1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-7, 12-28 MARCH 27, 2016
“WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION”
It should come as no surprise that there are people who deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was an article on why Easter is not celebrated like our other religious festivals. The author of the article stated that the resurrection of Jesus is difficult to accept by a great many people in our culture. I have met individuals who deny: the Holocaust, the moon landings, and even those who deny that the earth is spherical as they insist that the earth is flat. Atheists tend to deny the resurrections as their beliefs rely on scientific evidence and do not believe in “the existence of supernatural powers”. Islam does not accept the resurrection and neither does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). They believe that Jesus was a prophet. In spite of all those who deny the resurrection, we should not be dismayed or be troubled by the unbelief and doubts of others. What matters most is what do you believe?
There are also many scholars who claim to be Christians, yet do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of these who deny the resurrections have “the view that resurrection language expresses theological truths in mystical clothing, and that the disciples subjective experiences were transformed over time into the biblical narratives”. (The NIV Applications Commentary on 1 Corinthians by Craig Blomberg, page 307) In other words the disciples made up the biblical story. However, Christianity without believing in the resurrection is a colossal waste of time according to the Apostle Paul.
In the city of Corinth, in the first century the dominant culture was Greek. The Corinthians prided themselves on their sophistication and wisdom. With a touch of irony Paul seeks to remind them of knowledge they must have forgotten. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (NIV) “1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The Corinthians started out believing the message, yet they started listening to so-called wise teachers. The gospel message is the heart of the Christian faith and is the foundation of what we believe. It is the gospel that saves us; and to deny it or to reinvent it is to utterly destroy it.
The Apostle Paul was saved by the same gospel message that saves us. The church has faithfully passed down this same message. The message has not been changed over time and never will. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NIV) “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Did you hear that there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus? Do you really think that over 500 people lied about seeing Jesus alive and told the same exact story? No way! Paul emphasized that Jesus died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he rose from the grave. The boldness of the early disciples is also evidence that the resurrection of Jesus is true.
From the very beginning the Jewish religious leaders tried to discredit the news that Jesus actually rose from death. This is why Paul gave such a long list of witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. We are now living in an age of Islamic terrorism where mostly young Muslim suicide bombers die for what they believe to be true. Do you think that men will die for something they know to be false? Do you think that all of these witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection appearances are liars? No way! The apostles were all executed, except for John, for what they knew to be true, because they were there. Paul poses a what if question. 1 Corinthians 15:14-15 (NIV) “14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
There were some individuals in the Corinthian church who believed that when you died, that was it. They did not think that Christians who had died would be resurrected from the dead, like Jesus was. Listen to verses 16-20 from the Message. “If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.”
The resurrection of Jesus is described by Paul in verse twenty as being “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In Exodus 23:19 (NIV) 19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.” The very first produce of each harvest was to be brought before God, representing the entire harvest as an acknowledgment that the whole harvest came from God. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the sign and guarantee that all of those who believe in Jesus Christ will also be physically raised at the Second Coming of Jesus. We need to understand that not only will we live for all eternity in heaven, but we will have new physical bodies in which, like Christ, we will be able to recognize the other saints who have preceded us. In the same way that Peter, James, and John recognized Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured by the glory of God!
There was an elderly preacher who had always secretly dreaded death and found it difficult to console others who were facing death. When he retired he decided to move away from the area he had ministered. When all of his belongings had been placed on the moving truck he lingered, remembering all of the good times. This was the home where his children had been born and raised and where they had enjoyed many hours together. It was also the place he had spent countless hours in studying God’s word and in prayer. One of his friends, who had helped him pack, came into the house and laid his hand on the preacher’s shoulder. He said, “Pastor, come with us; your new home is better than this one.” The friend didn’t know it but his words preached a powerful message to the pastor. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by anything that draws us away from the faith in which we were saved. Christ has been raised!
Understanding the resurrection and believing in it, impacts our daily living, or it should. This life is going to end. We will all die, unless Christ returns first. We should not hold on to this life as if we have no hope and no future. Death is not the worst that can happen. What is worse is not living by what we believe. No one can take away your faith, unless you allow it. Christians who know and trust in the truth of Gods’ Word are able to do great things for God, trusting in the Lord’s eternal protection. Romans 8:18 (NIV) “18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We will suffer in this life, yet our troubles will be forgotten when we see Jesus face to face.
Hear these words of hope. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NIV) “50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
We believe and live by faith. We started this journey by faith, so let’s hold on to what we know to be true.
Christ is risen!
Let us pray.