An empty tomb in a graveyard of false prophets

An empty tomb in a graveyard of false prophets and gurus. 

In Saudi Arabia, 270 miles from Mecca is the Tomb of Mohammed where the founder of Islam is buried. It’s viewed as a sacred landmark in the Muslim world. It’s customary for Muslims to visit this tomb when they take their pilgrimage to Mecca. 

When Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism died, his body was cremated and the ashes were divided among various clans. Wars were fought over relics which had belonged to the Buddha. There are temples which claim to have remains of Buddha such as strands of hair, teeth, and other bones. 

There’s a shrine to Confucious in China where the philosopher is buried. 

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism is buried in wester Illinois. 

But there is no sacred place where we can go to in order to visit the remains of Jesus. 

The founders of other religious movements lived and died. But Christianity lives and dies on the belief in a savior who lived and died and lives. 

If the tomb was empty, if Jesus rose from the dead, then the gospel is true. And that means everything. 

The Bible points to the resurrection as a real event in real human history, in real time and space. That it’s not some fairytale we tell ourselves. That it’s not some myth. 

A risen Jesus has far-ranging implications. If Jesus rose from the dead, that means he is who he said he is and that we should have faith in him and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins that he promised. 

But all of that hinges on the truth of the resurrection. It’s a razor’s edge.  It happened, or it didn’t. There’s no gray area. 

The late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said “If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters.” 

And really, that quote is a great summary of our passage this morning from 1 Corinthians 15. 

It is the resurrection that makes Christianity, Christianity. It is the resurrection that makes the gospel the gospel. 

The challenge of the resurrection 

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is making a historical argument for the resurrection. In verses 3-5, Paul says:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Jesus died, and was raised, he appeared to Cephas – that’s another name for the Apostle Peter – and then to the rest of the apostles. That these men were witnesses to the risen Jesus. 

In verse 6, Paul says: Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive

Paul is defending the truth of the resurrection. 

In verses 12-13, Paul says: 

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

So what’s going on there? 

It appears that some people in Paul’s audience wanted to consider themselves Christians without believing in a bodily resurrection. But for those who wanted to undermine the possibility of a resurrection, they were professing a faith which ultimately did them no good. 

If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters. 

We believe in a living savior, not simply in a moralizing teacher. 

Paul will also address this idea if we move a little bit further. Down to verse 16, when he says: For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

The resurrection in a postmodern world

In our modern day, the resurrection is hard to believe. But it was also a hard thing for people to believe in the first century. 

Yes, we know more about certain things than people in the first century knew. But they understood death. 

Probably better than the average person today does. They were more closely connected to it. People lived shorter lives. They died where they lived, not in a hospital. Funerals were not with the deceased having been embalmed, with their hair and makeup done to look lifelike. 

They were confronted with death for what it really was. 

And resurrection was not the hope of the average person living in the first century Greco-Roman world. 

Most people believed in a duality of body and soul. They saw the body as bad. Death was seen as the soul being freed from the body. 

Jewish people comprised about 10 percent of the Roman world at this time. They generally believed in a resurrection, but their view was that this would happen at the end of time, not in the middle of history. 

And so both then and now, the resurrection challenges worldviews. 

Our world is postmodern. Many people like to treat faith as if it’s relative. We like to act as though whatever someone believes about God can be true, we don’t like to tell people that they’re wrong, that it’s all equally valid. We do that because we think it sounds open minded. 

Even though really, it’s intellectually lazy.

But life and death are not relative. They’re absolute. 

The resurrection of Jesus happened or it didn’t. It’s a fact or history or it’s a lie of history. There is no middle ground. 

And so again, if people wanted to hold to the idea that no one can be raised from the dead, not even Jesus. And if you believe that, then Jesus does you no good.

Wanting to be a cultural Christian who doesn’t have faith does you no good. It’s the resurrection that matters. 

A person could ask, “Couldn’t you still take Christianity for its moral teachings?”


It would be like an electrical grid with wires coming from a substation, connected to lines, coming into your house, but there’s no power plant at the other end of the grid. 

Believing in a Jesus who didn’t raise from the dead does about as much good as flipping a light switch that has no power. 

Christmas and easter

Every year at Christmas time, I see some people who decide to take on this religious crusade where they complain about people and businesses, and commercials saying “happy holidays.” They say “we need to keep Christ in Christmas.” 

The bigger issue is that we need to keep the resurrection in Easter. 

And as the passage continues, Paul will talk about the consequences of an unrisen Messiah. 

The consequences of an unrisen Messiah

Verse 14: if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 

Strong wording. If there is no resurrection, then Christianity is predicated on a lie. If Christ is not risen, we have misrepresented and misunderstood God. 

Verse 15: We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

That’s no small matter. If Christ is not risen, we’ve placed our hope in the wrong savior, we’re living for the wrong salvation. 

It would be like going to a different country that has different laws. And you’re familiar with American laws, but not the laws of this other country. You can try to assert your rights or how you think things should be. 

But the government of that country doesn’t care what you think about their laws. Their laws are not based around your agreement with them. 

They’re bigger and stronger than you are. The hope of eternal life is not whatever we say it is. 

We can’t even control our own physical life, let alone our eternal life. We have limitations. We have fears. Because we know how frail and vulnerable we are. It’s why we go into our basement when there’s a tornado warning. It’s why we wear seatbelts when we’re in the car. Because we know we don’t have control. 

Yet when it comes to eternal life, many want to act like they can just decree whatever they want it to be and reality will just conform to opinions. 

The gospel points us to hope because it is faith in one who died and rose and who promises eternal life.  

Moving to verse 17: 

 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

If Christ is not raised, then we’ve put the hope of the atonement of our sins in one who hasn’t done it. Jesus cannot just be a moral teacher when he said he brought forgiveness. 

Sometimes a person thinks that they have something that’s really valuable. 

I love the History Channel show: Pawn Stars. And sometimes you’ll see a person on that show and they think they have something that is really valuable. 

And an expert comes in and examines it. And you learn that it’s really worthless. 

That’s what the gospel is reduced to if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead. The resurrection is everything. And there’s no neutrality when it comes to faith in that. 

It would be like throwing down your money to make a purchase and they examine the bills and tell you it’s counterfeit. You thought you had something of value, now you don’t. 

1 Corinthians 15 verse 18: Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

If Christ is not risen, Christians are worthy of pity because we wasted our time for nothing. 

That is the razor’s edge on which the gospel rests. It’s either the most important truth that can be known and the resurrection is the most important event in human history or it’s all meaningless. 

The resurrection and meaning

What does the resurrection mean in your life? 

Again, it’s easy to be a cultural Christian. You’re not an atheist, you live in America which does have a rich religious heritage, there are things about Christianity that you appreciate, and you’re a nice person, and so you check that box. 

But is the resurrection your rock? Is it real to you? 

Because the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter is not just some nice story that we tell ourselves. 

The resurrection points us to meaning in life. It’s to live for Christ and to the glory of God. 

The resurrection points us to hope. Because we have a savior who lives, and who has promised to make all things new, to make all things right, to one day wipe away every tear, to forgive us our sins. 

The resurrection points us to life. Both to what true life is like and what eternal life is like in the presence of God. 

The resurrection points us to truth. Not just to truth, but to the greatest truth that can be known. Not just to truth, but to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. 

That we live in a fallen world where there is sin and death but that we have a savior who has overcome death. 

If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters.