Third Sunday of Resurrection: I Corinthians 15:12-19,The Empty Threat of Death, Part II

People of God, this is the Third Sunday of Resurrection! We will continue our study through Paul’s narrative in I Corinthians 15. This is Paul’s resurrection magnum opus; it is the Bible’s greatest treatment of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah.

This new creation, this new Church has its root in this glorious event in history. The Church did not create the resurrection story, the reality is the resurrection of Christ created the Church.[1]As F.F. Bruce once stated:

“The early Christians did not believe in the resurrection because they could not find his dead body. They believed because they did find a living Christ.”[2]

The tomb is empty because the threats of death are empty. In fact, the threats of death are so foolish that Paul goes so far as to taunt and mock death at the end of this chapter: “O Death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?”[3]  Paul is pushing the idea that if there is no resurrection, then death will have the final word. In fact, I Corinthians 15 is structured in a way that explains this resurrection theme through various perspectives and angles. “Christ is risen, so we have hope.” “Christ is risen, so you may live a resurrected life.” “Christ is risen, so you are no longer in your sins.” These are the implications of the resurrection. This is why Paul takes such time and care to teach this immature congregation in Corinth why the resurrection is central.

Chapter 15 appears to be an abrupt change of subject matter of the previous 14 chapters, but Paul is very purposeful. In essence, he is saying: “What is the use of any of these instructions? What is the use of discipline, what is the purpose of tongues in the church, of order and decency, community, love, and gifts if there is no resurrection?”

So, in 58 verses Paul answers that question.

Verses1-11 is the first part of Pau’s response to the Corinthians. We saw two weeks ago that he re-established their commonly held belief that Christ was raised from the dead. So, Paul demonstrated that Jesus is Lord of history; that his resurrection from the dead is the very foundation of a life of faithfulness and joy. The first 11 verses serve to remind the Corinthians that this resurrection gospel has been affirmed in the last twenty years, and that Paul is only carrying on this message. This is no novelty. The Corinthian Church needs to stop living as if Christ were still in the tomb. To live in the service of a Resurrected Lord entails giving up childish things. Paul is actually tying the immaturity of Corinth with their low view, even their forgetfulness and denial of the resurrection. Disobedience sometimes is nothing more than a memory problem. We can become so cross-centered that we forget the empty tomb. Many of the ancient traditions meditated on the cross of Jesus, but Paul wants us also to meditate, remember, and act on the basis of the resurrection of the Son of God. When we are tempted to sin, remember: He is risen! The resurrection is the fount of God’s eternal grace. We need to have a robust empty-tomb theology that drives us to obey our Lord, and live in harmony with one another.

What is the foundation of the gospel? That Christ died, was buried, and on the third day He rose again for us, and that He was declared to be Messiah of the world. Now that this has been re-established, let me clarify something about this resurrection.

In verses 12-34 he reconciles two ideas: belief in Christ’s resurrection and a denial of their own. Paul says that if you believed Christ was raised from the dead, then you cannot deny the inevitability of your own resurrection at the end of history.  First the head is raised, that is Christ, and then the body, his chosen people. We are going to delve briefly into part two, and conclude this section next Lord’s Day.

What is happening in this section in I Corinthians 15?

Not only are you forgetting the resurrection, and the nature of the gospel, but you are also missing the basic point of your own resurrection. This broken and fragmented congregation is having  a theological crisis. Why? Because they have taken their eyes off the Resurrected Christ, they are now living as a people of no hope. We want to be a people who live the gospel, but also who know the gospel. You cannot have one without the other. And what are the Corinthians missing? Paul sets up his argument in verse 12 with a question: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Notice that Paul is not blaming every single individual in Corinth. Paul says “some of you are saying.” This is a very sober point to make. The body is one. If one part of the body is corrupted, then it will inevitably affect the other parts. This is why one of the role of ministers/shepherds in the congregation is to maintain sound doctrine; to guarantee that no corruption enters into the congregation. In Paul’s day, there were some in Corinth who opposed Paul, and were trying to intoxicate the Church with false teachings.[4] They had a position of prominence in the Church of Corinth, and even though they were not elders or pastors in the Church, they were influencing others. If you want a picture of a church with no accountability, no discipline, no excommunication, look no further than Corinth, and a large portion of the American evangelical scene. This is why Paul troubled: because the Corinthian Church has lost her foundation and purpose. You cannot both affirm Christ is risen, and that there is no future resurrection. The two are inextricably and intimately tied. If Christ’s resurrection has no effect on your present and future existence, then they can continue to live in their immaturity. Furthermore, the Apostle says:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

Paul is acting like a faithful teacher. Why? Because a faithful teacher wants to make sure that his parishioners understand his point, even if he has to explain it through different angles. “Don’t you understand that Christ’s resurrection and yours are connected? If you do not see that point, let me try to explain it this way: “To deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny the resurrection of the the one who makes any and all resurrections possible.”[5] That is to say that “those who are currently dead and those who shall yet die will not have a future existence that involves their present bodily form.”[6] If you claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, while at the same time denying that you too will be bodily raised, then you have falsified the gospel, and it is of no use.[7] But beyond that our preaching is in vain, and the faith you have gained from the preaching is also in vain. Our preaching is empty and without purpose. There is a little play on words here: “If the tomb is not empty, then our words are empty.” The entire apostolic word is dependent on this empty tomb message.

