Our Faith Is Not in Vain
1 Corinthians 15:17| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| April 9, 2023
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Faith still has a favorable view in the public opinion. Relatively few people will look down upon you if you say that your faith is important or that you live by faith. However, we need to make a distinction between the faith by which you believe and the faith in which you believe. When people talk about their faith they usually mean the former, the faith by which you believe, that is, how you believe. Yet, it is when you talk about the latter, the faith in which you believe, that is, what you believe that will cause you trouble. Most people are happy for you that you trust in something and by that act of trusting, your life is better. Yet, if you believe what they find offensive, then they are no longer pleased with your faith.
And so, almost unconsciously, when people talk about their faith, they rarely talk about what they believe and rather focus on how they believe. There is no controversy in that. And so, it has become popular to be spiritual and not religious. Following a creed is a faux pas, but following your own heart is the most honorable thing you can do. And that’s really what most people mean by, “I have faith” today. They mean that they follow their own heart.
Yet Holy Scripture says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And our Lord Jesus says that out of the heart come evil thoughts (Matthew 15:19). So, according to Scripture, your heart is the last thing you should follow. And it doesn’t matter how strong your faith is if what you believe in is false.
And this is the first thing that separates the Christian faith from every other faith in the world. St. Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” St. Paul hinges the entire Christian faith on the historical event of Jesus rising from the dead! If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then you shouldn’t believe in Christ! Christ’s preaching does you no good! You shouldn’t follow Him! Yet, since Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, you should most certainly believe in Him and nothing else.
The Law of Moses gave a standard for determining whether something is true, which has stood up against the ages as the most reliable standard for truth. “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15) Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses should you believe that something is true.
Yet, there were not two or three, but four evangelists who recorded the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were eyewitnesses of these events and wrote down the testimony of many other eye witnesses of the events, and they did this all within the first century, a mere decades after Jesus rose. And in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul gives a detailed account of the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection: Cephas (that is Peter), then the Twelve (that is the eleven who remained of the Twelve), then to over five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this account, then to James the brother of Jesus, then to all the Apostles, which must include Barnabas, then finally the risen Christ appeared to St. Paul. And Paul does not even list the women, who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, namely Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Plus, the accounts of these men were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself.
In addition to the biblical records of Jesus’ resurrection, we also have the writings of Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived between 37 AD and 100 AD, who although not a Christian, wrote of Jesus’ crucifixion by Pontius Pilate and how His disciples did not abandon Him after His death, but confessed His resurrection on the third day. Also, there is the early second century Roman historian, Tacitus, who recorded Christ’s crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. Jesus’ crucifixion is a matter of historical record. Yet, no one has been able to disprove Jesus’ resurrection.
The resurrection of Christ is an historically verifiable event. It meets the greatest standard of truth. The high priests could have easily proven that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead by producing his dead body. So could the Roman authorities. Yet, they didn’t. Instead the apostles along with hundreds of other eye witnesses suffered the loss of their goods, freedom, friends, money, and many of them their lives, confessing Jesus’ death and resurrection to the end.
Now, if you lived around the year 30 AD when Jesus rose from the dead and you had a great, strong faith following your heart, and it worked for you, whether you were a Pharisee following the 613 commandments of the Torah, or a Sadducee observing the temple rituals, or a Roman pagan worshipping the cult of the gods, and then you found out that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, would you continue to follow the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees or of the Romans, who put Him to death? No! The fact that Christ is risen from the dead means that your faith must change, that is, what you believe in must change.
And so, it goes for us today. Faith does you no good if it is not in what is true! Even if it makes your heart happy, even if it is where you think you belong, if it is false, you shouldn’t follow it. Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. Jesus rose from the dead! You should forsake everything and follow Him!
Yet, it is not simply that Jesus rose from the dead that you must believe. The chief priests knew that Jesus rose from the dead, but they paid the guards of the tomb money to be quiet. The guards of Jesus’ tomb knew that Jesus rose from the dead, but they accepted money to keep quiet about it. And many people throughout the centuries and still today believe that Jesus rose from the dead, yet they do not trust in Jesus’ resurrection for their salvation, but continue to trust in their own works instead.
What does Jesus’ resurrection mean? It means that your sins are forgiven! Jesus died for the sins of the whole world! Friday night we heard from Isaiah 53, “Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (vss. 4-6)
The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. The wages of sin is death. Jesus, the Godman died. And His death was too much for the grave. He paid too much for the sins, so that when He died, the graves burst open and some of the saints came to life! It is impossible for our sins to be greater than Christ’s death, because Jesus is God.
And that is what Jesus’ resurrection proves. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 4 that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” He was raised for our justification, because He paid for our trespasses. The historical fact that Christ Jesus died and rose proves that your sins have been paid for and that God is reconciled to you. This leads us to the second thing that separates the Christian faith from every other faith in the world. According to the Christian faith, you are saved by grace, as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ alone apart from your works.
God reconciled Himself to the world by putting the sin of the whole world on Jesus and having Him die for it. God put the whole world’s debt on Jesus and made Him pay for it. God made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that you, who are a sinner, may be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5). God has done it all. There is nothing left for you to do to earn your salvation. Christ has won it for you. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:57) Christ gives us the victory as a gift. We receive this gift through faith.
That is what you should believe based on the historical facts. That is the faith in which you must trust in order to be saved. Yet, now we must ask how should you believe? Before you knew Christ and the power of His resurrection, you followed your own heart. How you followed it diligently and loyally. But now, you can no longer follow your deceitful heart. You know the truth. Christ is risen. So, how should you follow Him? How should you believe in Him?
We should follow Christ wholly. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the only way to heaven. Only Jesus has paid for your sins and defeated death and hell for you. Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) There is no certainty of salvation apart from Jesus.
This means that you should not follow your own heart, while claiming that you are following Jesus, as if Jesus lives in your heart apart from the words, He spoke to you. Jesus said, “If you abide in My words, you are My disciples indeed, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31) and again, “If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24). And after Jesus rose from the dead, before He ascended into heaven, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We are saved by grace apart from our works, but that does not mean we can continue in sin. St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) As followers of Christ, we must daily cleanse out the old leaven in us by repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ for forgiveness. Remembering our Baptism, we must die with Christ everyday and rise to live before Him in righteousness each day. If we continue in sin without repenting, then we are rejecting the sacrifice Christ made for us (Hebrews 10:26).
Christ’s resurrection changes everything. It means that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It means that we are saved through faith apart from our works. It means that we should believe in Christ Jesus wholly, abiding in His Word and teaching, repenting of our sins, and finding comfort in His promise of forgiveness and salvation in His Gospel and Sacraments. Christ’s resurrection means that our faith in Him is not in vain and we are no longer in our sins.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!