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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, April 25, 2010

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

Paul was preaching to people in the city of Corinth. Most of them came from backgrounds of Stoicism, Epicureanism and Platonism. These people didn’t believe in the resurrection. They weren’t just denying Christ’s resurrection. They did not believe in the resurrection of the human body at all. This was true throughout the Roman world.

I studied at a Southern Baptist seminary, which was very liberal at the time. They made us study the writings of Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann said that the only thing we can know about the historical Jesus is that He was a radical who was crucified. He said that the “mythical world” of the first century must be stripped away or it will alienate modern people from the Christian faith. He said that Jesus only rose from the dead “in the minds of the Disciples.” Well, it seems to me that the resurrection of Christ doesn’t just alienate “modern” people. It alienated the Stoics, Epicureans and Platonists that Paul preached to as well! And it also alienated Muslims and orthodox Jews. If we try to figure out how to have a Gospel that doesn’t alienate somebody we won’t have any message at all! Bultmann said that Christ’s crucifixion was the only fact necessary for Christian faith. But he was wrong!

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain [worthless]” (I Corinthians 15:14).

That’s exactly what was wrong with Bultmann’s teaching – it was worthless! And that is what was wrong with his theology – it was worthless! That’s why nobody but an ivory-tower liberal theologian even knows who he was – because his ideas are worthless!

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain [worthless]” (I Corinthians 15:14).

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

Perhaps you belong to a church which denies that Christ rose from the dead. If Christ is not bodily risen from the dead, then our preaching is vain. Not only that, but our faith is vain also. You might just as well drop your church membership. It’s no good. There is no reason to go to church or to hear a sermon if Christ is not raised from the dead (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 75; note on I Corinthians 15:14).

There were no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts” in the Apostles’ minds. They said that they saw Christ risen from the dead! They preached Christ risen from the dead! And they suffered and died as martyrs for preaching that Christ rose from the dead! I’ll let you decide if they were right or wrong. But men do not die for what they know is a lie! Men will only die for something they believe in wholeheartedly! And all of the Disciples but John died horrible deaths because they preached, “Christ is risen!” To which thousands of martyrs who followed them replied, “He is risen indeed!”

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

If you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection it isn’t because you have a “modern mind,” as Rudolf Bultmann said. Oh no! It’s because you have an unconverted mind!

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

When you are converted you won’t have any trouble believing that Christ rose from the dead!

By the way, the liberal churches, where many preachers believe what Bultmann said, are not growing today. In fact their numbers shrink every year! The only churches that are growing at all are the ones where the preachers believe in the resurrection of Christ! Why? Because,

“…if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

But Paul told those people in Corinth that there were plenty of eye-witnesses, hundreds of people who saw Christ after He rose from the dead. These included Peter, “five hundred brethren at once,” James – the half-brother of Jesus, “all the apostles,” and Paul himself (I Corinthians 15:5-8). William McDonald said, “In other words, should anyone wish to contest the truthfulness of what Paul was saying [about Christ’s resurrection] the witnesses were still alive and could be questioned… [Then Paul] speaks of his own acquaintance with the risen Christ” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, p. 1804; notes on I Corinthians 15:6, 8).

There was never any question in the minds of those who saw the resurrected Christ. If you read through the Book of Acts you will see that the Apostles spoke of Christ’s resurrection nearly every time they preached!

1.  When Matthias was chosen by the other Apostles to replace Judas, who had betrayed Christ, the Apostles said Matthias should be appointed to fill his place because Matthias had been with them – an eyewitness of Christ, from the time John the Baptist baptized Him until He ascended back to Heaven (Acts 1:21-22a). And the Apostles said that Matthias must “be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:22b). Matthias, with the other Apostles, had seen Christ, and touched Him and talked with Him, after He rose from the dead. And so, Matthias was ordained “to be a witness of his resurrection.” The main thing Matthias preached was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!

