IF CHRIST BE NOT RISEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:14
3-30-86 10:50 a.m.
I want you to turn to the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; 1 Corinthians chapter 15. And we welcome the great throngs of you on radio and on television. You also are a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled If Christ Be Not Risen.
Do you have it? First Corinthians chapter 15: we are going to read from verse 12 through verse 19—1 Corinthians 15, verses 12-19. And if your neighbor doesn’t have a Bible, share yours with him. We are all going to read it out loud together. Now let us stand in the presence of our Lord, reading 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Now 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.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-19]
Now may we be seated?
The title of the sermon: If Christ Be Not Risen. That is the most hopeless and traumatic of all of the “ifs” in the universe: “if Christ be not risen” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. And in the passage that you have just read, the apostle writes seven of those “ifs.” They are seven steps that go down, and down, and down to darkness and to hell. “If Christ be not risen ….” Doubts are like cormorants; they are like vultures; they fly in flocks, and they go round and round and round. So these hopeless “ifs”: “If Christ be not risen ….” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. And down and down and down through seven steps does the apostle take us.
The first one: if Christ be not risen, then He is held in the fierce grasp of death, as any other sinner. He is not the Son of God, and He is not our Savior if He is dead.
Death is a sign of sin. God said in [Genesis 2:17]: “In the day that you transgress, you shall surely, surely die.” Ezekiel wrote in his prophecy, in 18 and verse 4: “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. And the apostle wrote in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” Death is a sign and a concomitant and a corollary of sin. And if Jesus is dead, He is a sinner like all the rest of us. He is not our Savior.
In Romans 1:4, the apostle says: “The Lord Jesus Christ is declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.” That’s an unusual word translated “declared.” The word is horizō—horizō. Our word “horizon” comes from it. The mark between heaven and earth is called the horizon, and that’s the word the apostle uses. Jesus Christ is marked out as the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4]. And if He did not rise from the dead, He is not the Son of God. He is not our Savior. He could not die for our guilt. He died for His own sins, and He is held in the thralldom of death because He is a sinner.
The second “if”: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Who could stand in this sacred pulpit and preach a gospel of a dead Christ? When the Lord said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all the people,” He said in addition, “And lo, I will go with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:19-20]. But, how could He go with us to the end of the age if He is dead?
In Hebrews 7:25 the great author of that marvelous book says, “Wherefore He, our Lord, is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” But how could He make intercession for us if He is dead?
In the fourteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel of John, our Lord is quoted as saying, “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; that where I am, there you may be also” [John 14:2-3]. But how can He come for us if He is dead? [1 Corinthians 15:13]. “If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. We don’t have a gospel.
The third one: “And your faith is vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. He repeats that in verse 17: “And your faith is vain if Christ be not risen” [1 Corinthians 15:17]. He uses two different words for “vain.” The first one is kenos, and that refers to the content. Our message is void. It is empty. It has no substance and no pertinency. The second word translated “vain” is mataios. That refers to the end, to the result. Our preaching is purposeless. It has no meaning. It has no ultimate pertinency. It is empty and vain, if Christ is not raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:17].
He says a fourth “if” here: “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” [1 Corinthians 15:15]. This must have stung the apostle the worst of all, for he expatiates on it more than on any of the others. “If Christ be not risen, we are false witnesses, we are deceivers” [1 Corinthians 15:15].
It’s a strange thing, human life. The psychologist says it is impossible for a man to lay down his life for a known lie and a known deception. Yet these men—the apostle Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way. Some of them were crucified; some of these apostles were thrown into boiling cauldrons of oil; some of them were burned at the stake. The apostle Paul says in this same chapter, “We stand in jeopardy every hour” [1 Corinthians 15:30]. “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die” [1 Corinthians 15:32]. If Christ be not risen, we are false witnesses; we are liars; we are deceivers if Christ be not raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:14-16].
He has a fifth one: “If Christ be not raised, ye are yet in your sins” [1 Corinthians 15:17]; you will never see God’s face [Revelation 22:3-4]. Nothing that defiles will ever enter heaven [Revelation 21:27]. And if we are in unforgiven sins [Ephesians 1:7], we will never pass through those gates of pearl and walk on those streets of gold [Revelation 21:21]. We’ll never see the Lord. We’ll never be with the redeemed family of God [Hebrews 12:22-24; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. We will die, and forever [1 Corinthians 15:32].
He has a sixth “if”: “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” [1 Corinthians 15:18]. These who have been laid in their tombs in the hope of a resurrection shall lie there forever and ever, sealed in the grave. I was telling David Roddy—he was asking me how many of these Easters had I preached. Lacking one, I have preached sixty. I have been a pastor, lacking one year, sixty years; and I live in a world of death, burying the dead. And every saint of God that I have laid in the heart of the earth is forever there if Christ be not raised and if the dead rise not [1 Corinthians 15:17-18].
And not only are they who have fallen asleep in Jesus, not only have they perished [1 Corinthians 15:18], but his seventh “if”: we are more helpless and forlorn than even the dead, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Our faith is vain, our hope is evanescent, our graves are our eternal homes, and we’ll never see God’s face, and live; a miserable people, hopeless and helpless and destined to darkness and death.
