1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Abraham Lincoln was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. In the years following his death, attempts were made to steal his body and hold it for ransom. Around 1900, Robert Todd Lincoln decided that, in an attempt to prevent body theft, it was necessary to build a permanent crypt for his father. On Sept. 26, 1901, Lincoln’s body was exhumed so it could be re-entered in the newly built sarcophagus. However, the 23 people present for the relocation of Lincoln’s body feared that his body might have been stolen in the intervening years, so they decided to open the coffin and check.
Lincoln’s body was almost perfectly preserved. It had been embalmed so many times following his death that his body had not decayed. In fact he was easily recognizable, even more than 30 years after his death. His face was melancholy, and the black suit he wore during his second inauguration was well-preserved. On his chest they could see the red, white and blue specks—remnants of the American flag with which he was buried, which by then had disintegrated.
Lincoln’s coffin is encased in 4,000 pounds of concrete 10 feet deep, surrounded by a cage, and buried beneath a rock slab. His tomb is visited by more than 1,000,000 people a year.
Tombs are constructed for various reasons and designed in different shapes and sizes. Some tombs are national shrines. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument in Arlington National Cemetery dedicated to the American soldiers who have died without their remains being identified.
Some tombs are magnificent mausoleums. The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world. Shah Jahan commissioned it as the mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mamtaz. She died during the birth of their daughter Gauhara, their 14th child.
There are some tombs that are impressive. Napoleon’s tomb lies in an ornate church built by King Louis XIV. Emperor Napoleon lies in an elaborate encasement of six coffins built from different materials including mahogany, ebony and oak, one inside the other. A dozen statues of victory frame the dramatic scene.
On the other hand, the Duke of Wellington’s body lies inside a massive sarcophagus in St. Paul’s Cathedral in England. He is fully dressed in his military regalia in honor of his victory over Napoleon.
Other tombs are magnetic. The tomb of Lenin was a massive structure and absolute silence must be maintained when passing through. Twenty-four hours a day seven days a week thousands of people lined up to view the remains of Lenin. He was enclosed in a glass viewing case. He was well preserved and his left hand can pass for polished wax. In 1989, when communism crumbled, Lenin was taken out of his glass cinerarium and carried to a field and buried like a pauper.
All these tombs are visited by millions of people because their skeletal remains are still in these graves. Whether crypts, mausoleums, sarcophagi, ossuaries, caskets or graves, the one thing they all have in common is they all have bones in them.
James Cameron, award-winning director of Titanic, exhumed a familiar argument regarding the bones of Jesus. While writing his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus and the book The Jesus Family Tomb, he found in South Jerusalem two stone ossuaries, or bone boxes, allegedly containing the bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. “If true,” says Cameron, “the revelations are likely to raise the ire of Christians because the discovery would challenge the belief that Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven.” James Cameron is just one of many people who have walked the road of the skeptic. The atheist says, “It cannot,” and the agnostic say, “It will not.”
Dr. Frank Morrison, a successful and seasoned attorney, set out to disprove the resurrection. Morrison was reared in a rationalistic environment. He had been taught to question everything and reach a logical conclusion. He came to the opinion that the resurrection was nothing but a fairy tale with a happy ending, which spoiled the matchless story of Jesus. He felt that he owed it to himself and others to write a book that would present the truth about Jesus and dispel the mythical story of the resurrection.
Upon studying the facts, however, he came to a different conclusion. The sheer weight of evidence compelled him to conclude Jesus actually did rise from the dead. Morrison wrote his book, but not the one he had planned. It is titled Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter is very significant, “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”
This is a text that refuses to be preached. When so many people are questioning the significance of the resurrection and its ultimate importance, we need to hear the resurrection story again for the first time. There is the possibility that you have come with your questions surrounding the validity of the resurrection. Or maybe you have come to poke fun and to humor yourself at one more message about Jesus rising from the dead. If you have, then you’re in good company. The Corinthian congregation grappled with the same doubts.
The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that it is built on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—no bones about it!
