He Rose Again

 

[Editor’s Note: The sermon below was written by the Reverend Mark Wright. Mr. Wright is the Pastor of the Unity Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Piedmont, South Carolina. This was his Easter sermon for 2012.]


1Corinthians 15:1-11

“I believe . . . he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.” The Christian church has affirmed the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead for 2,000 years without wavering. However, there have always been skeptics who question whether Jesus really rose from the dead. In February of 2011, The Anderson School of Theology for Laypersons (1) held a seminar at Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, SC. Two scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar, John Crossan and Marcus Borg, gave a number of lectures to a group of several hundred people. In Borg’s final presentation he spoke at length on the resurrection of Jesus, asserting that the accounts in the Bible are parabolic and not to be taken literally. Borg told his audience not to think about what really happened, but to consider what the story means. “Does it matter whether the tomb was really empty?” Borg asked. No, it was irrelevant. He said, “The resurrection of Jesus is not about the corpse of Jesus coming back to life by a supernatural act of God.” According to Borg the apostles encountered Jesus after his death through spiritual visions. Author Michael Horton responds to this type of explanation – he said, “Basically, when liberals use the language of faith but empty it of its content, the resurrection turns out to be little more than mass hallucination.” Their theory is harder to believe than the truth!

Contrast these comments by false teachers with those of the godly J. Gresham Machen, who said, “The disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead for the simple reason that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had not only seen his tomb empty but had seen him alive after his death on the cross.” The Christian faith is rooted in a supernatural, yet historical event. Either Jesus rose bodily from the grave or he did not. The Bible declares plainly that he did rise from the grave. Either the Bible’s account is true or it is not. Either we believe the Scriptures or we don’t. If the Bible is not true and Jesus did not rise from the dead we are the greatest fools on earth to believe it. As the apostle Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” If Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead, we are deceived and are wasting our time.

Without the resurrection, we are left with Jesus as a teacher who gave us a few moral precepts to follow, but he is not a Savior and he is not Lord. Without the resurrection, as has been said, “Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.” (2) Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no salvation. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If Jesus has not been raised, then Christianity is the greatest and longest running hoax that the world has ever known. On the other hand, if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, then all that He claimed and taught is true and we had better believe it or else we will indeed die in our sins and be cast into eternal fire. The early followers of Jesus believed in the resurrection and proclaimed the resurrection, in spite of the denial of the Jews and the mockery of the Greeks.

As B. B. Warfield states, “There are only three theories which can be possibly stated to account for these facts. Either, the original disciples of Christ were deceivers and deliberately concocted the story of the Resurrection; or, they were woefully deluded; or the Resurrection was a fact.” Obviously, the apostle Paul in our text takes the Resurrection of Jesus as a fact. So did his hearers. The actual problem Paul is addressing in 1Corinthians 15 is that some of the Corinthians doubted that believers would be raised from the dead at the last day. In 1 Corinthians 15:12 Paul identifies the problem: “how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”

The whole of v. 12 says, “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?” Since they accepted the fact that Christ had been raised, it was inconsistent for them not to think that believers would be raised as well. Paul was not trying to convince them that Christ rose from the dead, “but that one day they, too, would be raised with him to eternal life.” (3) Nevertheless, to lay the foundation for the resurrection of believers, in the first 11 verses he reviews the evidences for Jesus’ resurrection. There are four arguments that Paul presents to them to establish the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The first argument that Paul makes for the truth of the resurrection is that:

I. The Corinthians had already received the gospel truth of Christ’s resurrection.

Verse one begins, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.” Paul had proclaimed the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection among the Corinthians. They had received the message as the truth. They had taken their stand on this gospel – their church was founded on it and all their hopes rested in it. They were living proof that the resurrection of Christ was a reality. They had been saved from their sins by believing in the resurrection of Christ. Paul is saying, “Look, you already believe in the resurrection of Christ – unless somehow your faith was actually an empty profession.”

How would they know that their faith was not in vain, i.e. not an empty profession? Paul said “if you hold fast that word which I preached to you.” The genuineness of faith is proved by one’s perseverance in that faith. Those who make a profession of faith and turn away from the faith, denying the resurrection of Christ, never had saving faith to begin with. A true believer is never in danger of losing salvation. However, as Jesus taught in the parable of the sower, many have an emotional experience or a momentary adherence to the faith that turns out to be false. A true believer bears the fruit of salvation and perseveres to the end.

