The Gospel

Posted: April 4, 2021 in 1 Corinthians
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1 Corinthians 15:1-11, “The Gospel”

Happy Resurrection Sunday! Today is Easter, the day Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is the day that marks Christianity apart from every religion in the world, the day without which we would not have Christianity. Although Christmas gets far more press and cultural attention (even having a full month+ designated for shopping and special music), Easter has far more importance. After all, Christmas is only special because Jesus rose from the dead. If He didn’t, no one would have cared how He was born. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal event of history, and it is the event that we celebrate this day and every Sunday.

What’s the big deal? The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is what makes the gospel the gospel. Without Jesus rising from the dead, there is no good news to share about Him. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we have no proof of His victory over death, no declaration of His deity, no eyewitness apostles, no reason for Paul to traipse around the Roman empire, nothing. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we have no news to share, much less good news. At that point, all we have is the reality of our sins against a holy God with no way of resolving them. We are left with hopelessness and judgment. We are left with the futile religions of men, trying to prove ourselves righteous and always failing. Those who try to earn their way into heaven are like trucks stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels wildly, getting only dirtier and deeper into the muck. We need a rescue and a Rescuer, and without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have none.

But praise God, Jesus is risen from the dead! Jesus is alive today, just as He has been alive for the nearly 2000 years since He first came out of the Jerusalem tomb. And because He is, we have good news to share and to believe. Not just “kind of” good news; the best news of all: the news of God’s salvation!

This was the news that Paul shared with the Corinthian church at the beginning of Chapter 15. Paul had just concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts, which came as a part of his longer discussion of orderly worship within the local church. On a broader scale, this was part of a section in the letter where Paul was answering some specific questions from Corinth – subjects he addressed after dealing with several issues of discipline. Paul had covered a full array of topics with this local congregation ranging from internal division to marriages to prophecy, and everything in-between.

At this point in the letter, Paul started to bring things to a close, and as he did, he addressed one more major subject – something that had been on his mind since the letter’s beginning. Back in Chapter 1, Paul wrote how the message of the cross was foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1:18). Some of the Christians in Corinth had begun to stumble on some of the basics of the gospel itself – something foundational to our faith, without which we cannot be saved. Now, with the other issues out of the way, Paul turned to that which was most important: the wisdom of God seen in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It quickly becomes apparent that the primary stumbling black of some in Corinth was the physical literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the ramifications that it held for the resurrections of those who believe. But before Paul can look at the details of the resurrection, he first needed to establish its place within the gospel message. This is what he does at the beginning of Chapter 15 as he reminds the Christians in Corinth about the centrality of the gospel to the Christian faith.

What a marvelous text to examine on Resurrection Sunday! The events that took place that glorious Sunday morning make it possible for us to be saved. The things that took place that day ensure that there is a gospel to share, that there is good news to tell. We have that good news and it is glorious! It is foundational – it is factual – it is transformational. It is essential to everything we have in God and it is all about Jesus.

Praise God this Resurrection Sunday for the gospel of Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

  • The gospel is foundational (1-2).

