“Lose the Resurrection, Lose Everything” (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)

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.

Positively Worldly (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)

There’s an old hymn that goes something like this:

“This world is not my home,
I’m just a-passing through;
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue
The Savior beckons me
From heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home
in this world anymore.”

It’s beautiful. It’s eloquent.

And it’s completely wrong.

If you grew up in traditional church culture, then it might be quite difficult to come to understand that Heaven is not your true home. You and I were made for earth. Christianity has traditionally emphasized that when Christ’s followers die, they join him in heaven, much like Jesus telling the thief crucified next to him that “today you will be with me in paradise.” But the Bible tells us that at the end of all human history, there is a “new heaven and a new earth,” and God’s holy city descends “like a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2). Our truest, lasting destiny is therefore God’s restored earth.

So when Paul writes to the people of Corinth, he emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus has profound implications for life here and now. See, the people of Corinth might have been willing to accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, but the idea that they, too, would be raised from the dead seemed altogether absurd. But Paul says, no; you need to really think through what this means for you—for us—and how resurrection hope saturates every arid place in our lives.

FAITH IN CHRIST (15:12-19)

First, Paul emphasizes that the faith cannot be untangled from the message of the resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then it follows that we, too, will also experience this event:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

If Christian faith is based on preference, emotion, or social benefit, then we might be tempted to conceal our faith in the presence of others, or reserve our faith for Sunday mornings or major holidays. But if our faith is anchored in the historical reality of the resurrection, then it means we live for a deeper story—a true story—a story that overturns the lesser stories of pleasure and power that dominate our social landscapes and news cycles.


Second, Paul emphasizes that this event points us toward a greater future:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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 “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Jesus reverses the curse of Adam, the curse of death that dangles above our heads like a sword waiting to fall. The Christian hope, as we’ve mentioned, is bodily resurrection. Paul therefore seeks to cultivate a sense of anticipation, a waiting sense of wonder, at this future event.

Why would this matter? Because in an era when believers experienced social shame for following Jesus, it was good to cling to the hope of a greater and brighter future ahead of them. The same is true for us. In our own land of death, our eyes ache for a more enchanting vision of what lies ahead.


Finally, Paul suggests that this faith and hope manifests itself in love for the world:

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Faith. Hope. Love. These three virtues awaken in the presence of the risen Savior.

The historian Jaroslav Pelikan once said that if “the resurrection never happened, then nothing else matters. And if the resurrection is true, then nothing else matters.” If there is nothing to hope for, if there is no future beyond the grave, then this life is all we have. But if there is a future to look toward, then this life takes on renewed significance.

This is what it means to be “positively worldly.” The resurrection challenges us to love the world, or—more accurately—to love the world as it is beginning to be. Our hope is not merely to escape the world, but to be resurrected within it, to see the borders of Eden expand to fill all of creation with restored goodness and beauty.

The seasons provide something of an audiovisual display of this hope-filled promise (perhaps that’s even why Paul will—in tomorrow’s passage—appeal to the image of a seed and a plant). In Spring we see Winter pull back her icy curtain to reveal the abundance of wildflowers that decorate a world of green. Winter isn’t about death, you see, but dormancy. The opening of each flower reminds us that Paradise hasn’t been lost forever. And some day,–someday so achingly soon—we, too, will experience this resurrecting power in our every cell and every limb. Until then we find faith, find hope, find love in the reality of the empty tomb, and the anticipation of the Savior’s return. In the same breath as we sing Christos Anesti, we also say, Maranatha—Christ has risen; come quickly, Lord Jesus.