We live in a society where people say all sorts of ridiculous things about faith. Usually such people have no real understanding of faith at all. One of the most common attitudes or beliefs I hear is this one: “All roads lead to Rome” so many people believe that all faiths are essentially the same.

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said when people think that religions are fundamentally the same and superficially different they couldn’t be more wrong, because whilst religions might be superficially the same, they are fundamentally different. At their core, no two religions are alike. If you really believe all faiths are essentially the same you believe a load of old hogwash!

Generally the only people who believe this codswallop are people who have no faith at all, they are making judgements about faith while looking at them from the outside.

There is a popular illustration about blind men and an elephant, it goes like this:
“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear”.

The claim is that, this is like the religions in the world. Different religions are all looking at the same God, but they are looking at a different aspect of him. The story teller is claiming a perspective isn’t he? Where is he? He is looking on at the scene and claiming for himself an understanding of the situation they don’t have. He can’t possibly see this image unless he is standing outside of the story and looking in. In a nutshell, they are also making a claim about what the elephant is like.

When we apply that illustration to world religions, the non-believers who don’t believe in God, are claiming they know more about God than any believer does. Such people either don’t realise or they don’t care how offensive they are to people who do have faith.

One of the ways in which Christianity is fundamentally different to all other faiths comes into focus today. Christianity is absolutely unique: it stands apart from all other faiths – no other faith declares the bodily resurrection of their founder.

Eternal Life and Resurrection:

Throughout history, people have lived with the frailty of life and the ever present prospect of death has been a constant companion throughout life, but, for most people, medical advances in recent years have pushed death into some indeterminate point in the future. People are aware that they are mortal, but it seems distant enough for them to ignore it as “something that will happen someday”.

One of the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic over the last two years, and, more recently, the war in Ukraine has been to thrust death into the public consciousness. People are forced to face human mortality like never before in this generation. For me one of the main things I have seen Covid-19 do in particular, is increase fear in people to a level I’ve not seen in my lifetime.

If you have no faith, death is really final. I am not in the least surprised that faithless people cling to life with everything the have; It seems to me that some medical treatments do not prolong life, they merely delay death. They are trying to push the inevitable into some undefined point in the future. For unbelievers, death is the final enemy, one which they can never beat. It is not surprising that people are frightened—I would be frightened of death if I didn’t have faith.

Christians believe that death is not the end. We believe that there is something beyond the gateway of death for us as Christians. That is right, but I believe it is also selling us short. The Bible is quite clear that we will inherit eternal life, but it isn’t just a question of entering into something beyond death, or even like Elijah or Enoch never experiencing death, it’s about coming through a resurrection event.

We read many accounts in the scriptures which tell of people being brought back to life. Remember though that these accounts are about the restoration of earthly life not resurrection into a new spiritual life.

Not everyone believes in the resurrection. Generally people who have no faith have no belief that there is anything at all after death (though interestingly they will want the comfort of being told their dead loved ones are “with the angels”). Even in the Christian faith there are some who don’t believe in resurrection, for example, liberal theology generally doesn’t accept that resurrection is possible (The church leader in the church I became a Christian saw the Biblical accounts of all the miracles including the virgin birth and the resurrection as figurative rather than literal – in other words they didn’t actually happen, they are just stories which teach us a “deeper truth” we can learn from).

Even if people do believe in something after death, when I talk to them, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that what they think it will be like owes more to Hollywood than it does to The Bible. “Almost an Angel”, “Highway to Heaven” & other shows where angels live amongst humans doing good deeds, or dead people get sent back to earth as angels are exactly that. They are shows—they are pure fiction. They are not remotely recognisable as anything approaching what the Bible teaches about what happens after death. Heaven is not some kind of sterilised hospital room painted white with people dressed in white, walking around with misty clouds around their feet and soft music playing. Resurrection does not mean people are sent back to do good deeds for people who don’t realise we are who we are! — angels are NOT dead people!

