Jesus' Empty Tomb Changes Everything
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:12–19
If Jesus' tomb isn't empty, then Christianity is empty.
Have you ever considered that many businesses were created to solve our problems? There’s big money to be made in solving our problems: plumbers solve plumbing problems, carpenters solve house problems, tech support solves technology problems, landscape companies solve yard problems, accountants solve tax problems, dentists solve teeth problems, exterminators solve pest problems, therapists solve mental and emotional problems, doctors solve health problems, mechanics solve car problems, and so on.
What problems do you currently have in your life? One way to find out is to consider what you are praying about. At our denomination’s theology conference this past February, one of the sessions was on prayer. The speaker listed six categories that most of our prayers fit into: family, future, finances, work or school, church or ministry, and the “current crisis” in our life. He stated that people say you have a crisis about every six months. Can you think of any problems you have in those six categories? Problems with your family, problems with your future, problems with your finances, problems at work or school, problems in church or ministry, or a “current crisis” going on in your life.
When solving problems we want to get to the root cause. We need to address the actual problem. Painkillers only take the pain away but they don’t take away what’s causing the pain. Painting over water damage on your ceiling only covers the stain but it doesn’t fix the leak. We know that covering over something with a BandAid solution is not a real solution to our problems.
Is there a root cause to all of our problems? Can we trace all of our problems back to one source? Is it possible that one problem in our lives actually generates all the other problems we experience?
I find that I am often the biggest problem with my problems. It’s how I handle it. It’s my attitude in it. It’s how I am seeing the situation. It’s what I do with my frustration or fear or impatience. Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever made a problem bigger because you mishandled it? It’s like a snowball that starts at the top of a hill and as it rolls, it picks up more snow and speed and gets bigger and faster. I can make a small problem bigger by how I handle it. I can fail to handle a problem well and that only makes it worse. I can also blow a problem way out of proportion. Many times, I am the biggest problem in my problems.
So what is our biggest problem in life? On your list of problems that you have, what one should be given the greatest priority because it is the biggest? Which one should you be most concerned about? On one level, we could say that we are our own biggest problems. If we handled problems better, that would help a lot.
But even higher than that is the fact our relationship with God is broken. Our biggest problem is a broken relationship with God. If that problem was fixed, it would begin to take care of all other problems. It would affect every other problem we have. We would begin to handle problems differently. We would see them from a new angle. In fact, this problem creates many of the problems in our world, in our lives, and in our relationships.
If we put a tea bag in water, what will it do? Let’s wait and see what this water looks like at the end of the sermon.
The Bible says that our biggest problem is we have lost our relationship with God. We are disconnected from him, alienated, separated, estranged. The Bible doesn’t only say that we are far from God but that we are hostile toward him - we work against his purposes and do the opposite of what God made us to do. We were made to reflect what he is like and thus represent his reign and rule on earth. But it’s not just that we do what God doesn’t desire for us to do. We fight against God being in charge of our lives. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do, how to live, how to behave. We want to be on the throne of our lives. And that’s a problem because the only person who belongs on that throne is God. This means that we aren’t only hostile to God, but God is hostile toward us. When we reject the rightful ruler of this world and of our lives, that makes us rebels against the king. So we stand under God’s just condemnation and his righteous wrath.
This is our biggest problem: alienation, separation, estrangement, condemnation, and disconnection from God. Our relationship with God is a mess and we made the mess. We are our own biggest problems. We are God’s problem creation. Out of everything God created in Genesis 1-2, we are the only things God created that have the audacity to tell him “no”.
So what does all this have to do with Easter? Adam and Eve, the first humans, decided they didn’t want God in charge. So God sent them out of his presence. Then God chose the family of Abraham which later became known as the nation of Israel to bring the blessing of relationship with him back to the world. Israel was to be a light to the nations, reflecting what God is like and representing his kingdom on earth. But they failed. They went after other gods, they put their trust in created things, they placed their hope in the same things the world does. They did not live as God commanded them to live. Their kings did not reflect what God is like or represent his kingdom on earth. Their kings failed and the people failed. Eventually, Israel also suffered the consequence of their rebellion against God - God removed his presence from their temple, foreign nations invaded their land, they were taken out of the land of Israel, they experienced exile from God.
