IF CHRIST BE NOT RISEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
3-30-86 8:15 a.m.
And may we turn to the first letter to Corinth, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, 1 Corinthians chapter 15. And in a moment we are going to read together verses 12 through 19. Have you found it? We invite you who share the hour with us on radio to read it out loud with us, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 12 through 19. If your neighbor does not have a Bible, share it with him. And let us all stand together and read God’s Word. First Corinthians chapter 15, verses 12 through 19, now together:
Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But 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.
Yea, and 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.
Now we may be seated.
The title of the sermon is If Christ Be Not Risen. That is the most hopeless and tragic of all the "ifs" in the world: if Christ be not risen. In the passage that you have just read, there are seven of those "ifs," steps downward to darkness and to hopelessness and to hell, if Christ be not risen.
Doubts always come in flocks. They are like cormorants, they are like vultures: they circle round and round and round. And so with this condition, "If Christ be not risen," these seven steps downward in hopelessness. The first one is, "If Christ be not risen," then He is a sinner like all the rest of us, and He is certainly not the Son of God. The Scriptures say in Genesis:17, "In the day you transgress you shall surely die." Ezekiel 18:4 says, "The soul that sins shall die." And Paul writes in Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." And if Jesus is held captive by the power of death, He is a sinner like the rest of us, and He is certainly not the Son of God. Romans 1 and verse 4 says, "He is declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead." And if He is a dead Christ, He is a sinner like the rest of u, and He is certainly not the Son of God.
The second "if": "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain" [1 Corinthians 15:14]. We have no gospel to preach, for our Savior is dead. When the Lord said, "Go into all the world and make disciples of all the people; and, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:19-20], He is not with us always, He is dead. When in Hebrews 7:25 the Bible avows, "He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them," He doesn’t make intercession for us, He is dead! And when the Lord said in John 14:1-3, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself," He is not coming again, He is dead! "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain."
And the third one: "and your faith is also vain." He repeats that in verse 17: "Your faith is vain." He uses two different words there. The first one is kenos; that refers to content. You don’t have any gospel to preach; it is void and empty. And the next "vain" is mataios; that refers to the ultimate end. It is purposeless; there’s no point in standing here behind this sacred pulpit to preach the gospel of Christ because He is dead! Our faith is vain.
Then the fourth one: "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we testified that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if the dead rise not" [1 Corinthians 15:15]. It’s a strange thing; that seems to have stung the apostle Paul more than all the rest; for he expatiates on it more than he does in any other of the "ifs." If He is not raised from the dead, then we are false witnesses: we avowed that He lives, when He is dead. You know what? I have read again and again and again that it is psychologically impossible for a man to lay down his life for a known deception, for a known lie. And Paul writes in this same chapter, "If the dead rise not, if Christ is not risen, why stand we in jeopardy every hour? If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts in Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die" [1 Corinthians 15:30-32]. There’s no content, there’s no purpose, there’s no end, there’s no message in the gospel of Christ; we are false witnesses. And yet these are the men who are laying down their lives for the truth of the gospel of Christ, which I say the psychologist avows is impossible. A man cannot offer his life, lay down his life, for a known lie; he can’t do it. Yet these men were beheaded, they were sawn asunder, they were cast into boiling cauldrons of oil, they were crucified, they were burned at the stake for the truth of the gospel [Hebrews 11:35-38].
Number five: "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" [1 Corinthians 15:17]. You will never see God’s face. You will never be in heaven. Nothing that defiles enter that holy and beautiful city. And if we are in unforgiven sins, we will never go through those pearly gates or walk on those golden streets. Our faith is vain.
Number six: "Then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" [1 Corinthians 15:17]. All of these that we have buried – and I have been a pastor sixty years, think of the people I have buried – and they are locked in the chambers of death forever. We’ll never see them again. "They who are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."
And the seventh one: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19]. We are nourishing a baseless faith, and we are giving ourselves to a deception and a lie. I repeat: there are no "ifs" in human experience as traumatic as these seven he lists here regarding the resurrection of our Lord if Christ be not raised.
Thank God! Praise God for the alternative:
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.
[1 Corinthians 15:20-22]
The death of Adam has influenced every man and woman born into this world. No less does the resurrection of Christ influence all humanity. If we can look upon this earth as a vast burying ground, it is a field waiting for the reaping for the harvest.
Now, why is it not left thus alone? Why would God raise the dead? Why do they not remain in their corrupting burial grounds? Why should we have a doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? The doctrine of the immortality of the soul a worldly doctrine. The whole world somehow believes in the immortality of the soul. The ancient Egyptian, the American Indian, all of the ancient philosophies of the ancient world, all of them believe in the immortality of the soul.
In yesterday’s Dallas Morning News, in a column read by millions and millions of people every day, is this poem:
Do not stand by my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am [the] diamond glint on snow,
I am the [sun] on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the [morning’s] hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand [at] my grave and cry,
I am not [there]. I did not die.
["Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep"; Mary Elizabeth Frye]
That is Stoic philosophy. Stoic philosophy is that everything you see belongs to a world soul, and we come out of that world soul, and we are absorbed back into that world soul; I become the wind, I become the snow, I become the sunlight, I become ripened grain, I become the autumn rain, I become the circling birds in flight, I become the stars that shine at night. That is Stoic philosophy.
