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Resurrection: The Core of the Gospel- I Corinthians 15:1-11

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction- Resurrection: Accepting the Unacceptable

Thomas Arnold, who lived from 1795 to 1842, was an English educator and historian. His most famous work was a 3-volume history of Rome. This brilliant man once spoke on the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He wrote this:

“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

Since Thomas Arnold's day there have been others who have studied the resurrection of Jesus and have come up with the same conclusions as he did years ago. The idea of resurrection is one of the core teachings of the Christian faith and Jesus' resurrection makes Christianity unique amongst all of the world's religions.

I Corinthians 15 is a chapter on the fact of the resurrection. Not just Jesus' resurrection but ours as well, if we have faith in Him as our Savior. In this chapter Paul is addressing one of many problems that the Corinthian church was having. Some people who called themselves Christians were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead. We see this in verses 12-14 which are pivotal in this chapter. The apostle states:

" Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty."

At Corinth, Paul was speaking to a group of people who were saved out of the Greek culture. And prominent in that culture at the time was the beginnings of a worldview known as Gnosticism which became more prominent in the second century after the death of the apostles. The term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "to know" or "knowledge."

Gnostics believed that the world was divided into the physical and spiritual realms. The created, material world (matter) is evil, and therefore in opposition to the world of the spirit, and that only the spirit is good. So, the Gnostics were trying to escape the body. And the whole idea of dying and escaping the evil body was what they were looking forward to and not being bound to it once again.

Also, it didn't help that these people lived in a time where there were very few medical advancements that alleviated the pain and suffering of our physical bodies. With some exceptions, people didn't live to be very old in those days and they were subject to many diseases that we have found cures for today. Or we can at least make life easier to bear if we can't cure them. They couldn't imagine coming back to the same weak body again that was subject to the problems that they were now facing.

Looking further at the Gnostic worldview, we see that they were divided on their beliefs about Jesus Christ. Since the physical body was so evil, they made attempts to show that He was somehow separate from it. One view held that He only appeared to have human form but that He was actually spirit only. The other view contended that His divine spirit came upon His human body at baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Either way, it appealed to some of the Christians who were looking for a way to soften the Christian message and not be ridiculed by the world.

It is to this type of world that the gospel of the resurrection came. And the Corinthians, though believers in Jesus Christ, had to be in that world that despised the whole idea of a body coming back to life.

After all, they already had one strike against them in proclaiming Christ. He had been crucified. Crucifixion was a shameful punishment inflicted on slaves, criminals and rebels. No Roman citizen could be crucified without the personal authorization of the emperor himself. And, if you were a Jew, it was even worse. According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 a man who was crucified, or hung on a tree, was cursed by God. These verses say this:

‘And if someone has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God…’

To talk about a man who claimed to be God and was killed in the manner of a criminal was one thing. Now, the preachers of the gospel were expecting that the people of the time had to believe that this same Godman came back into a weak body of flesh and blood. This was just too much for some to accept.

So, Paul had a lot of things to overcome when talking about the reality of the resurrection. However, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, there would be no good news and we would all still be lost in our sins. It is the core of the gospel message preached by Paul and the apostles.

That is why Paul begins his teaching on the resurrection of the dead, in verses 1-11, by reiterating the gospel message that he had preached to the Corinthians and which they had received and believed. And in doing this he gives 3 irrefutable witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ that give evidence that there indeed is a bodily resurrection from the dead. They include: 1) The Scriptures, 2) The many eyewitnesses, and 3) A special eyewitness. That is, the apostle Paul himself.

I. They Testimony of the Scriptures (1-4)

Let us begin by looking at the testimony of the Scriptures.

Paul starts his treatise on the resurrection in verses 1-4 in this way. He says:

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures..."

Just what Scriptures is Paul referring to in this passage? It couldn't have been the four Gospels, for they hadn't even been written yet. What he was likely talking about is the Old Testament Scriptures. We see this, for instance, in Luke 24:25-27. It records Jesus speaking to some men on the road to Emmaus. This is what it says:

"Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself."

As we read the Old Testament, we see that either by type or by direct prophecy, Jesus' death burial and resurrection are predicted.

We could go all the way back to Genesis 3:15 which talks about the seed of the woman bruising or crushing the head of Satan, and Satan bruising his heal.

And in Genesis 22 we see Abraham being told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice and Abraham being willing to do it but getting stopped short by God before he actually killed his son. This is a clear picture of God offering His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross.

We look in Psalm 22 for another picture of Christ as it gives details of the crucifixion long before crucifixion was invented as a way of capital punishment. And who can forget the suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53? Isaiah 53:6, for instance, tells us that:

"All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone, to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

Also, Isaiah 53:9 tells us of Jesus' burial more than 700 years before the fact. It states:

"And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth."

In Psalm 16 we see that Jesus would rise from the dead. In verse 10 it prophesies:

"For you will not leave me in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption."

Jesus later tells us that Jonah being in the belly of the great fish for 3 days and nights is a picture of Him being in the grave that same length of time (Jonah 1:17-2:10; Matthew 12:40).

The point is that Paul was correct that the core of the gospel message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was in the Scriptures and God was preparing those who would listen to Him for the coming of His Son into the world.