But their prophets told those who would listen of a day when God would bring a new king who would rescue them from this situation. He would truly reflect what God is like and represent God’s kingdom on earth. This king would deliver them from their sin. This king would liberate them from all that oppressed them and held them captive.
Strangely, the prophets also said this king would suffer. This king would be rejected. This king would bear the penalty for his people’s rebellion against God. He would stand in their place as their substitute. He would die the death they deserved. This part of the king’s role was often missed by faithful readers of the prophets at the time.
So when Jesus came onto the scene and people began to believe he was this king, even his followers had a hard time swallowing his predictions that he would suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel. This didn’t make sense. If he’s the king who is supposed to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, then how can he die? Don’t you have to be alive to do that? How can he save, rescue, and deliver others if he’s dead?
Today, we would quickly answer: “He saves by dying on the cross! He died for our sins to rescue us from them! He delivers us from sin, Satan, and death by dying the death we deserve!” But let’s slow down. Claiming your death has special meaning is easy to do. It would be easy for me to stand up and tell you: my death is going to save you from your sins; it’s going to make you right with God. If I said that, you would think I’m crazy. Plus, that’s an easy claim to make. Everyone dies. What proof could I give to back up my claim that my death is going to do something special for you? Do you see the problem?
Talk is cheap. Jesus said his death would benefit other people. He said that he was giving his life as the payment to free people from slavery to sin, Satan, and death. But why should we believe him? Jesus died like many others did in his day: on a wooden cross. This was the Romans’ favorite way of dealing with people who rebelled against their empire. And this is what Israel’s religious leaders accused Jesus of: misleading the nation, forbidding them to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying he himself is a king, which would put him in opposition to Caesar. Even though Pontius Pilate didn’t find Jesus guilty of any of these things, he handed Jesus over to the fate of everyone doing such things: crucifixion.
If this was all that happened in the story of Jesus, what would we say about him? He was the son of unremarkable, unimpressive, poor Jewish parents. Where he lived was equally unremarkable and unimpressive: a rural village of ancient Israel called Nazareth. People didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth.
Around 30 years of age, he began a traveling teaching ministry. Jesus taught people about the kingdom of God and implied he was the king of that kingdom, the Jewish Messiah. He spoke mostly to Jews but to some non-Jewish people as well. He had a different interpretation of many Jewish laws from the Old Testament which got him into debates with the religious leaders of his day who thought he was breaking God’s laws. On at least two occasions, he flipped over tables in the temple in Jerusalem during the Jewish feast of Passover and drove out the currency exchangers and sellers of sacrifices. This would have taken place in front of thousands of people who were in Jerusalem for Passover. Eventually the religious leaders had enough. They arrested him, put him on trial, and asked the Roman official, Pontius Pilate, to crucify Jesus.
So who is Jesus? From the religious leaders’ perspective, he was a radical teacher who broke the law of God. He was a threat to their own status, system, and power because he challenged their way of doing things. Who was he to Pilate? He’s another Jewish rebel. Even though Pilate didn’t think he was guilty of rebellion, the religious leaders were insistent. So how did a worldwide movement spread because of this dead Jewish criminal who came from no-name parents and no-name town? Why do we even know his name, much less have holidays like Easter centered around him?
The reason is because Jesus not only predicted the way he would die, but that he would be raised from the dead three days later. Jesus didn’t only claim his death would save, but he claimed he would not stay dead. It’s easy to predict your own death, everyone dies, but it’s not easy to predict your resurrection from the dead. It’s easy to claim your death will have meaning and significance for everyone who is devoted to you. Anyone can make that claim. But not everyone rises from the dead.
After Jesus’ death, his closest followers did not expect him to rise from the dead. They huddled up in a room, afraid that they might be headed for crucifixion as well because they were Jesus’ followers. None of them really believed Jesus would die and they certainly didn’t believe he would come back from the dead. They thought the gig was up. Show’s over. Go back to your lives and hope you don’t get killed.
