1 Cor. 15:12-19 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 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 to be pitied more than all men.
Forrest Gump was wrong. Life’s not so much like a box of chocolates. It’s more like an orange. You have to squeeze it for all its worth. That’s the idea that underwrites every item that we want to tick off our bucket lists. I need to visit Greece. I need to skydive. I need to climb Pike’s Peak. I need to walk my daughter down the aisle. I need to learn a new language. I need to get to the Masters again. You get the picture. Life’s not so much like a box of chocolates. It’s more like an orange. You have to squeeze it for all its worth.
If you think this way, you’re not alone. I have thoughts like that too. When I have them, I go kiss my wife or play in the yard with my daughter. And I’m thankful to live and to breathe, to live this life and to have another day. I felt that way earlier this week after catching the blog of one my friends. She’s a 31-year-old wife and the mother of an adorable young daughter with curls. She’s also a woman, who is dying from cystic fibrosis. Like I said, I started to read her blog entitled Remember to Breathe. And I’m telling you I started to lose it. She had some lines in there that got me. She wrote, “I was afraid to leave Laila motherless (and c’mon who would comb her hair, Jeremy would have just cut those beautiful curls.) Nobody would be here to fold Jeremy’s socks or flip his omelette.” If that doesn’t make you go hug your wife and play with your daughter, then I don’t know what does.
There were more than a few Corinthians who thought that way too. They were smart people. They were wise in the ways of the world. They knew that now was their time… that today was their moment to squeeze every drop out of life. Because tomorrow it might not be there. And they weren’t shy in sharing that viewpoint. The Corinthians said, “Your soul will go and be with God, but this life – physical life as you know it – will never exist again.” Did you catch that when I read you the Scripture earlier? We know they talked like that because Paul told us they talked like that. He quotes them as saying, “Some of you say… there is no resurrection from the dead.” (v. 13) They honestly believed that. They believed it was the only sensible way to make sense of the world. They said, “Come on. Let’s be serious, thoughtful people here. People don’t rise from the dead. Just have a look around. It doesn’t work that way.”
I’m not sure why they felt they needed to promote that idea. Maybe like today’s liberal Christians they felt it ideologically foolish and, therefore, felt they needed to set people straight. Maybe it’s because they thought of themselves as Mother Teresa. They thought they were helping the Christians out of their poor, unrealistic beliefs. Maybe it’s even because they were thinking, “It’s just so much more psychologically healthy to have a hardened realism about death than to have so much unrealistic hope. We need to tamp down these drastic, dreamy ideas about resurrection.” Who knows? Who knows why they thought they should get out and promote the idea that a dead body is a dead body and that’s the way it stays. The fact is that they were.
You know what Paul did about that? He could’ve come out and condemned their thinking, but he doesn’t do that here. He could’ve come out, clarified, and reasserted the truth, but he doesn’t do that. Not yet. Paul had a better idea. He had a stronger line of argumentation. He lets them have their moment. He assumes they’re right and he plays it out. He indulges it. He imagines the world as these people say it is, walks them down its path, and shows them its inevitable future. He connects dot to dot to dot. He says, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.” (v. 16) Pretty compelling line of logic, isn’t it? Paul is saying, “You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that Christ has been raised, but no one else can be. That doesn’t make any theological sense. Resurrection from the dead can happen or it can’t. Which one is it? According to you, it can’t and that means you’ve got a dead Christ on your hands.”
In which case, he goes on to state, you’ve got a worthless faith on your hands too. And, yes, he was that blunt about it. It’s almost like he’s saying, “You want to live in a world where resurrection doesn’t happen? Ok. Then live in it with everything that that means.” “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (v. 17) The last link in the theological chain was easy to understand. If you don’t think that people can rise, then you also can’t think Christ can rise. It’s totally inconsistent. What’s tougher is this link. If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is worthless and you’re still in your sins. That’s a bit tougher to connect. I can even understand if you step back and look at that logic and you say, “Uh, Paul? It seems like these are two totally different concepts. One minute you’re talking about bodies coming up from Davy Jones Locker, tombs, and places like that and in the next minute you’re going on about faith and sins being forgiven. Which one are we talking about here?”
