1 Corinthians 15:1-20a CSB
15 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “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, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. 15 Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ—whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Those, then, who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
20a But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead!
Today is Easter, the day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the day that Jesus came back from the dead.
Jesus told a story about two guys who died that I think you’ll be able to relate to.
One of the guys died but refused to admit he was dead.
The other guy chose to die so that he could live.
The story goes something like this:
There was a rich man who had two sons. I’ll tell you about the younger son first. He was a real arrogant piece of work: 17-years old and thought he knew all about the world. He was about to turn 18 and he wanted to go out on his own and make a name for himself.
So, he went to his father and said, “Dad, how bout’ you give me my share of your inheritance now, so I can go out on my own and make a name for myself?”
The Father knew this was a bad idea, but he also knew he would never have his son’s love if he kept him at home. So, on his 18th birthday, the Father wrote a check and away went his son, out into the world.
The first thing he did was grab some buddies and head off to Vegas or TJ or wherever it was in their country that people went to spend money, drink booze, and meet girls. He went out and had lots of fun with his new friends and he meant to do this just for a while because he really wanted to go show his Dad that he could be a successful, rich, and wise man just like Him. Deep down, he just wanted to get that big thumbs up from Poppy.
But, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. And then months turned into an empty wallet, a bad hangover, and a bunch of past-due bills at the inn. And the young man found himself in hell, because he’d lost everything and he had no hope. He’d hit rock bottom. There was no more booze, no more girls, all his friends had left.
And he didn’t even know what kind of hell was coming.
He picked himself up by his bootstraps, though. Because he’d grown up working on his father’s land, he knew how to work. So, he figured, he could start with nothing and be just fine. He figured that he’d start in the mailroom—so to speak—and work his way up the ladder.
So, he got cleaned up and sneaked out of the inn to dodge his bills and went out to find work. But there wasn’t a lot of work. All he could get was a job feeding pigs at the local pig farm.
And the pig farmer…man, he was a real piece of work. He didn’t like this punk kid any more than anyone else. The kid thought he could run the pig farm and the farmer didn’t like that at all. So, he put him to work doing the dirtiest job there was and paid him next to nothing. I mean he couldn’t even eat well on his wages.
He went to work, though. But after a while he started to get weak and sickly.
He was really starting to figure out what hell was.
He thought he could go be successful all on his own and show his Dad how great he was and how successful he could be. He thought he’d go work real hard, so he could get the big thumbs up from Poppy, but the reality was, that wasn’t ever going to happen at the pig farm.
His dreams had been shattered. He hadn’t just lost his wealth; he’d lost his dignity. And that’s the kind of death we can experience in life, the dying of the self. He knew what he wanted, but he also found out that he could never get what he wanted. He just wasn’t strong enough. His Father would never be proud of him where he was at.
So, he concluded, maybe I’ll never get that recognition from my Dad, but maybe I can still get me out of this mess. So, he hit the road and put his thumb out for home, back to his Father’s house.
And he was rehearsing this speech in his head—you know how you do that. He was like, ‘Dad, I know I can’t be your son anymore because I wasted all the money you gave me, but please let me work for you as a servant in your house.’ And stuff like that.
So he arrived home, and just as he headed up the drive, his Father, looking out across the farm, spotted his son coming up the road. And the Father ran to him and said,
Luke 15:24 (CSB) — This son of mine was dead and is alive again.
This is the guy I told you about in the beginning, the one who chose to die so that he could live. He had to die to his own wants and desires. He found out that the desires of the flesh don’t go anywhere good. And only then could he really find satisfaction in life. Only then could he truly live.
But, the Father did the craziest thing. He didn’t let his son come home as a servant in the house. He didn’t disown him either. Actually, he got his own signet ring and put it on his finger and he placed a prince’s robe around his shoulders. The young man was made a prince in his Father’s house.
It’s like the craziest plot twist. He was given abundant riches in his Father’s house, and an amazing life, not because he earned it, not because he deserved it, but because he died to himself. He was humble enough to admit his failure, submit to his father, and come home. And so, his Father blessed him with abundance in life.