It is diametrically opposed to the Christian faith: the doctrine of the Christian faith is the resurrection of the dead. And it is peculiarly and uniquely a great revelation in Jesus Christ that the dead are raised. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul was preaching to the learned Athenians, when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, the Stoic philosophers and the Epicurean philosophers mocked him and laughed at him [Acts 17:32]. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body to a philosopher, to a Stoic, is unthinkable. When the dead die, they die forever; and when the body perishes in the dust of the ground, it stays corrupted and in dust forever. That is the doctrine of the world. The doctrine of Christ is diametrically opposite: the heart of the Christian faith is that Christ was raised from among the dead; and because He lives, we shall live also. The teaching of the Christian faith is that we shall be in the world to come a whole person; not just spirit, not just soul, we shall be a person such as you are now, only glorified.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, when the Lord appeared to His disciples raised from the grave, they were affrighted, supposing they had seen a spirit. And the Lord said, "Handle Me and see; I have flesh and bone. For a spirit hath not flesh and bone, such as ye see Me have." Then He asked, "Do you have here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb; and He did eat before them" [Acts 24:36-43]. We shall be a whole person in the great resurrection day of the Lord. We shall sit down with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and we shall break bread with Him, and we shall drink of the cup with Him; we shall be a whole person. Christianity abhors disembodiment like nature abhors a vacuum. The fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter is that we will not be disembodied, but we will be clothed upon, as the King James Version translates it, we shall be clothed upon, we shall have our bodies, only they will be like His body: perfect, glorified, immortalized, but like Him, a whole person. It is God’s purpose to redeem the whole possession: not only my spirit, not only my mind, not only my heart, not only my soul, but also the physical anatomical body in which I am born.
This is the Christian faith, and this is the Christian message: we will live in His presence and be like Him. For, as the Scriptures say, "We shall see Him as He is" [1 John 3:2]. I have to close. May I just point out one other thing in this marvelous passage?
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. Then the end" [1 Corinthians 15:20, 23-24]. Now, every man in his own order, tagma, that’s the only time in the New Testament that that word is used, tagma; but it’s used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Scriptures. And tagma refers to regiments passing by, to bands passing by, to troops passing by. If you sat in a grandstand and watched the parade passing by, those regiments, those orders would pass by one by one. That’s the word tagma. And he says we shall be in that tagma, in that order. And he names the order: first, Christ; Christ the firstfruits. In the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, the first barley sheaf was waved before the Lord [Leviticus 23:11]; that was the earnest and the promise of the whole harvest that was yet to come. And Christ is that barley sheaf, the first one to be raised from the dead. Not resuscitated, but immortalized, glorified, raised from the dead: Christ was the first one to be raised from the dead.
Then the next order: the firstfruits; these are they who were raised after Christ was raised from the dead; that little band who lay asleep in the cemetery in Jerusalem. And when our Lord was raised, that little band of firstfruits were also raised from the dead. Then in the order; they that are Christ’s at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]. When the Lord comes to earth in the rapture, at the end of this age, God shall gather together these who have fallen asleep in Him. They shall rise first, "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. This is the third troop that shall rise to meet the glory of God at His coming; then the last ones, then the end ones, the end ones. At the end of the tribulation, these who have been martyred and laid down their lives for Christ, they will be raised [Revelation 6:10-11]; "and so shall we ever be with the Lord." This is the power of Christ in the life of the Christian. Though I die, yet shall I live again. "And, though after my body worms destroy this flesh, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and not another" [Job 19:26-27]. The promise we have in Christ of a resurrection is beyond our imagination to think of it. "When all of us are changed, either having died, raised from the grave, or if we are alive unto the coming of the Lord, to be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
When I think of the great ableness and power of Jesus my Lord, I am overwhelmed. I can hardly in my finite mind hold the vast meaning of the ableness of Christ to save those who find hope and refuge in Him.
I one time heard of a great civic gathering in one of our mighty cities. There were thousands and thousands of people there, crowded into that civic auditorium. And they were listening to men who were presenting their faith. One was a Hindu, presenting Hinduism. One was a Mohammedan, presenting Mohammedanism. One was a Buddhist, presenting Buddhism. And the fourth one was a Christian, presenting the Christian faith. The man who preceded the Christian speaker, the Buddhist, was a brilliant philosopher. And as he stood there before that vast throng, and as he spoke of the laws of karma and nirvana, and as he expounded the eight living precepts of the Buddhist faith, he swayed that great throng by his eloquence and by the fundamental foundation of his philosophy. He was followed by the Christian speaker. And the Christian speaker was inept and unable and incapable; and he stammered and stuttered as he sought to present the claims of Christ. It was a tragic moment – when up in the top of the balcony, a man stood up and began to sing:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall;
Then others picked up the melody:
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all!
Then as he sang the second stanza, others joined him:
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all!
When they reached the final stanza, the people were standing by the thousands and the thousands:
O that, with yonder sacred throng, we at His feet may fall,
We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!
["All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name"; Edward Perronet, John Rippon]
There is no faith like the Christian faith. There is no promise like the Christian promise. There is no Savior like Jesus our Lord. And there is no hope like that to which we have found preciousness in Jesus our Lord. What a wonderful privilege! What a heavenly invitation! What a glorious and godly welcome, thus to be invited into the heart and the love and the grace of Jesus our Lord.
This is resurrection day! This is Easter day! This is God’s day for us, and we praise His name forever!
Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, what feeble words these are compared to the glorious promise we have in Christ Jesus. O Lord, what a message, what a gospel, what a hope, what a promise, what a glory, what a heaven we have in Him! Though we die, yet shall we live again! And it will be the whole purchased possession: all of us redeemed; every part of us sanctified by the ableness of the power of Jesus our Lord. And our Father, bless Thou this witness. And may God give us a gracious harvest in this moment of appeal; trophies of grace to lay at our Savior’s dear feet. Amen.
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing a hymn, and while we sing it, to give your heart to the Lord, to accept Him as your Savior, to bring your family with you, to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, to answer a call of the Spirit in your heart, in this sacred moment, make that decision now, and come. May angels attend you in the way, and may God bless you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.