If Christ Be Not Risen
April 11th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 15
IF CHRIST BE NOT RISEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15
4-11-71 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 message of an Easter Sunday morning entitled If Christ Be Not Risen. And the message is from the passage in the fifteenth chapter, the resurrection chapter, of 1 Corinthians, that all of us read together a moment ago; and it is an answer to a question: why is it that Christ had to rise from the dead? Did He not die for our sins? And is not His atoning blood sufficient to save us from our sins? And when He died, His spirit, His soul, went back up to heaven, and He carried with Him the person, the spirit, the soul of that repentant thief who was crucified by His side [Luke 23:42-43]. Why is that not enough? The blood of Christ washes our sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; made full atonement for our souls [Romans 5:11]. And His spirit ascended back to heaven, and accompanying Him was this child of faith who died with Him on the cross. Then why the resurrection from the dead? Could we not have been saved and our spirits delivered without spot and blemish in heaven without the resurrection? Why the resurrection of this house of clay? Why the resurrection of Christ?
There is an emphatic and definite answer in this passage that we shall expound this morning concerning that answer. The answer is no; we could not have been saved apart from the resurrection of our Lord. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching kenos, empty, and your faith is mataios, useless, purposeless” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Both of those words are translated here “vain.” “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, kenos,” that is, it is empty of content; “and your faith is also vain, mataios,” that is, it has no result, it is aimless, it is purposeless. “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 the dead do not rise” [1 Corinthians 15:15]. Not only were they not deceived themselves, these apostolic witnesses, but they themselves are deceivers; they are liars, statedly, volitionally so. “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” [1 Corinthians 15:17]. You’re not saved; you’re not going to heaven when you die. “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished,” apollumi [1 Corinthians 15:18]. They are lost also. We are lost, we are still in our sins if Christ did not rise from the dead; and these who have fallen asleep in Jesus, these who have been translated, these who have died, they also are apollumi, they are lost too, they are perished.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable, most pitiable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. If the dead do not rise, let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die [1 Corinthians 15:32]; like a brute, like a dog, like an animal. In Cilicia, where Paul was brought up, there’s a famous statue, there was a famous statue. And underneath was the caption incised, “Eat, drink, and play; for this is better than all the rest.” And the statue was so chiseled that the fingers and the hands made a contemptuous gesture.
Now, based on the Word of God, I am to answer why it is that we are lost without the resurrection of our Lord: that His cross, His atoning death, is not enough in itself to save us—five reasons from the Book.
First: the resurrection of our Lord is a sign of His purity and His sinlessness; for death is a sign of sin.
- In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17].
- In the fourth verse of the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel: “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4].
- And in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, in the twenty-third verse: “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
And if death could have detained our Lord, it would have been a sign that He is a sinner, like the rest of us. He came under the judgment and doom of sin Himself, had He not been raised from the dead. His resurrection was a sign to us that He died for other guilt, for ours, for mine. And death had no claim upon Him. Death could not hold Him, for He Himself was pure and innocent and spotless; and He came forth out of the grave sinless, pure. He had died for our sins, not for His own [1 Corinthians 15:3]; and His resurrection is a sign of that sinlessness. A sinner could not die for me: he’d have to die for his own sins. And if Christ died for His sins, He cannot die for mine. And had He been a sinner, death would have held its prey.
Second: why the resurrection of our Lord? Because the resurrection marked Him out as the Son of God. Romans 1:4: “Declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead.” Now I want you to look at that; horizō, translated here “declared.” You know that word: horizon, horizon, the boundary of the world; the horizon, where the sky meets the earth, marked out. That is the literal translation of horizō: marked out, designated, pointed to, set apart! “Jesus of Nazareth declared”—that “to be” is in italics, it’s not in the Greek word—”horizō the Son of God, declared, pointed out, marked the Son of God”; how, “by the resurrection from the dead” [Romans 1:4].
