1 Corinthians 15:17–20
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Two weeks ago we asked the question, "What is forgiveness? What does it look like when it happens?" To answer we used a definition from Thomas Watson: forgiving those who have wronged us includes
- resisting revenge,
- not returning evil for evil,
- wishing them well,
- grieving at their calamities,
- praying for their welfare,
- seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you,
- and coming to their aid in distress.
Then last week we asked, "How can we do this? Where do we get the freedom and the power to act in a way that crosses our nature?" Forgiving is to a fallen human heart what flying is to a heavy human body. How can we do this flying? We took our clue from John Bunyan's poem:
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
The gospel bids us fly—it commands us to forgive those who have wronged us. But it also gives us wings. Last week we saw two gospel wings with three feathers each in Ephesians 4:32–5:2.
Wing #1: What God did for us before we were born
- God loved us with a special saving love before we were born.
- Christ died for us with a special covenant purpose of taking us for his bride.
- This sacrifice for us was a sweet aroma to God and he was satisfied with it.
Wing #2: What God did for us during our lifetime
- God put us into a relationship with Christ so that his death and righteousness count for us.
- God adopted us into his eternal family.
- God forgave all our sins.
If we really believe these six things, if we rest in them and get our hope and our joy from them, we will be able to do the gospel-flying called forgiveness. If these things are true, we can forgive. If these things are true, we can endure anything. If these things are true, we can go on giving and giving and giving 70 times 7, because the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ and the inheritance we have as God's children are inexhaustible.
The Resurrection: A Reward for Jesus' Sacrifice
Now the question I ask today, on this Easter Sunday morning, is this: "If all this gospel-flying—this power to live in love and forgive those who wrong us—if this is accomplished by the love of God and the death of Jesus, then what does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead add to it?"
To answer this let's look at 1 Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins."
If Christ Was Not Raised, You're Still in Your Sins
To be "in your sins" is the opposite of being "in Christ." When we are "in Christ," we get what Christ can do for us, namely, eternal life. When we are "in [our] sins," we get what sins can do for us, namely, eternal condemnation and death (Romans 6:20–23).
Paul says, "If Christ has not been raised . . . you are still in your sins." We are still bearing our guilt, still under condemnation, still alienated from God, still unforgiven.
Why Is This So?
But why is this if the death of Jesus satisfied the Father (as we saw last week)? If it's true that "every debt that you ever had has been paid up in full by the blood of the Lamb" (not the resurrection of the Lamb, cf. Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7), then why are we still in our sins if the Lamb does not rise from the dead?
The answer—or at least an essential part of the answer—is that the resurrection of Jesus is the reward of his sacrifice. And if the reward is not given, it's because the sacrifice is deficient. And if the sacrifice is deficient, we are still in our sins.
Easter and Being Forgiving People
So you can see that the point of Easter is tremendously relevant to whether we can be a forgiving people or not. If Christ has not been raised, then all the gospel feathers in the wings that support gospel-flying (forgiving) are defective. If God will not let his own Son fly from the tomb and take his seat at the Father's right hand in glory, it's because his sacrifice for our sins was defective. It won't work. We are still in our sins. John Bunyan was wrong. The gospel does not bring us better news: it bids us fly, but it does not give us wings.
So the resurrection of Jesus is tremendously important for our capacity to forgive one another. It is the reward that God gives to his Son precisely because his sacrifice is so totally sufficient for our forgiveness and for our power to forgive.
Let me try to show some of the evidence that the resurrection of Jesus is the reward of his sacrifice. The book of Hebrews makes this plain in three different places. Start at the end of the book. In Hebrews 13:20–21a it says, "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will."
This sounds like Jesus died for himself. Look at it again: "[God] brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep [that is, he raised Christ from the dead] through [by means of] the blood of the eternal covenant." Christ was raised from the dead through his own blood!
But we know from this same book—especially from this book (Hebrews 4:15; 5:9; 7:26, 28; 9:14)—that Christ was without sin and did not need anyone to die for him, not even himself! So when it says in 13:20 that God raised him from the dead "through the blood of the eternal covenant," I take it to mean that his sacrifice so perfectly secured his covenant promises for his people that God rewarded him with resurrection to carry those promises into eternal force.
So the resurrection of Jesus validates the infinite value of the blood of Jesus. If he is raised, the sacrifice was sufficient, and you are not still in your sins. There is gospel-flying.