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, …

  1. What was the first thing Paul wrote about the gospel? He had already preached it once to Corinth. He was about to preach it to them all over again. One of the oldest strategies in public speaking is this: “Tell them what you’re about to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Paul was in the “tell them what you told them” phase. He had already given them the gospel, so what he was about to write to them should seem very familiar. Why? Because it wasn’t going to change. What Paul had originally declared, that was what he was going to write.
    1. Why? Because the gospel does not change! No matter who the audience is, no matter what the preferences of our culture may be, the message of Jesus does not change. Certain methods of sharing the news might, but the message (i.e., the content) does not. How so? Today, we have technology of which Paul could not have imagined. His method of worldwide publishing was to write a letter by hand, have a bunch of people copy it, and then send the copies around the Roman empire individually, hand-carrying it from church to church as people walked to different cities. Today, all we need to do is click a button on Facebook or Twitter, etc., and it goes to a worldwide audience immediately. Paul preached to many cities, but he could only preach to one city at a time. For us, anyone with a cell phone can instantly post a global livestream. The methods are incredibly advanced. Even the media can vary. In addition to the spoken and written word is video, infographics, picture books, etc. Even things like puzzles and Rubik-cube like toys have been used to share the gospel. The news of Jesus goes out in a myriad of ways undreamt of by Paul or any of the original apostles.
    2. But the content does not change. The content must not change. The gospel is what the gospel is, and we have neither the right nor the authority to alter it. Some want to water it down, hoping to find a way to make it more palatable to the world, or at least not as offensive as it might be perceived. That is not our job! It is not our authority. We are stewards of this news; not the originators or owners of it. We cannot change what God has set forth.
    3. Beloved, beware that you do not change the message! Likewise, beware of any pastor, teacher, or evangelist who does change the message! In his letter to the Galatians, Paul put a warning in the strongest of terms: Galatians 1:8–9, “(8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” How important is it to keep the message of the gospel unchanged? So much so, that even if Paul changed it, he was under the curse of God! Let us beware and be careful to leave the gospel intact, as given us in the Scripture.
  2. That is a lot of talking around the message of the gospel. What is the message itself? Paul will get to the details in a moment, but for now, let us look at the big picture. The words “gospel” and “preached” come from the same root word in Greek. The noun is euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον), in which you might hear the word “evangelism.” It is a compound word (or, at least a strengthened form of one word) placing a word for “good” in front of another word for “news / declaration.” In fact, that word is the same root from which we get our word “angel,” as an angel is nothing more than an heavenly being with a message from God. The angel brings divine news. So the eu-angel (~evangel) is the good declaration, the good news of God concerning Jesus Christ.
    1. Why does this matter? Because we tend to use the word “gospel” as an adjective for all sorts of things. There is gospel music, gospel literature, gospel action, gospel fill-in-the-blank, as if it is just another word in a Christian version of “Mad Libs.” And that is just the church; our culture uses the word in a different way, often as a synonym for “truth,” as if we might read a book that purports to be the gospel about politics, or sports, or other such things. This needs to stop. We need to understand this single point: the true gospel speaks only of Jesus Christ! If we are not referring to Jesus, we are not referring to the gospel at all. May we not allow this glorious word to be so easily diluted in our speech! Jesus is the gospel, the good news of God. Anything less is not the gospel at all.

…which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, …

  1. The Corinthians received the news of Jesus. They did not reject it, but believed it as Paul declared it. Likewise, they stood in the news of Jesus, having planted their feet in the truth that was preached, not moving from that spot of faith. And because of that, they were currently being saved through/via that same news of Jesus. The ESV brings out the present tense grammar in verse 2 as Paul wrote, “by which you are being saved.” More than a one-time act of forgiveness, the effect of the gospel of Jesus upon the Corinthian Christians was present and ongoing.
  2. The Bible speaks of salvation in three tenses: past, present, future. (1) We are saved from our sins of the past by being justified by Jesus. His death on the cross serves as the punishment for our sins and when we place our faith in Him, He justifies us, wiping out our debt against God. (2) We are presently being saved from our sinful nature in the process of sanctification. In this, Jesus frees us from the power that our sinful nature has on us, that we need not give in to the slavery of temptation. (3) We will be saved in the future in the day we are removed from the presence of sin through the act of glorification. One day, our bodies will be resurrected along with Jesus (which Paul addresses later in the chapter), and in that day we will live in Jesus’ kingdom altogether free from our sinful condition.
  3. Paul’s point for Corinth was that they already experienced the first two tenses. Because they received the gospel and stood in it, they were justified by Christ. They were truly forgiven of their sins and made new creations by the grace of God. And because of their ongoing faith, they were currently being saved, being continually sanctified by the grace of God as they were made more and more into the likeness of Christ. God had done a mighty work among them, in which they could rejoice!

