“If Christ Be Not Raised From the Dead...”
1st Corinthians 15:12-20
the course of my holocaust studies I frequently come upon accounts of
heartbreaking delusion. I
read, for instance, of Jewish people in the 1940s who hear of something
dreadful said to be on the point of befalling their people.
They look at each other in horror -- but only for a few seconds
-- and then console themselves, “But of course it isn’t going to
happen; it couldn’t happen here; we live in a civilized nation; this
is the land of Beethoven and Schubert and Goethe and Heine and Schiller;
this is the country whose appropriation of the Enlightenment gave Jewish
people recognition and opportunities unparalleled anywhere else in
Europe. What we’re told is
about to happen could never happen here.”
But it did happen, and when it happened the delusion was exposed
as lethal – albeit exposed too late.
Our hearts go out to anyone we find living in a delusion.
The newscast tells us of yet another elderly person who opened
her door to a man in a fine business suit, and who told her he was a
bank official bent on uncovering a fraudulent bank employee.
In order to help the bank in this important task would she kindly
cooperate and temporarily withdraw her savings as well as her late
husband’s life insurance benefits.
We all know the rest of the story: another trusting eighty year
old who has been swindled out of all her material resources.
Perhaps the most extreme form of living in a delusion -- and
therefore the one to which our hearts go out the most -- is the delusion
of the mentally deranged person. He
tells us he is Napoleon fighting in the American Revolution, pursued
alternately by the RCMP and Admiral Nelson.
The psychotic person’s delusion appears to extend everywhere
and comprehend everything. He
appears most to be pitied.
did I say? Extend
everywhere and comprehend everything, most to be pitied.
The apostle Paul insists that if Jesus Christ has not been raised
from the dead then those who believe in him are deluded, overtaken by
hallucination. Since those
who believe in him believe that he is the one through whom and for whom
everything has been made, that he is sovereign over the entire cosmos,
then the delusion in which such believers are sunk is no little
delusion extends everywhere and comprehends everything.
“If Christ be not raised from the dead”, says Paul, “we
believers are of all people most to be pitied, for we are in the grip of
a hallucination that’s total.”
Christ be not raised”, the apostle begins, “then our
preaching is in vain.” Of
course it’s in vain. Preaching
is always a matter of pointing to Jesus Christ as the living one who not
only lives now but whom death will never be able to overtake again.
What could be more futile, vain, than commending as living,
living eternally, someone who is at this moment deader than a dinosaur?
This is not to say that such a preacher herself is fraudulent or
hypocritical; merely to say that such a preacher is deluded.
And because she is deluded with respect to the truth about Jesus,
what she urges upon others is unsubstantial, groundless, ineffective; in
short, utterly unreal.
Preaching is never merely a matter of setting forth a cluster of
ideas or notions on a religious topic. Preaching the gospel to the yet-ungospelized
is not the same as commending capitalism to communists, or commending
the Prime Minister’s platform to those who support someone else’s,
or commending the monarchy to republicans, or commending sobriety to the
every situation just mentioned someone is placing one set of ideas
alongside another set, at the same time assuming that the other party
will see the inherent superiority of the contrasting set of ideas.
The western capitalist assumes that the notion of capitalism is
transparently better than the notion of communism.
The Chinese communist, needless to say, assumes the exact
Preaching isn’t this; preaching isn’t articulating notions
whose inherent superiority is self-evident.
Preaching, rather, is testifying to the living person of Jesus
Christ as he is clothed with his truth.
In the course of this testimony the living one himself emerges
from the sincere but garbled utterance of the preacher and stands forth
as living person to be seized and trusted and loved and obeyed.
Preaching is a matter of uttering many words about Jesus when, in
the midst of these many words, the
Word himself steps forth in such a way that hearers are no longer
assessing words; hearers are confronted with that Person whom they
cannot evade and concerning whom they must now decide. But of course the
one spoken about can loom up out of the many words about him and stand
forth as the world’s sole redeemer and sovereign and hope only
if he is alive. Unless Jesus
Christ has been raised from the dead and is now alive, preaching is
nothing more than an exercise in comparing idea with idea, notion with
notion, even bias with bias.
