1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (EHV)
19 If our hope in Christ applies only to this life, we are the most pitiful people of all.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came by a man, the resurrection of the dead also is going to come by a man. 22 For as in Adam they all die, so also in Christ they all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ as the firstfruits and then Christ’s people, at his coming. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has done away with every other ruler and every other authority and power. 25 For he must reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Ps 110:1 26 Death is the last enemy to be done away with.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may rejoice death has in fact been defeated by the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
St Paul says, if you have hope in Christ in this life only, then you’re the most pitied of all people.
I mean, think of it – there’s so many other things you could be doing this morning (just like any other Sunday morning)!
You could be sleeping in, going for a walk, going fishing, or enjoying the company of friends and family. You could be home munching on some yummy hot cross buns for breakfast, followed by a chocolate egg chaser, or you could be spending some time away for a long weekend of rest and refreshment, but no, you’re here in church being reminded of a 2,000 year old event and singing along to some modern and ancient hymns!
Why on earth would you be here instead of anywhere else? Why on earth would you believe in Jesus Christ when you could go along with the rest of the world and their paganism, humanism, or wokeism?
You must be here for a good reason, otherwise you’d be considered to be some of the most foolish people in the world who are wasting your time and efforts on a mythical fairytale!
In other words, if this guy named Jesus of Nazareth didn’t actually die on a Roman cross over two thousand years ago and then come back to life three days later, then you may as well pack it all up and go home!
However, St Paul writes to us today about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and says: ‘In fact…’. Or, in the original Greek, he says: ‘As it is…’.
In other words, St Paul is convinced this isn’t a fairytale. What we’ve heard this today isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t foolish daydreaming. It’s fact.
Everything the Church believes and teaches means absolutely nothing unless it’s based on real historical events. Justification by grace through faith, the declaration that God has paid the full price to repair the relationship between us and him through the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, and the hope of living with God in heaven for an eternity, depends completely on the fact Jesus’ tomb was empty that Sunday morning.
Take away the historical fact of Easter, then you’re not forgiven and you’re still dead in your sins because God didn’t accept the sacrifice of his Son for your sins.
Take away the historical fact of Easter, then when you’re dead, you’re dead, and there’s nothing more, because there’s no promise of the resurrection for you or your loved ones.
Take away the historical fact of Easter, then this is as good as it gets, and we’re all stuck in a world of terror and evil and death and sin without any hope.
So therefore, our Christian faith depends entirely on the fact of an empty tomb.
When we consider the facts, historians are certain of one thing. Whether they believe Jesus rose or not, it’s considered an historical fact Jesus of Nazareth did actually die by crucifixion on a Roman cross.
But what they can’t agree on is what really happened in the tomb and why it was found empty.
Of course, there are many theories, such as the ‘stolen-body’ theory, the ‘wrong-tomb’ theory, the ‘Jesus only appeared to die’ theory, the ‘women were hallucinating’ theory, or the ‘local gardener was so upset at his lettuce being trampled by curious onlookers that he moved the body’ theory, but they can’t agree which one actually happened because each of these theories raise more questions than answers!
The truth is none of these theories account for the fact the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb went along with any of these alleged plots.
You see, if the body wasn’t discovered, then those guards were probably killed for failing in their duty. All they had to do was come up with the body of Jesus! But, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t do it. In fact, none of these theories ever produced the body of Jesus. How could they find the body of Jesus since he rose from the dead!
Further historical proof is in the witness of the disciples themselves, who were so convinced of the fact of the resurrection they staked their lives on proclaiming it.
You see, only one, John, is known to have lived to old age, and he managed that only because he was exiled. The rest died bloody, premature deaths because of their faith in Jesus and his resurrection.
For example, Andrew was crucified; Peter, Philip, and Bartholomew were crucified upside down; James was beheaded; Thomas was speared to death; while the others were likely stabbed to death with swords, or beheaded.
Why would you be willing to suffer torture, followed by a cruel death, if you were making up the resurrection of Jesus? Why would anyone be prepared to die for a lie? Surely, if anyone knew where Jesus’ body was, surely one of them would have spoken up!
Therefore, we’re left with the only other possible conclusion as fact, no matter how improbable historians think this is: Jesus Christ has indeed risen from the dead. This fact would confirm what was promised in the Old Testament Scriptures and later confirmed by the clear historical testimony of the New Testament writers.
The fact Jesus Christ has risen from the dead means you, and I, and all believers in Christ, will also rise from the dead. This resurrection fact means death is not forever, but rather, death is dead. Death is no longer the worst thing which can happen to us because, if death couldn’t hold on to Christ, it’s also not going to hold on to anyone else who is in Christ!
For all of us who believe and are baptised into Christ Jesus, it means the death we’re all going to face isn’t the important one. The death we’ll all endure one day isn’t the one that matters. The death that actually matters is already in our past because we’ve already died and risen again in our baptism.
We can say this because baptism joins us to Jesus Christ who has already died and risen again. Since death and resurrection has already happened to Jesus, then it’s already happened to us as historical fact.
This means on the Last Day when Jesus comes again, you, and I, and all believers in Christ, will be gathered by him to join all those who have gone ahead of us in faith to gather with them around the throne of God in joy and wonder. There we’ll gather around Jesus, the true Lamb of God, who is victorious over sin, death, and the power of the devil. There we will reign with Christ forever.
Therefore, death is no longer a menace to be feared by us who are in Christ. It doesn’t matter whether we die of old age, or disease, or COVID, or car accident, or cancer, or war, or on the operating table, or by terrorist attack, because death has lost its sting. It has no firm grip on those who believe in Jesus Christ and his victory over death.
Of course, for now, we endure this harsh and troubled world, but we endure it without fear and with a firm hope in the historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We all look forward with hope and confidence in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.
Because we believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we, too, will be brought to new life. And there’s nothing that the devil or his minions of death-wielding demons can do about it, for the battle has, in fact, already been won!
As unbelievable and unverifiable by many scientists and historians, we believe what happened in Jesus’ tomb on that Easter Sunday morning so long ago is real and factual, otherwise we’re all wasting our time, but we’re here celebrating the fact it’s true!
The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is an event which took place in the real world, witnessed by hundreds of real historical people.
Jesus Christ himself rose to new life after being put to death on that Roman cross, and so we believe God won’t abandon us to the grave after our own flesh loses its life.
Therefore, we can be joyful and secure in the reality of the empty tomb. We can rejoice with our whole being in the certainty of our own resurrection. We don’t believe a lie or in fairytales or magicians tricks or the make-believe of contemporary CGI technologies.
We confess to believe this central teaching of our Christian faith is based on an historic reality. Therefore, we can boldly proclaim with all other Christians of past, present, and future: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!” Amen!
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Amen.