Let's Pretend Jesus Isn't Raised

By the tender age of five or six I had become utterly convinced of the doctrine of total depravity. I didn’t know the doctrine yet by that name. I had memorized bible verses about all sinning and falling short of the glory of God, none doing righteous, none seeking God. 

But even in those early years it wasn’t merely conceptual for me. I knew not generally that people are sinners, or vaguely that I was a sinner. Rather I had a deep personal awareness that I was already a lying, disrespectful, self-loving, adulterous, self-promoting thief-child. 

That’s the result of the law of God doing its work. The law of God is God’s righteous standard. It clarifies who we really are vs. who we think we are or who we want to be. The law of God exposes, it pierces, it undoes. It shuts up every mouth that would offer an excuse for sin, or make a boast or claim to personal goodness. It leaves us standing without a hope or a plea that we could offer in exchange for our sinfulness. In a word, the law condemns. That means the law pronounces a verdict of “guilty as charged” over us.

It was that condemnation that drove me to turn from my sin and find salvation in the only name under heaven, given among men by which we may be saved. I turned to Jesus aware that were it not for me receiving the credit of his perfect life I was utterly doomed. And here is essence of the gospel. The gospel means good news. It is the good that God has initiated a rescue plan for sinners who will turn to him.

But believing the Gospel doesn’t result in instant maturity. It doesn’t result in instant glorification. I kinda wish that’s how it worked. But it doesn’t. And so, there is a maturing process. For me that involved wrestling through doubts that would creep in.

As I transitioned into the young adult years I began to question: what if I got duped? What if this is all some made-up story that makes me feel better about my sin? Had I not been born into a home where I’d learned about the Bible, but instead been raised to view the world through humanism or Islam or Buddism or Bahai or atheism or deism or polytheism or tribal superstition or a false gospel, would I not have believed that to? Am I merely a product of my upbringing?

We don’t like to ask those questions out-loud. They don’t sound very spiritual, do they?

We’ve all had doubts. 

One of the ways I would console myself as a child was to think that even if God wasn’t real or Jesus wasn’t the only means of salvation at least I still chose a good path. In other words, all things being equal, this was a good way to live. Even if I’m wrong, this seems the least risky option. I won’t end up destroying my life in sinful choices.

And so my strategy for selecting a worldview was strikingly similar to an investment strategy. We will be risk-adverse and choose a safe strategy.

But one day I encountered a problem with my consolation. I came across a passage of scripture that ripped away the little plan I had concocted. 

It was the very passage we will put eyes on this morning. Doubts still come from time to time. And doubts cause us to revisit what we believe and why we believe it. But merely falling back on the hope that, “hey all things considered living the moral life of Christianity is a pretty good way to go” is false.

Christianity is not merely the better option, but salvation in Jesus Christ is the only way to be made acceptable in God’s eyes. And this isn’t something we believe in our hearts, while our heads tell us it can’t be true. It isn’t a leap of faith or blind faith. It is reasonable. Although saving faith is supernatural, it is still connected to historical facts.

In this case our focus this morning of course is the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. That he not only died and was buried, but that he rose again. And this is essential to our faith. If you take away the resurrection you lose Christianity. You have broken it irreparably.

1 Corinthians 15:12–19—12 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, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Paul’s point is to demonstrate the necessity of a bodily resurrection of believers by reasoning backwards from the agreed upon facts of the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul isn’t using personal experience as the basis for believing the resurrection (i.e., you guys are going to be really hopeless if Jesus isn’t raised, therefore you must believe it). He will appeal to the normal principles by which we verify facts (eyewitness testimony, etc.) to validate the reality of the resurrection.

So, what does this passage do for us if we believe in the bodily resurrection already? I can tell you what I experienced working through this text—meditating on Christianity without a risen Christ leaves you thrilled that we have a risen Christ.

As we study each of these negative consequences of pretending Christ is dead, it is the opposite of our reality.

Paul has dealt with many behavioral problems in Corinth. Now he turns his attention to the matter of beliefs, and specifically about what happens when you die.

He is instructing his spiritual children… young students who are confused.

(12) 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? 