This story is life-giving to so many of us, because you can really relate to this young man. Have you ever felt…
…like he did?
I imagine you have. You’ve been at the end of your rope at some time or another. You’ve worked at the pig farm, so to speak. You had a grand vision for your life and then you found yourself at a crossroads where you could either continue pressing on in meaningless toil in hopes that something will change even though you know it will never get any better. Or you can throw caution to the wind, take the right turn at the cross roads and go the path less traveled in search of new life—that is, you can run home to your Father, God.
Life is full of crossroads like that.
It’s funny, though, because you know who hangs out at the crossroads, don’t you?
In American folk-lore, the devil hangs out at the crossroads, and that’s because the devil doesn’t want you to leave the pig farm. He doesn’t want to see you find life in your Father’s house. He wants you to stay in the hell you created. He wants you to stay in the mire of the pig farm because—get this—the devil IS the pig farmer.
But, what does the devil do at the crossroads?
Well, he makes promises he never intends to keep. Just two more years dealing with this job and then I’ll get out of this sin. Just get another kid through college and I’ll make some new commitments. But, you won’t get out. You never will, because you don’t have the power. Left to your own devices you’ll side with the devil every time.
You don’t have the power to get out and the devil doesn’t have the power either, so don’t listen to the devil. He doesn’t even want to help if he could.
You have to take the turn. You have to die to yourself, let go of your wants and your desires, and turn to the Father, to God, who has the power to create new life in you. I guarantee you this, you die to yourself and he will bring you back from that death and give you new life.
In the passage we read today, the Apostle Paul said,
1 Corinthians 15:13 (CSB) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised;
…and that’s just super depressing. Don’t miss what Paul is saying. Resurrection is a hard thing to believe in, for sure.
But, Paul says that if people are not raised from the dead, then Jesus Christ has not come back from the dead either. And if Christ has not come back from the dead and received new life, then the reverse is certainly true that God doesn’t have the power to give new life to you either. And if God doesn’t give you life, then you are stuck at the pig farm forever. God is powerless and you are powerless.
It doesn’t matter if you even believe in God, if God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead, then you are stuck in the pig farm, in suffering, in this life and forever.
But, our theme verse for today gives us hope. It says,
1 Corinthians 15:20 (CSB) As it is, Christ has been raised from the dead!
And if Christ is back from the dead, then you can come back from the dead. God has the power to get you out of the pig farm.
But, the devil is really irritating. Who hates the devil? The devil is a…
I’m sick of the devil. It’s like, every time something seems to go right in life, doubt sets in and you’re not sure which way to go. You get confused. You’re faced with ethical dilemmas in life. Like, maybe your situation can get better, but only if you make a decision that hurts someone else.
And you want to get out of that kind of hell so you make those decisions, but it’s just the lies of the devil, so it makes everything worse.
You think about God, though. You might be thinking to yourself right now, “I’m going to do it! I’m going all in. I’ll die to myself if it means I can have real life, whatever exactly that is. I’m going to give my entire life to Jesus no matter what that means.”
You want that life, because you know you aren’t ‘really living’ right now. But there’s still a voice that tells you that you can do it all better on your own. That voice that says, “Believing in Jesus is vain, it’s meaningless. What the preacher says is just selling another religion.” And that’s what people said to the Apostle Paul too.
1 Corinthians 15:14-15 (CSB) If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ—whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised.
That voice that holds you back speaks lies meant to keep you from life, meant to keep you from the abundance of life that the Father has for you. It’s just the voice of the devil, the father of lies.
You are never going to know truth as long as you believe those lies. And the truth is Jesus Christ who said,
John 14:6 (CSB) — I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Life’s just really hard when you don’t know God. It’s hell—not literally hell, like the place, but it’s hell.
And again, that’s why Paul’s words are so profound.
1 Corinthians 15:20 (CSB) As it is, Christ has been raised from the dead!
And because Jesus lives, the young man lives. And because Jesus lives, you can live.