Yet there was one disclaimer…

…if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

  1. The “if” stands out to us in a major way. All of what Paul wrote was true for Corinth, if they held fast to that gospel. It needs to be pointed out that the grammar used by Paul indicates that this was not a strong fear of his for the church. He was certain that this was indeed the belief for the Corinthians. Even so, their one guarantee of their salvation was to “hold fast” to the gospel preached to them, not being those who “believed in vain.” Make no mistake: there are some who believe in vain. There are some people who walk through the doors of a church, who know all the right words, and who can even recite some basic Biblical doctrine about Jesus (particularly on an Easter Sunday morning) yet who do not hold fast to the message. They do not themselves believe. For them, the words they know are empty words – the faith they pretend is a façade. There is a theological term for this person: a false convert. Maybe he raised his hand during a preacher’s invitation wanting to go to heaven, but he did not surrender himself to Jesus as his Lord. Maybe she was told she could fill the spiritual void in her heart, but she did not turn from her sins to follow Jesus, never truly believing upon Christ for who He is. Whatever their faith was in, it was not in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for their sins and risen from the dead. They may have believed in something, but they did not believe the true gospel. All their other belief was in vain.
    1. Don’t let that be you! Especially on Easter, on Resurrection Sunday, take the time to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Take a hard look at your beliefs and determine if you hold fast to the gospel, the good news about Jesus. Only those who do have any assurance of their salvation. If your hope in heaven in based on anything other than Jesus, then you have no hope of heaven. At that point, you are not being saved. But you can Hold fast to the gospel of Christ!

You can’t get much more important than this! The gospel is foundational to our eternal salvation. It is the access we have to the promises of God. It is the assurance of our deliverance from sin and future in presence of God. It is essential to believe and to keep.

  • The gospel is factual (3-8).

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: …

  1. In verse 1, Paul already wrote how he preached the gospel to the church at Corinth, as this was the message he was going to deliver to them all over again. Guess what? It was a message that was delivered to Paul himself. Paul did not invent the message; he (like every other gospel preacher) was a messenger. It had been given to him; he passed it along to others.
  2. That Paul “received” this message confirms that it existed long before the writing of 1 Corinthians. Paul likely learned this formulation from the initial Christians he met in Damascus following his own conversion, some 20 years earlier. Considering that Paul wrote this letter around 54-55AD, having first ministered in the city around 51AD, we can place his conversion somewhere around 36AD. This means that a fully formed Christian creed (confession of faith) existed outside of Jerusalem within 3-5 years of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. – For all the skeptics who claim that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a myth that developed over time, the historical facts simply do not allow that as a possibility. It takes years and even decades for myths to develop. In this case, doctrine was being formulated and taught within only a couple of years from the event itself. Presidential terms last for a longer period of time than what it took for the gospel to be systematically taught to new believers! – It underscores the idea that the gospel is historical fact. This good news of God is not “too good to be true;” it is good because it is true.

