by David Murray
What if Christ is not risen? It is an awful thought, isn’t it? Unthinkable, actually. Yet, the Apostle Paul considers the possibility in 1 Corinthians 15, and he also thinks through five terrible consequences that would result if Jesus had never been raised from the dead.
First, if Christ is not risen, preaching is pointless (v. 14). Christ’s resurrection was the most important event in the New Testament. Christ preached about it frequently before it happened, and the Apostles preached it relentlessly afterward. Take it out of the gospel message and you have nothing left. It’s like trying to build a house without cement: it’s pointless and vain.
A preacher without Christ’s resurrection is a preacher without a message. He has nothing useful to say, and nothing he does say will result in anything good. He’s just wasting his time preparing sermons and preaching them, and we’re wasting our time hearing them. In fact, such a preacher is a liar, a false witness (v. 15), because he is misrepresenting God by saying He did something that He didn’t do—that is, saying that God raised Christ from the dead.
Second, our faith is futile (v. 17). If our faith is in Christ, and Christ lies dead under a Middle Eastern sky, then our faith is in a pile of human dust. The thief was right—if He could not save Himself, He cannot save us.
Christ rested the validity of all His teaching and claims upon His resurrection. Without it, the foundation cracks, crumbles, and turns to dust—as does our faith.
Christ’s death was a remarkable proof of His love and willingness to save, but without His resurrection, there’s no proof of His power and ability to save. All hope of salvation lies dead with Him. Our faith clings to a decaying skeleton. Such faith is futile.
Third, we are still in our sins (v. 17). Our sins have not been removed from our account. They still exist, charging and condemning us before God.
Moreover, if sin has not been removed from our account, it cannot be removed from our nature. If Christ remained under sin’s power, how can He deliver us from it? We are just like any other pagan, trying to be good in our own strength. We remain unfit for heaven and unprepared to meet God.
Fourth, the dead are damned (v. 18). Paul beautifully describes believers’ deaths as simply and quietly falling asleep in Jesus’ arms. Their souls are immediately perfected in heaven, and “their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection” (WSC 37). It’s magnificent, isn’t it?
But then Paul introduces an ugly note that mars the chords of hope. If Christ is not risen, those who have fallen asleep in Christ “have perished.” It’s so violent, so hideous. Their souls are perishing in hell, and their bodies are perishing in the grave. They turned up at heaven’s gates, but when they looked for their Advocate, they were told, “Oh, He died long ago.” All hope dies. Death can separate us from the love of Christ. The dead are damned. Therefore, let us mourn as those who have no hope.
Fifth, we are the most pitiable of men (v. 19). Think of all the spiritual stress, strains, and sufferings that Paul went through to testify to the risen Christ. What self-denial, what self-sacrifice. But what kept him going as he faced beasts and beastly men? The hope of the resurrection (vv. 30–32).
But if Christ didn’t rise, then neither would Paul. He has no life here, and he has no life hereafter. “Pity me,” says Paul, “more than anyone else in the world.” Anybody is better off than the Christian. Better to be a Muslim, a Buddhist, or even a Devil-worshipper. Better to be anything than a Christian without resurrection hope.
Imagine the Corinthian believers as this letter was read to them. How the darkness must have settled on the congregation as Paul explored the black-hole consequences of a still-dead Christ. But then, just as despair was about to overwhelm them, the sun broke through the storm: “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (v. 20), Paul emphatically asserts. He’s brought us to the abyss of hell, to endear the risen Christ to us all the more.
Don’t despair. He is risen—He is risen indeed!
Therefore, preaching is the most momentous activity in the world. Our faith is well-grounded in a living Savior. Our sins have been wiped off our records and are being worked out of our hearts. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, and we believers are of all men to be envied.
O, unbeliever, don’t pity us; pity yourself. Then, look to Christ for enviable hope.