Resurrection Celebration and Anticipation (1 Corinthians 15:1–58)

The final verse of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth invites and implores believers in Jesus Christ to stand with immovable conviction in their faith and serve their Lord with joyful confidence. Few Christians would deny their need and longing for either of these two realities. The question is, how can they be cultivated? This is where the first fifty-seven verses of the chapter come in! Therein, Paul describes how it’s the resurrection—both Jesus’s resurrection and the believers’ future resurrection—that fuels our stability and labour. Because he has risen and because we too will rise, we are empowered, motivated, inspired, humbled, and affirmed. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!


A week ago I was speaking with a couple in our church family and the husband asked if I was going to be preaching Easter morning. I said I was then commented jokingly, “I’m not sure yet but I may talk about resurrection.” Without missing a beat, the man responded, “Well, that’s good, because we can always get another pastor.”

So, out of fear for my job but, much more seriously, because the tomb was empty, let’s talk about resurrection. And, to do that, we’re going to turn to probably the chief text on the subject: 1 Corinthians 15. Please turn there if you have a Bible.

And we’re going to start at the end. So, when you find your way to 1 Corinthians 15, scan down to its final verse, verse 58. We’re going to start at the end because of how the end starts: it starts with the word therefore. And, studying Scripture, when you find a therefore you should ask what’s it there for? It’s pointing back to something. Here, Paul’s concluding what he’s been teaching. He’s about to answer the question so what? And what does he say?

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:58

I know what Paul is calling for here are two things each of us needs and wants. We all need and want to be steadfast, strong and convicted in these relativistic and evil days. We all need and want to be working faithfully for the Lord, knowing our effort is pleasing to him who saved us and keeps us saved. As followers of Jesus, each of us desires, or should desire, to be a devoted and hope-filled labourer for our Lord. 

The question is, how? How can we become more rooted, stand with more conviction, and serve with more joy and confidence? Well, our answer comes before the therefore and the answer is the resurrection.

Now that we’ve seen where we’re headed, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter. This morning I want to point out sections of this chapter that deal with three facets of the resurrection that lead into that therefore in verse 58: The evidence of resurrection, the necessity of resurrection, and the nature of resurrection. In other words, how do we know it happened?, why did it have to happen?, and what’s it going to be like when it happens for us? And we’ll see that it’s the evidence, necessity, and nature of resurrection that fuels our steadfastness and hopeful labour for the Lord.

The Evidence of Resurrection

Paul begins with the evidence of resurrection (vv. 3–4). The death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus didn’t come out of nowhere. It happened according to the Scriptures. It was predicted. Like Babe Ruth calling his home-run shot in 1932, God said what he was going to do before he did it (see Acts 2:22–31). Christ rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. There is evidence of resurrection in the Old Testament.

But maybe some of Paul’s audience weren’t too keen on the Scriptures. They considered themselves more materialists, harder to convince. Is there evidence for them? Yes (vv. 5–8). You don’t believe the Scriptures? Okay, go ask people. It’s not an exhaustive list but Paul is saying there are hundreds of eye-witnesses, none of which have anything to gain from lying other than poverty, disownment, and martyrdom. Christ’s resurrection was both expected by the OT and attested by hundreds of witnesses. There is evidence of resurrection.

And it’s the same today. There is much evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Not enough to convince someone with a hard heart, but more than enough to give you and I full confidence of its reality. People don’t reject Christ because there’s no evidence. They reject him because they’re sinners who would rather worship themselves than God. And, if not for God’s grace, that’s us as well. But there is evidence pointing to that of first importance: Christ came back to life.

The Necessity of Resurrection

Now, Paul quickly moves on from how do we know it happened? to why did it have to happen?; from the evidence of resurrection to the necessity of resurrection (vv. 12–14). 

Apparently, some in Corinth were struggling to believe in resurrection. Maybe they were caught up in the common Greek view that physical was bad and spiritual was good and, thus, death was liberation from evil and resurrection was a regression.

Whatever they were struggling with, Paul makes it clear, if the dead don’t rise, then Jesus didn’t rise, and if Jesus didn’t rise, what are we doing? If that tomb was not empty then our faith is. The resurrection of Christ is a necessity, it is central to Christianity, it is of first importance.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead” (Keller, The Reason for God, 202).

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:16–19

If Christ has not been raised, our sins are not paid for, our loved ones who died believing this nonsense are just gone, and we are living deluded, deceived lives, clinging to what Marx disparagingly called “the opiate of the masses.” Pathetic.

Finally, however, Paul comes to the end of his thought experiment; the dark hypothetical of what it would be like if Christ hadn’t raised from the dead. Now, he turns to its reality. 

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:20–22

Because Jesus came back to life, we get to come back to life (see John 11:25–26). Because Jesus walked out of that grave, we too will spring up out of ours. His was the first fruits, a model and predictor of the crop to come comprised of all who are hidden in Christ by faith.

So, why is the resurrection necessary? Well, just a sample of reasons, it frees us from the penalty of our sins, it grants us eternal life, it comforts us with the knowledge of the future of those who have fallen asleep, and it confirms that our faith is not in vain. 

Indeed, you and I are not most to be pitied but most to be envied because up from the grave he arose / with a mighty triumph o’er his foes / he arose a victor from the dark domain / and he lives forever with his saints to reign / he arose / he arose / hallelujah! Christ arose!

