Speech delivered at the Young People’s Society Mass meeting Easter Sunday afternoon, April 14, 1968 at Hope Church.
One of the worldly wise men of this earth once said that a rose by any other name is just as fragrant and beautiful. Probably I am not quoting him literally, but that was the idea of his words. And this is true. The names which we give to objects do not determine their essence and nature, their characteristics and appearances. And when we change the name of a creature, we do not change the essence and characteristics of that creature. A rose when called a dandelion is still the same flower with the same shape and beauty.
And today, whether we use that name of heathenish origin, Easter, or the more spiritual name Resurrection Day—which, of course, I prefer—we in no way change the wonder and beauty and glory of the event that we celebrate on this day. By our name we may ignore and deny that truth of the day, but we cannot take it away and destroy it. For that reason also I can never get excited about the complaint that Xmas is such a wicked name for Christmas. I know that X is the symbol of the unknown quantity in algebra; and we surely do not want to express that we do not know whose birthday Christmas is. If that is the derivation of the word, I abhor it. But I also know that X is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ, namely, Xristos. And to me Xmas then is a contraction of Christmas. But I do not like that name either. Christmas is no better than Xmas. For Christmas means christ’s Mass and is of Roman Catholic origin. In neither case, however, do we destroy the truth of Christmas by the name we use.
But all this is to prepare you and to beg of you not to judge my speech by the title that I have chosen, nor by the three sub-points under which I plan to treat it. Often a speech—and that holds true also for a sermon—is better than its title or theme. Sometimes it works the other way so that the only good part of the sermon or speech is the theme. But my title this time is rather odd sounding; and the three points may sound rather odd to you as well. My title is, “That Awful If”; and under it I want to ask three questions: “If What?”, “Then What?”, and “Now What?”
I have in mind the words of Paul in I Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” And I would remind you that from the day that He arose from the dead, men have denied His resurrection. The Roman soldiers, as hired by the chief priests, spread that lie from that day onward. They knew better. The grave was open for them to see that He was not there. They had seen the angel who rolled away the stone; at least the soldiers did, and they told the chief priests. It was not a case of not knowing the truth. It seldom is that. But it definitely was a case of not loving the truth that they knew. And the silliness, the utter folly, of their lie is so plain that a child can see it. If they were asleep, how could they be sure that the disciples did this? And what is more—there is that angle that they had in their sinful unbelief overlooked—what if He would suddenly appear, as actually He did five times that very day?
From that day on men have denied the resurrection in one way or in another. On Mars Hill the Athenians laughed at Paul for preaching this resurrection. King Festus told Paul that his much learning had made him mad, when Paul preached that resurrection before him. And today in our sophisticated and “cultured” age men do not come out so bluntly but instead concede that He lives in our lives and as His teachings are followed by His Church today. It is, for them, a spiritual resurrection but not a resurrection of His body. And many in the church world hold to this same lie. We may also expect this to grow very rapidly in the years ahead, and there are clear signs that we will see this in circles very close to us, in future generations at least. For when worshippers of science so-called submit all of Scripture to the scientist, so-called, in order to determine whether the Genesis story is true, whether we have to have a Theistic evolution and the like, they will have to come to the scientist, so-called, also as far as the virgin birth of Christ is concerned, and His resurrection from the dead. And the scientist, so-called, will assure them that both of these are absolutely impossible and have never happened. Surely a man with such a spear wound in His side and with all that loss of blood cannot after three days come back to life!
But what if they are correct?
What if Christ was not raised from the dead by God? That is the question here. In verse 14 Paul asks from the viewpoint of Christ Himself. If He did not rise by His own power, then our preaching is vain and man’s faith in Christ is vain. But here he looks at it from the viewpoint of God’s dealings with Christ. Remember two things here: God sent Him to the cross as our covenant Head. Pilate put a sign up over the cross in ridicule and to get even with the Jews who pulled one over on him. But God used Pilate to point out that The King of the spiritual Jews, the King of the Church, was hanging here for the sins of His people to remove them forever. Just read II Corinthians 5:21. God made Him to be sin for us. And then also Colossians 2:14 where Paul says that the handwriting of ordinances which was against us was nailed to that cross, when Christ bearing our guilt was nailed to the tree. Remember then, also, that there God poured out all of the vials of His wrath against our sin. God poured out all the fire of hell upon His head for our sins! God forsook Him, and God punished Him there for our sins.
What if Christ failed in His attempt to remove these sins by suffering that punishment? What if His promise to the penitent thief is not true? What if God did not receive His spirit which He commended to Him in His last words upon that cross?
Consider seriously the fact that if He is not raised by God, then He is still under punishment for our sins. It is not a case of Christ failing to remove our sins after a heroic attempt, and then going Himself with His spirit to heaven without us. Having come as our Head and taken our guilt upon Himself, having been made sin for us, and then failing to remove these sins, He is STILL under the punishment of them. If He is not alive with body and soul today in glory, then God was not satisfied with what He did. Then the death of His body is punishment upon Him which God has not removed. If Christ be not raised, He FAILED! Stand then before this awful if! Ask yourselves the question:What if Christ be not raised? What an awful if!
