If Christ Be Not Raised
April 10th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
IF CHRIST BE NOT RAISED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
4-10-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled If Christ Be Not Raised. And the passage of Scripture is in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verses 12 through . And if you would like to turn in your Bible to the passage, you can easily follow the message at this morning hour. First Corinthians chapter 15, beginning at verse 12:
Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
And not only that, but we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now, but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.
Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.
And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-26]
And praise God and thank God forever for the assurance of that ultimate and consummating victory: the last enemy death shall be destroyed! [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Now, of course, what Paul is saying is that all of our hopes are centered in the incomparable victory of Christ over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. But these who have not believed are legion, through the centuries, today. For example, Matthew Arnold wrote, and I quote: Christ
. . . is dead! Far hence he lies
In a lorn Syrian town;
And on his grave, with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down.
["Obermann Once More"]
Dead, buried, decayed, turned to dust. Christ is dead.
And you know doubts and unbelief are like cormorants, they are like vultures: they gather in flocks, they circle, plural, round and round. You won’t see one; you’ll see two, you’ll see three, you’ll see five, you’ll see seven, you’ll see a flock as they round and around and around descend upon something decadent, defaced, decayed, dead. So it is in the rejection of the resurrection of our Lord: the doubts are not one, they’re not two, they don’t come singly, or even in triplets; they multiply, and they descend and descend and descend until finally they are lost in the blackness and the darkness of utter and impenetrable despair.
So it is here, as Paul begins; and he names seven of those descents of doubt and despair that follow after the supposition that Christ is not raised. He begins, first: "There is no resurrection of the dead, there is no life beyond the grave, if Christ be not raised" [1 Corinthians 15:13]. There is an eternal lock upon us in the grave: there’s no hope, there’s no victory, there’s no vision, there’s no life, there’s nothing but impenetrable darkness and despair, if Christ be not raised.
Second: if Christ be not raised, then is our preaching vain! [1 Corinthians 15:14]. There is no gospel; there is nothing to preach about. All of its doctrine and all of its meaning, its significance, its message, all of it turns to dust and ashes if Christ be not raised from the dead. Every doctrine of the Christian faith finds its confirmation and its validity in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. In the circle, the full-orbed message of the ministry of Christ, if the resurrection is taken away, each doctrine and each teaching falls into a fragmentary isolated part.
For example, Romans 1:4 declares that Jesus was pointed out by God in His deity as the Prince of Glory, as the Son of God, as God Himself, by the power of the resurrection from the dead. Out of all mankind, He is singled out, says Paul, "by the resurrection from the dead." The doctrine of the deity of Christ is validated by His resurrection.
Again, all the words and the ministries and the marvelous promises of our Lord are dependent in their validity upon His resurrection. When He was transfigured, coming down from the mountain, He said to His disciples, "The Son of Man must be crucified, and the third day be raised from the dead" [Mark 8:31, 9:12]. When He made the avowal, "Upon this rock of the deity of Christ I will build My church. Then He taught His disciples that He must be killed, and the third day rise from the dead" [Matthew 16:18, 21]. If our Lord is mistaken in that prophecy and in that promise and in that avowal, how do I know but that He may be mistaken in everything else that He said? How can I trust God in the revelation in Christ if what the Lord said is not true? How can I find assurance or quietness in my soul if the Lord could be mistaken in that tremendous prognostication and prophecy and avowal? I have no assurance, but that He also is mistaken in every other thing that He said of the meaning of life, and of death, and of heaven, and of the future that is yet to come. The words and the prophecies of our Lord are validated, the promises of our Savior find their assurance in His resurrection from the dead.
Our redemption is validated, justified, declared so by His resurrection from the dead. As Paul avows in Romans 4:25, "He was delivered for our offenses, but He was raised for our justification." On the cross He bore our sins; but in His resurrection from the dead, He returned to heaven to avow that those who trust in Him are saved, washed, cleansed. And if there is no resurrection, our redemption is like a bridge halfway across the stream, then it falls into the abyss. The cross stands naked and stark and alone, silhouetted against the angry sky: unless there is the other end of that bridge in the resurrection of our Lord who in glory declares us, in His blood and in His mercy and in His faith, righteous before God. We are not only saved down here in the blood of Christ, but we are presented someday without blemish in the justification of our Lord by His resurrection from the dead [Ephesians 5:27]. If there’s no Christ in heaven to keep us, to save us, to declare us His own, then the cross is without pertinency: it’s a story half-told and cut off; it has no consummation, no ultimate victory and triumph.
