“Christ Has Been Raised from the Dead” (1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 30-42)

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 24, 2019

“Christ Has Been Raised from the Dead” (1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 30-42)

Happy Easter! “What?” you say. “Pastor Henrickson, I know you must be a little antsy for spring to get here–we all are–but look, this is still February!” And I say to you, “Nuts! This is Easter!” Why? Because this is Sunday. And every Sunday is a little Easter. Or, you could put it the other way around: Easter is a great big Sunday. Why do I say that? Because our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, and that’s why we have Divine Service on Sunday every week. Every Sunday we get to celebrate Easter, our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. And today is a Sunday. So, happy Easter!

And, in point of fact, every day, no matter what day of the week, we live in the light of our Lord’s resurrection. Jesus’ rising from the dead on Easter Day makes all the difference in every day of our life. It’s of that much importance. And so our theme this Sunday morning: “Christ Has Been Raised from the Dead.”

Christ has been raised from the dead, and this great fact is of first importance. And we’re not the first ones to think this way. Back in the first century, St. Paul said as much in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and on the third day he was raised in accordance with the Scriptures. For the apostle Paul, this foundational set of facts was first and foremost in the gospel he preached and passed on.

And it was passed on. We find these same words from 1 Corinthians 15 showing up a couple centuries later in the Nicene Creed: “the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.” We just confessed that here. So from Jerusalem to Corinth to Nicaea to Bonne Terre, Missouri, the same message has been resounding through the centuries: The Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, whose body was buried in the tomb, on the third day rose bodily from the dead. And all of this was according to God’s plan, according to the Scriptures God had inspired his prophets to write centuries earlier. This is first and foremost, “of first importance,” in the gospel that Paul preached and that we continue to preach to this day.

Without these great facts, and without them at the forefront, there is no Christianity. There is no gospel. There is no hope. There is nothing to preach, nothing to believe. “If Christ has not been raised,” Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” And again, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” It’s all riding on Christ actually being raised from the dead, physically, bodily. If not for that, there’s nothing there.

If Christ has not been raised, then he himself is a liar and the gospels are untrustworthy documents, mere fairy tales. For Jesus himself prophesied his rising again, and all the gospel writers record the bodily resurrection of Christ as the culminating event of their accounts. What’s more, if Christ has not been raised, then you are still in your sins, lost. For then his death means nothing, except possibly just another example of the noble death of a good man suffering unjustly, bearing up with dignity–and, oh, isn’t it a shame how the good die young. But that isn’t much, and we’ve already got “The Death of Socrates” as an example of a noble philosopher dying with dignity.

If Christ has not been raised, then this Christianity thing is a joke, and we might as well fold up our tent, and call this whole church thing off. It’s just a quaint, outmoded tradition that a few old fogies are hanging on to, totally irrelevant and dying out here in our advanced, sophisticated age. If Christ has not been raised, then church becomes nothing more than a boring set of rituals, out of step with our pleasure-seeking, entertainment-addicted culture. Look at all the people who aren’t here this morning.

This is serious business. The implications are life and death. If Christ has not been raised, then you will not be raised, either. Death will come and take you away, and that’s the end of the story. Your heart stops beating, your lungs stop breathing, brainwave activity ceases, and this worn-out collection of organs and tissues becomes nothing more than compost for somebody’s garden. Humans are just an accidental result of evolution, an evolved mass of tissue and bone, no different from armadillos or daffodils, roadkill waiting to happen. Life becomes so cheap that human beings can be aborted or euthanized. Human bodies can be burned up and disposed of like so much refuse. Human life loses its value and meaning, if Christ has not been raised. Death is the end of the road, and that’s it. Nothing more.

Everything is up for grabs if Christ has not been raised. Life becomes a joke, a cruel joke. Shakespeare captured this emptiness when he wrote, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Thomas Hobbes described the life of man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That is what life amounts to if Christ has not been raised from the dead. All that’s left is to distract ourselves from our own coming demise and to amuse ourselves to death while we’re waiting. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” Life has no enduring purpose or goal, if Christ has not been raised.

