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Stuart Chase - 17 April 2022

Thank God for Easter (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)

The resurrection of Christ is the central tenet of the Christian faith and, in many ways, the central event of human history. According to Paul, if the resurrection never happened, the Christian is powerless, the Christian’s salvation pointless, and the Christian life hopeless. Thank God for Easter!

Scripture References: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

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Erik Weisz was born in Budapest on 24 March 1874. Destined to become a world-renowned escape artist, illusionist, and stunt performer, he studied under the famed French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. In honour of his teacher, Weisz adopted the stage name Harry Houdini.

Houdini’s particular claim to fame was his specialisation in spectacular escapes. It was said that he laughed at locks and sneered at fetters. He was said to have the flexibility of an eel and the lives of a cat. He accepted challenges from around the world to incarcerate him, but always found a way to escape.

He was once shackled inside the belly of a beached whale. The carcass itself was tightly laced and wrapped in chains. He escaped within fifteen minutes. He had a giant milk can constructed and filled with water. He was chained and dropped into the can but escaped while he held his breath. He was again chained and placed inside a packing crate, which was weighed down with ninety kilograms of lead and dropped into New York’s East River. He escaped in 57 seconds. The first time he was buried alive, he nearly died while trying to dig his way out of the ground, having easily escaped the coffin. An assistant pulled him, unconscious, from the ground.

Houdini grew increasingly daring in his escape stunts. In fact, he became so confident in his ability to escape any trap that he told his wife that, if there was a way back from the grave, he would find it and would return to her on the anniversary of his death. He died on 31 October 1926 from a ruptured appendix. For ten years, his widow, Bess, kept a light burning over his portrait in anticipation of his return before she turned it off, conceding that even the great Houdini could not escape death.

Easter is the story of a far greater Escape Artist than Harry Houdini. This Escape Artist is one whose life was likewise claimed by death (as we remember on Good Friday—though he willingly gave up his life to death). Unlike Harry Houdini, however, this Escape Artist escaped death’s cold clutches and returned to life after three days.

C. S. Lewis captured this when he wrote, “Jesus has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death.” J. I. Packer adds that “the victim of Calvary is now … loose and at large.” Christianity celebrates this reality every Lord’s Day, though particular attention is frequently drawn to it on Easter Sunday.

But what if Jesus, like Houdini, had failed to escape death’s clutches? What if we lived in an alternate universe in which the tomb held Jesus? What if Easter never happened? Paul addresses this question directly in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19.

A word of historical background may serve us well before diving into the text itself. In the late fourth century BC, Alexander the Great had swiftly conquered the known world. His unapologetic mission was to Hellenise the entire world. That is, he wanted to force the entire world to adopt Greek culture, religion, and language. This goal was largely realised by the time of the New Testament. Greek thought and philosophy had made its way into every part of the known world. Greek thinking was assumed in education and philosophy and religion.

In Greek religious and philosophical thought, death was not the end of human existence. Death, in fact, was a form of release. The human body was considered something of a vessel for the soul, which as released at death into a disembodied state. For all eternity, the soul would remain disembodied. This thinking became so engrained in the culture of the New Testament that converts from Greek paganism needed to have their thinking corrected. This is evident in the text before us.

Paul writes here of Christians in Corinth who claimed that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (v. 12). They were not denying the reality of life after death but the reality of embodied life after death. They believed that the body was irrelevant and that the Christian hope was a disembodied hope. Paul wrote to correct this error. In Christian thought, as in Jewish thought, the body is good. God created humans as embodied creatures and the consistent testimony of both Old and New Testaments is that our eternal hope is an embodied hope. The full Christian hope is not in a disembodied state in God’s presence after death but in a future, bodily resurrection. This is the true Christian hope, promised by God, displayed through Christ, and received by faith.

To prove this hope, Paul pointed his readers to the resurrection of Christ. Though they would never have admitted it, their denial of bodily resurrection was an implied denial of Christ’s resurrection. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v. 13). They could not have it both ways. They could not claim that Christ rose bodily but then deny bodily resurrection. And if Christ has not been raised—if Christ did not escape death—there are serious implications for Christianity.

No event in human history carries greater significance than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the text before us, Paul lists three terrible consequences of a resurrection hoax. That is, he tells us three things that would be true if Christ had never defeated death. We will briefly consider each of those things as we celebrate the fact that Christ is, indeed, alive and as we, therefore, thank God for Easter.

Consequence 1: A Powerless Gospel

First, if Easter never happened, the Christian gospel would be powerless. Listen to Paul:

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.

(1 Corinthians 15:12–16)

Paul’s basic message in these verses is that the gospel is powerless if Christ is not alive. And if the gospel is powerless, then it is powerless both when it is preached and when it is believed.