What changed them and what started a religion that has spread all over the world and through 20 centuries was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These men and women change their beliefs overnight. Here are four ways their beliefs and lives were radically changed:
First, they had a new belief about resurrection. Many Jewish people believed resurrection would happen at the end of history and it would happen to everyone. But now these disciples were telling people that one person has already been resurrected in the middle of history. And they were making it central to their beliefs whereas resurrection was not a central Jewish belief before.
That’s speaking for Jewish people who actually believed in resurrection. But non-Jewish people - Gentiles - didn’t believe in resurrection at all. But as they hear this message from Jewish people about a dead Jewish Messiah who was raised from the dead, they are changing their beliefs about resurrection.
Second, they had a new belief about God. Jewish people believed there is one God and he isn’t a man. Now this band of Jesus’ disciples are claiming Jesus is God in the flesh and are giving him the trust, worship, and titles reserved for God alone. What would it take to convince you that a man that you had seen do all the normal things that men do like go to the bathroom and snore was actually the God you’ve worshiped your whole life?
For non-Jewish people, they believed in a whole pantheon of gods. But as they hear this message about Jesus, they are turning to believe in just one God. Both Jews and non-Jews changed their beliefs about God.
Third, they had a new belief about the Messiah. Jews believed the Messiah would come in glory and power to defeat their human oppressors. Instead, they now believe in a suffering Messiah who died for their sins. They had to go back and read the Old Testament in a new way that they hadn’t before.
Lastly, both Jews and non-Jews risked their lives by calling Jesus “Lord”, “Son of God”, and “Savior”. In the Roman Empire, there was already somebody who carried those titles: Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. These were titles to boast of his power and might. Calling someone else Lord, Son of God, and Savior of the world was asking for death. It was treason. You were saying that someone else is King and you give your allegiance to them first and foremost instead of Caesar. Everyone knew what Rome did to rebels: they crucified them.
If you are a Christian, these are all beliefs you take for granted because we have read the New Testament our entire lives. But the men who wrote the New Testament would have never written what they wrote if it wasn’t for an event that changed their beliefs and changed their lives. The only reason they wrote what they did in the New Testament is because they are convinced Jesus is alive. And they reoriented their beliefs and their lives around it.
Was it a lie they made up? “Charles Colson, who was part of the Watergate scandal and later converted to Christianity, said this about the resurrection: ‘I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world- and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.’” (https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/biggesthoax/)
Was it a hallucination? Maybe in their grief and desire for Jesus to be alive again, their mind played tricks on them. But hallucinations that involved 12 people let alone the 500 people that the apostle Paul listed in 1 Corinthians 15 don’t happen. And Jesus proved to them he was there in the flesh by having them touch him and by eating fish in front of them.
Could it be that they were mistaken? They went to the wrong tomb, found it empty, and assumed Jesus was raised from the dead. The gospel accounts make it clear that they didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead after they saw the empty tomb. They didn’t see a tomb with no body then jump straight to the conclusion: “Oh, Jesus must have been raised from the dead.” They had to be convinced of it.
What is so important about Jesus’ resurrection? Let’s turn now to the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We focus on eight verses: verses 12 through 19. The words were written by the apostle Paul, who himself had his life dramatically changed because of the resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee, a religious teacher in Israel, and he hated Jesus and the church and was on a mission to destroy the Christian movement, dragging Christian men and women out of their homes. He thought Jesus was a fraud and Christianity was a sham. But he had an encounter with the risen Jesus that totally changed his life. He went from executioner of Christians to evangelist for Christ. He went from murdered of Christians to missionary for Christ.
What Paul writes here in these verses is going to tell us this, our big idea for today: If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty. If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty.
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-16 he wrote this:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-16)
The issue in the church of Corinth is that some people were denying that people will be raised from the dead. The good news includes the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Paul wants to show them the implications of their belief that there will be no resurrection of the dead. “If you deny that there is a resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The word “vain” means empty. It could mean something is empty of content, meaning, value, purpose, result, or effectiveness. So he is saying if Christ was not raised from the dead, then the preaching of the gospel is empty and their faith is empty.