That is why this twentieth verse is so magnificently meaningful and triumphant. But now:
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that sleep.
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 15:20-22]
The effect of Adam’s death is seen in the ultimate demise and decease of every man and woman that shall ever live. But as extensive as the effect of the sin and transgression and death of Adam, so is the effect of the resurrection of Christ upon Adam’s fallen race. We shall live because He lives [1 Corinthians 15:20-22]. “We shall be resurrected in the likeness of His own glorious resurrection” [Romans 6:4-5]. “We shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” [1 John 3:2].
When we think of this vast earth, it is one illimitable cemetery; it is a place in which to bury our dead. This earth is none other than a planet on which we ourselves shall be buried. As we look at this vast field, unreaped, unharvested, the vast planet of death; why not leave it that way? Why should we be accosted with a promise or a doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? Why do not we leave them dead?
The doctrine of the world is this: the immortality of the soul, but in no wise the resurrection of the body. All of the philosophers have believed in the immortality of the soul, whether it be the ancient Egyptian, or the Assyrian, or the Greek, or the Roman, or the modern philosopher who lives in this present day. They all believe in the immortality of the soul.
Yesterday, in the Morning News, there is a column read by millions and millions of people. It appears every day, and out of that column I clipped this poem:
Do not stand by my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am a diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
[“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep,” Mary Elizabeth Frye]
This is Stoic philosophy: namely, that everything visible in the world belongs to a world soul, and we come out of it, and when we die we are reabsorbed into it. So I came out of this world soul, according to the Stoic, when I was born, and when I die I go back into that world’s soul. “I’m the wind that blows; I’m the glint on the snow. I’m the sunlight on ripened grain; I’m the gentle autumn rain. I am the birds circling in flight; I’m the stars that shine at night.” That is the philosophy of the world.
It was that, this identical Stoic philosophy, that Paul met in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts when he preached the gospel on Mars’ Hill in Athens. When he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, the Stoics and the Epicureans mocked and laughed; such an idea, such a doctrine, such a preaching, such a teaching as that the dead would rise from their graves [Acts 17:31-32]. But the central doctrine of the New Testament gospel message is just that: namely, the resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:5-9] and our own resurrection in Him [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. In the fifth chapter of the 2 Corinthian letter Paul writes, Christianity, the truth of the Christian faith, abhors disembodiment as nature abhors a vacuum: “to be unclothed,” as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 5, to be unclothed is of all things unthinkable to the child of God; rather, he is to be “clothed upon” [2 Corinthians 5:2-4]. His body is to be given to him as a house for his spirit and his soul; redeemed, immortalized, glorified, a home and a house “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” [2 Corinthians 5:1].
There is no such thing as a Christian doctrine of a disembodied spirit, an unclothed soul. The heart of the Christian faith is that we shall not be nameless spirits floating in some limbo, but we shall be we. You shall be you, and I shall be I. And my spirit and my soul, my mind and my heart, shall be housed in a beautiful and glorified, immortalized and resurrected body [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. That is the Christian faith. When a man preaches the resurrection of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], that’s what he preaches.
I do not know of a more poignant moment in all of the Bible than when Jesus appeared after His resurrection to His disciples [Luke 24:36]. And the Bible says they were affrighted because they thought they were looking at a spirit [Luke 24:37]. And Jesus said, “Come and touch Me, handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bone, such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39]. Then He asks, “Children, have you here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them” [Luke 24:41-43]. The same Lord Jesus, the scars in His hands, in His feet, in His side [Luke 24:39-40]—the same loving face, the same beating heart, the same grace and glory, the same Jesus who was laid in the tomb [Luke 23:52-53], is the same Lord who is raised from the grave [Luke 24:1-7].
And that’s our pledge: that we also shall be like Him and shall be resurrected from the dead [1 John 3:2]. Now why are you so sure of that, pastor? Because of the other word that Paul avows in this passage: “But now is Christ risen from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20]. But every one of us in his own order: Christ; the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s at His coming; then the end ones” [1 Corinthians 15:23-24].
That’s an unusual word there: “But every one of us in his own order,” tagma [1 Corinthians 15:3]. That’s the only place in the New Testament that the word is found, tagma. But you’ll find it in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the word tagma refers to the regiments as they pass by, to the bands as they pass by, to the groups as they pass by, to the companies as they pass by. It’s the image of you—somebody, we in a stand, in a grandstand and on a parade. These troops are passing by. These regiments are passing by. These soldiers are marching by in their tagma, in their order.