If Christ has not been raised–but, no, wait, in fact Christ has been raised! That’s the truth of the matter. That’s the truth of the gospel! “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ has indeed been raised, and that changes everything! Everything! All the depressing implications that would be the case if Christ had not been raised–all these are reversed and turned around in the light of our Lord’s resurrection.

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, then he is telling the truth in everything he says. and the gospels are the true record you can rely on. “He is risen, just as he said,” and “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, then you are not still in your sins, you are not lost. Christ’s resurrection validates and puts God’s stamp of approval on everything Jesus did when he bled and died there on the cross. God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin, said yes to it. By raising Jesus from the dead, God the Father said of his death on the cross, “Yes, my Son, that does the job, that covers all sins for all time. Job well done. The debt of sin for humanity has been paid, paid in full.” Christ’s resurrection says yes therefore to your forgiveness. What Jesus did on the cross covered all your sins, dear Christian. Your faith in Christ is not futile, not by a long shot. Your faith is fruitful, not futile, and you are freed from your sins.

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, then that makes Christianity the one true religion in all the world. When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me,” he wasn’t kidding. The mockers and ridiculers of Christ and of his church may mock, they may ridicule, but they are wrong, dead wrong. For now, they may not believe that Christ rose the dead. But at the Last Day, when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, they will realize that he has, to their everlasting regret.

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, then the church is the most relevant place to be in all the world. For here in the church you get something you get nowhere else: You get Jesus himself speaking his words of life to you through the preaching of the gospel. You get Jesus himself giving you his body and blood in the Sacrament, for you, for your forgiveness, for the strengthening of your faith. Jesus is here, and therefore there is no better place on earth to be.

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, then death is not the end of the story for you. There is something more in store. Death is not the end of the line for those who die in Christ. By his being raised from the dead, Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” meaning, there are more to follow. Your loved ones who have died in the faith, all the great saints of the past–all the unknown saints too, you and I and all who put their trust in Christ–we will not be disappointed. For you and I–our mortal bodies will be raised at the Last Day, new and glorious, fitted out for eternal life. In Christ we have new life in this life now, and, beyond that, we have hope, sure hope, for the life to come. Therefore we are of all people, not the most to be pitied, but rather the most abundantly blessed.

Since Christ has been raised from the dead, bodily, then you who trust in him and are baptized in Christ–you likewise will be raised from the dead, bodily. As we confess in the creeds, we look for the resurrection of the dead, we believe in the resurrection of the body. When you die, your soul will be with the Lord, but your body will be laid in the grave. But that is not the end, that is not the goal. For on the day when Christ returns, the trumpet will sound, and Christ will call forth your dead body from the ground and raise it up to eternal life. Your body will be renewed and restored better than ever, no longer subject to disease and decay and death. Like a seed sown in the ground, what comes forth will be much more glorious than what was planted. And we will live with Christ and all his saints in a new and restored creation forever.

And since you know that Christ has been raised from the dead, and that you, baptized into Christ, will share in his resurrection, this makes a difference in your life right now. You have a hope to hold on to. You have full assurance and security in this life. You know you are God’s dear child, and that this will last forever. The sting and the fear have been taken out of death. Now you can serve God with great boldness. Now you are free to dare things for God, since you are safe and secure for eternity. Now you are free to love your neighbor–and even to love your enemies. You are free to forgive. You are free to be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. This is a new way of living, a new way of loving, different from the way of the world. But the freedom and security you have in Christ make this kind of living doable.

Christ has been raised from the dead. This is the earth-shattering fact that changes everything! Brothers and sisters, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the gospel that has been passed down from the apostles and preached to you. This is the gospel which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. This is the gospel, and it is of first importance: Christ has been raised from the dead. Happy Sunday! Happy Easter!

Published in: on February 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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