The total significance of all of this didn't get revealed fully until the apostle Paul comes on the scene and his writings make known things hidden from all other generations (Colossians 1:26). However, it was there in embryo form from the very beginning of the Old Testament.

After making it clear that the Scriptures were faithful to the truth of Jesus' resurrection and so giving it validity, Paul turns to actual eyewitnesses of our Lord after He rose from the dead.

II. The Testimony of Eyewitnesses (3-7).

In giving eyewitness accounts, it would be easy to say that one or 2 may have gotten it wrong or deliberately told lies about Jesus' resurrection. However, the mass of people that Paul talks about in this section of the passage is hard to refute. Not to mention the fact that most were still alive to verify what they had seen at the time of his writing. In verses 3-7, the apostle tells the reader:

"And then He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present. After that He was seen by James, then all the apostles."

Cephas, of course is Peter. And when he talks about the 12, it must be noted that at that time there were only 11. Matthias was later added after Jesus' ascension. However, according to the Pulpit Commentary, they were still commonly called the 12 because here it is a designation of an office. The commentary goes on to say that:

"Ancient writers are always indifferent to mere pragmatic accuracy in trifles which involve nothing. To witness to the Resurrection was a main function of "the twelve"

Paul then goes on to mention that Jesus was seen, in His resurrected state, by 500 brethren at once. Some skeptics have suggested that this is some sort of mass hallucination, and that Jesus wasn't really seen. However, I like what C. Michael Patton, who runs a ministry called Credo House, wrote in an article entitled: 'Was the Resurrection the Result of a Mass Hallucination?' He writes:

"There are very few psychologists or psychiatrists who believe that such a thing as mass hallucinations exist. If a hallucination is a subjectively experienced phenomenon explicable in terms of brain chemistry, then mass hallucinations aren’t possible.

A mass hallucination would be like people coming to “Coffee and Theology” at Credo House and realizing that we’d all had the same dream the night before. Not just similar dreams, but exactly the same dream. I would consider this a prophetic miracle (if it’s message coincided with previously revealed revelation from God).

The improbability of a mass hallucination (for the naturalist) is so high it would have to be a miracle."

Yet Paul appeals to these 500 people who saw Jesus as eyewitnesses that the Lord was actually raised from the dead.

After the 500, Jesus is said to have appeared to James and then to all of the Apostles. The James that Paul is talking about was almost certainly the Lord's half-brother who also wrote the book of James and was a key leader in the Jerusalem church.

To get members of Jesus' family behind the fact of the resurrection was no small feat. When He was alive His brothers didn't believe Him to be who He said He was. And at one point they said Jesus was crazy (John 7:5; Mark 3:21).

The second appearance to the apostles was at another time over the 40-day period that Jesus was on earth after His resurrection. And it seems to have been all the apostles who saw Him, except for Judas who was dead.

However, after all of these witnesses, Paul saves the best for last. That was Paul, himself. This incident was referring to Jesus' appearance on the road to Damascus that brought the apostle to faith in Christ

III. The Special Testimony: Paul himself (8-11).

Paul, though he is considered great in church history, was a very humble man in terms of the revelation and position that he was given. He explains why this is in verses 8-11. The apostle states:

"And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit 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 did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them. Yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then, it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."

Paul never got over the fact of the grace that made him what he was. He murdered the saints and tried to destroy the church which he later, after his conversion, defended, nurtured and sought to expand to his dying day, when he, as a martyr was beheaded for the cause of Christ.

He calls himself here an ektróma in Greek. The word can mean an abortion, abortive birth, or an untimely birth. He explains that he is as inferior to the rest of the apostles as an immature birth comes short of a mature one and is no more worthy of the name of an apostle than an abortion is of the name of a child. This "untimely" or "abnormal" birth is likely referring to his being born again, coming into relationship with Christ, after all these others had come to know Him during Jesus' time on earth. Jesus talked with Paul, not from earth but from heaven, leading him to faith.

However, Paul proved himself to be every bit an apostle as the rest by working harder than any of them for the cause of Christ. And he, no doubt, went on to be one of the greatest defenders and spreaders of the Christian faith that this world has ever known.

Conclusion

When it comes right down to it, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so vital to the gospel and the Christian faith that, without it, there would be no good news. We would all be on our way still to a Christless eternity in Hell. The gospel is the good news that Jesus not only died for our sins but that He rose up three days later, proving that God the Father accepted His sacrifice for sin and that He had accomplished His mission of bringing salvation to a lost world. We serve a risen Savior. And because of that fact we will one day rise from the dead as well. Not with the sin-cursed bodies that we now have that are subject to disease and decay. Rather they will be glorified bodies like the one that our Savior possesses. Ones that will never get sick, never get old and will never, ever die. Jesus has told us that:

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11:25,26).

That is the power of the gospel, and we must never compromise it in any way. Just like in the time of the Corinthian church, there are those today who teach a different gospel. We must oppose them, as Paul did, and present the true resurrection gospel as clearly as we know how.

May we praise God every day that we live, and into eternity, that our Lord died for us. But praise Him more that He lives and that we can now preach the gospel of the resurrection. The grave has no more power over Him. And because of that, it has no power over us either. Thank the Lord that we serve a God who gives life to the dead and has proved that by an empty tomb!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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