Main question that he kicks off the entire section with. What you believe doesn’t make sense. 

(12) Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead,

The if isn’t merely hypothetical. It is something that is actually taking place, namely preaching a risen Christ. Paul is structuring an argument…

Jesus said it of himself: To Martha He said, 

John 11:35—I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.

The foundation of apostolic teaching was that Christ rose from the dead and that all who believed in Him would also be raised.

Acts 4:1–2—As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

You know the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ… I preached it, I saw him, so did many others (vv. 1-11). The resurrection is the foundation of your faith. It is the vindication of Jesus as being the perfect Son of God who conquered sin and death and now reigns and rules in heaven above. 

It was my priority when I came to you. It was a priority in your heart as you believed. Paul starts here. It is the agreement point amongst all of the believers in Corinth. No debate, dissent or discussion at all. 

This was Paul’s central message of preaching Christ crucified: 

1 Cor 2:2. But that doesn’t mean not raised… i.e. 1 Cor. 15:1f

So, here’s my question…

How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 

As my three-year-old often says: that doesn’t make sense…

To understand this little digression by Paul then it is important to recognize that no one at the church in Corinth (so far as we can tell) is claiming that Jesus wasn’t raised. They believed the good news they had heard about in vv. 1-11. 

It wasn’t everyone. Part of being in a church is that everyone doesn’t completely agree on everything. A minority of believers there, some among them said this. 

Why this statement? What did it mean? We read this question and it sounds ridiculous. But you have to think like a Corinthian to understand this question.

Just consider the question in 1 Corinthians 15:35

1 Corinthians 15:35—But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”

Even amongst those who believed in the dead being raised there was a lack of clarity: How does it happen? What kind of body do they get? 

Let’s say you grew up as a Corinthian… closest modern equivalent is you grew up a San Franciscan… sea port, cosmopolitan, destroyed by a fire and repopulated with the up-and-comers. A hub of commerce and trade. It was booming economically and at the same time, morally corrupt. Corinth even prided itself on its erudite wisdom (the echo chamber or social elites today in the Bay Area).

In Corinth, Greek philosophy was the dominant worldview.

Sophists… Greeks want wisdom, chapter 1. One prevailing distinctive of Greek philosophy is the concept of dualism. At the risk of oversimplifying the thought it boiled down to this: the body is bad, and the spirit is good. What’s inside is good and so you once your soul sheds the body you depart into a better place.

Remember in Acts 17 Paul is engaging with philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens.

Acts 17:32—Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”

David Garland says concerning this:

The Corinthians’ error is not rooted in some deliberate doctrinal rebellion but in honest confusion, given their Greek worldview. They fail to comprehend how an earthly body that is physical and perishable can be made suitable for a heavenly realm that is spiritual and imperishable.

Seneca, the first-century Roman Stoic philosopher said as he looked toward the day of his own death:

When the day shall come which shall part this mixture of divine and human here where I found it, I will leave my body, and myself I will give back to the gods.

One day finally I will say goodbye to my body and leave that human fallen part behind and my soul will be set free from this bondage. The soul will live on forever in immortality, but the body is mortal and will cease existing. Not denying that there will be an afterlife. But denying that the body itself will be raised.

Bible teaches that the inner life is corrupt—it is the heart not the body. But this body isn’t fashioned for glory. So, they are half-right in a sense.

They are confused based upon the context that they live in. Every era of the church in a given location has areas of cultural influence that are difficult to discern.

And it wasn’t just Greeks who had a struggle with this. There was a Jewish debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees regarding the bodily resurrection of the dead.

It is the same situation today:

  • Bahai—we can’t know
  • Buddism—we will come back reincarnated as something else, with an existence tied to how much good or bad we did in this life (karma)

Why so much conjecture about the afterlife. Well, since we were fashioned in God’s image and we possess a soul that will never die, there is an inherent awareness hardwired into everyone that says, this life isn’t final, and yet when you die you leave and you don’t come back. 

