Easter Sunday 2016 / 1 Corinthians 15:20

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

Today is Easter Sunday, the Sunday of the Resurrection. You already know that, because you’re here. This is the day when we, together with all Christians, proclaim to one another and to the world that Jesus Christ who was crucified for the sin of the world rose bodily from the dead. It is NOT, as you sometimes hear, the “day Christians celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead.” The resurrection of Jesus, His empty tomb, the eyewitness appearances, are not matters of faith. They are matters of fact. The fact is that Christ rose from the dead. The faith is that as in Adam all die so in Christ will all be made alive. That is a matter of faith. But the resurrected body of Jesus is a matter of fact.

The Corinthian Greeks of Paul’s day had no trouble with the immortality of the soul. They certainly believed that your soul lived on after your body died, and there were various opinions about what that meant. There are people today who believe that we live on in our descendants, in their memory, in their DNA, in the community, in our legacy. There are those who believe that we live on in some kind of disembodied soul existence, caught up somehow in the Divine. There are those who believe that we are reincarnated, that we come back as other forms of life to work out our respective karma until we finally get it right. The immortality of the soul poses no problem. The resurrection of the body is what trips people up.

We have a body problem. We think that the source of trouble is our bodies, that if we somehow escape from our bodies, we would at last be free and pure. We think of our bodies like pop cans, an outer container holding a soul. And once the soul is sprung from the body, we just toss away the can. It’s empty and useless.

Christians believe none of that. We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In that order. There is no life everlasting without a resurrection of the body. And any life there may be apart from the body is not fully “eternal life,” that “life in abundance” as Jesus put it. We believe in the resurrection of the body precisely because we believe that the body of Jesus rose from the tomb on the third day, the first Day of the week. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, we wouldn’t believe in the resurrection of the body. We’d be free to believe in some disembodied immortal soul, or whatever our personal devotion suggested.

The apostle Paul lays out the dire consequence if Christ isn’t raised. If the Gospel we just heard was a pious story. If there is some tomb in Israel with the bones of Jesus in it.

If Christ isn’t raised, first of all, our preaching is empty. All we’re left with is a kind of group therapy with morals, helping each other cope with the trials of life, helping each other to become better people, invoking some vague “higher power” to help us. That’s all that’s left. Our preaching becomes nothing more than a motivational pep talk, a bit of uplift for the beginning of the week, like a cup of spiritual coffee.

And if our preaching is empty, then your faith is empty too. Your believing in Jesus is a waste of time and spiritual energy that could more profitably be used elsewhere, if Christ isn’t raised. What’s the point in believing in a dead messiah? What’s the point in believing in a good guy who healed some people and got himself crucified and whose name and legend lives on in made up stories? You may as well believe in the Easter Bunny, if Christ is not raised.

If Christ isn’t raised, then the church has been perpetuating a lie for 2000 years, and we’re continuing to lie to the world today. Oh, it may be a sincere lie, a pious lie, a hopeful lie, but if Jesus really isn’t raised from the dead, if that tomb of His still has His bones in it, we’re liars. What’s worse, we have been claiming in the name of God Himself that God raised Him from the dead. It’s bad enough to tell lies about someone else. If Christ isn’t raised, we’re telling lies about God, and I can assure you, God doesn’t like that. He has a whole commandment dedicated to it.

If Christ isn’t raised, then our faith has no value. It is not reckoned before God as righteousness. We are still in our sins. We’re hosed. We’re doomed. We’re damned. That’s what’s at stake here. Our whole salvation rests on Christ being crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, and if Christ isn’t raised, there is no hope for you, me, or anyone.

If Christ isn’t raised, then none of the dead are raised. In fact, they’re lost. Gone. And those who have died ahead of us in the faith have perished. Never to be seen again. If Christ isn’t raised, there is no communion of the saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection of the body, no life everlasting. You can toss out the whole third article of the creed, along with the second article that confesses “on the third day, He rose again from the dead.”

If Christ isn’t raised, then all we have is an invisible friend that we pray to for favors to help us through life. “We are of all people most to be pitied.” If Christ isn’t raised, then Richard Dawkins and his crowd of atheists are correct: life ends in biological death, there is no meaning, no purpose, no hope beyond the grave. You may as well believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If Christ isn’t raised, then the Epicureans of Paul’s day were also correct: “Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then all there is of Easter is an old pagan spring festival, a celebration of life returning from the dead of winter, the annual cycle of renewal, the circle of life, easter bunnies, easter eggs, a nice meal with friends and family. Better enjoy it. Tomorrow we die.

Pretty grim, isn’t it? If Christ is not raised.

But here’s the good news of Easter: In fact (IN FACT, not in faith, in fact!) Christ has been raised from the dead! He’s the first fruits from the dead. The first fruits means more fruit to come. The first apple, the first orange, the first tomato. He’s the first one to break through the bars of Death and trample it with His cross. He unlocked the prison house of Death and freed Adam and all His children from their captivity. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.” The dead will rise to live in Christ just as sure as He is risen from the dead.

Christ is risen! What does this mean for you?

First, it means forgiveness, life, and salvation. This preaching isn’t empty. Your ears aren’t full of fond wishes and empty promises. Christ is risen from the dead and that risen Christ will raise you from the dead. His Word is true. His promise is true. His forgiveness is won, it is certain and sealed. He predicted three times at least that He would die and rise on the third day. He did it! He is risen, just as He said.

Second, it means that the Law stands fulfilled. It is filled up with Christ. The wages of Sin is death, and Christ has paid the debt. The books of the Law are closed. Paid in full. The Law cannot condemn you in Christ. It can still accuse and kill old Adam, but it cannot touch the new you in Christ.

Because the Law is fulfilled, Sin is disempowered. It no longer has any power. Its venom has been neutralized by the blood of Jesus who became Sin for us. His blood is the anti-serum to Sin and Death. He took the sting of Death, and in dying and rising, He has become the “medicine of immortality and life.” There is a cure for Death and Sin. It’s the blood of Christ and His body, who has come through death to life.

Third, it means the grave has lost its victory. It cannot hold because it could not hold Jesus. “As in Adam, all die. So in Christ, will all be made alive.” The grave is now nothing more than a resting place, a Motel 6 for the body, a temporary place of sabbath rest until we rise in the new creation. We can truly say, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.” Their bodies slumber in the grave, their souls rest in Jesus. All is well and all will be well on the Last Day.

Fourth, it means hope in this life. Death has lost its sting. The grave has lost its hold on Adam. We need not fear Death, enemy though it is. Christ has conquered. In fact, we need not fear anything in this world, even those things that could destroy the body. Christ is risen! It means that we are free to love, to serve, to hope, to endure, to embrace, to let go, to forgive. It means we can come to the Supper of the Lamb and eat and drink, for tomorrow we live!

Christ is risen! Your sins are forgiven.
Christ is risen! Sinners are justified.
Christ is risen! The grave has lost its grip.
Christ is risen! The Law is fulfilled.
Christ is risen! And the dead will be raised.
Christ is risen! The new creation has dawned.
Christ is risen! And in Him, you too will rise.

In the name of Jesus.