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Teaching series from 1 Corinthians


1 Corinthians 15:1-23

Teaching t05416


Paul now switches gears. Read vs 1,2. "Gospel" means "good news." Because of something God has done through Jesus, it is now possible for us to get back together with him. It is no longer necessary to live in alienation from God. We no longer have worry about where we stand with God concerning our sins. We can now come to him with the confidence that he will forgive and accept us, and this opens the way to enjoy and experience personal intimacy with God and the transforming power of his love.

But there is a condition which we must fulfill if we want this. The condition turns out to be simple, but it is a real condition. Paul uses two key words to describe this condition.

"Receive"—We must personally take this offered gift. A gift may be truly offered with all the love in the world, but it does not belong to me unless and until I receive it. In the same way, we must receive God's offered gift of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. In fact, this is the proof that I truly believe that it is a good gift, and the news of it is indeed good news.

"Believe"—We must personally entrust ourselves to Christ and this message about what he has done. The reason why I personally cast myself on Jesus to reconcile me to God is because I believe this message to be true.

Christianity is above all else a personal relationship with God through Jesus. But this can never be separated from certain truths concerning Jesus. There are certain minimums below which we cannot go and still have biblical faith.

There are other areas which are not this way. These are the areas over which true Christians sometimes disagree. Some of these areas are pretty important; others are relatively unimportant (3 CONCENTRIC CIRCLES: Each represents one of these areas).

RELATIVELY UNIMPORTANT: How to perform communion


ESSENTIAL: This is what Paul refers to in vs 3 as "of first importance." These are the non-negotiables. Paul gives us two of these in the verses that follow . . . 

"Christ died for our sins" (vs 3b)

Read vs 3. Christ's death was not like other deaths. It had absolutely unique value and importance to God. It was not merely the tragic and heroic death of a martyr. It was certainly that, but it was far more. Through his voluntary death, Christ paid for our sins.

This is not simply a blind assertion without any evidence to back it up. It happened "according to the scriptures." In various ways, God described and predicted this before it happened so that we would have a rational, evidential basis for putting our trust in his death to pay for our sins (versus BLIND FAITH).

Jesus' death fulfilled what God had prefigured for thousands of years through the Old Testament sacrificial system—that the penalty for our sins is death, but that God in his love will provide a blameless substitute to pay our penalty for us by taking our sins on himself and dying for us.

800 years before Jesus died, God made it clear that these animal sacrifices would be fulfilled by a Person—God's Servant (Isa. 53:5,6,12).

"He was raised on the third day" (vs 4-8)

Read vs 4. Jesus was "buried." He was really dead, embalmed and entombed. This was not a resuscitation; it was a bodily resurrection to life on a new order. This is an amazing claim, but we are not asked to blindly believe this. Precisely because it is so out of the ordinary, God has provided us with evidence for Jesus' resurrection.

He was raised "according to the scriptures." His resurrection, like his death for our sins, was predicted by God in the Old Testament. The same passage which predicted his death for our sins also predicted that he would live again (Isa. 53:10). In fact, as we shall see later, Jesus' resurrection is a verification of his claim that he died for our sins.

But this is not the only evidence for Jesus' resurrection. There is also the fact that "he appeared" to many witnesses (read vs 5-8). Of course, there are many today who claim that ELVIS has appeared to them—and some believe he has come back from the dead. But there are some big differences between these witnesses and the witnesses of Jesus' resurrection.

These witnesses were not inclined to believe that Jesus would come back from the dead. He had to take extraordinary measures to convince them (Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:24-28).

The Christian movement began in an extremely hostile environment in the very city where Jesus had been killed and buried—solely on the apostles' claim that God had raised him from the dead. Why didn't the hostile authorities produce the body and crush this superstition at the outset? No one has ever given a credible explanation for how this happened—except for the apostles' explanation . . . 

The key witnesses (apostles) all suffered horribly for their testimony (see 2 Cor. 11), and ultimately were killed because they would not retract their testimony concerning Jesus' resurrection. I have real doubts that ELVIS' witnesses would be willing to do this!

This is pretty good evidence! It isn't the only line of evidence for Christianity's truth claim, but a good one. In fact, God says this is sufficient evidence for him to hold to responsible to personally place your trust in Jesus for your standing with him.

Is Jesus' resurrection really that important? (vs 12-19)

Some in Corinthian church were fudging on this issue. They were embarrassed of this part of the Christian message because it ran counter to prevailing Greek philosophy, which rejected the notion of bodily resurrection. Because they wanted to be accepted by their peers, they were moving this truth from the "essential" to the "relatively unimportant" category.

