If it Please the Court
“IF IT PLEASE THE COURT”
(I Corinthians 15:1-20)
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. 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 firstfruits of them that slept.”
A farmer was riding his donkey beside the highway, with his dog running alongside them. As they trotted along a curve of the road, a car came around the curve at high speed, missed the curve, and ran into the farmer, the mule, and the dog, knocking the three of them into the ditch. The farmer recovered after a long hospitalization, and sometime later, he sued the driver of the automobile for damages — and more.
The trial came to court, and the lawyer for the driver’s defense finally put the farmer himself on the witness stand. The lawyer asked, “Sir, did you not tell the driver of the automobile after the accident that day that you were perfectly O.K.?” The farmer replied, “Well, I was riding my donkey down the highway, when a car came around the curve, ran off the highway, hit us, and knocked us down into the ditch ...” “No, no,” the lawyer interrupted, “I didn’t ask for a long explanation. I only want a Yes or No answer.” And he repeated his question. “Well,” answered the farmer, I was riding my donkey...” “No, no,” scolded the attorney, “I only want a Yes or No answer! Please answer Yes or No.” “Well,” answered the farmer, I was riding my donkey...” “No, no,” shouted the lawyer, and then he turned to the judge. “Your honor,” he said, “Please instruct the witness to answer the question Yes or No!” But the judge was wise enough to sense something. “I think we should let the witness speak,” the judge said, so the farmer began again. “I was riding my donkey down the highway, with my dog running beside us, when this car came around the curve, ran off the highway, hit us, and knocked us all down into the ditch. The driver stopped his car on down the ditch, jumped out, and ran back to us in the ditch. He looked at my mule, at my dog, and at me. Then he ran back to his car and got a pistol. He came back to us, took another look at my mule, and then he shot him. He took another look at my dog — and shot him, too. Then he looked at me and said, “How do you feel?” I answered, “Mr., I never felt better in all my life!”
You see, when you are investigating a story, it is necessary to get all the facts, and it is essential to see the story, if possible, from the viewpoint of the people who were most involved in it.
Today, we are examining a part (just a part) of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The text we will use is I Corinthians 15:1-20, which has the aura of the courtroom about it. It sounds very much like an official presentation, even a legal presentation. In short, it sounds considerably like a lawyer’s brief.
In the Bible, Jesus is called an “Advocate” (lawyer), and so also is the Holy Spirit (I John 2:1; John 14:16, 26; John 15:26-27; John 16:7-11). John 16:8 tell us that it is the work of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s Lawyer to convict criminal sinners of their sins, and bring them to admit that they are guilty as charged. So the entire “Christian system” could be viewed as a giant law firm with two branches, one in Heaven and the other on earth. Each branch is headed by a Master Attorney. Jesus is our Lawyer in Heaven, assigned to plead and win the case there for all sinners who trust Him. His case in our behalf is perfect, and He has never lost the case of a single sinner who solidly put his cause in Jesus’ hands. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Lawyer on earth, assigned to plead and win Christ’s case in the hearts of convicted sinners. What a team, and what a work of salvation from death and danger they accomplish when we apply to “Heaven’s Law Firm” and place our case individually in their hands!
Our text is presented as a court case by a master lawyer. In this case, the Apostle Paul is the lawyer (and he was a lawyer, a student and master of the law), and you are a jurist. The developing case is presented before you, and you are finally asked to render a verdict regarding the purported resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Before we look at Paul’s case for the resurrection, let’s consider the duties of a jurist. The first duty of a jury is that it must be unbiased. Juries are carefully screened to secure the absence of any bias that would prejudice the juror’s judgment of the case. It is unallowable, for example, for a jurist to take one look at an accused prisoner in the dock and decide there and then that because of the color of his skin he must be guilty (or not guilty)! To be unbiased in any case may be more difficult than it appears, and especially would that be true with regard to a possible resurrection from the dead.
A striking example of natural bias against the resurrection is that of Frenchman Ernest Renan who wrote a book, The Life of Jesus, in which he renounced the resurrection of Christ. His reason? By his own clear admission, Renan started his “investigation” with a presupposition, an overwhelming bias. He wrote, “There is no such thing as a miracle. Therefore, the resurrection did not take place!” Such an attitude would not be tolerated in a court of law, and would certainly disqualify Mr. Renan from a jury whose responsibility it is to render a verdict about the resurrection based on the evidence that is offered. The first duty of a jury is to be unbiased when confronted with evidence.
The second duty of a jury is to objectively (as objectively as possible) examine all of the evidence that is admitted to the court in the case at hand. As we will see, there is much evidence presented regarding the resurrection. The presentation we will consider presents a significant part of the evidence, but it is by no means exhaustive. Every account of the resurrection in the New Testament compounds the evidence, and the resulting total case is impressive, indeed. In this study, however, I will ask you to consider only the evidence presented by Paul.
Third, the jury is responsible to acknowledge what lawyers call the “standard of proof.” Suppose you are involved in an automobile accident and, unfortunately, someone is injured. You are then sued in court for damages and the court has to decide whether you have been negligent or not. How does the court do this? What would constitute proof of this? In such a case, the decision is made on the basis of probabilities. The court has to decide as to what is the most likely thing that happened. “What is the most likely thing that happened” is a key question.
Fourth, the jury is responsible to reach a conclusion about the case in light of the evidence that is presented and the testimonies of pertinent witnesses. This conclusion is presented as the jury’s verdict. It is the responsibility of each jurist to cast his clear vote in forming the jury’s verdict.
Remember that Paul is the lawyer, his “case” for the resurrection is presented in I Corinthians 15:1-20, and you are the jury. Now, we will consider the lawyer’s case.
I. THE FOUNDATION
First, we note the Foundation of his case for the resurrection. Every lawyer operates by a recognized Standard of Law. No worthy lawyer argues a case simply by his own whims and fancies — if he intends to win. He “knows the book” and “goes by the book,” though he may follow his own unique style in pursuing and presenting his case. He studies for long and laborious hours in law school to “learn the book” and the procedures by which he may operate according to it.
Paul also had a “Manual of Law.” He also had “a book” which governed his practice and his presentation. He identifies it twice in his opening remarks. He speaks of “the scriptures” in verses three and four. The scriptures were Paul’s “law book.” This law book was the theme of all of the New Testament speakers and writers, including Jesus. The word “scripture” is used 51 times in the New Testament, and 14 of those occurrences are in the writings of Paul. Paul used the word “written” 37 times in reference to the scriptures, and the tense of the verb he used indicates that he believed the scriptures to be inviolable, unchangeable, and infallible. What were the “scriptures” to Paul? They were the writings of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44-45); the New Testament was still in the process of being written. Indeed, this very statement of Paul’s case for the resurrection would become a vital part of the New Testament.