Nor have we any assurance that we can persevere to the end, that any one of us will be saved. How do you know you will walk through those pearly gates? How do you know you will walk down those golden streets? How do you know you’ll be one of the redeemed in glory when God gathers together His own? What assurance do you have? None other than this: that they who come to God by faith in Him, He is able to save to the uttermost, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25]. We are to be saved, the Book says, because the keeping hand of the Almighty holds us, and Christ makes intercession for us because He ever liveth to speak our names in the presence of the great Glory.
What fellowship do we have with God if the Lord Christ is dead and in the grave? "Lo," He said, "I am with you alway, even to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]. What does it mean, His dust is with us? A dead Lord is with us? A memory is with us? A piece of history is with us? A fragment of a man’s life is with us? No! "I am with you," He said, "unto the end of the age." The living Christ is by our sides, and our hope for doing good, and achieving a reward for our Lord is in His resurrection from the dead. For He said, "Without Me ye can do nothing" [John 15:5]. Without "Me" I can do nothing? Is that without His dust? Without His sepulcher? Without the tomb? Without that death? No! Without my living Lord! He is alive; and all authority and all power is in His hands [Matthew 28:18]. And when I’m in the will of God, I am invincible.
And the glory that is yet to come, unfolding before our eyes, is because He was raised from the dead. "And I," He said, "if I go away, I will come again" [John 14:3]. But how is He going away to come again if He is still dead, and this is His dust, and here’s the tomb in which His body decayed? How is He coming again for me if He never rose out of that grave? I’m just avowing to you that every promise is validated, and every prophecy is authenticated, and every hope we have for the future is bound up in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. That’s the gospel. And without the gospel, Paul says, "Our preaching is vain"; there is nothing to say, there is no good news to tell. But he continues, "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God" [1 Corinthians 15:15]. Just imagine being a liar for God, a deceiver for God, a false witness for God. Paul expatiates on that more than he does any other of these terrible "ifs," as though the very thought of that stung his soul! We, imagine the psychological impossibility of such a thing, psychologically impossible for a man to be a liar for God, a deceiver for God, to mislead for God. The thing is antithetical in itself. It’s like light and darkness: it’s either dark or it’s light, and the two don’t mix. It’s like truth and error. It’s like heaven and hell. It’s like God and Satan: they are antithetical; they are two different things. And you can’t be a liar for God, a false witness for God, a deceiver for God.
I want you to look at that in the life of these apostles. To my,things of men’s minds are inexplicable to me. One of the things that is said against the resurrection of our Lord from the dead is this: that the disciples came and stole His body away. And then having stolen His body away, they came forth and announced that He was raised from the dead. In your wildest imagination, can you understand that? Here are men like Peter, and men like John, and men like Paul, who met the Lord alive on the road to Damascus, and they are laying down their lives for the faith, all the while knowing that they were lying and deceiving and misleading? I say it is psychologically unthinkable and impossible!
These men who were cowards, hiding into shadows for the fear of the enemies, when they met Christ raised from the dead, they became bold as lions. And in behalf of the gospel they preached, they laid down their lives. Some of them burned at the stake, some of them thrown into boiling caldrons of oil, some of them exiled on lonely islands to die of starvation and exposure, some of them crucified. "All things that were gain to me," said the apostle Paul, "I count but loss that I may have Christ, and know the power of His resurrection from the dead" [Philippians 3:7-10].
"Yea," he said, and this stung him the most, "we are false witnesses, lying for God" [1 Corinthians 15:15]. Then he continues, "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain" [1 Corinthians 15:17]. You are waiting on, and dependent upon, and believing in, and hoping for a dead, decaying Christ.
You know, I don’t know why it is, but some of these pictures of war are almost more than my heart can receive. Recently, I saw a picture of a dead mother and a little child, a nursing child, lying in her arms. And as I saw that picture, I thought of the helpless hopelessness of a child, not understanding, couldn’t understand, couldn’t make the child understand, but mother, the fountain of life, food, existence, dead, decaying, dead. Oh, the horrors unspeakable and indescribable!
That’s what he means. Every hope, every dream, all of life, all of heaven, in that dear body: but dead, forever dead, "If Christ be not raised form the dead, your faith, your hope is vain." He continues, "Yea, and we are yet in our sins" [1 Corinthians 15:17]. No man shall see the face of God in unforgiven sin. No unrighteous thing that shall enter that city. "These who appear have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. "But the Bible was mistaken: there’s no blood of the Lamb to wash our sins away; for He was a deceiver, He misled His people. He wasn’t God; He had to die for His own sins and His own mistakes. How could He make atonement for mine?"
"If the dead rise not, then Christ is not risen; and we are yet in our sins." Yea, but more – and these despairing "ifs" descend and descend and descend – "Yea, and they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" [1 Corinthians 15:18]. No need to think or dream or wish or hope: there’s not anything to dream of, and there’s not any future to hope for; nothing but the blackness, blackness of despair. "Then these also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."
