Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

As Christians, we might understand why Jesus rose from the dead, but the idea that WE will also rise from the dead is perhaps a bit more confusing. Paul answers more questions about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.

1 Corinthians 15:35-49, “More Questions about the Resurrection”

Sometimes, we come across things that don’t make sense…at least, to us. Other people get it straight away, but we have a difficult time seeing it. Like certain optical illusions, when there are supposed to be two different images represented but we only see one while everyone else sees two, it gets confusing. At least, it’s confusing until someone points it out to us, at which it becomes impossible not to see it.

If we’re being honest, there are certain theological concepts that are the same way. We know what we’re supposed to believe and we want to believe it…we just have a difficult time understanding how it all works. It doesn’t make sense at first glance and we need a bit of help putting it together to see it from a different perspective. 

For some, the resurrection might fit into that category, especially our own resurrection. We might somewhat understand Jesus’ resurrection, being able to take it as a matter of faith knowing that it is part of His declaration and identity as the Son of God. But we have an easier time believing it because Jesus is God. As for us…well, perhaps our future resurrection is a bit more difficult to understand. After all, we’ve all seen people die; we haven’t seen regular people raised from the dead. We know the Bible tells us that it will happen one day, but that day seems so far off in the future. To that end, it seems more like a storybook or fairy tale, rather than a matter of fact.

Moreover, some people even try to explain it away. Because it seems difficult to understand it becomes easy to write off. They spiritualize it, talking about a symbolic resurrection rather than a physical one. They look at the supernatural aspects and claim that it isn’t possible. To them, it isn’t even logical, so why would God do it? Why would anyone expect it?

Yet this is the plain teaching of the Bible. Everyday men and women will rise again. God’s plan for mankind was always for us to live eternally…that was how our bodies were designed. This changed during the Fall, which makes it one more thing that Jesus restores in His work of redemption. Our future resurrection is not a fairy tale myth; it is an essential part of the fulfillment of our salvation!

Our questions about the resurrection are not unique. The same issues arose among the church in Corinth. These are the questions Paul was answering in his letter. On the one hand, the Christians claimed to believe the gospel; on the other hand, some among them doubted a key element of it. The resurrection seemed foolish to them, rather than crucial, making the whole gospel of God to be foolishness rather than being the wisdom of God with the power to save. This was no minor problem; the resurrection is foundational to our faith. Perhaps this was why Paul ensured he gave this subject special attention towards the end of his letter, after he was able to address all the other issues and controversies.

He began at the logical starting place: the gospel. If he was to address concerns about the resurrection, he needed first to establish its place within the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It was part and parcel of the good news of Jesus, which Paul had previously preached to Corinth and which Paul himself had received from others. It was the news that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the grave, all according to the Scriptures. This gospel (specifically the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ) was not merely recited as religious dogma; it was verified by literally hundreds of eyewitnesses, including those who were inclined to be the most skeptical. Jesus is risen from the dead. It is a matter of historical fact.

Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential. Paul demonstrated this by asking and answering a series of questions, all logically connected to one another. What if the resurrection were not true? If no one is ever raised from the dead, how could Jesus be raised from the dead? What would that mean for the future plans of God regarding the Millennial Kingdom and eternity? How would it affect multitudes of Christians today, if they had no resurrection hope? To all these questions Paul demonstrated that it is futile to believe in a resurrection-less Christianity. Without a literal resurrection, we have no proven Christ, no reason to believe, and no reason to live righteously. To remove the resurrection is to gut the gospel, leading to terrible results.

Thankfully, Jesus is risen from the dead! Again, this is a matter of historical record and need not be doubted. We can hold by faith to the gospel message knowing that it is true – it is the very word of God and He does not lie.

That said, we might still have some questions. Perhaps the Corinthians believed Paul regarding Jesus, having faith in the basics of the good news of Jesus Himself. Even so, there might still exist questions regarding how it applies to us. How will we as born-again Christians experience our own resurrection? Does it even make sense? What is involved with it? These are the issues Paul addresses as he continues Chapter 15. Clearing up any remaining confusion about the resurrection, Paul makes four points:

  1. The resurrection is logical.
  2. The resurrection is visible.
  3. The resurrection is practical.
  4. The resurrection is vital.

There may be many things about the resurrection that are mysterious, but we can know this much: our resurrection is a vital part of God’s redemptive plan for us, and it is accomplished through His omnipotent power.

1 Corinthians 15:35–49

  • The resurrection is logical (35-38). The premise.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”

  1. As Paul does so often in his letters (particularly his letter to the Romans), he anticipated the questions of skeptics – and not just people outright skeptical to the gospel itself, but also that of real Christians with hesitations and doubts. It is neither unusual nor sinful for real Christians to have real questions. Sincere believers in Jesus sometimes have sincere issues and misunderstandings. Consider Martha’s and Mary’s questions for Jesus at the grave of their brother Lazarus (Jn 11). They couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t there when it seemed they needed Him most. If He had been in Bethany a few days earlier, Lazarus would never have died. Even at the gravesite in Jesus’ presence, they couldn’t grasp Jesus’ instructions to roll away the stone. Martha hesitated, telling Jesus that because Lazarus had been dead four days, there would be the stench of rot. Jesus reminded her that if she would believe, she would see the glory of God (Jn 11:40). As glorious as the miracle was, we can understand Martha’s hesitancy. Emotionally, she did believe Jesus, wanting everything He said to be true. Yet intellectually, she stumbled. She couldn’t see how it would be true. – Sometimes, born-again believers stumble. We might want something to be true Biblically, but when we cannot immediately nor easily explain it, we might inadvertently dismiss it. Be careful! Just because we might not personally have or understand the answer does not mean that answers do not exist. There is nothing wrong with having the questions; just be sure to believe Biblical truth by faith as you seek to understand the answers.
  2. Of course, there are others who are not There are some skeptics who try to look for holes in the Christian faith, trying to discredit the gospel. The Bible has answers for them, too…though it might not be the answers they want. Everything the Bible teaches about Jesus is true, but it will remain foolishness to the stubborn and hardhearted. God resists the proud while giving grace to the humble. To those who want to shake their fists at God, you might do so today, but be assured that you will one day answer for your rebellion. God does not owe you answers but you do owe Him your worship as your Creator. Beware that you do not hide behind your questions simply as an excuse to maintain your sin.
  3. As for the questions themselves, what Paul lists is straightforward. It boils down to this: how. How is it done? By what power are dead people raised from the dead? Once someone is dead and decomposing, what body is raised up if it is all true? Does the Bible promote the idea of a bunch of zombies? How are the bodies fit back together? It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, which makes it fodder for those who want to try to poke holes in the Bible.

36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.

  1. With the answer comes a bit of chastisement. It seems that Paul thinks more of the rebellious skeptics here than the sincere Christians with questions. The New Testament never shows the word used for “foolish one” in a complimentary sense. And yes, the skeptic should be chastised on this. The kinds of questions raised are questions that put human limitations on the omnipotent God. Do we really think that Almighty God is limited by method? Do we truly believe that God ever sits back and wonders how He might accomplish something, as if He got stumped by a problem? We get stumped, not God. (Not that it takes much. Some of us get stumped just trying to put together furniture from Ikea!) God has no such limitations. Making the impossible possible is simply what God does. Speaking to the prophet Jeremiah about His plan to both judge Jerusalem via Babylonian conquest as well as His ultimate plan to bring Israel back into the land, God says: Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” The question is rhetorical because the answer is obvious: No…nothing is too hard for the Lord God! How foolish it is to believe otherwise. If God says it, God can and will do it. We might not know how, but God does. And what God says He will do is the only thing that matters.
  2. As for the answer itself, Paul starts with a basic premise: “what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.” At first glance, this might seem contradictory. How can something live if it first dies? We need to be careful not to jump too far ahead in our assumptions. Notice that Paul does not start with the idea of death, but with sowing. Paul is not writing of some grand Frankenstein experiment where dead things find life coming out of nowhere; he writes of the process of sowing seed. Even to our modern 21st century minds, this is relatable. We may not have as much experience with agriculture as the average person of the 1st century (or 1st through 19th centuries, and ongoing for much of the rest of the world!), but even the most “city-fied” person living in a downtown apartment knows what happens when a seed is planted. What appears to be dead (a seed) quickly comes to life when buried. Death does not inherently lead to life; sowing/planting does. Thus, this isn’t contradictory at all; it is something we witness on a regular basis.

37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

  1. Again, the idea is that of a seed. The type of seed doesn’t really matter, be it “wheat,” rice, corn, “some other grain,” or even some kind of flower, fruit, or vegetable. Any seed that is put into the ground under the right conditions undergoes a change. Genetically, it is still the same. An apple tree is not genetically different than its fruit, which itself is not genetically different than its seed. Each aspect of the “apple” looks drastically different, but it all had the same origination and same basic genetic code. What makes the difference between the forms (or the “bodies”)? The will and design of God. As verse 38 says, “God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” God makes an apple seed into an apple tree and an apple fruit, according to His will. Likewise with wheat, barley, oats, or any other horticultural product we can imagine. Whatever seed is sown into the ground bears life and grows into the body that God wills for it. In fact, it might be said that this is God’s whole purpose for the seed from the start. Each plant starts as a seed, but God’s ultimate will for that plant is not for it to remain a seed, but to grow into a fully-grown plant that produces fruit in a kind of new life.
  2. The application ought to be obvious. The human body buried into the ground is a sown seed, and God has a will and a purpose for that body. There will be a fundamental change, and what comes up will have major differences from that which is planted, but it is all the same person. Moreover, that new body was God’s ultimate will for that person from the beginning. The first body was merely a seed; the raised body is God’s end-goal. This is all done according to God’s pleasure and God’s design.
    1. That is a big truth and Paul has much to say on this subject as he goes through the passage. For now, consider this much: our future resurrection is a key part of the eternal plan of God. It is part of His design for us, having conceived of our future resurrection body before we are ever given any physical body. God knit us together one way knowing that our current bodies will one day change. These bodies are important, but ultimately, they are little more than seeds. Our current bodies are used in the future resurrection, but God has a design and plan to change them into something far greater. And imagine the benefits: if it is possible for us to glorify God with our current bodies today (which we can, per 1 Cor 6:10), imagine how we will be able to glorify God in the resurrection! 
  3. As an aside: What does this mean for cremation? The picture of a sown seed obviously refers to burial. What happens with bodies that are burned instead of buried? Cremation used to be uncommon among Christians but is now practiced on a regular basis, if for no other reason than the less expensive cost. But it raises some concerns for people. Are cremated bodies not truly “sown” into the ground? Is there nothing left for God to raise in resurrection? – To this, we need to remember the almighty power of the Creator God. God originally formed Adam from the dust; it is no problem for Him to re-form cremated Christians from the dust. Besides, it has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Most of the Christians who have died in the past two millennia have already turned to dust, even though they were buried. Their bodies decomposed, with even the bones decaying into the basic elements. Other Christians were buried at sea, or were tragically thrown to wild beasts to be eaten, etc. None of this poses any difficulty for God. God will raise each and every born-again Christian from the dead, exactly according to His promise. He does not limit His grace only to those who were buried in impenetrable caskets. Just like God knit each of our bodies in the wombs of our mothers, so will He give us new restored bodies in the resurrection, regardless of burial, organ donation, cremation, or the like.

This is the basic premise, and it makes logical sense. God can do anything, and because God’s design is to use the seeds of our current bodies to bring forth renewed resurrection bodies, that is exactly what He will do. It makes sense…as well it should! Although there are many theological truths we hold by faith, there is none of which we hold without reason. Biblical Christianity is a logical, reasonable faith. We serve the God who created logic and reason, so why would the truths He gives us to believe about His design be any different?

Consider for a moment how different this is from other religions throughout history. We don’t believe in a bunch of gods and goddesses who bicker with each other on Mount Olympus in Greece. Nor do we believe in a god who demands you tell the truth to him but permits you to lie to infidels or who promises dozens of virgins to men who commit mass murder. Not only do those false religions contain inherent contradictions, some of their basic premises don’t even make logical sense. To be sure, Biblical Christianity is founded on supernatural miracles, such as Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, but at its core, it still makes sense. Our sin broke God’s law – God sent His Son to pay our fine – those who receive Jesus as Lord and as the sacrifice for our sin are saved. This is reasonable – it is logical. Moreover, it is true.

  • The resurrection is visible (39-41). Illustrations and examples.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

  1. Again, the issue is fairly straightforward. Paul describes the variety of flesh among animal life. Be it humans, animals, flesh, or birds, it’s all different from one another even as it is all created by the same God. Even among humans, we are each unique. Although we all have the same basic shape and the same color of blood, we all have different fingerprints. Our DNA is individual to each of the 6 billion+ people on the planet. Our God gives incredible variety among various kinds of flesh.
  2. What does any of this have to do with the resurrection? Look back at verse 38: “But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” Each one of these kinds of flesh is an example of the various bodies that come from different seeds. These are the different bodies chosen by God for each kind/type of “seed.”

40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

  1. Just as there is variety on this planet, there is variety beyond our planet. There is a great difference among the many planets and stars throughout our solar system and beyond. There are the relatively tiny, rocky planets like Mercury closest to the Sun; there are the massive gas giants like Jupiter, in which 1300 Earths could fit. Not only are there different kinds of flesh, but there are also different kinds of glories (lights or appearances). The Sun looks different from the Moon, for good reason. Although both shine, the Sun generates its own light while the Moon reflects the light of the Sun. Likewise, certain stars shine brighter in the sky than others.
  2. The point? God designed this universe in a certain way. While there are many similarities and commonalities that point to common Designer, there is also a great amount of variety according to the creative will of God.

The illustrations may be simple, but they make sense. These are all the varieties of ways God has worked in creation already. We can see with our own eyes the manifold works of God. Why then, would we object to an additional kind of flesh or glory in the resurrection body? Why would we think it to be unusual? It is just one more example of what God has already done.

  • The resurrection is practical (42-45). The method.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

  1. Just in case the point wasn’t clear, Paul spells out the meaning of the various examples: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” The variety seen among the different lifeforms and planetary bodies and lights ought to give us the same expectation of seeing something different in the resurrection. That the resurrection body might be physically different than our current body, while still being the same stuff as our current body is not something that is impossible or illogical. Does it require God’s miraculous power? Of course…but so does every other form of life or body. Unless God puts it together, it doesn’t exist. Likewise with our resurrection bodies. It goes into the ground one way; it comes up another. Paul gives several contrasts showing the transformation differences…
  2. Corruption vs. incorruption. That our current bodies are corruptible ought to come as no surprise. Bodies decay…sometimes breaking down even before we’re ready! The physical strength a person has at 70 years old is nowhere close to what he/she had at 20. And of course, when the physical body is put into the grave, it decomposes. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But that is not how it will be in the resurrection! In the resurrection, our bodies will be incorruptible. When we are raised, we will be raised forever. Our bodies will last, not breaking down, not failing in middle age (because we will not have a middle age!).
  3. Dishonor vs. glory. If the first contrasts speaks to physicality, the second speaks more to morality. Consider the reason our bodies fail: sin. The wages of sin is death. Because we all sin individually (and because we have all inherited a sinful nature from Adam), all die. Thus, our bodies are “sown in dishonor.” Even when we consider a person to have died honorably as with a great military sacrifice, death is inherently dishonorable because death would not exist without sin. But praise God for the contrast, for our resurrection bodies will be “raised in glory.” The glory had by Jesus is the glory we will receive as His followers and co-heirs. We will be raised in bodies without a sinful nature and thus we will never again be tempted to sin. This is the final ‘phase’ of salvation, which will only be experienced in eternity. Today, we can know justification (our forgiveness) and sanctification (our being set apart for Jesus and conformed to Jesus’ image), but we cannot know glorification. In the resurrection, we will.
  4. Weakness vs. power. As with the idea of corruption, it comes as no surprise that Paul describes our current physical bodies as weak. Relatively speaking, even the biggest powerlifters among us have weak and frail bodies. Even if you can bench-press twice your bodyweight, you can still be killed by a microscopic blood clot. Today, our bodies are frail; in the resurrection they will be powerful. Not that we look for the kind of Hollywood superpower strength; rather, they will be bodies that will never grow weak nor die. The book of Revelation speaks of how we will no longer experience death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). The tiny things that can wreak havoc upon us today will be unable to touch us in the resurrection.

