1 Corinthians 15:20
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
The apostle has been contemplating the dismal consequences which would arise if we only had a dead Christ. Then he turns away from that dreary picture, and with a change of key, from the wailing minors of the preceding verses, he breaks into this burst of triumph.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION. "Now is Christ risen." The way to prove a fact is by the evidence of witnesses. I, therefore, protest against confusing the issues which is popular nowadays, when we are told that miracle is impossible, and therefore there has been no Resurrection, or that death is the end of human existence, and that therefore there has been no Resurrection. The men who argue thus are no more logical than the reasoner who, when told that facts were against him, with sublime confidence in his own infallibility, said, "So much the worse for the facts." Let us deal with evidence, and not with theory.
1. In this chapter we have a record of the resurrection of Christ, older than, and altogether independent of, the Gospels; that this Epistle is one of the four undisputed Epistles of the apostle; that, therefore, this chapter, written at the latest, some twenty-seven years after the Crucifixion, carries us up very close to that went; that it shows that the Resurrection was believed all over the Church, and therefore must have then been long believed; that it enables us to trace the same belief among the Churches at the time of Paul's conversion, some five or six years after the Crucifixion, and that so we have absolutely contemporaneous testimony. This is not a case in which a belief slowly and gradually grew up.
2. And the witnesses are reliable and competent. It would be an anomaly, far greater than the Resurrection, to believe that these people were conspirators in a lie, and that the fairest morality and the noblest consecration grew up out of a fraud. But the apostle avers that that is the only tenable alternative. "If Christ be not risen, then are we men who are lying to please God." The fashionable modern theory, that it was hallucination is preposterous. Hallucinations that five hundred people at once shared; that lasted all through long talks, spread at intervals over more than a month; that included eating, drinking, the clasp of the hand, and the feeling of the breath; that culminated in the fancy that a gathered multitude of them saw Him going up into heaven! The hallucination is on the other side, I think.
3. Another valuable way of establishing facts is to point to others which indispensably require them for their explanation. I do not understand how it was possible for the Church to exist for a week after the Crucifixion, unless Jesus Christ rose again. How came it that these people, with their Master taken away, and their bond of union removed, and all their hopes crushed, did not say, "We have made a mistake, let us take to our fishing again, and try and forget our bright illusions." That is what John the Baptist's followers did when he died. Why did not Christ's do the same? Because Christ rose again and re-knit them together. Christianity with a dead Christ, and a Church gathered round a grave from which the stone has not been rolled away, is more unbelievable than the miracle, for it is an absurdity.
4. Then there is another thing. Suppose, after the execution of Charles I, a pretender had sprung up and said, "I am the king!" the way to end that would have been for the Puritan leaders to have taken people to Westminster Abbey, and said, "Look! there is the coffin, there is the body, is that the king or is it not?" Jesus Christ was said to have risen again. The rulers could have put an end to the nonsense in two minutes, if it had been nonsense, by the simple process of saying, "Go and look at the tomb and you will see Him there." But this question has never been answered, and never will be, What became of that sacred corpse if Christ did not rise again from the dead? The clumsy lie, that the disciples had stolen away the body, was the acknowledgment that the grave was empty. If the grave were empty, either His servants were impostors, which we have seen is incredible, or the Christ was risen again.
II. THE TRIUMPH IN THE CERTITUDE OF THAT RESURRECTION. The apostle has been speaking about the consequences which would follow from the fact that Christ was not raised. If we take these and reverse them, we understand this great burst of triumph from the apostle's lips.
1. The risen Christ gives us a complete gospel. A dead Christ annihilates it. "If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain," i.e., empty — a blown bladder; nothing in it but wind. Strike the Resurrection out, and what have you left? Some beautiful bits of moral teaching, a lovely life, marred by tremendous mistakes about Himself and His relation to men and to God; but you have got nothing left that is worth calling a gospel.
2. A living Christ gives faith something to lay hold of. A dead Christ makes our faith "vain," i.e., "of none effect" or "powerless."(1) The risen Christ gives something for faith to lay hold of. Who can trust a dead Christ, or a human Christ? It is only when we recognise Him as declared to be the Son of God, and that by the Resurrection, that our faith has anything round which it can twine, and to which it can cleave.
(2) If Christ be dead our faith, if it could exist, would be as devoid of effect as it would be empty of substance. It would be like an infant seeking nourishment at a dead mother's breast, or men trying to kindle their torches at an extinguished lamp. It would fail to bring deliverance from sin.
3. The risen Christ gives us the certitude of our Resurrection. Many men talked about a western continent, but Colunbus went there and came back again, and that ended doubt. Many men before, and apart from Jesus, have cherished thoughts of an immortal life, but He has been there and returned. And that only puts the doctrine of immortality upon an irrefragable foundation.Conclusion: If you will let Him, He will make you partakers of His own immortal life.
1. "The first-fruits of them that slept" is the pledge and the prophecy of all the waving abundance of golden grain that shall be gathered into the great husbandman's barns. The apostle goes on to represent the resurrection of "them that are Christ's" as a consequence of their union to Jesus. He has conquered for us all.
2. There are two resurrections; one, that of Christ's servants; one, that of others. They are not the same in principle — and, alas! they are awfully different in issue. "Some shall awake to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.