1 Corinthians 15:12-18
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 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
Christ is risen! We do continue to bring you Easter greetings during this Easter season, and in honor of Easter, we will be again discussing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before we get there, I wanted to remind you of something from Francis Schaeffer.
You do remember Francis Schaeffer, don’t you? For some of you in this room, Schaeffer is before your time, but for most of us his name ought to at least ring a bell. Schaeffer was hugely influential, not just on Reformed Christians, but on Evangelicals across the world. He had a very powerful ministry in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Early on in his career he attracted the attention of artists and musicians, notably Bob Dylan, and later on he had important relationships with political leaders, even co-authoring a book with the US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
Many people think of Schaeffer as an apologist. Some describe him as a great evangelist. But most of all, he was someone who was passionately in search of truth. Truth, that is, finding out what is “really real,” what is actually the case. And Schaeffer was doing this at a time when the leading thinkers and teachers of the world were questioning whether there really was such a thing as truth at all. We sometimes think that “postmodernism” or “cultural relativism” are new things. Actually, they’ve been around in powerful ways since the early 20th century, and there were strong cultural movements even in the 1950s which led Schaeffer to believe that the concept of truth itself was in danger of being lost.
In his first and still most-important book, The God Who Is There (1968), Schaeffer said this:
The present chasm between the generations has been brought about almost entirely by a change in the concept of truth… men and women are being fundamentally affected by the new way of looking at truth, and yet they have never even analyzed the drift which has taken place. …This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem, as I understand it, facing Christianity today. (The God Who Is There ((IVP, 1998)) 25-26)
He went on to explain the nature of this change. He said that earlier generations took a number of things for granted. They all agreed that there was such a thing as truth. Schaeffer put it this way:
What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. They accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. …They took for granted that if anything was true, the opposite was false. In morality, if one thing was right, its opposite was wrong. …Thus it was still possible to discuss what was right and wrong, what was true and false. One could tell a non-Christian to “be a good girl” and, while she might not have followed your advice, at least she would have understood what you were talking about. To say the same thing to a truly modern girl today would be to make a “nonsense” statement. The blank look you might receive would not mean that your standards had been rejected, but that your message was meaningless. (26-27)
What Schaeffer was talking about was the fact that modern men and women, particularly urban intellectuals, had stopped believing in absolute truth and absolute morality. They had, due to a very intentional change in the method of education, come to believe that everything in life is simply a reflection of your community, tradition, or particularly history of experience. Something might be “true” or “good” for you, but it could not be true or good for everyone, at all places, and at all times. To suggest otherwise would simply be prejudice and self-centeredness on your part. To speak of a truth for everyone could only be an attempt to force your beliefs onto someone else. This was what Schaeffer was seeing in the 1960s, and he thought it was the biggest challenge to life, death, and religion facing humanity.
History is funny though. It really did look like the late 1960s and early 1970s were going to bring about a full-scale revolution, not just in culture, but across all of human life. Some people were ecstatic about this. Others were terrified. But it didn’t quite happen. Oh there were big changes, no doubt about that, but by the late 1970s and early 1980s, things had swung back to a more conservative place. The economy became a main focus, and there was even a renewed emphasis on “family values.” In the Clinton administration, there were the famous cases of “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” and “The Defense of Marriage Act,” each of which has since been branded as radically conservative. For whatever reason, the 30 years following Schaeffer’s observations proved something of a parenthesis. However, it is now, in our present day, that his fears are once again surfacing in an unavoidable way, and it is now that his warnings and teachings are most relevant. We must now, more than ever before, proclaim and defend the absolute and unchanging nature of truth and morality. They really exist, and they are not defined by our will. And all of this brings us to the resurrection of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul pushes all his chips to the middle of the table and stakes Christianity’s success or failure—its life or death—on the fact that Jesus Christ really, actually, literally rose from the dead. Paul says:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:14-17)
Does that sound like a man who thinks everything is relative and that our claims about truth, morality, and religion are just community traditions? No, I think not. Paul actually believes that a man died and rose again, and he believes that this event changes everything.
What was the early Christian Church having to deal with that caused Paul to write these words? Was there some early outbreak of Beatniks and Hippies running around Corinth? Not exactly. There were at least two groups of people who did not believe in the doctrine of the resurrection. The Sadducees, and influential Jewish group, and the one who experienced the favored political position in the 1st century, did not believe in any resurrections at all. They thought that once you were dead you might enjoy some sort of spiritual afterlife, but your body stayed dead. It stayed in the grave. If this were true, then obviously Jesus could not have been raised from the dead either.
A second group is less-well known, but Paul mentions Hymenaeus and Philetus in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. He says that they, “have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” If the resurrection is already past, then that raises some immediate problems. Look at your body. Does it look resurrected? What about the next funeral you attend, what happens to that body? If the resurrection is already past, then we must again only be left with some sort of spiritual resurrection, and that is not the message that the Apostles preached. It is not a message that has much power for real life. It cannot give us hope for a true future salvation. And Paul says that any denial of a true bodily resurrection in the future leaves us with a hopeless faith and still trapped in our sins.