The focus group of people who have experienced death (truly, not those bogus books that come around every couple of years) but there is no one in them. We need divine truth to clarify these things for us

So back to our text, Paul is saying, “what you are saying doesn’t make sense because…”

(13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 

Here’s a logical inconsistency. In logic a syllogism is a way of stating facts that demonstrate a conclusion. Paul is using the basic form here, just implying rather than writing out the second component. Here’s how it works:

  • Major premise (general statement)
  • Minor premise (specific statement, that is related)
  • Conclusion (the result of both being true)

Take an example from nature:

  • Major Premise: Once chopped down a tree cannot be brought back to life.
  • Minor Premise: The tree in my yard is chopped down.
  • Conclusion: My tree cannot be brought back to life.

I can get some tree be-green food, I can get that liquid we mix into the water in the tree stand around Christmas that helps dead trees look alive. I could spray paint the dying needles green, but once dead, there is no hope for that tree.

Here in Paul’s argument then:

  • Major premise: there is no resurrection (dead people are not raised)
  • Minor premise: Jesus died
  • Conclusion: Jesus did not rise from the dead

Paul is going to use a specific type of conditional statement throughout this section where what he does is says, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it is true that Christ isn’t raised. I want to demonstrate your bad thinking by taking it to its logical conclusion. Let’s play this thing out together.

Jesus of Nazareth was God and man united in one person. That one person died. The body stopped breathing, no pulse, no brainwaves, no circulation. The soul lived on, as is the cause when we die. Then the body of Jesus was raised in newness of life, in resurrection power, and his soul was reunited to his body. 

If you deny the bodily resurrection, then you deny this reality. We don’t have enough details to know how the Corinthians who were struggling with this doctrine reconciled these things. It is suggested that perhaps they denied the humanity of Jesus. The challenge I see is that Paul doesn’t ever correct them for disbelieving in a resurrected Christ. It seems to me that they were believing that Jesus was raised. The problem then is that there other position is inconsistent.

What Paul does next is not an argument for the resurrection. He doesn’t appeal to their faith and say, “think of how sad and hopeless you would be without the resurrection… it must be true.” It isn’t emotional reasoning. It isn’t working backwards from faith. It isn’t a proof. Paul gives the evidence before and after this paragraph. Here he is playing out the fact that all of Christianity hangs on whether or not Jesus actually rose bodily from the grave or not.

If you are playing Jenga, theology-edition, the crucifixion block is the one block that will always knock the entire stack over. It is a lynchpin, it is a keystone, it is the essential ingredient. You takeaway Jesus conquering the grave and you lose Christianity.

So, Paul now adopts that line of thinking. Let’s play this thing out to its logical end. I’m going to take up this new premise: Jesus did not rise from the dead. With that new premise in mind here are six necessary conclusions that will result.

6 Tragic Consequences if Christ Isn’t Raised (1 Cor. 15:12-19)

Paul’s argument is established in vv. 12-13, repeated in v. 16

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)
  4. Salvation is nonexistent (17)
  5. Death is decisive (18)
  6. Christians are pathetic (19)

(14) and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, 

vain: without effect, without result. So effort is exerted, but the desired outcome is never produced. There’s no progress.

Point of the word vanity? To reveal the useless folly of trying to do something. It’s vain for humans to attempt to fly… people die from trying. Our bodies and our arms even with wings taped to them don’t have the right proportions and strength and balance. We weren’t made to fly. It’s vain.

Keeping carpets clean when you have little kids. Or perhaps nagging your spouse about his or her driving. Vain. Never produces the outcome you’re hoping for.

Like trying to wash oil-based lacquer out of a brush using soap and water.

No matter how hard you try, you don’t achieve anything.

Our preaching is vanity. It’s worthless. It has no weight. No bearing. No lasting impact. Every sermon you’ve ever listed to is pointless.

After all preaching is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1).

Direct opposite of what Paul says, which is that the proclamation of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Gospel means good news… extra, extra, read all about it. God saves sinners who can’t save themselves. It’s a royal pronouncement of pardon to any offender who comes and seeks pardon from God.

It’s all talk and talk is cheap. You can say anything, but it doesn’t make it true.

Might as well start listening to TED Talks every week or having therapy.