How do you know the Lord is just not another man as these infidels say? How do you know that He is not just another good man as these modernists and liberals say? How do you know He is Deity, the Son of God? I know that because all other men die and stay dead! But there was one Man, the God-Man who when He died was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]: marked out, declared, pointed to as the Son of God [Romans 1:4]. Oh, how vigorously that was denied in His own day! The high priest, when Jesus was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the high priest, the official representative of the chosen people and their faith, said to Him, “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou art the Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew 26:63]. And on the witness stand, our Lord replied, “I am” [Mark 14:62]. And the high priest rent his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed!” He has lied! He has perjured Himself. “What think ye? And they said, He is guilty of death” [Matthew 26:65-66]. Is He the Son of God, as He said He was? The high priest, the official voice of the Sanhedrin and of the Jewish people that day, said, “He lies! He has blasphemed!” [Matthew 26:65].
As He was nailed to the cross, they marched, paraded up and down in front of Him and wagged their heads and said with their wagging tongues, “He trusted in God; let God deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God” [Matthew 27:39, 43]. Did He lie? Did He?
And when He was dead and they wrapped Him in a winding sheet and placed Him in Joseph’s new tomb [Matthew 27:57-60], the representatives of the Sanhedrin went to Pontius Pilate the Roman procurator and said, “That deceiver said when He was alive that the third day He would rise from the grave [Matthew 20:19]. Will you therefore seal the tomb with the Roman seal and place before it a Roman guard, lest His disciples steal Him away and say that He is raised, risen, that He is alive. That deceiver said,” so avowed the Sanhedrin to Pontius Pilate [Matthew 27:63-64]. Is He an imposter? Is He a deceiver? Is He a blasphemer? Is He a liar? Or is He what He said He was, the Son of God? That’s what the passage meant: “horizō, marked out, delineated, pointed to, declared the Son of God by the resurrection from among the dead” [Romans 1:4].
Third: why is it that our Lord had to be raised from the dead? Why could not He have saved us just by His death on the cross and the return of His spirit to heaven? Third: because we are justified, we are declared righteous by the resurrection from the dead. The last verse in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to Rome: “He was delivered up for our offenses, He died for our transgressions, and He was raised again for our justification” [Romans 4:25], to declare us righteous, to appear in the presence of God and, as our Redeemer and as our Mediator and as our Advocate, to declare before God that these for whom He died are saved and delivered from the judgment of their offenses. A dead Christ and a dead gospel is unthinkable and inconceivable!
All right, now why that? May I illustrate it using the language, the meaning of the language that the Bible uses? Debt, sin, the words are used interchangeably: sin is a debt that we incur. Sin, it is a transgression, it is a wrong, and it incurs a judgment, a sentence. So here is a criminal. What has he done? He has sinned; he has violated the law of society. He’s transgressed and he is incarcerated; he is in the penitentiary. And when he serves his sentence, what happens? If he belongs to a just society ruled by law, when that criminal, whatever he has done, when he has served that sentence, when he has paid that debt to society, the jailer comes down, unlocks the door, flings it open wide and says to the criminal, “You are free! You have paid the debt to society and you can walk out free.” That is the same thing this apostle is writing here in this Word. Upon a day, there came an angel keeper down from heaven, and he took that great stone and rolled it away! [Matthew 28:2]. And out of that prison house of the grave, where He paid the debts of our sins and of our transgressions, the Lord walked out! [Matthew 28:5-7]. He came out! That is, our debts have been paid. Our sins have been completely made satisfactory, atonement for, and surety for before God. We don’t owe anything. That’s the most marvelous gospel in the world.
Satan is called our adversary, and he accuses the brethren, God’s children, day and night before the throne of grace [Revelation 12:10]. And Satan says, “Look at her, look at her.” And Satan says, “Look at him, look at him.” And Satan says, “Look at these teenagers, look at them. Look at what they’re thinking. Look at what they’re doing. Look at them, they’re sinners! Look at all of them! Look at that pastor, look at him.” That’s what Satan says before God all day and all night. He’s our adversary, the great accuser of the brethren.
What does Jesus do? He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. “I know they are sinners,” says the Lord. “All of them are sinners” [Romans 3:23], says the Lord, “but I have paid the debt [Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. It has all been satisfactorily met. And these who ordinarily and otherwise would have been bound down forever in debt and in prison, they are free.” And the resurrection of our Lord is the sign of that justification [1 Corinthians 15:17]. He paid our debts. And He came out of the prison having paid the judgment of our transgressions, and we are free [1 Corinthians 15:22].
