If Christ Be Not Raised
April 10th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
IF CHRIST BE NOT RAISED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
4-10-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled If Christ Be Not Raised. And the passage is in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, beginning at verse 12:
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.
Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-26]
This is a glorious and incomparable resurrection morning. The avowal of the apostles, and of the witnesses and martyrs and of the church of Christ, and of the disciples of Jesus for these centuries has been and still is that in the power of the Spirit, God raised our Lord from the dead [Romans 1:4]. Now, if Matthew Arnold is right when he said:
“Now he is dead! Far hence He lies
in the lorn Syrian town;
And on his grave, with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down.
[from “Obermann Once More,” Matthew Arnold, 1867]
then the hope of humanity is dead also.
And that is the passage that I have just read out of the apostle Paul, “If Christ be not risen” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. And doubts are like carrion, they are like vultures, they circle in flocks: around, around, around; and so here, when Paul speaks of the rejection of the message of our living Lord, “if Christ be not raised” [1 Corinthians 15:17], then he follows the steps down, and down, and down, and down. And there are seven of those downward steps that he names here in this passage I’ve just read.
“Now, if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen” [1 Corinthians 15:13]. That’s the first one. That’s the first one. If there is no resurrected Christ, then the grave is the end of all life. Our existence has a goal, has an ultimate, has an outreach, has a vision–all of which turn into dust and ashes. If there be no resurrection of the dead, Christ is dead still. And the grave is a lock for every life and every soul; the end of our days is to die, and no other life or hope beyond.
Second: he says, “If Christ be not raised, then is our preaching vain—our preaching vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. We don’t have any gospel to preach. There’s not anything to say. There’s no good news to tell, for the worm and the corruption is the end of all further life. There’s nothing more, there’s nothing else. We face the night, the darkness, the worm, the canker, the corruption, and there’s not anything else to say. That’s why infidelity has no songs dedicated to it. What would you sing about? What would you be glad about? For the whole substance and end of life is dust and decay, corruption and disintegration. “If Christ be not raised, then is our preaching vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. There’s nothing to add. There’s nothing to suggest. There’s nothing to preach about. There’s not any gospel, there’s nothing to say.
Now I pause here to avow a truism, an axiom; the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead [Corinthians 15:12-26], which is peculiar to Christianity, and the good news that Christ was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-10] is the substance that holds together all of the other doctrines of the Christian faith. The resurrection of Christ validates all of the other deliverances, teachings, doctrines of the Christian religion. Without it, the Christian religion in its teaching breaks into a fragment, isolated, separate. But in the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ [Corinthians 15:12-26], all of the other teachings of the faith find their validation.
For example, the deity of Christ; if Christ is still in that grave, He is not God. As Dr. Fowler prayed in his prayer, “Christ was declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.” God marked Him out at as the Son of heaven by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4]. All of the teachings and promises and words of our Lord are validated by His resurrection from the dead. When He was gloriously transfigured [Mark 17:1-8], coming down from the mount, He said to His disciples: “the Son of Man must be killed, crucified, and the third day be raised from the dead” [Matthew 17:12, 22-23].
When He made the sublime announcement, “On this rock of the deity of Christ, I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18], then He took His disciples and said, “But the Son of Man must be slain, delivered in the hand of sinners, and the third day be raised from the dead” [Matthew 16:21]. If our Lord is mistaken in that judgment, and in that supposition, and in that proposal, and in that announcement, and in that promise, how could I have any confidence that our Lord is not also mistaken in a thousand other things that He said? The validation of His word is: “The third day I shall be raised from the dead” [1 Corinthians 15:4]. So in our redemption, as Paul says in Romans 4:25: “The Lord was delivered for our offenses, and He was raised for our justification.”
The atonement of Christ is a bridge that ends half way over the stream if all there is to the story is that dark, naked, rugged, silhouetted cross against the sky, and nothing other. There is no bridge to the other side of the chasm of death. He was delivered for our offenses; He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]; but He was raised for our justification to declare us righteous in the presence of God [Romans 4:25].
