Have you ever heard of ifttt.com? It stands for “if this, then that.” It’s a website I recently discovered where you can set up parameters so that if X happens on the internet, Y will happen for you; for example, if someone posts something on your Facebook page, a text is sent to your phone. As a geek, I really like it.
For lack of a better illustration, I thought of that while reading today’s passage. Remember that Paul’s opponents in the church in Corinth were not (publically) denying the resurrection of Christ. What they were either questioning or outright denying was the general resurrection of believers when Christ returns.
This is where Paul’s logic shines through, in the ultimate “If this, then that” statement. The proposition put forward by the skeptics was “The dead are not raised to life again. It doesn’t happen, ever.” The apostle’s rejoinder is simple yet profound: “Well, if the dead are not ever raised, then you have to believe that Christ wasn’t raised either.”
Then he steps backwards from that notion and presents a lesson in reductio ad absurdum. If you follow their line of “reasoning,” then their whole system falls like a house of cards. If Christ has not been raised. . .
1) Our preaching is useless. Make no mistake, if Christ is still dead somewhere (more like turned into dust at this point), then the entirety of the Message of the Bible is “useless.” Anyone who says “I respect the Bible as a good rule book, but I can’t swallow the miracles [like Thomas Jefferson did]” hasn’t wrestled enough with what Paul is saying here. If there’s no Resurrection, then anything else in the Bible is useless.
2) So is your faith. If you can’t believe in the Resurrection, then that’s between you and God, but please don’t pretend that your “faith” is anything but fairytales. Whatever it is, it’s not biblical Christianity.
3) The apostles are false witnesses. Each of them testified--frequently under oath before God—that they’d seen the Lord Jesus walking around after his death. Like the old “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” trilemma by C. S. Lewis, they’re either liars, lunatics, or truth-tellers. Please keep in mind that if they were making this up, then that means that all the apostles preached not only a lie, but something they knew was a lie. And were willing to die for it.
4) You’re still in your sins. The Resurrection is completely essential to our salvation. Jesus frequently predicted it along with just about every prediction of his Passion, so if he didn’t rise then he’s either a liar or lunatic, neither of which I’m willing to put my trust in for salvation, thanks much. If he’s not raised, then my sins are not forgiven, and Hell is my inevitable destiny.
5) We’re of all people most to be pitied. If Christ is still dead, then all the martyrs—those who’ve shed their own blood instead of renouncing their Savior—have all died in vain. Add to that all the countless men and women throughout history who’ve given up their families, all their wealth, their homes, their reputations, and anything else this world can give and take away. If Christ is still dead, they’re all fools.
Point #5 is a good jumping off point for addressing a really mysterious and obscure verse, namely vs. 29. Paul is stretching out his reduction ad absurdum to “If there’s no resurrection, then why are people baptized for the dead?” Taken in context with the rest of the chapter and the Bible, here’s the best explanation I’ve read: It’s referring to Christians who got baptized on behalf of other Christians who’d died (probably martyred) before they’d been able to get baptized, and this was symbolic of the truth that baptism represents: Our death to sin and our new life in Christ, which will one day culminate in us coming out of our graves. Keep in mind that Paul doesn’t necessarily commend the practice, just the truth behind it.
But however you interpret vs. 29, the point in vss. 29-32 is the same: If there’s no resurrection, then any baptism is a lie and a cruel joke. Along with this the dangers which the Corinthians faced with bravery was merely acts of stupidity. And all the dangers which Paul himself had faced were all for nothing. If there’s no resurrection, we might as well party like there’s no tomorrow, since we’re all just dust and ashes in the end.
But Christ did rise from the dead. And because he rose, we will rise. I went over much of this in our 1st year in my Easter meditation “What Difference Does The Resurrection Make?” But here’s a quick summary: Jesus won everything, and we’re winners along with him. The Father placed everything under his Son’s feet: Death, Hell, Satan, along with all creation seen and unseen. All of the enemies which we face or will ever face are under his feet. And one day we’ll get to see the final coronation with our own (new) eyes. Can’t wait.
I need to make one final gleaning from this passage: Doctrine matters. What you believe matters. Yes, we need to be practical in our faith. But our faith has content. And our faith—all that we discussed in points 1-5 above--stands or falls with the Resurrection. If it’s true, then for us it can truly be said “The best is yet to come.”
Like Jesus asked Martha “Do you believe this?”
Lord Jesus, I believe. I really do. But I need some help living that truth out. Please.