You know what the answer is? Both. We actually think this way all the time. If I break my lawnmower, I’m not going to believe it’s fixed until that blade starts cutting grass again. If my kid tells me that she has turned it around in math class, I’m not going to believe it until I see a math paper with an A hanging on the fridge. Or if you live at my house and the warranty company for the 10th time says that the shower is fixed, but has already said that nine times previously we’re not going to believe it until the walls actually stay dry. Or if you like cute sayings, the proof is in the pudding. The same is true here. If you’re actually going to believe that your sins were carried, that your guilt is gone, that you’ve been forgiven, then you’re going to need to see the blade cut grass again. You’re going to need to see the A on the fridge. You’re going to need to see the wall isn’t wet. You’re going to need to see that what sin has always done to people, death, has been undone. You’re going to need to see the resurrection turn around. You’re going to need to see that proof. And if you don’t and Christ is still dead, then - well - you have every right to assume you’re unforgiven. In which case, God is still mad at you and you stay dead. It’s just that simple, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” (v. 18)
In which case, I’m telling you (actually Paul does!), we’re missing out. BIG TIME! “If only for this life we have hope in Christ… (if we die and find out everything’s a lie), then we are to be pitied more than all men.” (v. 19) You know why this is true? Because we hope more than anybody else. We hope that God will literally give us the world. Seriously, we do. A new heavens and a new earth. We hope we get to live there in perfect joy and peace. We hope we get to experience God with not just our souls, but with our own eyes. We hope the highest hopes in the universe as Christians. And we leave so much behind here as we do that. No, I’m not just talking about not sleeping in on Sundays. No, I’m not just talking about giving gifts to the church instead of giving gifts to yourself. I’m talking about the whole shebang. I’m talking about part, most, or all of a lifetime you’ve spent slaving away for a God. You make daily choices. You speak words. You work an agenda all based on the hope you have in the gospel. Think of what a waste that is if it’s true that God is just going to eternally dispense with us. Should’ve just lived up it. Should’ve tried to maximize pleasure and happiness while we had a shot at it. Too late now. Too bad. So sad.
My twin brother is preaching on this Scripture this week too. I talked to him about it and he said, “I studied it. It’s awfully depressing.” And I see why he made that comment. It’s tough to imagine a world like this. It tough to imagine a world where in the past Christ died and stayed dead; where in the present you’re living a life in which any Christian thought or action is an absolute and utter waste of your time; and where your future is a future where you’re shut out from the presence of God. It’s tough to imagine a world like that. You know what the truth is though? Sometimes it’s worth visiting the world as it isn’t so that you can better understand the world as it is.
Did you know that we even have a grammatical name for the type of phrases that Paul uses here? They’re called contrary to fact conditionals. Do you know what that means? That means exactly what it says it means. Everything that Paul says here is contrary to fact. None of it’s actually true. None of it’s actually right. It’s a literary device to knock us sideways. It’s a rhetorical flourish to get us to think straight. It’s God’s way of getting us to think about the world as it actually is. It’s God’s way of helping us see that since (not if) Christ has been raised from the dead, then we rise too. And that since (not if) we rise from the dead, our faith is infinitely valuable. We aren’t in our sins. It worked. And that since (not if) that’s true we are to be most envied of anyone in the universe. That’s not the world we hope exists. That’s the world as it actually is.
And that is newly clarified world Paul wants us to continue to think straight about. This is so important to Paul that he’s even willing to bust us over the head with a whole bunch of contrary to fact conditionals. He sees it as our precious privilege and our incredible luxury to think straight about this life – a life completely underwritten by Christ’s resurrection. A whole gospel that’s bundled all together with Christ’s new life. He rises. Our faith matters. Our sins are forgiven. We rise too and are to be most envied for the life we’ll live in eternity. Like I said before, that’s not a contrary to fact condition. That’s a condition that’s actually true. It’s how the world works. It’s solid, clear and Christian thinking.
You know what that means? It means it’s time to ditch crooked and wrong thinking that says we’re going to stop physically living. It’s time to dump our old Corinthian minds. It’s time to leave behind the old way of thinking that’s so much like how everybody else thinks down here. It’s time to be done with the fear of missing out and the constant anxiety that comes from not knowing how God feels about us. It’s time to kill the impulse to live it up now as if we can’t live it up later. It’s time to repent - or change our minds - about how the world actually works. It’s time to think biblically. It’s time to think in light of the gospel. It’s time to believe in reality as God teaches it – Christ rises. I rise. Our faith matters. We’re forgiven and the most to be envied on earth.
I refuse to believe that I need to hop a plane to a New York delicatessen as if God doesn’t know how to make a decent sandwich in the future. I won’t buy it anymore that if I don’t see the scale and the grandeur of the Grand Canyon before this perishable body has its last heartbeat that I’ve missed something I can’t ever experience again. I’m exhausted of the idea that I need to run and kiss my wife now because my time for loving her is somehow running short. It’s time to be done with that Corinthian mindset. It’s time to believe God’s mindset. Because Christ rose from the dead, I know I’m forgiven. It’s the A on the fridge. It’s the mower blade turning again. It’s the wall not getting wet anymore. Christ forgave me just as he promised. And since that’s true, (I can already picture it!) I know I’m going to play in the yard with my daughter in eternity while Jesus watches grinning. I know I’m going to wakeboard my face off with all my closest friends (everyone there!) on some gorgeous lake and not get sunburned. I’ve got life upon life upon life to still live. Right here in this body. This one right here that’s going to be renewed.
This life isn’t like an orange that you need to squeeze for all it’s worth. This life is just life’s prologue. It’s the warm-up for the main event - one that’s been signed, sealed, and delivered to you in Christ’s empty tomb. Amen.