I have just a minute here. Then why don’t we sin just as much as we want to, if our debts are all paid, and Christ has made satisfaction for all of our sins? Why don’t we? We do. We do. “Just get drunk all I want to, just cuss all I want to, just violate God’s law all I want to. I am absolutely free.” Well, why don’t you do it? Because I don’t like it—I’ve been born again. I’ve got a new heart, got a new love. I have a new vision! I have a new dream! I have a new hope! I have a new commitment, a new dedication. I’ve got a new life, and I don’t like that old life. But I’m free, absolutely free, absolutely free: every sin now and yet to come has been paid for. All the sins I’ve done in the past, all the sins I’ll ever commit, they’re all paid for, all of them. But what I do now, I do not out of cringing fear lest I be damned; but what I do now I do just loving Jesus. It’s the glory road. I like it that way! Don’t have to come to church, just like to come to church. Don’t have to kneel and pray, just like to talk to God. It’s a new heart and a new life in Jesus.
All right, fourth: why the resurrection from the dead? Number four: because it is the pledge—as Dr. Fowler said in his prayer—it is the pledge of our resurrection. It would be unthinkable, and again, inconceivable that we should be raised from the dead and that He should still be the prisoner in the grave. Then that leads to the question, why a resurrection at all? Why? That is the unique doctrine of the Christian faith. The whole world, in all of its centuries and in all of its religious systems, the whole world has believed in the immortality of the soul, from the beginning. When you go over there and visit in Egypt, you’ll find those mummies that died back there four or five thousand years before Christ; you’ll find those mummies all prepared for an afterlife. If you’ve been in Cairo and have visited those artifacts they took out of King Tut’s tomb, there is his golden chariot, and here are his golden bows, and here are all of the accouterments and instruments of life for his spirit on the other side of the great divide. If you’ll go out to Mesa Verde Park in southwestern Colorado, there you’ll see a typical grave of all the Indians in America who have died. There are his bows and his arrows, there are his pots and his pans, there is everything that he needs for the life of the Great Spirit out yonder in the world to come.
Well, why the resurrection, then? There has never been a faith that has believed in the resurrection of the dead, except the Christian faith. All the rest of them just believe in the immortality of the spirit. Well then why the resurrection? Well these apostles faced the sarcasm and the scorn and the ridicule of such a doctrine. On Mars’ Hill in Athens, speaking before the Areopagus, the supreme court, Paul did excellently, magnificently as he addressed those intellectual university loving attending Athenians about the spiritual nature of God [Acts 17:22-30]. But when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead they burst out and laughed at him! Derisively, “What a ridiculous doctrine!” The Epicureans laughed out loud. The Stoics being more gentle and kind, bowed, smiled, and said, “We will hear thee again on this matter”; and they left [Acts 17:31-32].
Why the resurrection from the dead? Why this Christian faith of the rejuvenation and regeneration, the Scriptures call it the redemption of this house of clay [Romans 8:23], why? In the Christian faith and in the Bible there is an abhorrence of disembodiment as nature abhors a vacuum. There is a loathing in the Bible; there is a horror in the Word of God for disembodiment. I read it to you [2 Corinthians 5:1-4]: “We know,” says Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, “that if the earthly house of this tabernacle, this body, if it is dissolved, we have a house, a building, a body not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this body—this body—for in this body we groan”—we get sick, arthritis, cancer, a thousand diseases, hardening of the arteries, loss of mind, stroke, paralysis—“for in this we groan,” and all of us ultimately shall, “earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our body which is from heaven: if so that being clothed in the new body we shall not be unclothed. For we that are in this body, this tabernacle, do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed,” however desperately sick we are, however afflicted we are, there’s no disposition on our part who are Christians that we be disembodied, that we be just spirit; “not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon,” that we might have a new body, “that mortality, this dying flesh, might be swallowed up of life” [2 Corinthians 5:1-4].