Brothers and sisters, because Christ rose we too will rise. Because he rose, we will one day embrace our loved ones who died in Christ. Because he rose, we can have confidence in this life, living in the freedom that forgiveness of sins provides.

Because he rose, we are unified. We can debate spiritual gifts, argue church mission, disagree over carpet colour. But one thing that unites us, unites our faith, our hope, our worship, and our joy is that our Saviour conquered death. We deserve no pity. Our faith is full. Our hope is strong. Our sins have been paid for. Our eternity is sure. All of this and more provided for us by Christ’s resurrection.

The Nature of Resurrection

Paul has provided evidence of resurrection and a peek at the necessity of resurrection. But all this talk of coming back from the dead prompts some questions: What’s it going to be like? So, Paul shifts to a brief discussion of the nature of resurrection. It happened, here’s why it had to happen, now what’s it going to be like when it happens to us?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”

1 Corinthians 15:35

Apparently, some in Corinth were struggling to believe that the body could be put back together again for resurrection—that God could and would gather the same material and reconstruct what was. Suppose a believer died at sea and a fish ate her body. Years later, a fisherman catches and eats that fish. Decades later, the fisherman dies and is buried in a field. Centuries later, wheat is planted in that field, harvested, and used to make little communion wafers that people at Oakridge would use in worship in 2022. How could the first person’s body ever come together again? That’s the objection in Corinth.

You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.

1 Corinthians 15:36–38

The body God resurrects will not be the same as the one that died, even though identifiable as that person. Paul uses grain seed to illustrate. Just as a seed and the eventual grain it produces are different, so our bodies before and after resurrection are different. The first is planted, dies, and produces something much better and much more useful. And, in both cases, the seed and the resurrection body, it’s God who causes the growth.

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

1 Corinthians 15:39–41

Looking around our world we see that there are different types of bodies and different levels of gloriousness. So, it shouldn’t be a shock that, when thinking of resurrection bodies, it will be a different type and a different level of glory than the one we have now.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42–44

This is what Christ’s resurrection predicted and secured—our resurrections in which, like a seed going into the ground and sprouting wheat, our bodies will be changed from weak, frail, small, and failing kernels to powerful, rustproof, beautiful, and perfect stalks; from brokenness to gloriousness, from mortal to immortal (v. 49).

Paul closes this section with some of the most exciting and hope-filled words in the NT (read vv. 50–57).

Friends, that’s a glimpse into the nature of resurrection. What’s it going to be like? Now, if you’re like me, you have more questions than God provides. Do I have any say in the new body I get? Is there a menu I can order from? What age are we going to be? Will I need my treadmill in glory? Many of our questions are not answered. But we do know some things: That the nature of resurrection is one of imperishability, power, perfection, glory, heavenly, and fit to inherit eternity, an existence where death has been put to death, swallowed up finally and totally. And all of this will happen in a moment.

The Implication of Resurrection

And now we arrive back at where we began, at the implication of resurrection. We’ve now seen what the therefore is there for (v. 58).

How can we stand strong as pressure mounts around us, as the world comes for the minds of our children and grandchildren, indoctrinating them with wickedness? How can we endure doubts, pain, trials, sickness, loneliness, and disappointment with our trust intact? How can I prepare to be immovable in conviction while gracious in action? 

And, like you, I don’t want to just survive the onslaught of this world, I want to thrive in my work for the Lord. I don’t want to just plant my feet and weather the storm, I want to make a difference for his name as he empowers me. But that brings a whole other set of questions. How can we pour ourselves out in service to our Saviour when we feel unworthy, unable, pathetic, and immature? How can I work for him when the enemy is telling me I’m too sinful, too rough around the edges, too ill-equipped? How can I be confident when it seems like my contribution is so minuscule, irrelevant, and unseen? How can I serve him with all I have and all I am, with joy in my heart and thanksgiving in my bones?

The answer to all of these questions, according to Paul, is the same: Because of the resurrection. Because it happened, because of the needs it met, and because of what it will be like. Because of what we look forward to, because the imperishable is coming, because the tomb was empty. That’s how we can do it. It’s only because of that which is of first importance. It’s only because the tomb was empty. It’s only because we serve a living Saviour that we can stand strong and serve joyfully. That’s the implication of the resurrection. That’s what the therefore is there for. That’s the so what of this beautiful chapter.

If you find yourself today weary, look to the resurrection. It happened, it met your greatest needs, and it guaranteed your own resurrection. If you find yourself today straying from the Lord’s work, look to the resurrection. He died for you and was raised for you. If today you find yourself insecure, frightened, lonely, vulnerable, weak, or discouraged, look to the resurrection. There find the ability to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

A friend of mine went off to serve the Lord in reaching the unreached people groups of southern Asia and, as with many missionaries, he and his wife would send email updates from time to time. In one newsletter he was offering an explanation as to why it was they had decided to leave the comforts, conveniences, familiarity, and safety of North America and go to a place where all those things are gone. This is what he wrote: 

“A man in Ancient Rome was clinically dead for three days and then undid His own death. In the same way He undid His own death, He is returning to undo all death (including its symptoms: cancer, bullying, malice, depression and natural disasters). His post-death world is available to those who trust in Him to forgive their contributions to death and its symptoms. That’s good news. And the world needs good news.”


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Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.

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