The uniqueness of Christ’s tomb is that millions of people travel to the Holy Land to witness a tomb different from all the rest. Whether the visitor is an atheist, agnostic or Christian, each sojourner knows there are no bones. Even when some new discovery has been made, pilgrims know there will be no bones. Regardless of ossuaries found containing bone, they don’t belong to our Lord. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is inside the walls of Jerusalem; some say this is the real burial place of our Lord. The archeologist, Gardner, says the real burial place is not inside the city walls of Jerusalem but outside the wall at Golgotha, where the Chapel is erected. That location is exactly the point.
The resurrection was at the center of the Corinthian controversy. The dilemma was philosophical and theological. The Corinthians were Christians because they embraced the resurrection. However, some could not fathom the bodily resurrection of the Christian. A basic tenant of Greek philosophy was dualism that taught that everything physical was intrinsically evil. So the idea of a bodily resurrection was repulsive to these Corinthians. The Platonic influence concerning the resurrection was met with suspicion because of the belief in the immortality of the soul. They agreed that the soul returned to the God who gave it, but the body is mortal and at death retuned to the grave. The Greeks embraced the idea of the body being matter and therefore evil. Theologically, to deny the resurrection of the body was to nullify everything Jesus Christ promised to accomplish. These Corinthians did not question the veracity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. They believed Jesus’ resurrection was an exception to the rule. As far as the bodily resurrection of the believer, it was viewed as being improbable and impossible.
Paul countered this idea with one succinct statement: “If Christ is not raised, our faith is vain.” Everything that we preach, as well as practice, is at best counterfeit. If there is better, then everything is lost.
No resurrection, no Easter. Paul defends his resurrection thesis by listing several deductions for these doubters.
The Content of the Message and the Character of the Messenger are Disingenuous
The implication is upon the content of Christian preaching. The message of the resurrection was the theme of apostolic preaching. To deny Christ’s resurrection is to go against all the pertinent evidence that was available to the early church. Our preaching would be useless. If Christ is not raised, our preaching is senseless. If Christ is still in the tomb, preaching is nothing but empty words. A resurrectionless Christianity is empty, and the Christian faith is vacuous. The message that we preach would have as much validity as Alice in Wonderland. Our faith would be only as real as Humpty Dumpty. The cross would carry the significance of Harry Potter.
Christian preaching throughout the ages would be senseless if Christ is not raised. The faith delivered to the church would be hollow. Consider the Apostle Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost; he would be a deliberate deluder. He would be disingenuous when he called for the congregation to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Christian preaching would be without any results. The preaching of Augustine, the North African Bishop of Hippo, who is one of the most influential Christian thinkers, would be empty. The match he struck 1,400 years before the Reformation set the movement ablaze. His statement: “He values not Christ at all who does not value Christ above all” is vain if there is no resurrection.
If Christ is not raised, Martin Luther’s preaching is senseless. When he stood before the Diet of Worms in defense of his understanding that “the just shall live by faith” and said, “I will not recant, here I stand,” his confession was nothing more than empty words if Christ is not raised.
John Hus being burned at the stake with his Bible and books in Prague for preaching the gospel was vacuous if Christ is not raised.
If the resurrection is invalid, the Christian message is empty and those who proclaim it are disingenuous. The implication is on the character of the Christian messenger, the Christian witness who deliberately deceives the world by preaching a Christ who was not raised.
I would be, with all the apostles and preachers through the ages, a charlatan if Christ is not raised. Without the resurrection, we are sent forth by God Himself to preach and practice deceit. If Christ is not raised we will have to stand before God’s tribunal as imposters.
The Reality of the Faith and the Finality of Forgiveness are Delusional
The implication is that our faith is futile. If Christ is not raised, our faith is worthless. We are spiritually aimless. We’re running extremely fast just to stay in place. Have you ever taken a pecan in your hand to break its shell and taste its fruit only to find that when you open the shell the pecan is rancid? This is faith without the resurrection. You can have the entire exterior that suggests life, but in the end you are worthless.
If there is no resurrection, our faith is like a nutshell without a nut. It is like a bud with out a flower. It is like sugar without sweetness, sun without light, faith without substance and forgiveness without pardon. This is not referring to a body of theological beliefs. This is a subjective understanding of faith. This is speaking of what you know viscerally about God.
The implication is that we are still in our sins. If Christ is not raised, the death of Christ on the cross was without redemption. The ramification of a worthless faith is that you remain in your sins. If there is no resurrection, we should leave the church and go to the synagogue and eat the Seder meal. If Christ is not raised, then up is down and down is up. If Christ is not raised, right is wrong and wrong is right. If Christ is not raised, north is south and south is north.
