With Easter almost upon us it seemed timely to spend some time considering how our ‘hope’ arises from the events of 2,000 years ago. Specifically my thoughts turn to the importance of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. The New Testament links the resurrection with hope. In Peter’s first letter he speaks of having been given “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3) and Paul refers to the “hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6, 24:15). Paul also includes a lengthy exposition of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Included in this amazing chapter are the following words…
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17)
Paul is surely spot on here in saying that our faith hinges upon the resurrection; it is what some have described as the ‘bedrock of our faith’ and is surely the foundation of our hope. In the following post I want to explore the reason that the resurrection is cause for such hope. Before we do so we must turn briefly to the evidence for the resurrection.
The Evidence for the Resurrection
Much has been written about the evidence for the resurrection and also for that matter about the evidence for the New Testament accounts that record it. We don’t have time to get into this debate but thankfully many others have. For example after investigating the evidence of the resurrection, Lord Darling (former Chief Justice) said that “there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.” Similarly Dr. Simon Greenleaf (professor of law at Harvard) having examined the facts and concluded that “there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ than for just about any other event in history.” My purpose here however is to think through some of the implications of the truth of the resurrection. Most helpfully Paul devotes much of 1 Corinthians 15 to this question so that is where we will spend our time!
The Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
Paul’s intention here is to remind the Christians in Corinth of the gospel he preached to them, the gospel by which they were saved and one that he longs that they would hold firmly to. Otherwise says Paul they have believed in vain. In order to encourage them in this respect Paul reminds them of what he passed onto them as of “first importance”…
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Notice that the substance of what Paul says is of ‘first importance’ is all about Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day and appeared to Cephas, then the twelve, then to more than 500 brothers, then to James and finally to Paul himself. Paul is keen to stress the facts of the gospel, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is the basis of our hope. Furthermore it is the reason for Paul’s hope and he goes on in v9-11 to share how the grace of God had transformed his life. It was a transformation from ‘persecutor’ to ‘preacher’ and ‘co-worker’ for God. I too can attest to the transforming power of the gospel in my own life and can clearly see how God has turned my life upside down as I’ve followed Him. I for one don’t know how I would have made it through the past few years without this hope.
The Resurrection of the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)
It seems that some of the Corinthians had denied that there would be a “resurrection of the dead” (v12) which to Paul is simply inconceivable. Paul now explains the implications if there is no ‘resurrection of the dead’; namely that their faith and preaching is useless (v14) and their testimony about God is shown to be false (v15). Moreover if the dead are not raised then Paul says that Christ has not been raised either (v16). And if Christ has not been raised then he says that their faith is futile and they are still in their sins.
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:16-19
Without the ‘resurrection of the dead’ Paul says that all who have fallen asleep are lost and we ‘of all people are most to be pitied’. The resurrection of Christ is the first-fruits of all those “in Christ” who will one day be raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the ‘resurrection of the dead’ are inseparable – the former being the forerunner and the proof of the latter. Without the ‘resurrection of the dead’ (and by implication the resurrection of Christ) our faith, our preaching and our witness is all in vain. Our hope is based not merely on the resurrection of Christ but upon the hope that one day all who are in Christ will be raised and spend eternity with Him.
The Resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)
Finally Paul focused on our glorious future through the lens of the ‘resurrection of the body’. There had been what Paul calls ‘foolish questions’ (v35-36) about ‘how we will be raised’ and ‘what kind of bodies we will have’. To be resurrected in Christ we need to be transformed into His likeness. The splendour of our ‘earthly bodies’ is one thing says Paul but the splendour of our ‘heavenly bodies’ is quite another (v37-41). The ‘perishable’ will be raised ‘imperishable’. That sown in ‘dishonour’ and ‘weakness’ will be ‘raised in glory’ and power. The ‘natural body’ raised a ‘spiritual body’. In a flash, the twinkling of an eye the dead will be raised imperishable writes Paul;
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-57
The resurrection means that death has been swallowed up in victory, death has lost its sting and we are assured the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever is going on in our lives these verses are filled with such hope of victory and of an eternity with Jesus. All of this motivates Paul to the climax of the chapter, namely his instruction to stand firm…
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
This reality is also true for us. if we give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord then our labour in the Lord will not be in vain. When you consider hope I wonder whether you are merely holding onto the temporal hope for this life (which clearly does have a place) or whether you are holding onto the certain and eternal hope we have for the next!
A cause for hope?
Easter is all about hope, a hope that was kindled through what happened 2,000 years ago and which continues to give us hope day by day. This is the hope that Peter described as a ‘living hope’. It is living not just because Jesus lives but because by God’s grace we also live and look forward to all that God has in store for us in the future. Jesus rose from the dead: fact. Therefore we can have hope, that confident and certain kind of hope that we too will be raised from the dead and be transformed into the likeness of Christ upon His return.
“Our hope is anchored in the past: Jesus rose! Our hope remains in the present: Jesus lives! Our hope is completed in the future: Jesus is coming.” Edward Clowney, Bible Speaks today: 1 Peter
Do you know this assurance of hope? Are you allowing this hope to transform the way that you approach each day as we await the return of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? I encourage you to consider these questions afresh this Easter.
Let me wish you a very Happy Easter!