Reader: “Christ died for our sins,”
Response: “just as the Scriptures said.”
Scripture: 1 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.
In giving a quick summary of the situation in Corinth, I do so because there are many similarities to our world today. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city populated by former Roman slaves, Greeks, Jews, and other ethnic groups and cultures from around the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, it was a focal point for the east/west trade route. The city was widely known for immorality and prostitution. This second of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth (the first letter is lost―see I Cor.5:9), addresses some of the issues and questions the Corinthians raised in response to his first letter to them. The dating of this epistle is about 53-56 AD, or about twenty years after the resurrection. Of the several topics with which he deals, his focus here is the certainty of what happened that Sunday morning that changed the history of the world.
The Good News for then and now is that Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. Repentance and belief assures the certainty of a future resurrection. The young and very new Corinthian church had some members who did not believe and some others were wavering in regard to a future resurrection. Paul was making his case for the truth of the resurrection. In his letter he includes what is a curious phrase to me―“unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.” What strikes me is that whether you believe an event happened or not does not change the truth. To deny that it happened does not change anything. I mention this obvious point because people today will talk about their own truth. “You have your truth and I have mine.” When it comes to the resurrection, there is God’s truth that it occurred. Unless your truth aligns with God’s, it doesn’t really matter what your “truth” is. God’s truth is absolute. We don’t get to “interpret” truth inspite of our culture.
If there was no resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no Christianity. That’s a pretty simple absolute truth.
Paul goes on to drive home this point of truth with four concrete examples. Interestingly, he starts with Peter. Jesus showed himself to the denying apostle first and in private. The Scriptures don’t give any account of that conversation as much as we might like to know what was said. Peter’s emotions must have been all over the place being filled with tremendous guilt and dread in seeing Jesus, yet he’s the first of the twelve to see the risen Savior. Knowing the great guilt Paul expressed about his own actions toward Christ, he may have had empathy for Peter and simply referred to their meeting. Then Jesus appeared to the next eleven who fled rather than face the arresting soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. We learn more of the conversation between the Savior and the disciples elsewhere in the gospels. Curiously, Paul leaves out mentioning Mary Magdalene, the first person to see the resurrected Lord.
Paul continues to build his case of the absolute truth of the resurrection by citing more than 500 people seeing the resurrected Lord at one time. You have probably heard in an Easter Sunday sermon that this point was that 500 people don’t all hallucinate at the same time. Another point in this regard is that many of those people are still alive to verify the truth. There are many living eye witnesses, not just a few. There may be people even today who say it didn’t happen, but that doesn’t change history and Paul is driving home this point.
It is also interesting that Paul mentions the resurrected Jesus was seen by James. There are several James in the Scriptures, James and John, the disciples “Sons of Thunder.” There is also the disciple, James the Son of Alpheus. But this James is most likely the half brother of Jesus. (James the Apostle and brother of John had most likely been killed before Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Acts.12:2, Acts 18:1ff) Before the resurrection Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him as the Messiah. That changed following his rise from the dead. The conversation between Jesus and the brother he grew up with is another conversation that would be interesting to hear! (This James is the one who wrote the New Testament epistle along with his other brother, Jude, who wrote the book bearing his name.)
Then Paul cites the appearance to all the apostles, most likely a larger group than the Twelve. Note the appearance pattern: Peter (single) then all the apostles (group); James (single) then all the disciples (a larger group.)
Paul concludes with the example of himself seeing the resurrected Jesus in perhaps the most spectacular fashion, a vision. We are privy to that conversation (Acts 9:1-9). We get a hint of the weight of Paul’s guilt and his deepest gratitude to God for the grace shown to him. We almost have a sense that Paul was working hard to make up for lost time, even while it may appear as if he’s “working off his guilt from his past persecution of the church,” not so! Elsewhere, he makes it so very, very clear that we are saved solely by the grace of God (Eph.2:8,9).
Finally, did you notice how tenderly Jesus treats those who have failed him? Peter, the disciples, his brother, and Paul. He chose to appear bringing reconciliation and forgiveness to those who would put their trust in him even though they have failed him in the past. His pattern is the same for you and me. (Peter might have sung this song with Casting Crowns!)
Music: “Power of the Cross” Casting Crowns
Almighty God, Spirit of purity and grace, in asking thy forgiveness I cannot claim a right to be forgiven but only cast myself upon thine unbounded love.
I can plead no merit or desert:
I can plead no extenuating circumstances:
I cannot plead the frailty of my nature:
I cannot plead the force of the temptations I encounter:
I cannot plead the persuasions of others who led me astray:
I can only say, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son, my Lord. Amen.
―John Baillie, 1886-1960, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.108