The new have people who believe in such things as reincarnation (note that views on reincarnation will differ from each other about that), others believe our ancestors watch over us in some way.

Yet more people think that the resurrection is nonsense and when we died that’s it. THE END.

But none of these beliefs come close to Christian beliefs.

So it is important we understand what we believe about resurrection and especially about the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection on the last day … So I am going to try and tease out some signposts this morning. Like all of these subjects, it is almost impossible to teach everything the Bible says about this in one preach, but hopefully this will help with the basics …

Resurrection is not just a NT concept

It is a mis-reading of the word of God if we believe that resurrection appears on the scene with Jesus. In fact is was a long-running point of conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees

“Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (Acts 23:6-8).

We find references to resurrection throughout the Old Testament. Here are just a few …

  1. Job 14:14: “If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.”
  2. Isaiah 25:8: says “God will swallow up death forever” Isaiah 26v19 says: “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise — let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy — your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead”.
  3. Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt”.

There are also many Old Testament scriptures which not only recognise resurrection, but also prophecy Jesus’ resurrection. So, in Acts 2:24, when Peter declares about Jesus that, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it”, he quotes Joel 2:28-32; Psalm 16:8-11; & Psalm 110:1 in his first message to elaborate.

Jesus himself prophecies that he will rise:

Even a cursory read through the gospels will reveal multiple occasions where Jesus himself prophesies his resurrection, so for example we have Matthew 16v21 which says: “From that time on Jesus began to explain … that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”. (also in: Matthew 17:22,23; 27:63; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; 24:6,7)

The Great Commission tells us that resurrection is actually part of the message we are called to preach: Luke 24:46 “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”.

Acts 17:31 is an interesting verse, it says that God “commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead”.

So … the resurrection is proof of judgment: the day of judgment is coming: and the proof of the certainty of that day is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We’re going to look today at one particular passage which talks a lot about resurrection … 1 Corinthians 15

This is one of the key texts on resurrection we find in Paul’s writings. It is 58 verses long and is quite a passage, for time’s sake I’m not going to read it all out but if you have a Bible, open it up and put your finger in it, because I feel it is right to look at some of the things we can learn in this passage:

(Quoted verses are all from 1 Corinthians 15 unless otherwise stated).

Resurrection is central to the Gospel

The first point I believe we need to take on board is this one – Resurrection should be a central part of the gospel we preach.

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”.

This was being declared by Christians possibly within months of Jesus’ death and resurrection, certainly within a few years it was, so that by the time of writing to the Corinthians around AD55, it had become an established Creed—which Paul is quoting here. I say this because I have come across a belief that Christians didn’t mention or claim resurrection for Jesus until hundreds of years later. This creed is 20 years later. that’s about the same time as the terror attacks on the two towers in New York.

But we need to note that …

  • Paul says this is of first importance (v3).
  • it happened according to the Scriptures (he says it twice, in v3 and v4).
  • Christ died for our sins.
  • He was buried.
  • He was raised on the third day.
  • it has many witnesses.

One key in choosing Judas’ replacement was that the person was with the disciples from the start as he would be “a witness with us to the resurrection” (Acts 1:22). In v5-8, Paul lists a number of different witnesses: he lists individuals AND groups of people. Why? Listing people who had seen the resurrected Christ establishes that the resurrection is a real event and that there are witnesses to it. Paul is saying this is a verifiable truth – he names people you can ask!

Then note how frequently the resurrection takes centre stage in the proclamation of the Gospel …

Peter’s message to the crowds on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus; In Acts 4:10 it was central to Peter & John’s defence before the Sanhedrin: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed”; and in Acts 5:30 before the Sanhedrin again, Peter says “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross”; in Acts 10:40 Peter uses the resurrection in his witness to Cornelius; in Acts 13:30 Paul does the same in Pisidian Antioch; In Acts 23:6, Paul makes the point that he is on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead

And in the letters, Paul speaks of the resurrection in Romans, Philippians and 2 Timothy, as do the writers of 1 Peter and Hebrews.

