A well placed IF
It’s Easter Sunday, and on this day the heart of every Christian shouts, He is Risen! It can be rightly argued that this is the most important day of the year for a Christian. It may appear by the way we sometimes act that Christmas is that day in the life of a Christian, but if you consider what each day celebrates, it’s hard to argue that there’s anything more significant and meaningful than the resurrection. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and we cannot be rescued apart from that, but He also defeated death in rising again and nothing we believe makes even the slightest bit of difference without His resurrection. Apart from it, Jesus was just another laudable martyr, another man who cared more for others than himself. But Jesus said He was going to die, and He said He would rise again … and, praise God, He did! And because He did, it changes EVERYTHING!
So whether you joined us on Easter Sunday or are reading and watching this later, and whether you’re a believer and follower of Jesus or not, the power of this gospel message is nothing without the resurrection, and is EVERYTHING because of it. So, on this day that represents EVERYTHING to a Christian and breathes life into the power that it holds for someone who has not yet believed, let’s pause for a brief time and consider a well placed IF.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
The context here is the Apostle Paul is writing a letter to the believers in Corinth. In this section of the letter, he is talking specifically about the resurrection of Jesus (that we are celebrating today). He is reminding them of the EVERYTHING that the resurrection means for them. It is the foundation of all they believe, and he is reminding them. As he assures them, he deliberately throws out an IF statement. Computer programmer, embedded logic-types will instantly recognize this foundational command. IF is the indication of a condition. But wait, doesn’t God love us unconditionally? Absolutely YES, but that’s not what Paul is referring to here. He is making it crystal clear that genuine belief rests on God’s Word. The power to change EVERYTHING doesn’t come from anything other than God’s Word and the truth of everything in it.
What does not
There are great temptations in the “church” (today as it was back in Paul’s day) to use or offer things other than God’s Word as catalysts for change. Here’s just a few things that are apart from God’s Word, but have been used or offered by the church, and we offer as definitive statement of what does NOT change everything…
- Tradition does not change everything
- Religion does not change everything
- Morality does not change everything
Tradition, religion, morality … these are all man-made things. They have goodness in them, but they are also fallible and incomplete. Think about the best memories of your childhood, maybe surrounding Christmas, or birthdays, or vacations. We do this thing when we have amazing experiences, we try to capture and then re-create them later. Sometimes they’re good, but so often they fall short, or even flat on their face. It’s because the re-created thing can never be the “thing.” Religion is very much the same. We take what Jesus did and taught and we create rituals, symbols, systems, hierarchies, and the list goes on. We interpret things and sometimes it’s good, but so often our interpretations fall short, or even flat on their face. It’s because religion and our way of doing it, can never be the “thing.” Morality has goodness in it, and it’s intention is our good and the greater good, but morality is so often circumstantial and conditional, and so often falls short, or even flat on its face. It’s because morality is a poor substitute for truth.
All these things can begin as good and noble, but all fall short at some point. They do not have the weight and permanence of truth, and the pursuit of them will ultimately leave us feeling empty. They leave us with the battle cry of the hopeless:
Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
1 Corinthians 15:32b
In proper context within scripture, this statement is offered as the only logical conclusion if Jesus was never raised from the dead. If that is not true, then add “Believing and Following Jesus” to the “does not change everything” list.
A well placed BUT
Okay, let’s get all the snickers out of the way (“he just said BUT!”). Paul summarizes this hopelessness if the resurrection of Jesus was not true, when he writes…
And 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
And here is the well placed “but,” where he begins the very next verse with…
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead
1 Corinthians 15:20
So, what will it be?
I am speaking from a place of what I truly and confidently believe. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was real and true, and is the foundation of all I believe. That truth CHANGED EVERYTHING for me! If you believe that too, then we celebrate together today. But what if it’s not true for you? What if you joined us on Sunday and/or you’re reading today and you can genuinely say “I don’t know,” or “Nah, I don’t think so.”
You have been presented with the truth today and now you have two choices — you can believe it’s not true or believe that it is. It really is that simple. God is crying out to you today as you read and listen. You are lost and He desperately wants you back. He will leave the 99 of us who do believe to go out and find you (Luke 15:4-7 … please read that!). So what will it be? If you’re still saying, “I don’t know” or you’re not sure but you’ve not said “no,” come back next week. Keep seeking. I promise He is has left the 99 of us to go out and find you. And when He does, there will be a party in heaven like you’ve never seen before, and please tell us, because we’re totally into throwing a party like you’ve never seen before because you’ve been found.