Paul even says that Christianity cannot just be a life-philosophy to inspire and teach us how to get along with our neighbors or live a good life in this world. It must (must he says!) have something to say about eternity. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). If Christianity has nothing true to say about life after death, why are we to be pitied? Well, because we’ve given up so many opportunities in this life. Christianity places limits and restrictions on you, saying that you should forsake pleasures and gains and instead sacrifice yourself. What a waste if this life is all there is! But it’s also a great pity because Jesus himself spoke about eternity. And if the person we worship turns out to have been wrong, then boy don’t we come out looking rather silly.
It’s worth dwelling on this point for a bit. A lot of us have made a similar pilgrimage in our faith. We grew up with a sort of “pie in the sky” religion which only seemed to give us the key to getting into heaven, leaving this world untouched. And we were rightly dissatisfied with that kind of religion. We wanted something practical. We wanted something that changed this world. And there’s a good thing in that desire. But don’t let it get you stuck in the opposite error. The Bible is clear that eternity really is more important than this life. “Do not be afraid of those,” Jesus says, “who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But… Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5). The Resurrection of Jesus is the surest proof that death is not the end. Eternal life, eternal resurrected life with God is the final goal of Christianity. And it is either true or it is false.
Real Reality and True Truth
Now the thing that is assumed throughout all of this is very simple, and it’s what Francis Schaeffer was talking about. Paul is assuming that Jesus really did rise from the dead, in the 1st century in Jerusalem on this planet. There was a tomb. A stone had been in front of it. A dead body was in that tomb. And on Easter Sunday, that body was raised from the dead. The stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty.
This all really happened, and had you been there at the time you could have tested it. It was verifiable. And it was, in principle, falsifiable. That means that had it not actually happened, then that could have been shown to be the case. And if the resurrection didn’t happen, then Paul says our entire religion crumbles to the ground. Listen to his way of arguing:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:13-17)
If no dead bodies are raised, then Christ’s dead body was not raised—an argument from the universal to the particular. If Christ’s dead body was not raised, then the apostolic preaching is useless and not worth believing. It’s even worse than useless, in fact, because the apostles had preached that Jesus was really raised from the dead, and so if he wasn’t, then they have been wrong. They have been lying. And every Christian everywhere has been believing a lie that leaves them hopeless and still dead in their sins. If, then… If, then… If, then.
Jesus either rose from the dead or He didn’t, and what really happened decides the fate of every last one of us. This is not opinion. This is not a good story. This is not limited to one culture. This is absolute truth. It is the way things are, absolute reality.
This truth is not “true for you.” It’s true for everyone, and it is true for everyone because it is true. This is what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth.” It’s true. It just is. The resurrection really happened. It is “real reality.” And that means that our belief in the resurrection is also true and real. What Christianity says about the future of every human being is absolutely true and absolutely real. The Resurrection is real life!
And so what does this all mean? Well, at this point there’s no room to be timid or humble. If truth is true and reality is real, and if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then this means that we must go out and tell everyone about it and demand that they do something about it. We must be cultural imperialists. We must think we’re right. We must go out there and impose our personal and private beliefs on the whole world in the hopes, not that they will bow to us, but that they will believe in Jesus and be saved.
Christianity is not a private religion. It is not a philosophy. It is not a faith community or great tradition. Christianity is the nature of reality. It is public. It is objective. It applies to everyone. And we have to believe that it is real. Do you believe the gospel?
Now, more than just talking about it, this also means that we have to believe it for ourselves and change our lives. If you really believe that God is everywhere and that He sees you, then why do you continue to sin? If He knows everything, then why do you lie? Why lie to Him? Why lie to yourself? Why do you talk about people or let anger take control? Don’t you believe that Jesus is Lord and that He is sitting on a throne in heaven? Don’t you believe?
And so this all has to start with you: you have to believe that Christianity really real and truly true. You have to show others that you take it seriously, serious enough to live like it, serous enough to renew your mind according to Christ, serious enough to trust and find rest in God’s power and in God’s grace.
In addition to his clarity of thought and power of speech, the thing which made Francis Schaeffer effective was that he was more or less calm and kind. He was worried and angered at the state of things in his life, but he was also always at peace. He knew the true nature of reality, and that meant that he knew that God was the creator and sustainer of all things and that God caused all things to come to pass, even now. In other words, Schaeffer was a Calvinist. And Schaeffer also believed—he knew—that the gospel was the power of salvation to all who believe! And so he answered the crisis of his day not primarily with ballot-initiatives, not primarily with arguments, not even primarily with the art and culture that he was famous for promoting, but rather, he answered the crisis of his day with the gospel. He reminded people that God was there and that God was not silent. God had spoken through His word. God has spoken through Christ Jesus.
That’s the message of Easter. God’s Word came to earth to save us. God’s Word died for our sins. And God’s word rose from the dead to show us the nature of reality for all eternity. Jesus Christ has set things right, and we become right by believing on Him. And this is true for all men, everywhere. Go out and tell them. Go out and show them, through your life, your mindset, your peace, and your love. Go out and tell them that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Easter really happened. And so we are not to pitied but rather to have an unconquerable hope. We have salvation forever.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Let us pray.