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Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Jesus' Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:1-23

Teaching t22456


Today is Easter (the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection), and our study of 1Corinthians has brought us to 1 Cor.15—Paul’s teaching on Jesus’ resurrection. The Corinthian culture scorned resurrection, so the Corinthian Christians had begun to fudge on the importance of Jesus’ resurrection This is why Paul begins the way he does.

Read 15:1,2. The heart of Christianity is a message—the gospel. Gospel means “good news,” and people living in the Roman Empire were familiar with this term. When the Roman army won a battle in an area, heralds were sent out to proclaim this victory and to call on its hearers to enter into the benefits of this victory by submitting to Roman rule. God has won an even greater victory, Paul says, and we can enter into even greater benefits (salvation) if we believe (personally receive vs. “believe in vain”) this message as the truth.

What is the content of this gospel? Read 15:3,4. The heart of it is this: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the true Lord. He has died for your sins, and He has been raised from the dead three days later. If you believe/receive this message, you will be saved. So Jesus’ resurrection is central to Christianity, which Paul also affirms in Rom.10:9 (read). This raises three questions that we need to answerin order for Easter to be anything more than a sentimental holiday/excuse for spring break...

“What does it mean?”

What did the first Christians (Jesus’ disciples, Paul, etc.) actually mean when they proclaimed that Jesus was raised from the dead? You might be surprised by the difference between how you/your culture answers this question and the way they answered it. If you survey their testimony, this is what it does and does not mean:

First, it does not mean that merely the memory of Jesus survived in the minds of his followers and continued to exert a strong influence on their lives—similar to what Latin American Marxist revolutionaries meant when they said “Che (Guevera) lives!” This is what I was taught in the church I attended while growing up. The memory of Jesus’ life and words certainly did remain with his followers, and it did influence their lives—but the Bible insists that his actual presence returned.

Second, it does not mean that Jesus appeared to his followers as a ghost or disembodied spirit—but that his own body survived death. His disciples initially thought they were seeing Jesus’ ghost, but he showed them his actual body (not only his hands and feet, but the holes in them) and he ate food in front of them (it didn’t fall to the floor and make a mess).

Third, it does not mean that Jesus’ body was resuscitated—brought back after being clinically dead to a mortal existence. Jesus’ body was radically transformed and endowed with new powers. His body passed through his grave-wrappings. He could suddenly appear in a locked room without walking through the door. More than this, Jesus conquered physical death—never to die again (Rev.1:18).

This is an absolutely unique claim—nothing like it has ever happened, and no other religion makes a claim even remotely similar to this. It’s so unique that it raises another question...

“Why should I believe that it happened?”

The answers most Americans/Christians give to this question are pretty lame. One is: “Because that’s what my church teaches.” In other words, you should believe it blindly because of the authority of a religious institution (EXAMPLE). Another is: “Because it gives me psychological security.” In other words, whatever pragmatically works for you is true for you.

Now the Christian church does teach Jesus’ resurrection, and belief in Jesus’ resurrection does result in wonderful psychological help (as we will see). But Paul doesn’t give either one of these answers. Instead, he points to two lines of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Biblical faith is neither blind nor pragmatic—it is a decision to entrust yourself to Jesus based on sufficient evidence (like entrusting your body to a surgeon based on evidence that he is competent).

The first line of evidence is that Jesus’ death and resurrection were “according to the scriptures.” “The scriptures” here do not refer to the four gospels, but rather to the Old Testament prophets. They foretold that God’s Messiah would allow Himself to be killed, and would subsequently overcome death and rule forever.

These predictions are detailed, not so general as to be useless (“THERE WILL BE AN AUTO ACCIDENT IN COLUMBUS TOMORROW”). They foretold (among many other details) who would do this (Isa.9:6 – to a virgin-born son of David’s kingly line), when this would happen (Dan.9), how it would happen (Ps.22), and why it would happen (Isa.53). These details rule out chance fulfillment , and self-fulfillment for personal gain (why would anyone get themselves crucified?).

These predictions were preserved in writing centuries before the event, and we have “BC” copies of them, so that we know that they were not forged after the fact (ISAIAH 53 IN DEAD SEA SCROLLS).

No other religion has anything like this as a validation of its claims!

The second line of evidence is the eye-witness testimony of those who saw the resurrected Jesus after he was killed and buried. This is what Paul refers to in 15:5-8 (read).

Consider how strong this testimony is:

  • Not just one witness, but many (including hundreds who were still alive when Paul wrote this, inviting research).
  • Not witnessed who expected it to happen, but those who didn’t expect it (disciples) and didn’t believe in Him as Messiah (e.g., Paul, the persecutor of Christians).
  • Not just a glimpse of Jesus (e.g., ELVIS AT A GAS-STATION), but repeated encounters and personal/physical encounters over 40 days (Acts1:3; gospels).
  • Not people who benefitted from their testimony, but who persisted in their testimony despite vicious persecution (15:30-32) and execution. (martyrion).

This is why theologian Michael Green says: “The appearances of the (resurrected) Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity.” (e.g., Caesar crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC, or Titus besieging and destroying Jerusalem in 66-70 AD) B. F. Westcott, New Testament scholar at Cambridge University, goes even further: "Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no (ancient) historic incident better or more variously reported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the...assumption that it must be false could...suggest the idea of deficiency in the proof of it."

