I have in recent times come into casual association and communication with some who are agnostic at best, if not outright atheistic. The latter term seems a bit strong for them, as they prefer the former – a word that comes the root “gnosis” … Greek for knowledge. And that is what they cling to so strongly. Knowledge, especially that of science – stuff that is verifiable in calculable ways.
Therefore, faith hits these folks as rather silly and antiquated. While respecting the virtuous principles of the Christian faith – stuff like love and service – they simply cannot imagine that it has more reality than being mere “story.” But it’s a nice story, just don’t tell them that it is the only story or the true, overarching reality. And certainly not something that they should feel accountable to!
They therefore think the entire account of the resurrection of Jesus is … well … more story to add to the alleged tale (perhaps historically true) of the life of a great teacher in Israel. But if it could somehow be proven true to them that he did rise from the dead, and if this could be scientifically validated, that could be a game changer for them … though they know that’s not going to happen. Scriptural accounts are, well, just more story.
Add to this the notion that mankind is nothing more than the biological end product of an evolutionary process devoid of any divine initiative. Since there is no historical Adam who fell into sin and brought a curse of judgment upon the pinnacle of God’s creation, there is no spiritual problem needing a spiritual solution. If one is not lost, one does not need to be found.
But in these verses today in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes it clear that mankind is lost, dating back to the action of one man. A principle of death is upon all, and everyone proves this truth, sooner or later. But just as one person brought the problem upon mankind, one person brings the solution.
If anyone denies the resurrection of Jesus, everything is lost. There is no victory of life over death. We are all doomed. All we can hope for is to live a better life by exalting virtuous things, because there is nothing else.
Beyond that, those who give themselves in special ways and extra commitment to the proclamation of such eternal life truths is really something of a jerk. You know, someone like me, for example … or from the text – Paul, and his associates. I recently said to one of these naturalist-based, science-ensconced agnostics, “You must really think I am a total fool to waste my life centered around the faith of the Christian Scriptures.” His response was that, no, he did not think that way; and that my promotion of ideals of love and service was commendable. He just did not like the objective truth assertions about right/wrong, life/death, etc.
In other words, he was saying that telling stories that are nice about a virtuous person and story that are nice is a nice thing to do. Did you get that? Yep, pity the fool that lives this way.
Our faith does involve faith, that’s why it’s called “faith.” But it is a reasonable faith and hope. The evidence in strong that a historical figure named Jesus indeed did rise from the dead. And put together with the inspired writings of multiple people over many centuries, it all ties together as the true, big story that makes sense of everything else – past, present and future.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
1 Corinthians 15:12 – But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
15:20 – But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” [from Ps. 8:6] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
15:29 – Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [from Isaiah 22:13]
15:33 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” [from the Greek poet Menander] 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
Quickly, just a bit extra on verse 29 – the idea of baptism for the dead. Paul is not saying that this is a pattern to be followed or something to do. Rather, it was something that happened in the rituals of other religions in the Corinth area. Paul is saying that even those folks believe in resurrection, though they’re messed up in what they think.
And Paul concludes to disassociate from those who deny this central truth of Jesus as the resurrection and the life. That’s bad company, to quote a well-known Greek writer.