1 Corinthians 15
Preaching Date: April 1, 2018
Key Sentence: Everything rests - firmly - on the truth of the resurrection.
I. The Good News about Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
II. What’s at stake? (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
III. A Call to Certainty (1 Corinthians 15:20)
Well, again, Happy Resurrection Day! Happy Easter. This is the best season of the Christian year and the best moment of the Christian life: the recognition that Christ is victorious over sin and death and Satan and evil and brokenness. He has defeated them all and changed the world forever, and given us hope.
But here’s the deal. In the past few years I’ve run into more and more folks who are deeply struggling with doubt. Is the Bible true? Is our understanding of the Bible true? Do we have to believe this, when what seems right is that? “Is it worth holding to these beliefs and ethics against the ‘common sense’ around us.” So some ask about creation. Did God create in a miraculous process? Did he really make people in his image? Or was creation completely a natural process? Did people develop these intellectual and moral capabilities as a result of evolutionary pressure? What about gender and sexual issues? How can God be so restrictive? How can he judge and still be a loving God? And then there is the religion issue. There are so many religions and they all claim to be right. How can Christianity say that it’s the only way to God? Isn’t that just pride and cultural conditioning? How can we know this stuff is true?
Now I’m throwing these things out rather quickly, but I think someplace in your heart and head you’ve asked similar questions. And if you haven’t you know people who have. I don’t want to name names, but there is a flood of doubt rising up, sometimes even in those thoroughly grounded in the faith. And though doubt can lead to a deepened faith, it can also lead to an anemic faith.
So I want to use this Easter Sunday message to remind us we can have certainty, as much as is humanly possibly, about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the bedrock, the foundation of confidence in all these other areas. I may doubt this or that understanding, this or that idea, but I can come back to the fact that Jesus Christ rose victorious over death. Everything hangs on it. If I’m right all the other doubts must be addressed from this truth. If Jesus is raised from the dead it’s hard to entirely dismiss the faith he proclaimed. If he hasn’t been raised from the dead the whole thing falls apart. Everything rests, firmly, I believe, on the truth of the resurrection.
Today we’re going to look at familiar verses in 1st Corinthians 15. This is sometimes called the resurrection chapter, because it first argues for the importance of the resurrection of Christ and then tells us a lot about our own resurrection and the transformation that we can look forward to when Christ comes.
But today, to address this epidemic of doubt, we focus on the first part of the chapter, where Paul gives plenty of reasons for certainty in our faith. I can’t answer all your doubts, but I can assure you that Christ died on the cross and was raised to life. 1st Corinthians 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Easter is all about good news which addresses our deepest needs and is grounded in the resurrection. Paul has every confidence in this good news. He says it’s the Gospel I preached, it’s the Gospel you received, and it is the Gospel by which you are being saved. He says this is the Gospel you have believed, unless you’ve believed in vain, unless there really is no certainty. Remember that the word ‘believed’ is the same Greek word that we often translate faith, as in “by grace you have been saved through faith.” But it is not a leap of faith without evidence. The Gospel is the good news which saves by faith, but this faith is in vain without the resurrection, as Paul explains in verses 3-5. Notice the structure of these verses. Paul says that the two key elements of the Gospel are Jesus’ death for sin and his resurrection. These are the two that he says are “according to the Scriptures.” Both of them are supported by a key piece of physical evidence. He died for our sins and he was buried. He was raised the third day ‘and he appeared. Hewas seen by many, alive, in victory and power.
Christ was put to death. At a moment in history nearly two thousand years ago, Christ hung on a cross. He suffered the nails. He bled from the wounds. He endured the pain. More than that, he experienced the wrath of God. This man who was God incarnate knew no sin. He had not ever once in his life sinned, nor was he by nature sinful. There was no reason for him to die. He didn't deserve it. Rather, all of us, who are sinners, who have consistently fallen short of God's standards, we deserve to die. We have chosen almost daily to think and do things that hurt others or ignore their needs. We have chosen to make ourselves rebels by putting self ahead of God. Therefore, we are rightly cast out from his presence, and all we can look forward to is an eternity of painful and self-imposed separation from the one who loved us.
