The Cornerstone of the Faith
Topic: Resurrection Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
This morning we continue our series Growing in Grace, working our way passage by passage through the book of 1 Corinthians. As we journey through this letter together, we learn how the Gospel applies to the real challenges we face as believers in Jesus Christ living in a fallen world. One of those challenges is that we have a powerful enemy who is relentless in trying to spread confusion to discourage us.
The devil is tireless in his attempts to spread lies and misinformation and in our passage this morning the apostle Paul continues his response to one of those lies, that there is no physical resurrection of the dead. Last week we saw Paul reaffirm the basic truths of the gospel. This week he will apply them to this question of physical resurrection. His main point is Believers are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That is the main point of our message this morning, Believers are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
If you have your Bible, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:12–19. If you are using the blue Bible we provide, it is on page 1199. If you do not own a Bible or need one, please take that one as our gift to you.
Before we get into the details of “what” Paul is teaching in this passage, I want to share an observation about “how” he is teaching in this passage. I want to do that because Paul’s example is instructive in giving us a method of applying God’s word to the variety of concerns and questions we have in our own lives.
The Bible sets the standard for everything we are to believe and how we are to live. It is sufficient for guiding us in all things related to our faith and our walk with God. God’s word is relevant to everything in our life, and it is a lamp that lights our path as we travel through this world. Yet, there is a sense in which the Bible is very limited in what it talks about.
So, how is it a reliable guidebook for our lives when it never mentions me or most of the specifics that accompany my life. It doesn’t say anything directly about modern technology or life. It doesn’t mention Southgate, Michigan, or the United States at all, let alone anything specific about the jobs we do, or the social, economic, and political systems we navigate each day.
It is because the Bible directly addresses every principal necessary to human flourishing and the nature of humans and the nature of God has not changed. What we need to do is identify those biblical principles and apply to our specific situation and questions. That is what Paul is doing here.
Notice that Paul reasons from God’s word and logically and rationally applies its truth. The prevailing philosophy of our age is not rational but romantic. We are told feelings and passions determines reality and have the power to change it. Contemporary men and women resist being defined by or conformed to anything external because they believe the greatest good is to pursue their authentic self. They see themselves as prisoners of these external structures and desire to break free from them to live a fulfilled life.
The word of God, however, insists on objective truth. God is God whether we acknowledge it or not. The world is the way it is, whether we choose to accept it or not. We are not the creators of our own little universes; we live in the one God created. Sin involves the irrational denial of absolutes but eventually reality has a way of asserting itself.
A man may insist that he is invincible and cross the street without looking for a long time without being hurt, but eventually he will step in front of a car and his delusions will give way to reality. Likewise, we can ignore the truth for a time, but eventually there will be disastrous consequences for doing so.
We are therefore called to be mature in our thinking. We are called to reason from the scripture and adjust our beliefs and our behaviors to the reality that God reveals to us. Paul tells Timothy,
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
We are expected to study the truth of the word and to be able to apply it for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says,
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Paul shows us that we must apply the truth of God’s word logically and rationally. This is not an academic exercise but is critical to the life of every believer. We cannot avoid it, so we should seek to do it well. Indeed, it is part of our personal relationship with God. For example, how do I know the promises of the gospel apply to me? By reasoning from the word:
Biblical Truth: The Bible says that all humans are sinners except Jesus
My Situation: I am a human being, and I am not Jesus
Conclusion: Therefore, I am a sinner
Biblical Truth: The Bible says that sinners who repent and believe in Jesus will be saved
Premise: I have repented and believe in Jesus
Conclusion: Therefore, I will be saved
If we have understood the Bile properly, and properly assessed our situation, then the conclusions inescapably follow. We can apply the word in an almost infinite number of ways so long as we interpret it correctly and apply it logically. That is precisely what Paul does in our passage today.
Some in Corinth claimed that it was impossible for humans to be physically raised from the dead. They could not understand how a physical body could live an eternal life, so they denied the possibility of resurrection. The question at hand is the resurrection of believers and the whole of chapter 15 is Paul dealing with this question about believers being raised from the dead.
He begins by reminding them of the basics of the gospel and then picks up here in verse 12 working through how those gospel truths logically apply to this question about resurrection. He begins by asking a question,
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
The gospel is the proclamation that Jesus rose again. If you don’t believe resurrection is possible, then you cannot believe the gospel since the gospel includes the indispensable claim that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
It isn’t surprising that many Greeks at that time would have had difficulty with the idea of resurrection. The predominant view in Greek thought was that the physical was inferior to the spiritual. They believed the soul of a person was imprisoned in the body and salvation was about the soul escaping imprisonment in this imperfect physical realm and going to a higher place of perfection.