A lot of you, and myself, we can relate to the older brother, maybe more-so than the younger brother—remember there was two.
See, when the younger son came home, the Father threw this grand party. And the Father was hanging out with his boy, and the DJ had the music going, and they hired a taco truck and all that. And they were having this a time. But, the Father looked around the room and didn’t see the older son anywhere.
So, he went out of the party to talk to the older son. And he begged him to come in and celebrate, but the older son was really angry. And you can have some sympathy for him; he was really hurt. He’s worked himself into a bit of a hell of his own.
He said to his Father, “I have never disobeyed you. I’ve worked so hard to accomplish everything you have ever asked of me and you have never given me a party!” He was jealous. He felt like all of his life’s labor was in vain. He worked for so many years and for nothing.
All his obedience seemed so completely pointless.
But, do you know what his father told him?
He said, “Son, you have always been with me and everything I have is already yours.”
See, the older son already had life in his grasp. Resurrection was at his fingertips. Every good and perfect gift of God was his for the taking, but he refused it, preferring instead to earn his Father’s love by laboring away in the fields!
This Father’s love is never earned; it is only ever freely given. The older son put himself in hell, laboring in the hot sun, when his Father had already put his hand out to give him the riches of His Kingdom for free.
The younger son was the guy who chose to die so that he could live. And for that His Father threw him party.
The older son was the guy who died but refused to admit he was dead, so He chose to stay outside the party and mourn.
You see, Christianity is the only fare religion, because it’s the only religion where everyone gets exactly what they ask for. Those who want to come, come. And those who don’t like God’s ways, they stay outside the walls and mourn.
Tell me that’s not hell?
The older son was already dead because he had abandoned the love of his Father. He walked headlong into hell. But, he was so arrogant, he refused to admit he was in hell, so he could not take hold of life.
This might be you! You know the grace and the glory of God is yours for the taking. You know that true and abundant life is found by bowing at the feet of Jesus. But, at every crossroads you stand up tall and follow the devil into the lie that you must work your way into the love of God, that you must work your way into life. [SLOW AND EMPHATIC] You see the grace of God and walk headlong into the pig farm to toil away your existence with vain rules and regulations.
And that’s why some people who profess to follow Jesus are so miserable. They suffer hellishly, because they don’t have the life given freely by God. They are still trying to earn it.
And that sucks because, if you aren’t living for Jesus and His Kingdom, then what are you living for? Your life has no…
Purpose or Value
I hate to be crass, but how shallow is someone who claims to have purpose in life when all they live for comes from the passions of their flesh?
I mean, that’s what thieves and pedophiles do. They’re just living for the passions of the flesh, just like everyone else. There has to be a greater purpose in life than living for what your heart desires. There just has to be; otherwise, the devil wins, and everyone suffers in hell.
There has to be something more.
1 Corinthians 15:17 (CSB) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
His point is that something really does change because Jesus came back from the dead. If you don’t want to believe that Jesus came back from the dead, that’s fine. You can join the scoffers who say that Christians are wackos who believe fairy tales and our faith is worthless and pointless.
But, don’t miss the wisdom Paul puts forward here.
If you refuse to believe that Jesus came back from the dead, then you are still in your sins. Refusing to believe in Jesus doesn’t change the reality that you are a morally imperfect person. God, or no God, you’re still in your sins. That means you’re still like the youngest son when he was in Vegas or whatever, squandering the life that the Father had given him.
The Bible teaches that every breath, every life, is a gift from God. And that includes yours, whether you care to admit it or not. And if you refuse to believe that Jesus came back from the dead, you are squandering that life. That is to say, your life is purposeless. If you are still squandering your life, then you struggle with value. And don’t be offended that I say this, because, I bet you believe that, at least on some level.
You know, it’s like the butterfly effect. We love the idea of the butterfly effect because it makes us feel like everything we do has significance and purpose. The idea is that any tiny decision you make—even the simplest little thing like stepping on a bug—will alter the entire scope of the future as we know it. That’s power! That gives us an incredible sense of purpose and value. It’s very romantic, because it makes us seem to be very significant creatures with a great purpose. Every little thing we do has the power to change the future!