But Jesus Christ did not deserve that separation from God. He died for our sins. Peter says “he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.” Paul says “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” The death of Christ on the cross is the supreme act of self-sacrificing love. And it was ‘according to the Scriptures’. Maybe Paul is thinking of Isaiah 53, written hundreds of years earlier: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
And, the physical evidence, he was buried. Paul doesn't say he was buried according to the Scripture. Burial just naturally follows death. The burial shows that this was not a swoon or a false death or hoax. He was dead, so they buried him, in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. If you had opened that tomb on the Saturday after the crucifixion, you’d have found a cold dead body: no more, no less.
But the story doesn't end there. There is no hope or certainty in a dead savior. Paul says, “he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” Isaiah 53 again: “he shall see the light of life and be satisfied.” It’s critically important that Christ was raised: his resurrection is the hope and victory of the gospel. Just as the demonstration he was dead is his burial. The demonstration he is alive is his appearing. Paul devotes more words to this than to anything else. Verse 5: “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
It's these appearances that make the resurrection so difficult to disprove. He appeared to Peter, to all the disciples, to more than 500 others. He was seen in Galilee, he was seen in Jerusalem. He ate, he talked, they touched him. And every one of those people who ever wrote anything - Peter, James, John, Matthew - all wrote that he rose from the dead. If one person came up to you and said they had just seen Jose Altuve eating over at Gina’s restaurant, you might doubt that. But if twelve people said it, you’d probably be convinced. And if you walked over and five hundred people had just seen him, you’d be convinced.
Many lawyers and judges have looked at the testimony of the Gospels and said that by legal rules of evidence it would be convincing in a court of law. It’s reliable eyewitness testimony. Acts 2:32 “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” I’ve been reading about a book called “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” where a professor of the New Testament argues that the Gospels themselves are, more than anything else, eye-witness testimonies.
In the battle against doubt, eye-witness evidence is crucial. I found a good summary of the evidence for the resurrection by Mark Perman. He says there are three main strands of evidence: (1) The tomb in which Jesus was buried was found to be empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion. (2) Jesus' disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. (3) As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew. We won’t explore the evidence for the empty tomb today, but if you study the motivations, you find that if the tomb wasn’t empty we would know about it.
The second strand of witness is strongly supported by 1st Corinthians 15. Perman says “Jesus' disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. This is not commonly disputed today because we have the testimony of the original disciples themselves that they saw Jesus alive again.”
But, he says, “I recognize that just because the disciples think they saw Jesus doesn't automatically mean that they really did. There are three possible alternatives: they were lying; they hallucinated; or they really saw the risen Christ.” “Were they lying? On this view, the disciples knew that Jesus had not really risen, but they made up this story about the resurrection. But then why did 10 of the disciples willingly die as martyrs for their belief in the resurrection? They did just die for a lie they wrongly believed was true, they died for a lie they knew was a lie. Is that credible? Would ten people, more than ten, give their lives for a cause they knew to be a lie. Chuck Colson pointed out after Watergate, that people under pressure do not easily keep secrets or sustain lies.
They believed they’d seen him. But just believing something doesn't make it true. Perhaps the disciples were wrong and had been deceived by a hallucination. But this theory cannot explain the kind of appearances they experienced. They ate and drank with Jesus. They touched him. Hallucinations don’t work this way. They almost never involve multiple senses. visual. Second, hallucinations are highly individual, not group. I’ve had this phantom smell problem for years. I know it’s all in my head because nobody else smells it. Finally hallucinations don’t explain the evidence for a physically empty tomb.
Since the disciples could not have been lying or hallucinating, we have only one possible explanation left: the disciples believed that they had seen the risen Jesus because they really had seen the risen Jesus. That is the foundation of our certainty. This is what we believe, not just with head knowledge, but heart action. It is a turn from sin, death and coming judgment to forgiveness, rescue and life. It is to put trust what Jesus has done, and that he has done it for you, that he died for you, and rose from death to give you eternal life.