When next you hear a sermon ask yourself this question: does the
preacher exude confidence in the promise of the risen Lord, confidence
that he will startle hearers as witness is borne to him?
Or does the preacher exude no such confidence, with the result
that the sermon has to resort to shrillness, exaggeration, or
manipulation? Preaching that
resorts to such devices is already in vain, since these gimmicks attest
the absence of any conviction that Jesus Christ is alive.
On the other hand, preaching that rests its confidence in the
promise of the living one to manifest himself; rests its confidence in
the one spoken about to speak for himself; rests its confidence that he
who is pointed to as if he were far off in
truth is here to meet us now; preaching that exudes the
preacher’s experience of Christ; namely, that he
can unstop deaf ears and open blind eyes and thaw frozen hearts -- such
preaching is never in vain just because the risen one himself will
always honour it and use it to confirm himself alive as he puts another
new-born on the road of lifelong discipleship.
Christ be not raised from the dead”, the apostle continues, “then your
faith is in vain.” Of
course it’s in vain. Faith
is our glad, grateful, adoring embracing of the one who has first
embraced us. But the dead
don’t embrace. Then if
Jesus hasn’t been raised what we thought to be our faith (we thought
we were embracing him) is the ghastliest delusion.
Little wonder the apostle says we would then be the most
pathetic, pitiable creatures on earth.
Think of it this way. Faith
is always faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate One, the Son of God.
On Good Friday it appeared that his Father had abandoned him to
contempt and cruelty. What
if Easter hadn’t occurred? What
if the Father had abandoned his Son forever
to contempt and cruelty? Faith
in such a God would be ludicrous, and if ludicrous then surely in vain,
for such faith (so-called) would be nothing more than the desperation of
naïve people in the face of a snickering deity.
Or think of it this way. Faith
in Jesus is faith that he is the one in whom God routs the tyranny of
evil and renders the strongholds of Satan the
. Faith in Jesus is faith
that the mighty deeds of his earthly ministry were signs and instalments
of that kingdom where only God’s will is done.
But if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead then his mighty deeds,
so far from being signs and instalments of the kingdom, were nothing
more than transient, sideshow amusements.
What about his teachings? His
teachings, he insisted, are the manufacturer’s manual to that kingdom
which cannot be shaken. Are
they? Or are they merely the
exaggerated expostulations of an extremist?
Let’s be honest: of themselves, our Lord’s teachings do
resemble the exaggerated ranting of an extremist.
Just listen to him. “Either
you love God -- profoundly love God -- or you are more surely addicted
to money than a junkie is to cocaine.”
On the face of it this assertion is ridiculous.
Why did he juxtapose God and mammon, God and money in this way?
Why did he assume that God and money are the rival powers,
jointly exhaustive, in the entire universe?
His assertion is categorical, without qualification.
He offers no argument, no explanation, just a bald, bold
assertion. “Do you lust
after someone to whom you aren’t married?
Then you are an adulterer, just like those promiscuous types you
despise in your heart and warn your children against.”
“Either you forgive from your heart the person who has violated
you or you have invoked the death sentence upon yourself, for either you
pardon the person whose treatment of you is inexcusable or you forfeit
God’s pardon of you.” “You
won’t give up anything that inhibits your spiritual growth?
Then you aren’t fit for the
and you might as well depart for the outer darkness right now.”
Our Lord’s teaching sounds so very extreme.
It is extreme. Then is it
wildly exaggerated and for that reason false?
If he hasn’t been raised from the dead then his teachings can
be dismissed as the raving of a zealot we do well to forget.
If, on the other hand, he has been raised and now lives
eternally, then we should pause and ponder his teachings, for they are
the manufacturer’s manual to that kingdom which cannot be shaken.
Christ be not raised...you are still in your sins”, the apostle continues.