That’s the word that he uses here. We also shall be raised from the dead in our order, and he names the order: first is Christ [1 Corinthians 15:23], the first one who was ever resurrected from the dead is the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:4]. There had been resuscitations, but they have died [1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 4:32-35, 13:20-21; Mark 5:22-24; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:1-44; Acts 9:36-41; Acts 20:9-10]. The only one, the first one to be immortalized and glorified, raised from the dead, is Jesus our Lord; Jesus first; then the firstfruits, the firstfruits: in the city of Jerusalem, when Jesus was raised from the dead, there was a little company of saints who were raised after His resurrection and appeared to the apostles in Jerusalem [Matthew 27:52-53]. These are the firstfruits [1 Corinthians 15:23]. In the twenty-third chapter in the Book of Leviticus, after the Passover—the first day after the Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread [Leviticus 23:5-6]—on that first day there was a sheaf of barley grain that was waved before the Lord [Leviticus 23:11]. It was an earnest. It was a promise. It was a harbinger of all of the harvests that should come after [1 Corinthians 15:23-24]. So that little band of firstfruits [Matthew 27:52-53; 1 Corinthians 15:23], they are the harbinger, and the promise, and the earnest of the great throng of God’s children who will also be raised from the dead [John 14:19].
Then, in the order: Christ, then the firstfruits, then “they that are Christ’s at His coming” [1 Corinthians 15:23]. When the Lord comes to receive His own at the end of this era, at this age, in the day of the rapture of the church, “The dead in Christ will rise first: then we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall be caught up with them in the air, to meet the Lord in the skies; and so shall we ever be with our Lord” [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. That in the tagma, in the order, that is the next group who will be caught up, resurrected. These who have fallen asleep called forth from the grave [1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16]. “And we who are alive and remain shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and we shall all be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
Then the last, the end ones [1 Corinthians 15:24]. At the end of the terrible tribulation, these who have fallen asleep in the Lord, these who have been martyred, these who have laid down their lives for Christ, they will be raised [Revelation 20:4]. And all of God’s children will be living in His sight, not a bone left in the darkness of death, not one of the least of God’s saints for Satan to gloat over. His power, the ableness of Christ, will touch us all. We all shall be changed, we shall be raised, we shall be immortalized [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. And the promise and the earnest of that blessing and grace of God to us is found in the ableness and the power of our living Lord [John 14:19]. None like Him: the Savior of the world and the promise and earnest of our own ultimate victorious resurrection [John 6:40]. None like our blessed Savior.
I read where there was a vast convocation, thousands of people in a big city auditorium. And the people had been invited in order to listen to a man who represented the Hindu religion, and another who represented the Mohammedan religion, and another who represented the Buddhist religion, and then one to represent the Christian faith. As each one of those men spoke, the Buddhist who spoke immediately in front of the Christian representative, the Buddhist was a brilliant philosopher. And as he stood there before that vast throng of thousands of people and expatiated upon the virtues of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha—spoke of the law of karma and nirvana, spoke of the eight beautiful living precepts of the Buddhist faith—he swayed that great throng. He was eloquent and a marvelous exponent of the Buddhist religion.
Then and last, stood up the Christian advocate and champion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it was tragic. The man was inept and incapable, and he stumbled and stuttered as he stood there to present the glorious power of the living Christ. And in the midst of his stumbling and his stuttering and his ineptitude—in the midst of it—far up in the topmost balcony of that great auditorium stood a man. And he began to sing:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;—
And someone joined in—
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all—
and when he came to the second stanza, others joined—
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,
And crown Him Lord of all.
And when they came to the last stanza, the thousands and the thousands stood up and sang:
O that with yonder sacred throng,
We at His feet may fall.
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all.
[“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” by Edward Perronet]
There is no promise, there is no faith, there is no hope like this assured to us in the loving grace of our living Lord. If I face death, it is in Him [Romans 14:8]. If I face the darkness of the grave, He is with me [Psalm 23:4]. If I face an ultimate judgment, He is by my side [Romans 8:1]. If I face all of the vicissitudes and fortunes that lie in that day when God calls His roll in heaven, He is my Advocate and my Savior [1 John 2:1]. To have a wonderful Lord like Him is the sweetest possession that one could ever own in human life. Every day is a wonderful day with Him. Every prospect is a beautiful prospect, and the life to come beyond these present days, that life is glorious and precious and beautiful beyond what mind could ever think for or heart could ever imagine [John 10:10].
And it is ours for the receiving; the grace of God is a free gift from heaven [Ephesians 2:8], you and your family and your children growing up in the preciousness of Jesus our Lord. And that’s why we’re here on this Easter Lord’s Day. Thank You, O God, for the hope that we have in Jesus [1 John 3:3].
May we bow our heads? Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Savior, would God we had the words adequate to portray the glory of Jesus: what He has done for us, dying in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21], raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], in heaven waiting for us, interceding [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], and someday coming for His own [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. Lord, Lord, without loss of one, may every soul in divine presence today find a beautiful response in this invitation. “Pastor, this day I’m accepting Christ as my Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. This day, I and my family are coming into the fellowship of this wonderful church. This day, I’m answering God’s call in my heart. And here I stand. Here I come.” Make it, Lord, this one time, that without loss of one, everyone in divine presence will find himself in the will of God, in the arms of Jesus safe and secure, saved forever [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. Lord, grant it now, grant it now.
In a moment when our people stand and sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor: “Pastor, today, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing our song, on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and welcome. And our Lord, in a marvelous outpouring of Thy Spirit, may God send us these the Lord hath invited to eternal life today. Thank Thee for the answered prayer, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.