The apostle, Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians about what he had preached among them, said, “I resolved to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)
I read one time that every sermon, no matter where it starts, should head as fast as possible to the cross.
We often express the gospel message, the core message of Christianity, in terms of Jesus’ death. Jesus Christ died for our sins. It was His death as the Lamb of God that paid the price for our sins.
So, how important is the resurrection? If the focal point is Jesus’ death, what difference does the resurrection make?
Clearly the resurrection made a huge difference to the first disciples. They were disappointed, dispirited, deflated, totally flat, after the crucifixion. All their hopes and expectations had come to a crashing halt with Jesus’ death. What future did they have now? What about this Kingdom that Jesus had talked about so much, and had modelled. Where they expected a king they now had a dead body.
And then that body wasn’t dead! It wasn’t in the tomb. Angels said that he was alive. Various ones of them met Him. Eventually all of them met Him, as did hundreds of other people. Suddenly the whole thing was back on track. Suddenly the Kingdom of God became a reality again. Everything they thought had proved false now was true.
The resurrection changed their lives completely. They had been hiding in fear, now… Well, actually, they took a little while to believe that the resurrection was true. It wasn’t instantaneous by any means, but eventually all doubt was removed. And then, when the Holy Spirit came on them at Pentecost, things ratcheted up a few more notches again.
We can understand that the resurrection made a huge difference for those who had become Jesus’ friends and then thought that a cruel death had taken Him from them. But what difference does it make for us? I want to quickly mention some things, then focus on one.
Firstly, there was the morale of the disciples.
Secondly, there is the fact that Jesus is alive and active. Jesus is still working. The story of the early church in Acts is the story of the risen Jesus working in people’s lives You probably know that Luke wrote two books: the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. At the beginning of Acts, Luke refers back to the gospel, and says that there he had recorded what Jesus had begun to do and teach. The implication is that Jesus continued to do things and to teach, and that is what Luke has recorded in the book of Acts.
That also means that we can engage with the risen, living Jesus. We can pray to Him. He talks to us. He works in our lives. We are never alone. Jesus’ final words, in Matthew’s gospel, are “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Thirdly, the resurrection was the proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead. Imagine if Jesus made all those claims about being God Son, coming in power at the end of the age etc. and then just died. Clearly, all His claims would have been nonsense. It was the resurrection that declared Him to actually be the Son of God.
Fourthly, the resurrection made so much difference that nothing about Christianity would make any sense without it. Everything rises and falls on the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection. In vv.12-34 Paul answers those who say that there is no resurrection – for anybody. For example, the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection. Some people today follow the lead of the Sadducees and say that when we die that is the end. There is no life after death. Jesus refuted that view and so does Paul here. Paul says if there is no resurrection then Jesus cannot have been raised either and, if Jesus wasn’t raised… If Jesus hadn’t been raised… Paul lists seven things that would follow if Jesus had not been raised.
- His preaching would all be in vain – it would all be a waste
- Our faith would be in vain. It would be pointless.
- He (and we) would be misrepresenting God. If we say God raised Jesus from the dead but He didn’t then we are lying.
- We would still be in our sins. I’ll come back to that.
- The dead would have perished. If Jesus hadn’t been raised, then there would be no hope for us after we die.
- We of all people are most to be pitied. I guess that means that we would all be believing a lie and would be thoroughly deceived, believing things and proclaiming things that are not true. Of course, some people do think that we have got it all wrong and are of all people the most deserving of their pity… but God doesn’t. God promises wonderful things to those who believe.
- Why would we remain faithful to Jesus? If Christ has not been raised what have we to gain through being faithful and enduring hardship. We would be doing it all for nothing. (vv.29-32)
- If Christ has been raised from the dead, he is the first fruits of those who have died. Jesus is the first example of what lies ahead for all who die having placed their trust in Him (v.20). Jesus shows us what we can expect, and He therefore gives us hope.
So Paul says that the resurrection is not just a pointless postscript to the crucifixion. The resurrection changes everything. This is truly a day to celebrate
Here is where I want focus on one difference that the resurrection makes – and it is one that, I think, is little understood. When we say that Jesus is the first fruits of the dead, we mean that Jesus defeated death; that Jesus had life after death and that that will also be our experience. After death, we will experience a resurrection like Jesus’. His is just the first fruits.
