Sunday, April 26, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "No Resurrection? Why Bother?"

“No Resurrection? Why Bother?”
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
April 26, 2009

I said last week that the Resurrection is too important and too good[!] to confine it to just one Sunday per year. So we’re making this a Resurrection Month–not just Resurrection Sunday.

And we’re studying The Resurrection Chapter–1 Corinthians 15.

Remember that the apostle Paul was trying to fix a problem at the church in Corinth. The problem was that some people in that church actually denied the category of resurrection.

They were teaching that there was no such thing as resurrection!

And Paul countered that problem with a reminder of the good news (vv.1-11) which included a resurrection–the most important resurrection ever!!–the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And then Paul went on to say (vv.12-19) that if Jesus Christ is not alive today then Christianity is worthless, empty, and futile. (V.19) “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” That’s what I told my hitchhiker friend.

Then last week (vv.20-28), we heard Paul turn the argument upside down and say “But Christ has indeed been raised.” And the Risen Christ has unleashed an unstoppable, inevitable chain of events that will culminate in our resurrection and the ultimate triumph of our God.

This isn’t just about Jesus Christ’s resurrection–it’s about our resurrection, too. He is the firstfruits. And we who believe in Him are to be the rest of the harvest! Amen?

Now, in this week’s paragraph (in vv.29-34), Paul goes back to the kind of argument that he was using in vv.12-29. He goes back to asking the question, “What if there is no resurrection?” And he goes back to showing how futile Christianity is without resurrection.

In essence, he says, “Why bother?” Why bother?

Why bother with Christianity, practicing it, preaching it, persevering in it?

Why bother? If there is “No Resurrection? Why Bother?”

Most of the Bible is easy to understand. It may not be easy to practice all the time, but it is easy enough to understand, to get the point.

But there are a few passages of Scripture that are very, very obscure. Even after much study, there are a few passages of Scripture that make me just scratch my head and say, “I’m not sure.”

Our v.29 is one of those passages of Scripture that have given fits to preachers and scholars for many, many years.

It’s one of those passages that when we get to heaven, when its time for questions, we’re going to want to ask about first. “Lord, what did you mean by 1 Corinthians 15:29?”

There are at least 40 different interpretations of v.29 that are all possible from one degree of probability to another. So it is hard to be too insistent on one interpretation.

However, the basic flow of the argument is very clear.

Paul is basically saying, if there is no resurrection, “Why bother with baptism?”


Let’s read v.29 again.

“Now if there is no resurrection [as we know some of them were claiming], what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”

Now, Paul’s basic point is clear: it is ridiculous to spend your valuable time with baptism, if what baptism symbolizes and anticipates is not real.

Baptism is about publically identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and anticipating your own resurrection.

But if there is no resurrection of Jesus, why bother identifying with it? And if there is no personal resurrection to look forward to, why bother anticipating it? It’s a waste of time to get baptized. That’s pretty clear.

But the problem here is that Paul is not just talking about baptism, but specifically about (v.29) “baptism for the dead.”

And I don’t know what he’s talking about!

It seems that there was a practice at Corinth of baptizing living people on behalf of (or in proxy for) some other people who had died.

Now, that’s a strange practice and one that has no other parallel in either the Old or New Testament.

As far as we know, no other church had ever or did ever (for many many years after) practice this same “baptism by proxy.” It appears to have been a Corinthian innovation.

So, it’s hard to know how this particular church did it, when they did it, or (most importantly) why they did it.

My best guess is that some believers didn’t have enough time to get baptized before they died. Like the thief on the cross (as we saw on Palm Sunday), or a death-bed conversion.

And the Corinthians wanted these recently converted, recently deceased people to be included in the very important symbolism of baptism. So when someone came to faith but then died before getting baptized like that, at a baptism celebration, someone else would stand up and take their place and say something like, “Today I stand for our brother Epaphras and take that step of baptism that he would have taken if he had lived long enough. Epaphras believed in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and I hereby identify him with the Jesus he has now gone to be with and publically anticipate the day when Epaphras will rise again.”

I don’t know, but that’s my best guess. It’s interesting to me that Paul does not tell us to practice this. And nowhere else do the Scriptures tell us to do it, either. Paul just recognizes that the Corinthians knew this practice and says that it would be stupid to bother with it if there is no resurrection planned by God.