It is important to note that Paul mentioned the “scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4) before he called attention to the testimonies of the early Christians. Thus he clearly placed the truth of the Holy Scriptures before tradition in importance! He certainly did not doubt the overwhelming testimony of the early Christians, but he carefully laid the foundation for his argument in the Holy Scriptures first. Tradition is valid if it conforms to the Word of God, but we must beware of any tradition which runs counter to, or even angular from, the Word of God. Paul did not interpret the Scriptures in light of Christian testimony; rather, he interpreted Christian testimony in light of the Scriptures. “According to the Scriptures” becomes the foundation for Paul’s case.
Also, he founded his argument for the resurrection on another foundation stone — the “Gospel” (I Cor. 15:1). The Old Testament contains many forecasts of the Gospel, and the New Testament presents the fulfilment of those forecasts, and the basic facts of the Gospel.
Note, too, that Paul declared that he “received” this Gospel. Here, each reader needs to study Galatians 1:11-20 carefully to see the source of the Gospel which Paul preached. This Gospel was based on the Old Testament “Manual of Law.” Thus, it was always “according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4).
Observe, also, that Paul declares how this Gospel reaches individual hearts. First, it is “declared” to the individual (verse 1); then he “receives” it (verse 1); as he believes it, he is “saved” (verse 2); and then he “stands” in it (verse 1). So the Gospel contains the fulfilment of the Old Testament forecast, and that Gospel exercises its saving force in the lives of sinners when they repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ for His salvation.
The foundation of Paul’s case for the resurrection of Christ is in the phrases, “according to the Scriptures,” and “the Gospel.”
Note that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was often prefigured in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself cited the history of the prophet Jonah as a “sign” of His resurrection: “As Jonah was three days and three night in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). The Feast of Firstfruits is another picture of the resurrection of Christ. It occurred three days after the Passover (a picture of the Death of Christ) and fifty days before Pentecost (the day which marked the full release of the Holy Spirit’s power in the Book of Acts). It was characterized by the presentation unto God of the first fruits of the barley harvest, a sign of returning life after the burial of the seed. The resurrection of Christ took place on the third day after the death of the Passover sacrifice, and fifty days before Pentecost. In the chapter of our text, the Apostle Paul said, “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20).
The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis supplies another striking picture of the resurrection of Christ. Joseph, through no fault of his own, was cast into prison, the place of condemnation (just as Jesus was condemned “without cause”). While in prison, he was numbered with transgressors — two are identified, just as Christ was crucified between two thieves. To one of them, Joseph was the means of blessing, but to the other, he pronounced doom. Is this not an exact picture of Jesus on the cross? But Joseph did not remain in the prison, just as Jesus did not remain in the prison-house of death. Joseph came out of the place of shame and suffering into a position of dignity and glory (just like Jesus). But before he left the prison, Joseph “changed his raiment” (Genesis 41:14). So Jesus left behind Him the wrappings of death, the grave-clothes, and came forth clothed in immortality and glory. This was the pledge that at His second coming His people will also be delivered from everything connected with the old creation. “He shall change the lowly body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Hallelujah!
Look at just one more picture of the resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament. The old story of Noah and the ark in the early chapters of Genesis provide a perfect picture of Jesus and His resurrection. The old world is rightfully under judgment and will be destroyed. One family will be saved because of God’s dealings with its head. That family is brought from the old world to a new one in an ark, the only place of safety. Look carefully at the details of the story, using the microscope of faith and illumination. When the flood of judgment has ceased, the ark comes to rest on the mountains of the new world long before any other portion of that new world could be seen. Christ, as our Ark of Salvation, has rested in resurrection, with all of the redeemed family included in His victory. Note this detail. The day the ark rested was the very day and the very month on which, many years later, Jesus Christ, the True Ark, arose from the dead! Genesis 8:4 says, “The ark landed on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month.” Afterward, as a result of the deliverance of the Passover, the seventh month was changed to the first month. So the “seventh month” was the month Abib, which corresponds to our month of April. The fourteenth day of this month was the Passover, and the third day from that, “the seventeenth day,” was the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead! So the ark which passed through the waters of judgment to deliver those who have “found grace in the sight of the Lord,” has landed on the resurrection soil of a new world, representing the resurrection of Christ after His brutal death for the sins of men.
There are other pictures of the resurrection of Christ in the Old Testament, but these will suffice us for our purpose just now.
Note, also, that the resurrection of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus speaks through the voice of prophecy in Psalm 16:10, which says, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” In the greatest Messianic chapter of the Old Testament, Isaiah 53, which finds its fulfilment only in Jesus. After a lengthy look at the vicarious sufferings of the coming Messiah in the earlier part of the chapter, the prophet wrote, “He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:8-11). After vicariously suffering and dying for the sins and transgressions of sinful men, the Messiah would live again and have many offspring in His spiritual family. The “travail of His soul” would produce a multitude of spiritual children, and seeing them, He would “be satisfied.” This is literally fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ and the spiritual movement which has followed it. So it is clear that the resurrection of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament.
Note, finally, that the resurrection was predicted by Jesus Himself in the New Testament. Numerous times before the actual event, Jesus clearly and carefully predicted its occurrence. He foretold the event of His resurrection, the very day of His resurrection, the place of His resurrection, and the importance of His resurrection. For example, when His disciples made complete and clear acknowledgment of His identity and His Deity (“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Matthew 16:16), the account says, “From that time forth Jesus began to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matthew 16:21).
The four writers of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are unanimous in reporting that Jesus predicted that He would die and rise from the dead in three days (Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22, and John 2:19-21, as examples). Moreover, He actually claims that it is by His own power that He will rise from the dead (John 10:17-18) — an overt claim to be God because only God can raise people from the dead. The Jews who were present heard this claim “loud and clear,” because many of them said, “He has a devil, and is mad; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” Clearly, they understood the inevitable meaning of His claims. It takes little thought to realize that if Jesus did not know precisely who He was (the Son of God) and that He would die and rise again in three days, He would never have risked destroying the new movement that was rising around Him with false prophecy.
In John 2:18, the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign will you show to us?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They answered, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you build it in three days?” Verses 21 and 22 declare, “But He spoke of the temple of His body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (read John 2:13-22).
So here is Paul’s foundation for his case concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was “according to the Scriptures” and according to the claims of “the Gospel.”
II. THE FACTS
Now, we will examine the Facts that are presented in Paul’s case for the resurrection. Remember that the facts are given in official form. Paul presents what he regards as a legal case, with “courtroom evidence.”
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “There is nothing so stubborn and irresistible as a fact.” Here, Paul presents the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ in several stubborn, irresistible, hard facts of history. These are presented as “Gospel” (Good News!) only because they are anchored solidly in the mainstream of time and history. No mere nebulous mystical beliefs are at the heart of the Christian Gospel. The Gospel is not “suspended solidly in mid-air.” If the historical facts break down, Christianity answers with its very life! A man said to me after we had examined Paul’s presentation in I Corinthians 15, “I thought those ideas about Jesus were just things which Christians believed. I never dreamed that there was such solid historical evidence for believing it!”
