1 Corinthians 15:12-25
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 12, 2020
I watched a YouTube video recently where an interviewer walked the streets of Berlin, Germany asking people what they thought would happen to them after they died. You could divide the answers in roughly three groups. The young adults believed in some sort of reincarnation, where a person would live on some way, either as a different being or creature, like a tree, or simply as energy. Middle-aged adults were more likely to believe that nothing comes after death. You’re simply dead and cease to exist. And a few of the elderly actually believed in some sort of heaven and a heavenly Father, and hoped that this heavenly Father would be kind and let you live in heaven if you were good enough.
Not one of them confessed that those who trusted in Jesus would enter paradise and await the resurrection of the dead. Not a single one made any mention of a bodily resurrection at all! It was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. The land of Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, where the pure Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone was proclaimed to the whole world, and not a single one of these Germans confessed the Gospel. Although, this isn’t really surprising. It has been a long time since Germany could be considered a Christian land, let alone Lutheran. Yes, Germany was the birthplace of the Lutheran Reformation, where the pure Gospel was proclaimed against the false teaching of works righteousness from the Papacy. Yet, Germany is also the birth place of higher criticism, an academic discipline which has attacked the Holy Scriptures relentlessly for the past three centuries denying that the Holy Spirit caused the Bible to be written.
Higher criticism, which began by claiming to treat the Bible like any other book, so ruthlessly attacked the Bible unlike any other book, denying that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels, that Paul wrote his epistles, denying that anyone who wrote the New Testament knew Jesus or actually witnessed any of his miracles, and coming up with new outrageous, unsubstantiated theories to discredit the Bible after all their old theories were discredited, so that now it is quite common for “Lutheran” ministers in the state churches in Germany to deny the virgin birth of Christ, the divinity of Christ, and the resurrection of Jesus! So, even if these pedestrians in Berlin were to darken the door of a church in Germany, they would be very unlikely to hear the proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead!
St. Paul in his frustration that many of the Corinthians didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, declared, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Well, in these Germans’ case, Christ has not been proclaimed as raised from the dead. How could they believe that he is risen, if it is not preached to them or if they will not listen? And this is the same problem we have here in America, where higher criticism has spread in our churches quicker than any virus. People do not hear the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, either by refusing to go to church and listen or because their churches refuse to proclaim it. And so, they do not confess the resurrection of their own bodies. They don’t know what happens to them when they die.
We Christians are forced today to say with the Prophet Isaiah, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom as the arm of the LORD been revealed?” Jesus lived long ago. How could we possibly know what actually happened? Yet, for St. Paul, this was not the case. Listen to what he writes to the Corinthians and to us,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
St. Paul isn’t repeating some myth that has no historical basis, like that of Hercules or the Book of Mormon. St. Paul himself saw Jesus in person after his resurrection from the dead. He spoke with the disciples, who saw, touched, and ate with Jesus after his resurrection. A majority of five hundred people who saw the risen Christ together at one time were still alive when Paul wrote this letter. And we still have the written report of four Evangelists of eye witness accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! And all the apostles suffered loss of home, family, friends, and income, and all but one suffered the loss of his life for the sake of this confession. This is why St. Paul is so frustrated that the Corinthians would deny the resurrection of the body. Why then has he been proclaiming Christ’s resurrection at such personal loss?
Still, despite all this historical evidence and despite the clear proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, most still deny the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of all flesh. Many believe that you can even still be a Christian if you deny that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet, what does St. Paul write, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If Christ has not been raised from the dead, there is no sense in being a Christian! Sure, the Christian experiences joys in this life and by living according to God’s Word we learn to enjoy God’s blessings here on earth. But Christians are called to bear their cross! Christians must suffer on account of Christ; lose family and friends, possessions and income. We are mocked and ridiculed for our faith. And like the rest of mankind, we die! If Christ is not raised, then we also will not be raised, and our faith is stupid.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead! So, what does this mean? St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is the firstfruits! That is, Jesus is the source of the resurrection for all others. St. Paul says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In Adam all die, because Adam sinned. Sin entered our human race and caused us all to die. Death is God’s judgment against us. But Jesus’ resurrection undoes that judgment! Jesus’ resurrection gives us certainty that we will rise from the dead.
Now, everyone will rise from the dead. Both good and bad as Jesus says in John chapter 5, “For an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Yet, as you hear, not all who rise will enter eternal life. Rather, those who have done evil will be judged for their sins. Here Jesus’ warns of damnation. Yet, in this same chapter Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
We will not come into judgment, because we believe in Christ! How can this be? Because Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. The bad deeds that we have done that would have earned us the resurrection into judgment and eternal hell were borne by Jesus when he was crucified. All our sins were nailed to the cross. In Jesus resurrection he proved that all our sins have been washed away in his blood. He has accomplished what he set out to do. He reconciled the world to God!
St. Paul, after declaring that righteousness was counted to Abraham by his faith apart from his work says, “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
To be justified means to have peace with God. This peace can only be received through faith, apart from our works. The reason why it can only be received through faith, is because it is a gift. Justification, which means that God is not angry with us, but forgives us and considers us righteous, was earned by Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus was raised, our justification was completed. We do not earn our justification. We do not earn our forgiveness. We receive it through faith.
Since it is by believing that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead that saves us and not our works, some might think that we can continue to sin without repenting. It doesn’t matter whether you fornicate, steal, lie, cheat, gossip, view pornography, get drunk, go to church or not, hate, or covet. If you only have to believe, then you can continue doing all these things without fear! Wrong! St. Paul writes, “I die every day!” and “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.” (1 Corinthians 15:31, 34) Again, to the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” St. Paul answers, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Faith in Christ’s resurrection from the dead means that we have faith in his death for our sins. We confess our faith in Christ by dying to sin every day! Meaning, we repent of our sins, place them on Christ, and rise to walk in newness of life. Again, St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 6, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let no sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:9-13)
Through faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death, we put to death sin in our bodies every day and rise as servants of righteousness. This is because we believe that sin will finally die with our bodies and our bodies will be raised to live after the image of Christ, in righteousness and purity forever. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
There have been about 19,000 reported deaths due to the coronavirus in the United States so far. If we could have a vaccine tomorrow, approved by the FDA, proven effective, and in ample supply, people would be rushing to get vaccinated. It would be a miracle. We would all be talking about it, rejoicing. It would be the only thing we would hear on the news. Well, billions of people have died due to sin. And billions more will die on account of sin. And we do have a treatment that is 100% effective: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who gives forgiveness of sins, justification, peace with God, and certainty of the resurrection to eternal life to all who believe in him. If Christ is proclaimed as risen from the dead, how dare anyone believe that they too will not be raised. We are not ignorant, brothers and sisters. We know what will happen when we die. We believe that we will rise from the dead and live eternally with Jesus. We believe this, because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!