Resurrection validates our faith

The second point is this one. The fact of the resurrection proves and validates the faith we have. Paul says this in three ways in 1 Corinthians 15:

v14 “if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless”
v17 “if Christ has not been raised then our faith is futile”
v19 “if only for this life we have faith, then we above all men are to be pitied”

The implication of these three verses is that without the resurrection, the Gospel is powerless, it cannot save us, we have no hope and we might as well pack our bags and go home because we’re only wasting our time.

However the good news is in v20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”

This means that because of Christ’s resurrection we can know at least three things:

Our preaching is not useless – it is important, useful and profitable!

Our faith is not futile – it is effective, efficacious, potent and worthwhile!

Because our faith DOES extend beyond this lifetime, there’s no need to pity us – rather we are to be envied!

1 Thessalonians 4:13 says “we do not grieve like those who have no faith BECAUSE we believe that Jesus died and rose again”.

The resurrection proves that even death cannot have any power over us. It is not without reason that Paul can quote Hosea and say “where o death is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14 quoted in v55)

Our faith has power not because of what it is, but because of who it is in! We can trust our faith as a relevant vital saving life giving faith because of it’s object Jesus, and we can be confident that this is the case because He rose from the dead!

Our resurrection will be beyond anything we can imagine.

Resurrection involves change! Paul says that resurrection is just like a seed being planted which dies and grows into a plant: “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body”. (v35-37)

A plant bears no physical resemblance to the seed it comes from, and we therefore cannot see what a plant will look like just by looking at its seed. Paul says it is the same with resurrection, in other words, we cannot begin to imagine what our resurrected bodies will be like just by looking at our human bodies.

Paul is here making a point that our resurrection will be physical – some were teaching that whatever happens after death there will be no physical element to it, just a spiritual one. Paul is saying that’s not the case, we will be PHYSICALLY resurrected. In Romans 8:11 for example, he says “He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies”, and there are some passages which suggest we will live physically and be recognisable, so for example Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man called Lazarus where he describes them both dying and the rich man looking over from the place of torment at Lazarus in paradise and recognising him (John 16:23).

However, Paul also describes our resurrection as a bringing a change in us. When we are resurrected, whatever our bodies look like, they will NOT be the same as our earthly bodies. Exactly what that means, I have no idea, but what we can know is that resurrection involves change – we will be as different in our resurrection bodies as a plant is different to the seed from which it comes:

Although we cannot hope to know exactly what our resurrected bodies will be like, we do know some things about this new body we will have:

The first thing we know is this: God determines what it will be like! v38 says “But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body”.

The second thing we know is that they will be spiritual, imperishable, glorious and powerful v42-44 say: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”.

  • from perishable to imperishable (v50,53,54)
  • from dishonour to glory (Philippians 3:21, Colossians 3:4)
  • from weakness to power (Ephesians 1:20, Philippians 3:10)

– from the natural to the spiritual (mortal to immortal) (1 Corinthians 15:53)

The third thing we know is that somehow, in some way we will become like Christ (which is actually our aim on earth is it not?):

In v22, Paul draws a parallel by saying that presently we are flesh, we are natural, we are “in Adam” (“just as in Adam all die”). When we are resurrected we will become spiritual and heavenly “in Christ” (“so in Christ all are made alive”)

1 John 3:2 – says we shall be like him
Romans 8:29 – talks about becoming conformed to the likeness of His son
And 1 Peter 1:4 tells us we may participate in the divine nature.