Let me ask you, have you put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of your sins? Do you confess Jesus as Lord and do you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, as Romans 10:9-10 says you must do to be saved? Do you stand firm in this faith and continue to hold fast to the message of Christ’s death for your sins and resurrection on the third day? Our holding on to Christ is evidence that He is holding on to us. The transformed lives of Christians and their persevering in the faith of the gospel is living evidence of the power of the resurrection and therefore of the fact of the resurrection. The endurance of the church of Jesus Christ through 2,000 years is confirmation of the reality of his resurrection. Every Lord’s Day that we gather as Christians to worship the Lord testifies to the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!

The second argument that Paul makes for the truth of the resurrection is that:

II. The Old Testament Scriptures testified of the resurrection of Christ.

Paul said in verses 3-4 “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.” The apostle Paul did not invent the gospel message. It did not originate with him. He received it, first of all from God himself. Secondarily, he received it and passed it on to the Corinthians as it had been passed on to him by others in the church. That message – of Christ’s death and resurrection, went back even to the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul says that the events of Christ’s death and resurrection came about according to what had been written long ago in the word of God.

The Old Testament in great detail describes the crucifixion of our Lord. It even points out that “Christ died for our sins,” as Paul said. Christ himself explained “the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures” to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Paul does not mention what passages he had in mind, but it is very likely that Isaiah chapter 53 was one of those passages. Isaiah 53 gives an account of the crucifixion that could only have been given by an eyewitness or through divine revelation.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
They made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
He poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Not only the death, but the burial of Christ is mentioned in this chapter. The burial was an important fact to mention because burial of the body was proof that Jesus had died. And the empty tomb was evidence that Jesus arose. Professor Leon Morris writes that “While Paul does not explicitly mention the empty tomb, these words are the necessary prelude to it and seem to imply it.” When Jesus was placed dead in that tomb, all the hopes of the disciples died as well. None of them expected Jesus to come back from death. Yet theologians such as Karl Barth want to have “a resurrection unconnected with any burial.” (4) Barth wanted to say that the resurrection takes place individually or “existentially” for each person. Dr. Gordon Clark explains, however, that “Christ rose just once, the 16th of Nisan, not September 4, when John Jones accepted Christ as Savior.” Paul says that Jesus was laid in a tomb and when he came back to life, he left the tomb. These are the facts which Scripture establishes. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were historical events, not existential experiences of the disciples.

Psalm 16 makes reference to the resurrection of the Messiah. Verse 10 says, “You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter was preaching to the crowd and declared that David, who wrote the Psalm, “Foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ.” Peter used these and other Scriptures to prove, as he said to the Jews, “that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” According to Acts 2:41, that day 3,000 souls were saved and entered the church through baptism. What about you? Have you repented of your sins and believed the message of the gospel? Have you been baptized and joined the church?

The third argument that Paul makes for the truth of the resurrection is that:

III. There were many eyewitnesses that could testify to the truth of the resurrection of Christ.

Can we prove that the resurrection happened? It depends on what we mean by proof. What kind of proof would be available to us 2,000 years later? The same proof that was available in Paul’s day – that of eyewitnesses. Throughout history, the testimony of reliable eyewitnesses has been used in a court of law. Based on standard rules of evidence, consistent eye-witness testimony from multiple credible witnesses would be considered the strongest form of evidence available. Paul first mentions the apostle Peter. “He was seen by Cephas.” We are not told the exact time or location of this appearance. It was probably sometime after Christ’s appearance to Mary and before his appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Peter was the first of the 12 to see the risen Lord. Albert Barnes comments that “This was a mark of special love and favor, and particularly, after Peter’s denial, it showed how ready he was to pardon, and how willing to impart comfort to those who are penitent, though their sins are great.” Peter would be the prime witness and spokesperson in the early days of the expansion of the church. As Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost he said in Acts 2:32, “This Jesus God has raised up, to which we are all witnesses.”