So we understand now what the claim of Jesus’ resurrection means, and what the evidence for it is. But this is not enough. All this just makes Jesus’ resurrection a historical anomaly, like the wooly mammoths found flash-frozen in Siberia (EXPLAIN). This is a remarkable historical fact, but it doesn’t save my life! But Jesus’ resurrection has saving significance. Jesus is the Savior, and His resurrection is the surgery He performs to save my life when I entrust myself to Him. “How does Jesus’ resurrection save me?” In at least three ways...

“How does it save me?”

First and foremost, Jesus’ resurrection saves you from God’s condemnation to His complete forgiveness. Paul states this negatively in 15:17 (read). He states it positively in Rom.4:25 (read NLT). Why was Jesus delivered up to death on the cross? “Because of our sins”—my violations of God’s moral character render me guilty before God and deserving of His condemnation. This is why Paul says 15:56 (quote and explain). There is only one way that I can be delivered from this sentence—Christ must be delivered up, must take my guilt on Himself and bear God’s condemnation in my place. This is what Paul meant in 15:3—“Christ died for our sins.”

But what is the proof that Christ’s death actually paid for my sins, so that I can be justified (acquitted)? The proof is that He was raised from the dead! If there was one sin that Jesus’ death did not pay for, it would have held Him in death. But because He has been raised from the dead, I know that all my sins have been paid for and that I have been justified.

The Old Testament provided a beautiful picture of this. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies to present an unblemished goat as payment for Israel’s sins of the previous year. What was the proof that God accepted this payment and forgave them? That the high priest emerged alive! If the substitute was not acceptable, the high priest would be killed by God’s holiness (WHY THE ROPE). But if he emerged alive, the payment had been received and forgiveness had been extended. All this was a beautiful picture—but Jesus’ death and resurrection is the reality. Jesus was the high priest and the Sacrifice. God the Father had accepted His death for our sins and extended forgiveness to us. He has raised Jesus from the dead as proof of this. The moment you entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior, He rescues you forever from God’s condemnation and forgives you forever of all of your sins (past, present and future).

Secondly (and on the basis of #1), Jesus’ resurrection saves you from a destiny of physical death to a destiny of bodily resurrection. Paul states this negatively in 15:17,18 (read). If Jesus was not raised, then we will not be forgiven, and we will perish (our bodies will rot in the grave). He states it positively in 15:20,23 (read). Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the “first fruits” which guarantees the future bodily resurrection of those who belong to Him, who have received the forgiveness He purchased through His death.

“First fruits” is an allusion to another Old Testament festival. In late spring, God commanded the Israelites to bring the first fruits—the first ripe grains—to the Temple and thank God for this tangible proof that He would soon grant them a full harvest. Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits in a far more significant sense. It is the tangible proof that, because I belong to Him through faith, I will be raised from the dead when He returns. This is one of the ways that Christianity is unique from all other world religions. They all have their beliefs about the afterlife (often very different from Christianity’s!), but they are only conjecture about the future. The founders have never come back from the dead to prove that that were right. But Jesus has come back from the dead, and He has shown us that He was right, so you can be sure if you belong to Him that His destiny of bodily resurrection is also your destiny! We will take a much closer look at these new bodies NEXT WEEK.

Lastly, Jesus’ resurrection saves you from present alienation from God to reconciliation with God. Paul does not teach this in 1Cor.15, but he does elsewhere (read Col.2:12b,13 NLT). This is not referring to a future bodily resurrection, but to a raising to new life now (in this life) for everyone who has trusted Christ. My sins separated me from God so that I couldn’t experience His love and know His purpose for my life. I was physically alive, but spiritually dead. But because Christ’s death has paid for my sins, I was made spiritually alive with Him the moment I entrusted myself to Him.

This is what Jesus called being born again (Jn. 3). He told a moral and religious man that though he was physically alive, he was spiritually dead—he could not experience God’s kingdom in his life. Jesus told him, “You must be born again. Just as you had to be born physically to experience physical life, you must be born spiritually so you can experience spiritual life.” How can we be born again? Quote Jn.3:16—and this begins the moment you entrust yourself to Jesus (Jn.17:3)!

This is what the risen Jesus invites you to receive in Rev.3:20 (read). You have your current “home”—your life with its various “rooms” (relationships, schedule, etc.). But it is empty of the One you were created to live life with. Whether you know it or not, you are profoundly lonely in your life. But Jesus is knocking on the door of your life. He is alive, and He is asking you to open the door and invite Him in. If you refuse, your life will remain empty and lonely. But if you open the door, He will come in and make your life alive with His presence! What do you say? Will today be the day you open the door and become truly alive?

One statistician, Peter Stoner, conservatively estimates the odds of 8 of these predictions (LIST) being fulfilled by chance at 1 in 1017. That’s a big number! Think of an area the size of Texas, covered 2 feet deep in silver dollars. What are the odds that a blindfolded man would select one marked silver dollar on the first attempt? The odds are 1 in 1017—and that’s just for 8 of them! See Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), p.167.

Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p.97.

Quoted by Paul Little in Know Why You Believe (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971), p. 30.