2.  When Peter preached his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, 9 verses are devoted to the introduction, but 13 verses are given to describe the main thing he preached – the resurrection of Christ! (see Acts 2:24-36). More than half of Peter’s Pentecost sermon was centered on Christ’s resurrection from the dead,

“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it”
       (Acts 2:24).

3.  When a lame man was healed at the gate of the Temple, a great crowd gathered, and Peter said to them,

“Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses”
       (Acts 3:14-15).

At the end of that same sermon Peter again spoke of Christ’s resurrection,

“Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

4.  When the Apostles were arrested, in the first persecution, it was because of the resurrection,

“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2).

The doctrine of the resurrection is what grieved the priests and Sadducees,

“And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold [in jail] unto the next day: for it was now eventide. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:3-4).

It was preaching on the resurrection that converted five thousand men!

5.  When Peter was dragged before the high priest and his court, they asked him “By what power” he had healed the lame man (Acts 4:7). Peter answered,

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:10).

And then Peter said,

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Peter could not preach a sermon without proclaiming Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection from the dead!

6.  After Peter and John were released from prison they went back with the others and prayed, “and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). What did they preach? The resurrection of Christ from the dead!

“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).

That’s what all the Apostles preached – “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).

7.  When the second persecution came the Apostles were put “in the common prison” (Acts 5:18). “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth” (Acts 5:19). Soon they were all “standing in the temple, and teaching the people” again (Acts 5:25). They were brought before the high priest. He said to them, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine”
       (Acts 5:28).

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins”
       (Acts 5:29-31).

8.  When the third persecution began, Stephen was arrested and brought before the high priest and his council. Stephen gave his great sermon, which ended with him saying he saw the resurrected Christ,

“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

They stoned him to death, but Paul heard him proclaim the risen Christ. I am convinced that God used Stephen’s sermon in the conversion of Paul.

9.  When Peter spoke in the house of Cornelius the Gentile, he gave the same message he had preached to the Jews,

“And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41).

These Gentiles were then converted!

10.  When Paul preached in the synagogue at Antioch, he said,

“And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption” (Acts 13:28-37).

11.  When Paul reached Thessalonica he again preached the resurrection of Christ.

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (Acts 17:2-3).

Several Jews and “a great multitude” of Gentiles were converted
       (Acts 17:4).

12.  When Paul came to Athens, the great cultural center of the world at that time, we are told,

“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).

They knew Paul preached the resurrection before he spoke! Then Paul stood on Mars Hill and preached,

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Wherever Paul preached his great message was the resurrection of Christ!

13.  When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and brought before the high priests, he cried out,

“Men and brethren…of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (Acts 23:6).

14.  When Festus accused Paul, he said that the Jews “had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:19). It seems that Paul never stopped talking about the resurrection of Christ!

15.  When Paul was brought before King Agrippa he said,

“Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23).

Dr. John R. Rice said,

      We can be sure from Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15:1-4 that the resurrection of Christ, according to the Scriptures, was part of the saving gospel he preached, and from the examples given in the book of Acts, that Paul everywhere preached the resurrection of Christ when he preached the gospel.
      We can draw no other conclusion than that the resurrection is as vital a part of the gospel, as preached by New Testament preachers, as the death of Christ itself. Oh, then let us testify to the fact that Christ is risen from the dead! (John R. Rice, D.D., The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1953, p. 26).

It is important for us to preach the resurrection of Christ. If we don’t, people may think He is a spirit floating in the air. They won’t realize that He has risen bodily from the grave, and is now seated at God’s right hand in Heaven. If people do not know where He is, they won’t know where to come to Him, when we tell them to come to Christ!

Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. But He rose from the dead to give you life. We pray that you will come to the risen Saviour, now at the right hand of God in Heaven. Come to Jesus and He will pardon your sins and save you from the wrath to come!

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I Corinthians 15:12-20.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Christ Arose” (by Robert Lowry, 1826-1899).