In the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:12-26] is also that glorious promise of the perseverance of the saints. How do you know we’ll make it to glory? By what right have we to assume to ourselves that we shall walk those golden streets and enter those gates of pearl? [Revelation 21:21]. Because the Book says: “He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25].
It is the raised and resurrected and living Christ, able to keep us to Himself and forever. It is the doctrine of the fellowship of our blessed Lord in victorious living, “Behold,” hold He says, “I will be with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. But how could a dead Christ be with us to the end of the age? It is also the helpfulness from heaven in our ableness to serve God mightily and gloriously, for He said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” [John 15:5]. But what could I do with a dead Christ in anything? And my hope for heaven lies in the glorious promises that the Lord shall someday come victorious over this earth [Matthew 25:31].
“If I go away, I will come again” [John 14:1-3]. At the base and foundation of all of the doctrines of the Christian message is this one, that Christ is raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20]. And if Christ be not risen, everything we preach, and every doctrine we announce, and every teaching we teach is vain, is vanity, is vacuity [1 Corinthians 15:14]. It is nothingness if Christ be not raised from the dead.
Then he continued with these ifs. “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified that God raised Him up, and He was not raised up if the dead be not raised” [1 Corinthians 15:15]. You know, that seems to have stunned the apostle Paul more than any other of these ifs, for he expatiates upon that more than he does upon any of the others. “I am a liar. I am a false witness. I am a deceiver” [1 Corinthians 15:15]. And the idea stung the soul of the apostle, and then he describes the absurdity of it. “Here I am, having given up everything, and counted it but loss for Christ” [Philippians 3:7]. “Beat, imprisoned, stoned, in perils in the wilderness, perils over the sea, perils from my own countrymen, perils from the hands of the Gentiles. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one, and of the Romans thrice was I beaten with rods” [2 Corinthians 12:23-26], all for the sake of a lie? All for the sake of deceiving people? The absurdity of the idea peeves Paul!
And I might pause to say, isn’t that an amazing thing that these who reject the resurrection of Christ say about these disciples? That they stole His body away and then came forth with the grand and glad announcement that He was raised from the dead, when the disciples themselves stole His body away and disposed of His body. What an amazing thing that men like Paul, like Peter, like John would give their lives for a deception and for a lie! The thing is psychologically impossible! And that’s what Paul means when he says, “Yea, and we are found liars in the name of God, false witnesses in the name of God” [1 Corinthians 15:15]. It is impossible psychologically. These men gave their lives unto death. They suffered the loss of all things because they had seen the risen Lord!
Paul met Him alive, raised, glorified, on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-6]. And Peter and John and the rest of the disciples saw Him alive for forty days after He was raised from the grave [Acts 1:2-3]. Then he continues: “Yea, and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14]. You have trusted in a dead Lord,” and he continues: “Then ye are yet in your sins” [1 Corinthians 15:17]. The Holy Scriptures avow no man shall see the face of God in unforgiven sin [Hebrews 12:14]. And if we are not forgiven, and if there’s no washing, and if there’s no saving in Christ, we shall die forever shut out from the glories of heaven and from the presence of the Lord. “Your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” [1 Corinthians 15:17-18].
That would be two of us. One; these who have died trusting Jesus, they have perished forever. They died looking up to the Lord, with the name of Jesus on their lips, just believing that God had some better thing than the sorrows, and tears, and death, and decay that we know in this life. They have perished. And we also, who have laid aside our beloved dead, we also know nothing but vanity, and futility, and endless sorrow, and tears unassuaged.
Why, my brother, as it is now, when I conduct a service, a memorial hour, I turn in this blessed Book, and I read in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. The family yesterday afternoon asked that I read the fourteenth of John. I turned to the fourteenth chapter of John: “If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself. In My Father’s house are many mansions” [John 14:2-3]. Oh, how blessed and how comforting!