…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

  1. Christ.” Note that Paul gives a title rather than a name. Not that anything is wrong with the name of Jesus. Far from it! The name “Jesus” encapsulates the gospel itself, meaning “YHWH is salvation,” or, the shortened form of “Yah saves.” This is the name specifically chosen by God during Mary’s pregnancy for His only begotten Son. It is the name that is above every other name. It is wonderful! But for Paul’s purposes here, it was also wonderfully common. “Jesus” is the anglicized Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” a name extremely common among the first century Jews. Imagine if Paul wrote that “Josh died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” While theologically correct, his readers might have asked, “Which one?” They may have known a dozen men named Joshua/Jesus, and they needed some distinction. Paul could have done this legitimately by writing “Jesus of Nazareth,” which was the name that Peter used in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22), but Paul didn’t. He wrote “Christ.” Why? Because this specific title has a specific meaning. The Christ is the Messiah, the Man anointed by God to be King of Israel and the Savior of the world. The Christ/Messiah is the Man to whom Scripture points as the fulfillment of the promises of God, stretching all the way back to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. This is a Person of great importance – this is the Man upon whom rests the fate of the universe – this is the Man at the center of the good news of God. The gospel is about Christ.
    1. Don’t gloss over that! The gospel is not about life-fulfillment, good feelings, material riches, or anything that this world offers. The gospel is not even ultimately about eternal life in heaven. That is a benefit of the gospel, but it is not the gospel itself. The gospel is about Christ. It is about the Lord Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah. It is about who He is and what He has done. The good news of God all about Him; not us.
    2. This gets us back to the warning against changing the gospel. If we make it all about us and what we can get out of God, we are no longer preaching/believing the gospel. If the preaching is all about seeing what we can gain (be it prosperity, physical healing, supernatural power, etc.), it is not gospel preaching because true gospel preaching is going to be about Jesus as the Christ. We dare not dilute nor diverge from that message. It is far too important!
  2. Christ “died.” Again, remember whom it is of which we speak. Christ the King, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the God-Man Himself died. The One who existed before time began, the 2nd Person of the Trinity who had no beginning, the One through whom God created the world – this Man died. That alone is a mind-blowing thought. How is it possible that the Christ could die? Without question, this was unthinkable in the minds of the 1st century Jews. They anticipated Messiah’s arrival, looking forward to a great military victory He would bring over the Romans and restore Israel to its kingdom and prominence. Certainly, this was on the minds of the original disciples, which was why they scattered so quickly when Jesus was arrested. It was why they hid themselves behind locked doors when Jesus died on the cross. Their hopes for Messianic reign had been dashed, so they thought. The Man whom they trusted was gone. He had been bruised, beaten, and nailed to the cross, and it was upon the cross that He died. The weight of this was crushing to them. Looking back 2000 years later, we might chastise them saying, “But Jesus warned them. They should have listened!” Yes, they should have…but they were humans just like us. They did not want to believe that Jesus could suffer and die on the cross, but He did, and they were devastated.
  3. But there was a reason for Jesus’ death, one which we dare not forget. This too is part of the gospel. Specifically, “Christ died for our sins.” This is what we remember on Good Friday, though we dare not limit it only to then. Jesus died as a sacrifice, as a substitution. And this is why it had to be Christ, and not just anyone. Because it was Jesus, because it was the Son of God incarnate as the Christ, the death that Jesus died served as a sufficient substitute for sinful people like you and me. Because we live in 21st century western culture (and a primarily Gentile one at that), we have a difficult time understanding the need for sacrifice. To us, “sacrifice” is something that we give to another. It might even be valuable, like the sacrifice of time or money. It might even be the sacrifice of the life of a soldier for the country which he loves. But it is a one-sided sacrifice – something without a correlating response. To the ancient Hebrews following the law of Moses, “sacrifice” was something far different. That kind of sacrifice required blood – it required the life of an animal that served as a judicial substitute for one’s own sins. You had sinned against God, and the wages of your sin was death. But you couldn’t personally pay that price, for obvious reasons. So, you put an animal in your place, and the death that you should have received was administered to that animal, and you knew the blood that came pouring out from its neck should have been yours. Of course, there was a problem: you kept sinning and you had to keep giving animal sacrifices. Moreover, the value of an animal never equals the value of a person. Thus, the sacrifice was always insufficient. – This is where the death of Christ comes in. His sacrifice is His death was given in place of your death. The punishment He received should have been your punishment. The blood that poured out His body should have been yours, but it was His – and because it was His, it serves not only as a sufficient payment for your sins, but an overwhelming payment. As the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all.”
