The Apostle Paul commented, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied,” (1 Corinthians 15:19, New American Standard Bible, NASB).
He makes this statement in the context of proving the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means to believers. In fact, First Corinthians, chapter 15, is called, “The Resurrection Chapter” which can be outlined into these key points:
I. Verification of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection by many eye witnesses who were actually there at the time (vss. 1-11);
II. The significance of believing in Jesus’ resurrection (vss. 12-19);
III. How the certainty of his resurrection plays into the future of God’s kingdom (vss. 20-28);
IV. Further into reasoning with anyone who might doubt the reality of Jesus’ resurrection (vss. 29-49);
V. Revealing the “mystery” of the future resurrection of all believers (vss. 50-54);
VI. Encouraging believers to remain steadfast in their work for the Lord (vss. 55-58).
In verse 19, Paul sums up the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in view of the hope we have in regard to the future resurrection of all believers when Jesus returns. The point is…
We are to be most pitied if we do not have such hope of the future. In other words, if all we have is hope in this life without believing there is something better to come, such as the resurrection to immortality in the coming Kingdom, then pity and misery on us! There’s not much reason to be a Christian if Jesus was not resurrected and the resurrection of the dead is not going to take place! This would, indeed, make all professing believers down through past ages, to the present, and beyond, the epitome of pity.
Death without hope is like going down a dead-end street and pity those who are travelling on it. Sadly, there are persons who do not have hope beyond this life. I found an illustration of this printed in PreachingToday.com which cites Philip Yancey from his book, “Where Is God When It Hurts?”
Yancey describes a unique funeral custom conducted by African Muslims. Close family and friends circle the casket and quietly gaze at the corpse. No singing. No flowers. No tears.
A peppermint candy is passed to everyone. At a signal, each one puts the candy in his or her mouth. When the candy is gone, each participant is reminded that life for this person is over. They believe life simply dissolves. No eternal life. No hope.
Upon reading this, we can only feel pity for persons who think life simply dissolves like peppermint candy and that’s the end. Persons who deny that God raised Jesus from death to immortality deprive themselves of the hope that makes this life abundant and meaningful. For, in contrast to those who do not follow Christ, the believer’s hope is deep and rich and genuine. Or, as someone has said, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
That’s why Jesus’ second coming is called, “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). It’s a blessing because it gives us a reason to live for the “better things to come,” (Hebrews 6:9). Unlike those who deny that Christ (who himself was raised to life) will come again to raise all the dead to life (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:1-6; 11-15), our hope keeps us secured and strong even when there are difficulties and sorrows in this present life…
“…in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil…” (Heb. 6:18-19).
The Apostle Peter calls our hope in Christ, “…a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter. 1:3-4). The hope of our inheritance is reserved in heaven now through Christ. But it won’t be received until he comes back to raise believers from the dead to give it to them (a.k.a., “the crown of life,” James 1:12; “the crown of righteousness,” 2 Timothy 4:8; also, cp., 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Cor. 9:24-25). While we as believers go through the various trials and tribulations of this present mortal life, we look for an inheritance that will never fade away resulting in “praise, and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”—that is, when he comes to reward all of his faithful followers (Matthew 25:14-31; Heb. 11:39-40).
Without this hope in Christ, what do we REALLY have to live for? This is the underlying question of our faith. And it comes to mind, especially as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For what is the TRUE meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in the first place if it doesn’t affect our hope for the future?
Pity us if we have hope only in this life. For such hope is not really hope at all. We groan within ourselves due to the miseries of this life yet we wait expectantly for the “redemption of our body,” (Romans 8:23). That is, if we have immortality within us now, do we not already have our hope fulfilled? But we’re looking forward to “putting on immortality” and “incorruption” when Jesus comes to awaken believers sleeping in death to give them everlasting life (1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). We have not seen this hope fulfilled yet. But with perseverance, we wait eagerly for it…
“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it,” (Romans 8:23-25).
If we do not want to be the epitome of pity, then we will place our hope in Jesus Christ who himself declared, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies…” (John 11:25).
Good News to YOU!
And have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!
P.S. Here is Tenth Avenue North singing, “I Have This Hope,” http://youtu.be/eBg9jHQtE44