If Christ Be Not Risen
April 11th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
IF CHRIST BE NOT RISEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
4-11-71 10:50 a.m.
And thank you celestial choir. I went out Friday night at the Festival of Arts to listen to that opera, “I am the Way.” Somebody asked me, “How did you like it?” I said, “Fine.” They said, “What did you think was the best singing in it?” I said, “Without comparison, the choir, which is our choir.” And I have a comment to make: had Jerome Hines who wrote that opera to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, had he had our choir to sing with him, he would have given twice as much time to the choir as he did out there in New York City. There is just nobody that can sing like our people here at the First Baptist Church; they’ve got it in their souls, and I feel it! Now I think that ought to be worth something, Lee Roy, I don’t know what—I don’t know what you have got I would want, I’m trying to think, what could he give me? He’s broke all the time, doesn’t have any money, couldn’t give me any money. You just keep a-singing and that will be reward enough. Oh, glorious choir! There’s nobody like you. They’re going to sing tonight, by the way. Did you announce that? They are going to sing tonight “The Seven Last Words of Christ”; and it is just a triumph to listen to them. The only thing better in the First Baptist Church than listening to the choir is listening to the pastor preach the gospel; that’s the only thing better. I announce again my next coming book, My Humility and How I Achieved It. Well, when you have a glorious gospel it cannot help but just preach itself.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled If Christ Be Not Risen. The message is an answer to a question: why for our salvation did our Lord have to be raised from the dead? Did He not pay for our sins, make atonement, make satisfaction, propitiation for our sins on the cross? [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Peter 2:24]. And did His spirit not rise up to heaven? [Luke 23:45]. And did He not take with Him that repentant thief when he went back up to the Father’s house in glory? [Luke 23:42-43]. Was not the pouring out of the blood of Christ enough to atone for our sins, to save us from our iniquities? [Matthew 1:21]. And is it not enough for our spirits to ascend with our Lord into heaven? [John 14:3]. Why then, the resurrection? [Matthew 28:1-7]. Can we not be saved without the resurrection? [1 Corinthians 15:14].
The answer according to the Word of God is a most emphatic “No!” There could be no forgiveness of sins, and there can be no salvation apart from the resurrection of our Lord. And the answer to that is the message this morning, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching kenos; and your faith is also mataia—both words translated here vain— “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain—kenos,” that is, empty in content, “and your faith is also mataia” [1 Corinthians 15:14, 17], that is, useless, purposeless, empty in result:
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. These men who have preached the gospel, the apostolic witnesses, were not deceived, they are deceivers, if the dead rise not and if Christ was not raised. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins—you are not saved.
[1 Corinthians 15:15-17]
“Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ,” these who have died in the Lord, they are apollumi, “they are perished too” [1 Corinthians 15:18], they are lost also. You are still lost:
Your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. And these who have died, who have fallen asleep in Christ, they also are apollumi;
[1 Corinthians 15:17-18]
They are perished, they are lost, they are not saved:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
[1 Corinthians 15:19]
Most pitiable—most to be pitied—we who are Christians. “If the dead rise not, let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die” [1 Corinthians 15:32]. That’s what he means by saying, “We who are Christians, if there is no such thing as a resurrection, are to be pitied; we are of all men most pitiable” [1 Corinthians 15:19].
In Cicilia, where Paul grew up, the Roman province of Cicilia, there was a famous statue; and underneath were incised these words, “Eat, drink, and play, for this is worth more than all the rest.” And then the statue was carved in a way that the hands and fingers made a contemptible gesture about the meaning of life; it has no meaning: “Eat, drink, be merry, play, for tomorrow you die like a dog, like a brute, like an animal.” Well, why the resurrection of our Lord? And why can we not be saved apart from that victory over the grave? Why did Christ have to be raised from the dead? There are five reasons.
Number one: the resurrection is a sign of the sinless perfection of our Lord; for death is a sign of sin. In the second chapter of Genesis, the Lord said, “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 Scriptures say, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. In the twenty-third verse of the sixth chapter of Romans the apostle says, “For the wages of sin is death!” [Romans 6:23]. The sign of sin is death, and had our Lord not risen from the dead, it would be an eternal sign that He was a sinner like the rest of us. But death had no hold upon Him, death could not detain Him. The grave could not keep its prey because He was sinless! And the resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], was an open avowal to the world that He had died for others’ guilt: yours, mine, and the sin of the whole world [1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 2:2].