44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

  1. Natural vs. spiritual. The terminology is interesting and perhaps a bit difficult to translate. The word rendered “natural” and “being” (v45) is psuchikos/psyche (ψυχικός/ψυχή), and it does pertain to the things of the natural world, but the noun form can also refer to the soul. Some might paraphrase Paul as referring to a “soulish” body. That perhaps forms a more distinct contrast with the “spiritual body,” of which Paul uses a word he has repeated much through the letter of 1 Corinthians: pneumatikos/pneuma (πνευματικός/πνεῦμα) for “spiritual” and “spirit.” This is the same word Paul used back in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 referring the spiritual gifts, technically calling them “spirituals,” as in, “spiritual things.” This is the same word used earlier in the letter to refer to spiritual maturity (which the Corinthians did not have).
  2. What is the contrast? What goes into the ground is natural and soulish; what comes up is spiritual. What goes into the ground is tainted by sin; what comes up is not. Where is this best seen? It is the difference between Adam and Jesus. The first man in all creation, formed by God Himself from the dust of the earth was named Adam. That man “became a living being.” In other words, that man was nothing but dust until God breathed life into him. At that point, he became a living soul. Jesus, however, is different. Jesus (labeled here as “the last Adam”) does not receive life; He gives it. The first Adam had to receive of the work of God; the last Adam is God. The last Adam gives the things of the spirit because He and the Spirit are one just like He and the Father are one.
  3. This has amazing theological ramifications (as Paul will demonstrate in a moment), but it is this aspect about the resurrection that makes all of the difference in the world when it comes down to how this works out, practically. How is it that our bodies will be raised in incorruption, in glory, and in power? Because our bodies will be raised according to God’s Spirit, just as Jesus’ own body was raised. Our current bodies follow the pattern of Adam, with all the corruption and dishonor and weakness. In the resurrection, all of that is gone. Our bodies will be like Jesus’ body. What was Jesus able to do in His resurrection? Everything the disciples were able to do and much more. He had a physical body that could be seen and touched. He had a mouth and stomach that could eat and drink. But He also had a body for which locked doors were no problem. He had a body that death could not hold. Somehow, in some way, our bodies will be like His. No, we will not be made omnipotent little “gods”…but we will have physical bodies that are spiritually and supernaturally transformed. Those bodies will still be our bodies, just like Jesus’. When He wanted to be recognized, Jesus was readily recognized. In the resurrection, you will still be you and I will still be me. We will be able to know and recognize each other, as the bodies that go into the ground will rise from the ground. But our bodies will be spiritually transformed and remade from the inside-out. Remember that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead (v20). Our resurrection will follow in the same example as His.

To say that the resurrection is practical is to say that it works. There are certain results that are accomplished through the miraculous transformation of our physical bodies by Almighty God. The things He does will be amazing, and the practical aspect of it makes the idea of heaven so much better. I don’t know about you, but the common idea of heaven as people floating around like disembodied ghosts playing harps doesn’t sound very appealing. Our general culture (and even our church culture) tends to promote the picture of heaven as monochromatic white nothingness, with people going from place to place acting like they’re on Valium or some other psychotropic drug. To borrow a term from the British: rubbish! That isn’t the picture painted by the Bible at all. The Bible writes of a new heaven and a new earth, with gardens and rivers and fruits. It tells us that we will have real bodies with real experiences. We will have conversations, sing songs, eat at feasts, and more. All of what we experience as good in this world will be in eternity…only much better. That ought to give us something to look forward to…as well as want other people to experience with us.

  • The resurrection is vital (46-49). The theology.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

  1. There is a necessary chronological order of bodies. We don’t get the spiritual body first; we get the natural (soulish). Why? Because we certainly wouldn’t want it in the opposite order! Think again about the picture of a seed. We expect a seed to grow into a tree; not a tree shrinking back down into a seed. A mature tree produces seeds; it does not regress into one. For us to go from the spiritual to the natural would be a regression, backwards. God designed us to grow into something glorious, which is what the natural comes first, then the spiritual.
  2. This too, is seen in the contrast between Adam and Jesus. Adam shows the natural, whereas Jesus shows the spiritual. Adam was formed from natural stuff. Jesus was not formed (being that He is the eternally begotten Son of God), but His ‘origin’ (for lack of a better word) is from heaven. The issue is their composition. The “first man” is of “dust;” the “second Man” is “from heaven.” 

48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

  1. As seen earlier in Chapter 15, this is the idea of federal headship. Look again at verses 21-22: “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” By way of review, this is the concise way of Paul saying everything he said to the Romans in the 5th chapter, when he described how both Adam and Jesus are representatives of all those who are under their headship and example. Romans 5:12–14, “(12) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(13) (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (14) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Because Adam is the first of mankind, he serves as the progenitor and representative of mankind. And the consequences that fell upon Adam fell upon all who followed in his lineage, having his sinful nature passed to us via his seed. Yet things changed with the Second Man, the Last Adam, Jesus (of whom the original Adam was a type/picture). In Jesus, we receive grace and life because of Jesus’ victorious work at the cross and resurrection. Romans 5:18–19, “(18) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” This is what is described by the term “federal headship.” As men and women, we are either grouped under one federal head or the other. By default, we are already under the headship of Adam which results in judgment and condemnation due to sin. But by faith, we can be placed under the headship of Jesus, by which we are justified unto life and are made righteous.
  2. This same concept applies to what takes place with our physical bodies, both before and after the resurrection. Because Adam is our default federal head, we are born with bodies made from dust just like his body was formed from the dust. But when we have faith in Jesus Christ, our resurrection bodies bear His heavenly likeness. In Adam, we are naturally soulish and doomed to decay back into the dust from whence we came. Yet in Christ, those who have been saved by His grace have the promise of a glorious transformation. Our resurrection bodies will be made of the same stuff and substance as Jesus’ resurrection body. We will no longer be of earthy dust, but of heavenly spirit. We will have the same image as that of Jesus – not the darkness of earth but reflecting the glory of God. (Which gives an interesting parallel to the illustrations in vss. 39-41 of the varieties of flesh and glories among the universe.)

It is a bit of deep theology, but the theology is important. What difference does it make to us for our bodies to be remade in the resurrection? It makes all the difference for us to experience eternity! How else are we to live eternally, unless we have bodies that are equipped to do so? People today often look to add years to their lives, which is great up to a certain point. If you remain healthy and active all the way to 100 years old, praise God…but not everyone does. Some people might add a few years to their lives, but those years aren’t exactly glorious. Certain drugs might keep our hearts beating, but they don’t necessarily keep us from being bedridden, unable to walk, or otherwise frail. What good would it be to live to 150 years old, if we couldn’t function?

But that is the wonderful promise we have because of all of this theology. Because Jesus is our federal head, our resurrection bodies will be like His own. Because we will bear His heavenly image, being made of the same stuff as Jesus’ own resurrection body, living 150 years is no longer a problem…or 1000 years, or 10,000 years, or 10 billion years. It won’t be eon after eon of weakness and infirmity, but of health and strength and power and joy. The “seed” of our lives on this earth will pass away, but that which God brings forth will be better than we can imagine. It will truly be life to the fullest and it will always be that way.

Understand that this is the culmination of our redemption. When Jesus died for us and rose again from the dead, it was not for us to have a temporary or imaginary hope; it was for us to be guaranteed a permanent everlasting reconciliation with our Creator God. We will always be in His presence, always in joyful fellowship with Him, always living as He designed us to live. We often talk about the promise of heaven…this is what it will be like! In terms of books, heaven isn’t designed to be “the end;” it is “happily ever after.” Life goes on (and on, and on). The way we will experience it is through our glorified, resurrected bodies, made possible through the redemption of Jesus Christ. And that is why this mysterious theology is so very, very good.

Conclusion:

Praise God for the resurrection! Not only for the glorious and fundamental resurrection of Jesus Christ which makes our salvation possible, but for our future resurrection as well. Though certainly mysterious and supernatural, it is logical (reasonable with a sound premise) – it is visible (being already illustrated through various examples on earth) – it is practical (having real benefits to us in heaven) – and it is a vital part of our theology (being the culmination of our redemption in Jesus).

Is it a lot to absorb and comprehend? Yes. Might we still have questions? Sure. But how glorious to know that God has answers for our questions and has plans for our future resurrection, even if we do not fully understand it. God has reasons for all He does because He is the all-wise God.

“Okay, I get it. Even if I don’t totally understand all the details, I get that God has all of it worked out. That’s all well and good for eternity, but how does this help me today? What does this matter to me now, as I try to put bread on the table for my family and get through daily life?” Simple: it’s a matter of perspective. All of these day-to-day issues we worry about today, we won’t always worry about. All of the pains and struggles we have today, we will not always have. In the grand scheme of things, this life is a blip – it is the blink of an eye. What are 70-80 years, in comparison with 10 billion years+ of eternity? It is for that time that we live, to which we look forward, and for which we prepare. Certainly, we want to enjoy every day as God gives it today, for every day from Him is itself a gift. But even the best of the days of this life are mere shadows of what lays ahead for those of us in Jesus. To know what awaits us in eternity…that is the perspective that will help us endure the trials we face now.

Is it being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good? With due respect to Oliver Wendell Holmes, such a thing isn’t possible. The better a vision we have of heaven, the more we desire to live as citizens of it today. The more we long for eternal glory with God, fellowshipping with Him, the more we want other people to experience it with us. We need a right idea of what awaits us in our resurrection if we are to rightly serve our resurrected Jesus today. It gives us the right perspective and helps us maintain our joy, even when it otherwise appears we have no reason to rejoice.

How about you? Have you lost sight of the eternal perspective – have you gotten distracted by the trials of this life to the point that you’ve lost sight of what we are guaranteed in Jesus? Consider again our future resurrection! Because of Christ, you will always be with the Lord. That is His very promise to you and to me. John 14:1–3, “(1) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” We are going to be with Jesus! And not only will we be with Him, we will be with Him forever. That is glorious! And that is a reason to rejoice, even through our temporary tears and troubles.

1 Corinthians 15:12-34, “Questions about the Resurrection”

Questions can be wonderful when asked honestly. They can be annoying, when they are not. There is a difference between telling your child how much you love him or why you love her when asked, and just answering the repeated question “why?” when asked a thousand times from the back seat of the car. Likewise, there is a difference between engaging in a conversation with a nonbeliever about the gospel of Jesus, and getting into an online debate with a confirmed skeptic who just wants to argue.

It ought not to come as a surprise that people have questions about the Christian faith. After all, when we speak of the gospel, we inherently speak of supernatural miracles – things that cannot be duplicated in everyday life. We tell of how Jesus was born of a virgin and is the incarnate God, how He lived among men and women healing the sick and raising the dead, how He died on the cross as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, was buried, and how He rose again to life on the third day, never to die again being fully and physically ascended into heaven. And that’s just the news about Jesus – we haven’t even begun to get into how this living Jesus interacts with men and women today, forgiving us of our sins, filling us with the Holy Spirit, empowering us to do His work, etc. Yes, there are many things about the gospel that is supernatural, and it is only logical that some of those things are difficult for some people to believe.

They might even be difficult for some Christians to believe. Sure, they know the right words to say in church and the right doctrine to affirm. And maybe they even believe it on some level, perhaps out of only a desire to believe what the Bible teaches. But they still struggle with doubts. They aren’t sure how it all works together and wonder at times if they really believe what is true.

It is true. It is real and can/should be believed. How and what we believe about these things has a massive impact on our own walk with Christ, even indicating if we walk with Christ. This is what Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 15.

After addressing many important issues with the Corinthian Christians such as division, discipline, marriage, divorce, worship, spiritual gifts, and more, Paul turned to that which is most important: the gospel. After all, if we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. So, Paul reminded them of its importance, its details, and its trustworthiness. It is the good news by which we are saved, to which we should cling and hold fast. It is the news about Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead all according to the Scriptures. And it was news that could be verified through literally hundreds of credible witnesses, including Paul himself who was personally transformed by the living resurrected Christ.

It is amazing news! But is all of it necessary? After all, the gospel includes some fantastic supernatural doctrine such as the resurrection of the dead. Can the good news still be good if we strip out the supernatural elements? For those who have difficulty believing in miracles, can we still value everything else the Bible tells us about Jesus and the cross, while ignoring the more difficult-to-believe stuff?

This seems to have been the issue in Corinth. In that ancient church, like in many parts of what is known as “Christendom” today, there were people who were skeptical about certain doctrinal truths like the resurrection. Specifically, they had difficulty believing that men and women other than Jesus would be one day raised from the dead. God just doesn’t do that sort of thing, so they thought. (Which seems more than a bit ironic, considering how plentiful the expression of various spiritual gifts were among the church!) They thought themselves too “intellectual” to be caught up with that sort of thing…a problem which had manifested in other ways in the congregation and which Paul already addressed earlier in the letter. They wanted to be wise by the standards of their age, rather than be considered a fool for God (3:18).

The same thing happens today. There are men and women with Ph.D.’s in theology who teach at some of the most famous theological seminaries today, who do not believe basic Biblical truth. They do not believe in the supernatural and thus, do not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. They still label themselves as “Christian,” but they deny the foundations of the gospel.

It is not only foolishness; it is tragic. It guts the Christian faith, harms immature Christians, and does damage to the witness of the church as a whole. It turns the good news of Christ into a make-believe fairy tale, good for nothing except patting ourselves on the backs for how “wise” we believe we are.

This is what Paul tackles head-on in Chapter 15. He shows how the doctrine of the resurrection is essential to the gospel itself, to the overall redemptive plan of God, and to the individual lives of Christians. This is no imaginary belief; it is fact and it is essential truth – without which no one is saved.

Do you believe that God can raise the dead? Only then can you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and only when you believe that can you be saved. Believe!

There is a lot of Scripture to work through in this section. The arguments flow together, making it difficult to break apart without losing the overall context. There are three primary sections, which might be divided according to three questions: What if? What then? What now?

The resurrection is true, which makes the gospel true. Believe and be saved!

1 Corinthians 15:12–34

  • What if? (12-19) The logical results of the resurrection being false.

12 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? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

  1. Recall from the earlier part of the chapter, Paul had declared to the church what he had already preached to the church: the gospel. It was this gospel by which they were saved, and to which they were to hold fast. It was a gospel that could be believed, since Jesus’ physical resurrection was witnessed by so many people: His closest friends, hundreds of people in His wider circle, and even people who were initially skeptics or outright enemies (such as His half-brother James or the apostle Paul as he used to be in his life as a Pharisee). What did that gospel say? That Jesus had “been raised from the dead.
  2. Yet there is more to the doctrine of resurrection than only Jesus’ resurrection. There is the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). There was a general resurrection when all people would eventually stand before God. This was something Jesus taught on many occasions. There was the resurrection for those who had done good and those who had done evil (Jn 5:28-29). There is Jesus’ response to the Sadducees about the resurrection in which people neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mt 22:30-31). There was Jesus’ comfort to Martha about being the resurrection, after her affirmation that there will be a resurrection in the last day (Jn 11:24-25). The idea that people would physically live after death was a doctrine that Jesus taught regularly. To be sure, not all people would participate in the same resurrection, but all people would face some resurrection.
  3. It was this general resurrection that was doubted by some in Corinth. Yet there was one problem…a big problem: to refute the resurrection is to refute the gospel. Without any resurrection, there is no initial resurrection. If God does not ever raise the dead, it means that He did not raise Jesus. That one bit of skepticism is no minor thing. It guts the gospel itself, having many ramifications which Paul lists…

14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.

  1. Ramification #1: Without a risen Christ, we have an “empty” Christianity. “Our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” What is the point of preaching Christ when there is no Christ to preach? If Jesus did not literally rise from the grave, then there is no point in going to church, nor any reason to respond to a gospel invitation. It is an empty message, void of substance, preached in vain. It has nothing to offer because it offers no proven Christ.
    1. Objection: “Surely there is value in Jesus’ moral teaching! He was the greatest teacher who ever lived, regardless if He rose from the grave.” Every single teaching uttered by Jesus is worthless without His literal resurrection. Why? Because He prophesied it no less than three times (and arguably more!). He repeatedly claimed that the Son of Man (referring to Himself) would be delivered to the Jews, killed, and raised up on the third day. If Jesus got the prophecy of His resurrection wrong, it makes Him a false prophet. False prophets are not to be trusted. In fact, if Jesus got the prophecy of His resurrection wrong, it guts His credibility. CS Lewis famously made this point in his seminal work, Mere Christianity. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”[1] Without the resurrection, Jesus is no good moral teacher; He would be someone not worth remembering at all.
  2. Ramification #2: Without a risen Jesus, the apostolic witness is a testimony of lies. Understand that the issue of Jesus’ resurrection was no minor thing to the apostles. It was their primary Jesus’ resurrection is explicitly referenced no less than 13 times in the book of Acts, and implied countless more. Without a resurrection, the apostles have nothing of which to testify. Everything they said of Him would have been a lie. Thus, not only would Jesus’ credibility be worthless, so would be the apostles.
    1. Simply the fact that the apostles consistently agreed on Jesus’ resurrection is a marvelous testimony to its factual truth. When police arrest a group of criminals for a crime, what is the first thing they do to get to the bottom of what happened? Separate them. At some point, someone is going to change his/her story and the whole supposed alibi will fall apart. Yet this never happened with the apostles. They each consistently testified to the real resurrection of Jesus Christ, never once changing their story even in the face of torture and death. They went to their graves proclaiming His resurrected life, verifying that the message is true.

