If Christ Be Not Raised
January 29th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 15:12-23
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:12-23
1-29-56 7:30 p.m.
Now in your Bible, turn to the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and you can leave it open before you and follow the message tonight: the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. This morning, we left off at the eleventh verse. We take up now at the twelfth verse and go through the twenty-third, and the sermon is divided into two parts. One: If Christ Be Not Risen, and that’s the message delivered tonight, and then next Sunday when we pick it up, we give But Now Is Christ Risen. And if God shall help us, and if He gives us that day and hour, by His grace we shall give the irrefutable proofs of the resurrection of Christ from the grave.
Now, the fifteenth of First Corinthians and the twelfth verse. Let’s read it together – read it through the twenty-third. Do you see? That’s going to be the text and the passage tonight, and we’re going to take it almost verse-at-a-time: the fifteenth of First Corinthians beginning at the twelfth verse reading through the twenty-third All right, together:
Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen.
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain.
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He raised not up–if so be that the dead rise not.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins!
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-23]
Matthew Arnold [1822-1888] was one of the great, great literary figures of England in the Victorian day. When England had its highest glory in art, in literature, in empire, in kingdom, Matthew Arnold, I say, was one of the great literary figures of the Victorian Era – the great climactic era of the British Empire. And what if Matthew Arnold were right when he wrote:
Christ is dead! Far hence he lies
In a lorn Syrian town;
And on His grave, with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down.
["Obermann Once More," by Matthew Arnold, 1867]
What if there be no raising of Christ and no resurrection of the dead? The most colossal "if" in this universe is this "if" here. In the twelfth verse: "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"
And doubts don’t come one at a time. They come by flocks. They grow into multitudes – just like cormorants, just like vultures. Whenever you see one, there’ll be another, and there’ll be another, and soon there’s a whole flock of them circling round and round and round having found a decayed and corrupting corpse.
That’s what it is when you doubt. You never doubt just one thing – one fundamental, one revelation – but they come by multitudes. And they circle and circle and circle, and they go down and down and down.
Now, you look at this:
In the twelfth verse: "Now, if Christ . . ."
Now, look in the next verse: "But if there’s no resurrection . . ."
Now, the fourteenth: "If Christ . . ."
Now, the fifteenth: "If so be . . ."
Now, the sixteenth: "If the dead rise not . . ."
The seventeenth: "If Christ be not raised . . ."
The nineteenth: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ . . ."
Look at those "ifs." There are seven of them – if, if, if, if, and they go down and down and down and down, and then each one of those "ifs" is followed by a tragic avowal.
You look at the first one. The first one is in the twelfth and the thirteenth verses: "If there’s no raising of Christ, then there’s no resurrection" [1 Corinthians 15:12-13]. That’s the first "if." If Christ doesn’t live, then nobody lives, and if nobody lives, then Christ doesn’t live. They’re interlocked. They go together. The first terrible "if" is this: If there’s no raising of the Lord and if there’s no resurrection of the dead, then the grave is locked. All of our hopes and all of our aspirations and every dream that we have in life is destined to fall into a dark and unending grave [1 Corinthians 15:14].
Like Paul says here in the thirty-second [verse]: "If the dead rise not, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" [1 Corinthians 15:32]. There’s not anything that matters – nothing, nothing at all. Nothing. Just a little life of an insect compared to the vast eternity of God – here for a brief, short moment, then like a light, out forever. What does it matter? Nothing matters. "If in this life only, we have hope in Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:19], don’t worry about anything. Don’t be concerned about anything. Nothing matters. The grave is the end of all, and by and by we fall into that open sepulcher, and that’s night and dark [1 Corinthians 15:32]. It’s annihilation. It’s forever – done with and over! That’s the first "if."