The Corinthians understood this. They were used to persuasive words of wisdom. They were accustomed to philosophers pontificating and discussing new ideas. They had heard moralists and stoics. And when Paul came unadorned and said you are guilty before God and your only hope is to be delivered by the perfect Son of God who gave himself for you, the message hit them in power. It was unlike anything they had heard before. There was conviction and weightiness and substance and sorrow and joy. It was impacting. Like in Thessalonica—word came in power.

Paul’s rhetorical logic is this: why are we here? My preaching and your believing are completely worthless. If Jesus isn’t raised I’m preaching about nonsense. Come and have new life in a dead man? Jesus is the way, the truth and the… life!

But it’s not just my preaching that is pointless…

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)

your faith also is vain. 

I bet that phrase rattled a few in the congregation to the core.

Can you imagine the air in the room as this letter was read? This document is a letter, an epistle, which was delivered to the local congregation and then when the people of God gathered presumably on the Lord’s Day they would read the letter. 

You are going along listening. It’s been heavy on many issues that need to be addressed from pride to immorality to divisions and lawsuits, drunkenness, Christian liberty, conduct in the church and spiritual gifting, love and the profound lack of it. No one is feeling good after hearing this letter. That is not encouraging. Far more negative than positive as a matter of fact.

But then the tone changes. You get to chapter 15. Oh, the joy! Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. The good news that we received, and we stand in.

Then we get to v. 12 and you start to challenge us again. This time not on behavior so much as belief.

Those are scary words: your faith also is vain. 

We don’t really like to talk about or think deeply about the questions that we may have been believing something untrue. Confirmation bias (guilty on the left and the right). Don’t think you are immune, neither am I.

What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.

Now that’s a bit dramatic. I wouldn’t say that’s what a human being is best at doing. Nevertheless, it is part of who we are.

Thucydides, an ancient Greek philosopher noted:

For it is a habit of humanity to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.

There is a fear of having believed in vain. Paul talks about that in this very chapter. If your hope is fixed upon a dead man to save you then you are in a bad spot.

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)

(15) Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 

You have to reject a great deal if you hold to a non-bodily-resurrection view. I’m a liar. So is Peter. Oh yeah, and James, John, the rest of the apostles. The Marys are in on it too. Not to mention the other (500+ disciples). It would mean that we all concocted a complex web of lies to corroborate our stories and get them straight, and then we were either lied to by Jesus, or we covered for him.

The reason why this is so important is because Jesus said he was going to rise three days later. Matthew 17:62-66 records that Pilate knew what Jesus had said, the chief priests (the power-center in Jerusalem) knew it, the Pharisees knew it, the disciples knew it, and the Pharisees and chief priests were terrified after his death, why? Because everyone else knew about his claim to resurrection too. They said, we need to secure the grave, because if people think he raised then what he says will be vindicated. 

That was the whole point.  

Paul says, we are liars who have said that God has done something that he hasn’t done. By the way, that neighbor or co-worker you told the gospel to—you’re a liar to.

Of course, the apostle would give their physical lives unto death because they were unwilling to change their story. They wouldn’t’ do that for something they knew was a lie. Joke is up at some point.

(16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 

Repeat. Round two. Brings it home not just from the big picture of the messed-up theology, but how severe the results are in your own personal life.

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)
  4. Salvation is nonexistent (17)

(17) and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 

Paul having already made this point back up in v. 14 drives home a terrifying implication here. Your faith is worthless, and the net effect is your sin problem hasn’t been dealt with. This point really gripped my heart.

If Jesus isn’t alive right now then I am facing accountability for every sin I’ve ever committed, and I’m going to have to be judged and sentenced accordingly.

Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The just deserves is death. It’s always been that way. But it’s a scary thing to imagine being dead to God and alive to sin.

John 8:21—Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.”

As I reflected I was thinking back over my life and it was overwhelming as I considered my sin. Countless times of rebelling against God-ordained authority in my life. Promoting and elevating myself. Manipulating others to get what I wanted. Ingratitude. Hypocrisy. Immorality. Lying. People-pleasing. Stealing. Sometimes in overt ways, sometimes subtly. 

