It’s at the cross that we are reminded a sacrifice was made, once and for all. Jesus Christ laid down His life, He suffered, was crucified, died and was buried to atone for our sins and provide for us a righteous standing before the Father.
The crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus Christ is the most important event in history; everything before it, leads to it, everything after it, looks back on it. Nothing that has ever happened in human history has had the impact of the cross of Jesus Christ. But, we need to understand, His death was not the end of the story…on the third day He rose from the dead. (The Apostles’ Creed)
The Apostle Paul is very clear on this point: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Let there be no confusion on this point; the Gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul and Peter stand in perfect harmony on this point—Jesus Christ died and then was raised from the dead.
The implications of this truth are more than just theological in nature, there are profound implications regarding our understanding of life and death and the afterlife. When we stand at the graveside of a loved one, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed; it is not unusual to wonder if we will ever see them again. In the early church some believers faced this very human struggle.
Paul addresses this concern in I Corinthians 15 by reminding his readers that their confidence, their hope rested on whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. As you read the text, what is interesting is that Paul does not rebuke these believers for their doubts and fears, nor does offer any ‘proof’ of the resurrection. He simply states it as a fact…that Christ died…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He points them back to the empty tomb and says, ‘remember, God raised His Son from the grave; everything hinges on whether or not it’s true, on whether or not you believe it to be true.
To drive home his point, he argues, what if Jesus has not been raised from the dead? If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19) The word futile means useless, empty, of no value. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the Christian faith completely collapses. We would still be lost in our sin and there would be no hope of life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave, it’s all meaningless. Death wins, and our worst fears are realized as we lay a loved one to rest.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! (1 Corinthians 15:20) And because of that, our faith does have meaning, we do have forgiveness and the sure hope of life beyond the grave. We can be certain about our own future, about all who die in Christ.
I have stood at the graveside, more times than I can remember, I’ve seen more death than I care to experience—it never gets easier. Where do we find hope in the face of death? We find it in the truth of God’s Word, in the certainty of the resurrection: In Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
If the Lord Jesus did rise from the grave, and I believe to the core of my being He did, then we’re going to be okay. We can have our questions, our doubts, our fears; even as we drive away from the graveside, we can feel overwhelmed. That’s not what matters. Our faith is not determined by the strength of our belief; our faith rests on what happened at the tomb 2,000 years ago. If Jesus was raised the dead, then death has been swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15:54). We’re going to be okay! Therefore, we can triumphantly proclaim: Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)