Christianity unashamedly declares that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Divine power rests in the gospel message that Christianity proclaims. What is this gospel message?

The gospel message tells us that, because God is perfectly holy, his law demands perfect holiness. The gospel message tells us that, because we have sinned, we have all failed to meet that standard of perfect holiness and therefore stand under the sentence of eternal death. The gospel message tells us that, driven by love, God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, to die in the place of the sinners he came to save, to be buried, and to rise again from the dead three days later, victorious over sin and death. The gospel message tells us that the resurrected Christ was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses and that, forty days after his resurrection, he ascended bodily to heaven, where he took his throne and from where he now rules the universe at the right hand of his Father. The gospel message tells us that he is currently subduing his enemies and that he will continue to do so until every enemy—including death itself—has submitted to him. The gospel message tells us that he will then return, visibly and bodily, in an act of final judgement on all who have ever lived. The gospel message invites us to believe these truths, to repent of our sins, and to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour. And the gospel message promises that everyone who believes and submits to Christ will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

This message is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes—if Christ rose from the dead. Paul argues that this entire message of forgiven sin and eternal life through the person and work of Christ—and everything attached to it—is meaningless and powerless if Jesus Christ never rose from the dead. The resurrection is central to the Christian faith.

As I have said, Paul shows that, if this gospel message is not true—if Easter never happened—then the gospel is powerless both when it is preached and when it is believed.

First, a resurectionless gospel is powerless when it is preached. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (v. 14). The word “vain,” in this context, does not mean “conceited.” Paul is not saying that someone probably thinks this song is about him. The word, instead, describes something that is empty, vacuous, without substance, or powerless. Without the empty tomb, the message of the gospel is nothing more than a nice fairy tale. Some thirty years ago, television presenter John Bishop asked the late Desmond Tutu, “Do you believe that the body of Jesus Christ actually came back from the dead after three days?” Tutu replied, “It does not matter whether or not Jesus’ body came back to life. What matters is that the spirit of Christ lives on today.” Paul would vehemently have disagreed.

A “gospel” that does not boldly affirm the bodily resurrection of Christ is not the gospel of Christ and is therefore not the power of God for salvation. We must be very clear: The gospel message contained in the pages of the Bible unapologetically affirms and demands that Jesus, God’s Messiah, ceased to live for three days and then came back to bodily life as evidence that he had overcome death’s power. Anyone who preaches any other message empties the gospel of its power.

When a Christian preacher stands in a pulpit to declare the gospel, his only hope is that the message of the resurrection is true and that the resurrected Christ will attend his message with power. If that is not true, then a gospel sermon is nothing more than an extended (and perhaps less flashy) TED talk.

When a Christian shares his or her faith with an unbelieving friend or loved one, his or her only hope is that the message is true and that God will attend the message with power. If the risen Christ does not attend your evangelism with resurrection power, your preaching is in vain. I recently spoke a church member whose husband of more than sixty years is on his deathbed. She has been praying for more than fifty years for his salvation and he has always shown himself resistant to the gospel. She shared with me that, in his frailty, he was asking questions about the gospel. He confessed his sin and asked Christ to save him. I don’t know whether he cried out in saving faith, but I know that, if he did, then God saved him, because the gospel she shared with him, and has been sharing with him for half a century, is the very power of God for salvation to anyone who believes. And it is God’s power for salvation because Jesus rose from the dead.

Second, a resurrectionless gospel is powerless when it is believed. “If Christ has not been raised, then … your faith is in vain” (v. 14). Apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection, there is zero difference between Christianity and any other world religion. Apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection, there is zero difference between Christianity and Disney’s latest blockbuster. If Christ never rose from the dead, you may as well place your faith in leprechauns and mermaids. The gospel cannot save you from the penalty, power, and presence of sin if Christ did not rise.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20). Thank God for Easter! Because of Easter, everything that the gospel promises is true! Because Christ rose, God will forgive your sins if you confess your sins. Because Christ rose, God will grant eternal life as he one day transforms your mortality into immortality. Because Christ rose, God will one day wipe away every tear as he removes every curse brought into the world by sin. Because Christ rose, God will give his people the power they need to overcome their besetting sins. Because Christ rose, God will meet his people’s needs. In the resurrected Christ, every promise of God is yes. The resurrection means that the gospel message is a powerful message to preach and to believe. Will you believe it today?

Consequence 2: A Pointless Salvation

Second, if Easter never happened, the Christian’s salvation would be pointless. Listen again to Paul: “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” (vv. 17–18).