Look at the second "if" there in the fourteenth [verse]: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, our preaching vain" [1 Corinthians 15:14]. You can’t preach a dead Christ. There’s no gospel to preach about a dead Christ. Every great doctrine of this Bible is authenticated and validated by the resurrection of Jesus. If there’s no resurrection of Christ, then every great revelation and every great doctrine of the Bible is just an isolated fragment. It’s a broken circle. It stands separate and apart. It has no meaning. It has no cohesiveness. There’s not anything to it but little bits, maybe, of moral teaching and a story. But it all ends into abysmal and abject failure!
All of the great doctrines of the Bible, everything that a man preaches, is authenticated by the resurrection of Christ. The deity of the Lord Jesus Himself: In Romans 1:4, "He was declared to be the Son of God" – God Himself – by the power "of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection from the dead" [Romans 1:4]. If Christ is dead, He’s like any other man. All the men of every generation have died, and if Christ died and stayed dead, He’s just like any other man. You don’t have a gospel to preach. He’s not the Son of God.
If Christ is not raised, there’s no message to preach. Redemption is nothing. That great, dark, ugly, gaunt, stark cross stands by itself, and there’s not any bridge over the great abysmal gulf of death. He might have died, but if He wasn’t raised again, there’s no washing away of our sins. There’s no justification before God. If He’s a martyr – if He died, if He’s in the tomb today – there’s no remission of our sins: beautiful story, pathetic exhibition, a tragic and sorrowful ending, but that’s just one other mistake – just one other thing – that overwhelmed a good man’s life. But there’s no saving in it. There’s no gospel in it. "If Christ is not raised, our preaching is vain" [1 Corinthians 15:14]. It’s meaningless.
All of those great, wonderful promises of the Lord, all of those, all of those things that He said about Himself – what He was, what was going to happen, what He could do – all of those things: you can’t trust a man who is mistaken in the greatest persuasion of His life. He said He would rise again [Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22], but if He was mistaken in that, He can be mistaken in everything else that He said, and the great, climactic, consuming purpose of His life fell into the grave. It fell into the dust. It turned to ashes itself. We don’t have a gospel to preach if He’s a dead Christ. Our preaching is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14]. It’s meaningless. We don’t have an intercessor in heaven.
Our continual acceptance before God depends upon the great praying of the high priest in heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], but He’s not in heaven if He’s in the tomb. He’s not interceding up there in glory for us if He died and was corrupt and turned back to dust. We have no acceptance with God whatsoever. We have no fellowship with Him in this world. He said beyond the grave, "Lo, I’ll be with you unto the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]. He can’t be with us and He’s dead, He’s decayed, He’s corrupt, He’s decomposed, He’s in the tomb. If there’s no risen Christ, there’s no fellowship with Him. There’s no work possible to us for good. He said, "Without Me, ye can do nothing" [John 15:5], but if He’s dead, He couldn’t help us.
And finally, the great and marvelous promise: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself …." [John 14:2-3]. He can’t come again and receive us unto Himself, ’cause He’s dead! He’s in the tomb. There’s not any coming again, and there’s not any hope. If Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14]. It’s meaningless. It’s empty. You don’t have a gospel. You can’t preach the gospel of a dead and buried Christ.
Look at that other "if": "Yea, if so be that the dead rise not," [1 Corinthians 15:14], look at that next verse, "We are found false witnesses of God, because we’ve testified that God raised up Christ, but God didn’t raise Him up if He’s dead," and if He’s in the tomb, "yea, we’re found false witnesses of God" [1 Corinthians 15:15].
That’s a strange thing that verse. That seems to have stung Paul to the quick. He expatiates on that when you look at this text from which I am preaching tonight. He expatiates more on that than on any other – is that one there: "We’re found false witnesses of God" [1 Corinthians 15:15]. I say it stung Paul. He had so given himself to the proclamation of the truth of God. This message that he had came from heaven itself. He saw the Lord Jesus [Acts 9:3-6], and true to that high call that he be God’s apostle to the nations, he was stripped naked [Acts 16:22]; he forsook everything that he had [Philippians 3:8-11]; his countrymen cast him out [Acts 13:50, 20:3, 20:18-19, 21:28-31, 23:12-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16]. In perils of the city and of the wilderness, in thirst and cold and nakedness and hunger [2 Corinthians 11:22-28], he had forsaken all that he might proclaim the truth of the Son of God. Then he says: "And having given up everything and having suffered everything and having poured out our lives for this truth, then we are false witnesses. Nothing but a pitiable and a miserable lie are we trying to perpetrate" [1 Corinthians 15:15].
