Sometimes people get into debates (arguments?) about what is most necessary for a particular task. What is the most essential component in flying an airplane? Or in building a house? Or in parenting children? Or in educating college students? Or in growing a church? And it is amazing the diversity of answers you might receive for each of those questions.
What is the one thing that is needful?
Paul offers an answer to that question in 1 Corinthians. Above all other things, he notes that the one thing that is most important, the one thing that is above all other things, the one essential element in life is the death and resurrection of Christ. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4, NASB; my emphasis).
In life, there is one thing that is more essential than any other, and it is the death and resurrection of Christ. What makes Christ’s death and life so important? Why do preachers emphasize the significance of the resurrection every Easter (and hopefully every Sunday)? Why do Christians gather on the first day of every week, remembering the resurrection? Paul offers several reasons in 1 Corinthians 15.
The resurrection is of first importance because without His resurrection there is no resurrection (vv. 12-14). If Christ has not been raised, then no man has been raised and if everyone is just put into a grave after he dies and that is the complete end of his existence, then it is vanity and emptiness to preach the gospel. In fact, if there is no resurrection, then it is emptiness to believe the gospel (v. 14). If there is no resurrection, then there is no hope for anyone for any kind of future life, and that makes all of life empty and void of significance.
The resurrection is of first importance because without it we are still in our sins (vv. 15-17). If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then He was unable to pay for the debt of sin that God has against sinners, and if He has been unable to pay that debt then all men will be liable for their sin debt and guilt and must attempt to pay for it on their own. And they cannot pay for it on their own, so they will always be condemned to Hell. To believe in Christ if He has not been raised is worthless (v. 17), because we will still be in the domain of Adam, under the guilt and culpability of our sins.
The resurrection is of first importance because without it there is only death (vv. 18-19). If Christ has not been raised, then there is no one who has transcended death and there is no one who is life and a life-giver. If Christ is still dead then He has no ability to impart life to anyone. If Christ is still dead, then everyone else will also always be dead (and under the wrath of God).
The resurrection is of first importance because if Christ has been raised, there is resurrection for us (vv. 20-21). Christ has not remained dead; He has been resurrected. And because He has been resurrected — the first one of many to be resurrected to eternal life (other so-called resurrections, like Lazarus, were only resuscitations since they all died again) — then there is confident expectation that we who believe in Him and are identified with Him will also be resurrected. As the second Adam, He provided a life that the first Adam took away when he sinned and a life that the first Adam could not ever return.
The resurrection is of first importance because it is the means of putting sin and death to death (vv. 22-28). Christ not only was resurrected, but when He was resurrected, He defeated and put death to death. Sin was eternally conquered. And the terrible consequence of sin — death — was also conquered. Christ has demonstrated His kingly sovereignty over all things, including the worst foe of the believer — sin and death (vv. 25-26). Every enemy will be placed under the victorious foot of Christ, including death. During His ministry, He progressively vanquished many foes, but His ultimate and final victory was over death (v. 26). And He placed death in subordination to Himself when He was resurrected (vv. 26-27).
The resurrection is of first importance because it is the only means to inheriting God’s kingdom (vv. 50-57). No one else is victorious over sin and death on his own. The only way for anyone to be made alive is to be in Christ (vv. 50ff). And because Christ was made alive through the resurrection, there is hope for all who believe in Him. Without Christ’s resurrection, we are dead in our sins, we are still in Adam, controlled by and under the mastery of sin. Without Christ’s resurrection we face only a future of God’s wrath and judgment. Without the resurrection, the Bible, the gospel, and our faith are all empty and worthless and we are liars (vv. 14, 15, 17, 19). It is no advantage to believe in Christ if He has not been resurrected; life is not “better” for us if Christ has not been resurrected. It is infinitely worse if He is not resurrected; and we are pitiable creatures if we believe that He is resurrected when He is not.
But praise be to God, He is resurrected. He is victorious. And He gives us His victory when we believe in Him and are identified with Him (v. 57).
Why is the resurrection important? Because without it, we have nothing but death, and with it we have everything that pertains to eternal life.