By a long shot, Easter is my favorite holiday. On Sunday we celebrate that, by his resurrection, Jesus Christ decisively ended the terrible reign of heartbreak and sin in this world. There is freedom for those who trust in him. And for those believers, Easter also promises to break us free from the trappings of mediocrity in this world. This is a point John Piper developed in the following excerpt from his 2001 Easter sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12–20. Here’s what he said.
I am banking everything in the rest of this sermon on the fact that there is something in every one of you that has tasted moments where you have said, “I don’t want to be like the run of the mill, living for myself, making a name for myself, making lots of money, just shrinking into a little nuclear family with a nice TV or a big sound system with big screens and a lot of games and thinking, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’” You know in your best moments it isn’t so.
Life on the Edge
So here is my question: Paul lived such a life of cutting-edge, sacrificial, risk-taking, perilous love. And I want to know how he did it. Let me just acquaint you for a moment with Paul’s life. In 1 Corinthians 15:30, Paul asks, “Why are we . . . in danger every hour.” Think of it: in peril every hour. He is in danger all the time. Why? He explains in the second letter he wrote to Corinth:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24–27)
And he asks just a few verses earlier than that paragraph in chapter 2 Corinthians 11:11: “And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” “You may not know I love you, but God knows I love you. That is why I choose this life.”
How to Sustain Love
So here we have a person doing what we at our highest moments long to do — namely, live on the cutting edge of self-sacrificial love, and not just constantly think about maximizing our own private, self-indulgent pleasures. And now the question is: How do you do that? How do you live in peril every hour? How do you embrace risk and beatings and imprisonments and shipwrecks? Why do you make choices, Paul, that put you in harm’s way over and over again? What is it with you?
His answer is: love. But how is that sustained? Now let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Christ is not raised and I am hoping for a resurrection, I am stupid living the life I am living. My life is crazy. My life is insane. My life is foolish. It is pitiable. It is nonsense if I am not going to be raised with Christ someday. Do you see? I will ask you right now: Are you living a life that is stupid if you are not raised from the dead?
Wow! What an indictment of the American church. What an indictment of the American church. How are your choices? Do they look like everybody else in the world? How much is it costing you to love people? Hardly anything? Hardly any risks? Hardly any dangers? Hardly any choices that would be called imprudent? And yet, I believe, from God Almighty, written on your heart is, “O God, there has got to be more. There has got to be more. There has got to be more than this middle American way of prosperity that causes people to get just as sick with mental disease as all the sicknesses in the simple, undeveloped places of the world. There has got to be more to this.”
And Paul says there is more. There is so much more in this life and the next. Do you know the great obstacle to living the life you dream about and that God has put in your heart as possible? First Corinthians 15:32: “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” If you believe that tomorrow we die — that is it, zero, no resurrection — you will eat and drink and you won’t care about love. You won’t care about people. You won’t take any risks in order to make yourself a means to other people’s joy, because you are going to maximize your own private pleasures, because you have only got one life to do it.
But if you have got ten thousand ages of years to do it with a Christ who will never let you be bored, this little prelude can be spent directing people to that goal and taking whatever risks it takes to get them there and you there with maximum joy.
Christ Is the Key
So I am done and I am going to make a closing appeal to you to just think and pray and seek God in this. If Christ has not been raised, the Christian life ought to look stupid, which means that believing in the resurrection of Christ, and of ourselves, is the key to the highest, noblest, and in the long run, most joyful life. Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). For the joy that was set before him beyond the resurrection, he endured the cross. It’s the same thing for him as with us.
And if he has been raised, there is a power in the world and in this room and in the gospel that can lift you, both in this life and the next, to a level of significant living that God has written on your heart as beautiful and right and true.
And almost everybody in this room wants it. A few of you have checked out so completely right now, you are not even hearing what I say. I grieve for you. I pray for you. I long for you. But some of you, many of you, are feeling what I am saying; namely, “Yeah, perhaps those dreams were written by God, and perhaps the key that unlocks that dream is the Son of God, and is the resurrection of the Son of God, and is the freedom that comes from believing in the Son and the resurrection — my own resurrection. Maybe that is the key.”
And I just urge you to press in on Christ. Come to Christ. Believe in Christ. He is the key. He is the answer.