1 Corinthians 15:14-22: The top ten list! Pollsters publish them for us to read all the time. The best dressed people; the world's most beautiful women; the most admired Americans; the richest men in the world; the athletes who make the All-American, the All-Pro, the All-Star and the All-Madden teams. Do you ever catch yourself wishing your name might be included on one of those lists?
Paul publishes one of those top ten lists this morning. Only this list is labeled "The World's Most Miserable People”. Would any of us wish to be on such a list? I don’t think so. Yet Paul says, If Christ has not been raised, each of us here would belong on such a list. If Christ has not been raised, Paul says your pastor is the most miserable of preachers. If Christ has not been raised, all of members of Christian congregations are the most miserable of sinners. And if Christ has not been raised, every time we drive out to the cemetery behind that funeral coach, you and I are the most miserable of mourners.
But wait a minute. The angel told us at his gravesite: “He (Jesus) is not here; he is risen.” Peter, John, Thomas, and all those other fellows saw him alive. So did Mary Magdalene and her lady friends. And the fellow who published this list saw him too. He says so right here: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. No, we're not on that list of "The World's Most Miserable People" anymore. But My friends, we are on a list. Because of Jesus' Resurrection, you and I are on the list of :
THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD!
On this Easter morning, let's together learn that blessed truth once again.
I. The Most Miserable Preacher
You know, preachers can feel miserable. The empty benches on Sunday; the critical remarks that can hurt feelings; the zeal of parishioners that is so often there for worldly things, but seems to be so lacking these days for saving souls: all of these can bring "misery" into the preacher's life on occasion. But there is one thing, above all, which would make him most miserable. Paul says that would happen, if Christ has not been raise. Then Paul says :our preaching is useless.
If Christ has not been raised ...Who then would want to preach? All the sentences that come from this pulpit which are designed to edify and to instruct, to warn and to strengthen, to comfort and to inspire...all those sentences would be just so many empty words. All the classes for our kids and teens and for us grown-ups, all the hospital visits, the shut-in calls, the mission calls...all of that would be just so much time wasted. Then the preacher, besides being miserable, might as well quit and look for something else to do. And that isn't true of just preachers, but of anyone who works for Jesus. If Christ has not been raised, then being a Christian Day School or Sunday School teacher, a Councilman, a District Elder, a church secretary, or a member of any church organization is a waste of time. If Christ has not been raised, then building churches, erecting colleges and high schools to train our future pastors and teachers, and sending out missionaries all mean nothing. If Christ has not been raised, then tear down King of Kings, throw away our Bibles, and put our money into anything but a church offering envelope!
But that's not how it is. Fellow Christians, thank God it isn't! Paul declares: Christ has indeed been raised. He lives and reigns for all eternity as our loving, forgiving, and helping Jesus. The Bible is true! That means all of our risen Lord's promises can be trusted. He lives to be with us always, even to the end of the world. He lives! That means the Lord is my Shepherd and His goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. He lives! And so we can do all things through Christ Jesus, who gives us the strength. Jesus lives! This truth turns the preacher from the most miserable to the most joyful, and makes him shout to the young men of our congregation: "Come, join the ranks. Become a preacher of the risen Jesus and share the joy." Jesus lives! This truth turns the preacher from the most miserable to the most joyful, and makes him shout to the young ladies of our congregation: "Come, join the ranks. Become a teacher of the little lambs of the risen Jesus and share the joy." Jesus lives! This truth makes the most joyful preacher say to every member of our congregation: "Come, join the ranks. Labor for your risen Jesus here in whatever way you can--serve, sacrifice, give, pray, go and tell. Share the joy as we carry to our sin-sick world the only thing that really matters in life: “Believe on the living Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
II. The Most Miserable Sinner
If Christ has not been raised, there would be another class of most miserable people. Among them would be the penitent thief on the cross. "He lied," that sinful thief would scream in terror as hell's fire licks at his heels. "He said, 'Today you will be with me in Paradise,' but look at me now." Among this other class of most miserable people would be a sinner named Simon Peter. "He looked at me that night," Peter might moan from hell's prison, "but that look meant nothing!"
Among them would also be another group of most miserable sinners. That group would include a you and a me! What if we’ve based our faith on something that does not exist? Paul says: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. No resurrection equals no forgiveness for any of us. That's right! If Jesus is still dead, we aren't forgiven. It's as simple as that. On Good Friday, we saw how angry God was with sin - so angry that his one and only Son had to bleed and suffer...and even be abandoned his Father on that cross. If Christ has not been raised, that must mean God is still angry with my sins - all the times I didn’t listen to my parents, all the times I lost my temper, and all the times I was lazy, selfish, lustful or worried. And if Christ has not been raised, that must mean God is still angry with all of your sins, too. And he’s so angry we will one day be damned forever in hell because of those sins.
But that's not how it is. My fellow sinners, thank God it isn't. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. We were totally doomed as sinners, but Jesus' resurrection is God the Father's "AMEN" to Jesus' words, “It Is Finished!” The empty grave of our Jesus says to us, no matter who we are: His blood purifies us from all sin. Yes, misery is replaced with joy as the risen Savior says to us week in and week out through his Word and Sacraments: "Go in peace! Your sins are forgiven!"
III. The Most Miserable Mourner
There's one more individual on that list called "The World's Most Miserable People." That individual is the most miserable mourner. Each of us is going to die. In our youth, we don't stop to think about this. In our old age, we try not to. But the drumbeat of death goes on without pause. All of us has stood beside the mortal remains of one of our Christian loved ones. We’ve looked into the casket together. We've seen him or her dressed in their finest clothes, every hair in place, their hands serenely folded. But all the chemicals and all the cosmetics in the world can’t hide the fact that someone we love is dead. Many times you and I have made that lonesome walk into the cemetery, where those earthly remains were laid to rest.
What if Christ has not been raised? Can we even bear to ask that question? We say, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life." What a terrible deception that is if it never happened that on "the third day he rose again from the dead." If Christ has not been raised, then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. Paul tells us. If Christ has not been raised, there is only one word which fits our tombstones. That word is "LOST"! "LOST" it would have to say over Abraham's grave and Jacob's bones, over John the Baptist's headless corpse, over all our dear ones wherever they are buried, and also over us in whichever cemetery we might end up. There's nothing to soothe our aching hearts when we lay to rest our dear ones. If he didn't rise, what business do we have thinking we will? Why go through life hanging on to the hope there will be a different life in a better world? Why struggle to learn and to live the Christian faith? Why work so hard to pass it on to our children? If Christ has not been raised...
But that's not how it is. My dear people thank God it isn't! Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…Firstfruits! Paul calls Jesus. In the Old Testament, when an Israelite harvested his crops, the Lord asked him to bring the first shock of grain to his altar and to wave it high over his head as an offering to God. This firstfruits’ offering was a way to express confidence that the Lord would see to it whole crop would soon ripen as well. Jesus Christ, Paul says, is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus Christ was the first one to come out of the grave alive--never to die again. All the dead in Christ will follow. I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies...In Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive...he will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. We will be reunited with all those dear Christians who’ve died before us, and who fell asleep in Jesus. They will be awakened and glorified, to live again, to live with us, and to live with him. So shall we ever be with the Lord!
The best dressed, the most beautiful, the most admired, the richest, the All-American, All-Pro, All-Star...Moms, Dads, husbands, wives, Grandpas, Grandmas, all you kids and teenagers, and yes, all of you mourning a loved one's death this day--forget about all of those top ten lists. Because Jesus lives, we are on the best list of all! You and I are the Happiest People in the World.