Read John 20:1-18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has issued an Easter message in which he says he wants to be clear about his belief in the importance of Christianity. In part, he said, “I am an unapologetic supporter of the role of faith in this country. And for me, the key point is this: the values of Easter and the Christian religion – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility – are values that we can all celebrate and share… Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.”
Really? Is that how Peter and John and Mary Magdalene would have summed it up? They visited the empty tomb on that first Easter Sunday confused, anxious, fearful. They didn’t expect a resurrection. They didn’t know what it meant that the some people had taken the body of Jesus from the tomb and they didn’t know where they had put Him. This just seemed to be the latest bit of bad and confusing news.
Peter and John saw the grave clothes exactly where they had been – not disturbed and scattered but exactly as they had been – but no body. And they left believing. They didn’t understand but they were beginning to believe, and that would change their lives.
Mary actually met and spoke to Jesus and she rushed back to the disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord!”
Would they have said, “Easter is about compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility, and doing the right thing for our children”? Those are good things but you cannot just cobble together some nice, secular values and say that that is what Easter is about. As one commentator has said, “No. It’s not. My four year old niece has a better understanding of Easter than Mr Cameron. Maybe I’ll get her to lend the Prime Minister her VegggieTales DVD and fuzzy felts from Sunday School.”
David Cameron’s Easter message doesn’t mention God, Jesus, the Cross or the Resurrection. What is the point of Easter? What did Peter, John and Mary, and the other disciples who met Jesus later that morning, and Thomas who met Him a week later, and Paul who met Him some time later, believe?
The whole of 1 Corinthians 15 is about resurrection: Jesus resurrection and our resurrection. Let’s listen to Paul – someone who met the risen Jesus.
“I want to remind you of the gospel.” They have heard it before. Paul says that this is the message that he preached to them. It is the message they received. It is the message on which they had taken their stand. This message is where they had chosen to place their trust and base their lives. They have said, “This is it. Here we stand. This is what we believe. To this message we give our allegiance and our lives.”
Paul also says that it is by this message that they have been saved. Saved? What does that mean? Well, again, it is about resurrection; eternal life. Either eternal life with God or eternal life without God; either heaven because we have been forgiven and hell because we have not. Being saved means suddenly being rescued from the road that leads to hell and being placed on the road to heaven.
That is a blunt way to put it but read the rest of this chapter. It is about lostness and sin, or salvation.
This gospel that they have received and on which they have taken their stand, will save them, he says, if you hold firmly to it. Otherwise you have believed in vain. The gospel saves but perseverance is required. Jesus said the same thing. In Mark 13 He talked about Christians suffering persecution and he said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved.” (v.13)
So Paul has said a number of things about the gospel: he had preached it; they had received it; they had taken their stand on it; it had saved them. But he hasn’t yet told us what the gospel is.
He is about to but he says two more things about it before he actually reminds us of the gospel.
Firstly, what he had received, he had passed on to them. The gospel is to be received and passed on. It is good news to be shared. And it is not to be distorted. We are to pass on exactly what we receive.
Secondly, passing it on is of first importance. The gospel is of ultimate importance. Therefore, passing it on is also of first importance. Nothing is more important than passing on this message.
But what is it? OK, here we go. This most important message is contained in three statements
- That Christ died for our sins – according to the scriptures – in the way that the scriptures had foretold.
- That he was buried.
- That He was raised on the third day – according to the scriptures.
That’s it! That is the gospel.
In this particular passage, Paul spends all his time looking at that third point – the resurrection. That is not to say that the crucifixion is unimportant. Of course not. The crucifixion is crucial, but Paul here emphasises how crucial the resurrection is.
Firstly he listed the various appearances the risen Jesus had made to various people. Clearly Paul is rooting the resurrection in history. It was not some mystical spiritual event. Most of those who had seen the risen Jesus were still alive. If there was doubt that it had really happened, they could be questioned. The variety of appearances also argues against mass hallucinations or any other desperate explanation. The physical, bodily resurrection of the Lord was an historical fact. The tomb was empty. Hundreds of people saw Him alive. No one could produce the body and so disprove it.
