Don't Leave Out the Resurrection - 1 Corinthians 15:12-34

Sermon Series: Confused?

This week I want to begin by thinking about microwave popcorn. I feel fairly certain this week that most of you have some experience cooking microwave popcorn. In our house it is a staple, so I consider myself very experienced in the area of cooking microwave popcorn. Really, it’s quite simple. You take the bag of popcorn out of the box, you remove the plastic wrapper, you place the bag of popcorn in the microwave with the proper side facing up, and then you press the button that says “popcorn.” Then about 2 to 2.5 minutes later you have a hot bag of popcorn to enjoy.

While the process of cooking microwave popcorn seems fairly simple (and it is), it is probably also true that most of you have been guilty of overcooking popcorn at one time or another. Burnt popcorn is no good! It smells and tastes terrible! I’ve made the mistake of trusting the time that is indicated on the bag of popcorn, setting the microwave to that time, and then walking away from the popcorn as it cooked, only to return to a burnt smell and a bag full of burnt popcorn. That’s not an enjoyable mistake to make. So now I try to be more diligent about staying close to the microwave as the popcorn is cooking and listening attentively to how it is popping. Do any of you do that?

So now, here’s the thing that gets me sometimes. To cook popcorn in the microwave usually doesn’t take any longer than 2 to 2.5 minutes. But it seems like the first minute and twenty seconds nothing is happening to the popcorn. The microwave is making a noise; the light on the inside of the microwave is on; the bag of popcorn is turning; and the time is counting down – but the popcorn isn’t doing anything. I don’t know why this surprises me because it happens every time. And yet I still stand in front of the microwave watching and listening and then growing in anticipation as nothing happens. I start wondering to myself: “Is this bag of popcorn alright? Is it going to pop? Is something wrong with the kernels inside or the bag itself? Shouldn’t it be popping by now? Did I hit the wrong button? Is the wrong side of the bag facing up?” It’s like I have a mini panic attack worrying about a bag of popcorn. It’s crazy, I know! But what is the one thing that sets my mind at ease in the midst of one of my mini popcorn panic attacks? It’s the sound of the first kernel popping - that one, lone, single pop. Why? Because I know that that sound is the first of hundreds of pops that are getting ready to explode, one right after the other, in rapid succession for the next 30 seconds or so. That one, lone, single “pop” answers all the questions that had been racing through my mind: this bag of popcorn is alright; it is going to pop; there isn’t anything wrong with the kernels or the bag; I didn’t hit the wrong button; and the bag of popcorn has the right side facing up. And after the one, lone, single “pop” I become certain that that flat bag of popcorn turning in the microwave is going to puff up in just a matter of a few seconds as the other kernels pop, because that first pop isn’t a solitary pop – it is just the first in a succession of pops that I know is getting ready to take place. It is a sign that says, “Much more is on the way.”

Unfortunately the church at Corinth didn’t have microwave popcorn. So we can assume with great certainty that neither they nor Paul had ever had a mini popcorn panic attack. But it’s a helpful thing for us to think about this week because Paul wanted the believers at Corinth to think about the resurrection of Jesus like we think about the first “pop” that comes from the popcorn bag. Jesus’ resurrection was just the first resurrection, which provided assurance that all who believed in Him were going to experience the same thing.

In verses 1-11 (which we examined last week) Paul set the stage for some clarifying words on the future resurrection of believers. He reminded them of the gospel – the good news – which they all had already believed. And a vital part of that gospel was Jesus’ resurrection. Paul didn’t say, “I’ve got some new news for you! You may not have heard this before, but Jesus rose from the dead.” No! Instead, Paul said “I would remind you . . . of the gospel . . . which you received” (vs. 1) and three verses later, “that He was raised on the third day . . .” (vs. 4). The truth of Jesus’ resurrection was both something they had already heard and something which they had already believed. And so in the verses that follow (some of which we are going to examine today) Paul sought to correct some of their misunderstandings concerning their future and their own resurrection.