Based on the foundation of “the Scriptures” (the Manual of Law) and “the Gospel,” Paul sets forth five great affirmations which he proposes to prove before you, the jury: Affirmation # 1: “Christ died.” Affirmation # 2: “and he was buried.” Affirmation # 3: “and he rose again.” Affirmation # 4: “and he was seen.” Affirmation # 5: “I am” (that is, Paul the lawyer places himself on the witness stand).
I repeat: we must remember that this case is presented as if lawyer and jury are in a court of law. This statement is presented as “courtroom evidence.” We have already heard the testimony of one man (Ernest Renan) whose declaration would be “thrown out of court” because of its bias. We will now examine Paul’s case for the resurrection.
Exhibit “A”: Christ Died
Paul the lawyer says, “I place in evidence this statement, which I would like the court to label as ‘Exhibit A’: ‘Christ died.’” You see, before the resurrection of Christ can be a real consideration, His death must be proved. Again, Paul indicates that this actual historical death of the person, Jesus, was “according to the Scriptures.” The death of Jesus Christ was a basic, repeated ingredient in prophetic history and in its Gospel fulfilment. The death of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament and proclaimed in the New Testament and in history so many times that only the distortion of a big bias could dare to disclaim it. Such a bias only serves to reveal the suppositions and the character of the one who holds it. A lady said to me some years ago, “There must be something to it. There is simply too much historical evidence to reasonably deny it.” Her statement (unfortunately, more of a concession than a commitment) was an under-statement!
Don’t put “Exhibit A” away too quickly. Notice that Paul does not call the subject of this first statement by His name, “Jesus.” Instead, He deliberately uses His title, “Christ.” The word “Christ” brings before us a Hebrew concept (Paul was a Jewish lawyer!), that of the Messiah. Paul’s statement is a daring one for a Jew: “The Jewish Messiah, the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament, is the One who died!” What a smashing statement! Never in a million years would the Jews have expected a Messiah who would die. They were looking for a military champion who would powerfully throw off the Roman yoke of control and establish Jewish ascendancy over the entire world. But a carpenter-Messiah who would die? Such an idea was absolutely unthinkable and intolerable.
But Paul stays to the facts. He cleaves to the historical reality. The person in question certainly died. The verb, “died,” is an aorist tense verb, emphasizing the actual event which occurred at a measurable point in history. What a marvel this is! It is a marvel that Christ could die; it is a greater marvel that He would die; it is a greater marvel yet that He should die; it is the greatest marvel of all that He did die.
But Paul’s Exhibit A is not presented as a mere fact of history. He died “According to the Scriptures,” and as a fact of “the Gospel,” this historical fact is also given a theological and personal explanation. “Christ died for our sins,” Paul adds. So He is a Messiah indeed, a Deliverer in fact! It was to deal with our most deadly enemy that He died.
The Bible reveals that something is radically wrong between man and God, and that something is sin. Whatever we may think of sin, sin is desperately serious with God. In fact, sin is a measureless outrage to God. God may deal with all other problems with ease, but not the problem of sin. At Calvary, we see sin through God’s eyes. One wise Christian pointed out the overwhelming seriousness of sin when he said, “There is not as much evil in the damnation of a thousand worlds of men for sin as there is evil in the least sin.” At Calvary we learn that sin is so hateful to God that no less a price than the infinite price of the life of His well-beloved Son could suffice to atone for it.
The Bible also reveals that there is a very close connection between our sins and Calvary. The word “for” (“Christ died for our sins”) may mean “because of.” “Christ died because of our sins.” So there is a causal connection between our sins and the Cross. It is our sins that placed the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. It is our sins that laid upon His back the cruel and heavy stripes. It is our sins that nailed Him to the Cross.
A man once dreamed that he stood in the soldiers’ hall of the palace of Pontius Pilate and saw one of the soldiers scourge our Lord. As the Roman soldier laid upon the Savior’s back the thick, heavy lash, studded with jagged pieces of lead, the blood streamed from the wounds that were made. When the soldier lifted his hand to strike again, the dreamer could no longer bear the sorrow of those inflicted wounds. He rushed forward to seize the hand of the soldier. When the soldier turned around the dreamer recognized himself! Even so, there is a “trail of blood” between each of us and Calvary, showing our involvement in the death of Jesus.
The Bible also reveals the necessity of either substitution for the sinner or the wrath of God against him. Either your sins will be paid for and pardoned in Christ, or you will pay for them yourself and they will be punished in hell. Either Christ suffers for our sins, or we suffer for them ourselves. The word “for” may also mean “in the place of.” Romans 5:6 says, “Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:8 adds, “Christ died for us.” Hebrews 2:9 says, “He tasted death for every man.”
In Dorothy Sayers’ great play entitled “The Man Born to be King,” she presents a conversational exchange involving Jesus, Peter, James and John. Here is part of that exchange:
Peter: “Master, when I denied You, when we disbelieved and doubted You, when we failed and deserted and denied you — is that what we do to God?”
Jesus: “Yes, Peter.”
James: “Lord, when they mocked and insulted and spat upon You, when they flogged You, when they howled for Your blood, when they nailed You to the Cross and killed You — is that what we do to God?”
Jesus: “Yes, James.”
John: “Beloved, when You patiently suffered all things, and went down to death with all our sins heaped upon You — is that what God does for us?”
Jesus: “Yes, John. For you and with you and in you when you are freely Mine. For you are not slaves but sons. Free to be false or faithful, free to reject or confess Me, free to
crucify God or to be crucified with Him.”
“Christ died for our sins.” Exhibit A shows what God has done for us.
Exhibit “B”: He Was Buried
Now Paul the lawyer adds, “I also place in evidence this statement, which I would like the court to label as ‘Exhibit B.’: ‘And He was buried.’” This exhibit will substantiate His resurrection from the dead. When a human corpse is buried, it is presumably dead, so dead that it is put entirely out of sight.
So the fact of Christ’s burial is recorded at a critical place to evidence the reality of His death and to evidence the reality of His resurrection. Leon Morris, a brilliant Bible commentator, said, “In such a brief statement of the facts of the Gospel it is a little surprising — at least at first — to find this reference to Christ’s burial. The early church was in absolutely no doubt about the reality of the death of Christ, and the fact of burial is evidence of this. The burial of Christ’s body is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. Moreover, the burial of a dead body is the necessary prelude of the empty tomb.” There are several great facts surrounding the burial of Jesus which give substantiation to the resurrection of Christ.
1. Jesus Christ died in a very public place. He was taken by legal processes, arrested and tried by the great Sanhedrin of the Jews. He was condemned by the authority of the Roman procurator. His death was a matter of public record, a legal transaction. The highest powers of government, both Jewish and Roman, united in the fact of His arrest, trial, condemnation, and crucifixion.