But, who here really believes that?
Personally, I think it’s garbage. I don’t really believe God gives us anywhere near that much control over the creation, but that’s not even why I say it’s garbage. I say it’s garbage, because I don’t know anyone who truly lives like they are that significant.
The reality is, most of us, myself included, are so insignificant that we won’t be remembered for more than a generation after we die, and even then, only by a handful of people. Most of you don’t have a profound sense of purpose. You’ve probably had the thought, ‘What if I just magically poofed out of existence right now?’ ‘Who would notice?’ ‘Who would care?’ ‘What would it change?’ As humans, we seem to have very little intrinsic, natural purpose.
And that’s totally depressing, because that’s not as bad as it gets. It gets worse. The gift of life runs out at some point, and when things get hard, you have to decide to work for the pig farmer and live in utter hell or go fall at the feet of Jesus and beg for mercy. Those are your only two options.
And that’s a pretty stark contrast, because, if you work for the pig farmer, then you know you have no purpose, no value, no hope and you live out your years in misery.
But, if you go to Jesus, he crowns you, so to speak, as a prince. And princes have value. Princes have purpose.
In mythology, princes go out into the Kingdom to advocate for the King. They’re representatives of the King. They are like ambassadors. They have the purpose of growing the Kingdom by magnifying the glory of the King, himself.
And that’s the purpose of the Christian. You don’t have to be a miserable peasant who could live or die and no one cares. You get to be a prince and an ambassador of the King, who is Jesus. You get to magnify God’s glory in all the world. And that’s a magnificent purpose.
While the older brother is toiling in the fields, bitter about the life given to the younger brother, who died, but now has come back to life. You get to be the younger brother, who is now a prince and lives to magnify the glory of his Father.
What a purpose!
That’s the kind of purpose we are offered, yet, so many people continue to live a…
And it’s really sad.
The Apostle Paul just assumes that everyone believes in an afterlife of some kind. That was true in Paul’s day and it’s true for most people today. We have a natural sense of afterlife. People speak of the life to come. But, for many people—this is what’s sad—there is no life to come, just eternal death.
Paul says that if Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, then you won’t come back from the dead either.
1 Corinthians 15:18 (CSB) Those, then, who have fallen asleep [died] in Christ have also perished.
I’ve been speaking figuratively about hell, but let’s be honest, if there’s an eternal spiritual place you may or may not call heaven, then there’s an eternal hell.
And your opportunity to escape hell is now in this life, not in the life to come. You get to experience hell to some degree in this life, when you work in the pig farm, so that you will know you need to get out of hell. Otherwise you stay there for eternity.
This is the beauty of Jesus’s life. People want to know, ‘Why did Jesus have to suffer and die to save us from the misery of life?’ And the answer is that you have to wear the crown of thorns, the crown of suffering, before you get to wear the princes crown, the crown of glory. Jesus wore a literal crown of thorns when he went to the cross to die. He suffered. And today we celebrate the day that he came back from the dead. And then Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and was seated on the throne and given the name that is above all other names, King of Kings, Lord of Lords—Jesus now wears the crown of the Kingdom of God.
And Jesus did that so that when we wear the crown of suffering in this life, that we would look to him in order to receive the princes crown. We too must wear the crown of thorns before we will even desire the crown of the prince.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of it this way before, but we don’t really celebrate Jesus’s ressurection on Easter. Jesus’s death and resurrection are completely meaningless, except for what he accomplished by His death and resurrection. See, Easter isn’t so much about celebrating the event of Jesus coming back from the dead. Easter is about celebrating the God who brings us back from the dead. Easter is about the God who raises us up out of the hell we’ve created and seats us in the heavenly places.
Jesus is offering us escape from the hell we are in right now, in this life and Jesus is offering us life beginning now and for eternity. This life isn’t just for now, but for forever. Paul said,
1 Corinthians 15:19 (CSB) If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
But, we aren’t to be pitied, because our hope is not just for this life. Our hope is for forever.