The salvation that Christianity preaches promises two glorious things: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But these are both dependent on Christ’s resurrection.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17). The forgiveness of sin is something we accept by faith. Christians do not receive some form of visible mark when they believe as evidence of forgiven sins. That is why Jesus said that it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” than to say to a paralysed man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:1–8). He was not saying that it is easier to forgive sin than to heal paralysis. He was saying that it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” because you will not be expected to back up your statement with visible proof.

Paul says something similar in v. 17. We accept by “faith” that our sins have been forgiven—by faith in the resurrected Christ. But if Christ never rose from the dead, there is no hope of sins forgiven. Apart from the resurrection, the promise of the Christian gospel is pointless because a dead Messiah cannot forgive sins.

But the second promise of the gospel—the promise of eternal life—is also voided by a resurrection hoax. “If Christ has not been raised … then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (vv. 17–18). The Christian hope is that death is not final, but that death will one day give way to life as the bodies of those who have died in Christ are resurrected to eternal life. If Christ never rose, however, then to die is not to fall asleep but to “perish.”

The Bible consistently portrays death as sleep because death is not final. For everyone who has ever lived, the sleep of death will one day be interrupted with the waking of resurrection. At that point, we will all stand before Christ as final judge and then those who believe Christ will receive eternal life while those who reject Christ will perish (John 3:16). But the death we experience at the end of our lives can only properly be described as sleep if Christ rose from the dead. If he didn’t, then death is final.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20) and so we know that our sins can be forgiven and that the sleep of death will one day give way to the morning of resurrection. Thank God for Easter!

Consequence 3: A Hopeless Life

Third, and finally, if Easter never happened, the Christian life would be hopeless. Listen once more to Paul: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).

The Christian hope is, by definition, hope beyond this life. But that hope is secured only by Christ’s resurrection. If there is no hope of life beyond this one, then living a consistent Christian life is not only foolish, but pitiably foolish. Christians lose out on everything if the resurrection is not true.

Pascal’s Wager famously states that if Christians are wrong in their belief in God, they lose nothing; whereas, if non-Christians are wrong in their non-belief in God, they lose everything. That reasoning may sound clever, but in fact it runs counter to biblical wisdom. In fact, if Christians are wrong about God, and there is nothing more to live for than this life, then Christians “are of all people most to be pitied.” If Easter is not true, how pitiable we are to affirm a Saviour, to affirm forgiveness, to affirm meaningful faith, and to affirm eternal life. Every strand of hope that Christians hold rises and falls on the resurrection of Christ.

If Christians are wrong about the resurrection, how pathetic it is to watch Christian martyrs suffer for their faith. If Christians are wrong about the resurrection, how pathetic it is to watch them striving against sin in pursuit of holiness. If Christians are wrong about the resurrection, how pathetic it is to watch them trust God in the face of hardship, affliction, grief, and pain. There is no hope in the Christian life if the resurrection is not true.

Of course, the sad reality is that, if Christianity is not true, life is meaningless anyway. If there is no transcendent truth, then the best we can do in life is pursue our own pleasures. The best wisdom in that case is to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

In a March 2021 contribution to a series of articles to mark the one year anniversary of COVID-19, famed atheist Richard Dawkins waxes eloquent about the wonders of modern science. As he draws his article to a close, he writes,

Science tells us not only where and when we exist but why. We are evolved survival machines built by our inherited DNA for the purpose of bequeathing its digitally coded information to future generations. And, lest that sound like a less than noble purpose, unworthy to count as a pillar of civilization, it is of course fully compatible with the setting up, by our evolved big brains, of purposes and goals of our own—including enrichment by the other noble pillars.


It is science that will save us—if anything can—from the looming disaster of climate change. It is medical science that will save our lives. It is agricultural science that will feed the world. And academic science that will continue to feed our minds and our aspirations as we reach deep into the large-scale grandeur of the universe, the small-scale enigma of the quantum and the enticing complexity of life. It is science that gives me hope for the future.

Because of science, Richard Dawkins has hope in this life. But if we have hope only in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied. And if Christ did not rise, then our hope is only in this life.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20). Therefore, Christians have true and lasting hope in this world and in the world to come. Nothing that we face in life is without hope and without meaning. The resurrection transforms every hardship, affliction, grief, and pain into hope because the Christ who conquered death will one day transform our lowly bodies into glorious, eternal bodies like his that will never again suffer or die.


If you are not a Christian—that is, if you have not repented of your sins and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgives and eternal life—you have no hope beyond this life. But the resurrected Christ promises hope, both in this life and in the life to come, to all who will trust in him. I plead with you to trust Christ for the hope of forgiven sin and eternal life.

If you are a Christian, thank God for Easter! And, thankful for Easter, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (v. 58).