St. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of the dead is essential to the Christian faith. He argues, first of all, from the premise that Jesus the Christ was seen by hundreds of people who are still living and can attest to their experience of him. He was seen, not as a ghost, but as a solid, bodily presence who could be touched and who could share a meal with them. When his disciples were startled and frightened thinking they saw a ghost, he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:38,39).
That Christ rose in bodily form is proof of the resurrection of the dead to those who believe in him. Down through the ages, beginning with St. Paul himself, countless people have experienced the presence of the risen Christ. If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even Christ has been raised and all these appearances are mere hallucinations.
Secondly, he argues that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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.” Central to the proclamation of the Gospel by the apostles, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is the resurrection. When Paul presented his defense to Governor Felix he declared that “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” In Athens he argued that God has given proof to all men of the last judgment by raising Jesus from the dead. Peter at Pentecost quoted David’s prophecy when “he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was no abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
My New Testament professor, C. Kingsley Barrett, in his commentary on this passage wrote, “Take out the resurrection, and there is nothing left….If there is no resurrection, the Christian proclamation is a lie placed where it is likely to do most damage, in a statement about God… In other words, Christianity is completely destroyed: you might as well never have believed at all.”
Why would the apostles proclaim something that was false? What would be their motivation? They suffered and were persecuted for this belief. What had they to gain by perpetuating a lie? The Message translates these words, “If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling you a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ — sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.”
You can’t have a Christianity that is sweet talk about ethical behavior, or an emotional spirituality, or social justice for the oppressed, or prophetic indignation, without the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Christianity without the resurrection is worthless. Without the resurrection of Christ your faith is useless.
Thirdly, he argues that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. In other words, there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation, there is no good news, no Gospel. Christianity is completely destroyed, you might as well never have believed at all. In many churches where the resurrection is not proclaimed the message is merely one of good thoughts and exhortations to good behavior. There is an attempt to provide comfort to those who suffer but there is no Gospel content or salvation message to transform human lives mired in sin. If there is no resurrection then death has won, there is no victory over the human condition of condemnation and alienation from God. If Christ is dead and buried there is no hope, no redemption. If Christ is dead what has he to give us? If Christ is dead then his promises to be the resurrection and the life, that those who believe in him will never die, are empty promises that cannot be fulfilled.
Lastly, he argues that if Christ has not been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in him are lost. They died under a delusion of a future life in Christ. They died hoping in Christ and resurrection. But that hope is in vain if Christ has not been raised. They thought that death was falling asleep in Christ — falling asleep in his arms of mercy and love, that the day of their death would see them in paradise with the Lord. They believed that they would wake up in his presence. We believed that we would one day be caught up together with them to meet the Lord and so we would be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But without the resurrection of Christ they are lost forever. We will never see them again. We ourselves have nothing to look forward to. Are the materialists right? Is there nothing beyond this physical life of space and time? Have we come from nothing and do we go to nothing? Do we perish like the grass which withers and the flowers fall? Is that the reality which we must face with courage and resignation? Is there no advantage in being a Christian? Is our hope a delusion? So Paul concludes, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” In other words, we would be putting our trust in something which is fraudulent, a Ponzi scheme of theology which deceives us and cannot deliver any rewards.
You can see how important the resurrection of Christ is to our faith and life here on earth. Without it we and all our loved ones are lost. When you or your loved ones face death what do you believe will happen? “What will become of you?” said a non-Christian, “Supposing there should be no resurrection?” “Well,” said the believer, “I like to have two strings to my bow. If there is no hereafter, I am as well off as you are; if there is I am infinitely better off. But where are you? If in this life there is, indeed, a hope of a life to come, then you shall be in the next life of all men most miserable for you will not be prepared. You will still be in your sins.”
Jesus said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy” (John 16:16,20). “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
If you want to be forgiven, if you want to experience the salvation of God, if you want to enter into life eternal, life in all its fullness, if you want to walk in the Spirit of freedom, if you want to become mature, if you want to enter into the kingdom of God, if you want to know the love of God, then believe in the resurrection of Christ, put your trust in his grace, his gift of the true and living way that is everlasting.