Our big idea for today: If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty. Paul here is telling us that the gospel is empty if Christ has not been raised. There is no good news without Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus is still dead in the tomb, then the gospel has no meaning, value, or effectiveness. There is no reason to tell people about him. He’s just another dead person.
Christianity is not good advice or a good way to live. It is good news about something that has actually happened that changes everything. But if that thing didn't actually happen, then Jesus was a fraud and Christianity is a sham.
Paul also says that if Christ’s body is still in the tomb, then our faith is empty. It has no value, it is ineffective, it’s pointless. If we have put our trust in Jesus, if we are surrendering our lives to him, if we rest in his death on our behalf and the salvation and forgiveness it brings but he is still dead in the tomb, then our trust in him is empty. It does nothing for us.
Let’s continue reading in verse 17.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)
The word “futile” is nearly a synonym to “vain”. It means idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth. So here Paul again says that if Christ has not been raised, if his corpse is rotting in the tomb, then your faith is futile. It’s useless, it’s powerless, it’s fruitless, it’s empty. It does nothing for you. If Christ isn’t alive, then you might as well stop trusting him for anything.
Paul makes the result of empty faith clear: “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” You can say Jesus died for your sins all you want, but if he has not been raised from the dead, then you are still in your sins. He hasn’t saved you from anything. You still stand under God’s wrath, condemned, alienated, separated, and estranged. Your relationship with God is still broken. There is a wall between you and him that has been built by your constant failure to live according to his ways. If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty.
Think about the words futile and vain for a minute. It would be futile and vain for me to believe that one helium balloon could lift a rock. That would be an empty belief. It doesn’t matter how hard I believe it or how strongly, it is futile and vain because it will never lift it. In the same way, if there were a chair made of paper up here, it would be futile and vain for me to think that it can hold me. It is empty.
Paul continues in verse 18:
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1 Corinthians 15:18)
“Fallen asleep” is a gentle way of saying “died.” The teaching of the New Testament is that those who trust in Christ go into his presence when they die and will later be resurrected by him with a new body. But if Christ has not been raised, then they have died in their sins. They have believed in a false Messiah for their right standing with God. They bet on the wrong horse. They put their eggs in the wrong basket. They are lost and gone forever, condemned in God’s righteous judgment. If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty.
Finally, in verse 19 Paul says:
19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Followers of Jesus lived with the hope of a life beyond this life. This is what motivated them to live the way they did. It’s what gave them a reason to lose their lives for Jesus in suffering and persecution. It’s what inspires us not to gather up all we can on this earth for ourselves but to give it up.
Imagine you were sitting in a movie theater. The movie you are watching is the life of a Christian. But as an audience member, you know that Jesus died and was never resurrected. You know that Jesus was not who he said he was. You know that Jesus’ death did not provide forgiveness for sins. You know that Jesus cannot make us right with God. You know that Jesus that trusting in Jesus will not bring you into God’s kingdom and into God’s presence. You know that when this Christian dies, they will perish. They do not just “fall asleep” for a time until their body is raised from the dead.
But as you watch this movie about the life of a Christian, you see them reassuring themselves that God loves them and has forgiven them. They sacrifice their money and their time for Jesus’ mission. They are trying to convince other people to follow Jesus. You see them giving up things on earth because they know they will inherit a new heavens and a new earth when Jesus returns. You watch them lose loved ones who have also trusted in Christ and they tell themselves: “They are with Jesus now and I will see them again one day.” As they struggle through sicknesses, losses, and pain, they still have a smile on their face because they know all will be set right on the day of Jesus’ return. When the end of their life comes and their body is failing, they are at peace because their hope is in seeing Jesus and in a new body one day.
You would pity this person. You’d feel sorry for them. Why? Because they are basing their whole life on a lie. They are trusting in someone who is dead and gone and can’t help them. Their hope for the future rests on someone who was a fraud and a fake. Every decision they make is made with the belief that Jesus died for their sins, was raised from the dead, and that they will one day also be given a new body. They gave up what others on earth pursued for a liar, they sacrificed their time, money, and possessions for a fake, they gave their lives for the mission of someone who wasn’t who he said he was. All along they thought they were good with God because of Jesus’ death, but in reality they weren’t.