“If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” Paul says, “Sounds like a waste of time to me.”

Now, you might have a different take on that verse. It’s not quite clear. But what IS clear is that Paul thinks that baptism would be ridiculous if there is no resurrection.

If Jesus is not alive today then don’t bother standing up for Him before the world. If He’s not going to raise you, then don’t bother getting dunked up in this baptistry or at the lake this Summer.

The practices of Christianity (including baptism) are worthless without a Risen Savior.

Of course, the opposite is also true. The practices of Christianity (including baptism) are incredibly worthwhile if Jesus is alive.

Paul is also saying (by negation) that since Jesus is alive, then baptism has relevance (even if he is not telling us to do it for dead people like they did in Corinth).

Have you been baptized since you came to faith in Jesus Christ?

If not, why not? It’s important!

Have you publically identified yourself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Have you proclaimed to the world (by being immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that you anticipate Jesus’ raising you from the dead?

If Jesus is alive (and I believe He is!) then the practices of Christianity such as baptism have great significance.

I encourage you to be baptized.

This Summer, I would like to have a public baptism at a lake, like Curwensville Dam or Black Moshannon.

If you are ready to take that step (and that should be every believer in Jesus Christ!), then talk with me about our baptism class and making public your faith this Summer.

Because Jesus is alive!

So, we’ll bother with baptism.

Now, in the next verse, Paul moves off of their practices of baptism, onto his apostolic ministry, which was one of great suffering.

In essence he says, “If there is no resurrection, why bother with suffering for Christ?”


“And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day–I mean that brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul is saying that his ministry was dangerous. Every day he faced the possibility of death for Christ–martyrdom. Every day had the chance of being his last–all because he was a missionary of Jesus Christ.

As surely as he loves to glory in the Corinthians’ faith, he surely is in danger.

But if there is no resurrection, why bother?

Why bother going on dangerous missions trips if Jesus is not alive?

Why bother taking a difficult assignment if you only have one life to live?

If there is nothing to this story about Jesus’ resurrection, then missionary work is a colossal waste of time.

Look at v.32.

“If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?”

Paul is talking about the riots and persecution he experienced at the hands of the unbelievers at Ephesus. His opponents were ferocious. He calls them “wild beasts.”

But he says, “If it was just for human reasons [like altruism or charity or humanitarianism] then what have I gained?”

Is it worth it to take on dangerous missions for a false future?

Paul didn’t think so.

If there is no resurrection, then all of his ministry in hard places was stupid.

And he had had it tough. Listen to Paul’s ministry report in 2 Corinthians 11, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (Vv.23-27).

How would you like to read a missionary prayer letter like that one?

Paul is saying, “I’m crazy to be doing this if there is no resurrection!”

Why bother suffering for Christ?

Henoc Lucien is our missionary in Haiti. He has something like 17 orphans living with him right now. They were orphaned by the latest round of Hurricanes.

Why bother feeding them if Jesus is not alive?

Kim and Jan Cone our missionaries to the Fulani in Central African Republic. They have had to struggle with banditry there. Bandits stealing things at gunpoint.

Is this kind of suffering worthwhile?

They could be home in the States with a cushy job and no bandits to worry about.

Is this kind of suffering worthwhile?

Only if Jesus is alive. Only if this life is not the only one we live! Only if there is a resurrection to be looked for to!

Henoc and Guerline & Kim and Jan Cone are not getting rich on the mission field. But they are storing up treasures to enjoy in the world to come. They are looking forward to a great reward that can only be collected in a resurrection body.

Why bother suffering for Christ if there is no resurrection?

But if there is a resurrection, then suffering for Christ has great reward!

1 Peter 4: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (vv.13-14).

It is worth it to suffer for Christ because Jesus is alive and we will live again, too.

What is Jesus calling you to?

I promise you that there is an element of suffering in it.

It’s not just missionaries that suffer for Christ.

It’s every Christ follower.

You and I are called to suffer for Christ. Jesus has some pain for you to take on in His service.

But it is pain that is bearable and worthwhile because of the surpassing greatness of knowing the Risen Savior and the reward promised to you that you will receive when you rise again to life.

Follow Christ into suffering because He is alive, and it is worth it.