In ancient Greece, people longed for their soul to be finally released from its physical limitations. Ancient Greeks did not see the body as being ultimately important so the idea that an eternal soul would be reunited with a physical body was difficult to accept. This influence remains strong in western culture even now. When people talk about their soul flying off to heaven, that is really a Greek rather than a Christian view of what happens when we die.
Many Christians focus on life after death, but as one theologian has observed, the concern of the apostles was on life after, life after death. The hope of the gospel is not the intermediate state when our souls are separated from our body, but glorification, when both soul and body are reunited in a state fully transformed by the Spirit.
To say that resurrection is impossible is to say that the promises of God are impossible and that the gospel, through which those promises are being fulfilled, is false. Paul says,
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
If it is impossible for the dead to be raised, then it logically follows that Jesus has also not been raised. It is important to recognize a fundamental reality about Jesus that Paul assumes. Jesus is a human being. Some people think of Jesus as an of exceptional case. They think since Jesus is God, he can be raised, but that isn’t true of us. But that is impossible in the logic of the New Testament because salvation depends upon Jesus being truly human and living as a representative of humanity before God.
John 1:14 says the Word became flesh. Hebrews 2:17 says he had to be made like his brothers in every respect. 1 Peter 4:1 says he suffered in the flesh. In John 20:27 the risen Lord tells Thomas to put his finger into the wounds in his flesh to show he was raised in the flesh.
Our salvation depends upon Jesus as the new Adam. A representative of humanity who is truly one of us. If he is an exception, then he is not both truly God and truly man and the incarnation does not fully reconcile God to mankind. It would mean that rather than being truly God and truly man, Jesus would be something in between God and man. But to deny the full humanity of Jesus is heresy. 1 John 4:2–3 says,
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist …
Jesus is truly God, but also truly man and his death and resurrection are experienced in his humanity. God cannot die and therefore cannot be raised from the dead. Jesus died and was raised as our representative. If we have received new life by his Spirit, our bodies will also be raised with him.
Listen to what Paul prays for the church in Ephesians 1:18–20,
“… that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places …”
The power at work in believers and the hope to which we are called is that same power that God worked in Jesus when he raised him from the dead.
Romans 8:11 says very clearly,
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
All these come together in Paul’s famous summary of salvation by grace in Romans 8:28–30. He says,
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Here we see an unbreakable chain that begins with God’s grace and ending with glorification. Glorification means being raised with Christ in glory. Believers are being transformed into the image of Jesus who is the firstborn among many brothers. He is the first to walk out of the grave, but all who God justifies are adopted as his brothers and sisters and will also be raised in glory with him.
That is God’s promise. Philippians 3:20-21 says,
20 … our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Since Jesus is raised, then by our union with Christ, we too have the hope of resurrection. If Jesus is not raised, then we have no hope whatsoever. Paul points to several things that we lose if Jesus is not raised.
Verse 14 says,
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
The word that the ESV translates as “in vain” means empty, nothing, without power, void. It is useless. If Jesus has not been raised, then Christian faith is empty and useless. It is simply a lie people tell to make them feel better, but no person can be saved by a lie. If Christ is not raised the message of the gospel is not a message of love but of manipulation.
A dead savior cannot save. If Jesus was not raised in the flesh, then our representative has failed. If death overcame even the perfect man who God sent, then the curse remains and there is no hope for sinners. To claim to be a Christian and deny physical resurrection is like climbing a tree and then sawing off the limb you are sitting on.
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
Truth matters. What we believe about Jesus matters. Eventually, all bad theology leads to suffering. To be wrong about something as important as the resurrection leads to eternal suffering. Paul met the resurrected Christ, and his life was transformed forever. He and the other apostles suffered and died to proclaim that God had raised Jesus from the dead. If Jesus isn’t raised, these men bear false witness and are liars. They would not be ministers of God, but ministers of the devil who is the fathers of lies.
But listen to what Jesus says about the preaching of the apostles in Luke 24:44–48,
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
The apostles are witnesses proclaiming that God has kept his promises. His word has been and will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
We are all are sinners who have rejected God’s rule over our lives and instead pursued our own way, putting ourselves in the place of God. We have made ourselves enemies of God. We inherited the sinful hearts of our first parents, were born sinners, and live every moment under the curse of death that comes from it. This is bad news because we will stand in judgment before God and if our only defense is the life we have lived, we will be condemned and punished because the standard is perfection.
