Each year, Snopes.com publishes a list of the top 25 urban legends of the year. Facebook made four different entries on the list. (1) Posting a legal notice on your Facebook wall will protect your copyright and privacy status. (2) Mark Zuckerberg is giving away $4.5 million to Facebook users who share a “thank you” message. (6) Facebook will soon start charging users a monthly fee for using their social network. (23) By participating in a Facebook “secret sister” gift exchange, you’ll receive 26 gifts (or books) in exchange for one $10 contribution.
What if Snopes.com attempted to prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t happen? What if they were successful? Is the resurrection really that important to faith? In 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, the apostle Paul asks the question, “What if the resurrection isn’t true? What have we lost?”
The first part of verse 3 tells us we are not dealing with minor or secondary matters. These are matters of “first importance.” Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of the good news about salvation.
Even if they miss everything else, Paul wants his readers to understand that there are two key facts about Jesus. Jesus died for our sins and he came back to life.
The first fact is that Christ died (3). The proof of his death is that he was buried (4). The second fact is that Christ came back to life. He rose (4). The proof of his resurrection is that he appeared (5-8). Notice the connection: “Christ died (how do I know?) . . . He was buried.” “He was raised (how do I know?) . . . He appeared.”
But suppose for a moment, as the apostle Paul does, that the critics of the resurrection are right. According to verse 12, some false teachers in Corinth taught that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. The resurrection was just a hoax.
If that is true, then what happened to Jesus? Down through the years, four primary theories have been advanced as to what happened.
The first one is the “Swoon theory.” This theory states that Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and he swooned away; but he didn’t actually die. In the coolness of the tomb, he revived sufficiently to roll away a two-ton boulder covering the entrance of the tomb and walk out. Not knowing any better, the disciples insisted it was a resurrection from the dead.
Look at the facts. Christ was beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes. He was nailed to a cross and hung in the sun for 6 hours. A Roman soldier ran a spear through his heart. He was wrapped in yards of graveclothes weighted with pounds of spices. He was placed in an airless tomb for 36 hours. With no medical attention, he revived, undid the graveclothes, rolled away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walked miles on wounded feet.
Another prominent theory is that the disciples stole the body on Sunday morning. The religious authorities at the time paid the Roman soldiers to tell this lie. Once again, consider the facts. To steal the body, the disciples would have had to get past a guard of probably 16 heavily armed soldiers, who could have been executed if they had been caught asleep on duty.
The other possible explanation is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. It has been claimed that Jesus’ female disciples went to the ‘wrong’ tomb and mistook it for the actual sepulcher in which Jesus had been placed. Even if this were possible, Joseph of Arimathea, who owned the tomb, would have known where it was.
In each of these theories, the authorities could simply have gone to the proper tomb and produced the body of Jesus if it had still been available.
All of these theories break down at some point. But suppose for the sake of argument that one of them was true. Suppose that the resurrection did not happen. Would that be so bad? We would still have Jesus’ ethical example and moral teachings, his miracles and parables, his good deeds, and his model of sacrifice. If the resurrection is false, what have we really lost?
That is the question that Paul asks in verses 13-19. He bases his argument on the logical consequences of the belief the resurrection is false. He pushes the argument to its logical extreme.
Our Faith is Lost (14, 17). If the Christian message does not include a risen Christ, and we have put our confident trust in Him, then we are leaning on something that will ultimately collapse.
Our Forgiveness is Lost (17). Without a substitute who died in our place, there is no satisfaction for a holy God who demands that sin’s price be paid. If Christ is not risen, forgiveness for sin is an impossibility.
Our Future is Lost (19). If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we only have hope in this life. All the promises of heaven are false. Death should terrify us for there is no hope beyond the grave. If there is nothing beyond today, why bother enduring persecution, suffering, and trials? Why bother trying to live a moral life?
Our Family & Friends who Embraced the Christian Message and then Died are Lost (18). If all of this is a hoax, we still have time to find another way, another hope, another Savior. But our loved ones and friends who have died believing the Christian message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are hopelessly lost. They do not have a second chance.
Our Integrity is Lost (15). If the apostles, the prophets, and the New Testament writers lied about the heart of the gospel why should they be believed about anything else?
In a court of law, “Exhibit A” of the evidence for the resurrection would be the empty tomb. It was in the interest of both the Roman and Jewish authorities to produce Jesus’ dead body and thus squelch the rumors that he had risen from the tomb. Their failure to do so increases the likelihood that the resurrection actually did take place as described in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15.
The second evidence of the resurrection was the post-resurrection appearances by Christ (4-8). In a Jewish court of law, the presence of two or three witnesses was mandatory to prove the veracity of an event. By appearing to five hundred believers at one time, Jesus provided overwhelming proof of being alive. In addition, by appealing to the witnesses still alive, Paul was inviting his readers to check his facts if they had doubt about his words.
The third prominent piece of evidence for the resurrection was the changed lives of the early followers of Christ. Following His death, the disciples ran for their lives. But something happened after the resurrection. Peter boldly proclaimed Jesus alive, even on threat of death. Thomas the doubter affirmed the risen Jesus as “my Lord and my God.” James became a leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul went from persecuting the church to preaching the gospel.
If you honestly consider the evidence, you must conclude that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . that He was buried . . . and that He was raised the third day according to the Scriptures . . . and that He appeared.
Our faith is not futile, but well-placed. Our forgiveness is not lost, but complete. Our future is not hopeless, but hope-filled. Our family and friends who have died in Christ are safe in the arms of Jesus. Our integrity is not compromised, but maintained.
We can only conclude one thing, He is not dead. He is risen indeed!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. It is part of a collection of messages on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.