Last week I had three funerals. "What do you do, pastor, when you go to a funeral? The mother, "Oh, my son, my son." In one of the services last week, a man on one side, a man on the other side, holding up a dear mother that she might look the last time on the face of her son. "What do you say? What do you do? Do you stand there and say, ‘This, this is the finality of forever. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. The end, the terminus, the finis, the finale. There’s nothing beyond, there’s nothing beside, there’s nothing over, so let us weep as those who have no hope.’ Is that what you say, pastor? Is that what you do?"
Why, bless the name of the Lord, when I stand in those services I turn to the fourteenth chapter of John – in the service yesterday afternoon the family said, "Read to us the fourteenth chapter of John":
In My Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself: that where I am, there you may be also. Peace I leave with you, My peace give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
[John 14:2-3, 27]
And I turn to the last part of this fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter: "O Death, where now is thy sting? O Grave, where now is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. And I’ll turn to the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, and I’ll read, "O glory! For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall be raised first" [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. Then I’ll turn to the twenty-first and the twenty-second chapters of the Book of the Revelation, and I’ll read of the city glorious, God’s home for the soul. And then I’ll stand by the side of the casket before it is lowered beneath the ground, and read, "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].
Why, my brother, the hour of our death is our finest, when the trumpets sound on the other side of the river, and God’s children are gathered home!
Before I came to the service just now, a dear daughter called me on the telephone and said, "Our mother is dying, and she has asked you to conduct that memorial service. Will you be in the city this week?"
"Yes, I’ll be in the city this week." And when I stand beside that casket, it will be a triumphant note, one of glory and one of victory.
"If He is not raised, these that have fallen asleep in Jesus are perished" [1 Corinthians 15:18]. Oh! those descending "ifs." Then he has one more, just one more: "And if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most wretched, and most miserable, and most to be pitied" [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Think of it, man! Oh, the darkness and the blackness of descending despair, "If Christ be not raised, if Christ be not raised, if Christ be not raised!"
And that’s why his triumphant avowal is so preciously meaningful: "But, but, but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:20-22]. Oh! Oh! What God hath done for these and for us who have placed our trust in Him! "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." Heretofore men had speculated about what lies beyond the grave. They peered through darkness impenetrable, and they philosophized, and they wrote poetry and words; but no man had any assurance, and no man could see beyond that veil.
Then, then the Lord Christ entered into the tomb, He grappled with the king of terrors; He experienced all of the agonies of suffering and death, and came back to tell us that beyond that grave, and beyond that sorrow, and beyond this agony, and beyond this mortality and this corruption, He came back to tell us that there is glory, and there is triumph, and there is eternal life, and there are the blessings that God hath prepared for those who love Him! [1 Corinthians 2:9]. O Lord! O Lord!
In the first chapter of the Revelation is the appearance of the glorified risen Christ [Revelation 1:13]. And when John saw Him, he fell at His feet as dead. And the Savior put His right hand upon him, and said, "Fear not; I am the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End; I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of Hell and of Death. I have the keys of the grave and of the beyond" [Revelation 1:17-18]. My friend, what a comfort to know that the key of death and of the life beyond lies in the nail-pierced hands of our blessed Savior. He, He possesses that key.
I shall not die until He wills it; the key is in His hand. And when He wills it, I shall but enter into that further purpose, and assignment, and upward calling by which the Lord hath made Himself known to me since I was a boy. It will be the same Lord Jesus I trusted as a child. It will be the same Lord Jesus whom I have known through the years of this pilgrimage. It will be the same Lord Jesus I have preached through these years. It will be the same blessed Lord Jesus who died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], and who was raised from the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25, 5:10]. "I have the keys of Death and of Hell" [Revelation 1:18].
Then Paul avows, "For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:21-22]; all of us.
Once in a while when I have the memorial service for a little child, a baby, an age of innocence, I am asked by an agonizing mother and father, "Is the child with Jesus? Does God save little children? Or do they go into some limbo as some say? Or even into the perdition as an ultra-Calvinist would say? What of this child? And how could it be he’s saved?" Oh, that’s what Paul was saying here: "As in Adam we all die." All of us are born in sin, all of us inherit that original guilt, all of us, we are born, die; we cannot escape it. It is an iron chain welded by God, sin and death, and all of us who are born in this world are born to die. All of us, as in Adam, all die, all of us die. But the triumphant obverse: "Even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; all of us, all of us made alive. Every soul that is born into this world is covered by the blood of Jesus. "As in Adam we all die, so in Christ all the souls that ever come into this world are made alive."