Verse 12 starts off with a question, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The first thing we have to do here is to pause and take note of the problem which Paul had turned his attention to address in chapter 15. There were some who were a part of the church at Corinth who were of the opinion that there would be no future resurrection for believers in Christ. Admittedly there aren’t quite enough details within the text to nail down specifics in regards to why they held this belief. Two of the more popular ideas suggest that these individuals did not believe that they would experience a bodily resurrection after they died, or that they believed they had achieved a spiritual state that would prevent them from dying altogether (which would therefore eliminate any need for a future resurrection). But admittedly, these are just speculations, and we have to be honest in saying that we can’t know with any degree of certainty why they were denying a future resurrection of believers, only that there were some in the church at Corinth who were denying this. So Paul’s question is a great one! He said (paraphrasing of course), “One of the key parts to the message we have been proclaiming is that Jesus rose from the dead! You know this because you have both heard the message and believed it. So if you believed that Jesus rose from the dead, how can you say that those who have believed in Him by faith will not?” Let’s go back to the popcorn illustration. Sure, it is easy to doubt that the kernels in the bag are not going to pop while they are cooking (especially when a minute has gone by, the bag is still flat and lifeless, and nothing seems to be changing). But as soon as the first kernel pops, how can you continue to doubt that the others are going to pop also. Once that first kernel pops our expectations have to change. Then we have to start expecting that all of the kernels in that bag of popcorn are going to pop and that in just a few more seconds the bag in the microwave is no longer going to be flat and lifeless, but active – puffing up and exploding with popping noises. In the same way, Jesus' resurrection has to change our expectations.  How could they hear that Jesus had risen from the dead and believed that and still have no expectations for their own resurrection?

But before Paul addressed the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection and the certainty of the future resurrection of believers in Christ, Paul used verses 13-19 to examine what some of the logical consequences would be if Jesus had indeed not risen from the dead. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 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. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (vs. 13-19). Paul began verse 13 by saying, “Let’s let your belief play out. For the sake of argument let’s say that you are right and that resurrection from the dead isn’t possible. If that is indeed true, then what are the implications?” The first implication that Paul pointed out was that if there is no resurrection from the dead at all, then the very first thing we have to conclude is that Jesus has not really been raised. It is inconsistent to say that there is no such thing as resurrection (which is what some in the church at Corinth seemed to believe) and yet, at the same time, believe that Jesus rose again. If they were going to hold the belief that there was (and is) no resurrection of the dead, then they would also have to deny Jesus’ resurrection.

Then in verse 14 and following Paul continued to unpack the dangers that followed from a denial of Jesus’ resurrection. The first danger that results from a denial of Jesus’ resurrection is that the preaching of the gospel as well as faith in the gospel are both in vain. Why is that? The resurrection is the essential piece of evidence that proves Jesus is who He said He was and that He was (and is) able to accomplish all He said He had come to accomplish. If all Jesus had claimed to be was a great man or a great teacher then a resurrection wouldn’t be necessary. History is filled with great men and great teachers of the past – all of whom have died and remained dead. So resurrection isn’t a requirement to be considered a great man or teacher. But Jesus claimed to be more than a great man and a great teacher. And He also claimed to have come to do more than just provide a good example to follow and advice to live by. He claimed that He was God (see for example John 8:48-59) and that He had come to bring salvation to humanity (see for example Luke 19:10). Had Jesus died on the cross and remained dead then His claims of deity could easily be denied. And had Jesus died on the cross and remained dead then His mission to bring salvation to humanity would have been incomplete – sin may have been paid for, but there would be no life to offer humanity which Paul described as “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) because Jesus would have been overcome by death as well. So what Paul ultimately said is that preaching news of a man who did some good things and offered some good advice is useless. What’s more, putting our faith in a good man for salvation would also be useless. As sinners in need of a Savior we need news of the Christ – the promised Messiah of God – whom God said He would send to rescue us from sin, Satan, and death. No one else will do! And a Jesus who died and remained in the grave could not be the promised Christ and Savior.

