The staff of The Western Journal is working a reduced schedule over Easter weekend to allow our employees the opportunity for rest and worship with their families if they so choose. We are re-publishing this article as a service to our readers, who reacted strongly to it when it first ran.
This was originally published in 1991.
“Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” — 1 Corinthians 15:12
I received a phone call this past week from a magazine asking me to write a short article about how we should love God for who he is and not for what he gives us. And I said, “I think I know what you mean. It’s like marriage: you shouldn’t marry a woman for her money. You should marry her for who she is, not for what she has. So it is with God. We should love him for who he is, not for the material benefits he may give.”
“But I need to make clear,” I said, “that you realize I don’t play down God’s effort to satisfy my longings. I don’t see a conflict between a God who lives to glorify his worth and a God who lives to satisfy my heart’s desire. In fact the essence of my theology,” I said, “and the heartbeat of my ministry is this sentence: God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. Therefore, whenever I see him at work in the Bible to satisfy my soul, I see him at work to glorify his name. To me the greatest news in all the world is that God has designed a universe in which God’s God-centeredness is the foundation of my infinite joy.”
Our Longings and the Centrality of Jesus
So they said I should go ahead and write the article. But the reason I start with this is because it is so important for what I see happening in this passage of Scripture, especially verses 12-20. I see Paul proclaiming the good news that the resurrection of Jesus satisfies six of our deepest needs and longings. But in doing this he is not putting us at the center. He is putting Jesus as the center, and God who raised him from the dead.
My prayer for us this morning is that we would all feel these six longings that I believe are rooted in every human heart, and that you would see the risen and living Jesus as the answer to those longings, and that in doing so you would be satisfied in him and he would be glorified in you.
Now I didn’t make up these longings or get them from any book. They come straight out of this text. Let me try to show you how they came clear to me.
‘If Christ Has Not Been Raised …’
Paul says there are six things that would be in shambles if Christ did not rise from the dead. Then verse 20 reverses the whole paragraph: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So let’s look at those six things.
Verse 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our preaching is not in vain.
Verse 14: “… and your faith is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our faith is not in vain.
Verse 15: If Christ has not been raised, “we are found to be misrepresenting God” — literally: we are false witnesses — “because we testified of God that he raised Christ.” But since Christ has been raised, the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God.
Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not still in our sins.
Verse 18: If Christ has not been raised, then “those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” But since Christ has been raised, the dead in Christ have not perished.
Verse 19: If Christ has not been raised, then “we are of all men most to be pitied.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not to be pitied.
Stating the Negatives in Positive Terms
But what really made the lights go on for me, and what showed me the good news that six of my deepest longings were being met here by the resurrection of Jesus was when I tried to go back and restate each of these six reversals in positive terms. So far we have used negatives: “preaching not in vain … faith not in vain … etc.” Now we need to see what God has really done for us in raising Jesus from the dead. We see this when we put all these negatives into positives.
I’m going to switch the order around this time because when the resurrection starts meeting our needs, there is a kind of pattern that fits our experience. I want to follow that pattern as we look at each of our longings being satisfied.
1. We Are Forgiven for Our Sins
First, from verse 17, instead of saying negatively that we are not still in our sins, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are forgiven for our sins.
I put this first as the basic need and longing of our hearts because if God holds our sins against us — and we all have sinned! — then there is no hope of anything else from God. The foundation for every other blessing from God is that God won’t hold our sins against us. Everything hangs on forgiveness.
How is the resurrection connected to our forgiveness? Isn’t it the death of Jesus that takes away our sin, because he bore our sins and took our judgment (1 Corinthians 15:3)? Yes. But the connection with the resurrection is very important. Romans 4:25 puts it like this: “He was handed over [to death] on account of our transgressions, and he was raised on account of our justification.”
This means that by his death he paid the penalty for our sins and purchased our acquittal, our justification, our forgiveness. And since the achievement of the cross was so complete and the work of our justification so decisive, God raised Jesus from the dead to validate our forgiveness and to vindicate his Son’s righteousness and to celebrate the work of justification.
Everybody in this room this morning needs forgiveness, and deep inside, even when we don’t think about it, we long for it. We long to be accepted by God. We fear the alienation of our guilt. But Paul says, because Christ rose from the dead, we are no longer in our sins. This is the first and most basic longing of our hearts.
