Reader: “Christ died for our sins,”
Response: “just as the Scriptures said.”
Scripture: I Corinthians 15:1-11
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.
But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
This part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of classic passages on the resurrection. You probably heard a sermon last Sunday on some aspect of proof that Jesus rose from the dead and may have encountered this pericope. In reading Scripture, it behooves us always to ask ourselves, why did the writer include this phrase or mention this idea. Let’s apply that practice here. I want us to look particularly at Paul’s zeroing in on Christ dying for our sins, being buried, raised from the dead, and then being seen by various people. To a Greek philosopher, the idea of a bodily resurrection would be ridiculous, absurd. Some members of the church in Corinth struggled with this idea. Here, Paul is focusing on bodily resurrection, not the immortality of the soul, which was assumed in various understandings by the Greeks. Paul is also limiting this discussion to believers’ bodies at death. To make his point, Paul brings forth his evidence of the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He omits Mary of Magdala as a first witness and goes to Jesus’ appearance to Peter. As Charles Erdman commented, “A sacred silence conceals the time and place and the words which were spoken.” They most likely were words of pardon to the denier. Paul then mentions the eleven disciples in the upper room, also men who had run away, abandoning their Lord. It would seem Paul was making a point that Jesus appeared first to the people who most likely would have avoided seeing him out of great guilt and embarrassment. Seeing a living Lord would have magnified their remorse and underscored the truth that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The next mention is of an appearance to more than 500 people at the same time establishing that the bodily resurrection was not a vision or phantom appearance. By mentioning that some of those people were still alive was another way of saying, “You can ask them if this is true.” So the movement was from a single person, to a small group, to a large crowd of people. The next appearance mentioned is touching, it is to Jesus’ half brother, James, another son of Mary and Joseph, one whom Jesus had grown up with. The Scriptures are clear that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him until after the resurrection, so this is particularly powerful. This is the same James who wrote the book by his name in the New Testament. Then Paul states Jesus appeared to all the apostles, this time including doubting Thomas, whose response in seeing Jesus was profound and powerful, “My Lord and my God!” The converted Saul then points to his own Damascus road experience where he saw the risen Christ and was dramatically, instantly converted to the Christian faith. You’ve noticed that none of this was a “tradition handed down” but rather, first hand eye-witness accounts of a God-man gaining victory over death. The grave could not hold him. The power of the devil over death was obliterated for all eternity! As a believer in Jesus Christ, never doubt that you will be resurrected to eternal life. The Scriptures are so clear. May you have an opportunity today to pass along this most glorious truth.
Music: “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah Philippe Sly
Lord Jesus, as you made yourself known first at Easter to the people who most loved you and missed you, make yourself known this day to any who have felt cut off from you―any who are burdened by guilt, and do not understand how much you love them―anywho feel that joy has gone out of their life forever. And as you dealt patiently with the problems of Thomas, deal patiently too with all people who are handicapped by closed minds―all who fear that the resurrection news is too good to be true―all who are held back from faith by intellectual barriers of doubt―all who are too proud to humble themselves before you. Make yourself known to them too; and set them free.
―adapted from Prayers for Sunday Services, Daniel Sharp