Another text that shows this is Hebrews 2:9b, "He has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor." There it is again: "Because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor." The glory and honor that Jesus received in the resurrection and ascension was "because of his suffering and death." His resurrection was the reward of his suffering.
Therefore if he has not been raised, then it is because God does not regard his sacrifice as worth rewarding. It is defective. And we are still in our sins.
We get an even deeper insight into this rewarding of the Son in Hebrews 10:12–14, "He [Christ], having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God [there's the connection between the sacrifice and the resurrection, but he's going to say how they are connected], waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For [crucial word! "because"] by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."
Now we can see the connection between the offering Jesus made and his resurrection: Verse 12, "Having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God [he was raised!] . . . (v. 14) FOR [because] by that one offering he perfected for all time those who are sanctified."
In other words the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins was so complete that he perfected us for all time by that one sacrifice. This is awesome—all sins forgiven, past, present, future on the basis of one sacrifice. All God's people who by faith in Jesus are being progressively sanctified now have in fact been definitively, perfected before God for all time—and that by ONE sacrifice, the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus of his own blood.
Therefore—for this reason—he sat down at the right hand of God. The resurrection was the Father's reward for such an utterly complete and marvelous work on the cross.
If Christ had not been raised from the dead, we would still be in our sins because that would mean his sacrifice was deficient. But he has been raised and the point of all these texts is that this resurrection is the reward for his sacrifice and a validation of its utter perfection and sufficiency to make us perfect before God.
We could go to Philippians 2:6–11 and see the same thing where Paul says that since Christ emptied himself and was obedient unto death, THEREFORE God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name.
But I think it might strengthen our faith even more if we go to an Old Testament prophecy and see the truth of Christ's resurrection and, even there 700 years before the event, its connection to the sacrifice of Christ. Even Isaiah (53:10–12) saw that the resurrection of the Servant of the Lord would be the reward of his suffering, and the proof that his suffering was sufficient to justify his people. Notice the crucial connections as I read
The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if [note this "if"] He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days [that's the resurrection!—"if" he gives himself as an offering], and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of [notice again the connection] the anguish of His soul, He will see it [its fruit] and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore [i.e., because he justified many by bearing their iniquities] I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong [this is the reward of resurrection], because [here it is one last time, "because"] He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
So already 700 years before the death and resurrection of Christ Isaiah saw them and the connection he saw was that the resurrection of Christ was the reward of his sacrifice and the validation of his suffering to cover sin.
- If he would render himself as a guilt offering, THEN he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days.
- As a result of the anguish of his soul, he will be satisfied (with its fruit in resurrection).
- Because he bears the sins of many, THEREFORE God will allot him a portion with the great.
- He will divide the booty with the strong BECAUSE he poured out his life to death.
So we come back from Hebrews and Philippians and Isaiah to our original question from 1 Corinthians 15:17: If it's the blood of Christ, the death of Christ, that covers all our sins and justifies us before God, then why are we still in our sins if the Christ does not rise from the dead?
The answer we have seen is this: the resurrection of Jesus is the reward of his sacrifice. It is the proof of how perfect and all-sufficient his sacrifice was. Therefore if God does not give the reward, it is because the sacrifice is defective and our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. The gospel gives no wings and we are left unforgiven and unforgiving.
But the message of Easter is the shout of 1 Corinthians 15:20, "But Christ has been raised." And Paul gives the evidence for it in 1 Corinthians 15:5–8—the people Christ appeared to: individuals, small groups, a large group, many of whom were still alive as Paul wrote so that the Corinthians could investigate his claim, "But Christ has been raised."
Therefore our faith is not futile and we are not still in our sins and we are not unforgiven and we need not be—indeed, cannot be—unforgiving. The gospel does give wings:
Far better news the Gospel brings,
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
Doubt not his sacrifice can save,
God sealed it with an empty grave.
And by his blood and life we live
And now have freedom to forgive.
The resurrection of Jesus is an exclamation point of God's joy and celebration of all that Christ did for us in his dying. Christ is alive today for this reason: to deliver to us personally and powerfully everything he died to obtain. Including the joy of being forgiven and the doubled joy of being forgivers.
To acknowledge this and embrace it and celebrate it, would you sing with me these words (to the tune of "Be Still My Soul"):
I then shall live as one who's been forgiven;
I'll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father:
I am His child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I'll forgive another;
The law of love I gladly will obey.