Now that is the Christian faith. There is in the heart of God something that seeks to clothe His grace and His love and mercy in a body. That’s what you see in the creation: God did it [Genesis 1:1-31]. And in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, there is to be a rebirth of the whole creation [Romans 8:19-23]. That’s in the heart of God. And it is no less so in us who are a part of that creation. There is something in the heart of God that seeks to express and to clothe His glory. As He does in the lily: even when the earth dies in the winter, there is something in the heart of God to bring it to life again. That’s God. And in the Christian faith, if this house perishes and this body decays, there is something in the heart of God that brings it to life and birth again. And the pledge of that rejuvenation and that resurrection, that rebirth, is the raising of Christ from among the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20]. Even as the passage will say: “Christ first, Christ [1 Corinthians 15:23]; then the firstfruits,” that little band who were raised when He was raised [Matthew 27:52-53], “then we that are Christ’s at His coming” [1 Corinthians 15:23], when the Lord shall come for His own; and then those end ones, those who will be slain, martyred during the great tribulation [Revelation 7:13-14]. All of us shall be raised from the dead, all of us [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. All of us shall be changed and glorified, immortalized [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. That is in the heart of God.
Five: and I just mention it, why the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Why could we not have been saved without a resurrection? He died on the cross for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], ascended up to heaven in spirit [Luke 23:46]. Why the raising of His body? Number five: there had not been a church, and there had not been a gospel, and there had not been apostles to declare the euangelion, the good news, had it not been for the resurrection from the dead. How were those disciples, how were those apostles? They were discouraged abysmally in despair. Every hope they’d ever dreamed was perished in Christ. He had died. They saw Him die. They saw Him buried [Matthew 27:57-60]. And they were defeated, disappointed, despairing. We cannot enter into the abysmal disheartening of those apostles. And had there been no resurrection from the dead, they would have remained that way. When they stood up to preach, the enemies of Christ would have said, “These men are blatant and unadulterated and manifest liars! Come!” and they would have taken the prospective converts of those apostles to that tomb in Joseph’s garden [Matthew 27:57-60], and the guard would have unsealed it by the command and mandate of the Roman government, and that guard would have rolled back the stone, and the enemies of the gospel would have said to the prospective converts, “Walk in that sepulcher and look upon that decomposed body! Just look at it for yourself.”
- When the Lord was raised from among the dead, and the stone was rolled away, when Peter and John went inside that tomb and John saw the napkin carefully rolled up by itself as Jesus had a habit of rolling up a napkin, and when he saw those grave clothes, the winding sheet undisturbed, the Book says John believed that He had been raised from the dead [John 20:3-8].
- And the disciples, oh! can you imagine the transformation of that first Easter morning when He met the women, “All hail!” [Matthew 28:9].
- And when He spoke to Mary Magdalene, “Go tell the disciples” [John 20:16-18].
- And when John and Peter ran a race to the tomb, and John the younger outran him, and paused outside, but Peter went right on into the tomb. He was gone. He was gone [John 20:2-6].
- And that day He appeared to two on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-32].
- And that day He appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5].
- And that night He appeared to the [eleven], Thomas being absent [John 20:19-25].
- And the next Sunday night He appeared to the twelve, Thomas being present [John 20:26-29].
- Then He appeared to the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee [John 21:1-24].
- Then He appeared to about five hundred brethren at once [1 Corinthians 15:6].
- Then He appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem [Acts 1:1-5].
- And finally, on the Mount of Olives, where they saw Him ascend up into glory [Acts 1:6-9]. And as they stood watching His ascension into heaven, angels came and said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into the sky? This same Jesus,” the same Lord, this same Jesus, scars in His hands and His side, the same tender voice, the same precious face, the same loving heart, our God and King, “this same Jesus shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go away” [Acts 1:10-11].
- He is alive! He is in heaven, our Advocate, Mediator, and great Intercessor [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], guiding, guarding, keeping until that day when we too shall be added to that sacred heavenly throng, that heavenly celestial number who love and praise God face to face in glory [Revelation 22:3-4]. That is why the resurrection of the dead.
Our time is spent, and we sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you to whom God would make appeal today, come and stand by me. A family you to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple you, or just you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway or into the aisle, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” If you’re in the last uppermost seat of that balcony, there is time and to spare; come. On the first note of that first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front, come. Make the decision now in your heart: “I’m going to God; going to take the Lord as my Savior, going to give Him my life and soul and every dream of the future [Romans 10:9-10]. I’m coming.” Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God welcome and bless you in the way, as we stand and sing.