2. Our Faith Is Well-Founded
Second, from verse 14, instead of saying negatively that our faith is not in vain, we can say positively that because of the resurrection our faith is well-founded. Or, to put it more personally, because of the resurrection of Jesus there is someone we can trust absolutely.
I believe that deep in the heart of every person is a longing for someone that you can count on through thick and thin. Someone who is absolutely trustworthy. Someone who, if you put your faith in him, it won’t be in vain. He won’t let you down. He will always be there. We want it because we were made for it. God put man and woman in the garden of Eden to glorify God by trusting him for everything they needed.
That need has never changed, in spite of sin. And now that we are no longer in our sins, this longing too is satisfied by the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus proves his love for us, and the resurrection proves his power over every enemy of life. And so there is someone you can count on. Someone absolutely trustworthy. Someone who will never let you down. Jesus is alive to be trusted. “The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
3. The Apostles Preach What Is True
Third, from verse 15, instead of saying negatively that the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God, we can say positively that because of the resurrection the apostles preach what is true. They are not false witnesses about God. They are true.
Our young people are being taught (and many of us were taught) that there is no absolute truth — something that is true all the time and everywhere whether people know it or like it. It is a rare teenager today who has the guts and independence to say, for example, in a high school health class that premarital sex is wrong — wrong for everybody, not just those who think it’s wrong. Homosexual activity is wrong — wrong for everybody and not just those who think it’s wrong.
Without the conviction that there are absolutes that can be shared and made the basis for society, the only end will be anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Therefore the need for truth is a deep need of the human soul and human society. And Jesus came into the world to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And then he rose from the dead to vindicate his claim. Jesus has a right to tell us what is absolutely true because in the resurrection God proved him to be absolutely true.
4/5. We Are to Be Envied
Fourth and fifth, from verse 19, instead of saying negatively that we are not to be pitied, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are to be envied. Our preaching is not in vain — it is full, meaningful, valid, valuable, significant.
If Christ is not raised, then living for him, doing what he says, following his will is a great delusion. We should be pitied like insane people who live by hallucinations. But since he has been raised and is alive and reigns as king forever, all our obedience, all our love, all our self-denial is not just not-to-be-pitied, but is positively enviable. “This slight momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:17).
And there is in every one of us the longing that our lives be well spent — that our lives count for something, that they have significance and usefulness, that we don’t come to the end of our days and say, it was all in vain, empty, pointless, useless, insignificant — pitiable.
Paul knows this. That’s why he ends this whole chapter on the resurrection (v. 58) with the words: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Not in vain! That’s the longing of our lives. O Lord let it not be misspent. Let me not come to my grave and say, “I’ve wasted it!” It does not have to be. Christ is risen and everything done in his name — by his strength and for his glory — is not in vain. It is enviable. Significant. Valuable. Eternal.
6. Those Who Have Fallen Asleep Are Alive
Finally, there is the longing that we shall live forever in joy. That we not come to an empty end after a full and valuable life. That we not become a zero, or worse, damned. And so Paul says in verse 18 that because Christ is raised those who have fallen asleep in him — those who have died in faith — have not perished. Or positively, they are alive. They will live forever. They live the way Christ lives. They will enter into the joy of their Master.
The Greatest News in All the World
The greatest news in all the world is that God and his Son are most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in them. And to make that true God raised his Son Jesus from the dead to reign forevermore.
In raising him from the dead:
• He gave us forgiveness and glorified Jesus as the all-sufficient forgiver.
• He gave us a friend to count on and glorified Jesus as utterly reliable.
• He gave us guidance and unchanging truth and glorified Jesus as the absolute foundation for truth and righteousness.
• He gave us a life that is not pitiable but enviable, a ministry that is not in vain but fruitful, and glorified Jesus as the source and goal of all life and all ministry.
• He gave us everlasting joy that will not be ended by death, and glorified Jesus as the author of life, the victor over death, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Therefore I urge you with all my heart this morning to lift up your heart and say with the choirs on earth and in heaven:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by his blood to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Amen.
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is author of more than 50 books, including “Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”
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