  4. Christ was “buried.” This too, is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it is a reminder that Jesus was really dead. It is a reminder that even His initial disciples believed it was over. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if all their hopes had died with Him. As the two men walking on the road to Emmaus on Sunday morning said to Jesus (before knowing it was Him), “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel,” (Lk 24:21). They hoped He was the Messiah, but in their minds, how could He be if He was dead? They needed a living Christ for the promises of God to be true. With Jesus dead, those hopes had died. Thus, they buried Him. Joseph of Arimathea gave his own unused tomb for the body of Jesus, and he and Nicodemus the Pharisee packed Jesus’ body with 100 pounds of spices, wrapped it according to Jewish custom, and rolled a massive stone in front of the door. They would have done none of it if they expected Jesus to rise. Moreover, there was no chance they would have done it if they had any suspicion that Jesus might still somehow be alive! Of course, the Roman centurion had already verified the death of Jesus by piercing Jesus’ side with his spear, but if neither the cross nor the spear had killed Jesus, surely the smothering of the all the spices and wrapping would have finished off the job! The point? Jesus was truly dead. The price was truly paid. Without the real and verified death of Jesus, we have no payment for our sins. But it was real, it was verified…to the point of His literal burial in a literal tomb.
  5. Christ “rose again.” This is where the good news becomes good! This is why the gospel is the gospel! On the third day after Jesus gave His life on the cross for our sins, Jesus rose again to new and glorious life. We remember the Biblical account, how the women who believed in Jesus still wanted to somehow attend to His body in devotion, even though they did not have the opportunity on the day He died. The sun had set and the Sabbath had begun, so the women had no choice but to wait until Sunday morning. They started out at their earliest opportunity, right as light was beginning to break, going to the tomb with their spices and material. How they were supposed to move the stone was a part of the puzzle they hadn’t yet figured out, but all they knew is that they needed to get to Jesus’ grave. As it turns out, the stone wasn’t a problem at all! An angel appeared, rolling back the stone, revealing that the tomb was already empty (Mt 28:2). Jesus had already departed the tomb, having been risen from the dead, an event unheard of in all history. Several people had been raised from the dead in the past (some by the hand of Jesus Himself), but none had ever risen from the dead by their own power. Jesus did. Just as Jesus willingly gave up His life, committing His spirit into the hands of God the Father, so did Jesus take up His life again on the third day!
    1. What does it show? Everything! It shows that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4). It shows that Jesus truly is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). It shows that Jesus is the One who will one day judge the world (Acts 17:30). Moreover, it shows that the price for sin has been paid that that we have the promise of new life in His name! The resurrection of Jesus is the Easter story and it is the reason that the gospel of Christ is good news.
    2. Is this the news you believe? This is the news by which we can be saved, but we will never be saved if we do not believe it. Think of it: Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave nearly 2000 years ago in the past. His sacrifice has already been completed in full. The work has been done, but not everyone is saved. Why hasn’t everyone in the past 2000 years automatically been given the promise and assurance of heaven? Because not everyone believes. Jesus’ work has been done but it is only effectual for those who have faith. The apostle John put it this way: 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” You need to believe!
  6. Note: all of it was “according to the Scriptures.” Nothing that happened to Jesus was according to random chance; it was all according to the Scriptures. It was all according to the revealed plan of God. Which Scriptures? Paul does not list them here. And for good reason…there are far too many! There are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of the earthly ministry of Jesus, ranging from His family line to the city of His birth to the events surrounding His death, and more. As to the specific Scriptures that speak of His death, burial, and resurrection, one need look no further than Isaiah 53. The entire chapter speaks of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus, but is also specific on these lines: Isaiah 53:9–10, “(9) And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. (10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” Jesus died, having been crucified next to two robbers (most likely terrorists). Jesus was buried, placed by the rich Joseph of Arimathea in his own tomb. Jesus rose again, having seen His “offspring” of the church and having His days prolonged. This was the plan of God regarding His Son and it came true to the letter!

