1 Corinthians 15:12-19
“Theology’s not important.” I’ve heard a lot of statements to that effect before.
Well, here’s a little theology: Jesus Christ is risen!
No, not a little theology, a lot of theology. So central is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which we will celebrate in Easter in two short weeks, and which we celebrate every Lord’s Day, that without it you don’t have Christianity.
The Resurrection is so much at the crux of Christianity that without it, our entire theology – our knowledge about and belief in God – completely evaporates. In fact, so important is the doctrine of the Resurrection that those who deny it should not properly be called Christians, except in terms of being apostate or heretical Christians.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of Christian theology and if you remove it, then the rest comes tumbling down like a house of cards. Here are just a few of the consequences that Paul mentions that inevitably follow if Jesus was not raised from the dead:
- Our preaching is in vain (verse 14). Everything you’ve been told about who God is, what sin is, and how God has taken away the sins of the world through the sacrifice of His Son is a lie. Everything you’ve been taught that’s connected to this, the moral teaching, the teachings about love and self-denial, the teachings about us being one Body of Christ – all of it is in doubt.
St. Chrysostom said: “Logically Paul would have said that if Christ had not been raised, historical facts would have been denied, but instead he says something which is much more relevant and indeed frightening to the Corinthians. For if Christ had not risen from the dead, then Paul’s preaching would have been useless and their faith would have no meaning.”
- If our preaching is in vain, then we are made out to be liars or at best terrible deceivers whose wisdom is of no value to you.
- Your faith is in vain (verse 14.) What you believe, not having seen, is also a lie. The life you’ve built on what you believe is a lie as well. Your body will become worm fodder after you die, and that’s it.
- We are misrepresenting God (verse 15.) If God exists, He doesn’t have a Son; He isn’t the Trinity; His Son didn’t become man; His Son didn’t rise from the dead; and He hasn’t paid for the sins of the world. Either we’re speaking falsely about God, or else there isn’t a God at all.
- You are still in your sins (verse 17.) Jesus Christ isn’t really lord of anything: He couldn’t even save himself, so how could he save you? Since Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection are the salvation of the world from sins, there would still be the sentence of death over us. Darkness and decay and death would hold illimitable dominion over all.
- Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (verse 18.) Remember all those people you thought you’d see again in heaven? Dream on! I won’t see my daughter Veronica or my grandparents or St. Paul or John Keble in heaven because there is no resurrection of Christ and therefore there is no resurrection for us. All those who have gone before have simply returned to dust. We shall never see them again.
- We are of all men most to be pitied (verse 19.) Our religion really is just an opiate for the masses, only without the fact of the Resurrection, the power of this particular opiate would be gone. Living out ridiculous fables, resisting a powerful culture for no reason any longer, and believing in a better life in eternity when this life is all there is, we would be pathetic.
- There is no heaven and no eternity in the presence of God. As St. Chrysostom wrote: “If the body does not rise again, the soul remains uncrowned with the blessings stored up for it in heaven.”
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then I might as well quit writing these stupid little meditations on a false work of fiction. And you should stop reading them and get on with your life, since there’s no Resurrection and no salvation. I should quit being a priest and a pastor and stop counseling people on the basis of Jesus Christ. I’m not sure anymore what I’d tell them about suffering, I guess that it’s just a natural part of the world as it has evolved and to go and work out your own existential, atheistic salvation with fear and trembling because I’m out of answers and I don’t know anyone who has any.
I guess I’ll go back to teaching. Of course, I couldn’t go back to teaching in Christian schools because they’d be based on a lie, and all the students would go back to the public schools. Literature and history would lose some of their appeal for me, and even science would be shaken.
My family life would have to be renegotiated, since I couldn’t be sure of anything St. Paul or the other patriarchal, sexist, racist, homophobic dead white males wrote. And I’d have to reconsider love. Would it really be worth denying myself all sorts of things, since there is now no Christ to carry my Cross or command me to carry it with Him? Doing what’s good for others would only be valuable to me if I saw its benefit for me.
I’d have to come up with an entirely different basis on which to judge my thoughts, word, and actions. Most probably, I’d seek to maximize my own pleasure. Having chronic fatigue, this wouldn’t be so much fun, and I think I’d become bitter and grumble: “Why has God . . .” I mean “Why do I have this? It’s not fair, and it makes my life miserable. Hey, I’ve heard of a few good ways to dull the misery . . . .”
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then my life is a tragic mistake. No, it’s not tragic after all, because there would have to be something noble and worthy of having fallen in a tragedy. I would become like the other, pitiable zombies who are really the living dead and have only a short time left (except I wouldn’t be pitiable because my empty existence just is, and I can’t attach any real judgments on it, such as “pity.”)
It’s a good thing that theology does matter!
Thank God for theology.
Thank God for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son!
Prayer: “O God, Who for our redemption didst give Thine only begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by His glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of the enemy: Grant us so to die daily unto sin, that we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same Thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to spend some time today meditating on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and its importance in my life. You might meditate on some of the points above, or you might choose to follow an idea that the Spirit is especially impressing you with today. Since we will be meditating on the Resurrection for the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 (and during Easter), you’ll have plenty of time to meditate on a single point in detail today.
The Resurrection by Mantegna – Public Domain