Of course we are. We
are still in our sins in two senses.
In the first place, if Christ be not raised then his Father’s
ratification of his death as the effectual sacrifice for sin hasn’t
occurred. The death of Jesus
is then no different from the deaths of the two terrorists who died
alongside him. Concerning
the deaths of these two terrorists Charles Wesley never wrote, “God
and sinners reconciled.” Concerning
their deaths another hymnwriter didn’t write, “In the cross of
terrorists I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time.”
When John the Baptist was executed his friends lamented that a
good man had been bushwhacked; his friends never exulted that the sin of
the world had been dealt with definitively.
The resurrection of Jesus, on the other hand, is the Father’s
declaration that this execution
is unique in all the world; this
execution isn’t defeat but victory.
This execution isn’t finally martyrdom but amnesty.
This execution isn’t finally ultimately to be lamented but
celebrated. Because Christ
has been raised from the dead we know what his death means.
Because Christ has been
raised the Father has declared to the world that the Son’s sacrifice
is sealed, accepted, honoured, made effective for all men and all women
is a second sense in which the Corinthian Christians, to whom Paul wrote
these words, would still be in their sins if Christ had not been raised.
If Christ had not been raised then Christ could not seize the
and claim them for obedience and righteousness.
Had they not been seized, claimed for obedience and
righteousness, they would still be stumbling in disobedience and
wallowing in unrighteousness.
Make no mistake. The
reputation of the people of
was known the world over. It
resembled the reputation of present-day
. Everyone knows what the
major tourist attraction is in
. Everyone knows that the
business of venereality is so lucrative in
that the government there won’t do anything about it, won’t even
protect the twelve and thirteen year olds who are exploited by it.
The ancient world had a word for all this, a verb: “Corinthianize”.
In the ancient world if you wanted to speak of every kind of
degenerate human sexual activity from the shamelessly immoral (but not
perverse) all the way to the unmentionably perverse, you needed only one
word: “Corinthianize”. If
Christ had not been raised from the dead, he wouldn’t have --
couldn’t have -- seized and startled and claimed those who came to
faith in him and were added to the congregation in that city.
Those people would still have been doing what they had been doing
before the risen one had arrested them.
In this sense they would still be in the midst of their
You and I are less dramatic sinners than the people of
. To say we are less
dramatic sinners, however, is not to say we are any less sinners. Yet
because Christ has been raised from the dead we too are no longer in our
sins; no longer in our sins in the sense that we are now endeavouring to
repudiate sin as quickly as we recognize it, endeavouring to put it
behind us, never so much as to entertain it or flirt with it.
We want only to triumph over it and praise God for the victory,
like any authentic disciple.
Christ be not raised”, the apostle says in conclusion, “then those
who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
Of course they have perished.
Only the deluded would think anything else.
Christians have always known that death is death.
Romantics may disguise death romantically and pretend any number
of silly things about death, but Christians know that death isn’t
sleep. (Jesus didn’t sleep
on the cross.) Death is death.
It is the presence of Jesus Christ -- and only the presence of
the risen one – that renders death sleep for his people.
When Paul speaks of “those who have fallen asleep in Christ”
he means Christians who have died and who have trusted the resurrection
of Christ to be their resurrection too.
But if Christ has not been raised then there is no resurrection
for them to trust to be theirs. They
died trusting a phantom; they died deluded.
Yet Christ has been
raised from the dead. Their
trust in him has not been misplaced, has not been in vain.
What it all means is that we can entrust our departed loved ones
to the care and keeping of the God who will preserve them and us as
surely as he has preserved his own Son.
has been raised from the dead. Preaching
is not in vain. Faith is not
in vain. We are not still in
our sins. And our friends in
Christ who have died have truly “fallen asleep in Christ”, for his
resurrection is theirs -- and ours -- as well.
Christ has been raised from the dead.
We are not deluded folk who are briefly living out a giant
fantasy. We live in truth.
We shall never have to be pitied, let alone pitied above all
Christ has been raised from the dead.