Second, why did our Lord have to be raised from the dead? Second reason: because it is a sign of His deity. In the fourth verse of the first chapter of Romans, “Christ our Lord is declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” [Romans 1:4]. Could you pause and look at that Scripture more closely? Horizō; now you know that word, “horizon?” Horizon—horizō—horizon: the marked boundary of the earth where the sky meets the land, horizon. Now the Greek word “horizō ” means “marked, marked out, pointed out, declared, delineated”; marked, horizō. Now the “to be” is in italics, so it’s not in that Greek language. Horizō, “marked out,” declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. Set apart, unique, separate, pointed out, horizō, declared, stated, published, announced, heralded the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. Didn’t they say He was a blasphemer, and an imposter, and a blatant liar? Isn’t that what they said?
For example, in His trial before the Sanhedrin on that awesome Thursday night, the high priest—who was the spokesman of the Sanhedrin, their highest court, and the representative of the people of God—the high priest stood before Jesus after He was arrested and said, “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou art the Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew 26:63-64]. And under witness and under oath, the Lord replied, “I am” [Mark 14:62]. And the high priest rent his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed God; He says He is the Son of God; what think ye? And the Sanhedrin replied, We think He is worthy of death” [Matthew 26:65-66]. When He was lifted up between the earth and the sky and was dying on the cross, they paraded in front of Him, and they wagged their heads as they wagged their tongues and said, “He trusted in God; let God deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God” [Matthew 27:43]. Is He? “He said, I am the Son of God.” Or again, when they took His lifeless body down from the cross and wound it in a winding sheet, and laid it in a tomb, the Sanhedrin went to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and said,
When that deceiver was alive we heard Him say, The third day I will rise from the dead; now will you seal the tomb with the authority of the Roman government, and will you place a guard there lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say, He is risen from the dead. For that deceiver said—the Sanhedrin told Pontius Pilate—the third day I will rise from the grave.
Second: that resurrection was a sign of the deity of Christ, it pointed Him out. All other men die and stay dead; but this Man is not a man, He is the God-Man, Christ Jesus. And the resurrection from the dead pointed Him out, horizō, marked out the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4].
Third, why did our Lord have to rise from the dead? Third: He was raised from the dead in order as our Mediator and Intercessor and Advocate to declare us righteous. The Bible will use the word “justification.” In the last verse of the fourth chapter of Romans, “Our Lord was delivered for our sins, He was crucified for our offenses, and He was raised again for our justification” [Romans 4:24-25]. A dead Christ and a dead gospel would be unthinkable and a miserable travesty for one who sought to declare it. “He was crucified for our sins, He was delivered for our offenses,” but He was raised again for our justification. Now let me illustrate that, and you’ll see what the apostle means when he says, “Christ was raised to declare us righteous, for our justification” [Romans 4:25].
Here is a man who is a criminal, just name any wrong, any violence, and he is sent to the penitentiary. He’s a criminal, he has transgressed, he has broken the laws of society; and society incarcerates him and he’s in the penitentiary. But as the days, and maybe the years, and sometimes a lifetime passes, and his sentence has run its course and he has paid the debt to society, upon that day the jailer, the warden, will come with a great key. He will unlock the gate, he will open the door, and he will say to that criminal, “You are free, you may walk out, the debt has been paid; what you have owed society in your criminal act has been satisfied, you can walk out, you’re free.”
Upon a day there came down from heaven a watcher, a guardian angel from the sky. And he took that great stone over the sepulcher of our Savior, and he rolled it away [Matthew 28:2]. And there came forth out of the grave the Son of God [Matthew 28:6], for the debt had been paid, and the righteousness of God’s law had been satisfied [Matthew 5:17], and every sin that we have committed Christ has died for, He has paid for it [Romans 4:25]. He has satisfied the law, and He came forth victorious, free! [Colossians 2:13-15]. Our transgressions all have been paid for—the judgment has been satisfied [Romans 5:18]—and the resurrection produced the great Mediator and Intercessor and Advocate [Hebrews 7:25], who stands before God saying, “All of his sins, and all of his transgressions, and all of his debts have been met, they have been paid for, all” [1 Corinthians 1:30]. Isn’t that the most unusual and the most marvelous gospel you ever heard in your life? All of our debts have been paid, all of our sins and transgressions have been satisfied, all of them. Every sin of the past, every iniquity of the present, and every sin we shall commit in the future, all of it has been paid for, the debt has been settled, and we are free! We are free! We are free! [Romans 6:6].