But the magnitude of my sin is overwhelming. And I don’t even view myself the way God does. And my memory isn’t even very good. But all of that sin is still mine, if Jesus wasn’t raised. It didn’t work if he wasn’t raised:

2 Corinthians 5:21—He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

He had to be raised…

Romans 4:24–25—24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

If there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t raised in power than who cares if you are “in Christ Jesus” there is still condemnation. No salvation. No forgiveness. The sting of death remains. It’s actually his next point:

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)
  4. Salvation is nonexistent (17)
  5. Death is decisive (18)

(18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 

This was an arresting statement. You had in that congregation no doubt parents who had said goodbye in this life to children, children who had buried parents, and a host of other family and friend relationships within the body of Christ, severed by death.

When they died those believers grieved not as the world does, which as those with hope. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians before 1 Corinthians, where he makes this statement. What was the hope? They are with Jesus now. After all the Corinthians were baptizing for the dead in 15:29.

The Corinthians were confused about the matter of the body, remember—1 Corinthians 6:13. But they weren’t hopeless. 

And yet Paul says, “if you are going to be consistent then you must be…” because remember our logic? If Jesus died and wasn’t raised, then your friends who died, died in their sin. And when he says they have perished, he means irreversibly damned to hell in their sins.

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)
  4. Salvation is nonexistent (17)
  5. Death is decisive (18)
  6. Christians are pathetic (19)

(19) If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Screamingly obvious conclusion of all these other conclusions cascading down

pert. to being deserving of sympathy for one’s pathetic condition, miserable, pitiable

If you have placed all of your hope in future life with Christ and it isn’t happening then you are in a miserable, pathetic position. Like a teenage girl trying hard to fit in at school who is befriended by someone popular and gets an invite to a special event only to find out after getting ready and arriving that there is no event other than humiliating her.

Hoping, striving, Bible reading, even suffering.

The problem is that Jesus isn’t one of our gods, he isn’t one good teacher among rivals. We aren’t trusting in a combination of his righteousness combined with our best attempts to please God by our own morality. If that were the case things wouldn’t be so bad. We don’t believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. We believe that bad people who have Christ go to heaven.

As the chorus goes: Hallelujah, All I Have Is Christ, Hallelujah, Jesus Is My Life. All I have. He is my life.

This example doesn’t hardly do justice, but remember what happened when the Philistines went up against Israel? Goliath, their hero brought confidence, and when he went down what happened? He was out…

It isn’t a better life among alternative options unless it’s true. If Christ isn’t raised then spend your life trying to save the earth, or keeping puppies from being homeless or something. But don’t go to church. Stop reading your Bible. Never evangelize. And by all means, stop living for this unseen (so called) savior. It’s a sham and you’ve been duped, and everyone should feel sorry for you.

Thank God we end on v. 20.

I am thankful again for my salvation… the preaching is the power of God unto salvation, that my faith is

All of these promises are yes in Christ, every negative tragic consequence is actually the opposite:

  1. Preaching is pointless (14a)—it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe, the Jew first and then the Greek. Emboldened in evangelism—you don’t need advanced training and classes, you need to be able to tell someone the good news. It is a powerful message.
  2. Believing is worthless (14b)—Paul says in 1 Timothy, I am confident in whom I have entrusted myself. Whenever the Scripture talks about vain faith it isn’t a problem with the object, but rather whether or not your faith or my faith is genuine. If your hope is fixed upon Jesus Christ then he is trustworthy and your faith is secure.
  3. Apostles are misleading (15)—we have eyewitness testimony recorded in scripture. It was written at a time where it could be discredited and it wasn’t (some are still alive right now).
  4. Salvation is nonexistent (17)—one name, under heaven, given among men whereby we may be saved. He canceled the death certificate on the tree.
  5. Death is decisive (18)—the grave could not hold Jesus and he was raised as the first fruits for us. If you have Christ, then you have a body, fashioned-for-glory coming.
  6. Christians are pathetic (19)—Christians are enviable. Not in our own standing, but the position that we have freely received is the greatest position anyone could ever be. We hope now for what will one day be our inheritance with Christ. Our inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, waiting for us, secured by the blood of Jesus Christ.

As Paul pretends what it would be like if Jesus is still dead we rejoice that in fact he lives.