I think there, somehow, he seems to want put out the absurdity of such a persuasion. "Why," he says, "would a man die for a delusion and a lie? Why would a man suffer and give up everything he has in order to perpetuate a falsehood? Why be a false witness for God? If Christ be not raised, we’re not telling you the truth. We’re not preaching you the revelation of God. We’re found false witnesses of God if He’s still in that tomb" [1 Corinthians 15:15].
Look at the next one: if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14]. I don’t know of a better way that that thing came into my heart than some of those pictures that I saw when we were in World War II. Ah, those terrible days: civilian populations destroyed, whole cities destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people dead. And once in a while, you’d see one of those terrible and awful pictures. There, prostrate in her own blood, would be a mother, and there in her arms – her arms so emotionless and lifeless, her body so still and cold, her breasts so empty – there would be a nursing child and the mother dead. And the little thing cry, and the little thing hungry, and the little thing cold, and the mother prostrate in death.
That’s our faith if our Lord is dead! Nothing to sustain us, nothing to feed us, nothing to care for us. Our faith reaching out to grasp shadows and corruption and decay and mortality and the grave. Our faith is vain – hoping, praying, longing, waiting with outstretched hands just to receive death and decay. Our faith is vain if He is in the tomb [1 Corinthians 15:14].
If Christ be not raised – look at the next one – then they which are fallen asleep in Christ, they are perished [1 Corinthians 15:18]. How many of those sainted, godly people went to the stake and went to the arena, went in the dungeons to die, gave their lives with songs on their lips and with psalms in their hearts? They were praising God as the fagot burned. They were praising God as the wild beast tore them apart. They were singing the praises of God in the inner dungeon; but dying and falling asleep, they perished. That’s the end of them.
And that last one and the most miserable of all – these who are still living: "if" – and that’s the last one – "in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Here we are thinking about glory, thinking about God, thinking about heaven, thinking about seeing one another over there. Here we are singing the songs of Zion. Here we are preaching about the Lord Jesus and the hope in Him. Here we are encouraging one another in the Christian faith, but it’s empty! It’s just the grave. It’s just death. And we, in all of our hopes, we are the most miserably deluded. We’re the most abjectly forsaken. We are the most impossibly mistaken. Nothing to it. This is the end. This is the grave, and Christ is dead.
My soul, didn’t I say those vultures multiply? Those cormorants come in great flocks. By the time you’ve gone through those awful "ifs," your soul, your life, your hope, your aspirations all have gone out in the darkness of the night. If Christ be not risen, our graves are locked forever [1 Corinthians 15:13, 16]. Our preaching is meaningless [1 Corinthians 15:14]. We’re false witnesses of God [1 Corinthians 15:15]. Our faith is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14, 17]. These who’ve fallen asleep in Jesus are perished [1 Corinthians 15:18], and we who abide are the most miserable of all men [1 Corinthians 15:19].
Thank God I get to that twentieth verse. What if you had to stop at the nineteenth? What if that were all? Lock the door. Lock it. Lock all of these doors. Lock the door. Turn out the lights. Turn ’em out. Go back home. He’s not alive. He’s dead. God’s dead. There’s not any hope; just despair. There’s not any heaven; just death and the grave. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19].
But, oh, thank God for that twentieth verse: "But, but, now is Christ risen from the dead" [1 Corinthians 15:20]. He’s not here. "He’s not here; He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where they laid Him" [Matthew 28:6]. "Go, go quickly and tell His disciples and Simon Peter that He’s alive, that He lives again" [From Matthew 28:6 and Mark 16:7].
