Have you ever played Jenga? It’s a classic game played with wooden, rectangular blocks. The game starts with a tower built in levels. Each level is stacked perpendicular to the level beneath it. Players take turns pulling blocks out of the tower and restacking them on top. Whoever causes the tower to fall (“Jenga!”) is the loser.
Jenga is a blast. Not only is it satisfying to safely pull a block from the tower; it’s also fun watching others tap and poke to find loose ones. Of course, the best part is when the tower wobbles and eventually falls – hopefully not on your turn!
Theology is like playing a game of Jenga. As we consider our faith, we must determine which beliefs are essential to its structure. Some matters (age of creation, end-times scenarios, etc) are up for debate. Different opinions can be held within the church without damaging Christianity as a whole.
But some matters aren’t up for debate. Some beliefs are so foundational to our faith that they cannot safely be tampered with. If we remove them, the entire structure of Christianity falls apart.
Toppling the Tower
An important concept in the Bible is that of “cornerstone.” The cornerstone is the first stone laid during construction. It supports the weight and gives structure to the entire building. In Jenga, it’s the block that keeps the tower standing.
Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus applies this Scripture to Himself (Matthew 21:42); so do the apostles (Acts 4:11). Without Jesus, the plan of salvation falls apart. One non-negotiable belief is Jesus’ role in God’s plan of salvation.
The Bible takes this concept a step further. Not only is Jesus the cornerstone of God’s plan; His resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. Paul reasons, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without His resurrection, our faith in Him falls apart.
Disbelief Doesn’t Make Sense
It’s a little surprising then, that a church under Paul’s care doubted the resurrection. It isn’t clear whether they doubted Jesus’ resurrection or their own. Either way, they needed him to write an extensive treatment on the topic.
Paul reassures the church at Corinth that the resurrection makes sense. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, he expounds several consequences if the resurrection isn’t true.
First, Jesus is still dead: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (vv 12-13).
It seems some doubted the concept of resurrection. Philosophy in the first century denigrated the body and downplayed the physical side of human existence. This might have led immature Christians to deny resurrection altogether!
Paul points out that whatever they believe about the concept must also apply to Jesus. You can’t deny resurrection on the one hand but affirm Jesus’ resurrection on the other.
Second, their faith is worthless: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (vv 14, 17).
There’s no point in believing in Jesus if He didn’t rise from the dead. Why believe in a dead guy? Why worship, pray to and suffer for a dead guy? A dead guy can’t do anything! He can’t forgive your sins or grant eternal life. If Jesus is still dead, there is no reason to follow Him.
Third, Paul is a liar: “More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either” (vv 15-16).
Jesus’ resurrection is central to the gospel. That means the truthfulness of the gospel depends on the resurrection. If the dead do not rise, neither did Jesus. And if God didn’t raise Him, then Paul and every other gospel preacher are liars and false witnesses.
Fourth, the dead in Christ are gone: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (v 18). “Fallen asleep” is a metaphor for death. If the dead are not raised, we will never see our departed loved ones again.
Fifth, we are pitiful: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v 19). Being a Christian isn’t easy. Faith in Jesus brings hardship and suffering into our lives. Why endure it if we won’t rise from the dead to be with Him someday? Why make things harder on ourselves for no reason?
Belief Makes Sense
Not believing the resurrection doesn’t make sense. As Christians, our whole system of faith hinges upon it! But we don’t just believe because it’s foolish not to. By the logic of the Bible itself, resurrection makes sense.
Paul compares Jesus to Adam: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (vv 20-22).
Adam sets a pattern. Just as he brought death to all mankind, so Jesus brings life to all mankind. Believers and unbelievers alike will be raised from the dead when He returns. He is the “firstfruits” – the pledge of more to come.
Back to the Facts
Paul’s reasoning may seem unreasonable. Someone might object, “Paul hasn’t proven anything! All he’s done is to create a system in which the resurrection must be true; therefore, it is.” Paul’s logic is indeed internal. That is, he reasons from the internal consistency of our faith rather than appealing to external evidence.
We must remember he has already appealed to the facts (15:3-8). He has already proven the resurrection to be historical. Now he proves that it is consistent within the framework of our faith. If you’re a Christian, you cannot disbelieve Jesus’ resurrection. It just doesn’t make sense!
Feel free to share this post with your pastor, friends from church, or even an unbelieving friend or family member!
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