But in an act of amazing grace and love God sent his son Jesus to live a perfect life in the place of all those who will believe in him. He died in the place of all who believe and repent, taking away their sins and satisfying the justice of God. He was crucified on a cross and buried, but three days later he rose again. That resurrection proved that the sacrifice was accepted, the sins were forgiven, and that the hope of believers is not in vain.
That is the gospel. That is good news. If Jesus had only died, that would be bad news. But he did not just die. He conquered death and the grave, rose again, and ascended into heaven where he intercedes for us. Without the resurrection, the disciples leave that upper room defeated and disappointed but every gospel ends with a resurrection narrative because it is the definitive event demonstrating his victory. The Resurrection of Jesus is vital to the entire message of the New Testament. For example...
Without resurrection, we wouldn’t know the significance of Jesus’ death. The resurrection is the Father’s testimony that Jesus is the obedient Son of God who has conquered death and reigns as Lord of all. Romans 1:4 says Jesus
“was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”. That Jesus is raised is the proof of his saving power.
Without the resurrection, we would have no reason to trust him because promised he would rise several times, like in Matthew 17:22–23 when he says,
22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
If Jesus was not raised, his word is not trustworthy.
Without the resurrection, our union with Christ is incomplete. Jesus did not need forgiveness, justification, adoption, or reconciliation with God. He came to achieve those things in our place. If he does not achieve victory over sin and death in the flesh on our behalf, we have no hope of being restored to what Adam and Eve were created to be. Listen to what Paul says is this hope in Philippians 3:8-11,
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
If Jesus is not raised, our hope of glory is misplaced and there is no redemptive purpose in suffering or selflessness. If the suffering of Jesus’ in the flesh did not lead to His glory in resurrected flesh, what wisdom is there in taking up our cross and following him? Throughout the New Testament the call to holiness and suffering is always connected to the hope of resurrection with Jesus as the example.
Without the resurrection, Satan is victorious in corrupting the creation of God. Rather than vanquishing the devil and restoring the goodness of creation, God retreats and evacuates his people, allowing death to reign over what he created and called good.
Jesus did not just die for our souls. He died for our bodies as well. In chapter 6, Paul says the body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the Body, that our bodies are members of Christ, and that we were bought with a price and so should glorify God in our bodies. In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s Kingdom would come, and his will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. God doesn’t retreat, he conquers.
It is because Jesus is raised that we have hope that those who have passed away in faith are not lost. Paul says if Christ is not raised,
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
To deny the hope of physical resurrection is to say that God fails to keep his promises. In the 20th chapter of Luke, certain Sadducees came to Jesus and posed a riddle to him to try and make him look foolish. Sadducees were a Jewish sect that had accepted many Greek notions and they thought resurrection was foolishness. Luke records the interaction in Luke 20:27–40,
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
His response causes them to shut up and leave. But why do they find this so powerful?
Jesus points out that Moses used the present tense when speaking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to prove resurrection. That is an interesting observation but hardly seems like a drop the mic kind of argument. This confused me for many years.
Then I noticed something in Hebrews, and it shed a whole new light on what Jesus said.
Hebrews 11:13 says this about the faithful men of the Old Testament,
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, ...
This phrase Jesus quotes, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is generally used in contexts related to God’s promises. The author of Hebrews points out that the promises were not fulfilled in their lifetime, but they trusted God because they knew the promises would be fulfilled in the heavenly kingdom. Then Abraham shows us why. They knew God is able even to raise the dead.
God has not failed to keep his promises. He is still gathering all who will inherit the kingdom. It is sort of like taking a flight. Because I fly frequently, I often get to board the plane early, but we don’t leave until everyone is aboard. I must wait patiently for others because the plan is for us all to get there together. Those who have passed in faith are not lost, they are waiting for all their brothers and sisters to board so we can arrive together in the kingdom.
Finally, Paul says,
19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If Jesus did not walk out of his tomb in the flesh, we are fools. We have given our time, talent, and treasures to a lie. We have traded the pleasures of this world for dust and death. But Jesus was raised. He is not a dead martyr to be remembered, but a living, reigning, returning King to be loved and trusted, both in present suffering and in future glory.
Our confidence rests in a risen savior. If we have met the risen Christ, we too can say the words of Job,
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God
 c.f. 1 Peter 1:3
 2 Timothy 2:15
 Job 19:25–26