First Corinthians chapter 15 is one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. It is rich with both theological content and personal meaning. The chapter itself begins with one of the most important things a Christian could ever ponder. These set of verses answer that burning and sometimes controversial question: what is the Gospel? The Gospel, it says, is the proclamation of the truth “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Paul goes on to provide a list of witnesses to the risen Christ for the purpose of illustrating that Christ didn’t just rise in his heart. Christ didn’t just rise spiritually. And finally, Christ didn’t rise metaphorically. Rather, Christ was killed on that cursed tree, and three days later he rose from the dead, in his body, as the first fruits of our real and bodily resurrection.
Now, there are two things to take note of here. The first is obvious—that as Christ has been raised, truly raised in his body, so shall we be raised, in our bodies, just as he promised. The first is linked intrinsically to the second. That is, that if Christ did not rise from the dead, we are still in our sin. Or as the preacher would say, you are still in your sin.
So what does it mean to “still be in your sin”? Sin is the separation from God that we both inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and that we confirm daily, hourly, minute by minute, in our own state of sin as well as our active sins against our neighbors. As the liturgy helps us confess, we sin in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We do not love God with our whole heart (or left to our own devices, any part of it), and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus, we justly deserve God’s just and eternal punishment. That punishment is death – eternal death – and this death is the real enemy.
Sin is the separation from God that we both inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and that we confirm daily, hourly, minute by minute, in our own state of sin as well as our active sins against our neighbors
Death is what Christ came to mock. And death is what vexes us all. Christ’s death is his final act of taking on all our sin—truly taking it from us and making it his. In this final act of defiance, his final suffering and crucifixion grabs from our wicked clenched fists the last remnants of sin that we stubbornly hang on to and lays that sin on his own back. The same back that is whipped by the guards. The same back that is pressed against the tree as his hands and feet are stretched and nailed securely down. The same back that slumps on the cross as muscle, tendon, and ligaments give way and fail to hold him up any longer. This back takes all our sin and dies in our stead. This is the sacrifice of Christ. This is the vicarious atonement. This is what makes him the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin!
So what then of his resurrection? That is a good question. I previously noted that Christ’s real enemy was death. Death was the curse that was wrought because of sin, our sin. Death is our ultimate fear. Death is the universal condition that links all mankind. Death is the enemy, and sin leads to death—both in this life now and forever. But what if sin was truly removed and what if the one who took it from us had the power to conquer it’s curse and spit in the face of death? What would this mean for you and for me? Would it mean that we who are in Christ no longer had anything to fear? Indeed it would!
This is what it means for Christ to take our sin. If anyone else would have attempted such a feat, they would have failed. Why? Because only Christ is the eternal Lamb of God who was and is and is to come. Only he who spoke the words “let there be” could also truly conquer sin, death, and the power of the devil. Only he who was in the beginning could confidently say that in three days he would rise again. Only he knew that he had to give his life freely and that no one could take it away from him. And only he had the power to fulfill the promise that his death would finally take our sin and his resurrection meant that death lost the finality of its sting over us.
So, Paul poses a mind game for us here in First Corinthians. He asks us to ponder the importance of the actual and real bodily resurrection of Christ by saying to us, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Because if we are in our sins, death is still an enemy with power over us. Without Christ’s resurrection, death still has the power to curse, destroy, and wreak havoc and fear over our lives. And this is why the first seven verses of this chapter are so important. They show us, undoubtedly, that Christ did rise from the dead. That he appeared to “Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me (Paul) also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:5-8).As we celebrate Easter, we are called to remember and confess that he is Christ. He is risen. And if he is risen, our sins are no longer ours. When we fall asleep, he will come again and with a trumpet sound to wake us on that last day to be with Him! O, sin what of your curse? “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). The true victory of Christ’s bodily resurrection was all for you. Have no fear. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!
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