Next, Paul mentions that Jesus was seen by “the twelve.” That is, he was seen by them as a group. In John chapter 20 we read that “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Luke’s account says that when they first saw the Lord, “They were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.” In other words, they weren’t satisfied with a vision! But then Jesus showed them his wounds and let them touch him. He even ate a piece of fish and some honeycomb in their presence. He went on to teach them and explain that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and rise from the grave. He opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures and the meaning of it all. At that time he commissioned them as His witnesses. Jesus said, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Though you and I are not eyewitnesses, by accepting the eyewitness accounts, we are also witnesses to the truth of the resurrection. We too have been charged with preaching the gospel and calling on men and women to repent and believe in the crucified and risen Lord.

Next Paul says in v. 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.” You might say that at first Paul mentions the quality of specific witnesses, such as Peter and the 12. Here he refers to the quantity of witnesses, over 500 who saw Jesus at the same time. Many commentators believe that this occurred at the site of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18. Over half of them were still alive and anyone reading Paul’s letter could have gone to these individuals and heard for themselves what they saw. It is highly unlikely that over 500 people would have all had the same hallucination at the same time. No, the truth is, they saw the risen Lord in the flesh. Both the quality and quantity of witnesses testify that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Next Paul says, “After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” The James referred to here is probably the half-brother of Jesus. James was originally a skeptic. John 7:5 says, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” It is possible that his experience of seeing the resurrected Christ is when he was converted and believed on the Lord. When James believed, the testimony of a family member and former skeptic was added to the number of witnesses. James became the leader of the Jerusalem church, wrote the epistle of James, and was considered along with Peter and John a pillar of the church.

Last, Paul mentions himself as an eye-witness. He said, “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” Paul’s witness was unique and was not during the time period that the others had seen Jesus. He saw the risen Lord after Jesus had ascended into heaven. Paul says he was like one “born out of due time.” He was not part of the group of Jesus’ disciples during his earthly ministry. For many years he had been an unbeliever and a persecutor of the church. On the Damascus road, the risen Christ appeared to Paul. There were other times that Jesus appeared to Paul as well. Having seen the risen Lord was one of the qualifications of an apostle. Paul said in humility, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul was an apostle in the fullest sense, because Christ called him to the office, though he knew he was unworthy. Paul often gave testimony to the fact that he had been a persecutor of the church and yet became a preacher of the gospel. The only explanation was that he had truly seen the Lord and that the Lord had changed his heart. Paul was a powerful witness to the risen Lord.

So what does all this mean? It means we have the strongest possible historical evidence from ancient times that we can have – hundreds of eyewitnesses of the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will you believe the testimony of these eyewitnesses recorded in Scripture? They are trustworthy witnesses and their number is great. They were not inclined to believe in the resurrection. The only explanation for their belief in the resurrection of Christ is that it actually happened.

The final argument that Paul makes for the truth of the resurrection is that:

IV. The common message of the church testified to the truth of the resurrection of Christ.

In v. 11 Paul said, “Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” Every true preacher of the gospel in the early church preached the same message – “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.” Read the book of Acts. The message that was preached in the early church centered on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection was a prominent truth over which there was no dispute in the church. John MacArthur writes that “Except for a few isolated heresies, the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection has not been questioned within the church until our modern age of skepticism and humanism. New Testament Christianity, whether ancient or modern, knows nothing of a gospel whose heart is not the risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

How should we respond to these things? Paul said, “so we preach and so you believed.” The response called for back then and today is to repent and believe the good news. Speaking to the philosophers in Athens, Paul proclaimed Christ’s resurrection: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Having heard the report, these men were faced with a decision. After Paul preached we read in Acts that “some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ But some men joined him and believed.” (vv. 32-34)

Here are your choices: You can mock the resurrection of Jesus as they did at the Anderson School of Heresy for Laypersons. You can decide to study Scripture and learn more about the resurrection. And you can embrace the Risen Christ, and with Thomas say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus says to you this morning, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Today will you put your faith in him? He is the resurrection and the life. Those who put their trust in the risen Christ will be raised on the last day at His return. The gospel message is that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Believe this message and be saved. Then proclaim this message to all who will listen. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.


Notes:

  1. How incongruent and wrong, therefore, for an ARP minister, Rev. Tom Richie, to serve as president of the Anderson School of Theology for Laypersons.
  2. John MacArthur, First Corinthians, p. 398
  3. Ibid
  4. Gordon Clark, First Corinthians, p. 253
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