This is the message regarding Jesus, the good news of the gospel. And it is good! But is it true? The best story in the world does nothing for us if it is just a fairy tale. How can we know that Jesus actually rose from the dead? That is what Paul goes on to describe. We can know this is true because Jesus was seen. His physical person was witnessed not just by one, but by many people.

5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

  1. That “Cephas” (Peter) is mentioned first among the apostles is not just a matter of historical record; it is a demonstration of great grace. We need to acknowledge that Peter was not the first person to see the risen Lord Jesus; that privilege was given to Mary Magdalene and the other women who steadfastly followed Him and believed in Him. But Paul isn’t writing here of every witness; he names the ones that the Christians in Corinth would have known. Considering they had a personal experience at some point with Peter/Cephas, it is only fitting that Paul begins the list of eyewitnesses with him. The issue of grace is important due to Peter’s last interaction with Jesus prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. After boasting how he would never leave Jesus, how all the other disciples might abandon Him but that Peter himself would never deny Him, Peter had a massive failure. The “mighty” Peter, the de facto leader of the apostles did deny Jesus in a major way. He crumbled at the questions of a little girl, along with others at a campfire within eyeshot of Jesus. Like so many of us, Peter temporarily turned his back on the Man he claimed as his Lord. Peter failed.
    1. The good news for Peter? His failure was not final! Jesus died for the sins of Peter, just like Jesus died for your sins and mine. When Jesus rose from the grave, He made special effort to ensure that Peter knew that Jesus was risen. Peter saw Jesus, and later even had a special meeting with the Lord restoring him to full ministry. Peter found forgiveness in the risen Lord Jesus, just like anyone can.
  2. It wasn’t only Peter who saw Jesus, it was all “the twelve.” Interestingly, the official “twelve” had dwindled to eleven after the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. That said, there were other men present, as acknowledged by Peter when Matthias was officially added to the number prior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:26). But just as there was grace shown to Peter in Jesus’ resurrection, so was grace shown to all the apostles. Remember that although Peter denied Jesus in a particular way, all the apostles abandoned Jesus. Aside from a brief time when John came to stand at the foot of the cross, all the men who faithfully followed Jesus for three years were scattered like scared sheep. Even after Jesus’ death, they still feared for their lives, hiding behind locked doors. Yet locked doors are no problem for the risen Christ! Jesus appeared in their midst, showing them the wounds in His hands and side. And He did it not just once, but twice. Thomas was not initially with the disciples when Jesus first appeared and despite the glorious news told to him, he stubbornly refused to believe for a full week. Only then did Jesus once more appear specifically for Thomas, to which Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
    1. Isn’t it good to know that the original apostles were not “perfect” Christians? They were men just like us. They had failings like every man and woman today. And Jesus gave them grace in His resurrection…just like Jesus offers us grace in His resurrection. This is the good news! How we need to believe!

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.

  1. When did this meeting with “five hundred brethren” take place? Scripture does not directly tell us. Many scholars believe it to be the gathering in Galilee when Jesus gave the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Paul was less interested in giving the details of the meeting than he was giving the Corinthians other references and eyewitness testimonies. He was basically telling them, “You don’t have to take my word for it, or even Peter’s word. Go ask folks from the crowd of 500. Most of them are still alive today. Go check it out for yourselves.” According to Hebrew law, it only took the agreement of 2-3 witnesses for a matter to be established as judicial fact. A man could even be put to death on the testimony of 2-3 witnesses (Dt 17:6). How many witnesses did Paul name thus far? 512 and counting! The amount of eyewitness testimony was overwhelming.
  2. Objection: “But it’s just eyewitness testimony. That doesn’t prove anything.” On the contrary, yes it does. There are two ways of establishing fact: scientific testing by which phenomenon can be reproduced, or judicial/historical testimony as in a court of law. Historical events, by definition, happened in the past and cannot be reproduced scientifically. There is no experiment one can set up to “prove” that Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. What we can do is look at the historical documents and the testimonies of the people who lived at the time. The same thing happens in criminal courts every day all over our nation. Evidence is presented to a judge, sometimes the only evidence being eyewitness testimony. The testimony of one person may not be afforded much credibility, but the more people who corroborate a story, the more likely it is true. — How much eyewitness testimony is available regarding the risen Jesus? An astounding amount! Literally hundreds of people saw Him alive, and at the time Paul wrote this letter, those testimonies could be verified.