But is there something else at stake here? Paul is relentless, insistent, and unyielding in his commitment to make this crucial point to the Corinthians and to the Church of Christ today:

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. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

The argument is built based on his previous comments. “If you deny a future resurrection of the body, you are denying that Christ was raised from the dead, and further—and this is at the heart of Paul’s argument—you are carrying a lie in the name of God. So not only are you denying the future resurrection of the body, you are also implicating God himself. This is more than just a little theological game, this is the very heart of the gospel.

You may think that the only ones who would dare deny a future resurrection of the body are liberal professors who are heirs of German Higher Criticism. No. Today ignorance has increased to a vast number of members sitting in the pew. The problem is they have no sense of how the bodily resurrection of Jesus changed everything. Ask the question in this manner: “In what form was our Lord raised from the dead?” Paul will answer this question, because to be raised bodily as Jesus was implies that we too will be raised bodily at the end of history. Jesus was not raised in Spirit only. Jesus’ resurrection was not some metaphorical way of teaching us a lesson. Jesus was not raised in a spiritual way, so as to teach us that we can leave the tomb of our depression. Jesus was not raised, so he could be used in a pep talk by pop psychologists; no, Jesus was raised bodily, so we may have a past, present, and future hope. There is no past forgiveness without resurrection. There is no present joy without resurrection. And there is no future hope beyond the grave without  resurrection. As Paul concludes in verses 18-19:

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in     Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

The Christian has no reason to be confident in any of his endeavors. If there is no resurrection, then this is all a waste of time. If there is no resurrection, then our thinking, parenting, and worshiping are all in vain. If there is no resurrection then history is just random data with no goal or telos. But to get to Paul’s point, if there is no resurrection, life is perpetual sadness. Our loved ones in Christ have died forever. The martyrs of the church have died in vain. Don’t rejoice; don’t smile; don’t have children because they will inherit a world with no purpose. Nietzsche’s nihilism was correct. Christopher Hitches was right. There is nothing else beyond this world. Unbelievers should pity our waste of time. Unbelievers should cry when they meet us.

This is the end result of our existence apart from the resurrection. But God who is the great architect and designer of creation created a world with a purpose. God created this world, so that it would manifest his glory in every aspect. He created a world in which death does not have the final word. The world began empty and void, so that God might fill it with the glory of the Resurrected Messiah.

So, How Shall We Then Live?

When we speak of the resurrection we are speaking of the new age; or what Paul calls the New Creation. In fact, Paul says that you are a new creation. You are a preview of the final resurrection. C.S. Lewis suggested that we would fall down in worship if we ever saw the people around us with true eyes.[8] If we grasped the reality that we are—not fully—a resurrected people filled with the righteousness of our Lord, how would that affect our relationships with one another? How differently would we parent? How would we look upon the pain of others? I think this would radically change our reaction to those around us. I believe Paul is charging us to look at the world through resurrection eyes. Though we have not reached that fully glorified state, we are already tasting of that glory even now.

Finally, let me also correct a possible misunderstanding with this passage. Paul says we do not have hope in this life only, but in the glorified life to come. But this does not mean we live this life only thinking of the life to come. Gordon Fee summarizes it best:

And if we have believed in the future when there is no future, then of all human beings we are the most to be pitied—not because Christian existence is interested only in the future, but because the loss of the future means the loss of the past and present as well.[9]

The hope of the future provides present purpose. We are not simply enduring this world until we get our resurrected bodies, we are preparing the world to embrace our resurrected bodies. Our earthly life is practice for the the resurrected life. What we do matters. Our future bodily resurrection is not an excuse to live through life without purpose, but rather to live through life purposefully. This abundant life is ours, and we will proclaim this life by the power of our Risen Lord.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

 

 

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 


[1] Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ, pg. 47.

[2] FF Bruce, *The Apostle of the Heart Set Free*, p. 93*

[3] Vs. 55.

[4] Calvin discusses this when commenting on verse 18: “Hence some fanatics conclude that there is no life in the period intermediate between death and the resurrection; but this frenzy is easily refuted. For although the souls of the dead are now living, and enjoy quite repose, yet the whole of their felicity and consolation depends exclusively on the resurrection; because it fis well with them on this account, and no other, that they wait for that day, on which they shall be called to the possession of the kingdom of God.”

[5] Gordon Fee, I Corinthians Commentary, 741.

[6] Ibid. 741.

[7] See Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 330.

[8] http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/lessons/index.html

[9] Fee, 745.

 

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in I Corinthians, Sermons/Easter and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Third Sunday of Resurrection: I Corinthians 15:12-19,The Empty Threat of Death, Part II

  1. Pingback: Weebles Wobble and Jesus Returns | Resting in His Grace

  2. Pingback: Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Empty Threat of Death, Part III, I Corinthians 15:20-28 | Resurrectio et Vita

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