And when I stand before a bereaved family now, I will turn to the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and read: “O Grave, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting . . . Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. Or I’ll turn over here to the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, and I’ll read: “Behold, behold, the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and our beloved dead in Christ shall rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. Or I’ll turn to the twenty-first chapter of the Book of the Revelation and read of the glorious, beautiful home, the new city of Jerusalem that God has prepared for those who trust in Him [Revelation 21:1-3].
But if there is no resurrection, and if there is no Christ raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:13-14], then we have no words to say, and no passage to read, and no comfort for our hearts. And these who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished [1 Corinthians 15:18]. Then he concludes: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable and wretched, and to be pitied” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Didn’t I say they were carrion? Didn’t I say they were like vultures, circling round and round and round? These ifs, if, if Christ be not raised our faith is vain [1 Corinthians 15:14, 17]. If Christ be not raised, we are false witnesses [1 Corinthians 15:15]. We have no gospel to deliver. If Christ is not raised, the dead do not live again. If Christ is not raised, then these who have fallen asleep in Jesus are perished [1 Corinthians 15:17-18]. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable, wretched, to be pitied [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Oh, what ifs!
Now he comes to the climatic and consummating avowal: “But, but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” [1 Corinthians 15:20]. Oh, oh! “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” [1 Corinthians 15:21-22]. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Isn’t that what you sing in that glorious oratorio, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” [1 Corinthians 15:20]. Why, think of it! Think of it!
In these last few minutes of this message, we’re going to follow through what the apostle says here. You see, heretofore, before the days of our Lord, all that lay out yonder beyond the horizon of the grave was speculation. The Greek philosophers philosophized about it, and some of the Oriental founders of religion speculated concerning it. And men peered through the impenetrable darkness and wondered, sometimes in cringing terror and fear, sometimes in amazed wonderment.
But it was as it was in Columbus. Men had speculated about a continent to the west of the Atlantic, but it was only when Columbus came over here and returned back to tell the story of what he had found that men were certain that there was a new world and a new land on the western side of the great expanse of the blue waters of the Atlantic. So it was in Christ. Men philosophized about it. They speculated about it. They wondered about it. They tried to peer through the darkness of the night that overcame us when we died.
But Christ entered into that grave, walked through that night, and returned to us with a glorious message of deliverance and salvation on the other side of the waters that divide between us and these who are dead. And the message He brought back was one of triumph and courage and cheer. Do you remember what He said to the apostle John when John saw Him in the first chapter of the Revelation—glorified? [Revelation 1:9-16]. John says: “And I fell at His feet as one dead. He put His right hand upon me and said, Fear not, fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Hell and of Death’” [Revelation 1:17-18]. That’s the way the King James reads. “I have the keys of Hades and of Death. I have the keys of the Grave and of Death” [Revelation 1:18].
Ah, ah, what a preciousness to know that the key of the Grave and the key of Death lies in the nail-pierced hands of our blessed Lord, our Savior—in His hands [Revelation 1:18]. Oh, oh, what a blessing! What a comfort! What a triumph! Our future belongs to the blessed Jesus. And our souls, and our lives, and our hopes, and our visions all are kept sacred in His precious nail-pierced hands; the One who died for me, who was buried, and raised for my justification [Romans 4:25]. For, oh how blessed—”For,” says Paul, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]; all, all, everybody. That’s why, when I am asked, and I am asked so often, “Pastor, the little baby that died, the child in innocence that died, how do you know that the child goes to heaven?”
Well, the answer is that; “As in Adam we all die,” all of us born in that sin, the black drop coursing in our veins, all of us, under the condemnation of death, all of us, “As in Adam we all die,” everybody, “so in Christ are all made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. The atoning blood of our Lord is able; grace upon grace, “where sin did abound, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5:20]. The atoning blood of our Savior is able to cover, expiate, wash away all of the sins of the whole world [1 John 2:2]. “As in Adam we all die, so in Christ all of us are made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22].