16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

  1. Ramification #3: Without a risen Jesus, we have a “futile” faith. First, Paul called it “empty;” now he calls it “futile.” What makes the difference? The difference in the words is only slight; we need to look at the context. In verse 13-14, the issue was that Christ was not personally risen from the dead, meaning that there was no Christ to preach. This time, the lack of a Christ to preach has a direct effect on those who believe. How so? We have no forgiveness, “you are still in your sins.” To the Roman church, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification,” (Rom 4:25). Our forgiveness is directly tied to Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, it is tied to the cross in that Jesus died as our substitutionary sacrifice. But we only know His substitution was sufficient in Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead. We only have assurance of our justification because Jesus is risen. Think of it: the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). If Jesus remained dead, then the price He paid wasn’t enough to satisfy the wage. If Jesus remained dead, we still have an outstanding fine. The only way we know it was paid in full is through His resurrection. Yes, Jesus declared it from the cross (“Tetelestai! ~ It is finished!” Jn 19:30), but the only way we know His declaration was valid is through His resurrected life.
    1. Note what this means for those who do not have faith in the risen Jesus: you too, are still in your sins. Only faith in the risen Christ guarantees us forgiveness from sin and eternal life; without faith in the true risen Jesus, you have no such guarantee.

18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

  1. Ramification #4: Without a risen Jesus, there is no hope for those who are dead. Think of all the funerals of our loved ones. Granted, in the cases of those who die without faith, we must sadly admit that they “have perished.” Yes, they will rise for the final judgment, but it is only for them to be forever damned. It is tragic, but it is true. (Which underscores the importance for each of us to settle the question of our salvation now!) But when we attend memorial services for Christians, we have marvelous hope that they are in the presence of God, being absent from the body yet present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). Yet without God raising the dead, and specifically without Jesus’ own resurrection, that hope is dashed – it’s gone. It means that every funeral should be mourned as those who die in their sins and all hope is gone.
  2. Ramification #5: Without a risen Jesus, Christians are “pitiable” fools. How sad and pathetic it would be for us to live out our days deluded, believing in a powerless Christ! If all we held so was some philosophical theory about Christ without any tie to reality, then we are no different from those who believe in leprechauns and unicorns and the Easter Bunny. Moreover, what use is there to suffer for Christ, if Christ is not raised from the dead? Paul will expand on this idea later in the passage, but he alludes to it here. How pathetic it would be for so many people around the world to suffer and die for the sake of Christ, if everything we know about Jesus is a lie.

Those are a bunch of hypothetical questions from Paul, but they need to be asked. What if it isn’t real? What if the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen? Is there still something to gain from Christianity? No. Without a real resurrected Jesus, we have nothing to believe and no reason to believe. We have no hope for eternity and no reason for current suffering. We might as well all go home, for otherwise we’re just wasting our time.

Lest this seem to be a bunch of ancient hypotheticals with no bearing on our present-day church, think again! This is the issue still presented by liberal theologians who wear the label of Christianity but deny its doctrine. This is the issue presented by the social justice warriors, who want to see what people can squeeze out of the morality of the New Testament while gutting it of its main message of redemption through Jesus. Just this past week, the newest senator for Georgia, the “Rev.” Raphael Warnock posted a tweet saying “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”[2] He since deleted the tweet, but the message was clear: in his mind, the resurrection of Jesus does not matter. Let us not mince words: he is a heretic and a false teacher. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christianity nor is there any salvation.

We do need to ask the questions of “what if,” and we also need to examine their answers. Simply put, “what if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?” means that we have no hope in Christ nor any reason to believe anything the Bible says about Him. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we have no gospel and no faith. 

But Jesus did rise from the dead and it makes all the difference in the world!

  • What then? (20-28) The plans of God regarding the resurrection.

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

  1. After all the hypothetical questions of “what if,” it is so refreshing to get Paul’s resounding answer. “Christ is risen from the dead!” Jesus is alive, which was the consistent testimony of Paul throughout his ministry. More than a statement of faith, Paul was a personal eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus and could say without hesitation that yes, Jesus is risen from the dead, and yes, it truly matters that He did!
  2. Additionally, Jesus’ personal resurrection is also the guarantee of our own individual resurrections. Remember that this was at the heart of the Corinthians’ skepticism. Some among them claimed “that there is no resurrection of the dead,” (15:12) and this was the issue that kicked off Paul’s discussion. His answer is: yes, God raises the dead; yes, Jesus is risen from the dead, and yes, we will also rise from the dead. These things go together. Jesus’ resurrection shows Him to be “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The idea of “firstfruits” goes back to the Hebrew harvest offerings to God. They were commanded to bring their firstfruits (the initial parts of their harvests) to the Lord, giving Him the first and the best in their worship and acknowledging God as the one who gave them their crops. Here, Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. (“Those have fallen asleep” is simply a euphemism to refer to death; nothing more.) In other words, Jesus is the first of many to come. Our resurrection is tied to His own.

21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.

  1. The doctrine is view is that of federal headship, something with Paul explores in detail in Romans 5. Time forbids a thorough examination, but we can summarize it as this: When Adam sinned, his spiritual nature died exactly according to God’s warning. God had told Adam that if he ate of the forbidden fruit, that “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die,” (Gen 2:17). Adam did and Adam died. Not physically (though his physical death did eventually come), but spiritually speaking, Adam died that very day. That nature of death was passed to each of us, for we are all born of Adam’s lineage. He is our federal head. Yet Jesus came as the second Adam, serving as another federal head. Whereas Adam brought sin and death, Jesus brings the gift of life to all who believe.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the overall point. Paul has been addressing the skepticism of those who doubted the general resurrection of the saints. Here, he shows that because Jesus is risen from the dead, it serves as proof that all will be risen from the dead. After all, death spread to all men through Adam. Likewise, “in Christ all shall be made alive.” Again, it is the issue of federal headship. Our federal head passes on what can be given to those who are under him and in him.
    1. It comes down to this: Who is your federal head? Are you still in Adam, or are you in Christ? That Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that “all shall be made alive” does not guarantee that all people will be saved. It just means that all will be raised. Only those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus in faith as our God and Head are those who know we are saved. 
  3. To emphasize the point, every single man and woman will be raised from the dead. Again, Jesus spoke clearly about two resurrections: the resurrection of life and of condemnation (Jn 5:29). The book of Revelation shows the same thing. There is the first resurrection (which lasts a long period of time, beginning with Jesus’ own resurrection, the resurrection/rapture of the church, and the resurrection of the tribulation saints), and then the second resurrection of the unjust, taking place after the 1000 years of the Millennial Kingdom concluding with the Great White Throne judgment. 

24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

  1. What Paul summarizes in a few verses is described in detail by John in Revelation 20. At Jesus’ return, Satan is cast into the bottomless pit and chained for a thousand years, preventing him from deceiving the nations. Jesus will rule the world in righteousness and all the promises regarding the future kingdom seen in all the psalms and prophets will come to fruition. It will be a glorious time during which wolves will lay down with lambs and the nations will flow to Jerusalem to give glory to Jesus. Yet at the end of the thousand years, Satan is released from his bonds and he deceives the nations one final time to rise in rebellion against God. Fire comes from heaven to destroy the enemy armies, over which Jesus has complete victory and Satan is himself cast into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. After that comes the resurrection of the unjust and the final judgment at the Great White Throne when anyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life is cast into the lake of fire, along with Death and Hades itself. Truly, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” Between the literal destruction of death and the resurrection to life for all who believe in Jesus, it is no wonder Paul can declare at the end of Chapter 15: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (15:55) Jesus conquers all!

27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

  1. The quotation is from Psalm 8:6, which at first glance might seem out of context. Psalm 8:4–8, “(4) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (5) For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (6) You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, (7) All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, (8) The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.” After writing of the glories of God and how God created the infinite universe, David wondered why God would pay any attention to human men at all. Men and women are a little lower in the order of creation than the angels, even as we (through Adam) have been given dominion over the animal kingdom. – How does Paul relate that to Christ? Through the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul saw (like the writer of Hebrews) that Jesus in His incarnation was made a little lower than the angels when He was made a man (Heb 2:7-9), so if this humility applies to Christ, so does this exaltation. Although the immediate picture of the psalm speaks of mankind, the prophetic picture is that of Jesus, who truly has been given dominion over all things. In fact, Jesus affirmed this Himself just before He ascended to the Father: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” (Mt 28:18). Jesus has all authority today in name and by right; He will exercise it in fulfillment during the Millennial Kingdom.
  2. As for Paul’s point in quoting the psalm, he simply affirms Jesus’ ultimate authority and exaltation. Jesus is not one who has been put under anything or anyone; He is the one under Whom all things have been put. The only Being in all the universe to whom Jesus subjects Himself to is God the Father, and that through His gracious humility. Jesus is Himself the Almighty God, but willingly submits Himself to the righteous order being under the headship of the Father (11:3).

Don’t lose sight of the overall theme. Paul was asking how any Christian could reject the doctrine of resurrection. Without God raising the dead, Jesus wouldn’t be raised from the dead and our faith would be in vain. (The question of “what if.”) Similarly, the removal of the resurrection dramatically impacts the overall redemptive plan of God. Jesus’ resurrection proves our own future resurrection, which is directly tied into Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom and His ultimate victory over death. It is because Jesus is risen from the dead that we have hope in the future victory of Christ!

Question: Does someone have to understand all this deep theology regarding the end-times to be saved? No. Salvation is a matter of faith in Christ, according to the gospel. To the Romans, Paul put it as simply as it comes: Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”That is what is required for salvation; not a certain eschatological viewpoint. But the more we understand about the future plan of God, the more we will hold to the basic truths of Jesus. The more we know about what Jesus will do, the tighter we will hold to Him right now. 

  • What now? (29-34) What the resurrection means for current ministry and action.

29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?

  1. What exactly does Paul mean by the baptism of the dead? No one knows. Some have counted over 200 various interpretations of this verse, with certain theories being better than others. One idea is that Christians underwent baptism for some believers who died before they had the chance to be baptized themselves. Another is that it is a reference to a pagan practice, which would itself be illogical if there was no real resurrection of the dead. Another idea is that Paul refers to death symbolically, as baptism signifies our death to sin & to our old self, while we rise out of the water to new life in Jesus’ resurrection. Theories abound, with no common consensus.
  2. One thing we can say from this passage is that there is no commendation from Paul regarding the practice. Paul does not even include himself in the number that participates. (“What will they do… Why then are they baptized…”) Although certain cultic groups like the Mormons use this verse as justification for the baptism of the dead, it is a misuse of the verse and a violation of the principle of not allowing any Scripture to be of any private interpretation (2 Pt 1:20). We may not know what this verse says exactly, but we do know Paul did not recommend it.

30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

  1. Paul alluded to this earlier in verse 19, regarding how Christians without a resurrected Christ are pathetic and to be pitied. He fleshes it out a bit more. Why would he (or anyone else) endure constant persecution? Paul was under no illusion of the cost of being a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. He bore in his own body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal 6:17), referring to his many scars and physical infirmities. As he wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul had received whippings (“stripes”), beatings with rods, imprisonment, stoning, and more (2 Cor 11:23-25). He put himself in constant “jeopardy” for the sake of the gospel. Even in “Ephesus,” the city to which Paul went after his initial ministry in Corinth, he faced the “beasts” in the form of a city riot which erupted due to his preaching against idolatry (Acts 19). Paul could write back to Corinth that all of those things were pointless, if Jesus Christ was not truly risen from the dead.
  2. Without a real resurrection confirming a real Jesus as the Christ and a real gospel, all the suffering was pointless. Paul may as well have been a hedonist. The motto “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” makes a lot of sense for those who have no faith in Christ and do not fear any judgment from God. Why not live it up in the present day? Why not experience all the pleasures of the flesh, if there is no judgment to face, nor any hope for salvation? Without a real resurrected Jesus, neither Paul nor any other Christian has any reason to willingly endure persecution and suffering.
    1. Consider how many Christians suffer around the world today? And not only in the eastern hemisphere, but here also in the west. Gracelife Church near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada has not only had its pastor jailed for preaching the gospel, but the local police set up fencing around the church to prevent anyone from attending.[3] Why would they take those kinds of risks, if Jesus was not really risen from the dead? Why would going to church matter at all, if Jesus’ resurrection was not real? – But it IS real! And because Jesus is risen from the dead, all of the risk and potential suffering is worth it. Consider what Jesus endured for us? Surely we can endure for Him (and we can trust Him to equip us for it through the Holy Spirit).

33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

  1. A lack of belief in the resurrection meant that the Corinthians were being deceived by false teachers. They were hanging around the wrong people, which led to some very bad results. Paul quoted a Greek poet rather than an Old Testament Scripture, but the proverb is no less true. “Evil company corrupts good habits.” When we associate with sinful people, we adopt their sinful practices. When we sit under bad teachers, we believe bad doctrine. Just because a person is nice or charismatic or engaging when he/she teaches, it doesn’t mean that the person is a qualified Biblical teacher. We need to examine the person’s doctrine. Do the things they teach demonstrate a knowledge of God? Not everyone does. Interestingly, the phrase “some do not have the knowledge of God” might better be translated, “some have ignorance of God,” with the word “ignorance” being the same word from which we get our “agnostic.” Apparently, the Corinthians had allowed ignorant agnostic teachers to influence some of their number away from the Biblical doctrine of resurrection, something that was shameful.
  2. How careful we need to be to avoid doctrinal corruption! Especially on matters of first importance like the resurrection or the overall gospel. These are non-negotiables for Christians. We expect people of the world to cast doubt on issues like the physical resurrection, the deity of Christ, or the historicity of the Bible; it should be abhorrent when seen among people who claim to be of the church. Whenever you see a theological expert or pastor interviewed on the news or in a documentary, pay attention to his/her doctrine. The moment they violate essential issues of the faith is the moment you can know they have lost all credibility. In fact, the moment they cast doubt on any Biblical text is the moment you turn them off. It is far too common for professing believers to have their faith rocked by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on their door, claiming that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. Or, for that matter, Mormons who claim that the Bible is not the complete, sufficient word of God. These are not secondary issues – these are not things over which we can find compromise. Beware of what kind of company you keep, that your good doctrine (which is the basis for all your actions) is not corrupted.

Doubt in the resurrection was not a mere academic debate. This wasn’t something like arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. It wasn’t a minor issue over which theologians obsessed but didn’t matter to the bulk of the church. On the contrary – it was a primary issue that had major present-day ramifications for Paul and everyone in the Corinthian church. It affected whether Paul had a reason to endure the things he did – it was a sign of the kind of associations and influences that the Corinthians were allowing into their church. To waver on fundamental doctrine was to get a look at the health of the church…and it wasn’t good.

Doctrine does matter. There are many issues within Biblical Christianity over which we can disagree, even when we have good Scriptural arguments. What kind of government should a local church have? How might a church use spiritual gifts, or should a church look for them at all? What is the timing of the rapture within the overall plan of God? These are all important issues, but they are secondary ones. Other things are not. Who Jesus is, is a doctrine that matters. What Jesus does, is a doctrine that matters. How Jesus saves, is a doctrine that matters. These are things that, if we veer from the truth, leads to sinful corruption, perhaps even becoming stumbling blocks from other people getting saved. These are things we need to guard, and the truth of which, to which we should cling.

Conclusion:

Paul answered a lot of questions! Sure, he asked most of them himself (being that he wrote the letter!), but these were the questions that were on the minds of many in Corinth. Some within the church had descended into skepticism, doubting even the primary doctrine of resurrection. Paul answered “what if,” showing that no resurrection meant no resurrected Jesus, and thus, no faith. He answered “what then,” showing the overall plan that God has for Jesus because of the resurrection. He answered “what now,” showing that this doctrinal discussion had a direct impact on their everyday lives.

The resurrection matters. Doctrine matters. The fundamentals of the gospel are not up for negotiation. They are not minor issues, debated only by people with academic degrees, having no bearing on the normal people in the pews. These issues go straight to the heart of our faith, determining if we have faith in the true God.

Some of you have dealt with ongoing doubt. Yes, you believe…or, at least you want to believe. Although there is much about Jesus that you might not understand, you do want to believe the truth. It’s just that some of it is so fantastic that you don’t know what to do with it. Guess what? You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Prior to the 1949 crusades in Los Angeles, Billy Graham struggled with doubts of his own. His best friend and ministry partner Charles Templeton had become an apostate, forsaking the Lord, choosing atheism (or agnosticism) instead. Billy’s mind struggled to wrap around the questions that Templeton were raising. One night, Billy held his Bible and fell to his knees, praying, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!”[4] Maybe you need to draw your own line in the sand, making a similar declaration by faith.