7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

  1. The fact that “James” is mentioned is incredibly important. This is not either of the two apostles named James during Jesus’ earthly ministry; this was the James who was the half-brother of Jesus, who ended up being a prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem. If there were anyone prone to be a skeptic of Jesus’ claims of deity as the Messiah, His siblings topped the list. Sure, they would have heard from Joseph and Mary that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, but it’s doubtful they would have believed too many of the stories. They certainly did not believe in Him during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Jn 7:5). Why would they? They were his brothers. They grew up next to Him, they played games with Him, they maybe even attempted to play pranks on Him. They would not have given Jesus more authority than absolutely necessary. No brother does. Yet something Something massive changed James’ mind to where he was convinced that his own half-brother was God and that James owed Jesus his worship. What could it be, other than the resurrection? Jesus “was seen by James” and it changed his life.
  2. Who were the other “apostles” mentioned here? We cannot say exactly. The official twelve were already mentioned by Paul. This second grouping surely included the twelve as well as other men like James and Jude (as the half-brothers of Jesus), Justus (as the other potential choice from Matthias), and perhaps some other men who had been with Jesus in His earthly ministry, thought not named with the twelve. The overall point is clear: the risen Jesus was seen by all kinds of people, and even the people who were most skeptical towards Him during His ministry believed. They were converted, being absolutely convinced that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

  1. Finally, there was Paul. Paul’s own conversion is recorded three times in the book of Acts, as his personal testimony was something he often shared. And for good reason: it was powerful! (Something which he details in the next several verses.) But the point here was that Paul was apparently the final eyewitness of the risen Jesus. Paul was not part of the original group of disciples, nor was he included in the group of men and women who came to faith in Jesus in the earliest days of the church. On the contrary, as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was steadfastly against Jesus…yet Jesus still appeared to him. And like a baby being born unexpectedly, so was Paul reborn as an apostle of Jesus Christ, an eyewitness to the risen Lord. He could add his own voice to the chorus of testimonies surrounding Jesus.

Question: What about today? We are nearly 2000 years removed from Jesus’ resurrection. Any eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb is long-dead and buried. Sure, there are occasional stories of visions, of varying credibility. Some stories are plainly lies; others are perhaps grounded in truth. But as for anyone laying eyes on the physical resurrected person of Jesus of Nazareth? Those days are over. 

Yet it does not stop us from testifying of the risen Jesus. (1) We still have the eyewitness testimonies in the pages of the New Testament. The four gospel accounts are based on the testimonies of the men and women who were there. Paul’s own letters speak of his experience, as well as the book of Acts. The other epistles testify of the authors’ experiences with the risen Jesus. We may not have access to the 500 men and women mentioned by Paul to Corinth, but we do have the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles! (2) We have our own personal testimonies of Jesus Christ. No, we have not seen the risen person of Jesus, but we have experienced Him through faith. Every single born-again Christian has a real relationship with the real, resurrected Jesus Christ. It cannot be otherwise, if you are saved. If you do not believe in the risen Jesus, you are not born-again, period. That means we pray to the living God. That means we interact with the living God. It means we have been saved by the living God, known in the person of the risen Jesus. You can testify to someone else of Jesus because you know that Jesus is risen from the dead! (And if you don’t, you can know Him today!)

Jesus’ resurrection is a fact! This is not some myth based on the imaginations of deluded men. This is not invented dogma by a cultic group. This is historical, factual truth.

