Our Victor – 1 Corinthians 15:17-20
By: Alistair Brown
For many years I never thought of the resurrection as important, as if Easter was about having your sins forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross, and the resurrection on the third day was little more than a really happy ending.
Eventually Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 helped me to see that Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t nice but necessary, and wasn’t a happy ending but a glorious beginning.
The whole chapter has that message, and here are just a few of Paul’s words:
1 Corinthians 15:17-20
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…
If Jesus died and stayed dead the apostle lists three devastating negatives.
Negative number 1 – We would not have forgiveness.
He writes: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Paul is saying, ‘Without the resurrection, there is no evidence Jesus beat sin. And since your escape from sin depends on him, then if he didn’t beat sin, you didn’t beat sin.’
Imagine a good army which stands for truth and righteousness. They have to fight the bad army that stands for all that’s evil and dark in the world. The good army wins several small battles. They beat five hundred here, then fifteen hundred there, and even a force of two thousand from the bad army. Those victories are all good news.
But the war is not yet over. Now comes the final showdown, the final battle. All the forces of evil gather together but not five hundred, not fifteen hundred, not two thousand. This time there are tens of thousands in that bad army. The evil lord has gathered all his wicked troops and all his powerful weapons, and he is bringing them against the good army in one overwhelming last effort to annihilate his enemy forever.
The winner of that great battle will take all. If the winner is the good army, then they will have broken the power of the evil lord who will never again rule. But if the bad army wins, then its dark commander will have proved himself the strongest; he will reign over all, and no-one will escape his terror as he stalks the land.
Paul says: “If Jesus died and stayed dead, then the last and greatest battle went the wrong way. Satan won. Sin won. And there is no hope now for any of us. We are still in our sins and will never be free.”
If that were true, it would be devastatingly negative.
Negative number 2 – There would be nothing good beyond death.
If Satan won and we are still in our sins then (as Paul says) “those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. ” Death has them forever.
If Jesus was defeated and sin has not been forgiven, then to die with your sin is to be lost forever. “…The wages of sin is death,” Paul wrote to the Romans (6:23), and those wages are earned by all people for all eternity if there is no release from sin.
I have a friend who climbs mountains; not little hills but the highest and toughest peaks all over the world. He has been on Everest several times, taken on the most dangerous routes in the Alps, climbed in the Rockies and Andes, and will always have the scars of an avalanche which swept him away and nearly killed him on mountains in Russia. Part of me thinks he must be slightly mad, and part of me admires and almost envies what he can do.
I asked him about the risk. “Well,” he replied, “I always have a safety line, and I never climb alone. I need something to save me from falling thousands of feet off a mountain or someone to pull me back to safety if I do fall and get injured.”
I asked the obvious next question: “But what if the safety line gives way or your rescuer falls too?”
“Then I die…” he said quietly.
Jesus is both the safety line and the rescuer. We have fallen, and if he is gone then we are gone finally and forever. It is devastatingly negative but true: without a Savior there is nothing good beyond death.
Negative number 3 – Our faith would be foolishness.
There is no merit in living a lie, and if Christ has not been raised and we are still in the grip of sin, then, as Paul says, “we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Why, if there is no resurrection, should we be pitied?
- Because it would mean we’re deluded. In this life, those with no faith and no hope chase comfort from things, from relationships, from experiences. Christians, meanwhile, accept the hardships, sacrifices, and discipline of the Christian life. But that cost for Christians would be foolish and futile if there is no truth to the message of eternal life with Christ.
- Because if there is no resurrection for Jesus, then there is no proof, no convincing evidence that he was the Son of God. If he was trapped by death and defeated by Satan why would we believe anything he taught and why would we follow him?
In Chicago it seems half the population are people of great hope. Those people are the supporters of the Chicago Cubs, the baseball team with the longest record for not winning the overall championship, the World Series. The Cubs won in 1908, but never since. No other team in major league baseball has done that badly!
But almost every Cubs supporter I meet says: “Next season – we’ll do it next season.” They have amazing optimism. That’s why I call them people of great hope.
But what if – somehow – they knew the Cubs would never win? Not in the next ten years, next hundred years, next millennium? The Cubs would never win… Then, if those supporters kept saying, “next season…!” they would be truly foolish.
If Jesus stayed dead – no resurrection – there could be no optimism. The reign of death would be forever. Nothing good ahead. Nothing better ever. Nothing gained from dedication to Christ or the discipline of the Christian life. Faith then could be nothing but foolishness.
If Jesus died and did not rise again, so many negatives.
“But” – Paul says with great joy – “Christ has indeed been raised.”
He really has.
He certainly has.
He absolutely has.
He wonderfully has.
Earlier in chapter 15 he’s laid out some of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Later in this chapter he spells out the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection.
It is all good news. The final word is not one which is devastatingly negative but one which is dynamically positive: it is the word victory!
At the end of this chapter Paul writes:
”The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:56-57)
Victory is the final verdict:
Given by God.
Given to us.
Given through Jesus Christ.
That great final battle between the forces of evil and the forces of good looked like it had gone the wrong way. The evil lord seemed to have killed his enemy. He had, except his foe rose from the dead and proved nothing and no-one was stronger than him.
That one is Jesus. He died and he rose. He is our Champion. He is our Victor. He is our Savior.
Satan did not win. Evil did not conquer. Sin could not hold him. And we are his. He stepped out of death into glorious new life, and because he did we will too.
The resurrection we celebrate at Easter – just a happy ending? No, much more. It is the beginning for all of us of the wonderful eternal life given to us through Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord!