearts and recreate you with living hearts? If Christ is dead, that means you’re united and joined, by faith, to a corpse! And that would mean that you’re still in your sins! You’re not forgiven if there’s no resurrection! All of these doctrines of salvation hinge upon whether or not Christ actually was Who He said He was and did what He said He’d do!
And if you’re still in your sins, you know the next logical consequence of that! The fourth logical consequence, if there’s no resurrection, is this:
[If you’re still in your sins], v. 18 continues, “then those who have fallen asleep [meaning those who’ve died] in Christ are lost!”
Yes, if there’s no resurrection, then you, when you die – you’ll be lost! You’ll suffer the eternal wrath of God for your sins in Hell if Jesus Christ wasn’t raised from the dead!
Do you understand why this is not some optional doctrine that you can just sort of “take it” or “leave it?”
Do you see why this isn’t just some “theory” that you can just choose to believe or choose not to believe! If you die, having put your hope and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, and Christ has not been raised, then your hope will die when you die!
Such a false hope, then, is only good for this life, because when you die you’ll find out that your hope was useless!
And then Paul continues with the logical consequences of that. His fifth logical consequence is this:
V. 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men!”
So here’s Paul’s train of thought: If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then even Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then you can forget about all of our preaching, since it’s obviously filled with useless, heretical lies. If our Gospel is full of lies, then your faith in Christ is just a useless, vain hope which will never be realized. And if your hope is futile, then you’re still in your sins. And if you’re still in your sins, then you’re to be pitied more than all men because you’re going to suffer the wrath of God in Hell for all eternity!
What a depressing state of affairs, if Jesus Christ wasn’t raised from the dead! No wonder all of Jesus’ followers were so depressed and so downcast after Jesus died on the cross. No wonder they all went back to their day jobs, since they all knew: If Jesus was dead, the Gospel was dead! When Jesus, their Messiah died, their hopes died with Him!
But Paul continues in our text – and I’m so glad this book of Scripture doesn’t end at v. 19, because v. 20 is the basis and the heart of the whole Gospel!
V. 20 says, “But!”
And as I’ve said before, “Right here is one of the biggest ‘buts’ in all the Bible!”
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
So all the “ifs” fall down flat because “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
And then Paul goes on in v. 20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Now I want to take just a moment to remind you of the significance of the “firstfruits” idea in the Bible. The firstfruits represented the first signs of spring after a cold, barren winter. The firstfruits were much like those Easter lilies you see up north, popping up out of the ground early in the spring, sometimes even before the snow is all melted.
As a matter of fact, the “Rose of Sharon,” after which our church is named – the “Rose of Sharon” mentioned in the Song of Songs 2:1 in the Bible – was probably not a rose as we think of it today at all. It was more than likely a member of the crocus or lily family, probably a meadow saffron or a crocus. It was a spring flower that bloomed on the plains of Sharon. Those first flowers or firstfruits of springtime were a fitting symbol of Jesus Christ Who arose as the Firstfruits from the dead.
The firstfruits of spring and the firstfruits of the spring harvest served as a sort of guarantee that the rest of the harvest would follow!
If you’ve ever planted a tomato plant, you know you have to take special care of it. You have to water it, and fertilize it, and spray it with bug spray. You have to protect it from the wind, and from the hail, and from little critters that might sneak into your garden, including your little kids. You have to support it with a stake or a trellis. And you have to trim the suckers off the bottom of it so that the plant’s full energy can be devoted to bearing fruit.
But you never know whether or not your tomato plant is going to actually make it to the point where it produces that nice, juicy fruit until you get those first ripe tomatoes.
One spring, a couple years ago, my Mom planted just one tomato plant in her rose garden.
It grew and grew, but she never knew if it would produce tomatoes or not. Finally, the first tomato ripened, and she knew it would produce more. By the end of the summer, she got a total of 118 tomatoes off that one plant!
You see, once the firstfruits are in, then you know that you’ve got yourself a tomato that produces, and you can then expect to receive a full season of fruit from that plant.
Because Christ, our firstfruits from the dead, has been raised, says Paul, we can expect to be raised in due time as well. Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection because we’re joined to Him by covenant and by faith.
After all, what is it that Christ is the firstfruits of? He’s the firstfruits “of those who have fallen asleep.” That means He’s the firstfruits of those who have died with faith in Him!
By the way, that was just the normal Christian way of speaking about those who’ve died. You see, they haven’t really died at all, if they’re Christians. They’ve only fallen asleep in Christ. And because Jesus Christ’s body awoke from death on Easter Sunday, so also their bodies will awake from death when Christ returns. Meanwhile, their spirits go immediately to heaven to be with the Lord.
Because Christians are joined to Christ by covenant, His resurrection guarantees our resurrection because we’re one with Him.
Christ’s resurrection is so important a doctrine that it’s celebrated once every year, on Easter Sunday... [pause]
I paused there, for a moment, because I was hoping to see at least a few quizzical looks when I said that.
What’s wrong with that statement? “Christ’s resurrection is so important a doctrine that it’s celebrated once every year, on Easter Sunday.”
Of course, now that you’ve had a chance to think about it, I’m sure most of you know the answer.
The doctrine of Christ’s resurrection is so important that we celebrate it, not just once every year, but every Lord’s Day! The first day of every week is called the Lord’s Day just because Jesus Christ arose on that day, the first day of the week. And we NT Christians worship on Sunday because that’s the day of resurrection and of joy!
Think of it: If Christ had not risen, bodily, from the dead, then neither would any of us! The whole Gospel would be a lie! Your faith would be useless! Your sins would never be forgiven! You’d be forever lost!
Have you ever wondered why we have an OPC – an Orthodox Presbyterian Church? Have you ever wondered why our forefathers in the faith, men such as Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the Rev. John P. Galbraith, the Rev. Henry W. Coray, the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, and a group of many others felt it necessary to leave the oldest Presbyterian church in America and to start up a brand new denomination, called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?
They left because the old church, the PCUSA, had lost the heart of the Gospel! They’d lost the truth of the resurrection! Without the resurrection, they had become an apostate church. They’d lost their eternal hope, because they were willing to say, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is just a theory – you can take it or leave it!”
People of God, I don’t ever want you to forget I Corinthians 15:20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
I want you to remember it whenever you begin to doubt your salvation. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” My salvation has been secured by His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead!
I want you to remember it whenever you begin to doubt the Gospel. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
The Gospel is not a myth. It’s not a man-made story or fairy tale. It’s based on the cold, hard facts of history, confirmed for us in the Bible.
I want you to remember this verse whenever you’re afraid to die, and when you’re wondering whether or not there truly is a resurrection of the dead. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
And He is “the firstfruits of [all] those who have fallen asleep [in Him]!”