Next Sunday morning, if God will help me, by His grace, I’m going to preach on how we know that we know. The most indisputable piece of evidence in this earth: how we know that we know that Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, and that He lives – that He lives:
But now – but now is Christ risen from the dead. He’s become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die
– all die –
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
[1 Corinthians 15:20-22]
People say, "How do you know a baby is safe? A little baby dies. A little child dies. How do you know the child goes to heaven?" Why, this is the reason. This is the reason. We die because of Adam’s sin – inherited guilt. He transgressed, and all of his posterity inherit that awful penalty. We are one as a race and as a family and as a people, and what he did affects us. He sinned, and we die; all of us, all of us [Romans 5:12]. Even little children die. Even little babies die. All of us die – all of us.
Original sin: down and down and down from father to son and son to child and forever. Adam’s sin affected the whole race. It affects us. All of us die. But listen: "As in Adam all die," all of us die, "even so, in Christ shall all be made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:22]; everybody, everybody. The original sin of Adam has been washed away in the great atoning sacrifice and in the resurrection of the power of Jesus Christ. All of us are made alive.
"Well, then, preacher, why aren’t all of us going to heaven then? If in Adam all of us die, and if in Christ all of us are made alive, why aren’t all of us going to heaven?" This is the reason why we’re not all going to heaven. We’re not all going to heaven because we won’t repent of our sins. We won’t ask God to forgive us of our sins [1 John 5:11-13]. Adam sinned, and I die. That’s an inherited guilt. He sinned, and all of us die. But Christ lives, and all of us are made alive [1 Corinthians 15:22].
But I sin personally. When I reach the age of accountability, I sin. I do wrong [Romans 5:12-14]. And I’m not sent to hell, and I’m not judged for Adam’s sin for that inherited original sin is all washed away in the atoning grace and efficacy of Jesus Christ. If I’m lost, if I’m damned, if I’m sent to hell, it’s not because of Adam’s sin. It’s not because of my father’s sin [Ezekiel 18:20]. It’s not because of my mother’s sin. If I’m lost, it’s because of my sins [Revelation 20:11-15]. My sins are unforgiven. My sins damn me. My sins send me to an eternal separation from God.
I have to repent [Ezekiel 18:21; Acts 2:37-38, 17:30-31]. I have to ask Christ to save me. I have to choose Jesus for myself. I have to believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10]. It is my sins I must repent of. It is my sins Christ must forgive me of. If I die before I reach the age of accountability, His blood, His sacrifice, atones, suffices, is all adequate and sufficient. In Him, we’re all made alive. But after I reach the age of accountability and I consciously and knowingly sin and do wrong, for that sin, I must ask God for forgiveness. I must have faith and trust in Him. Otherwise, I’m lost. I’m judged. I have sinned.
What shall I do unto Thee, O God? This is what I must do. I must repent. I must confess. I must ask God’s forgiveness. I must look to Jesus [John 3:14-16]. I must trust in His blood for myself. I must do it. I must do it. "Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming" [1 Corinthians 15:23].
Now this final word – then I close – about the resurrection of God’s people. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" [1 Corinthians 15:20]. You see, He was raised on Sunday beyond that first Passover, and in the ceremonial of the Passover, it came in the springtime of the year. It’s our Easter. The first Sunday after the full moon is Easter – after the vernal equinox – the first Sunday after the full moon. And the reason for that was the pilgrims came up to Jerusalem from all over the world and almost all of them walked. Once in a while somebody would ride a mule or ride a donkey or ride a horse or come in a chariot, but the great hosts of them walked, and they made their way as pilgrims singing those psalms of degrees [Psalm 120-134], going up to the house of the Lord. And in order to help the people gather together, why, they placed the ceremony, the feast day, in the full of the moon. And that’s why Easter is in the full of the moon. Back yonder it was the Passover so the people would have the light of the moon in the nighttime as they made their way up to the temple of God.