The is the Gospel. Do you believe it? It may be that you walked in this morning not knowing the good news, not believing it, or never having responded to it. If that’s true, it may be that right now, where you sit, you need to tell Jesus you believe he died for your sins. I’m going to give you a moment of silence here to pray. Just tell Jesus in your thoughts or in a whisper that you know you are a sinner, separated from God, and worthy of judgment. Tell him you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead to give you forgiveness and new life. Tell him you trust him to empower you to turn from sin and live that new life. Amen. Just one more thing: If you prayed that way, please tell someone. The best first thing you can do as a believer in Jesus, is to share that joy with someone who will rejoice with you and point you into new life.
Paul has outlined the Gospel. Faith is founded on the certainty that Jesus died for our sins and God raised him from the dead. But this Gospel hope was being challenged in Corinth, so Paul reminds them what is at stake. Verse 12-20: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
I’ve told you before about my high school friend Michael Carney. He was a strong believer who was comfortable being an Irish Catholic, most of the time. But we went to an ecumenical Easter service once, and the priest who spoke said Christ died as an example, and lives on through the devotion of his followers. Michael was not pleased. He stood up and asked the priest if he believed in the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus. The priest said it was a resurrection in the heart of believers. And Michael said, loudly, “If that's what you believe, then you sir are no Christian.” Without glancing at us, Michael walked out.
He was right: if you don't have the resurrection, you don't have the Christian faith, you don’t have any good news. Verse 13 “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Notice how logical Paul is. He says “okay, if there is no such thing as resurrection, then it can never have happened, not even to Christ. But if it never happened to Christ, then this whole gospel falls apart. It becomes useless.
In fact, the good news becomes bad news: Christ died for sin and sin won. Sin defeated him and we are its next victims. That’s what the Narnian witch thinks in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, At the moment when Aslan is slain, she says: "I've won. You have sacrificed yourself and you have not saved the boy" If Christ had remained dead, he would have sacrificed himself, and not saved us. Further, my preaching and your faith would be useless, because you would believe in a savior who lost his final battle, and I would be preaching about a dead God. Verse 15: “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Paul says: “Well, then, we must be lying about God by saying that he raised someone whom he didn't, if there’s no such thing.”
Verse 17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The resurrection is important because by it Christ conquers sin and conquers death. Christ didn’t conquer sin and death at the crucifixion: He bore them - he paid for our sins, he suffered the punishment we deserved. But he didn’t gain victory until Sunday morning. How could we say that sin had been conquered if death still ruled? We are certain of the death’s defeat because of the resurrection. By the resurrection we know Christ has won and so have we!
The Duke of Wellington fought Napoleon at Waterloo. When the battle was over, he sent a message, using something like semaphore. But fog closed in after only two words were sent “Wellington defeated ...,”. So people only got news of defeat. Later, when the fog cleared the message was finished. "Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo." In the same way people saw the death of Christ and said "defeat." Yet, at the Resurrection, God's message was finished. The resurrection spelled victory. Without it there is no hope for any believer.
Verse 18: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” Those who have fallen asleep are those who have died. This ties back to the first part of the chapter: when Paul listed those to whom Christ appeared, he said that some of the 500 who saw him have fallen asleep. Now he says, with gentle irony, ‘if there is no resurrection, then there is no hope for even those who saw the resurrected Christ, but have since fallen asleep.” But a faith that has no hope for those who die? It’s a worthless, bitter, cruel faith, like today’s atheism. Verse 19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” The hope of the Gospel is the resurrection. Without it there is no hope for us, and no hope for our loved ones. Richard Dawkins says that “a delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.” That’s where we would be if there were no resurrection.