If there is not resurrection, we should sell every church building and lease it for office space. Fold up the chairs and turn the building into a community center. Remove the cross from the front of the building, replace it with a sign of defeat and profess that faith is delusional.
The Destiny of the Dead and the Futility of the Living Are Deluded
The implication here is that those who sleep in the grave will perish. If Christ is still in the embrace of death, the grave is our destiny. You go out to the cemetery and sit on a bench under an oak tree and look at the head stones jutting out of the ground. You read the epitaphs, smell the flowers and watch the grieving families, then say this is all there is to life. You go and find the name of your mother or father, maybe a child, and say this is all there is at the end of life: the grave.
If Christ is not raised, then Jean Paul Sartre was right that life is “No Exit.” If Christ is not raised, Schopenhauer was right: “Life is an endless pain with a painful end.” If Christ is not raised, Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s stanza is right:
“A crust of bread a corner to weep in
“A minute to smile and hour to weep in
“A paint of joy to a peck of trouble
“And never to laugh but the moans come double
“And that is Life-”
The implication is that this life is most miserable. If there is no resurrection, all of life is meaningless. If all we have is hope in this life without the possibility for parole, how pathetic is life. If there is no resurrection, Hugh Hefner is right: Have your fill of all the girls. Taste the nectar from the sweet feminine flowers. Find your comfort in their bronze embrace. We should all embrace the life of hedonism. Seek out pleasure wherever it can be found. We all should become Epicureans: eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we all shall die.
Jack Whittaker woke up on Christmas Morning 2002 to perhaps the biggest gift imaginable. Whittaker won the Powerball lottery jackpot, a whopping $315 million. He had the best intentions. He made good on his promises. His gave $15 million for the construction of two churches. He gave away $50 million worth of houses, cars and cash. He refurbished his $5 million estate. He made his granddaughter Braggs’ bedroom the center of the estate’s attraction. It was designed after the genie bottle from the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” Suddenly Whittaker became everybody’s Santa Claus.
Five years later, he said his winning was a curse. He faced divorce; his granddaughter confessed all she cared about was drugs. He was arrested for DWI and assault charges were filed against him. Worst of all, Whittaker’s granddaughter Braggs was found wrapped in a plastic sheet and dumped behind a junked van. Whittaker believes the Powerball win came with a curse upon his family.
Jack said, “I don’t know where it’ll end; but you know, I just don’t like Jack Whittaker. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I’ve become.”
If Christ is not raised, life is most miserable; and we, above all others, are in need of compassion to go through suffering, affliction and persecution to which Christians are exposed. To undergo such affliction for false cause would be pathetic indeed. The pagan is right that the cross is foolish.
But Now Christ Is Raised from the Dead
Paul repressed his emotions and laid out his logical argument. He pierced the conscience of the Corinthian congregations with his elaborate defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like a trumpet blast, he made this solid declaration: “But now, Christ is raised from the dead.” He pointed out that Christ had been seen by the apostle, the graves of believers were opened and they were walking the streets as witness to the resurrection, and more than 500 eyewitnesses proclaimed Christ had risen. He has walked the streets and fellowshipped with His redeemed believers.
Moreover, he has tasted of the first fruits of the resurrection. Others had been raised from the dead, but their resurrections were from the hand of Christ Himself. Jairus’ daughter was raised by the hand of Christ (Mark 5:21-43). He stopped the funeral procession in the town of Nain as the widow’s son was being taken to the cemetery (Luke 7:11-17). With His voice, Christ commanded death to release His friend Lazarus from the grave (John 11:43). Still, Christ’s resurrection was the result of His power. He tasted the first fruits.
Farmers go to the field before the reapers. Only after the husbandman takes the ripe vegetation in his hands, crushes it and takes it to his mouth to taste its ripeness does he call for the reapers to come for the ripe and ready harvest.
We as the redeemed of the Lord also will taste of Christ’s resurrection. Not merely a spiritual resurrection, no, we shall participate in a physical resurrection. Our mortal bodies will be dressed in immortality, and we shall be just like Him—no bones about it!