Now one of the things in the ceremonial of the temple was, coming in the springtime, the barley was just beginning to get ripe. So a family would go to the barley field that was just beginning to ripen, and they would take a knife, a scythe, and they would cut down a sheath – one sheath of barley – and they would go up to the house of the Lord, and they would present it in what they called a "firstfruits." It was a wave offering [Leviticus 23:9-11]. They would take that first barley sheath and they would present it to the Lord, dedicate it to the Lord, and they would wave it in the presence of the Lord. And that was a thanksgiving for the promised harvest of blessings that was yet to come.
Now, Paul uses that when he speaks of Christ as being the firstfruits of them that slept – the great field of the city of the dead. The living are few, the dead are many. The great field, the great field of the city of the dead, and the firstfruits, the first earnest, the first one to arise is the Son of God. It’s the Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:23], and He’s the promise. He’s the harbinger of the great resurrection that is yet to come. He’s the first one to become the firstfruits of them that slept – the first one to appear before God immortalized and raised. And all of us are going to be raised like that. "But every man in his order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming" [1 Corinthians 15:23].
Now, look at that word. "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then all of us in his order at Christ’s coming" [1 Corinthians 15:23]. Now that word translated "order" there – "but every man in his own order, Christ the firstfruits, then they that are Christ’s at His coming" – that Greek word is tagma. But every man in his own order – tagma.
The word tagma in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament – the translating of Hebrew into Greek – you’ll find that word. It’s not found in the New Testament anywhere but right there [1 Corinthians 15:23]. That’s the only place you’ll find that word translated "order." "But every man in his own order" – every man in his own tagma. But the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, you’ll find it several times there. And that word tagma, really if you translate it, it actually, literally, that word tagma means "cohorts." It means "bands." It means "regiments." And what Paul is writing there is this: At the end time, at the resurrection day, when Christ comes again, we’re going to be resurrected. He was the first, then we are going to be raised at His coming, and each one of us in his own order.
It’s like a vast army, and the army is made up of cohorts, of bands, of regiments. And it doesn’t refer to merit. It doesn’t refer to time. It just refers to the economy of God in the resurrection at the great call of the Lord Almighty. At the trumpet sounding of the archangel [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16] – oh I don’t know how it’ll be – but He’ll call, and the first band will arise. Oh, they’ll be the apostles. They’ll be the martyrs. They’ll rise at the great trumpet call of the archangel of God. Then the aged will arise. Then the young will arise. Then the great ones will arise. Then the humble little ones like we are, we will arise. But however it is, there’s a place, there’s a time, there’s an order for us as we rise in our – at our call, at our moment, at our time, in our tagma – band and band and regiment, and a whole army standing up, alive, resurrected, living at the great call and at the sound of the archangel and of the trump of God.
Dear people, I can’t preach that like it is. It is so vast and beyond me. It is so great and unsearchable. I can’t conceive of it. Just have to wait till that triumphant day, and it won’t be long. "Behold, I come, tachu, quickly" [Revelation 22:7] – suddenly, immediately. And it won’t be long. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Out there into that city where they sleep who’ve loved the Lord Jesus, one by one, we, taken. We, taken. We, taken. Count: one, two, three, four. This year, every fourth one here in my presence will be dead. Every year, one out of four – one out of four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One out of every four. Oh, the very statistic of you. But that’s nothing – not to us, not to us, not to us who love His appearing [2 Timothy 4:8]. That day indescribable, but it’s coming because His promise is unfailing. It was validated. It was sealed. It was made forever so by His own resurrection from the dead [John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Ephesians 1:19-23].
We sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord; somebody you, trusting Jesus. Somebody you from all of this vast congregation, somebody you, giving your heart to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? Somebody you, coming into the fellowship of this church: "Putting my life here with you, Pastor, and these glorious people who look up to God. Here I come, and here I am." However the Lord should say the word, however God shall press His message home, would you come? Would you come while we stand and while we sing?