It isn’t that there aren’t answers to the intellectual questions (there are!), but at some point we need to choose to believe. Especially when it comes to primary, fundamental, gospel issues. There are some debates we might never fully resolve (predestination vs. freewill, etc.) and that is okay. But we need solid faith on the issues that matter. On those things, we need to be firm. That is what will keep us holding fast to Jesus when attacks from the enemy come. And they will come. Skeptics will assail us – TV and movies will attempt to show how “intellectual” people reject the Bible – other wolves in sheep’s clothing will come looking like Christian believers while getting us to compromise on the gospel. How will we endure those things? When we hold fast to Jesus – when we hold fast to His truth.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1996. 56.

[2] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/warnock-deletes-easter-tweet-amid-backlash

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/gracelife-church-edmonton-covid-1.5977931

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/the-tree-stump-prayer-where-billy-graham-overcame-doubt/

In this Resurrection Sunday message, we continue with Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians as he reminds them of the gospel he had previously preached to them. The gospel is *central* to our faith. It is foundational, it is factual, and it is transformational. Hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ!

The Gospel

Posted: April 4, 2021 in 1 Corinthians
Tags: , ,

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.

The Answer of the Resurrection

Posted: April 12, 2020 in Mark
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Resurrection Sunday 2020

Mark 16:1-20, “The Answer of the Resurrection”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! That is good news – gloriously good news! That Jesus is risen from the dead is the declaration from God that Jesus is God, and that the price He paid on the cross for our sins is fully sufficient. That Jesus is risen from the dead is our assurance that our sins can be forgiven, and that we have the opportunity to be made the children of God and go to heaven, living in everlasting life. It is good news…if you believe. It is good news available to all the world, but we know that all the world is not saved. Only those who believe this news are those who experience its benefits, and for that, we need faith. Not fear, not doubt; faith. We need to trust that Jesus really is the Son of God crucified for our sins and risen from the dead. Only those who fully believe those facts, fully entrusting ourselves to the Living Jesus are saved.

That’s exactly what we read in all four gospels, including the gospel of Mark. Of all the resurrection and post-resurrection account, the gospel of Mark’s is perhaps the most controversial. In many Bible translations, verse 9 and following are included in brackets or somehow otherwise set apart, with an explanatory note saying how the ending of Mark 16 is not included in the oldest available manuscripts. That statement is true, but it is also true that verses 9-20 of Mark 16 are included in the vast majority of Biblical manuscripts around the world and was referenced by Church Fathers older than the oldest manuscripts.

For our purposes today, we are not arguing that Mark the Evangelist was necessarily the original author of these words; only that these verses were the ending of his gospel as accepted along with the rest of the book by the early church as being received Scripture. These are verses that have taught and blessed the church for nearly two thousand years, continuing to do so today.

Why look at these verses at all, being that they’re so controversial? Especially on a day like Easter / Resurrection Sunday, why pick this chapter out of all the other chapters we could read? First of all, any account of Jesus’ resurrection is appropriate, because any of the other Biblical accounts are Biblical. This includes Mark, and his account shows something unusual, though important. On this day that we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we can see that the initial reaction of the initial Christians wasn’t so great. The earliest witnesses to Jesus wrestled with their own fears and unbelief. They weren’t sure how to handle the news of the empty tomb in light of the world around them.

We might find ourselves in a similar position today. As wonderful as the news of Jesus’ resurrection is, we also struggle with fear, skepticism, and unbelief. We’re also uncertain what to do with the empty tomb in our world as we know it today. Even if we take comfort in our assurance of eternal life, we still have this present life in front of us, and it has become something we barely recognize. We have to deal with coronavirus, financial uncertainties, and other fears about the future. How do we handle these things in light of the resurrection? What does Jesus’ resurrection offer us today?

In a word: hope. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is not only news for the future, but for the present. Jesus offers us hope to walk in faith; not fear – to live in confidence; not unbelief. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Don’t fear; believe. And once you believe, preach Him!

We’ll see it in three main words that sum up the major sections of Mark 16: fear, unbelief, rebuke. When the women were at the empty tomb, they feared. When first told of the news, the disciples did not believe. When Jesus appeared to all, He rebuked them and commissioned them.

In His resurrection, Jesus gives us what we need to face this world…we need to face it in faith!

Mark 16

  • The women’s fear (1-8)

1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

  1. As Mark 16 opens, several questions are asked and answered off the bat: Who came to the tomb? Several of the women who believed in Jesus. Two of the Mary’s and Salome. Their backgrounds can be dealt with at another time – suffice for now, that these were women who had loved Jesus as their King, followed Him faithfully as female disciples, were present during the course of His crucifixion, and had seen Him buried after He died. These were women truly devoted to Jesus, and their devotion continued after His death.
  2. When did they come? After “the Sabbath…very early in the morning, on the first day of the week.” e., in the wee hours of Sunday morning. By some accounts it was still dark, while by other accounts light was just breaking. Those who are routinely up at 5am know exactly what that’s like…it is the twilight before the dawn, when it is both dark and with the barest hint of light. The bottom line for the women is that they came at their first opportunity. They were not allowed to go anywhere on the Sabbath, which started Friday at sunset, lasting until Saturday at sunset. They wouldn’t go anywhere Saturday night after dark, so they went first thing Sunday morning. They weren’t wasting any time whatsoever.
  3. Why did they come? To pack Jesus’ body with “spices,” a cultural practice among the Jews at the time. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus’ body was already well-packed with spices (a hundred pounds’ worth! – Jn 19:39), but the ladies wanted to express their devotion as well. Although they couldn’t afford the kingly gift of Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, they could give what they had…and surely their widows’ mites were abundantly sufficient!

3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

  1. The women had a plan to go to the tomb, but they didn’t have a plan as to what to do when they arrived. They knew the tomb was blocked with a massive stone, and they didn’t have a clue as to what they were going to do about it. Beyond the weight of the stone, there were other problems, namely the Roman guard and the seal placed over the front of the grave (both unmentioned by Mark). Moving the stone was a massive problem (literally), but it wasn’t the biggest one they faced. They also had to deal with the weight of the Roman empire standing in the way between them and Jesus.
  2. As it turns out, neither was a problem! Instead of a stone, instead of a Roman guard, they found an angel of God. Granted, the actual term “angel” is not used, but there’s little doubt as to what this being was. Notice there is no description of wings or halos or cherubs; instead, it is of a young man clothed in white, “sitting on the right side” (which itself an interesting detail, not from a theological viewpoint, but just as an affirmation of an accurate eyewitness account). Doubtless the angel was not “young” from a chronological point of view (being that the angels were likely created before humans), but it looked young. In fact, from Mark’s telling of the event (which was likely Peter’s own account), this angel did not look imposing at all. Certainly, he could The angel that passed through Egypt and passed over the houses of the Hebrews caused the death of thousands upon thousands. The angel that protected Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night (2 King 19:35). The angel could have appeared imposing, as a massive bronzed hulk shining bright with God’s own glory, but he didn’t. Instead, he appeared as a young man in a white robe. Why? Because the angel was the most impressive thing there – the angel wasn’t supposed to be the center of attention. That belonged to Jesus’ resurrection, and the empty tomb.
    1. In our celebration of Easter (and in our Christianity in general), we need to keep the main thing, the main thing! It isn’t about our fanfare – it isn’t about our traditions. As much as we might miss our sunrise services, our Sunday feasts, or our large worship team of musicians – those things aren’t the main thing. The main thing is Jesus, risen from the dead. If all we can do this year is remember the Resurrected Jesus, then that is more than enough!
  3. The reaction of the women? “They were alarmed.” One Greek dictionary describes this word as “to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of something causing great surprise or perplexity,” (BDAG). (Ya think?!) It is no wonder that these women were alarmed! They had the surprise of their lives in front of them, and no doubt their emotional state was “intense,” to say the least. Who among us wouldn’t? Male or female, any one of us would have been in a state of near-panic upon encountering an angel at the tomb. It was shocking enough to see the stone rolled away, akin to visiting the grave of a loved one only to find the dirt dug up and thrown to the side. But then to see a shining figure of a young man calmly awaiting your arrival (or two men, according to Luke, with only one of them speaking). “Alarm” would be the bare minimum of our emotional state!

6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.

  1. Amen! The first-ever announcement of Jesus’ resurrection! The proclamation of the gospel is seen in the change of tenses. It’s all about “Jesus of Nazareth,” the Man who these women had believed to be the Messiah of God. He truly “was crucified” – He had been killed on the cross, verified as dead by the Roman centurion, and taken down by His (once secret) followers and friends for burial. That was what had happened. The women had seen all these things with their own eyes, and knew it to be their recent past. But it wasn’t their present. Presently, Jesus “is risen,” (something which never changes) and then-currently “is not” Jesus’ body was not in the tomb, but that fact by itself could have been very bad news. Maybe there was a grave-robbery – maybe there was a conspiracy by the Romans and Jewish priests. But there was a wonderful explanation for the absence of Jesus’ body: “He is risen.” Jesus is alive, and Jesus will always be alive. He is forever risen from the dead, never to die again!
    1. That’s not only wonderful news, but it is wonderfully unique. Remember that these women had seen Jesus raise the dead before. During His earthly ministry, Jesus revived several people who had recently died, and He even resurrected Lazarus when Lazarus was four days dead and in the grave. Lazarus’ body wasn’t only dead, but had begun the process of rot and decay – something which initially caused his sister Martha to be hesitant to see Jesus work a miracle (Jn 11:39). But all of these raisings were temporary. Not a one who was raised or revived was guaranteed to remain alive. Each one of them would die again. Not so, with Jesus. With Jesus, “He is risen,” something that is just as true today as it was nearly 2000 years ago when announced to Mary Magdalene and the others. Jesus is the only One who is risen, being the firstfruits of those risen from the dead, and this is the definitive proof that Jesus is vastly more than just another son of Mary raised in Nazareth; He is the Son of God sent to save the world.
    2. Is this what you believe? Those who do have the promise of living in heaven with our living Risen Jesus – we have the guarantee of God for eternal life. It is as Jesus told Martha: John 11:25–26, “(25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (26) And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”” Those who believe, live eternally with Jesus; those who don’t, don’t. Be one who believes!
  2. The angel knew what the women sought, and he couldn’t show them what they were seeking. Instead, he showed them something far better: nothing. Instead of an occupied tomb where the women might use their spices and place flowers, there was an empty bench where Jesus’ body would have originally laid. There were grave clothes tossed aside, along with a face-napkin neatly folded (according to John). There was nothing they expected, but there was something infinitely better! (Some unmet expectations are wonderful!)

7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

  1. Not only did the angel give the first post-resurrection gospel message, he also gave the first post-resurrection gospel command. The women were told to engage in evangelism – not of the masses, but of their friends, the disciples of Jesus. The eleven who survived (Judas Iscariot having departed after betraying Jesus, and soon killing himself for shedding innocent blood) were to be told of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only that, they were to be told of Jesus’ continuing work. “He is going before you into Galilee.” That was where Jesus had done the bulk of His earthly ministry, and it was as if Jesus was picking right back up where all of them had left off prior to going to Jerusalem for the Passover. The price for sin had been fully paid, but there was more ministry to be done, more preparation and teaching for the disciples before they were sent out as Jesus’ ambassadors and heralds to the world. The disciples (and all who followed the Lord at this point) would see Him for themselves…exactly as Jesus had planned for them to do. (“…as He said to you.”)
  2. Notice the specific call-out of Peter with the rest of the disciples. Peter was himself a disciple, but no doubt he felt unworthy to be numbered among them. Thursday night going into Friday, Peter had failed the Lord Jesus miserably, having caved to the people who noticed he had been a follower of Jesus, and Peter denied the Lord. Earlier that night, he swore vehemently that every other disciple might fall away, but Peter himself would never deny Jesus. (That itself being a denial of Jesus’ own prophetic gift and knowledge, as Jesus told Peter exactly what would happen.) Of course, the sad irony was that all of the disciples left Jesus to some extent, but Peter’s failure was worse than all of them put together (excepting Judas). Peter didn’t only leave Jesus’ side; Peter denied even knowing Jesus, pretending to be an ignorant stranger to what was happening. Yet what was the word of the angel to Peter (via the women)? Peter was still one of the disciples, and Peter was to join the rest of them in Galilee. Peter, just like the others, would see Jesus for himself. Although Peter had abandoned the Lord, the Lord would not abandon him. Jesus was still extending His compassion and grace.
    1. Have you ever failed Jesus? More accurately: when was the last time you failed Jesus? We’ve all done it, and sadly, we’ll all do it sometime again. But there is good news to us who believe: Jesus does not fail us! Jesus does not abandon us. Though we are faithless, He is faithful. He loves us and extends His compassion and grace to us, just like He did with Peter. All it takes is for us to seek Him in humble repentance, and His restoration is at hand.

8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

  1. The women were obedient in going out, but their attitude and emotion as they left might seem to be unexpected. Instead of rejoicing at the news of the angel and dancing all the way home, they “fled from the tomb” in trembling fear, being overwhelmed at the things they saw. The emotion that described them best in this moment wasn’t joy, but fear, “for they were afraid.
  2. Why? Should they have been fearful – or was this a lack of faith on their part? There is certainly a lack of faith among the disciples of Jesus (which we’ll see in a moment), but for the women, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t seem to be that they disbelieved the angel…it seems that it took a while for the news to sink in. And why wouldn’t it? We look back with nearly 2000 years of familiarity with the events of Easter Sunday; they walked through it in real-time for the first time. Although Jesus had told His disciples on multiple occasions that He would suffer and be crucified in Jerusalem to later rise from the dead, all of that seemed so unreal at the time that it never really sunk into the hearts of those listening to Him. That would have included the women as well as the male disciples. Surely, Jesus was speaking in hyperbole (so they thought) – surely He was using some sort of spiritual expression they did not yet understand. They didn’t realize that when Jesus prophesied His suffering, death, and resurrection, that Jesus spoke literally. There was no spiritualized underlying meaning; it was simple, literal truth. Now that it was all happening, it is no wonder why the women didn’t know what to make of it. Their fear was all too understandable.

Fear is understandable…it’s something to which all of us relate. The person who claims never to fear is a person who not only lies to others, but lies to himself. To be sure, none of us has to continually walk in fear, because God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear – and we won’t walk in fear when we walk in faith. But that doesn’t mean that fear won’t assail us from time to time. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get hit by a tragedy, and lapse into fear, if only briefly. Fear is natural – it’s a part of the fall, and all of us experience it.

Fear is especially natural when it comes to death. Even those of us who have full confidence and faith that we will see Jesus face-to-face in heaven still deal with some level of fear with dying. None of us wants to die on the operating room table. We pray for one another to be healed from sickness. We don’t want to leave our beloved family behind. There are all kinds of uncertainties that accompany death, even for born-again Christians. But this is where the good news of the resurrection comes in: Jesus has conquered death, so Jesus takes away our reason for fear. Jesus has defeated death, so Jesus’ resurrection defeats the grip that death’s fears have on us.

Fear may be natural, but it need not last. Why? Because Jesus is risen from the dead!

  • The disciples’ unbelief (9-13)

9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

  1. Before the account tells us of the apostles, it first gives us a bit of background on Mary Magdalene. Although many people have associated her with having a background as a prostitute, the Bible never actually makes that direct connection. What it does tell us is her hometown (Magdala, in which there were many prostitutes), and her past demon possession. She was a former demoniac, freed by the grace and power of Jesus. That in itself is a wonderful testimony. So, why is the reader reminded of this here? Because it had a direct affect on her credibility. From a cultural standpoint (wrong as it was), the testimony of a woman was not as valuable as a man. A woman’s word could be easily doubted. That a woman would be the first to testify of a Risen Jesus made the account doubtful enough. Combine it with the fact that she had a past history with demons (seven demons, at that!), it made the testimony of Mary more than a little sketchy with the male disciples. They would naturally wonder if she was hallucinating, or perhaps falling back into past events. There she was, telling the most unbelievable story: Jesus’ body was gone from a tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers, that there was an angel, and that Jesus was bodily alive and would meet them in Galilee. No doubt, several of the men were saying to themselves, “Poor dear, she’s beside herself.” 
  2. Of course, the problem wasn’t with Mary; it was with the disciples. She had all the credibility required, being an eyewitness to the empty tomb, as well as receiving an angelic testimony that supported Jesus’ own previous prophetic words. She had far more evidence for Jesus’ resurrection than the apostles had for doubting her. But doubt, they did: “they did not believe.” Literally, faith was negated within them – they had no belief whatsoever in her words.
  3. It doesn’t speak highly of the apostles, does it? These were men who had followed Jesus for years, seen His miracles, and were fully convinced He was the Messiah. They knew His words of prophecy, including the (seemingly) unbelievable ones that He would rise from the dead. Yet when given the glorious news that Jesus had risen from the dead, what was their first reaction? Faithlessness…unbelief.
    1. It may not speak highly of the apostles, but it certainly speaks highly of the truth of the gospel record! Their reaction of unbelief to the testimony of a former demoniac woman tells us much about the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. How so? Because people who make up stories about themselves always make themselves look good. If a group of Galilean fishermen wanted to invent stories about Jesus to make Him look like the resurrected Messiah, then they wouldn’t have had His first witness be a woman (much less a former demoniac), nor would they have painted themselves as a bunch of skeptical unbelieving scaredy-cats. Instead, if they wanted the most people possible to believe them, they would have shown the apostles arriving at the empty tomb, with the glorious Lord Jesus standing in front of them, all of them walking off into the sunset together. But that isn’t what the gospel records show. They show the least credible witness talking with weak-willed, faithless disciples. The only reason to show themselves in that light was if it was true. And it is!

