He is risen! He is risen indeed!
When we talk about “the heart and soul” of something, what are we usually talking about? We’re talking about what that thing’s most important feature or value is, the thing that sums up or represents whatever it is the best or most. So, for example, if we say that a particular player is the heart and soul of a sports team, we’re saying that he’s the most important, right? He embodies what the team is about and so on.
Sometimes the heart and soul of something isn’t a person, it’s a concept. For example, I recently went and saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s a fantastic film that’s surprisingly deep in its message. In that movie, Captain America and his allies are basically fighting for the heart and soul of America, namely our freedom. That message is particularly poignant nowadays since it seems like our freedoms in this country are starting to erode.
That brings up an interesting question: what is the heart and soul of Christianity? What is the one foundational principle that our faith rises and falls on?
That’s something that St. Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul tackles what he sees as the heart and soul of Christianity, namely the Resurrection. So far as Paul is concerned, this vital belief was under attack in Corinth and he had to stop it.
Paul starts by reminding the Corinthian Christians of what he taught them while he was in Corinth. He passed on to them what he learned himself: that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then rose from the dead and appeared to a whole bunch of people, including Paul. He holds up this simple confession of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and says, “This! This is what Christianity is!”
But that was also what the Corinthians were losing sight of. Notice what Paul goes on to say in verse 12:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?”
Apparently some of the Corinthians Christians were teaching people that there was no such thing as a resurrection from the dead. Oh, sure, maybe Jesus rose from the dead. We have to believe that, right? But nobody else is going to. This might have been a leftover of Greek philosophy. Some of the Greek philosophers like Plato taught that the physical world was corrupt and the spiritual world was better. To anyone with a Greek mindset, the idea of people becoming physical beings after they’ve achieved the much better spiritual state would have been lunacy.
Wherever this belief was coming from, though, some of the Corinthians had latched onto it. They were willing to say that Jesus rose from the dead, but they were pretty much convinced that no one else would. For them, the resurrection was a one-time deal, something that only happened to Jesus and would never be repeated. In many ways, they were downplaying the resurrection.
And we do the same thing! When we talk about Christianity, we might focus on Jesus’ death on the cross and how that gives us forgiveness. And that’s important! Or when they think about Christianity, they might think of rules and “thou shalt nots” and stuff like that, right? But the resurrection, that doesn’t enter into our discussions.
Think about it this way: what would most Christians say is our hope for life after death? That we go to heaven, right? And that’s it! It’s sort of like that new movie that just came out, “Heaven Is For Real.” It’s based on a book by the same name, and I’m just going to put it bluntly, I haven’t read the book and I’m not going to see the movie, because both ignore the resurrection. They focus our hope on this nebulous, spiritual heaven thing and pretend like that’s it, like that’s the heart and soul of Christianity. Be a Christian so you can go to heaven.
But Paul shows us in the epistle why that attitude is so dangerous. Look at what he tells the Corinthians:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just His, Paul says, it’s ours too! They’re connected. So if we deny the resurrection, then we’re really saying that Jesus couldn’t possibly have risen either.
And that’s a disaster for Christianity, for Paul goes on to explain why the resurrection is the heart and soul of Christianity:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
To put it another way, cut the resurrection out of Christianity, and everything falls apart. If Jesus didn’t rise, then Paul and every Christian preacher after him is wasting our time. We’re lying about God, because we say that He did raise Christ from the dead. And everyone here is wasting their time too! There would be no forgiveness of sins. There would be no hope for life after death. Without the resurrection, we’re pitiful. We’re losers. We’re nothing.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
We don’t have to worry about any of those negative things that Paul said, because He is risen! And Jesus’ resurrection from the dead makes all the difference for us.
For starters, the empty tomb of Christ shows that our sins have been forgiven. Jesus’ resurrection is what makes Good Friday good! If Jesus had just died on the cross and that’s it, then we’d have no way of knowing if His sacrifice for us worked. But because Jesus rose from the dead, that shows that sin’s power has been broken! The empty tomb assures us that we are forgiven because He is risen!
Not only that, but Christ’s empty tomb is shows us that power of death has been broken as well. Death couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave. Death has been disarmed because He is risen!
And because the power of death has been broken, that means that one day, our tombs will be just as empty as Jesus’s. That’s why I love 1 Corinthians 15. Paul shows us vividly the hope that we have as Christians. Notice the incredible promise God gives us through Paul’s words toward the end of the chapter: one day, Christ will return., in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. And when that trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised to immortality! Death’s power will be completely and utterly destroyed to the point where it will have to retreat from this world. That’s why Paul is able to taunt death a little in verse 55. Whenever I read that, I hear someone teasing the losing team. “Hey, Death! Where’s your victory? You loser, where’s your sting?” Paul can say that—and we can repeat it—because He is risen!
That’s why the resurrection is so important. That’s why Paul spent so many verses talking about it. It is the heart and soul of Christianity. It is the foundation of our faith. It’s what lets us know that our sins are forgiven, that death has been defeated, and that we will one day rise.
Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to stand firm on the empty tomb of Christ, to let the fact of the resurrection inspire them to keep working for God. Because He is risen!
And we will be one day too.