2. He was crucified during the days of the Jewish feast of the Passover. Josephus, the non-Christian Jewish historian, says that there may have been as many as two million guests in and immediately around Jerusalem during this feast. When pilgrims from all over the civilized world thronged the city of Jerusalem, Jesus was lifted up on the Cross between the earth and the sky. John 19:20 says, “The place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and the title was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.” The Cross was raised close to the main thoroughfare over which vast multitudes streamed into the Holy City. The three crosses immediately became centers of attention. The rulers, the priests, a large number of Roman officials, several of His disciples and friends, and a veritable title wave of humanity saw Him die. Death by crucifixion was not sudden, but by slow torture. Before thronging multitudes He was lifted up from the earth, a spectacle to men and angels. He remained on the Cross from nine o’clock in the morning until three o’clock in the afternoon — six long, interminable, torturous hours.
3. But God was not done. All history and all the purposes of heaven had converged on this hour. As God demanded publicity for the transaction, so God further demanded public investigation. Jesus was to be officially declared dead. The Roman executioners examined the three whom they had crucified. The two thieves they dispatched with heavy hammers. Their limbs were beaten and their bones were broken. But Jesus was already dead. But to make sure, to make doubly sure, one of the soldiers thrust his spear into His heart. When He pulled out the heavy iron, it was followed by a flood of blood and water. Evangelist D. L. Moody spoke this great devotional thought: “When the soldier thrust the spear into the Savior’s side, even the weapon that was used to insure His death was covered by His redeeming blood. Even His Murder can be covered and redeemed by His Blood!”
4. But God was not done yet. Heaven demanded an official investigation of His death on the part of the Roman procurator. Mark 15:42-45 tells of Joseph’s request for the body and records the astonishment of Pilate that Jesus was already dead. Pilate then called unto him the centurion who superintended the execution and received from him an official report concerning the death of the crucified Prophet. It was then upon the permission of Pilate himself, after having personally ascertained the death of Christ, that Joseph and Nicodemus had opportunity to wrap the body in linen, to embalm it with one hundred pounds of spices, and lovingly lay it in the tomb at the foot of the hill.
5. But God did one more thing. Jesus’ disciples gave Him up. His friends forsook Him. But his enemies remembered. They quoted to one another: “That deceiver said the third day He would rise again.” Upon the insistence of the temple rulers, the official seal of the Roman empire was affixed on the tomb. Before the tomb, a regiment of Roman soldiers was commanded to stand guard. So the tomb was “triple-padlocked.” A gigantic stone, possibly weighing as much as two tons, was rolled against the door of the tomb; a Roman seal (which could only be broken under penalty of death) secured the body inside; and a large dispatch of soldiers was placed outside the tomb to guard it. Note the incredible irony — the scene at the tomb was unusual if for no other reason than this: the soldiers were guarding a tomb to see that a dead man stayed dead!
Thus Paul’s Exhibit B was recorded at this crucial place (and the Gospels supply the above facts surrounding Christ’s burial) to show that Jesus was actually dead. But there is an even greater reason for recording the burial of Jesus at such a crucial place in his legal argument. The burial of Jesus is recorded here to be able to point to the empty tomb as the first proof of the resurrection. Let me repeat it: the first proof of the resurrection is the empty tomb. And the first problem of the doubters of the resurrection is the problem of the empty tomb. After the critics have done all they can, they still must face the fact of the empty tomb!
When the first visitors arrived at the place of burial early that Sunday morning, they found the tomb empty. It must have been emptied in one of two ways: by human power or by superhuman power. There simply are no other possibilities. If it was emptied by human power, there are two possibilities:
1. It was emptied by the foes of Jesus. The enemies of Jesus removed the body. But the question that proves fatal to this theory is, Would they have done it? And if they did, they could have silenced the Gospel message forever simply by producing the body.
Seven weeks after the resurrection Peter openly proclaimed the resurrection (Acts 2:23-24). All that was necessary for the Jews to have silenced Him was to produce the dead body, which they did not do. As Professor Fairbairn says, “The silence of the Jews is as significant as the speech of the Christians.” The necessary conclusion is that the enemies of Jesus did not produce the body because they could not produce the body.
2. The tomb was emptied by the friends of Jesus. The friends of Jesus removed the body.
But the question that proves fatal to this theory is, Could they have done it? And even if they could have done it, did they? The very idea is totally unrealistic and even impossible. A group of frightened, untrained, unequipped Galilean peasants overpowering trained, armed Roman soldiers, rolling a two-ton stone back up its steep groove, stealing away a dead body, and then stopping to fold the graveclothes and leave them in perfectly orderly arrangement as they departed from the tomb! Think about this very carefully, my friend. Much depends on your conclusions.
Peter Marshall, the late great pastor and chaplain of the United States Senate, said, “The grave clothes lay like the shell of a cocoon left behind when the moth has emerged and hoisted her bright sails in the sunshine. Or, more accurately, like a glove from which the hand has been removed, the fingers of which still retain the shape of the hand.” I have never heard of a thief who took time to rearrange everything he had knocked out of place.
But suppose the disciples or friends of Jesus did steal the body. If they did, then they turned the world upside down with a lie, knowing it wasn’t true, and then died with unanimous and unshakeable testimony for this lie. This totally defies everything we know about human reason and experience. Their one and only gain would have been the privilege of living, fighting, and dying for a known lie! And what a lie! No, this is not a real possibility to a reasonable person.
3. If the tomb was emptied by superhuman power, there is only one real possibility. The tomb was emptied by the Father of Jesus, by God Himself. God raised His Son from the dead “in the power of an endless life.” In Acts 26:8, the Apostle Paul asked this unanswerable question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?” Given God — and the kind of God He is — it would be unthinkable that such a Person as Jesus were not raised from the dead. Thus the Bible says that “it was not possible that He should be held by death.” God raised His Son from the dead, and the day of His resurrection was the day God started a world revolutionary movement called “Christianity.”
Exhibit “C”: He Rose Again
This brings us to Paul’s “Exhibit C” in his case for the resurrection. “And He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” In examining this statement, let me “cut immediately to the chase.” Any careful study of the New Testament will reveal that the resurrection message falls into two dimensions — the dimension of human history and the dimension of the human heart. In examining Paul’s Exhibit C, I invite you to explore these two dimensions of the resurrection.
First, we look at Christ risen, a fact from history. In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the resurrection of Christ is recorded among the literal, historical facts upon which the structure of Christianity is built. Among the facts are these: “Christ died, was buried, rose again, and was seen alive after His resurrection.” The faith of Jesus Christ is not built on a complex of ideas but on these historical facts. And foremost among these facts is the fact of the resurrection. This fact declares that on the first day of the week after the Jewish Passover, the first full moon of the vernal equinox, the third day after the crucifixion, God the Almighty Father raised Jesus the Son, who died for our sins, back to life. It is the faith of the New Testament that God stormed history in the coming of Jesus, shattered it by the resurrection, and broke it in two. That empty tomb split history into two parts. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would not now be numbering our years from the approximate date of His birth. Every time you use the calendar, you receive a reminder that Jesus Christ arose from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact of history which is still celebrated in several ways every day and every week that we live. Think of the contemporary evidence we have for the fact of the resurrection.