12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

  1. This is a condensed account of what Luke describes in the famed walk to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). In a disguised form, Jesus walked and talked with two of His followers as they went along the road, only finally revealing Himself to them as He broke bread at supper, at which point He vanished. The two men ran all the way back to Jerusalem that same night and told the rest…and still, they didn’t believe. By this point, the number of witnesses was growing. It started with the women, they had a partial testimony from Peter and John, and now had another full testimony from two other men. But it wasn’t enough. The rest of the disciples still lacked faith.

A lack of faith is a dangerous thing! Someone can be around the things of Jesus for years, and still not believe. That was the case with the original disciples – it is so often the case with many in the church. Men and women show up week after week. They’ve heard the Bible stories – they put on their Easter best and show up for Christmas Eve. They know all of the Christian “routines” and are faithful in following each one. But their faithfulness in their religion isn’t grounded upon faith in Jesus. True faith is believing the testimony about Jesus’ resurrection. True faith is knowing that our Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, reigning from heaven at the right hand of God. True faith is knowing with absolute assurance that our sins are forgiven, only because Jesus died for us and rose again. True faith has nothing to do with our church familiarity; it has everything to do with our familiarity with the Risen Jesus.

  • The Lord’s rebuke and command (14-20)

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

  1. Finally, Jesus “appeared” to the rest of the disciples, just as He had appeared on the road to Emmaus and to the women (earlier in the morning, unrecorded by Mark). This time, He was instantly recognizable, and there was no doubt that the men were seated in the presence of their Friend, Rabbi, and Lord. John remembers that it was all during that same day, so it was likely right after the report from the men who went to Emmaus (right at the same moment the disciples were disbelieving them), that was when Jesus appeared to the entire group, though the doors were shut (locked). Can you imagine the shock? You’ve disbelieved every report that came to you about Jesus’ resurrection, and even while you’re still debating the last report, there Jesus is standing in your midst. All of a sudden, all doubts dissipate as you stare with wide (yet incredulous) eyes at your God and King!
  2. From other gospel accounts, we know that Jesus’ first words to His disciples were comforting (“Pease be with you,” Jn 20:19), but the first real address to them was one of rebuke. Like their ancestors of old, the disciples were stiff-necked, stubborn, and hard of heart. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, they had been slow to believe, and this time was no different. Jesus rightly rebuked them, telling them that they should have believed the testimony of others who came to them.
    1. I wonder how many men and women will receive a rebuke from the Lord when they stand before Him for judgment? The words “Depart from Me, I never knew you” will be heard by tragic multitudes! How many times must we hear the testimony of Jesus’ cross and resurrection before we believe? How many times must we receive the conviction of the Holy Spirit, yet ignore Him? How many times must God reach out to us in grace, before we humble ourselves in repentance and faith? Thankfully, for many of us, we have believed…but so many others have not. Today, yet again, Christ reaches out to you in mercy and grace, and you have the opportunity to believe and be saved. Do not harden your heart – don’t do as you’ve always done, turning away from His open arms. One day you’ll find that it’s too late.
    2. For the rest of us, we have gratefully believed upon Jesus through the grace of God. Even so, we are slow to believe His promises. Have we too, earned a rebuke from the Lord? He said He’d never leave us nor forsake us, but we accuse Him of abandoning us. He said He’d give us grace that is sufficient, yet we don’t trust Him enough to turn to Him for it. He said His yoke is easy & His burden is light, but we try to do it all on our own. Our rebuke might be different, but it is just as well-earned! Don’t be unbelieving & slow of heart; believe!

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

  1. As is the case with the record in Matthew, the emphasis here isn’t on “going,” but on “preaching.” In Matthew’s account, the primary verb is “make disciples;” here, it’s “preach,” (which accomplishes the same end). Wherever we go, we are to preach – we just preach as we go. Certainly that was the case with the disciples and early church. Wherever they were, they preached the good news of Jesus to others, they themselves became disciples of Jesus, believed, were baptized, and we saved.
  2. Who was to preach? Jesus’ disciples. To whom were they to preach? Every creature. Obviously, referring to every person. Jesus does not command us to preach to every cat, dog, fish, microbe, etc. Humans are who sinned against God, and humans are who need salvation. Obviously, the idea is to preach to allTo every creature” breaks past every national & ethnic prejudice. If you have been created by God, then you need the gospel of Jesus. (And we are the ones to take that gospel to them!)
  3. Note: baptism is associated with belief, but baptism is irrelevant without belief. People put too much emphasis on the need to be baptized, as if baptism itself saves us. It doesn’t. Per Jesus’ words, the person “who does not believe will be condemned,” including anyone who is/isn’t baptized. Baptism by itself does not save; it is an act of faith that accompanies the saving faith that already exists.

17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

  1. The key word here is “” These are not guaranteed events to happen each and every time the gospel is preached – no more than the signs that Jesus performed during His earthly ministry happened the same each and every time He gathered a group of people to teach. One day, He might have healed the blind – another day, He healed a leper – another day, He simply taught. Signs are signposts…they happen occasionally, when they are required by the sovereign working of Almighty God.
  2. Although these are some of the verses of Mark’s ending most doubted by some, it’s important to note that all of this was seen in the early church. Peter & Paul each cast out demons in Jesus’ name – many multitudes of new Christians spoke in unknown tongues – the idea of being healed from serpents and/or poison was seen during Paul’s time on Malta – and many people who were sick were healed by Peter, Paul, and others. That the signs listed by Jesus are miraculous is no doubt, but each of them can be seen as fulfilled. (Jesus’ word is true!)
  3. Before we leave this, notice something important about these signs: they would “follow those who believe.” What was the one thing the disciples did not do before seeing Jesus? They did not They were skeptical, and chose to remain skeptical even in the midst of growing testimonies about Christ. Although they had loved the Lord during the past years, they would never be able to do anything for Jesus, if they did not wholeheartedly believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
    1. Thankfully for us, their unbelief changed to belief once Jesus stood before them. Yet, just as Jesus told Thomas a week later: they had believed because they had seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe (Jn 20:19). (That’s us!)

19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

  1. What happened afterwards? First, the ascension. The living Jesus was taken up into heaven, where He still lives today. Jesus’ ascension goes hand-in-hand with His resurrection. The reason why the resurrection is so wonderful is because Jesus ascended. Jesus’ ascension means that Jesus will never die again. Jesus’ life continues into eternity!
  2. Similarly, Jesus’ work Thankfully, the work of our salvation and redemption was accomplished at the cross. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He declared with authority that the price for our sin had been paid in full. Jesus had fulfilled the work He set out to do, having been the perfect sin sacrifice for us. God’s wrath toward us was fully satisfied as it fell on Jesus. “It is finished!” That said, Jesus did not sit down as His Father’s right hand to kick up His feet and do nothing for 2000 years. Mark 16:20 shows that though Jesus went to heaven, Jesus was still active. The disciples believed, and obeyed the commission of Jesus. What happened as the disciples went out to preach? Jesus was “working with them” the entire time, “confirming the word” of the gospel through the “signs” He spoke about. Jesus left them bodily, but not spiritually. He left them physically, but not vocationally. Jesus was still working through the church to spread the news of His gospel to the entire world. He was then, and He still is today! Our Jesus is alive, and He is working!

Conclusion:

The women started with understandable fear. Their beloved Lord and Rabbi had been brutally killed, and they were still dealing with the trauma from that when they began experiencing the supernatural. They weren’t sure what to do, and it showed up as fear.

The disciples dealt with common skepticism and unbelief. Some things simply sounded too good to be true, and it was relatively easy (if not expected) to write off the rumors as coming from questionable sources. They made the decision not to believe.

Jesus dealt with both. His very real resurrection removes the reason for fear, and it is the proof that dissipates doubt. The fact was that although fear was understandable and doubt was common, there was no reason for it. Jesus had truly risen, and true faith in Him is what His followers needed to live their lives for Him.

Question: So what? What does the resurrection of Jesus mean in the season of coronavirus? What impact does Easter have during a global pandemic? Does any of this matter for today, or it is only a religious distraction? (Nice, but ultimately meaningless.)

Yes, it matters.

First, the resurrection of Jesus helps us dispel our fears. We do not share the same circumstances as Mary Magdalene and the others, but we certainly know what it is like to be afraid. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that all fear is unnecessary. Fear may exist, but it is toothless.

What grip does the fear of death hold on people who will be raised from the dead? In Jesus’ resurrection, death has lost its sting. What ground does fear have in the lives of us who follow Christ?

And if the resurrection proves Jesus’ power over death, it proves His power over everything else. Sickness – financial upheaval – future uncertainty – what are those things in comparison with sin and death? If Jesus conquered that, then nothing else is a problem. When we trust the Risen Jesus, we trust the Conquering King – we trust the Victor. Fear has no footing in His presence. Fear has to flee.

Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus dispels our unbelief. Sooner or later, we must deal with the multitude of proofs that Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead, and we no longer have any room for blind skepticism. What Jesus said, He did. His promise proved true.

If Jesus kept His word on the resurrection, what promise is there of His that will fail? Jesus already did the hardest thing…everything else is a piece of cake. Jesus’ words prove true, because He has the power to back up everything He says.

Consider what this means for the so-called “lesser” promises of God. Jesus said not to worry about our lives, about food, drink, and clothing, for our Heavenly Father provides for us (Mt 6:25-34). Jesus has the proven power to keep this promise, because Jesus is risen from the dead. Elsewhere, when Paul faced his unnamed thorn in the flesh, Jesus’ promise was that His grace was sufficient for every occasion, especially in our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9). It is (and we know that it is), because Jesus is risen from the dead.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and that proves everything else! Jesus’ resurrection gives us confidence in all the promises of God. His resurrected life puts doubt to death. Unbelief has no place to hide in light of Jesus’ victory.

So yes, the resurrection of Jesus matters with coronavirus, or whatever the next major worldwide trauma will be. The resurrection of Jesus matters in the here & now, and not only for the hereafter. No, it is not a distraction. The resurrection of Jesus is exactly what gives us hope in these times! It is the primary reason we will persevere.

No, the resurrection doesn’t promise us immunity from Covid-19, nor guarantee that we won’t lose our jobs, or experience countless other trials. The resurrection guarantees that we won’t lose our Jesus…and that is far better!

Beloved, where is your trust today? Have you lacked hope? Look again at the empty tomb – hear again the commission of our Lord. He lives, and He gives us strength to endure.

Why the Resurrection?

Posted: April 21, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized
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Acts 13:36-39, “Why the Resurrection?”

Happy Resurrection Sunday! Whether you call it Easter, Passover, Pascha, Resurrection Sunday, or anything else, it is wonderful! With apologies to Andy Williams & his Christmas classic, truly Resurrection Sunday is “the most wonderful time of the year!” This is the holiday that makes all of the other holidays possible. This is the event that is the foundation for everything we know and believe within Christianity – the event upon which our very faith rests. Christmas may have more songs, but without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christmas would simply be a celebration of winter.

And may we be sure to underscore this point: it’s about the resurrection of Jesus Christ! It’s not about bunnies or eggs or chocolate; it’s about Jesus’ death and resurrection, the fact that He is no longer on the cross or in the tomb, but alive today, seated at the right hand of God.

All of that speaks to what we celebrate on this day, but perhaps the more important issue is why we celebrate it. Most of us can tell others what happened on that Friday that Jesus died on the cross & what happened three days later Sunday morning. (And that’s important, no question! We need to know what happened!) But perhaps not as many Christians can speak to why it happened. Why was it necessary? Why does it matter? What do we stand to gain from it?

And isn’t it important to know? After all, facts are one thing; reasons are another. Facts are vastly important, but there are many people who understand facts without taking them to heart. (Even the demons know the facts about Jesus, but it doesn’t change who they are or what their fate is!) People can know facts & treat it only as trivia: head knowledge about stuff that doesn’t really make a difference in their lives. Sure, Jesus died on the cross & rose from the grave, but so what? What does it matter to us? Beyond showing up in church twice a year, what’s the big deal? To answer those questions, we have to go beyond facts to reasons. We have to go beyond the “what” to the “why.” We may know what happened at the resurrection, but why did it have to happen? Why does it matter to us today? That’s what we’ll be looking at this morning.

To do so, we’re going to Paul’s 1st missionary journey. Barnabas and Saul (as he was then known) were newly appointed by the Holy Spirit for this work of missionary activity, and the two of them set out from Antioch in Syria on their work of evangelism. They first travelled to Barnabas’ home island of Cyprus, eventually ending up in the capital city of Paphos. There, the missionary team encountered a Jewish false prophet who stood in the way of the gospel of Jesus being presented to the proconsul (governor) of the island. That’s when Paul took the lead, pronounced the judgment of God upon the false prophet, and through the miracle performed in front of him & the gospel presented to his ears, the proconsul came to faith.

At that point, Paul and Barnabas set sail for the mainland, where the pattern for Paul’s lifelong ministry was soon set. The gospel was always taken first to the Jewish synagogue, and if/when they were kicked out, that’s when the gospel went to the Gentiles. This Jewish evangelism is described in detail by the author Luke when Paul and Barnabas enter the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia and Paul began preaching to the Jews. Paul went through a brief flyover history of the Jewish people, describing the constant provision of God for them, and God’s repeated promises to raise up a deliverer. That Deliverer was ultimately seen to be the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was put to death on a cross, but whom God raised from the dead. 

All of this had been prophesied, and all of it had come to pass, and now it was time for the Jews to make a decision. Would they believe in the Deliverer sent by God, or would they reject Him as their forefathers had rejected the prophets? All of it hinged upon the resurrection. Without a resurrection, they had no proof of Jesus being the Messiah/Deliverer. With the resurrection, they had all the proof they could ever need.

Why is the resurrection necessary? What does it matter for people today? Four things:

  1. It proves God’s word is true.
  2. It proves that Jesus is God.
  3. It proves the price has been paid.
  4. It proves our salvation.

Without a resurrected Jesus, we have nothing, but with a resurrected Jesus, we have everything! Believe in Jesus as the Risen Lord!

Acts 13:36–39

  • It proves God’s word is true & it proves that Jesus is God (36-37).

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.