In addition to both Paul’s preaching and their belief being in vain, those who were proclaiming the gospel were guilty of false teaching and misrepresenting God if Jesus had not really risen from the dead. Part of what the apostles and the other believers in Christ had been proclaiming as a part of the gospel was that God had raised Jesus from the dead (see verse 15). But if there was no resurrection (which some of the Corinthians had chosen to believe) then Jesus was not alive, and the apostles and other disciples would have been guilty of spreading the lie that God had raised Jesus. To say that God had raised Jesus, if in fact He had not, was a misrepresentation of God – a very serious offense.

In verse 16 Paul re-stated what he had written in verse 13 for added emphasis. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Paul wanted to be sure that the Corinthians understood the logical end of the position they had taken. To throw out the concept of a resurrection was to throw out the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. And if Jesus had not been raised then “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (verse 17). Without Jesus’ resurrection death had not been defeated. If death (which was the by-product of sin) had not been defeated, then humanity was still subject to it. If humanity was still subject to death that meant they had not been fully delivered from sin and its consequences. And if humanity had not been fully delivered from sin and its consequences then that meant humanity was still in their sins and that their faith in Jesus had no saving or redeeming value. Furthermore, those who were believers in Christ and who have already passed away (“those who have fallen asleep [i.e. died] in Christ”) have ‘perished.’ When Paul said that the dead in Christ had ‘perished’ he meant that they had no future of any kind. Like the rest of sinful humanity, separated from God because of their sin, there was no hope of an eternity with Him. Those individuals had remained in their sins while they were alive (just as the present Corinthians were) and they died in those sins still without anyone to rescue them.  Paul then concluded the playing out of their belief by noting the pitiful state that they were in if there was no future resurrection for them. No future resurrection meant that Jesus’ ministry and mission was only impactful for their present life (it had no impact on their future). And because their present life was so short and fleeting, to hope in one who could do nothing to impact them beyond their momentary and fleeting life was to hope in one who offered nothing of lasting impact – and that was a sad reality.

Having played out the logical consequences of the belief they held – that there was no resurrection – Paul turned his attention back to truth and correcting their misunderstanding in verses 20-28. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under His feet.’ But when it says ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that He is excepted who put all things in subjection under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.” Paul began with the truth of what they had already believed – “Christ has been raised from the dead.” This is part of what makes up the “good news” of salvation and a foundational piece of what they had already believed. Jesus had died for their sins and been buried, but He had also risen to new life. And Paul went on to say that when we think about Jesus’ resurrection we need to see it as a kind of ‘firstfruits.’ Remember that this was still very much a time with people would have been familiar with agricultural illustrations. The ‘firstfruits’ were the first part of the harvest. It was the first tomato on the tomato plant, or the first cucumber to grow on the vine. When a farmer saw the ‘firstfruits’ he began to anticipate the coming of more produce and a bigger harvest. Perhaps some of you are gardners and this illustration makes perfect sense to you.  But perhaps you've never successfully tended a garden before and the concept of 'firstfruits' is completely lost on you.  That's why I challenged you to think about the popcorn illustration. None of us hear the first pop and then expect it to be the only pop. We hear the first pop of popcorn and then we begin to anticipate the coming of many more pops. Paul said that as believers we need to look at Jesus’ resurrection this way – it was just the first of many more to come. It was the ‘firstfruit’ signaling to the farmer that more produce was on the way, or the first ‘pop’ signaling to us that more kernels are about to explode. Jesus’ resurrection was just the first in a succession. Paul said that Jesus’ resurrection was just the first of all those who have believed in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Death had worked the same way. Because Adam was the first to sin, death became a reality for Adam first (though Adam does not appear to be the first man to actually experience death). Now the reality of death is so well known and understood that all of us live with the expectation of experiencing physical death. We have never known anyone to escape death, and so we realized that as death first became a reality for Adam, so now it is a reality for us. But the same should be true of our expectation for resurrection if we are believers in Jesus. New life through resurrection first became a reality for Jesus, and so for those who have placed their faith in Him, that resurrection and new life should be an expectation for each of us as well. Additionally there is a set order. Paul said that death first became a reality for Adam. Likewise he calls Jesus the firstfruits in regards to resurrection. So Jesus’ resurrection had to come first and the resurrection of all who have died and believed in Himas their Lord and Savior will come when He returns again (see verse 23).