1. The existence of the New Testament that you hold in your hand is contemporary evidence of the resurrection. This book would never have been written if Jesus Christ had remained dead after the crucifixion. Not one word of it was written before the resurrection, and the only cause of its writing was the impulse of the mighty message of the resurrection of Jesus!
2. Another evidence is the existence of the Christian Church. Clarence Macartney was absolutely correct when he said that “the empty tomb was the cradle of the Christian Church.” How do you account for the continuing existence of the church through two thousand years of unfriendly and unfavorable history if not by the actual presence of the living Christ and the victory of “the power of the resurrection.” The church is an organization that has seeds of destruction within each of its individual members (because of their “flesh”), yet it continues to exist and exert a powerful influence upon the world. How? Through the power of the risen Christ!
3. Another evidence for the resurrection is in the Christian Gospel itself. Think of the first preachers of the Christian Church. In thirteen sermons in the Book of Acts which are addressed to unbelievers, eight stress the resurrection as the cardinal doctrine and the infallible proof of faith. And today, people by the thousands still announce their faith in a Gospel whose foremost fact is the fact of the resurrection of Christ.
4. But the greatest contemporary evidence we have of the resurrection of Christ as a fact of history is the transformed lives of multitudes of believing Christians. When Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect, died, his body was buried in the basement of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which he designed and built. Over his tomb, you will find these words: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.” The resurrection of Christ is like that. If you want a monument to the resurrection of Christ, just look around you. There are miracles of regeneration, miracles of grace and salvation everywhere. Just open your eyes and look around you. Every time you see someone whose life has been changed by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, you are witnessing a modern proof of the resurrection of Christ. At this point, I must inject a personal testimony. The only reason I am writing these words today, the only reason I am involved in the Christian movement today, is that I met the risen Christ personally many years ago, and He has been proving Himself and His integrity and faithfulness to me ever since!
Charles Bradlaugh was an infidel who stirred the city of London more than a generation ago with his tirades against Christianity. Once he challenged Hugh Price Hughes, the Christian leader of a West End Mission, to a public debate on the truth of the Christian faith. Hughes accepted immediately, but he laid down some conditions. He said, “I will bring with me to the debate one hundred men and women who have been saved from lives of sin by the Gospel of Christ. They will give their evidence and you will be allowed to cross-examine them. They will be men and women reclaimed for Christ from the vices of drink and intemperance. They will be persons walking in newness of life from homes of poverty, greed and sin . . . . they will be victims of the worst that man can do to man, or that a man can do to himself, but they will also be witnesses of what God’s redeeming love can do for the lost and the least and the last. I will ask you to bring with you one hundred men and women who have been similarly helped by the message which you proclaim.”
When the night came for the debate, people from all over London thronged the hall. Hugh Price Hughes came in with his one hundred men and women. They had all known what it meant to be down and out, but their faces were shining. Hughes knew them every one, and back of the appearance of each lay a story as old as humanity itself. They were sinners all! They took their places on the platform and waited for the atheist Bradlaugh and his one hundred men and women. But they waited and waited . . . . The opponents never came. After a while, Mr. Hughes took over the meeting and gave his friends an opportunity to tell what Christ had done for them.
This brings us to the other dimension of the resurrection, the dimension of Christ realized, a faith for the heart. It is not enough to believe in the resurrection as a fact of history; it must become also a faith of the heart, a matter of experience.
It is important that we understand exactly what Paul is saying in this verse. The verb, “rose again,” is a perfect passive indicative verb. The indicative mood indicates that the resurrection really happened — it is a fact of history. The passive voice means that it was God that raised Jesus to life after His death. But the really important thing is that the verb is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense describes an action that happened at one point and its results continue on and on and on. And the perfect tense is used to show the continuing effects and ongoing results of the resurrection some six more times in First Corinthians Fifteen — in verses 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 20. It is this that distinguishes the resurrection of Christ from the other so-called resurrections (all the others are actually resuscitations) of the New Testament. Lazarus was brought back to life, as was Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. But they came back to life only to die again. But Jesus was raised again, and has a life upon which sin and death can make no claim. In Revelation 1:18, He said, “I am He that lives, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore.”
If the resurrection of Christ is a fact of history, it is also one of those cosmic happenings which has absolute meaning for our lives today. One of the greatest mistakes of history has occurred when Christians treat the resurrection as if it only meant that Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago, or that there is life after death for us because of His resurrection. The resurrection of Christ means far more than that. Because He is risen, time has been baptized with eternity, and every man’s life has a Divine dimension today — whether he knows it or not.
Since Christ is risen, then you are responsible to “realize” Him in your life. You see, new life is available to you right now through the risen Christ! You can share His resurrection life! The identical Divine energy which at the first took Christ out of the grave is available still. In Ephesians 1:19-20, Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “That ye may know . . . . what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” This means that the same power which on that day shattered death is now given us for life. This then should electrify the modern church. And yet, wherever you go, people seem to be objecting, “This power you talk of is not for me! I am not the stuff God’s resurrection victories are made of. Don’t mock me with the mirage of Christ-likeness. I know myself too well; I know my frailties, the contradictions of my nature, the chains of defeat that bind me.” The men of the New Testament would answer, “Your doubt and defeat don’t make sense. He who brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, shall He not quicken you — today, at this moment — if you will ask Him?”
There are two tenses to the resurrection message. He arose, and He is risen. He was and He is. This Christ who arose nineteen hundred years ago rose for a purpose. That purpose was that He might live in your heart today. Does He live in your life today?
Margaret Sangster tells of a family she knew that lost three children in one week from diphtheria, and there was only one child left, a three-year-old daughter. But the next Sunday the father and mother were in their places in church, the mother teaching her Sunday School class and the superintendent’s desk, where he presided as usual and carried on in a wonderful way. After the service was over, the people were saying, “How on earth did they do it?” And going home, one twelve-year-old boy said to his father, “They really believe it, don’t they, Dad?” The father casually asked, “Believe what, son?” “Oh,” he said, “the whole thing, this whole business about the resurrection.” The father replied, “Sure they believe it, son. All Christians believe it.” The boy quickly answered, “Not like that, they don’t, Dad, not like that!” Jesus is alive! He arose from the dead! This is a fact of history. But do you believe it? Do you believe it “like that”? Has it become a powerful fact of ongoing experience to you? Is Christ realized by you and in you each day? Do you practice His Presence each day? Do you help others “realize Christ”? Here is Paul’s Exhibit C in his legal case for the resurrection.