  • The gospel is transformational (9-11).

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

  1. Here is where Paul writes of the effect of Jesus’ resurrection on his own life. Yes, he was the last to be called by Jesus as an apostle and eyewitness, but it was a privilege to be called! Paul was “not worthy to be called,” but he was. Paul “persecuted the church of God,” but he was given grace. How much grace? An abundance! Three times in one verse, Paul writes of the grace of God that he received. Grace made Paul who he was as an apostles – the grace of God was effectual in Paul’s life, not being in vain – the grace of God enabled him to engage in ministry. Everything that the Corinthians knew of Paul was all due to the grace of God. Grace transformed Paul totally. It changed him from a persecutor to one who was often persecuted. It changed him from one who hunted the church to one who planted the church. The grace of God changed everything!
  2. How did this grace come? Through the gospel! How might we be transformed? Through the gospel! When we respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, we are showered with the grace of God. His grace forgives us of every sin, cleansing us from our past, making us who we now are as new creations. His grace enables us to live for His glory, empowering us by the Holy Spirit to do things we never thought possible. Who were we, other than wretched sinners? Who was I, other than a wretched sinner? And apart from the grace of Jesus, that is what I still am! But in Christ? I am saved! Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, I am what I am, sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit that I might live to the glory of God. That is my testimony and it is the testimony of all who believe! 

11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

  1. Paul brings it back to where he began. He gave this church the gospel and he could testify of the risen Jesus and the grace that Jesus provides. Even if Corinth heard it from someone else, it didn’t change the message. Jesus changes lives and eternal destinies because Christ died, was buried, and rose again, according to the Scriptures. It happened with Paul, and it happened with Corinth.

It can happen with anyone. Why? Because the gospel is transformational.

Conclusion:

What better news to share on Resurrection Sunday than the good news? This is the central message of the Christian faith and it is all about Jesus. It is foundational – it is factual – it is transformational. It is what we celebrate not just one day per year, nor one day per week; it is to be celebrated every day of our lives! Because Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave, we are saved. That is something that ought to come out in our prayer and devotions every morning or evening, or whenever you spend time with the Lord. This is the news that ought to be on the tips of our tongues, ready to share with whomever the Lord puts in front of us. If this is the news that changed Paul – if this is the news that changed you – then this is the news that can change anyone.

Christian: hold fast to what you have heard! Do not underestimate the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let it be that to which you cling every morning and every evening. This is what we need to preach to ourselves, all day every day. Why? Because we sin all day every day! How many times do you and I fail even before breakfast in the morning, much less through the rest of the day? Our thoughts turn to selfishness, or we get upset at the news headlines, or we get irritated at traffic, or at the dog, or at a half-dozen other things before we even get to the office (or wherever). It is in those times we need to remember Christ came, Christ died for our sins, Christ was buried, and Christ rose again. Jesus did all of that according to the plan of God, that God would be glorified and that we might be bathed in His grace. It is in the truth of that message, by the work of that Person, that we are saved and assured. Hold fast! Hold to it like a life-preserver in the middle of an ocean, like the parachute to which you cling as you jump from the plane. However you do it, just do it! Hold fast to the gospel, clinging tightly to the risen Jesus. He is our only hope.

Some of you do not yet know that hope. You can. You should. Maybe you have been a false convert, showing up in church but believing in vain. Or maybe you know that you haven’t believed, thinking that it did not affect you. I implore you: cast yourself upon the mercies of Jesus today! You have heard the good news. Jesus is the Christ of God, crucified for your sins and risen from the dead. This is a historical fact and your lack of faith does not change that. One day you will stand before Jesus in all of His glory, and you will be judged for your life based on how you responded to the gospel. Once you’ve heard the truth you cannot “unhear” it. Today you know and you must respond. Respond in humility and faith! Respond with repentance and trust. Turn away from your sins and trust Christ today.

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