Then our faith is vain.
And Paul is speaking here of faith in Christ as the Saviour. That faith is vain. It is empty. It is unprofitable. It does you no good. There is absolutely no value in that faith at all. For faith is trust in Christ. It is holding on to Him with heart and mind and expecting full salvation from Him. I ask you what good a flat spare tire is in the trunk of your car, when you go out on a trip. I had an experience like that some years ago. Our trust in a worthless object revealed a faith that is vain, empty, worthless. Two of us came from the Chicago area to Grand Rapids early in the morning for a meeting, and the gas tank was rather low but seemed full enough to promise an arrival there by the time that the gasoline stations were open in the morning. Our faith, however, was in a one gallon can of gas in the back of the station wagon. Sure en between Zeeland and Hudsonville the car began to chug and to sputter and then came to a halt. But that gallon of gas was back there! O, no! The boys of the driver had used its contents for the lawnmower and had said nothing about it! Our faith was vain. We were yet stalled and helpless to go on with the car. If Christ be not raised from the dead, our faith will not do that which we expect it to do. Our faith is in Christ; and if He be not raised, He is not able to do what we expect Him to do. And so our faith in Him is worthless. We have faith in a hopeless cause. We are holding on by faith to the wrong thing and to the wrong person.
This is true because we are yet in our sins. Our faith may assure us that they are all gone. But the hard, cold fact is that we are yet in our sins. This means that we are still in their guilt. We are still in their state of- condemnation. It means that they have not been lifted from off us in the slightest sense. It means that all that which Christ did on the cross has absolutely no value for us at all.
Therefore, if Christ be not raised, we are all going to go to hell! Let me make it more emphatic, because that is the awfulness of this if. If Christ be not raised, then we ‘are going to meet Christ there in hell and see Him in the awful torment of God’s wrath as our would be Saviour Who failed! If he be not raised, then He has sinned Himself. If Christ be not raised, then He spread some awful untruths and preached a series of false doctrines. He made some vain and sinful boasts and deceived a host of people with His false doctrines. He gave many vain hopes. If God did not raise Him from the dead, then we will suffer everlasting shame with Him, and He with us.
He and His people are inseparable what happens to Him happens to them. If He is raised, we are raised with Him. See Colossians 3:1. If He does not take away our sins, He still has them on His own shoulders; and there is nothing that a righteous God can do to the Head of an unrighteous people, whose sins have not been paid for in full, than to continue to afflict and punish this Head of that wicked people. If He be not raised, then we are losers, awful losers; but Christ Himself is also a loser and a most disappointed would be Saviour. And all the souls of the saints from Abel onward must be cast out of heaven!
But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that sleep. Now we are perfectly righteous in Christ. Before God we do not have a single sin. God beholds no iniquity in us and sees absolutely no perverseness in us. His judgment from the throne is constantly, “Not Guilty!” And God, looking down from heaven upon us with that risen and glorified Son at His right hand, says of us that we are beautiful, as beautiful as His own Son. For God always sees us in Him and judges us as members of His body. He says Himself in Romans 11:16, “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” Christ is not in hell. As our Head He made atonement and took away all of our sins. He put out the fire of hell for our sins that God poured out on Him. He drank the cup so that there is not the slightest trace of its content left. “It is finished!” And we are no longer in our sins but in Christ and in His righteousness.
Therefore we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ of all the glories of a kingdom of heaven. Higher we are now than Adam and Eve in their righteousness and glory. More glorious we are now than the righteous and holy angels, for they now are our servants, sent to minister to those who are heirs of salvation. Hebrews 1:14. Closer to God we will be than they ever could be. We shall taste and see that God is good more richly than they.
And our faith is now a very wonderful possession. It holds on to something very precious and is a very precious gift from God. There will be a period of time when we will be ridiculed for believing in Christ and His resurrection. We will be laughed at for our hope. And the days before us may be dreadful days of persecution for this faith. But the unbeliever will be put to shame, not the believer. The unbelievers are in for an awful shock when they close their eyes in the sleep of death and suddenly stand before this Christ Whom they now believe is dead. The same is true of those who boldly say that God is dead. What an awfully rude awaking when suddenly they stand before the LIVING GOD!
But we can close our eyes in death and find more joy than we now see by that very profitable and worthwhile faith in Christ. We will not stand before God as with a flat, spare tire or an empty gas tank and gas can. We will be holding on to an almighty and everlasting Saviour Who will carry us to an endless life of bliss and glory. Since Christ is raised by God from the dead, our faith is a wonderful power; and a life of joy and gladness is ours without end.
Let us say it positively, then: SINCE Christ IS raised from the dead, our faith is a precious gift from God; and by it we have that sweet peace of mind that our sins are all blotted out; and we shall be with Christ in heavenly glory.