“Preacher, goodness, if I believed the doctrine like that, I’d just go out here and just sin, and sin, and sin, and sin all I wanted to. Because it’s all been paid for—according to what you say—and it’s all been judged according to you, and you are free, it’s all been settled, and you are just free. I’d just go out here if I believed that, and I’d just sin all I want to.”
I do, that’s exactly right, that is exactly right; I am absolutely free: every debt has forever been paid for and I am free, I can just sin all I want to. I get drunk all I want to, just all I please, I just get socked. And I cuss all I want to, I just cuss all I want to. And I steal and lie all I want to, just all I want to. The only thing is, I’ve got a new heart, and I have a new love, and I have a new life, and I don’t want to, it doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t like it. And I don’t like to be around it. When people use God’s name in vain and cuss, it does something to me on the inside of my heart, I don’t like it. And when people are telling filthy and dirty stories, I don’t like it, I feel so uncomfortable, like I want to wash, or bathe, or something. And as for stealing and lying, these things are opprobrious; I’m perfectly free.
My salvation does not depend upon my righteousness; I’d never make it if it did. It depends upon His righteousness, His justification [Romans 4:25]. And that is the sign of the resurrection: all of our debts have been paid, all of them. Every transgression and every sin, every wrong of life He has taken it all upon Himself and paid that penalty [2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. And when He came out of the grave a free man, we came out with Him. Our sins, all of them, are atoned for. “He was delivered for our offenses, He was raised again for our justification” [Romans 4:25] to declare us righteous.
Why, up there in heaven there is what is named our “adversary,” our great enemy, “The accuser of the brethren” he’s called in the Revelation [Revelation 12:10]. And he stands up there before God, and he accuses us all day and all night. And he says, “Look at her, look at her; and look at him, look at him; and look at them, look at them. They’re supposed to be the children of God; they’re supposed to be the Christians—well, look at them, look at their thoughts and their hearts—look at what they do in the night, and look at what they do in the day. They are sinners all; all of them are sinners!”
“That’s what Satan does before God all day and all night, talking about you. And if you were called before the judgment bar of God, and the Lord said, “Is that right, what he says about you?” All of us would have to say, “That’s correct, Lord; I’m a vile sinner, my thoughts are not right, and my deeds are not right, and I fall short of the expectation and glory and goodness of God every day of my life. That’s right, Lord, that’s right!”
Well then, why aren’t we damned? Because, standing up there in the presence of the throne of glory, there is a great Advocate and Friend who says, “I have paid for every sin that he’s committed, every one of them.” The judgment has been met, the law of God has been satisfied [Acts 2:24], and the seal of that satisfaction is His resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. “He was delivered for our offenses, he was raised again for our justification,” to declare us righteous. Not that we are righteous, we’re not; but we’re righteous in Him: “to declare us righteous” [Romans 4:25].
Four, why the resurrection from the dead? It is: His resurrection is the pledge of our resurrection [Romans 8:11]. What an amazing thing, inconceivable, if we should be raised from the dead and He should be detained in the grave; if He should be a prisoner of death and we should be raised. What an amazing thing! It is unthinkable; for if the dead are raised, then the pledge of it is in Christ. And if He was not raised, neither shall we be. But if He is raised, then we shall be raised; and the pledge of that resurrection is the glorious triumph of Christ as He came forth victorious from the tomb [Matthew 28:5-7; Acts 2:24].
You see, there has never been a time, nor a people, and certainly not a religion, but that believed in the immortality of the soul. Mankind has always believed that. If you’ll go to Egypt, for example, and look at those mummies; they were all prepared for the life of the spirit beyond the grave. Look at all those accouterments around King Tut—there’s his golden chariot, here are his golden bowls and silver spoons, and there are all of the necessities of life—for they were preparing King Tut for the life beyond the grave.
Go to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado; look at the Indians who were buried there, and all these Indians in America were just like that. They were prepared for the great hunting ground over there on the other side of the great divide. And there, buried with the Indian—his bow, and his arrow, and his beads—–and all the accouterments necessary for his life in the spirit world on the other side.