Next, Paul talked about the effect of the resurrection in his own life. Jesus had appeared to the other apostles but something very strange happened in Paul’s case. He became an apostle via a very different route. He hadn’t walked with Jesus. He hadn’t been part of the team. He talks about being an apostle “abnormally born” and about being the least of the apostles, not even deserving to be called an apostle. Nevertheless, Jesus had appeared to him too and by the grace of God he became an apostle. He didn’t deserve it. He had persecuted the church of God but it was the grace of God.
The grace of God in his life transformed him. Faith always leads to work and Paul’s faith was evident in the fact that he had worked harder than them all but even that he put down to God’s grace.
Irrespective of the different way he had come to faith, all of the apostles preached that same message: Jesus died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day.
We didn’t read any further but in the next few verses he makes statements about the importance of the resurrection.
1. If there was no resurrection, there is no resurrection.
If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then there is no life after death for the rest of us. But Jesus was raised from the dead, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”. (v.20)
2. If there is no resurrection of the dead, our preaching is useless and your believing is useless.
If there is no life after death, what is the point? Why preach? Why believe? It is life after death that makes this whole thing worthwhile. It is the coming of God’s Kingdom that makes sense of it.
For Paul, the point is the resurrection – our resurrection, made possible by Christ’s resurrection. It is the life to come – the salvation that God offers – that makes sense of it all. Paul is focused on life after death.
He makes that very clear in v.19: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. If our hope is limited to this life, that is pathetic. As he says in v.30, why would we put ourselves in danger every hour if we had no hope beyond this life? Why would we do it? Why would we serve? Why would we sacrifice? Why would we forego pleasures? Why wouldn’t we simply indulge in sin? As he says, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”
It is the prospect of eternal life that makes sense of serving and suffering and self-denial. If there is no eternal life, preaching is a waste of time and faith is a waste of time.
3. if there is no resurrection, we are shown to be liars because we say that God did raise Jesus from the dead.
4. in v.17, he says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
If there is no life after death, then what is the point of being forgiven? Death, which is the consequence of sin, still wins. Jesus died for our sins but death still wins if there is no resurrection to eternal life.
5. v.18 – if there is no resurrection, Christians who have died are lost.
For Paul, although there are blessings in this life, they are not sufficient. Jesus didn’t die just for this life. We don’t dedicate ourselves to God just for this life. Sin isn’t forgiven just for this life. This life is just the introduction. The whole point is the next life.
Mary Magdalene’s life was undoubtedly changed by her meeting with Jesus on the first Easter Sunday but Jesus warned her not to hold onto Him. She was to go back to the disciples and announce that Jesus was ascending to His Father and their Father; to His God and their God. Don’t hold me here. I am going on to something much better. Mary, don’t just cling to an experience of me in this life; look to that time when we will all be in God’s presence.”
Certainly the sight of the empty tomb made a massive difference for Peter and John. They lived the rest of their lives confident of the presence of the living Jesus. But they preached about the next life. Look at the sermons in Acts and note the emphasis on resurrection.
Look at what Peter believed.
1 Peter 1:3-5, 9 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time… 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Note the key phrases there: new birth; into a living hope; through the resurrection of Jesus Christ; an inheritance that can never perish; an inheritance kept in heaven; the salvation of your souls.
And, of course, John later wrote John 3:16: God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might not die but have eternal life. God’s whole purpose in sending Jesus is that people might have eternal life.
If someone said to you, “In a few words, what is the point of Christianity?” what would you say?
Sorry, Mr Cameron, but the point is not compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility. The point is salvation. The point is eternal life. The point is the coming of God’s Kingdom. The point is resurrection.
This is pertinent for us when we are grieving the deaths of two of our church members. Easter reminds us that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day. Rejoice in the grace of God evident at Easter. Hold firmly to that message. Live that message. Proclaim that message. One day, we too will share that resurrection. That is our hope. That is what it is all about.
P.S. if you would like to see the original, David Cameron’s Easter message.
I didn’t realise at the time but Mr Cameron had also released a video message which does mention the resurrection.