1 Corinthians 15:17-20 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Just about everybody knows the story of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. As he contemplates suicide, an angel appears. He lets George see what kind of place the world would be if he never existed. The results are eye-opening. His brother dies in childhood because George isn’t there to save him. That, in turn leads to the death of many soldiers in World War II, because his brother isn’t there to rescue them. His wife leads a sad, isolated, lonely life. His entire hometown is dominated by the evil banker, Mr. Potter. George Bailey’s savings and loan wasn’t there to keep him in check. You know the story.
Paul presents a similar situation to us in 1 Corinthians 15. This time the question is, “What if Jesus never came back to life after he died?” “What if Jesus were not alive today?” The results are infinitely more frightening. All Christian ministry and preaching would be useless. Faith would be nothing more than a cruel deception. We would still be responsible, still guilty, for every sin we have ever committed. There would be no hope of forgiveness. When our loved ones die, we would have no hope of seeing them again, except to see them tortured with us in Hell. You know the story.
Thankfully, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not just the happy ending to a sentimental movie that makes us feel good at the holidays. It is a fact of history. It is a solid foundation for our faith. It is the clear vindication and crowning glory of Jesus’ life and ministry. The ramifications of that one event in Jesus’ life continue to spill over into every corner of our lives every day.
The glorious new life and reign of King Jesus is the truest source of hope for battered believers who live every day in the domain of death. Every day futile struggles, failing health, and fading powers remind us the light is dimming in our own lives. Death is waiting to take us. But the glory of Jesus’ resurrection keeps hope alive. It gives a different vision of how life will end: a vision that, in fact, life will not end with death. Life after death is not a popular wish or a fanciful fairy tale. Jesus’ resurrection is visible proof. It confirms that it’s done and explains how it’s done. Five hundred witnesses saw this man alive again. There is no hidden grave, no decaying body. Jesus Christ is exhibit A, the evidence, the proof, that we, too, will live again.
The glorious new life and reign of King Jesus is the truest source of comfort for frustrated followers and despondent disciples who don’t feel victorious and don’t appear prosperous as they wait for the new life to come. Jesus reigns, and “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Jesus Christ is in control, even over the illnesses that afflict me, the people that persecute me, and the circumstances that overwhelm me. His powerful yet loving hands continue to set the limits on every challenge that confronts me. He assures me that in all things he works for the good of those who love him. Every event in life must end in my good and his glory.
The resurrection of the dead is not a piece of shopworn theology with little relevance for our lives every day. It is not the exclusive concern of the senior citizens among us. It is the true hope and comfort in every circumstance for every Christian from the cradle to the grave. And it is the glory of our risen King.