“Well then, preacher, why aren’t we all saved, then?” Because you must confess your sins to Jesus [John 1:9]. You’re not going to die for Adam’s sin. You’re not going to be lost for your father’s sins. You’re not going to be lost for your mother’s sins. You’re not going to be lost for anybody else’s sins. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ we all shall be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. But I commit sin personally, I do wrong personally. And if I’m going to be saved, I must take myself to Jesus, I must confess my sin to the Lord. I must ask forgiveness for me and what I have done [Psalm 32:5]. If I don’t do that, I die in unconfessed sin, and I’m shut out from the face of God [Isaiah 59:2]. But if I take me to Jesus, and my soul to the Lord, and ask Him to forgive me, then in the blood of the Crucified One I am forgiven my sins, and I am saved, I am saved [Acts 22:16]. Oh how blessed, and how clean, and how precious a way God has made for us poor sinners. Bring yourself to Jesus. Take your sins to Jesus. Ask Him to forgive you. He came just for that purpose, that we who are lost might be saved—our sins, our souls [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10].
Then he concludes: “But every man in his own order,” in this resurrection from the dead, “every man in his own order” [1 Corinthians 15:23]. Tagma, that’s the only place in the Bible that word’s used, tagma. You have to go to the Septuagint, the Old Testament translation in the Greek, you have to go to the Septuagint to find out what that word tagma means. And when you read it in the Greek Old Testament, tagma meant “band, company.” Like a marching army; and this regiment passes, and this band passes, and this squadron passes; tagma, ordered, one after another. And he says that’s the way we are going to be raised from the dead; “every man in his own tagma” [1 Corinthians 15:23].
Now he is not talking about merit as though the great will be raised first, and the mediums next, and lower ones third. Or the rich first, and the poor last. He’s talking about the time, every man in his own tagma, in his own order. Christ; He was the first one. Christ was the first one raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:23]. There had been resuscitations, but the first one to be raised immortalized, incorrupt from the dead is Christ; and afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23].
If the Lord delays and we fall into the dust of the ground and into the heart of the earth, we shall be raised. When the trumpet shall sound and when the Lord shall descend, we who are fallen asleep in this earth and in this dust of the ground shall rise first to meet our Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. That will be our tagma, our order.
“Then,” you have a word put in here in italics, it means “not in the original”; “Then, the end ones” [1 Corinthians 15:24]. There’s going to be a period and a time of tribulation in this earth [Matthew 24:21], and there are going to be many cut down in martyrdom, but they also will be raised; “the end ones.” And so, God’s harvest; God’s resurrected harvest shall be raised in their tagma, first Christ [1 Corinthians 15:23], then all of us who are asleep in the ground, these bodies, turned back to dust, when the Lord shall descend from heaven at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16].
And so the Lord shall save us all [John 6:37]. Not the least of His saints who have trusted in Him will God leave in the dust of the ground [Daniel 12:2]. There’ll not be a bone left for Satan to gloat over. But we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. Blind eyes will see again, and crippled limbs will be well again, and these old worn out bodies will be young again. Think of it! My brother, think of it! “And we shall all be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:52].
“We all, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord” [2 Corinthians 3:18]. God shall change us into the likeness of His own incomparably glorious Person [Philippians 3:21]. “My brethren,” said the apostle, “it does not yet appear what we shall be,” mind cannot grasp it, “but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” [1 John 3:2].
Oh, blessed gospel of the Son of God, the good news of this glorious Easter morning; what a shame we don’t have five hours to preach about it, and another five hours to sing about it, and another five hours to glory in it. What a hallelujah, God’s people, looking up into the face of their risen and glorified Lord! [1 Corinthians 13:21].
Now while we sing our appeal, and it’s a song like that: “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”; while we sing that appeal, you somebody you give himself to Jesus; come, come. A family you put your life with the people of the Lord in this dear church; come, come. As the Spirit of the Lord shall make the appeal to your heart, there’s time and to spare, from that topmost balcony, come, make it now. Do it today. And what a triumphant day to come—while we stand and while we sing.