Same way about the ancient Greeks; they talked about Hades, that shadowy world of the spirit where the River Styx ran dark, cavernously. There haven’t been any people but who have believed in the spirit world, the immortality of the soul.
But the most amazing doctrine the world ever heard is the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body; it is peculiar and unique to the Christian faith! And it is unthinkable to the realist, to the materialist, to the infidel, to the liberal, and to the modernist! Why, when Paul was on top of Mars’ Hill speaking to the Areopagus—the supreme court of the Athenians—those learned university Athenians followed Paul right on down in that wonderful address when he was talking about “the God” [Acts 17:22-30]; but when Paul came to the resurrection of the dead they laughed; “Ha, ha, ha!” And the Stoic smiled, and bowed, and said, “We will hear thee again on this matter” [Acts 17:31-32], and they left. And the Epicureans ridiculed him to his face, they laughed out loud.
The resurrection of the dead, of the body, to the rational world—to the material world—is unthinkable and unreasonable! Well, what is this thing, this new thing here in the Christian faith? What is this? There is something in the heart of God that seeks embodiment. Let me read to you one of the great, great passages out of the New Testament:
For we know that if our earthly house—
of this dwelling place, this tabernacle, this body—
for we know that if this body be dissolved—
turned back to dust—
we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens—
we have another body—
For in this one we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
[2 Corinthians 5:1-2]
“For in this we groan”: arthritis, rheumatism, leukemia, cancer, hardening of the arteries, loss of mind, age, senility, pain, weakness, sorrow, groaning, weariness unto death; that is the allotment of everybody that lives, you in time, just give you time.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with that new house, that new body which is from heaven. If so being clothed we shall not be found disembodied.
“Disembodied,” without a house, just a spirit:
For we that are in this body, this tabernacle, this house, do groan being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, disembodied, but clothed upon,that mortality might be swallowed up by life.
[2 Corinthians 5:2-4]
However we may groan in this body—sick, grievously pained, the long, wearisome nights and the days that never end—however we may groan in this body, we don’t want to be unclothed, disembodied; but what we pray for is that we might be clothed upon, that we might have a new body, that mortality might be swallowed up of life; that I could have a body that never grew old, that never knew pain or sorrow, an immortalized body like the glorified house in which Jesus lives [1 John 3:2]. That is the Christian faith.
All of these doctrines of immortality, every religion in the world, every infidel in the world will largely share them. But the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is a unique and peculiar doctrine of the Christian faith. And the pledge of our resurrection is the resurrection of Jesus our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:12-22]. Why, look how he will name it: Christ, He was first; then the first fruits, that little band who was raised with Christ; then we that are Christ’s at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23]: When the Lord shall descend from heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and the trumpets shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, all of us, are changed [1 Corinthians 15:52].
That’s our time; and then the end ones, [1 Corinthians 15:24] those who are going to be resurrected, who have been martyred, slain in the great tribulation [Revelation 6:9]; all of us are going to live again in God’s sight. Not disembodied spirits, the Bible abhors disembodiment as nature abhors a vacuum [2 Corinthians 5:4]. But we are going to be raised, this body, this house, glorified [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]—and it will be you, you will be you, I shall be I, we shall be we—why, the Lord had scars in His hands and in His side; He was recognized, it was the same Jesus [John 20:24-28]. And you’ll be the same you, only perfect, ageless, beautiful, sinless, without spot or blemish, glorified, immortalized, the house that God has made for us to dwell in [Ephesians 5:27].
And I haven’t time to speak of God’s purpose for the whole creation. I cannot understand the nature of God; but that’s God! God likes embodiment, God likes matter, God likes creation; He made it! [Genesis 1:1-31]. Those stars that shine, those suns that burn, these planets that swing around, and these satellites that glorify, all of it God made [Amos 5:8; Hebrews 11:3]. And it’s fallen now, it’s in ruins now, God’s whole creation has been destroyed by Satan and sin and including this house we live in [Romans 8:22]. But God’s going to resurrect it; He is going to renew it. We are going to have a new heaven and a new earth, and we’re going to have a new city [Revelation 21:1-2], and we’re going to have a new body, and a new fellowship! [Revelation 21:3-5]. And the pledge of that resurrection is the resurrection of Jesus Christ! [John 14:19]. Every time the spring comes around, and out of the dust of the earth, God raises these glorious lilies and makes the world burst anew in verdant emerald green and life and glory, that is the pledge of God of our final triumph in Jesus.