Paul taught in these verses that God has a plan and that He is working that plan out according to His timing. Part of that plan is the subjection of other powers and authorities to Jesus. Presently God is still allowing some of those powers and authorities to exercise influence on our world. But there is coming a time when Jesus will demonstrate His rule and dominion over all of these. Paul said in verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Presently, we like to think of death as already having been destroyed. But the reality is that death is still exercising his power and authority over all of us. Yesterday people died; today people died; and tomorrow people are going to die. In fact, over the course of thousands of years there has been only one who has proven more powerful than death. So perhaps Jesus’ escape from death was just an exception. Or perhaps Jesus’ escape from death was just a fluke. Scripture teaches that that was not the case, but what will be the undeniable evidence of death’s ultimate defeat? What will mark death’s demise? Won’t it be when all who are believers in Christ are raised? When resurrection isn’t a chance thing or fluke thing – but when it is shown that death no longer has power or authority over those who belong to Jesus. So at Jesus’ second return, all who were believers in Him will experience a resurrection. At that time there will be no question about death’s defeat – he will no longer have power and authority over those who belong to Jesus. And at that time the last enemy (death) will have been destroyed and all things will be placed under the power and authority of Jesus.  Paul added a word of clarification as well in verses 27-28. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that it was God the Father who was ultimately responsible for putting the other powers and authorities under Jesus’ rule and reign and that God the Father would continue that work until every power and authority (with the exception of Himself) was placed under Jesus. Then Jesus will take all that has been placed under His authority and put it under His Father’s rule, including Himself (i.e. Jesus will willingly place Himself under the ultimate rule and reign of His Father). And at that time there will only be one power and one ruling authority – God the Father. At that time, He will be “all in all” and He will be recognized by all as the only One who is worthy of worship, praise, glory, and adoration.

 In these verses which we have just examined Paul has noted the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection: without His resurrection both our preaching and our faith are in vain. He has also noted the excitement of Jesus’ resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection is both a sign to us that we will one day experience a resurrection like His and that God is placing every present power and authority underneath Jesus’ rule and reign. And while these truths are significant in and of themselves, they also have implications for our daily lives, which is why Paul wanted to remind the believers in Corinth of the gospel (15:1). And perhaps this is where we need to pay the most attention this week. Most of you who are reading this post would probably say that you believe Jesus’ resurrection to be both an important and exciting event in history. But if we are honest with ourselves it is probably also true that when we reflect on the gospel and when we think back on what Jesus did, our tendency is to think primarily on His death and burial on our behalf. We have a tendency to think on those things more because they were done in our place and it was both the shedding of His blood and His death that made atonement for our sin and satisfied God’s requirement that mankind’s sin be paid for in full. But when Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to remember the gospel, he didn’t want them to just remember certain aspects of the gospel – he challenged them to remember all of the gospel. That was because even Jesus’ resurrection has significant impact on the way we should live our daily lives.

In these verses which we have just examined Paul has noted the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection: without His resurrection both our preaching and our faith are in vain. He has also noted the excitement of Jesus’ resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection is both a sign to us that we will one day experience a resurrection like His and that God is placing every present power and authority underneath Jesus’ rule and reign. And while these truths are significant in and of themselves, they also have implications for our daily lives, which is why Paul wanted to remind the believers in Corinth of the gospel (15:1). And perhaps this is where we need to pay the most attention this week. Most of you who are reading this post would probably say that you believe Jesus’ resurrection to be both an important and exciting event in history. But if we are honest with ourselves it is probably also true that when we reflect on the gospel and when we think back on what Jesus did, our tendency is to think primarily on His death and burial on our behalf. We have a tendency to think on those things more because they were done in our place and it was both the shedding of His blood and His death that made atonement for our sin and satisfied God’s requirement that mankind’s sin be paid for in full. But when Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to remember the gospel, he didn’t want them to just remember certain aspects of the gospel – he challenged them to remember all of the gospel. That was because even Jesus’ resurrection has significant impact on the way we should live our daily lives.