Our big idea for today: If Christ’s tomb isn’t empty, then Christianity is empty. You should reject it. You shouldn’t be a Christian. Because everything Christianity claims, promotes, and believes is based on a lie if Jesus is still dead in his tomb.
But let’s flip this around. What if Christ’s tomb is empty? If Jesus was resurrected from the dead, then what is true? What does it mean if Jesus is really alive and not dead? What does that open up?
We just need to consider the opposite of what Paul said. The gospel is not empty but is announcing something that actually happened which changed everything: Jesus came into this world to seek and to save the lost sinners. By his death he paid the penalty we deserve for our sins, by his resurrection he frees us from the power of sin and began a new world of which we can be a part, and by his return he will free us from the presence of sin altogether. Spreading this good news is not empty, fruitless, and pointless but it is the best news you can tell anyone.
Our faith and devotion to Christ is not empty, worthless, and ineffective but we have placed our faith in the Lord of the universe and the Savior of all who trust in him. We are no longer dead in our sins and tresspasses but have been forgiven and granted new life to live free of them. We will see those who have died in Christ and we can be assured that they are in the presence of Jesus now. Of all people, we are the most blessed.
If Jesus’ tomb is empty, then Christianity is full - full of hope, full of peace, full of power, full of grace and mercy and truth. If Jesus’ tomb is empty, then we can be full of love, joy, peace, hope, purpose, and strength. If Jesus is alive, we have been given every spiritual blessing in him. We lack nothing.
If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then our greatest problem has been solved. What is our greatest problem?
From the perspective of Israel’s sacrificial system, our sin made us dirty and unable to enter God’s presence but Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf has cleansed us of our sin. His sacrifice also satisfied the just wrath of God against sin.
From the perspective of the ancient marketplace, we were slaves to sin and Satan but Jesus’ death paid the ransom price to buy us out of slavery so that we now belong to God.
From the perspective of relationships, we had a broken relationship with God. We rejected him as our God, Creator, and Ruler of our lives so we were estranged from God. We were alienated from him. There was hostility between us. We needed to be reconciled and reconciliation requires forgiveness. When someone forgives you, they pay for the wrong you have done instead of making you pay for it. Jesus’ death paid for the debt we owed so we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.
From the perspective of the law court, we were guilty and condemned by God because we had broken his law. But Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our crimes so we are not declared righteous instead of guilty.
From the perspective of the battlefield, Jesus’ death defeated the demonic forces of evil and delivered us from the dominion. His death on the cross was his decisive victory against them.
None of this would be true except for the resurrection. But because he is alive. Sin no longer has power over our past, present, or future. Death has been defeated. Satan no longer holds us captive.
- Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins.
- Jesus is the living temple where we meet God.
- Jesus is the priest who brings us before God.
- Jesus is the true Sabbath rest for our souls.
- Jesus is the new Moses leading us in a new exodus.
- Jesus is the greater David who rules over God’s kingdom.
- Jesus is the greater Solomon who is more wise and rich.
Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Cornerstone, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead, he is the one mediator between God and man, he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, he is the Word became flesh, the bread of life who satisfies, the vine who gives life, the light of the world who shines in the darkness, the door who protects God’s sheep, the resurrection and the life, he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he is the Lamb who was slain who takes away the sin of the world, he is the Good Shepherd, he is the way, the truth and the life, and we come to the Father through him. Jesus is our King, our Lord, our Savior! He has raised from the dead an seated at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every other name, not only in this age but also in the one to come and at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!
If Jesus is alive, then just like sitting on a chair that is sturdy, we can put our full weight on him and rest in what he has done for us. We can base our lives on it. If Jesus is alive, then he can lift us up from our grave and the ditch we find ourselves in.
When the tea bag is put in the water, it doesn’t keep to itself. It doesn’t just affect one part of the water; it affects the whole thing. Of all the problems in our life, if we have this problem in our relationship with God solved, it affects all the others. It colors, seasons, and saturates every other problem we come up against. It changes our attitude and how we approach other problems. It changes how we react to them. Thank God that he has solved our biggest problem in life.