Exhibit “D”: He Was Seen
Now we come to “Exhibit D” in the lawyer’s case for the resurrection of Christ. “And He was seen.” The attorney for the defense of the resurrection of Christ has carefully presented his case. He has placed Exhibits A, B, and C before the jury of your mind and heart. Exhibit A in his case is the historical fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Exhibit B is the historical fact that “He was buried.” Exhibit C is the historical fact that “He rose again on the third day,” and this fact is substantiated by the Old Testament Scriptures. But now the Apostle Paul, the attorney for the defense of the resurrection, makes his crucial move in presenting his case. He calls a number of witnesses to give their testimony regarding the resurrection of Christ.
In each case, the witnesses are eyewitnesses. Paul plainly says that Jesus Christ “was seen” alive after His death by each of these witnesses. The word which Paul uses is a word which means “to see with the eye.” Thus Paul disallows any claim that these accounts were merely visions or hallucinations. These witnesses really and actually saw Jesus Christ alive after His resurrection. Paul does not summon all of the available witnesses; he calls only six of them. Every witness is a crucial one, and the order in which he calls them is deeply significant. The first three are friendly witnesses; the second three are (or were) hostile witnesses.
First, Paul calls and introduces the friendly witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. These witnesses are made up of people who had already believed in Jesus before His death, and had maintained their belief even through all the tragic events of his betrayal and crucifixion, but their belief was confirmed and substantiated by the appearance of Jesus to them after His resurrection.
The first of these friendly witnesses Paul calls is Cephas, or Simon Peter. Why did Paul call him first? There are several reasons. One is that Peter was well-known to the church in Corinth. Another is his closeness to Jesus during His life. Following afar off he had seen Jesus die. He probably saw Jesus placed in the tomb. Following the resurrection, the angels had sent to Peter a special message, “Go tell His disciples and Peter.” Peter (with John) was the first to receive word from the women that Jesus was alive, yet he and John regarded it as a story of hysterical women. Peter was the first person to enter the empty tomb and see the orderly arrangement of the grave clothes inside. Later in the same day — resurrection Sunday — Jesus appeared to Peter alone, and Peter reported this appearance to the other Apostles before they saw Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, Simon Peter, who had denied Jesus before the crucifixion, stood up with the courage of a lion and declared the resurrection of Jesus to those who had murdered Him. Peter had undoubtedly preached this same message to the Corinthian Christians. What a witness for the resurrection he would make!
Next Paul called “the Twelve” to bear testimony. This was the band of apostles to whom Jesus appeared on the Sunday night of the resurrection. There is one interesting detail that needs to be mentioned. On that occasion, two of the apostles were missing. Judas was already dead, and Thomas was not present. So the term “the twelve” is a name and not a number. It is the typical title for the apostles in the New Testament, and does not necessarily mean that they all were there. We must remember this when Paul recalls “the twelve” later in the trial. These men Paul now calls could tell of Jesus’ sudden appearance among them without opening the door. They could tell how they saw His wounded body, and of how He ate broiled fish and honeycomb before their very eyes. Now, the evidence is piling up as the witnesses give their testimonies!
At this point Paul calls a great number of witnesses — more than five hundred of them! They had all seen Jesus at one time after His resurrection. Notice that verse six begins with our English words, “After that.” These two words translate one Greek word which can mean “then,” “next,” or “after that.” Notice the repeated use of this word in these sentences. The risen Christ was “seen by Cephas, then by the twelve, then He was seen by above five hundred brethren at once; then . . . then . . . . then.” We begin to catch the growing excitement of Paul’s heart as he calls these witnesses. And when he calls this group, it is no wonder that his excitement mounted! A group of five hundred people who saw Jesus alive at the same time! This group included the twelve who were to meet Jesus in Galilee. Along the way from Judea they told others the glad news, so that a multitude was present in Galilee. And here again Paul emphasizes the fact that their “seeing” was no self-hypnotic vision. He uses the word which means “to see with the physical eyes.” And this happened to more than five hundred people at once! The idea of mass hypnosis, group visions, or hallucinations is absolutely ridiculous and absurd. And Paul reminded the court that most of this multitude was still alive at the time he was presenting his case and were available for questioning if anyone doubted their testimony.
These are the friendly witnesses to the resurrection of Christ whom Paul calls. He has filled the witness stand with over five hundred of them! There is plenty of evidence at this point for any open-minded person to believe the resurrection and trust the risen Christ as Savior and Lord, but Paul does not stop here. He presses on to build an astounding case for the resurrection of Christ.
From this point on, Paul summons people to the witness stand who at one time had been unfriendly and hostile to the resurrection of Christ. Paul knows that he has a firm case and has nothing to fear. In a court of law, the hostility of a witness only adds weight to his testimony. So Paul calls several witnesses who had been hostile to the resurrection before they became convinced that it really happened.
First, Paul calls James, the brother of Jesus. It is quite clear from the Gospel narratives that Jesus’ own family did not understand Him and were even actively hostile to Him. The third chapter of Mark tells us that they actually sought to restrain Him because they were afraid He was mad. John 7:5 tells us that His brothers did not believe in Him. Before the resurrection, James was an unbeliever. However, on the Day of Pentecost, he was united with the Apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). When Paul wrote First Corinthians, James was the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He is described in Galatians as one of the pillars of the church. And when James wrote the book in the New Testament that bears his name, he opened it with the words, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” So he had obviously had a change of thinking about Jesus Christ. Perhaps James is telling his own story in the last verse of his book (the Epistle of James) when he says, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, Let him know, that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). How had this great transformation in James taken place?
If it were not for this sentence of Paul, “He was seen by James,” we could not understand this transformation. He says that after the resurrection, James saw Jesus with his own eyes. He had stubbornly refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. He thought Jesus was making a fool of Himself and embarrassing His family and His nation by His claims. But the appearance of Jesus to James after the resurrection revolutionized his entire life.
Here we have a beautiful example of the amazing grace and love of Christ. He came to bring peace to the troubled soul of the man who had called Him mad and had been His enemy and opponent. It is one of the most heart-warming things in all the story of Jesus that two of His first appearances, when He rose from the tomb, were to men who had hurt Him cruelly and who were sorry for it. Jesus always meets the penitent and the contrite heart more than halfway. This is the first witness of those who were once hostile to the resurrection of Christ.
Now, Paul does a strange thing. He recalls “the twelve” to the witness stand, and asks for additional testimony. The only possible reason for this is to hear the testimony of the one living member of “the twelve” who was not present on the first resurrection appearances of Jesus to “the twelve.” So at this point in the trial, we hear “doubting Thomas,” “the patron saint of all skeptics,” tell of his absence at the first appearance of Jesus to “the twelve” (see John 20:24-29). Then he tells of his demand for physical proof of a bodily resurrection: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” At this point, he was clearly hostile in his reaction against a possible resurrection. But then we hear Thomas tell of Jesus’ second appearance on the next Sunday evening, one week later. On this occasion, Jesus offered Himself to Thomas on exactly the same conditions that Thomas had specified one week earlier! And Thomas had brokenly cried out in faith, “My Lord and my God!” This is Paul’s second hostile witness.