Verse 29 is probably the most difficult and challenging verse in this week’s text. Paul wrote, “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” This verse is challenging and difficult because (1) it is the only place in the Bible that talks about individuals being baptized on behalf of the dead, (2) there is no knowledge of a practice like this taking place in any of the other 1st century churches, and (3) it doesn’t seem to mesh with the NT pattern of baptism. Additionally, Paul doesn’t tell us who was being baptized, for whom they were being baptized, or what they believed the baptism on behalf of another accomplished. So we have to resolve that most of our questions concerning verse 29 have to remain unanswered. What we do know is that Paul said this practice didn’t connect logically with the belief that there is no resurrection, and we have to remember that at the time he was writing to a specific group of believers in the church of Corinth who fully understood the context and would have understood his words of correction.

Presently, verses 30-34 have a greater impact on our lives than verse 29. “Why am I in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” In these verses Paul reflected on his daily reality as a believer in Jesus and one who proclaimed the good news of Jesus to others. In verses 30-31 Paul made it clear that believing the gospel and proclaiming the gospel put him in life-threatening danger on a daily basis. Be sure not to misunderstand verse 31 – Paul wasn’t spiritualizing things and referencing the idea of taking up one’s cross daily. Paul was swearing on his very pride in them as a church that he was facing life-threatening peril on a daily basis for his belief in and proclamation of the gospel. He said metaphorically in verse 32 that he fought with wild beasts in Ephesus, he would write just a few verses later (16:8-9) that he was facing great adversity in Ephesus, and (in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11) that the affliction there was so great he thought he was going to die. So Paul asked the question in verse 32, “What’s the point of all of this if there is no resurrection. From a merely human perspective, what is there to gain from believing and teaching something that is daily putting my life in danger, if there isn’t something for me after death?” That’s a great question! If his present life was all he had, why risk it believing and preaching that which would potentially result in his death? That made no sense at all! (As a quick note of clarity, Paul used the reference to fighting with beasts at Ephesus metaphorically. While history tells us that some believers in Christ were martyred publically by being placed in arenas with wild beasts, Paul’s Roman citizenship would have protected Him from being placed in that scenario. Paul was using that language to describe for the church at Corinth just how dangerous the adversaries he was facing were.) If the present life was all one had then it made much more sense to live each day getting one’s fill from each day – not risking one’s life believing and teaching something that wasn’t true. So Paul pointed out that those teaching that there was no resurrection were “bad company” and that in teaching that there was no resurrection, they were impacting the moral decisions that the believers in Christ were making on a daily basis. So Paul exhorted them to stopping listening to their talk of no resurrection and to stop committing sin as a result of their belief in no resurrection.

We don’t often think that reflecting on our future resurrection may impact our daily lives and the choices we make. But in these last several verses that seems to be exactly what Paul was suggesting. By remembering our future resurrection we become willing to live for purposes that go beyond our present life. By remembering our future resurrection we are more willing to believe and preach the good news of Jesus – even if it means we face present danger in our own lives. And by remembering our future resurrection we will be more likely to refrain from sin and to strive to live a life that is more in line with what we will be when Jesus returns, our salvation is completed, and we are raised like Him to spend our eternity with Him. So Paul encourages us to daily remember and reflect on the gospel – and not to leave out the resurrection.

Connection Point Questions for Discussion:

1. When Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to remember the gospel (15:1), he seems to suggest that Jesus' resurrection ought to be part of what they remember on a regular basis (15:3-7).  Why is Jesus' resurrection significant?  (See 15:14, 15:17, and 15:21-23 for help.)  When you stop to think on the gospel, do you think you reflect on all of the parts of the gospel fairly equally or do you think that you tend to focus on some parts more than others?  If you tend to focus on some parts more than others, which part (or parts) do you focus on and why do you think that is your tendency?

2. How much of a difference does your future resurrection as a believer in Christ impact your daily life?  (Be honest.)  Does your future resurrection ever play a factor in decisions you make on a daily basis?  How would your life look different and how would your decision making change if there was no future resurrection? 

3. Have we lost some of the boldness in proclaiming the gospel that Paul and the other apostles had?  What can we do to help regain a boldness that was willing to daily face adversaries and difficulties in order to make the gospel known?

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