The words are familiar. But in practicality, the words are forgotten and dismissed. They are the words of God, spoken through the Apostle Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is useless – and we are to be pitied more than all people.”
Christians have always confessed this truth, the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And generations of Christians have found this basic teaching to be the cornerstone of our faith. This is the truth which guarantees our forgiveness, the truth which puts a nail in Death’s coffin, the truth which lifts our eyes past the success or failure of earthly life and focuses our eyes on eternal life in heaven.
And yes, that life in heaven is ours – only because Jesus lived, died, and physically rose from the dead to pay the debt of our sin.
But the bodily resurrection of Jesus has been denied from the very beginning. The last chapter of Matthew tells us about the deceit of the Jewish leaders. Barely 30 years after the fact, Paul had to remind the Corinthians (1 Cor 15) that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead – and that this resurrection was an actual, bodily resurrection. Numerous witnesses saw the risen Lord.
So how could anyone say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? How could this bodily resurrection be denied, minimized, forgotten? Christ’s heart, which stopped beating on Good Friday, started again Easter Sunday. When the soldier pierced his side that Friday afternoon, the blood was already separating; Easter Sunday, it was recombined and recirculating. Bearing the marks of scourge, nail, thorn, spear, Jesus exited the tomb that Easter Sunday. Death had been broken!
The resurrection is proof that your sins have been forgiven. Christ’s resurrection is proof that you, too, will rise from the dead: dust reassembled, ashes gathered and reunited with soul, brought to stand before God on Judgment Day.
The words are (hopefully) familiar. “But Christ has indeed been raised from death, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep!” Do we believe them? Does the real death of the Son of God bear a prominent location in our teaching and preaching? Do we teach why the virgin Mary gave birth to this Jesus – namely, that Jesus came to pay for every infraction against God’s holy, unchanging will?
Or . . . do we sacrifice integrity for popularity and doctrine for emotional appeal, neglecting to teach about Jesus Christ in favor of something we find more palatable and appealing?
If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is useless. And if we do not preach a crucified and risen Jesus, then our preaching accomplishes nothing of lasting value – because if Christ had not been raised, Christianity holds no good news. If justification, redemption, resurrection are not preached, then we must manufacture our own good news: “I changed my life, and look how God has given me prosperity! You can have the same, if you do the same!” Or the other extreme: “Do whatever you want, sin doesn’t matter; God will forgive you!”
Without the physical resurrection of Jesus, church becomes a place where morality is king and lawlessness is queen, a place where God’s blessing in my life is a result of my work and effort. The problem is not new. The false teaching is as ancient as Satan himself.
So please, Christian in the pew: Re-read 1 Corinthians 15, and see that Jesus has lived, died, and risen for you. The message of Easter is not bunnies and butterflies, nor is Easter a time for celebrating your own spiritual journey. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus makes all our church work and preaching worthwhile; the resurrection means sin has been forgiven and - through baptism - you have been united with Christ to live a new life: No longer a slave to sin, but a servant and child of the Lord. May we never find ourselves in the pitiable position of denying these truths!