As amazing as this may seem, we have seen history repeat itself in the last one century. Today, the majority of both Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians and clergy regard Jesus' bodily resurrection as an unimportant and embarrassing feature of Christianity to be explained away. They may publicly claim they believe it, but their writings reveal a very different view. Consider these two examples:

Henry N. Wieman: "After the crucifixion came the resurrection. The resurrection was an experience the disciples had three days after the terrible shock of Jesus' death on the cross. It took that long for the numbness of the shock to wear away so that they could again respond to one another and to the past in the way that they had done in their living fellowship with Jesus. So vivid and so powerful was this recovery of the kind of interchange with one another that they had had when Jesus was alive with them that it produced the feeling of his actual presence with them in bodily form. Many have had this experience after the death of someone deeply involved in their lives. Either they had this psychological illusion, which would be very natural, or, what is more likely, when they tried to tell of their experience the only way they could tell it was in words that led others to think they were speaking of the bodily presence. This would be most likely to happen after the story had passed through many mouths in an age that believed bodies rose from the dead." [1]

Rudolf Bultmann: "The church had to surmount the scandal of the cross and did it in the Easter faith (i.e. the belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection). How this act of decision took place in detail, how the Easter faith arose in individual disciples, has been obscured in the tradition (i.e. the gospel accounts) by legend and is not of basic importance." [2]

How does Paul view the importance of Jesus' bodily resurrection? Read and judge for yourself what he says is at stake. Read vs 12-14. If Jesus wasn't raised, Christianity is empty/worthless ("vain"). He explains why in the following verses.

Read vs 15. The whole New Testament was written by liars. You can't say that the apostles were merely mistaken; they were false witnesses about the most important issue. The whole New Testament should be thrown in the trash bin (ANALOGY: Mechanic's book is wrong about the engine, drive train, brakes, and electrical system—but is basically an important manual.)

Read vs 16,17. Your faith is worthless because your sins have not been forgiven. According to the Bible, Jesus' resurrection is the proof that God accepted his payment for our sins (Rom. 4:25). This also was prefigured by the Old Testament sacrificial system (HIGH PRIEST RETURNING ALIVE AFTER OFFERING SACRIFICE).

Read vs 18. Christians who have died physically are permanently dead. They have sailed off into oblivion. The sole basis for our hope for future resurrection is Christ's resurrection. If he didn't rise out of the grave, we are left with no evidential basis for an afterlife. And if there is no afterlife, living Christians have no reason to serve God (RUSSEL QUOTE [3] >> vs 30-32).

Read vs 19. Christians are not to be admired for their faith; they are pathetic fools who engage in wishful thinking! They are huddled together, making a fuss over what turns out to be nothing, patting themselves on the back, whistling in the dark together to distract themselves from the terrifying emptiness all around them.

According to Paul, if we give this away, we give away the farm! If we compromise this truth for the sake of cultural relevance, we have lost anything to give our culture. Just as your ability to make a BANK WITHDRAWAL is dependent on record of an actual deposit, the spiritual benefits of Christianity are dependent on something that actually took place in history . . . 

What should we call theologians who reject this . . . ??

But now Christ has been raised from the dead! (vs 20-23)

Read vs 20-23. Paul refers to Jesus' resurrection as the "first fruits." This phrase refers to the Old Testament festival in which the Israelites were to bring the early barley harvest to the tabernacle and thank God for this actual evidence that a full harvest was on the way.

Paul is saying that Jesus' resurrection (which occurred on the very day of the First Fruits festival) is the actual evidence that we will be raised as well—when Christ returns (vs 23).

Also, because Jesus has been raised, he is able to personally relate to you (Rev. 3:20) and powerfully transform your life (Rom. 8:11; Eph. 1:19,20).

But this applies only to those who "are Christ's." Do you belong to Christ? If not, would you like to belong to him? >> GOSPEL.

NEXT: the resurrection body 


[1] Henry N. Wieman, "The Revelation of God in Christ", Process Studies 10, cited in Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, ed., Challenges to Inerrancy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 271.

[2] Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951), p. 45.

[3] "Brief and powerless is Man's life; on his and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day." Bertrand Russel, cited by Ray Stedman, Expository Studies in 1 Corinthians (Waco: Word Books, 1981), p. 299.