Take risks for Christ! Suffer for Him. Follow Him into hardship.

Let’s bother! Let’s bother to suffer for Christ–because He’s alive.

The last point is from vv.32-34.

Paul (in essence) asks not just “Why bother with baptism?” or “Why bother with suffering for Christ.” But also, “Why bother with being good?”


Why bother with morality and holiness if there is no resurrection? Middle of v.32.

“If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.’”

Do you get it?

Let me put it this way: “One life to live, so live it up!”

If this is all there is (if this is as good as it gets), then enjoy your food and enjoy your drink because tomorrow you will be food for the worms. And that’s it.

Don’t waste time with “right” and “wrong.” Just do what comes naturally.

There will be no “hell to pay.”

Why bother with being good if there is no heaven and there is no hell?

The New Living Translation renders v.32, “If there is no resurrection, ‘Let's feast and get drunk, for tomorrow we die!’”

Let’s live like there is no tomorrow.

That’s right, you know. Telling the truth, keeping your promises, staying faithful to your spouse, paying your taxes, praying for people, keeping your anger in check–all these things are worthless if this is it!

If this is a good as it gets, you better grab yours because they are going fast.

Imagine a Christian on the Titanic. Only so many life-boats. Only so many life-jackets. Right?

He’s making sure the women and children get on the boats first. He’s making sure that the feeble and elderly get on the boats first.

Someone comes to him and says, “Save yourself, man!” And he says, “I know where I’ll be at the end of today. I know that my Redeemer lives and I will live again.”

But then he begins to think that Christianity wasn’t true. Maybe Jesus never rose from the dead. Maybe Jesus’ promises to raise him are also not true. There is no resurrection.

Push over the children. Step over the old people. Knock a lady out of the boat. Use your might (and a weapon if you can find one) to maintain your spot on the raft.

Because once you die, that’s it. And you need to do everything you can to enjoy yourself while you can.

If Jesus is not alive again....why bother with being good?

Unfortunately, this is how many people (including Christians like the some of the Corinthians) live their lives. They may not go to such an extreme, but they don’t think about any world except the one that they are living in, which is so short, so temporary, comparatively.

If Jesus is not alive today, then why bother with living for Him?

But Jesus IS alive today!

And He is calling you and me to live holy lives. V.33.

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God–I say this to your shame.”

Paul says, “Don’t get carried away by this false teaching that there is no resurrection. Don’t hang around people who talk that! It will mess up the way you live. Keeping the bad company of people who deny the resurrection will corrupt your character into someone who just lives for the fleeting pleasure of the moment. Wake up to the consequences of this kind of idea. And stop sinning! Stop your lazy living because you think that this world is all that there is.”

I am convinced that our lives now would be radically altered if we could focus more attention on our lives to come. If we could get fixed in our mind’s eye the return of Jesus and our resurrection bodies, then we wouldn’t struggle so much with greed and lust and anxiety and pride.

“Stop sinning,” Paul says. Stop living like there is no tomorrow. For because of Jesus’ resurrection, THERE IS A TOMORROW!

Stop sinning and get back to what you’re supposed to be about.

Paul says (v.34), “...there are some who are ignorant of God–I say this to you shame.”

You Corinthians are so focused on this world that you have not taught those among you and those around you about God. You are so focused on your food and your drink and your sex and your money that the work of the church: discipleship and evangelism are going to completely un-cared-for.

How shameful! The very thing the church exists to do is going un-done because some of you are saying that there is no resurrection, and many of you are living like it!

Since Jesus IS alive, we are called to live holy lives of purity and teach others about God.

Let me ask you a question (in closing this morning), is your life a holy life? Are you living in purity and cleanness before God?

Is your life a holy life?

If it is not, you probably are denying the resurrection.

You may agree with it in your doctrinal statement, but you are not believing it in such a way as to let it affect the way you live your life.

1 John says, “We know that when [Christ] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (3:3).

God is calling you and me to purity. He is saying to us, “Stop sinning.” Stop living like there is no tomorrow. Clean out the envy, anxiety, greed, and pride. Because of the resurrection there IS a tomorrow!

It is worth the bother to be baptized.
It is worth the bother to suffer for Christ.
And it is more than worth the bother to live a life of purity and goodness for the sake of Jesus.

Because He’s alive.