Fifth, hurriedly, last, why the resurrection of Jesus Christ: because had it not been for the resurrection the disciples would have been abysmally, despairingly defeated. They saw Him die, they saw Him buried, and when they laid that corpse in the tomb [Matthew 27:32-66], every hope and dream for Israel and for the world that the disciples entertained was buried with the Lord. There never would have been a church, there never would have been a Pentecost, there never would have been a gospel—a euaggelion, “good news”—had those disciples been forever defeated and abysmally discouraged. Why, bless you, it doesn’t take an imagination to imagine those disciples standing up to preach the gospel and the would-be converts, the enemies of the cross, say, “Come and see, come and see!” And the Roman guard breaks the Roman seal at the command of the Roman government, and the Roman guards roll back the great stone, and the enemies of the cross say, “If you can stomach it, if you can take it, come and look upon His decomposed and corrupting body!” And then listen to Simon Peter preach, or listen to the apostle John preach, and the same time look at the decomposed, corrupting, decaying body of their Savior. Look! Look! It would have been impossible!
But, when the Lord rose from the dead, when Christ was raised from the grave [Matthew 28:1-7], the disciples looked upon Him [Matthew 28:16-20]. Oh! The indescribable, glorious change that came overwhelming their souls, “He is alive! He is alive!” The women first saw Him and ran to take the disciples word, “We have seen Him, He is alive!” [Matthew 28:8-10]. Mary Magdalene saw Him and ran, “He is alive!” [John 20:11-18]. And when she came to Peter and John, they ran to the tomb. When John got there first, being the younger he’d outrun his friend, he paused and looked in; but when Simon got there, he ran right into the tomb. And there he saw the napkin laid carefully by itself, just as Jesus had a habit of folding a napkin, and the grave clothes all carefully laid out. It was not a robbery, He had [risen]! He’d been raised from the dead, and the Book says, “And John saw it, and believed.” He is alive, He is alive!” [John 20:2-8].
And He appeared to the two on the way to Damascus, “He is alive!” [Luke 24:13-32]. And He appeared that day to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5], “He is alive!” And He appeared that night to the [ten] disciples, Thomas being gone, “He is alive!” [John 20:19-25]. And He appeared the following Sunday night to the eleven disciples, Thomas being there, “He is alive, He is alive!” [John 20:26-31]. And He appeared to the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, “He is alive!” as Simon Peter heard John say, “You know who that is? That’s the Lord, that’s the Lord, that’s the Lord!” And Simon Peter jumped in the sea and swam to the shore to go to Jesus, “He is alive, He is alive!” [John 21:1-25]. And He appeared to over five hundred brethren at once, “He is alive!” [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And He appeared to James and his family, “He is alive!” [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And He appeared to the disciples at Jerusalem, He led them out to Olivet, and as they looked upon Him, He ascended up into heaven [Luke 24:50-51]. And they stood there gazing up into heaven, and those same guardian angels from glory came down:
Why are you standing there gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus—
resurrected, glorified, in an immortalized house, in a body that shines to God forever—
this same Jesus shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go.
He is alive! He is alive! He lives! He is our Advocate and Friend, raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], to see us through, to present us someday faultless in the presence of the great Glory [Jude 1:24].
That’s why you say the euaggelion, the “good news,” the gospel; it’s the sweetest story ever told. It’s the grandest hope human heart has ever known. He is our Savior, and Lord, and Friend, and Advocate, and Mediator, and Pleader [Hebrews 7:25]. He lives! And we can talk to Him, and love Him, and praise Him, and someday look into His face [Revelation 22:3-5], clasp His feet, hold His feet. O Lord! What a day, what a glorious promise; it’s just marvelous to be a Christian, isn’t it?
Now we must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, in this throng, you, a family, a couple you, down one of these stairways into the aisle and to the front, “Here I come, pastor, I have decided for God, I’m going that way. I want to get on the glory road, and I’m coming.” If you’re in that topmost balcony on the last seat, you, there’s time and to spare, come. The press of people on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now.” Do it, make the decision in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. The whole family you, or just one you, God will open the door, angels will attend you in the way, the Lord will see you through. “He ever lives to make intercession for us, able to save to the uttermost” [Hebrew 7:25]. Come, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.