  1. As Paul begins to sum up his synagogue sermon, he gets to the fact of the resurrection. For all that the psalms prophesy about the Messiah/the Son of David not seeing corruption, it is evident this wasn’t seen in David himself. David died & his body decayed; Jesus did not. Jesus certainly died. He suffered in immense pain for hours on end while hanging upon the cross. Eventually, Jesus could no longer breathe & His heart ruptured. This was verified by the Roman centurion who plunged a spear into His side, and saw what was described as “blood and water” flowing. This was the pericardial fluid excessively built up around the heart, indicative of cardiac rupture (a heart attack). The centurion noted Jesus’ death, finding it unnecessary to break His legs (as what happened with the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus). Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, given to Joseph of Arimathea, who (along with the Pharisee Nicodemus) packed Jesus’ body with spices according to Jewish custom, laid the body in a tomb, and rolled a massive stone over the door. By that point, there was no doubt that Jesus was dead. There’s no way He could have “swooned” or fallen into a coma, and have it be mistaken by a Roman centurion, and two of Jesus’ own (formerly secret) followers. Someone at some point would have noticed Jesus breathing, and there’s no way that friends of Jesus would have wrapped Him from head-to-toe in linen & spices if they in any way believed that they would have been cutting off His air supply or making it impossible for Him to move. They certainly wouldn’t have rolled a massive stone in front of the doorway trapping a live Jesus on the inside. Everyone involved with Jesus’ body knew Him to be dead, and treated Him as if He was dead (which He was). 
  2. So Jesus and David started out the same way. They both died, and they were both buried…but that’s where things got different! David’s body decayed. It faced ruin & corruption, like every other person in history. Death is the grand equalizer among us…it doesn’t matter how rich or famous a person might be – their body rots exactly the same way as everyone else. The death rate remains 100%, and all of us face the same fate. All, of course, except One. There is a singular exception to this: Jesus! Jesus died & was buried, but His body “saw no” His body did not rot & decay, even in that brief time period. Jesus remained whole and pure, even while scarred and beaten in the events leading up to the cross. When Jesus rose on Sunday morning, He did not rise as a zombie or some grotesque monstrosity; He rose in perfect health & glorious life!
  3. This gives us the first proof from the resurrection. Why does the resurrection of Jesus matter? It proves that God’s word (via prophecy) is true. Considering that what we know about God is revealed to us by God through His word (the Bible), then it’s incredibly important that we know that God’s word can be trusted. We need to know that our faith is based on more than just a leap of faith. After all, other religions have their own holy books. Muslims have faith that the Qu’ran is true; Hindus have faith in the Vedas; Latter-Day Saints have faith in the book of Mormon, etc. What makes Christianity any different? What reason do we have to believe our holy text is any more valuable than those other texts? Because Jesus rose from the dead…exactly as the Bible (and Jesus Himself) said He would!
    1. Isaiah 55:3. This was the first referenced by Paul, in terms of the resurrection, just prior to what he said here in verses 36-37: Acts 13:34, “And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’” How is this a promise of resurrection? The “sure mercies” of David is the covenant God promised to give to David. That covenant is an everlasting kingdom: 2 Samuel 7:12–13, “(12) “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” When God spoke to David, there was no question that David would die (even though this was in the very beginning of David’s reign which lasted 40 years). Yet there would be a physical descendant of David who would live forever. David’s own kingdom would be limited; his seed’s (his son’s) would be limitless. History shows that Solomon died, Rehoboam died, as did all the others. Even Jesus died…but because God raised Him back to life, Jesus could now inherit the sure mercies of David! For the Davidic promise to be true, there had to be an ever-living Son of David. That’s Jesus!
    2. Psalm 16:10. This was the second resurrection promise referenced by Paul, which was also quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost. Acts 13:35, “Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’” Although the term “Holy One” is often used of the Davidic king, it couldn’t be a reference to David due to David’s death. Psalm 16 was actually written by David, and he knew he could not be writing of himself (at least in that part of the psalm). He wrote prophetically of his future Son to come, the One whose body would never see decay & corruption, even though it did for a time lay in a tomb.
    3. As much as the resurrection proves God’s word true in the Old Testament, it also proves it true in the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly prophesied His suffering, death, and resurrection, and if none of it had come to pass, Jesus would have been a liar and a false prophet. Yet all of it did happen, down to the last detail. Take a look at the list from the gospel of Matthew:
      1. Matthew 16:4, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.”
      2. Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
  • Matthew 17:22–23, “(22) Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, (23) and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.”
  1. Matthew 20:18–19, “(18) Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, (19) and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
  2. With each of those prophecies, Jesus spoke the exact truth. His resurrection from the dead was essential to Him being a true prophet, thus proving the word of God itself. – We can trust God’s word because Jesus is risen from the dead! If the Bible is true in this account (the most incredible of all, considering its supernatural nature), then the Bible can be trusted in all accounts. We can believe every single promise in the Scripture, because God’s word has been proven trustworthy!
  1. Not only does the resurrection matter because it proves the truth of God’s word. It also proves that Jesus is As good as it is that Jesus rose from the dead, there needs to be more to it than only that. After all, other men have risen from the dead in the past. Elijah revived a widow’s son to life (1 Kings 17:22). Elisha did the same with the Shanammite’s son (2 Kings 4:34). Jesus raised several people to life: Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:41-42), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:14-15), and Lazarus (Jn 11:43-44). What made Jesus’ own resurrection any different? (1) He did it with nothing else than the power of God, with no person acting as a prophet or intermediary, (2) He rose never to die again. Each and every person revived back to life was revived only temporarily…even if they lived for dozens of years. At some point, all of them died…except Jesus. Jesus rose, and He rose to life permanently. This proves that although Jesus is 100% human, He is more than human…He is God!
    1. This is what Peter declared in the streets of Jerusalem on Pentecost. Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
    2. This is what Paul declared to the governing council in the city of Athens. Acts 17:30–31, “(30) Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, (31) because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
    3. This is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome, whom he had not yet met. Romans 1:3–4, “(3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, (4) and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
    4. The resurrection proves that Jesus is God! This is a Man in whom we can trust with our lives: past, present, future. We confess to Him all of our evil of the past, admitting ourselves as the wretched sinners we are (and who can deny it?). We surrender to Him all of our choices, decisions, and possessions of our present – He is the Lord of everything we are. We entrust our entire future to Him, putting all our hope of eternity in His hands…and He is trustworthy! We can do it, because of the resurrection. We can do it, because He is God!

Back to what Paul was declaring to the Jews in Antioch Pisidia… First, he told them the fact of Jesus’ resurrection – that David’s body decayed, while Jesus’ body didn’t. This proved the Scriptures true & it proved Jesus’ identity as God. Next, he tells them the result of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus was raised, but what did that raising do? What are the ramifications of the resurrection? There are two…

  • Result #1: forgiveness. It proves that the price for sin has been paid (38).

38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins;

  1. This is the first result of the resurrection: our sins are forgiven. Notice how Paul starts wrapping up his message in the synagogue with this grand conclusion. With Jesus risen from the dead, what did it mean for the Jews in Antioch Pisidia? It means that the “forgiveness of sins” could be preached to them. The word for “forgiveness” has the idea of release. In an accounting context, it means a debt has been cancelled. In a context of servitude, it means a person has been granted freedom. Both ideas are true when it comes our sins against God. Each and every sin we commit carries a cost. We accumulate debt upon debt upon debt against the God who created us and knows us. This is the God who formed us in our mothers’ wombs, who gave us life, and gave us every single thing we possess…and we sin against Him constantly. We tell Him that we know what’s better for our lives than He does. We pridefully exalt ourselves to the highest place in our priorities. We lust after the things He hates, and we hate the people He loves. All of that carries immense debt. All of that demonstrates how enslaved we are to sin. Although God is our rightful Master, we serve our own flesh (our bellies), and thus, we serve our own death.
  2. All of that changes with Jesus! Through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is preached – through Jesus the release & freedom from sin is proclaimed! We can be truly free. We can live out our lives without the weighty burden of sin, knowing that one day we will face the righteous judgment of God. We can know freedom from God’s righteous wrath, and freedom from the slavery to which we’ve been bound. For those who believe in Christ, we’ve been released from our debts – forgiven of our sin. Glorious!
  3. This is one more reason the resurrection matters. It proves that the price for sin has been paid. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23). How can those wages be paid? There are only two ways: (1) we die, or (2) we find an acceptable substitute to die in our place. That’s it. There’s no way out of having that wage be paid…true justice demands it. God cannot “blink” it away, pretending it doesn’t exist; it does, and it must be addressed. So either we have to die for our own sins, or something/someone else has to die for us. The “things” of the past don’t work. How could they? The blood of bulls & goats might temporarily set aside punishment, but they don’t fully satisfy God’s perfect justice. They aren’t human, so they can’t be true substitutes for humans. And we’re no better off looking at other people, because everyone else has their own sins for which they must answer. You can’t die for anyone else (your spouse or your children), because you’re a sinner all on your own & you require your own substitute. That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is totally sinless, having no spot or blemish found in Him. Jesus alone can be a perfect substitute for you…and not you only, but because He is God, He can be the substitute for the whole world. Jesus’ perfection is infinite, so His work of sacrifice is available to all who call upon Him in faith.
  4. What does any of that have to do with the resurrection? Everything! How do we know Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient? What is the proof that Jesus’ payment for our sins was enough? There is only one way: His resurrection from the dead. From the cross, Jesus pronounced “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30, τετελεσται) – a declaration that the price for our sins had been paid in full. Yet how can we be certain it was enough? Because Jesus didn’t stay dead. If Jesus never rose from the grave, we’d have no idea that He was anything more than just a man. But because Jesus did rise from the grave, we know that the work He accomplished at the cross was more than enough. The price for sin has been paid…we have been granted forgiveness!
    1. This was what the writer of Hebrews meant: Hebrews 10:11–14, “(11) And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (12) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, (13) from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. (14) For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” How many offerings were required? One sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was enough to forever perfect those who believe. One sacrifice of Jesus was all that was required to pay the debt of sin.
    2. This was Peter’s point: 1 Peter 1:18–21, “(18) knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (20) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (21) who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” What is redemption? A purchase. Our freedom has been purchased by Almighty God, paid for by the blood of His only begotten Son, and the receipt (proof of purchase) is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Forgiveness is only one result of the resurrection. Paul goes on to give a second…

  • Result #2: justification. It proves that we have been truly saved (39).

39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

  1. This is the second result of the resurrection: through faith in Christ, we have been justified. The idea is that we have been made right. Like a scale that is out of balance needs to be justified to be set right again, God has intervened in our lives to set us right – to declare us righteous. For the Jews listening to Paul, they knew well the limitations of the law of Moses. As good & as holy as it was, it could not make them righteous. It could tell them the righteousness of God, showing God’s perfect standard. It could make them aware of their own sin, showing them their need for forgiveness. But the law could not make right things that had gone wrong. The law could not bring sinful people back to into a state of sinlessness. There were temporary measures of atonement, but there was always a final reckoning that awaited. This is the good news in Jesus! Those who believe in Jesus are “justified from all things” – they are made right again in the sight of God. As God promised to Isaiah would happen, though sins were once as scarlet, the people would be made white as snow (Isa 1:18). It is a perfection in the sight of God that can come only by a declared act of His grace. Like the moment an orphan child is declared adopted by a family, God declares us justified – an act of judicial fiat, all because of the grace available in Jesus.
    1. That is good news! We could never earn our own righteousness. We could never make ourselves into perfect people. We might be able to make ourselves incrementally better – we might be able to form some good habits & do some relatively good things. But at the end of the day, all of that is still tainted by our sin. We cannot erase the things of the past. We cannot restore our own innocence. Those things are impossible for us…but they aren’t impossible for Jesus! This is what Jesus does in our justification! Through Him, we are declared righteous – because of Him, God sees us clothed in Jesus’ innocence – because of Him, we are truly justified.
  2. What does that mean with the resurrection? It proves that we have been truly saved, for all eternity. Although this goes hand-in-hand with forgiveness, it’s not the same thing as forgiveness. Think of it this way: forgiveness releases us from our debts against God & the sins of the past, but it doesn’t do anything for our futures. In human terms, forgiveness gets us out of prison & off death-row, but it doesn’t give us a new start & new career. Forgiveness without justification leaves us in limbo. Jesus does so much more than that for us! His resurrection not only promises us forgiveness, but it promises us justification.
    1. Paul specifically wrote how these things were tied together. Speaking of Abraham, who believed God’s promise by faith & had God’s righteousness imputed to him (an act of justification): Romans 4:23–25, “(23) Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, (24) but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, (25) who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Our sins were the reason God sent Jesus to the cross, but our justification was one of the reasons God raised Jesus from the grave! The ability for us to be declared righteous in the sight of God is totally tied in with Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t raised, we’d have no hope of justification.
    2. In fact, Paul went on to make that specific point to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 15:17–19, “(17) And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (18) Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Contextually, some in the Corinthian church (for whatever reason) started doubting the possibility that one day believers in Christ will be raised from the dead, claiming that resurrection is impossible. Paul takes their doubts to their logical conclusion, saying that if there is no resurrection, then Jesus could not be raised. Yet if Jesus isn’t raised, we have no hope at all! Without a resurrection, we have nothing: no forgiveness, no justification, no hope of eternal life, and no reason to live out this current life. But because Jesus is raised from the dead, we do have hope! We have been forgiven of our sin, we have been made right in the sight of God, and we have a sure promise of eternal future in the presence of God.

The resurrection proves that Jesus is who He said He is, that He did what the Bible says He did, and that He saves just as He promises to save! We have no guarantee of any of this without the resurrection, but with it, we have all the guarantee in the world!

Do you believe? If not, why not?

  • The disciples believed, being willing to be tortured & killed for Jesus.
  • The Roman soldiers believed, knowing that they should have died for failing to guard the tomb.
  • The Jews in Jerusalem believed, with 3000 of them choosing to put their faith in Jesus only 50 days after His public humiliation and execution.
  • Saul of Tarsus believed. Although he actively hunted Christians in persecution, he was confronted by the resurrected Lord Jesus.

None of these (nor countless others through the centuries) had anything to gain on earth by putting their faith in Jesus. In fact, most of them had much to lose! What would cause them to publicly associate themselves with Jesus, declaring Him to be Lord & Christ? Only the truth.

Believe!

Conclusion:

When Paul preached Jesus to the Jews in Antioch Pisidia, he preached the resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because everything we know about Jesus hinges upon it. When we celebrate Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we don’t simply have a nice break in the springtime and have an excuse to get together for a family feast; we celebrate something foundational to our faith. We celebrate the very reason Jesus came! Even with all the Bible verses we saw today, perhaps the most famous of all is this: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” For this to be true, Jesus has to be risen from the dead. For this to be good news, we not only need a Sacrifice willing to die on the cross on our behalf, but we need a Victorious Savior risen from the dead to eternal life.

Why does the resurrection matter?

  1. It proves God’s word is true.
  2. It proves that Jesus is God.
  3. It proves the price has been paid.
  4. It proves our salvation.

Without a resurrected Jesus, we have nothing, but with a resurrected Jesus, we have everything! Believe in Jesus as the Risen Lord!

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1 Corinthians 15:1-11, “The Resurrection and the Gospel”

He is risen – He is alive!  Whether you call it Easter, Pascha, or Resurrection Sunday, today all Christians everywhere celebrate the cornerstone event of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  This is the event that proves that Jesus is the Son of God, the long-awaited King of Israel – the One who reverses the curse placed upon Adam in the Garden of Eden.  This is the event that changed a minor Jewish sect in Galilee and Judea into the true faith of Christianity, and it is the event upon which all of our hopes rest.

Is that just a bunch of hype?  Is it a bunch of preacher-talk?  Not in the slightest.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundational truth of Christianity.  Without it, we have no Christianity at all.  Without it, there is no gospel, no hope, no promise of life.  But with it, we have everything!

Christians must believe the gospel in order to saved, and in order for the gospel to be the gospel, we need the resurrection.  This is the point that Paul drives home to the Corinthians, in a letter he wrote to them just barely more than 20 years after Jesus rose from the dead.  The church at Corinth had a marvelous founding, being established by Paul and Silas on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, and was later strengthened by the teaching ministry of Apollos.  Yet this church quickly fell into all kinds of error.  They were divisive, proud, permissive of sin, abusive of the spiritual gifts, and more.  Paul found himself needing to bring correction to the church, and he did so through his letters (though he wouldn’t hesitate to do it in person, if needed!).

In this particular letter, Paul just wrapped up an extended teaching on the proper use of spiritual gifts, with the emphasis of all spiritual things being that of sacrificial love for one another.  If love was practiced among the Corinthians, everything else would fall into place.  Worship would be done decently & in order, and they would glorify God.

At this point, Paul makes a solid break as he distinctly changes topics.  Although in previous chapters he wrote about issues that the Corinthians had asked him about, this is one that he introduced.  He had heard of doubts among some of the church about the validity of the resurrection, and he knew this needed to be addressed ASAP.  Issues like spiritual gifts are important, but they are non-essentials in regards to salvation…but the resurrection is vital.  Without the resurrection, we have no gospel.  Without the gospel, we have no salvation.  It is that important.

