Faithlife Sermons

Why Celebrate the Promise of Easter?

When we think about Easter, we think of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Millions of Christians around the world are celebrating this historical event; historical I say in large part because of the testimonies of real men and women that we have for our own examination in the Bible. But we must not forget that for a resurrection to take place, there had to be a death. Likewise, if there was a death with no resurrection, there would be no value in it; things would be just like any other day.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives a clear record of what one may believe resulting in forgiveness. And, if one is forgiven, he possesses every spiritual blessing that all believers possess, including eternal life, sonship, et al. (cf. Ephesians 1:3). How can this be? The moment a person believes in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit does a supernatural work, identifying the believer with Christ. Now “in Christ,” he has received all these possessions whether he believed in a context of hearing about Jesus Christ and eternal life, or about divine forgiveness.
The Bible speaks of salvation in three aspects. The first aspect is that the believer in Jesus Christ has been saved from the Penalty of sin—that judgment on the basis of our works resulting in eternal separation from God. In Christ we have been justified.
The second aspect is that the believer is presently being saved from the Power of Sin-- speaks of sanctification as day by day we are being delivered from current testing/troubles in one’s life. In Christ we are being sanctified.
The third aspect is that the believer will be saved in the future from the presence of sin-- speaks of glorification, the “redemption of the body” and our deliverance from sin’s very presence. In Christ we will be glorified.
What can Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth teach us about why we celebrate Easter? Well, first of all,

I. Paul states the promise of Easter is important enough to preach, receive and stand firm on, 15:1.

It is a message that is to be proclaimed and that is what Paul did by making known to the Corinthians the good news over the year and a half he was with them in Corinth.
It is a message that was received (or believed) by the brethren in Corinth and it was at the moment of faith in the crucified Christ that each believer was born again—not before, not later. Paul could declare of these brethren, who were struggling with life issues addressed in other parts of his epistle to them, that they are sanctified (1:2), washed and justified (6:11).
It is a message that they stood firm on. They did not believe and then turn away; Paul says that they stand firmly on the truths of the gospel, though there were some who were not, which is why we have this chapter in the New Testament (15:12). Many embraced the gospel message as true and applicable without wavering.
Receiving the gospel message, the gift of salvation is a once-for-all event by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ resulting in eternal salvation. Eternal means forever; it is not subject to loss. When they received the gospel message Paul preached, eternal salvation became theirs. But the gospel message extends beyond providing us with the basic means to heaven.

2. Paul states the promise of Easter is also important to ongoing salvation, 15:2.

This speaks to sanctification, something we who are believers in Christ all are in need of, just as the Corinthian church was badly in need of. From Paul’s letter, we read of their struggles with church schisms, incest, litigious spirits, immorality, bad decision making, abuse of liberty, legalistic attitudes, mismanaging of spiritual gifts, and bad doctrine which denied the resurrection.
Paul’s focus is the ongoing salvation and deliverance as we daily choose to walk in obedience. This is not a free gift as eternal forgiveness and life are. Paul points to two conditions that apply:

a. Hold fast to "what word which I preached to you.”

This functions like a relative clause that strongly calls attention to the larger gospel message Paul preached, they received and in which they stand firm. When the biblical authors speak of “word,” different possibilities exist depending, of course upon the context. The following from commentator Thiselton is helpful:
Logos [“word”] often denotes not simply word, message, or act of speaking but also the content or substance of a declaration, assertion, proposition, or other communicative act. The verb euaggelizomai already means to proclaim the gospel; hence, Paul refers to the substance of the gospel that I proclaimed to you.
When were the Corinthian believers saved? The Corinthians were eternally saved when they received/believed Paul’s initial gospel message. For each believer, heaven at that moment became a done deal. In addition, if they were to experience ongoing salvation or deliverance, they would have to continue to embrace the gospel in its fullness, the whole counsel of God, without departing from its priority content particularly the resurrection. Accordingly, Paul is building up to the content of the larger gospel’s saving message—its importance, substance, and ability to save both temporally and eternally.

b. (By which also you are saved) unless you believed in vain.

Paul reveals that if one has believed a gospel message —one without Christ’s actual death and resurrection—he is not eternally saved. Additionally, if he is not eternally saved, he cannot expect salvation, or deliverance, from troubles in this life. One must first be born again, and then through sound teaching and application he may experience deliverance through his Christian walk.
What is it to believe in “vain”? In this context, it makes sense to see Paul saying “unless you believed in a vain object,” that is, in a gospel message without the foundation of Christ’s real historical death and resurrection, which would mean the individual remains without forgiveness and eternal life. That is not the condition of the Corinthians—they are washed and justified, Paul says, thus they had a moment of saving faith. They did not have to grasp the eternality of the gift to receive the gift; they had to believe in the Giver of the gift.
So then what did Paul consider the top essentials of the gospel.

3. Paul states the promise of Easter is discovered in the gospel essentials, 15:3-7.

This is what we find in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, where the two key essentials are each supported by evidence

a. First essential: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 15:3.

Paul declares the reason why Jesus Christ died—He died for our sins. Many passages point us to Christ’s death for our sins, even the sins of the entire world.
Romans 5:6 NASB95
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 8:32 NASB95
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
2 Corinthians 5:14–15 NASB95
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB95
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
1 Timothy 2:6 NASB95
who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
Hebrews 2:9 NASB95
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
1 Peter 3:18 NASB95
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 John 2:2 NASB95
and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
The expression “according to the Scripture” occurring here and also with regard to the resurrection, affirms theologically that Christ’s death and resurrection are fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy.
How do we know that Jesus died?

b. Evidence: He was buried, 15:4a.

