Was It All for Nothing?
Rev. Kurt Lantz Resurrection of Our Lord 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
April 04, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear brothers and sisters,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Is it all for nothing? That is the question you have to ask yourself whenever you are confronted by some difficulty in this life. Is it all for nothing? That is the question when you are having a big fight in the family. That is the question if you are having trouble at work or school? That is the question when things are not going right. That is the question that St. Paul asked the Christians in Corinth near the end of his long letter to them dealing with so many different problems and troubles, not just in the congregation, but in their personal lives as well. Perhaps it is the question that has been nagging you recently. Is it all for nothing?
You might pose that question to yourself with nothing more than a focus on yourself. Is what you have suffered all for nothing? Are all those years of struggle and toil that you put in for nothing? Was all that hard work that you did for nothing? That is where we automatically put the focus, on ourselves. But that is not exactly the question that St. Paul posed.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Was it all for nothing? Not what you did. That is not the Gospel. What Jesus Christ did. Is that all for nothing?
The trouble that you experience may indeed have brought all that you have put into the situation to nothing. That happens all the time—all the money you saved, all the late nights you put in, all the emotional turmoil you went through, all the physical injury you suffered. All of that very well might have been for nothing, or worse. It just might be the root cause of your trouble. We don’t want to face it, but our own efforts really offer no guarantee that things will work out the way we want them to. They could be all for nothing.
But what Jesus Christ accomplished was not for nothing, and never will be. And so, rather than relying on your own efforts which may be brought to nothing, through no fault of your own or very much through your own fault, you have something firm and secure to rely on no matter what kind of trouble you find yourself in right now.
It is the Gospel. It is what Jesus Christ has done. It is what has been preached to you. It is what you received through the ministry of Word and Sacrament throughout your life. It is the grace of God toward you in Jesus Christ in which you stand firm against every trial and trouble. It is what saves you, even when everything else is revealed to have been for nothing. The Gospel still remains.
The Gospel is what Jesus Christ has done for you. You have heard it read from the Bible. You have received it in Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. You stand in it being forgiven and having eternal life. You are saved by this Gospel and it is what we recite regularly, what we hear from each other and speak to each other, what we teach our children, and continue to learn for ourselves. St. Paul wrote it down in his letter to the Corinthians in much the same way that we have memorized it in the Creed. “... that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to [many eye witnesses]” (15:3-8). All that you have done may come to nothing, but not this, not what Jesus Christ has done for you.
He died in the way that was prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g. Psalm 41:9; 69:21; 22) a thousand years before. They also testify that He died for your sins (Isaiah 53:5, 6, 11). The Roman soldiers present made sure and testified to it.
He was buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, while some of the women watched, and the Jewish religious leaders sealed the stone and placed a detachment of guards at the tomb.
He was raised on the third day as the Old Testament Scriptures said He would (e.g. Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10), and to that we have a great number of witnesses. For He appeared to many, who did not gain much by testifying that He is risen. They were persecuted and killed for the most part. But they delivered to others what they also received, as Paul did to those in Corinth and as others have delivered to you.
It is the Gospel which is not for nothing. It is for you. It is for you so that you have something that will never be for nothing. When all else fails you still have this and it is the one thing that saves you even from the things that you yourself have done. What Jesus has done saves you from your sins, every sin, all of them, no matter how much trouble they have caused. They all come to nothing because Jesus died and rose again for you.
It is hard to admit that everything we have done comes to nothing. It is hard to admit that even about our sins. They keep coming to mind to convince us that they still cling to us and weigh us down. But what Jesus has done was not for nothing. It was for your sins as it was for St. Paul’s. He had even persecuted Christians. He was one of those who tried to silence and kill the witnesses who had seen Jesus with their own eyes and were testifying about it. He supervised the stoning of that promising young Christian preacher, Stephen (Acts 6, 7). He was likely responsible for some of those five hundred who had fallen asleep in death, having snuffed out some of the very witnesses that he cited in our Epistle Reading (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Paul could not have been more grateful that what he had done had come to nothing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can be grateful for that too. Your sins, no matter how devastating, have come to nothing because Jesus died for them and rose again from the dead. Sin, death, and the devil all come to nothing because of what Jesus has done for you.
Now, there are some very important things that you do that do not come to nothing because of what Jesus has done for you. When you come to hear this Gospel, it is not for nothing. When you come to be absolved of your sins, it is not for nothing. When you come to receive the Lord’s Supper, it is not for nothing. It is for the forgiveness of your sins. It is for life and salvation. It is not for nothing because it is what Jesus has done for you through His death and resurrection.
When you bring your children to be baptized, it is not for nothing. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becoming their death to sin and their resurrection to new life in Him. When you read the Bible in your home, when you pray, when you forgive those who have sinned against you, when you tell others what Jesus has done for them through His death and resurrection. That doesn’t come to nothing.
And so Paul ends today’s epistle reading with what could sound like a great deal of boasting over the other apostles of Jesus. “I worked harder than any of them” (15:10). But it would all be for nothing, if it wasn’t the Gospel at work in him, as he himself clarifies. For he also confessed “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (15:9-10).
God’s grace toward you is not in vain. His undeserved love for you in sending Jesus to die for your sins and rise again to give you new life, forgiven, free, and everlasting, is not in vain. It is not for nothing. It is so that you can be as sure as Paul that no matter how horrible and devastating your sins, they are forgiven. And no matter how aimless and empty your life, He has filled it with His grace. It is not for nothing that He has brought His Gospel to you.
And it is not for nothing that you bring it to others. In that same Gospel you received, He works for the forgiveness and salvation of all those who live around you, who see you meet each new day with the strength that only He could give to pick yourself up and carry on, to love those who have wronged you, to put behind you the sins He has forgiven, and to rely on His grace for each new day. It is not all for nothing. He does it all for you.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.