That is great but do we have to wait until then to experience resurrection? No. Read Romans 6:1-14. [3 slides. Stay with last one]
That passage might not be entirely straightforward so let’s identify what it says quite clearly. When we become Christians, and especially when we are baptised, we are incorporated into Christ. We are included with Him in His death. His death also means our death. But the other half is also true: his resurrection is also our resurrection. We die with Him and we rise to new life.
Paul is responding to people who are saying, well maybe we should keep on sinning as Christians because then people will see a fantastically forgiving and gracious God. How good would God look if we keep sinning but He keeps forgiving? Paul, of course, is horrified. “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Note that phrase: we have died to sin. How did we do that? Of course, we didn’t do anything but God did. God has done an amazing thing in the lives of those who have come to faith and have been baptised. Paul explains in the next verse: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? In our baptism, we were united with Christ in His death. Somehow, by the grace of God, we died with Him.
Other forms of baptism have their own powerful symbolism but baptism by immersion – that is, baptism in which the whole person goes under the water – is a powerful representation of death. It is as if the person, by going under the water, dies and is buried. And that is what Paul says actually happens. Something spiritual happens. We die.
But the person being baptised doesn’t stay under the water! If he/she did it wouldn’t be only a spiritual death. The person rises up out of the water again. And that is the whole purpose. Look at what Paul says in the next verse. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might walk in newness of life.
We die so that we might be raised to a new life.
You might remember that Paul elsewhere says, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.” A Christian is a brand new person. The old person has died. A new person has been raised to live a new life. If you have come to faith in Jesus and have been baptised, you can say, “I am not the same person that I was. That person has died with Christ and a new me was raised.”
But not just raised to carry on living the same old life. Paul says we have been raised from the dead “that we might live a new life.” It is not only a new you. It is a new life.
What does that new life look like? There is one thing that Paul talks about that demonstrates the difference between the old life and the new life and it is really important that we understand this. Before, we were slaves to sin. In other words, sin had power over us. Have you ever felt that yourself: you want to not sin but you still do it and sin wins?
People who aren’t Christians might think that they are free. Christians are bound by all these rules; they are free to do whatever they like. But the real question is: Are they free to not sin? Sure you are free to sin but are you free to not sin? The answer is no. They could not not sin because they are slaves to sin.
But sin has no power over dead people. Have you noticed that – dead people don’t sin? In v.7 Paul says “anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” If you died with Christ, in baptism, sin no longer has power over you. That means that temptations will still come your way but you are not compelled to give way. You have the power, in Jesus, to say “No”.
Before, we couldn’t not sin. We were trapped. Now, we can not sin. My spelling checker wants to correct that and make it “we cannot sin”! It is not that you incapable of sinning but that you are capable of not sinning!
God says this has happened. If you have been baptised as a Christian believer, God has done an amazing thing in your life – so amazing that Paul talks about it as a death and a resurrection; one person dying and a new person being raised. That is a fact but many Christians don’t live the new reality. Many Christians live as if they were still prisoners of sin.
That is why, in v.11, Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”. Think of yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, Believe that it is really true. When temptation arises, say, “In Christ, I have the power to say no. I am not helpless in this situation. In Christ I have died to sin and have risen to a new life – a new life of freedom. I am no longer a slave.”
And so Paul says, “Offer yourself to God. Don’t offer your body to wickedness. Offer yourselves to God to be people of righteousness.”
That is that difference the resurrection makes. It means that we can anticipate eternity with Jesus. He defeated death and therefore we can have eternal life. But the difference is not only after we die. The difference is now. We who are united with Christ died with Him and have been raised with Him to a whole new life. It is now simply up to us to live that new life – not the old life of sin; live the new life of obedience to God. Freedom is yours. You are free to live the life Jesus wants you to live.
Paul’s message was never simply Christ crucified. His gospel was Christ crucified and raised again!
I have several times said, “if you have come to faith in Jesus and been baptised”. It might be that you are not a Christian. In that case, just know that there is huge freedom available – freedom from the power of sin and you can receive it by putting your trust in Jesus and by being baptised.