April 4, 2010

The Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15:1-28

A Sermon for Easter 2010

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 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? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
—1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Throughout the church age, there have been a few in every generation who have speculated that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. This speculation grew especially beginning in the 18th century, when some influential scholars began questioning the source of the scripture and subjecting its claims to scientific validation.

Their theories to account for the gospels’ accounts of his crucifixion, death, and resurrection go to great lengths to support their position as skeptics. Some postulated that Jesus merely fainted on the cross, rather than dying. Others say the disciples took His body from the grave and His appearances after that were spiritual, not physical. One of the most far out theories is that His crucifixion and death were merely shared hallucinations.

The doubts about His resurrection were planted in the very beginning, according to the gospel of Matthew, when on the morning of the resurrection the chief priests and elders bribed the guards and told them to say that Jesus’ disciples came during the night and stole His body:

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
—Matthew 28:11-15

In our passage for today (1 Corinthians 15:1-28), Paul explains the truth about the resurrection of Jesus. He addressed this subject in this letter because, among all of the other problems in the Corinthian church, the Corinthian Christians were arguing about whether or not there was a resurrection from the dead.

Paul makes three primary points in verses 1-28:

Christ rose from the dead (verse 4)

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very substance of the gospel, which Paul preached in all his missionary travels and in his epistles. Here in verses 3 and 4, Paul makes it clear what the Gospel is: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

That is the gospel: that Jesus was crucified and buried and then rose from the dead, just as the Scriptures reveal. Jesus’ rising from the dead often is the most difficult part for people to accept. After all, rising from the dead is not something within our experiences. So Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that hundreds of people witnessed the risen Christ. And, suspecting that there would have been some skeptics who might say, “Yeah, right, Paul,” he noted that most of these eyewitnesses are still living at the time of his writing, which was about 25 years after the resurrection (verse 6). Paul was telling them, “if anyone has any questions, go and talk to these people who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes.”

Paul goes on to say in verse 8, “and last of all he appeared to me also, as one born out of due time” (some translations, “one abnormally born”). Jesus appeared to Paul within the first couple of years after the crucifixion and resurrection. We remember that Paul, then called Saul, was on his way to Damascus to find and arrest Christians, when Jesus appeared to him. That encounter enabled Paul to become an apostle even though he was not an original eyewitness of the resurrection, as were all the other apostles. So Paul refers to himself as “one born out of due time” (or “one abnormally born”), compared to the other apostles. He, too, had seen and talked to the resurrected Savior, just as the other apostles but at a later time.

Paul’s second point is:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen (verse 13)

Paul was puzzled by some of the thinking in Corinth, because the resurrection was already established as fact and part of the experience of hundreds of Christians still living and worshiping in the early church. Since Christ rose from the dead, then the resurrection exists; but if the resurrection did not exist, then Christ could not have risen from the dead.

In verse 12, Paul asks his readers how they could preach that Jesus rose from the dead, while at the same time some of the people in that church argued that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul saw an essential link between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of other believers. To deny one, he is telling them, is to deny both. To say that one could not happen, is to imply that the other could not happen. The conclusion of his logic is that if one believes that believers in Christ who have died will not be resurrected, then that implies that Jesus could not have risen from the dead. He then goes on to declare what the impact of that would be. Look at the points Paul makes that would necessarily stem from a belief that Christ is not raised:

Our preaching would be empty (meaning "useless"): it makes no sense at all to go out and tell others about Jesus if he is still dead (verse 14)

Our faith would be empty (useless, verse 14)

The apostles would be false witnesses (that is, they had to be lying if there is no resurrection, verse 15)

Our faith would be futile (verse 17)

We would still be in our sins rather than forgiven (verse 17); that is, His death did not redeem us

Those Christians who have already died were still lost (verse 18)

We of all people are to be pitied: because we have a false hope (verse 19; in other words, we would have no reason to believe any of the promises Jesus made, if He did not make good on his promise to rise from the dead).

Paul's third point is:

Christ is the first of those risen from the dead (verse 20)

Paul firmly tells them that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. He is “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep. “Firstfruits”refers to the first of the harvest, which Christians dedicated to God by giving it to the church. In Jewish history, the firstfruits of the harvest was given at the Temple. This was an important tradition. The Christians brought their tithes and offerings to the church in the form of the firstfruits of the harvest. This is thought to be the major source of income for the 1st century church.

When Paul refers to “those who have fallen asleep,” He is using the 1st century euphemism for those who have died. The resurrection, he reasons, makes our death something temporary, so in a sense our bodies are sleeping in the grave, waiting to be awakened by the Lord at the resurrection.

In verses 21 and 22 he notes that Jesus is the source of resurrection and life, just as Adam was the source of sin and death. In verse 23, he repeats that Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits. Jesus’ resurrection is the demonstration of the promise that those who trust in Him will be resurrected as well.

But, he points out, this will not happen until the end of the age. Look at verses 24-26: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

Paul is making a strong doctrinal point, but also offering assurance of the resurrection to the Corinthian Christian s. The resurrection of Jesus, he reasons, is the solid evidence of the conquest of death and our assurance that death has been totally defeated for us, a fact we will experience when Christ returns and our resurrection occurs. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of the reign of sin and death.

Some personal applicatons

Because of the resurrection of Christ we do not need to fear death

As Christians we know that there is much to look forward to in death: we will be in heaven with our Lord, and we will be changed, with no more sin, no more pain, and no more sorrow. At His return, we will be raised to be with Him, unlike those who are without Christ, who have no hope: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

The reason we have that hope and can face death with courage, knowing that we will be raised, is the resurrection of Jesus.

Because of the resurrection of Christ we have confidence in the power of God

Raising Jesus from the dead is the ultimate evidence of God’s mighty power:

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
—Ephesians 1:15-20

Because of the resurrection, we can see our lives in context

Finally, the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us gives us knowledge of the true context of our existence.

For example, the car we drive or the home we own are not so important as how we treat people around us. That is the true context that helps give meaning to life in the eternal prospective in which we live. The size of our bank account is of no importance, compared to our willingness to share what we have with others in need. Our successes—academic achievements, building a large business, our accomplishments as athletes, etc.—are unimportant compared to our faithful service to the Lord and to His church.

Because the resurrection is a reality, the most important goal we can have is that one day, when this life is over, the Lord will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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