Finally, the defense attorney, in quieter tones, says, “I also am a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.” “And last of all He was seen by me also, as of one born out of due time.” Paul uses the same word here as in all the other cases; he actually saw Jesus alive after His resurrection with his own eyes. Paul was at one time extremely hostile to everything that had a connection to Christianity. In verse nine of our chapter he says, “I persecuted the church of God.” Before Jesus appeared to him, he was dedicated to erasing the name of Jesus from the face of the earth. So revolutionary was the change wrought in him that he describes himself as “one born out of due time” (verse 8). Paul used a Greek word here that was used to refer to an abortion or a miscarriage brought about by an accident. So Paul’s conversion was a violent, dramatic conversion. And what a radical difference it made in his life! Saul of Tarsus, the promising pupil of the Jewish scholar Gamaliel, who seemed to be the coming man of Judaism (in fact, it seems likely that he was ticketed for the top leadership role in all of Judaism), threw away all his prospects for the belief in Christ’s resurrection, turned his friends into foes and his former foes into friends, and exchanged a life of honorable ease for a life of toil and shame — surely common sense requires us to believe that that for which he so suffered was in his eyes established beyond the possibility of doubt!
So Paul concluded his arguments by producing witnesses who at one time were hostile to the resurrection, but whose minds and hearts were changed when they saw the risen Christ themselves. And how many times has their experience been reproduced in Christian history by the Person and power of the living Christ!
I have on the shelves of my library a book written by an Italian author named Giovanni Papini. The name of the book is Life of Christ. When Papini began his research in preparation for writing this book, he was not a Christian. But his study brought him from the Jesus of history to the Christ of personal experience. He confessed that he did not want to believe, but that Jesus simply could not be understood by him until he had trusted him as personal Savior and living Lord.
It is a well-known story of how two friends, Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West, left Oxford University at the end of a school year, each determining to give attention during the vacation months to the conversion of Paul and the resurrection of Christ in order to prove that both of them were without reliable foundation. They met again in the fall and compared their experiences. In his research through the summer, Lord Lyttelton had become convinced of the truth of Paul’s conversion, and Gilbert West of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And they both had abandoned their hostility to the Gospel and had become Christians. Any individual, however hostile, will become a convinced Christian if he thoroughly investigates all the available evidence and acts reasonably and suitably upon his findings.
This is Paul’s case for the resurrection of Christ. Nothing could be plainer, simpler, more straightforward. Paul was writing to keen and quick-minded Greeks. He gives them chapter and verse for his story. He refers them by name to men still alive who had seen the Lord after His death, and who could be questioned and cross-examined as to what they had seen. He even offers himself for cross-examination, for “He appeared to me also,” Paul says. In our courts of law, one witness is enough to establish murder; two witnesses establish high treason; three witnesses are necessary for the execution of a written will; and seven witnesses are required to establish the validity of an oral will. Seven is the greatest number of witnesses required under our law. But Christ’s resurrection had more than five hundred witnesses who saw Him alive with their own eyes after the resurrection!
Lord Lyndhurst, High Chancellor of Great Britain in 1846 (which position was one of the greatest honors that could come to a man) wrote, “I know pretty well what evidence is, and I tell you, such evidence as that for the resurrection of Christ has never broken down yet.”
My dear friend, are you willing to act upon the evidence at hand in this matter? Repent of your sins and trust Jesus Christ today, receiving His forgiveness of your sins and His Gift of Eternal Life. Then you will know yourself that “He rose again on the third day.”
III. THE FORCE
Finally, Paul brings us face to face with the full force of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Robert Speer, speaking to a group of Princeton students, made this remark: “You can have religion without the resurrection, but you cannot have the Christian religion.” Christianity is, first, last and always, a religion of resurrection. If there is any one doctrine of Christianity that is more indispensable than any other, it is certainly the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ.
Dr. A. M. Ramsey, in his great book entitled The Resurrection of Christ, makes this significant statement, “The Gospel without a resurrection is not merely a Gospel without its final chapter. It is no Gospel at all.” Everything that makes the Gospel a gospel is suspended on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A grammar school teacher asked her pupils in class one day, “Who is the greatest living man?” When the answers had been collected, she found the names of several prominent people. But one little boy had written the name of Jesus on his slip of paper. Taking note of this answer, the teacher said, “I said, ‘Who is the greatest living man?’” The little boy replied, “But, Teacher, Jesus is living!” And he was right! But what if he was wrong? The Apostle Paul, for the sake of argument, forces us to face that question in these verses. He makes Christianity answer with its life for the literal truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “If Christ be not risen,” he says, forcing us to face earth’s blackest assumption. “If Christ be not risen” — what then? There are three things that necessarily follow “if Christ be not risen,” and in these three negative possibilities, we are enabled to see something of the real force of the resurrection of Christ.
1. Faith is Impractical
First, Paul deduces that “if Christ be not risen,” faith is absolutely impractical. In verse fourteen, we read, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The word translated “vain” means “empty.” Paul and others had preached the resurrection of Christ, and the Corinthians and others had believed it. But if Christ be not risen, both the preaching and the believing are empty. Faith is gone!
Faith is gone because, if Christ be not risen, you can’t trust the love of God. For here was Jesus, who had lived an absolutely perfect life — crucified, dead, buried, and that was all! Here was Jesus, who all His life had trusted that God would deliver Him — and God finally did nothing.
Long ago, a Christian missionary read the story of the death of Jesus to Clovis, the king of the barbarian Franks. Clovis was not a Christian, but suddenly, as the story went on, he reached for his sword, drew it, and cried out, “If I had been there with my men, they wouldn’t have done that to Him! We would have charged up the hill and smashed the Romans, and saved Him!” But if God stood by and watched Jesus die and did nothing, then He has less tenderness, less pity, less compassion than a barbarian warrior. If the death of Jesus ends everything, then you can’t trust the love of God. Faith in God’s love is gone.
Furthermore, if Christ be not risen, faith is gone because you can’t trust the power of God. For the clash you see at Calvary was not only between Jesus and His enemies: it was between God and the devil — the two great world powers grappled there. And if the cross was the end of the battle, then down in Satan’s empire that night there must have sounded out a ringing cry of triumph: “We have won, we have won!” If Christ be not raised, you can’t trust God’s power. Faith in God’s power is gone!
Again, if Christ be not raised, you can’t trust the promises of God. God had promised through the centuries that He would not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. But if Christ be not raised, God’s promises are nothing. There if nothing left of the Gospel. Unless Christ is risen, the Word of God is emptied of its contents. Its life-blood is drained out of it. Faith in God’s promises is gone.