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

  • The resurrection is foundational (1-2)

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

  • As Paul is going to make plain, the resurrection is a core tenet of the gospel message that he received, and this gospel was the most important teaching in Paul’s ministry.  This is what he preached everywhere he went.  He had preached it once in Corinth, and declared it again to them in his letter.  This is what the people had received at the time, and it was what they stood in (or were supposed to stand in) until the present day.  The gospel was the message through which they were saved, meaning that without the gospel, they would not be saved.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, first to the Jew and then to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)  It is the power unto all aspects of our salvation: past, present, and future (justification, sanctification, glorification).  The gospel is the reason that our past sins have been forgiven – it is the method by which we are currently being transformed into the image of Christ – it is the means by which we will be able to forever stand in the presence of God in heaven.  It is that important.
  • So what is it?  If the gospel is that crucial to our life in Christ, then we ought to know what it is.  The word itself simply means “good news,” and is taken from the same Greek word from which we get “evangelism.”  When we “evangelize,” we are simply telling other people the “good news” about Jesus.  “OK – we know it’s good news, but what’s the news?”  What is it that we’re supposed to tell others – what is it that we are supposed to believe?  That’s what Paul writes next…
  • The resurrection is historical (3-8)

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

  • Before he gets to the details of the gospel, Paul once more emphasizes its importance.  This was primary.  There was no more important task that Paul could do in a city than to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When he travelled in his various missionary journeys, he didn’t arrive in town preaching about spiritual gifts.  He didn’t meet new people and start talking about all the good works they ought to be doing, or tell them how they could enjoy their best life right now.  When Paul came to a new place, he preached the gospel.  Everything else was secondary.
    • And it is!  Whether or not your church home is Calvary Chapel Tyler, the most important thing about anywhere you worship is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed.  If you don’t have that, you don’t have a church.  Why?  Without the gospel, no one is saved.  Without Jesus being proclaimed as Lord & the message of His death & resurrection as front & center to our faith, then we have absolutely nothing.  It doesn’t matter how professional the worship band may be – it doesn’t matter how fancy the church building looks – it doesn’t even matter how loving and compassionate the people seem to be…not if the gospel isn’t there.  Everything else is secondary.  The gospel must come first because that is the only way the Lord Jesus comes first.
  • Keep in mind that this was something Paul learned.  He only delivered what he received.  The gospel message didn’t originate with him, nor did it end with him.  He was simply a good steward & passed it along to others.  That’s what all churches ought to do.
    • FYI – the fact that Paul states in vs. 3 that he “received” this message is an incredible apologetic proof to the validity of the message itself.  How so?  Because Paul will write of the resurrection of Christ as something he not only witnessed, but was taught.  Remember that Paul is writing this barely 20 years after the events took place in Jerusalem.  This is no mere rumor – this certainly isn’t a legend.  There wasn’t any time for a legend to develop!  Everything Paul declared in his gospel is historical fact.
  • What is involved with this gospel?  Five basic elements had been passed along to Paul, which he now repeats to the Corinthians. Gospel element #1: Christ.  Without Jesus, we have no gospel.  But this can’t be any Jesus – it has to be the right one.  Without the right understanding of Jesus, we still have no gospel.  Thus the first thing we need to believe is that Jesus is the “Christ.”  Granted, Jesus’ proper name does not appear in this immediate section – in fact, Paul hasn’t used it since 12:3.  But throughout the letter, Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the Christ, affirming it from his opening words in 1:1, all the way through.  To someone who had read his letter from beginning to end, there would be no doubt that when Paul used the title “Christ,” he was referring to Jesus. — But that all begs the question: what does it mean to believe Jesus is Christ?  Keep in mind that Christ is a title; not a name.  Many people assume that Jesus’ last name is “Christ,” but that’s a misunderstanding.  “Christ” is a title, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word referring to “Messiah,” or “Anointed One.”  This was the title the Jews used to refer to the future Son of David, the King of Israel – and also the title used to refer to the person who would be the fulfillment of all the promises that God made to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew people as a whole.  Thus the Christ is a Man, but He’s more than a Man; He’s the Son of God.  When we proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, we are proclaiming Him to be God in the flesh.
    • Talk about crucial!  If we get this wrong, we get the whole thing wrong!  Again, without a proper understanding of Christ, we have no gospel.  People have all kinds of ideas about Jesus that have nothing to do with Him being the Son of God, but that is the first thing we need to believe about Him.
  • Gospel element #2: Christ Jesus “died for our sins.”  This is what we remember on Good Friday.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God had to die for the sin of all of humanity.  The only perfect Man who ever lived had to be made a sin sacrifice for our sake in order that the price for our sin could be paid.  The wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23), and the only one who could truly pay it is Jesus.  After all, if we die in our sins, we remain dead forever.  People who die in their sins without the forgiveness of Jesus will actually face a second death when God judges them for all eternity.  That eternal debt must be paid, and that’s what Jesus did at the cross.  That was the meaning when Jesus said the word τετελεσται which we translate as “It is finished!”  The work was done, and the price was paid.  As Paul wrote here, “Christ died for our sins.
    • This was foretold in the Scripture.  As we saw on Good Friday, passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 go into extreme detail about the death of the Messiah.  Nearly every aspect of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and crucifixion was prophesied centuries before it ever took place.  There is no excuse for someone to look at the Hebrew Scriptures and not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment.  Other than by spiritual blindness, Jesus simply cannot be missed.

4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

  • Gospel element #3: Christ “was buried.”  His body was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  Question: Is this really a big deal?  After all, if He died, surely He was buried.  True – but that is exactly why this is a big deal.  Some might theorize (and still do) that Jesus didn’t really die upon the cross, but merely appeared to be dead.  They say that Jesus “swooned” upon the cross, fainting or perhaps falling into a coma.  Or else, Jesus’ body had an appearance of death, but that because of His claim to be God, He didn’t really die.  Not so.  Jesus truly died upon the cross.  His physical body expired, and all the signs of His death were seen by those who witnessed it.  His death was even certified by one of the best experts in all of Jerusalem at the time: a Roman centurion, who would have faced harsh penalties (even death) for lying to the governor Pontius Pilate that a man under his supervision had died, but instead lived.  There’s no doubt that Jesus died, and the proof was that His body was laid in a tomb.  Remember that Jesus’ friends were those who buried Him: the formerly-secret disciples of Joseph and Nicodemus.  It’s inconceivable that they would have buried Jesus if they had even the slightest hope that He was alive.  The only way they would have had comfort in sealing His tomb with a stone would be if He was dead.  So yes, Jesus’ burial is a crucial part of the gospel message.  It certifies His death.
  • Gospel element #4: Christ “rose again the third day.”  Jesus was really buried, and He really rose.  He who was dead came back to life.  This is the specific event we celebrate today!  Again, this is what makes the gospel, the gospel.  How so?  Because even if Jesus claimed to be God, even if He performed incredible miracles, if He still died upon the cross & was buried in the tomb – if there was no resurrection, we’d have zero proof that Jesus actually is the Christ.  If Jesus died & stayed dead, then He’d be no different than other prophets who came & performed miracles.  Actually, He’d be worse than other prophets because even if He performed miracles, He would have proven Himself a liar.  Jesus repeatedly said that He would rise from the grave, even saying that the resurrection would be the sign proving His authority as the Son of Man. (I.e. the sign of Jonah)  Thus if Jesus didn’t rise, He’d be a liar.  If He was a liar, then He couldn’t do anything else He promised, nor would we be able to trust anything He said or did.  It was vital that Jesus rise from the grave as proof that He is God the Son…and that is exactly what He did!  After His betrayal, His torture, and His crucifixion, Jesus died upon the cross.  His body was taken down & buried.  And in three days, He rose!  He conquered death, declared His victory over sin & Satan, and rose to glorious new life!  And because He did, we can know everything else He said & did was true!  As Paul went on to write: 1 Corinthians 15:55–57, "(55) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."  Our salvation is wrapped up in Jesus’ resurrection – our eternal life hinges upon His resurrected one.  We have hope of a resurrection of our own because Jesus is the first one risen from the dead.  Thanks be to God that Jesus rose!  In Him, there is total victory!
  • What Scriptures speak of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day?  Although the specific combination of a third-day resurrection is not nearly as clear-cut in the Old Testament as are the many prophecies of the suffering and death of the Messiah, there are still several passages which point to it.
    • Psalm 16:10, "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption."
    • Hosea 6:2, "After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight."
    • Jonah 1:17, "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
    • And that’s not all.  Scripture has other references to a third-day deliverance, such as Abraham’s offering of Isaac (which is specifically tied to the hope of resurrection –Gen 22), the appearance of God on Mt. Sinai to the Hebrews on the third day (Exo 19:11), and more. 
  • The bottom line is that the Scriptures said Jesus would rise – Jesus said that He would rise – and He rose!  Our God died upon the cross, but He did not remain dead.  Our God was laid in a tomb, but He did not stay there.  He is risen – He is alive – and because He is, we have the certified promise of eternal life!
  • At this point, the question might be: but how can we know?  We can take it as an article of faith that Jesus rose from the grave, but how can we know for sure?  That’s the next part of the gospel that was passed along to Paul…

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

  • Gospel element #4: Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed.  He was “seen” by multiple people from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations.  Jewish culture taught that 2-3 witnesses were required to establish fact, particularly legal judgments.  In vss. 5-8, there are far more than that…more than enough to establish the resurrection!  All totaled, Paul gives six witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.  We shouldn’t think of this as a comprehensive listing of all of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, but it certainly includes some instances that aren’t recorded elsewhere.  Keep in mind that even the gospel accounts are clear that not everything Jesus said or did was written down – there aren’t enough libraries in the world to hold the books if it was! (Jn 21:25)
  • Witness #1: Peter – or as he was known by his Aramaic name, “Cephas.”  Why is Peter listed first?  Because even if he was never the pope of Rome (which he wasn’t!), he still had a place of preeminence among the apostles.  He was the first with the grand confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and Jesus blessed him on account of it. (Mt 16:16-17)  But Peter was also the one with one of the worst betrayals of Jesus, having denied three times even knowing the Lord.  He had been graciously forgiven and restored by Jesus, and the fact that Peter received a special appearance from the Lord underscores that restoration.  Peter/Cephas (the Rock) would not be known as the one who denied the Lord Jesus, but as the one who received the grace of the Lord Jesus.  That was his permanent identity – and a grand one it is!
    • When you came to faith in Christ, believing upon Him as your Lord & Savior, you became a new creation.  He gave you a new identity and a new future.  No longer are you the person you once were; the resurrected Jesus changed all of that.  Now you are known by His grace – God sees you as His child because of the love of Jesus.  That is your new identity…remember it & praise God for it!
    • If you haven’t yet surrendered your life to Christ, you are still known for your sin…but you don’t have to be.  You can know the forgiveness of God too.  Believe upon the risen Christ, and receive your new eternal identity!
  • Witness #2: “the twelve.”  If Paul were being a bit more precise, he probably would have written “the eleven,” as Judas had departed the apostles when he betrayed Jesus to the Jews.  But the group of Jesus’ appointed apostles was well-known as “the twelve,” and Judas’ spot was soon replaced, so Paul is still correct when he refers to them as “the twelve.”  When did this take place?  This is probably a reference to Jesus’ first two appearances to the apostles on Resurrection Sunday & the following week.  His first appearance was technically to 10 apostles, as Thomas wasn’t with them, and he famously & firmly doubted the news of Jesus’ rise from the grave.  Thomas waited a whole additional week in grief until Jesus appeared to the full group again the following Sunday, and that’s when he finally joined the rest of his brothers in faith.
    • Objection: “But those were all apostles.  We’d expect the 12 disciples of Jesus to affirm His resurrection.  What if they were all conspiring together in a lie?”  First of all, that is highly illogical, given the circumstances.  (1) Their Messiah had died, thus taking away any supposed legitimate reason to proclaim Him as the Messiah…the Jews would have laughed them off as foolish if Jesus was still dead.  (2) Every time the apostles proclaimed Jesus, they endangered themselves with the Jewish authorities.  They had absolutely no reason to continue a conspiracy, because they had nothing to benefit.  (3) Eventually it wasn’t only the Jews that opposed them, but the Romans.  If the disciples had been conspiring together in a lie, that would have quickly unraveled when the hand of Rome came down upon them!  People don’t die for their own lies…eventually the truth comes out.
    • Secondly, this objection is anticipated with the third witness, or group of witnesses…

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.

  • Witness #3: 500 other “brethren.”  If 12 men were expected to keep a conspiracy, how about 500?  Eventually, someone is going to crack…and no one did.  Besides, out of these 500, there were likely very few who followed Jesus as steadfastly as did the 12 apostles did during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  In other words, this was a disinterested party.  They had nothing to gain from a lie about a resurrected Jesus, yet they believed in Him anyway.  They could testify to His resurrection.
  • In fact, Paul counts on the fact that they could do exactly that.  Although a few had died in the past 20 years, the majority of them were still alive.  If the Corinthians doubted Paul & his testimony, then they could go ask any number of the original 500 still living at the time.  They could check out the proof for themselves.
    • Obviously we do not have that same privilege.  The only time we will speak to the apostles or anyone else who saw the physical resurrected Jesus is when we get to heaven, and then we’ll be seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus for ourselves!  Even so, we can still speak to men & women whose lives have been transformed by the Living God.  Every single person in this building who has been born again has had a real experience with the real Jesus, and you can tell anyone else that Jesus is alive.  How do you know?  Because you met Him!  It was in faith, but you met Him, you knew He was real, and you knew you needed to surrender your life to Him.
    • If you don’t have that kind of assurance about a living Jesus with whom you’ve interacted, you need to ask yourself why not.  You need to ask yourself some tough questions.  A born-again Christian is someone who has received new life from a living Savior.  If you haven’t, you haven’t been born-again.  Today, make sure your faith is in the living Jesus!
  • BTW – when did this particular meeting take place?  We don’t know for certain, as the Bible never says anything more about it than this one verse.  Possibly, it was the prearranged meeting in Galilee of which Jesus told the disciples.  It seems like that would be a logical place for a gathering of this size (which would not have gone unnoticed in Jerusalem), and a perfect place for Jesus to give the Great Commission to the church. (Mt 28:19-20)

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

  • Witness #4: “James.”  There are several men named “James” in the New Testament.  Which is this?  More than likely, this is the half-brother of Jesus who eventually became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  Originally, none of the brothers of Jesus believed Him, but something happened that transformed them from skeptics to believers.  And not just believers, but into leaders of the church – even penning letters of the New Testament.  (James & Jude)  What could have happened to convince these men that their brother was the Son of God?  It would take nothing less than His resurrection from the dead!  Jesus was raised, and that was all the proof that they needed.  All of a sudden, the miracles made sense – the stories of their mother & father made sense – they could see their older brother through new eyes.  No longer did they look at Him as just another sibling around the table – they saw Him as the Living God.  (That’s the power of the resurrection!)
  • Witness #5: “all the apostles.”  Objection: the apostles were already mentioned!  Yes & no.  Technically, “the twelve” were mentioned – but the word “apostles” can refer to more than the twelve. Plainly Paul was an apostle, but not of the Twelve.  Andronicus & Junius are mentioned among the apostles, though they are nowhere in the gospels. (Rom 16:7)  Barnabas is named as an apostle (Acts 14:14) and a case could possibly be made for Apollos based on Paul’s comparison with him to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3-4).  But even if only the specific Twelve were in mind, this can still count again because Jesus appeared to them more than once.  Not only were there the two occasions on the Sundays following His crucifixion – not only was there the prearranged meeting in Galilee – at the very least there was also the final day that Jesus had His physical feet upon the earth: His ascension.  It was then that Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in order that they would have power to be witnesses of Him to all the world. (Acts 1:8)  They were obedient, and this list of testimonies is proof that they were faithful to their divine calling.

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

  • Witness #6: Paul.  Paul doesn’t leave himself out of the list of witnesses, for he too saw the resurrected Christ.  Yes, Jesus had already ascended to heaven, but Paul received a special vision of the resurrected Jesus.  This wasn’t a vision only in Paul’s mind, but one that was witnessed by the men travelling with him (even though they didn’t see the distinct things he saw).  Thus this was a real appearance, even if it was different than those experienced by the other apostles.  Yet this is what qualified Paul as an apostle (1 Cor 9:1), even if it was a little out of sync, like a prematurely born baby.  Paul could personally testify to the risen Jesus, for he had seen Him.  (And that’s exactly what Paul did in his ministry, as he shared his testimony time & time again.)
  • The bottom line in all of this: Jesus’ resurrection is established, historic fact.  This wasn’t a myth that developed over time – this wasn’t a grand lie invented by a handful of people – this wasn’t a massive hallucination or delusion experienced by grieving friends.  This is a fact, fully vetted by all available historical and legal methods available at the time. 
    • It is a fact that stands the test of time even to this very day.  There is no event in antiquity that has more evidence in its favor than that of the resurrection of Jesus.  The eyewitness accounts were numerous.  Neither the Jews nor the Romans could disprove it.  The easiest thing in the world would have been for the Jews to produce a body.  After all, they knew the exact grave in which He had been laid.  It was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had requested the body.  A 15 minute walk to the tomb could have destroyed Christianity before it was ever born…and it never happened.  Instead, thousands of Jerusalem Jews gave their lives to Christ within weeks of His resurrection – the Jewish leadership railed against the apostles, but never contested them – the gospel message spread by the early church turned the world upside-down.  The only way any of this happens is through a factual resurrection.  And that is exactly what it is.
  • So what does all of this mean?  If Jesus is truly risen from the dead, it means He truly is God.  If Jesus is truly risen from the dead, it means that everything He said is true.  If Jesus is truly risen from the dead, it means He has the power to change lives.  Paul offers himself as living proof…
  • The resurrection 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.

  • This isn’t false humility on the part of Paul.  When he needed to assert his apostolic authority, he didn’t hesitate to do so.  Yet he never forgot his past.  He knew he was forgiven of his past, but he never forgot it.  Paul wasn’t merely a skeptic towards Christianity, he was steadfastly dedicated to its destruction.  As a young Pharisee, Paul (then known as Saul) “persecuted the church of God.”  He hunted Christians in & around Jerusalem, and was so successful in his task that he received permission from the Sanhedrin to travel all the way to the city of Damascus in Syria to do the same thing.  He had a fervent desire to purify the people of God, and to the pre-Christian Saul, that meant purging out the Christians whom he viewed as heretics.
  • That’s when the resurrected Jesus stopped him in his tracks, and changed his life.  In Paul’s own words: Acts 22:6–8, "(6) “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. (7) And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ (8) So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’"  Can you imagine the shock?  Can you imagine the horror that fell upon Paul’s heart as he came to grips with the fact that the Lord he thought he was serving, he was actually persecuting?  He wasn’t purifying the people of God; he was murdering those beloved by God.  How awful!  How gut-wrenching!  Surely he deserved death, and worse (if it were possible).  How could God ever use a person like this, much less even love him?  And yet he did…

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.

