Rejoicing in the fact of the resurrection.
If the resurrection is true, then everything changes.
I’ve been reflecting this on Jesus’s Resurrection, as one is apt to do during Holy Week. I have taken as my text for Easter Sunday none other than St. Paul’s exquisite “Resurrection Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 15. As I’ve been examining this chapter, though, I am struck by the apostle’s boldness in declaring Jesus’s resurrection as The Key to this whole thing. The lynchpin of the entire Christian message revolves around one’s belief in the fact that the resurrection is true. To deny that it is ruins the whole program. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised,” Paul says; “and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:13–14). Faith is “vain” if not for the resurrection? It’s powerless, purposeless, empty? Such is what Paul avers.
Perhaps you’re not caught off guard by that statement. But it has struck me anew how often the cross is upheld, rightly so, as the emblem of belief — when if you were to examine the apostolic thrust in the Acts of the Apostles, it is the resurrection that held their firmest belief and fiercest proclamation. Now, to be sure, I don’t mean to create arbitrary categories of importance or some sense of religious “competition” among the tenets of the gospel, as though one is “more important” than the rest. That’s a needless digression and discussion — like arguing which member of the Trinity is the most important. You need every element of the gospel for it to be a gospel. But what I do mean to say is that it is because the resurrection is true that the gospel is a gospel at all.
This, certainly, isn’t a new revelation, but it is an enriching one as Easter dawn approaches. “Dear brethren,” wrote Alexander Maclaren, “on the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is suspended everything which makes the Gospel a gospel.”G. Campbell Morgan, likewise, declares: “The resurrection is the great central fact to Christian faith and experience. It is that fact of the resurrection that becomes the rock, the anchorage of faith in the meaning of the death; and it is that fact of the resurrection which produces an effect upon experience, so that we are saved, so that we stand.” James Moffatt similarly affirms, “No resurrection, no gospel!” All of which it is meant that it is through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ than any of this makes sense. It is the lens by which the gospel becomes so infinitely good, with its announcement of righteousness and redemption and reconciliation. Morgan continues elsewhere:
The resurrection is the groundwork of faith because all else in connection with the affirmations of Christianity must be interpreted by it. If Christ hath bene raised, then evangelical Christianity is true. If Christ hath not been raised, then all other matters of our faith are misinterpretations . . . If Christ hath not been raised then the Cross of Calvary was nothing more than the tragic ending of a mistaken, if noble life. All the values of evangelical Christianity are dependent on interpretations of the person and mission of Jesus resulting from acceptations of the central fact of His resurrection.
Such is what makes Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 so incredibly crucial to chew on. He sits in the reality of a an un-risen Jesus and says, “Without that, we have nothing” (1 Cor. 15:12–19). And then he interrupts himself with the strong and glorious news that “now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20). He’s not dead. He’s alive. And because of that, everything’s different. Everything’s changed. All the things he said are true, are true. And now the Church exists, which is, itself, the most brilliant testimony for the resurrection ever conceived. I’ll let Rev. Maclaren explain:
It would be an anomaly, far greater than the Resurrection, to believe that these people, Mary, Peter, John, Paul, and all the rest of them, were conspirators in a lie, and that the fairest system of morality and the noblest the world has ever seen, grew up out of a fraud, like flowers upon a dunghill.
I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, amongst other reasons, because I do not understand how it was possible for the Church to exist for a week after the Crucifixion, unless Jesus Christ rose again. Why was it that they did not all scatter? Why was it that the spirit of despondency and the tendency to separation which were beginning to creep over them when they were saying: ‘Ah! it is all up! We trusted that this had been He,’ did not go on to their natural issue? How came it that these people with their Master taken away from the midst of them, and the bond of union between them removed, and all their hopes crushed did not say: ‘We have made a mistake, let us go back to Gennesareth and take to our fishing again, and try and forget our bright illusions’? That is what John the Baptist’s followers did when he died. Why did not Christ’s do the same? Because Christ rose again and re-knit them together. When the Shepherd was smitten, the flock would have been scattered, and never drawn together any more, unless there had been just such a thing as the Resurrection asserts there was, to reunite the dispersed and to encourage the depressed. And so I say, Christianity with a dead Christ, and a Church gathered round a grave from which the stone has not been rolled away, is more unbelievable than the miracle, for it is an absurdity.
Morgan makes almost the same exact point. Listen:
If I am asked today what is the proof of the resurrection of Jesus, the actual resurrection of the One Who died and was buried, the proof is the Christian Church . . . Not His teaching, not His miracles, not His dying, account for the Christian Church, but all these interpreted by His resurrection. There would have been no Church unless He had risen. The disciples were scattered like chaff before the wind. They were gathered by the resurrection; and that marvelous host running all down the centuries, that host of people saved because they stand in that Gospel which they received, is the great proof of the resurrection.
When you go to church this weekend (and I pray that you do), go knowing that that in and of itself is a testimony to the veracity of the resurrection. If the resurrection isn’t true, why waste your time? Why gather with people in that way? What’s the point? Well, Paul will tell you: there is no point. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But, as it is, it is true. “He is not here, but he has risen!” (Luke 24:6). The tomb couldn’t contain the glory of God Incarnate (Acts 2:24). Therefore, he walked out of that grave, leaving sin, death, and hell behind, too. All of darkness shudders as the resurrected Christ walks and talks with those he loves. And their testimony reaches down through the centuries to us, thousands of years removed, to remind us that we can stand on firm truth that Christ crucified is Christ risen. If the resurrection isn’t true, then nothing matters. But if the resurrection is true, then everything changes.
If He did not rise He did not ascend. If He did not ascend He is not reigning. If indeed He died as other men die, and did not emerge from death victorious and supernaturally, then until this very moment His ashes are mixed somewhere in Syrian soil still, and the whole Church of God is false and a humbug . . . There is the great fact, and the whole programme of God for humanity circles around, and centres in, as to its ultimate accomplishment, the fact of the resurrection.
That fact — that Jesus “rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4) — explains everything else. It’s all true. He is risen indeed. Amen.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 13:2.243.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Corinthian Letters of Paul: An Exposition of I and II Corinthians (Tarrytown, NY: Revell, 1946), 188.
James Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Bros., 1890), 236.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit: The Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan, Vols. 1–10 (Fincastle, VA: Scripture Truth Book Co., 1954), 3:89–90
Maclaren, Expositions, 13:2.239, 241.
Morgan, Corinthian Letters, 185.
Morgan, Corinthian Letters, 192.