If Christ be not risen, the tragedy of it is very personal to me. There is nothing for my faith to lay hold of. I am like a drowning man grasping the end of a rope that is dropped over the side of the ship, only to discover that it is loose at the other end and gives to my pull, crashing down in the water beside me. A dead Christ is no object of faith. A dead Christ may be all right for admiration or imitation, but not for faith. I want a living Lord as the object of my faith — one who died, yea, rather, is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God. But is Christ be not risen, faith is gone.
2. Forgiveness is Impossible
“If Christ be not risen,” the second consequence is that forgiveness of sins is impossible. Verse 17 says, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins.” In other words, the eternal salvation of your soul from sin is involved in this question. And if Christ be not risen, all the talk about being forgiven is pure delusion. All those noble words in the Bible about God putting our sins behind His back, or drowning them in the depths of the sea, or making the crimsoned page white as snow again — are mere mockery. We sing the hymn, “There’s Power In the Blood,” but this is true only if Christ rose from the dead. A dead Redeemer is no Redeemer at all! We sing, “Jesus Paid It All,” but if Christ be not risen, we have no reason to believe that God accepted His payment for our sins! If the Cross was the end of Jesus, then His pathetic attempt to be our Savior failed. Sin had the last word.
There is a terrible passage in one of Thomas Carlyle’s books in which he pictures a demented man trying to run away from his own shadow. Again and again he turns around, only to find that it’s still there, that dark thing, dogging his footsteps. On and on he runs, flinging himself wildly away from it, first one way and then the other, but it’s still there. He finally throws himself down exhausted, and cries out, “Oh God, I can’t get away from it, I can’t, I can’t!” Friends, it’s that way with sin — if there is no forgiveness. And if forgiveness goes, then peace goes, and freedom, and happiness, and heaven! Forgiveness matters so much that millions of people have discovered that they cannot live without it. But if Christ be not raised, forgiveness of sins is gone.
Years ago, there lived a man named Leon Tucker, who was a close associate and preaching companion of Dwight L. Moody. One day D. L. Moody sent him to preach a week of revival in a tent on the north side of Chicago. One night Moody showed up at the meeting. That night, Leon Tucker’s text was, “When they were come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified him.” He concluded by saying, “Friends, we will leave Him on the cross tonight. Tomorrow night, I’ll tell you what happened afterwards.” The next day at the workers’ conference Moody saw Tucker and said to him in his own straightforward way, “Leon, don’t go back to your tent anymore. We don’t need your kind of preaching!” Leon Tucker was horrified. “What have I done?” he exclaimed. “I preached Christ and Him crucified.” Moody replied, “Yes, but you left Him on the cross last night. Don’t you know a dead Christ never saved anybody? Our sins can’t be forgiven apart from a risen Christ. Don’t ever preach on that text again without saying, ‘God raised Him from the dead’!” But if Christ be not risen, Paul says, the forgiveness of sins is impossible.
3. The Future is Impenetrable
Finally, Paul tells us that, if Christ is not risen, the future is impenetrable. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the future is full of nothing but bad news. Ernest Hemingway propounded his usual fatalism when he said, “We are like a colony of ants living on one end of a burning log.” But he was right — if there is no resurrection. Time, history, and human life are bad jokes if Christ is not risen. Verse 18 says, “If Christ be not risen, then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” If Christ be not risen, then there is no bridge across the gulf of death, and the graves of the dead are locked eternally. Mankind is on a one-way avenue into a dead-end street. We are all only prisoners of time and space and victims of the grave — if Christ be not risen.
So Paul makes tragic application of his assumption to those who have already died trusting Christ. If Christ be not risen, those who have died trusting in Christ have perished and there is no salvation and no future for them.
One of the ancient philosophers pictured human life as being like a bird that flies through an open window out of the darkness into a brilliantly lighted banquet hall. He flies through the brilliance for a brief moment, and then out another open window, out into the darkness again. This is the way Paul pictures man’s life on earth if Christ be not risen. If there is no resurrection, then man’s life is only a brief, dimly-lighted interval between two eternal darknesses. If this were a true picture, then the best philosophy for any man would be that one stated in verse 32, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
But suddenly, abruptly, in verse 20, Paul breaks forth with a great shout of faith. “But now Christ is risen from the dead!” With that cry, Paul brushes aside all the doubts and fears, to declare again the glorious Gospel of the resurrected and living Christ. In a book entitled, On a Hill Too Far Away, John Fischer wrote, “The resurrection of Christ turned everything upside down, changed the rules, rewrote the book. You could stop the earth and start it spinning the other way, and the change wouldn’t come close to this. There is nothing quite as show stopping as the resurrection.”
Because Christ is risen, faith has a glorious object and He (Jesus Himself, the only true Object of faith) produces incredible results in our lives. If He arose from the dead, then He has broken free from the bounds of time and space. This means that anyone at any time will be able to encounter Him (or be encountered by Him). The way would be clear for this man to have a bigger impact on history than anyone else who has ever lived. And this is precisely what has happened!
Because Christ is risen, the forgiveness of sins is a reality. “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). His resurrection is positive proof that full payment has been made for our sins — and that the payment has been received. The Cross reveals what man thought about Jesus; the resurrection reveals what God thought of Him. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s signature of acceptance and approval on the price Jesus paid for our sins. Now, “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Hallelujah!
Because Christ is risen, the future is guaranteed by the grace and power of God, and we have a salvation that penetrates the supreme mysteries of death and eternity. There is one vacant tomb in the wide graveyard of the world, and that empty grave makes some great guarantees about all the graves that remain occupied today.
But Paul, how do you know Christ is risen? Paul answers, “Why, I have spoken with dozens upon dozens of men who saw Him alive after His death and burial. And furthermore, I have seen Him myself, seen Him with my very eyes, and today, He dwells in this heart of mine!” That last confession of faith — can you say that? Say it in all sincerity and integrity and reality, and with no exaggeration at all — “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me; I know His Presence and power in my own life”? If not, I urge you to repent of your sins and trust Him today as your own Savior.
Winston Churchill, the great British statesman, planned his own funeral. The funeral service was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. When the funeral oration was completed, there was a moment of silence in the great cathedral. Then suddenly, the silence was pierced by a bugle as a soldier played “Taps” in military fashion from high in the dome. This means “the day has ended.” Then, there was another long pause of silence. Suddenly, from the other side of the cathedral dome came another bugle sound. Another soldier was playing the shrill notes of “Reveille”. This means, “Get up! A new day has begun!” In the comments which he wrote before his own death, Sir Winston said, “It may be ‘good night’ down here, but it’s good morning up there!” Even so, every believer in Jesus Christ has been “begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him.” It may be “good night down here,” but it will be “good morning up there” — and then the enjoyment of an Eternal Day. Praise be to God that Jesus is risen and living today!
Herb Hodges, Preacher/Teacher
Spiritual Life Ministries
3562 Marconi Cove, Memphis, Tn. 38118
Phone (901) 362-1622; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org