On the other hand, I read a series of questions one pastor asked his congregation, questions with only one answer. “What is it that gives a widow courage as she stands beside a grave? What is the ultimate hope of the cripple, the amputee, the abused, the cancer patient? How can the parents of brain damaged or handicapped children keep from being completely depressed? How can we see past the martyrdom of some helpless hostage or devoted missionary? Where do the thoughts of a young couple go when they finally recover from the grief of losing their baby? What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents?” And the answer? There is only one answer, one hope: resurrection.
Verse 20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” We’ve seen, or touched on, the vast literature that upholds the reasonableness of belief in the resurrection. After creating equally strong cases for the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the growth of the early church, Perman says “If we deny the resurrection, we are left with at least three inexplicable mysteries. But there is a much better explanation than a far-fetched appeal to a stolen body, hallucination, and mystery religion. The best explanation is that Christ in fact rose from the dead!”
Perman closes with a list of implications of the truth of the resurrection. I want to mention a few of these, because they address our doubts and remind us of our hopes. First, the resurrection proves that the claims Jesus made about himself are true. What did Jesus claim? He claimed to be God. One might say, "I don't believe that He claimed to be God, because I don't believe the Bible." But the fact is that even if we take only the passages which skeptical scholars admit as authentic, it can still be shown that Jesus claimed to be God. Now, if Jesus had stayed dead in the tomb, it would be foolish to believe what Jesus said about himself. But since He rose, it would be foolish not to believe it.”
Second, have you ever wondered what reasons there are to believe in the Bible? Is there good reason to believe it was inspired by God, or is it simply a bunch of interesting myths and legends? The resurrection of Jesus answers the question. That objective truth eliminates the possibility of myth. And if he is truly, not mythologically, God the Son, then he speaks with absolute certainty and final authority. We can trust the testimony of Jesus over what we would like to be true and over the opinions of others. Don't be misled by skeptical, unbelieving theories about the Bible. Trust Jesus. He rose from the dead. Third, many people are confused by the many religions in the world. Are they all from God? But on a closer examination we see that they cannot all be from God, because they contradict each other. They cannot all be true any more than 2+2 can equal 4 and 5 at the same time.
“For example,” Perman says, “Christianity is the only religion that believes Jesus Christ is both God and man. All other religions say he was just a good man, not God. How are we to know which is correct? By a simple test: which belief has the best evidence? Jesus is the only religious leader who has risen from the dead. All others are in their tombs. Who should you believe? I think the answer is clear: Jesus' resurrection show us the truth. Therefore, we can accept his statement that he is the only way to God: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me."
Fourth, the resurrection of Christ proves that God will judge the world one day. The apostle Paul said, "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." The resurrection of Christ proves something very personal and significant to each of us--we will have to give an account of ourselves to a holy God. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we do not measure up to his standard. We are sinful, and therefore deserve to be condemned at His judgment.
Which leads to Perman’s fifth point. The resurrection of Christ gives true hope for eternal life. Why? Because Jesus says that by trusting in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins and thereby escape being condemned at the judgment. The Bible doesn't prove that Christ rose from the dead and leave us wondering “why?” It answers that He did this because we are sinners. He died for us. He rose for us. The penalty of our sins is paid, and He was raised to life for our justification. Christ's resurrection proves that His mission to conquer sin was successful. His resurrection proves that He is a Savior who is not only willing, but also able, to deliver us from the wrath of God. The forgiveness that Jesus died and rose to provide is given freely, by grace to those who trust in Him.
Let me close with the sixth thing Perman gives as the significance of the resurrection. 1st Corinthians 15 goes on to say that Christ's resurrection is the pattern those who believe in Him will follow. In other words, believers will one day be resurrected by God just as Jesus was. The resurrection proves that those who trust in Christ will not experience eternity as dis-embodied souls. It proves that our bodies will be resurrected one day. Believers will one day experience, forever, the freedom of having a glorified soul and body.
So everything rests, firmly, on the resurrection. The evidence for the resurrection is incredibly powerful, and the effect of the resurrection is infinitely powerful. Certainty about the resurrection is perhaps the most powerful way to doubt our doubts and embrace our promised hopes. He is Risen indeed!