"Well then, pastor, how is it that some of us don’t make it to glory?" It’s because we must bear our sins to Jesus, and ask God to forgive us our sins. I am never lost because of the sins of my mother, or my father, or my grandparents, or any of my family: all of that has been covered in the blood of Christ. But I have sinned personally, not just my mother and father, not just my people and forbears; I must take myself to Jesus, "Lord, my sins wash, my sins cover over, my sins forgive." And when I come to Jesus having reached the age of accountability for myself, then the Lord forgives me my sins. If I confess my sins, He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness [1 John 1:9]. There is ableness in the power of the Son of God to save us from our sins and to raise us from the dead.
Just a second for this last other verse: "But every man in his order: Christ the firstfruits, then they that are Christ’s at His coming, then the end time" [1 Corinthians 15:23-24]. I don’t know whether Paul had this in mind when he wrote that – I would suppose that he didn’t – but if I could eisegete, not exegete, but if I could eisegete, if I could take what Paul wrote and put it in the order of the whole Word of God, I think it’d go like this: "But every man in his own order, tagma, tagma," the only time in the New Testament the word is used, "tagma, every man in his own tagma," you have to return to the Old Testament Greek Septuagint translation to find that word tagma. And when you turn back to the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, you find tagma means "regiment moving, troops moving." Here a group passes, and there a group passes, and here a squadron passes, and there a platoon passes, and here another section of the army passes, tagma.
And Paul takes that word and applies it to the resurrection of the dead: as we appear before God there is one group, and then another troop, and then another triumphant group! And he names them: Christ, the first one. There were resuscitations before; but the first one ever immortalized, glorified, raised, resurrected from the dead is Christ. Christ, then the firstfruits [1 Corinthians 15:23]. You have to read the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus to know what he means there: the barley harvest and they went out in the springtime, just at the beginning of the ripening of the waving grain, and they took a little sheaf, and they brought it before God and waved it before the Lord [Leviticus 23:10-12]. It was a thanksgiving dedication and a harbinger, an earnest, a promise of the gathering of the whole vast harvest field. Christ; then the firstfruits, the little band, the little band described here in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Matthew: when the Lord was raised from the dead, there were many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves, and went to the Holy City and appeared unto many [Matthew 27:52-53] – a little sheaf, a little harbinger, a little earnest, a little promise, a little downpayment for the great harvest field yet to be reaped [Leviticus 23:10-12].
Christ first; then the firstfruits, that little sheaf, that little bundle of saints that God raised up from the dead [Matthew 27:52-53], the firstfruits; and afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23]. If the Lord delays and we fall into the dust of the ground, when the Lord comes, when Christ appears we shall be caught up into the clouds of glory with our Savior, raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. And then, the end ones: after that awesome tribulation, these that have been martyred and laid down their lives for the testimony of the faith, God will raise them up, the end ones [Revelation 20:4-6], the tagma, the tagma, as they are raised and appear before God. Oh! what a glory! What a triumph! Think of it, oh, think of it, think of it! Whether we die and are raised, whether we are alive at His coming and we are changed, we shall all be made like unto our glorious Savior, each in his tagma, in his order of appearing [1 Corinthians 15:22-23].
Not the least of God’s saints will He leave in the dust of the ground. There’ll not be a bone left for Satan to gloat over, not a relic in the realm of darkness. We all shall be changed; all of us, all of us, each in his order, in his tagma: Christ, and the little sheaf of firstfruits, we who are raised from the dead at His coming, and the end ones who are martyred in that awesome tribulation. There will be a resurrection for us all. There will be a change for us all. We all shall be changed. "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel: the dead in Christ shall rise first: and we all shall be changed" [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
"But we all, with open face, as in a mirror beholding the glory of our Lord, are changed into His image from glory to glory, from glory to glory, as by the power and the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Corinthians 3:18].
Cheer up, my brother! Take faith and heart, my brother! Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s [Romans 14:8]. Whether we are here when He cometh, or fall into the dust of the ground, the victory is ours. The trumpets are preparing to sound for us too on the other side of the river. And God is preparing for us a triumph in glory – because Christ our Savior has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that slept [1 Corinthians 15:20].
No wonder, no wonder there are five hundred thousand songs dedicated to Jesus. And I never heard of one dedicated to infidelity, did you? Did you? Did you? I never heard of one. What would you sing about if you stood up and tried to exalt dust and corruption and death? But what do we sing about when we gather as God’s children and exalt and praise our living Lord for His triumph over the grave and the victory He has promised unto us? Glory, glory, hallelujah! Amen. Amen.
Now we must sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody you give himself to Jesus, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." If you’re on the last row of that topmost balcony, there is time and to spare, come, come. A family you to put your life in the fellowship of the church, a couple you, one somebody you, while we prayerfully, earnestly sing this appeal, you come. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor, I make it now." Do it, do it, while we stand and while we sing.