This is the evidence providing the historical verification of the Lord’s death for our sins. All the gospel witnesses testify to this. Jesus was dead; he was a corpse. People do not bury the living except, of course, where pagan notions prevail.

c. Second essential: He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, 15:4b.

“He was raised” emphasizes the Greek, the passive voice, signifying He was raised by a power outside of Himself; the perfect tense, points to Jesus being raised with continuing effect. A dead Savior cannot save anyone. The apostles’ preaching that Christ was raised from the dead is a powerful apologetic designed to encourage faith in the resurrected One resulting in forgiveness.
The terms “died” and “buried” in our text point to past events for our sins. Hebrews 10:8-14 adds this important point: Jesus Christ’s death was “once for all;” it is not to be repeated and was sufficient for all. The phrase “He was raised” reveals the historical event has a continuing effect on God’s people. In Romans, Paul expands this thought, revealing that those who consider themselves dead to the tyranny of sin but alive to God to walk in newness of life are enabled to live by a resurrection dynamic.
Romans 6:4 NASB95
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:11 NASB95
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:10 NASB95
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
How do we know that Jesus rose again?

d. Evidence: Multiple eyewitnesses saw Christ, 15:5-7.

There is a list Paul gives to add corroborative verification. Compare this with the gospel writers, who also told of witnesses. But this is not given as information that has to be believed or else remain unsaved. Paul puts this forth to convince a sinner that Christ arose from the dead— from a death for our sins — and to believe it!
Paul’s main thrust in this text is the validation of the resurrection. But it does not diminish the gospel as presented by Paul here, the essentials which, when believed result in the gift of forgiveness and everything else that a believer receives “in Christ.” That leads us to verse 8-10 ...

4. Paul states that the promise of Easter was personally seen by him as well, 15:8-11.

Paul both acknowledges the grace of God that allowed him to see the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, where as a result, he turned from persecuting the church of God to proclaiming the gospel of Christ and the same grace of God which continued to enable his ministry. He labored, both in preaching the gospel message to unbelievers and in teaching more advanced gospel truth to save/deliver believers from temptation, sin and divine discipline.
Today, just as the grace granted to Paul enabled him not to labor in vain, so our labor in the Lord today “is not in vain” — there is no futility in our work for Christ’s sake.
But it wasn’t only Paul who preached a gospel that elevated to prominence Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection. All the apostles preached the same truths (15:11a). They drew upon the same gospel priorities of Christ’s death for our sins and Christ’s resurrection.
And it was by God’s grace that their unswerving communication of Christ’s death and resurrection had results: “and so you believed.” All believers believe the gospel the apostles preached (15:11b). This points to the faith which consciously attached itself to the gospel message prioritizing Christ’s death and resurrection—they consciously believed/received the gospel; the content was believed/received so that Paul may elsewhere say of the Corinthian believers that they are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1:2, 30), washed and justified (6:11), and forgiven (15:17).
Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world concluded all work required for man’s eternal salvation. When on the cross Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” He uttered a truth that is a cause for gratitude and praise particularly from all believers of all time. He finished the work before His burial, resurrection and appearances, though without the resurrection it would be impossible to apply the benefits of His death to those who believe. How important is the resurrection to man’s eternal destiny and to gospel preaching?

5. Without the promise of Easter, i.e. Christ’s resurrection,

a. … the apostles’ doctrine is vain, 15:12-14a.

The point here is if Christ has not been raised, then all the hard work put into preaching a gospel message that prioritizes Christ’s death and resurrection is vain, that word denoting what is unsuccessful, ineffectual and powerless (EDNT, 2:281).

b. … a believer’s faith is vain, 15:14b.

The point Paul makes here is regardless of how the Corinthians may strain to believe, or to persuade themselves that the apostles’ teaching is true—if the resurrection has not happened, their faith is utterly ineffectual and powerless to produce forgiveness. So no matter how sincere, without the resurrection, no one could be eternally saved, and if no one is saved, no one will be sanctified.

c. … the apostles are false witnesses, 15:15.

The different words used here — witnessing, testifying --have perhaps slightly different nuances than preaching and delivering the gospel, but the common denominator is all seem related to communication. So, any person who communicates a message about Christ that includes the resurrection may be rightly and immediately branded by others to be false witnesses if there is no resurrection.

d. … Christians are still in their sins, 15:16-17.

If there is no resurrection, 15:14 says our faith is vain, the object of our faith is empty of reality so ineffectual to deliver the gift of eternal salvation, if Christ has not been raised. 15:17 says our faith itself is also “futile,” the word speaking of how an act of faith in a non-resurrected Christ accomplishes nothing in terms of forgiveness.
Without a resurrected Christ, Paul says you are still in your sins! They are not sanctified, they are not washed and justified, thus they are not forgiven.
By God’s sheer grace, however, the Lord does not impute trespasses to those not born again (2 Corinthians 5:19). This does not mean that the Lord has forgiven them or that they have a ticket through the pearly gates for they will appear unforgiven at the Great White Throne. Nevertheless, their eternal judgment will be on other grounds: according to their works (Revelation 21:12–15).
The only place one secures eternal forgiveness before God is “in Christ” (Colossians 2:13–14; cf. Ephesians 1:7). Moreover, the only entrance into Christ is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). For he who believes in Me, Jesus said, has everlasting life (John 6:47).
This is why we celebrate Easter.
Related Media
Related Sermons