And, you know, it doesn’t matter where you are at. It doesn’t matter how deep in hell you are right now. You don’t have to remain hopeless, because,
1 Corinthians 15:20 (CSB) As it is, Christ has been raised from the dead!
And if Christ has been raised from the dead, then you can be too. You can have hope, that when you die, you will come back from the dead.
Each of you is at a different place in life. And that means that everyone is going to have a different…
…to take today.
Jami asked you to start filling out your Next Step cards earlier, but I’d like you to take those out now and begin to consider what step you might take this week, whether a big or a small step, because of what you have heard today.
Some of you are like the younger son. You’re young a virile, and you’re living for the pleasures of this world. And maybe that lifestyle hasn’t caught up with you yet. Let’s be honest, you’ve made some bad choices, and hell is coming, even if it’s not here yet. And if that’s where you are at, you don’t have to wait for the gift of life to run dry. You don’t have to wait until life starts crashing in on you, and you don’t ever have to go and serve the pig farmer. You can die to yourself and your purposes now, and move on to the truth and stop believing the lies. You can experience the power of God. You can find purpose and value in the Kingdom of God. You can have hope—for life now and for eternity—if you give your life to Christ.
And, some of you are further down the road. And you’re already at the pig farm. And maybe you’ve been there a while. And you’re totally stuck. You’ve been deceived by the lies of the devil time and time again and you keep coming back to the same self-destructive patterns. And you just can’t take it anymore. You want a way out.
Well, you are again standing at the crossroads, and this time you don’t need to go the way of the pig farmer. It doesn’t matter that the devil is there at the crossroads with you, because right now you see Christ. This time, you can go the way of Jesus Christ. Like he died, submitting to the purposes of His Father, you die to your passions and lusts and submit to the purposes of the Father. And just like Jesus came back from the dead, by the power that rose Jesus from the dead, you too will rise with new life.
And it’ll take some time, no doubt, to get out of the mire of the pig farm, and get all the mud washed off, but you can have life. It’s not too late.
So, if that is where you are at, you are ready to find out what it means to die to yourself and to commit your life to Jesus, I would just ask you to check the box on your Next Step card that says, ‘Commit to Jesus’ and we’ll get together with you to talk to you about what that will look like. Or feel free to come talk to myself or someone else you saw on stage today and we would love to talk to you more about it.
But, maybe you are the older brother. You were raised in the church and all you’ve ever known is obedience to the laws of God. And you look at sinners with disgust because you’ve just never been that bad. But, you’re getting tired of the work. And you’re growing weary of people coming into your house and finding joy in this life and you don’t want to give them the mercy that your father pours out on each one of them. You know, if you’ve ever wanted to punish someone for their sins instead of letting them experience new life in Christ, you are most definitely the older brother.
And, there’s hope for you too, because right now, as we speak, the Father has come out of the party and he beckons you to come. You too have the opportunity, if you would be so humble, to confess your arrogance, to confess that you are no different than the younger brother, that you too need the grace and mercy of Christ. You can die to yourself, so that you can enter into the feast prepared by the Father.
If that’s where you are at, you might write ‘confess’ or ‘die to self’ down as your Next Step.
But, any step you take is a good step if you are taking a step towards Christ.
Maybe you are on the fence about the resurrection. Well, we’re in a chapter of the Bible that is all about the ressurection and we’ll be talking about the ressurection for a few more weeks. Maybe your step is just to commit to the next few weeks of coming on Sunday to Sonrise to worship with us and hear from the scriptures.
And maybe you understand the resurrection, but you haven’t been regular in church for some reason. I’d just challenge you to do the same thing. Commit to the next few weeks. Get in a new rhythm. The church is important, because the church is how we learn to live as princes in our Father’s house.
So, please, I encourage everyone here to take a Next Step this week.
If you are a first time guest with us, hold onto your Next Step card and you can exchange it for a gift from an usher in the lobby. Everyone else, you can put that card in the collection plate in a few moments and our leaders here will be praying for all of you as you take your step this week.