Conclusions

belief in resurrection may well trigger people’s contempt and ridicule. In Acts 17:32 we read “when they heard about the resurrection of the dead some of them sneered”. If you have ever tried to speak to unbelievers about this subject, you may well have experienced something of this for yourself. But we don’t have to leave it there, the verse goes on to say “but others said “we want to hear more…””.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to faith in a world that is preoccupied by “reason” and science is the resurrection. There are all sorts of theories that people invent to explain why Christ could not have been resurrected. The one thing they all have in common is the closed-minded assumption that there is no way Jesus could possibly have been resurrected, so there has to be another explanation.

Don’t be swayed by the intellectual superiority of people – increasingly as our faith in God is seen by the world as irrational and archaic, we will be accused of stupidity and fundamentalism. But let’s not forget that Romans 1:16 tells us not to be ashamed of our faith because it is the power of salvation for those who believe and that the resurrection is a foundational element of our confession of faith …

And Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved”.

It is not our knowledge which saves us – it is our belief and our confession of faith. 1 Corinthians 8:1 tells us that knowledge puffs up. It is our confession of Christ as Lord and our belief in His resurrection which is of eternal importance.

Lessons to take on board

Death is not the end!

So many people live under the cloud that when they die that is it. My brother really believes that when he dies, it is the end. I seriously don’t understand how he can cope without the hope I have.

For us as Christians, we live in the hope of something beyond death. We go through the door of death, yes. And it can be very painful for we who are left behind, but the Bible is clear that we will also be resurrected – and that is more than just defeating death! It is the promise of more. It is the promise of greater, it is a promise of swapping hopelessness for hope, weakness for power, disgrace for glory – in fact, no matter how low and rubbish your life is right now, the other side of resurrection is something waiting for you that you can no more comprehend than an acorn can comprehend an oak tree.

Jesus can be trusted

I remember someone promising support for us whilst we were at Bible college – they talked about it to us, and said they’d go home, do some sums and come back to us – they never ever spoke about it again, They never mentioned support, they never gave any support. In fact, we would have preferred it if they’d never said anything in the first place. We felt so let down. We all know people, I’m sure who’ve said they’ll do something, and they haven’t. We start to get cynical “I’ll believe that when it happens” We all let each other down, and we’ve all felt let down by others I’m sure.

The problem with this, though is that sometimes we feel this about God. The resurrection shows us that it’s not true! A cursory look through the gospels reveals that Jesus predicted His coming crucifixion many times. Jesus knew why He had come to the earth, He predicted His own death and resurrection.

It may be quite easy in to predict your own death. People claim that Jesus was a good Jew, that He knew all the prophecies about the messiah, and that He engineered His public ministry, and His crucifixion in order to fulfil those prophecies. It might be possible to do those things (although that explanation doesn’t answer the question “why?”), but two prophecies that He could not have engineered are those surrounding his birth and his resurrection. It could be argued that he deliberately manipulated the pharisees and Pilate to crucify him to fulfil the prophecies, but if He had not been Messiah, He would not have been able to fulfil the prophecy about resurrection!

So, first and foremost, Christ’s resurrection proves that He is who he claims to be, and that our faith is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”.

Jesus’ prediction of His own resurrection proves also that He can be trusted! This may sound obvious, but if Jesus promises us something, we can trust Him to fulfil it! We know that Jesus prediction about His own resurrection were true, He is the way the truth and the life, and we can trust him.

We can have hope even in hopeless (dead) situations

We do not grieve like those who have no hope because we know (as the message puts it) “Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus”. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 MSG)

This may be a word which isn’t just about physical death but about struggles you are going through now.

Have you ever had a hope or a dream which feels shattered and dead in the ground? I believe that the resurrection gives us hope not only in the future over physical death, but we can trust God to bring life into our dead and buried hopes and dreams. Note though, that they may not look quite like we’d imagined them!

Go home today in hope. Hope that the God who raised Christ from the dead, the God who promises your resurrection with Him has the power, the ability and the will to bring your dead and shattered hopes and dreams into a place of resurrection.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you and in your circumstances. Trust in Him and in His ability to work out all things in our lives.

I speak life into your hearts and your dreams again in the name of Christ.