1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?…
We do not prove that an event has happened by showing the advantages of believing that it has. Paul here deals with the results that would follow from the denial of a Resurrection to show, not that it has taken place, but that the belief of it is fundamental to Christianity. With the resurrection of Christ —
I. THE WHOLE GOSPEL STANDS OR FALLS. It is emptied of its contents. There is nothing in it. A dead Christ makes a hollow gospel; a living Christ makes a full one. If the Resurrection goes —
1. The supernatural goes; if the Resurrection remains, the door is opened for the miraculous. We hear that all miracle is impossible. The historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ shatters all such contention. That fact is the key of the position. Like some great fortress standing at the mouth of the pass, as long as it holds out, the storm of war is rolled back; if it yields, all is surrendered.
2. All the peculiarity of Christ's nature goes with it. His life is full of claims to a unique position. Is He in the grave still? If so, there is no use in mincing the matter, Jesus Christ's talk about Himself was false. But if He has risen, then He is "declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead."
3. The special character and efficacy of His death goes. If He lies in the tomb, then it is idle to talk of sacrifice for sin; but if He has come forth from the grave, then we have the great Divine attestation to the acceptableness of His expiation. So, if all these things go, what is left is not Christianity: yet a great many think all is left — viz., the beauty of Christ's words, the loveliness of His character, His position as our Pattern. Yet, says Paul, if that is all I have to preach, I have nothing but an empty shell to preach.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE WITNESSES STANDS OR FALLS. The apostle puts his finger upon the real state of the case when he says, "This is the question: Are we liars or are we not?" He points out, too, the palpable improbability, when he says that, if so, they are "false witnesses of God" — men believing themselves to be servants of the God of truth, and thinking to advance His kingdom by telling a monstrous falsehood. But the vulgar old theory has been long abandoned, and now the men that least accept the apostles' theory are those who abound in compliment to their moral elevation, to the purity and beauty of their religious character. But Paul would have said to them, "I do not want your compliments; my business is to tell a plain story. Do you believe me, or do you not?" They talk about illusions. Strange illusions that sprung up in a soil that had nothing in it to prepare for them! There was no expectation which might have become parent of the belief. Illusions shared by five hundred people at once! We are shut up to the alternative, either Christ is risen or these noble lives of self-sacrifice and lofty morality are the spawn of a lie.
III. THE FAITH OF THE CHRISTIAN STANDS OR FALLS. Twice the apostle says, according to A.V., "Your faith is vain." But the two words are not the same. The first means "empty." The second (ver. 17) means "having no effect." A dead Christ makes —
1. An empty faith. There is nothing for faith to lay hold of. It is like a drowning man grasping a rope's end swinging over the side of the ship which is loose at the other end and gives; or like some poor creature falling down the face of a precipice, and clutching at a tuft of grass, which comes away in his hand. A dead Christ is no object for faith. Faith is empty of contents unless it grasps the risen Lord; and if it lays hold of Him, it is solid and full.
2. A powerless faith. A religion which does not bring conscious deliverance from sin, both as guilt and as tendency, is not worth calling a religion. Unless for the Resurrection, we have no ground of belief in the expiation and sacrifice of the Cross; and unless we have a faith in a Christ that lives to help and quicken and purify us, we shall never really be delivered from the dominion of our sins, nor live a life of purity and of righteousness.
IV. THE HEAVEN OF CHRIST'S SERVANTS STANDS OR FALLS. A dead Christ —
1. Means dead Christians (ver. 18). The one thing that makes immortality certain is the fact of Christ's resurrection. A living Head means living members; a dead Head means members dead.
2. Makes deluded Christians (ver. 19). People say, "What a low notion that is! Would it not be better to be a Christian than not if there were no future life? Did not the Stoic philosophers, who said, "Virtue is its own reward," reach a higher level than this apostle? I do not think so. Notice, he does not say they are most to be pitied, because of any sorrows or trouble that they have had here, but because the nobler the hope the more tragic its disappointment. And of all the tragedies of life there would be none so great as this, that Christian men cherishing such aspirations should all the while have been clutching a phantom, grasping mists. If we, journeying across the desert, are only cheated by mirage when we think we see the shining battlements of the eternal city, which are nothing but hot air dancing in empty space, surely none are more to be pitied than we. On the other hand, a living Christ turns these hopes into certainties, and makes us, not the most pitiable, but the most blessed of the sons of men.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?