If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
If you found a genie in a bottle today, what would you wish for (three wishes)? Pretend God was a genie if you must (too many already do). Now, what would you hope for? Do you see the difference between a hope and a wish?
A wish is something you want or desire. Hope which is a commonly used expression, is a little different. Almost everybody at one time or another says, “I hope for this or for that; I hope I go to heaven when I die.” It’s a feeling that what you want can be had, or that a certain event will turn out for the best. There’s a feeling of a certain expectation involved. This thing that I want can actually happen.
Now think about how hard life would be- how depressing it can be more than it already is for some people, if you didn’t have hope- the expectation, or a certainty that life will be better in the future; that there will be “a better place.” I think of the families of the victims of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting here in South Florida, who lost their kids in the prime of their life. How do that process that and go on living without hope?
Hope for some of the victims’ families might include some sense of justice in the here and now, or perhaps later in having influenced some security based legislation. For other people, their hope and a sense of real peace and joy may be found only in a relationship, such as marriage and a family. Deep down, people want meaning in life. They want to know their lives matter and they ‘hope’ for that.
Shortly before his death, famed American author Mark Twain said, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence, a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”
Although Twain’s hope was more than a bit morbid, if not a little desperate, it fits the secular mantra of the old beer commercial adage of “grabbing all the gusto” while you can. You live for however many decades make up the average life-expectancy on earth – and then you take the big dirt nap. No meaning, no hope there. All death is for someone who thinks like that, is a means of nihilism and then escape.
That means this life is all there is. Is that a source of hope? A real Christian doesn’t think that way about this life and the one to come as evidenced by the text of scripture from the gospel passage the apostle Paul cited here, from his first letter to the Corinthians.
No credible historian or scholar doubts the life and death of Jesus. But the turning point of human history- the dividing line is over whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead which according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), dictates whether or not you will rise from the dead.
If you want to know what Paul is suggesting in this passage, it’s that if Jesus did not resurrect, Christianity is untrue – it cannot be trusted, its a false religion and is a waste of your time and attention, as well as my preaching ministry, so you might as well throw out your Bible. This is why Christianity hinges – the faith stands or falls on this event observed on Easter Sunday.
Noted Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell (More Than a Carpenter) wrote, “After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings–or it is the most remarkable fact of history.”
Although evangelical Christians like me think the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, the more important question is, “Why does it matter? It matters because if it’s true, it’s the source of our hope. It gives meaning to life. It means disciples of Jesus have a future.
It’s what strengthens us – our faith, when times are tough living in a world of death, disease, mass-murderers, evil, poverty, pain and suffering.
The key is that if there’s no resurrection- there’s no redemption. As vv.15-16 of 1 Corinthians 15 tells us, my faith is “futile” or worthless, if my past, present and future sins have not been forgiven permanently and conquered for good by a savior that rose from the dead to prove it.
No resurrection? Then we have nothing to look forward to, no hope- maybe ‘Nirvava’ someday if you’ve lived a series of wonderfully reincarnated lives ahead of you as a Buddhist, or some sort of heaven if you’re a Muslim who has worked hard enough, been good enough, maybe killed enough, if you’re been hard-core enough following the Hadiths.
Or, you could wind up food for maggots as the Darwinian evolutionist might think. Or, as verse 18 of this chapter implies, if there’s a God whose a just judge, and someone hasn’t come in your place as a substitute to pay the price of your sins for you, you will suffer and pay that price, in what the Bible calls the “wages of sin, which is….. death”, meaning hell as the separation from God eternally.
Fortunately, that’s all contradicted by the fact that the tomb is still empty, Jesus Christ is a risen and coming again lord and savior who conquered sin and death. If you trust in that fact by faith, God counts to you, the righteousness of Jesus (Romans 4:24b-25; 10:9).
This truth is what undergirds the resurrection, hope and future for Christians, a hope that is waiting for the completion of something good that we can expect- in this context, the completion of our salvation with joy and full confidence that it’s coming sooner than we may think (1 Peter 1:3).
As that old wonderful song says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” May that be true for you.