  • Paul received grace!  The love of the resurrected Jesus changed Paul from a murderer to an apostle – from the chief of sinners to a humble servant of the Living God.  Grace transformed Paul from the inside-out, and this least of the apostles was able to make a bigger impact for the kingdom than the original 12 put together.  That’s not a boast; that’s a simple fact.  Most of the original 12 apostles are not named anywhere outside the gospel accounts, and some are barely even mentioned in the gospel accounts.  Out of those, Peter & John did much, but not even they travelled as far & wide as Paul.  Paul had a minimum of three missionary journeys, and possibly went on a fourth after the close of the book of Acts.  He personally planted dozens of churches, and underwent incredible suffering along the way, receiving stonings, robberies, shipwrecks, and other hardships.  That doesn’t even begin to mention the number of letters he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, providing an incredible percentage of our New Testaments.  The labor he accomplished for Jesus by the grace of God was abundant indeed!
  • How was it possible?  Grace.  Three times in this single sentence Paul repeats the word “grace,” because that was at the root of everything he was.  He encountered the resurrected living Jesus, and received grace.  Just seeing Jesus was an act of grace – being forgiven of his sins was grace – being called into ministry was grace – being empowered to go where he did was grace – having the strength to endure what he did was grace – writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was grace.  Paul was bathed in grace!  Everything he did was because of the grace of God.
    • So it is with you & me.  What we do as believers, we do because we have experienced grace from the Living Lord Jesus.  Were you forgiven of your sins?  Grace.  Were you filled with the Holy Spirit?  Grace.  Have you received blessings from God?  Grace.  Are you blessed in reading His word, and spending time in prayer?  Grace.  Are you a different person you once were, having an eternal future ahead of you?  Grace.  All you are & all you have as a Christian is due to the grace of Christ!  It is because the resurrected Lord Jesus has loved you, interacted with you, and showered you with His blessing.  It is grace!
    • Does this mean that every day is a bed of roses for the Christian?  Of course not.  It certainly wasn’t for Paul!  When he suffered, he truly suffered.  But he never suffered alone.  The Lord Jesus was always with him, just as the Lord Jesus is always with us.  When we receive Him as Lord, we receive Him forever.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  His Spirit indwells us, and His promise is to keep us, complete His work within us, and receive us to Himself.  Again…all due to grace!

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

  • It didn’t matter who preached the gospel to the Corinthians as long as it was preached.  It didn’t matter what other issues the Corinthians had as long as they believed.  Without this gospel of the resurrected Lord Jesus, nothing else mattered.  This was how they would live in the grace of God, and it was vital that they stand within it.

Conclusion:
Do you stand in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?  You have heard it proclaimed – you have heard the testimony of Christians through the ages – do you believe?  The resurrection of Jesus isn’t a nice truth to file away in the back of our minds as a bit of Bible trivia.  It’s not something to mark off our mental check-list of “things we’re supposed to affirm in church.”  The resurrection of Jesus is absolutely key to His gospel, which means it is absolutely key to our salvation.  Without it, we have nothing.  Later in his letter, Paul goes on to write: 1 Corinthians 15:15–17, "(15) Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. (16) For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. (17) And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!"  It doesn’t get more critical than that!  Without the resurrection of Jesus, there’s no forgiveness of sin, and thus there is no Christianity at all.

Beloved, we must stand in the gospel!  We must stand firm in the truth that Jesus is indeed the Christ, crucified for our sin, buried in the tomb, risen on the third day, and witnessed by others.  This is the very core of our faith, the means through which we receive the grace of God, our very promise of forgiveness and eternal life.  Don’t be swayed from it – don’t allow the skepticism of the age to shake you – don’t let this world pressure you to push it aside.  This is our gospel…this is the power of God to change the world.

Let me ask you again: have you believed this good news?  Have you believed upon the resurrected Jesus Christ, receiving Him as your Lord & Savior?  There is no better time to do so than this Resurrection Sunday.  On this day that we celebrate Jesus’ resurrected life, receive that same life of your own.  Turn to God, ask forgiveness for your sin, and entrust yourself to Jesus – believing the gospel truth of Him.  Those who do receive life…that is His blessed guarantee.

Sunrise on the Square
Mark 16:1-8, “He is Risen!”

(1) Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. (2) Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Why had the women come so early?  This was their first opportunity to address Jesus’ body according to Jewish customs.  Jesus was taken down from the cross just prior to sunset on Friday, given over to Joseph of Arimathea in just enough time for he & Nicodemus the Pharisee to put Jesus in the tomb.  They had already packed Jesus’ body with spices, but it’s possible that (1) the women did not know all the work that had already been done, or (2) they had additional work that they desired to do.

In any case, they brought their own aromatic spices, and arrived at the tomb at their very first opportunity.  Sabbath regulations kept them from doing anything until sundown Saturday, and by that time it was too late.  Thus they planned for early Sunday morning, arriving at the tomb between first light and the full dawn.  It was imperative that they get there…their need was pressing.

  • How pressing is your need for Jesus?  Obviously the women were surprised upon arriving at the tomb, but they had come to serve – to show their devotion.  It was urgent & necessary – they couldn’t bear to wait.  Do you have an urgency with Jesus?  Have you realized your pressing need to love & to serve Him?

(3) And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” (4) But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. (5) And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

Their devotion was admirable, but their advance planning was a bit lacking.  A massive stone lay in front of the tomb, and it would take more than 3 women to move it.  (It would take more than 3 men, too!  Some scholars estimate it weighed between 450-650 pounds.)  This was a true problem for the women.  After all, it’s not as if the Roman guards would be willing to help them.  How would Mary & the others do it?  They didn’t know, but they didn’t let the obstacle stop them.  They would figure it out when they arrived.  (And when they did, they found that the problem was solved.)

  • Have you let anything keep you from Jesus?  Perhaps there have been perceived difficulties in the way?  Maybe you thought you needed to clean up your life before coming to Jesus?  Go to Him anyway!  You might be surprised at what He does when you do! …
  • Don’t let perceived obstacles keep you from Christ.  He is God Almighty…there are no obstacles for Him!

Of course, God had already dealt with the problem before the women arrived.  Not only was the stone removed, but so were the guards (a fact not mentioned by Mark).  The women had taken a step of faith in going to the tomb, and it was rewarded.  Instead of a stone, they saw a man – and not just any man, but an angel.  It’s no wonder they were “alarmed”…we would be, too!

We could stop right here and acknowledge a miracle.  After all, we have the mysterious removal of a several-hundred pound stone & the appearance of an angel.  That alone is enough to glorify God for His miraculous power.  Yet that’s only the opening act!  That’s just the attention-grabber.  The main miracle had already taken place, and the only reason for the angel’s appearance was to announce it.

(6) But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.

Right here – this is the greatest news in all history!  The women had no need to fear or to be alarmed, though they certainly had reason to be excited!  Jesus wasn’t there.  His body had been in the tomb, but not any longer.  Why?  There was no need.  Only dead bodies belong in graves, and Jesus wasn’t dead!  Yes, He was dead – this was affirmed by the angel saying that Jesus was the one “who was crucified.”  But Jesus is no longer dead.  He is risen – He is alive!

  • There is no better news in all the world than what the angel told the women that morning.  Jesus is risen, Jesus is alive!  Why is it such good news?  Because it means the price for sin has been paid in full.  It means that the forgiveness of God & His gift of eternal life is available for the asking.  The very reason Jesus was crucified was because of our sin.  As the perfect Son of God, Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong.  He didn’t do anything deserving of death.  We did.  We deserved the cross, yet Jesus took it.  Praise God that He did, but how can we know it was enough?  How can we know that what Jesus did upon the cross was sufficient for you & me?  The resurrection.  He rose!  He did not only die; He came back from death.  He defeated death.  He lives, and now anyone can have life in His name!
  • Do you?  Are you certain?  You can be. …

This kind of news demands a response, and that’s what the angel calls upon the women to do…
(7) But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (8) So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

The command: go & tell.  This was too good of news to keep to themselves.  All of the disciples needed to know…including Peter, the one who had failed Jesus so miserably a few days earlier.  They needed to know of Jesus’ victory, of the truth of His gospel, and of the mission in front of them.

The women obeyed…probably “going” a bit faster than they intended as they “fled” the scene.  They were silent to strangers on the road, but they soon told the apostles.  “Amazed” and “afraid” as they were, they did not let it stop them from the commission they had received.

  • Nothing should.  The news is too good.  The impact is too important.  It needs to be shared, and we are the ones to share it!

It was plain to the women that everything was changing.  Jesus had literally risen from the dead.  How could anything possibly remain the same?  It can’t.

Beloved, let us be changed by the news of Jesus’ resurrection!  Let us also be amazed and astounded at Jesus’ victory over death & sin!  May nothing hold us back from sharing this news with all the world!

Open your eyes!

Posted: March 27, 2016 in John, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Resurrection Sunday 2016
John 20:1-18, “Open your eyes!”

We can find ourselves blinded to all kinds of things if we’re not careful.  When we fall into certain routines, we just continue on our merry little way doing the same things we always do (which isn’t always a bad thing).  But because we’re never expecting to see anything different, we never see anything different.  And in the process, we can miss out on some incredible stuff going on around us.

That’s what happened with Mary Magdalene on the best morning ever.  Resurrection Sunday (the Sunday following the final Passover with Jesus) was truly the most glorious day ever to see a sunrise – yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at Mary or the disciples.  They were all grieving, Mary especially so.  Their grief, of course, was totally understandable.  We look back on what is often called Holy Saturday & we enjoy the preparations for the next morning.  They went through it first-hand, and they mourned the loss of not only their rabbi & friend, but their Lord & King.

Jesus had told them of all of this in advance.  He made it clear how He would had to die, and be lifted up in His death, so that all who looked to Him would live. (Jn 3:14,12:32).  He had prophesied His betrayal by Judas (Jn 13:18-19), His abandonment by the disciples (16:32), and also the fact that His death would only be temporary (16:19-23).  In short, He had prepared all of them for everything He would endure in going to the cross – they just hadn’t understood or believed.  They thought they believed what they could, but certainly couldn’t predict what they would think when they were in the midst of it. (Who could?)

Once it all came to pass, their world went into a tailspin.  They were lost in disillusion – their faith was shaken – their world was shattered.  They weren’t sure what to think, and they weren’t sure what to make of the things they witnessed as they unfolded.  But what they witnessed was marvelous!  Their day may have begun in weeping, but it blossomed into wonder!  Their only obstacle to joy was themselves.  They were blinded from faith because of their focus upon themselves – all they needed to do was open their eyes.

John 20:1–18

  • Mary’s discovery: the open door (1-2)

1 Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

  • From the outset, we need to acknowledge that there are going to be some differences between John’s account of the resurrection & that of the Synoptic gospels.  “Differences,” however, are not the same thing as contradictions.  John does not contradict the Synoptics; he simply draws out different aspects and emphases in his account.  We need to remember that John was aware of at least one of the other gospel accounts (if not two or all three), which is something that is evident throughout his writings.  His narrative often fills in the gaps left by Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  Thus since he was aware of the other books, it doesn’t even make logical sense that he would allow for contradictions.  There’s absolutely no way John was purposefully contradict what others had already written about Jesus, if what they wrote was true. (And all of the Synoptics are true, as opposed to the heretical Gnostic accounts, such as the so-called “Gospel according to Thomas,” and others.)  What we see John doing here is what he’s done elsewhere, and fill in the gaps.  Particularly, he concentrates on some of the personal eyewitness testimonies from that Resurrection morning.  In regards to the tomb, the Synoptics deal with broad sketches of two groups: the women and the apostles.  John deals with individual portraits of himself, Peter, and (particularly) Mary Magdalene.
  • It’s his account of Mary that’s so striking.  Mary Magdalene is mentioned all three of the other gospels, but she is the only woman at the tomb that John personally describes.  Although she did not have a sordid past of prostitution (in contradiction to modern mythologies about her), she did have massive struggles with demon possession.  At one point, Mary had been possessed by seven demons, and her only freedom came from the personal intervention of the Lord Jesus (Mk 16:9).  What does all of this have to do with the resurrection account?  Everything.  It deals with honesty & credibility.  In the ancient culture of the Romans & Jews, the testimony of women was not valued nearly as much as men.  Add to that Mary’s former demonic possession, and it’s quite possible that many people would not have given Mary any credibility at all.  In their minds, she was a formerly crazy lady – and maybe Jesus didn’t quite free her, after all.  As with any account of the resurrection from women, the gospel writers had every reason to hide their testimony…especially that of Mary.  Yet they don’t hide it; they freely proclaim it.  John goes so far as to give Mary extra space in his writing, highlighting her interaction with the Lord.  There was no reason to do this, unless it was true.  And it was/is.  The resurrection of Jesus is historical fact.  It wasn’t the imagination of a bunch of deluded men trying to invent a new religion; it actually happened.  And the best proof they had was in the actual history.  Just like Jesus chose the most unlikely of ways to enter the world (through a virgin birth in Bethlehem), so He chose the most unlikely of ways to reveal His resurrection to the world.
    • Jesus doesn’t always match our expectations, and praise God for it!  If He did, we’d have no reason to expect forgiveness, for we certainly do not deserve it, nor can we earn it.  We’d have no basis for which to ask anything of God, because we are so utterly defiled by the filth of our sin.  But Jesus goes beyond our expectations!  His ways are not our own, and that’s the only reason we can receive anything from God, because He gives it to us out of grace.
  • As to the text itself, John begins by giving us a time marker: “the first (day) of the week.”  I.e., Sunday.  [FYI, this is why the Christian church typically meets for worship on Sunday rather than Saturday.  It’s not that the Sabbath has changed (it hasn’t); it’s just that we have a marvelous motivation to worship on the 1st day of the week rather than the 7th.  Our Lord is risen from the grave!]  Mary went to the grave as soon as reasonably possible, even heading out on the road “while it was still dark” outside.  Again, there’s no contradiction with the Synoptic accounts which tell us how the women got to the tomb at dawn, when the sun had risen (Mk 16:2).  If sunrise is set for 7:15am, the first crack of light starts to show up around 6:50.  Mary likely got going at the first hints of daylight, and arrived at the tomb when daylight proper had begun.
    • Also, that Mary was up early prior to sunup did not break any Sabbath day regulations.  How so?  Because Sabbath was already past.  The Sabbath lasted from 6PM Friday to 6PM Saturday.  By Sunday morning, the Sabbath was nearly 12 hours past already.  Mary was free to wake up at midnight if she so desired…she just wouldn’t have been able to do anything at the tomb if she had.  She (and the other ladies) waited as long as would be practical, and headed out at their very first opportunity.
  • It’s not the time that Mary got started walking that was surprising; it’s what she found when she arrived.  The stone was gone!  Keep in mind, this was no simple task.  Mary and the other women had originally intended to continue to the burial rites begun by Joseph and Nicodemus (seemingly not knowing what all the men had accomplished), but even according to their original plan, they had no idea how they were going to deal with the stone.  Depending on the type of tomb, the stone was likely 4.5 feet in diameter, being a foot thick, and the weight would have been massive.  In the end, the weight of the stone was a non-issue, but the stone itself certainly was!  The fact that it was tossed aside was more than unusual, it was a problem.  According to Matthew, the stone had been sealed with the official sign of Rome, and the tomb itself was supposed to be guarded by a group of Roman soldiers.  If the stone guarding the entrance of the tomb was gone, something dramatic must have happened!  The disciples would likely be blamed, and trouble was sure to come.  When Mary first encountered the missing stone, it wasn’t a sign of hope; it was a renewed reason to panic.
    • Have you ever mistook something good for something awful?  You thought that what you experienced would be the worst thing in the world, and yet God worked a miracle through it, which you never would have seen otherwise.  That is exactly what happened at the cross itself!  The event could not have been worse: the death of the Son of God. But the result was amazing!  The price of sin was paid – our redemption was made possible.  Likewise with the missing stone.  At first glance, it would have looked terrible to Mary, but the reality was wonderful.  Mary just didn’t know it yet.
    • Have you ever considered that God might be doing in your life of which you might not yet be aware?  Wait & see!  Trust Him & have faith!

2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

  • With the stone removed, Mary knew only one thing to do: go tell the others.  Again, this is different than the other gospel accounts, but remember that the other gospels speak in broad strokes about the groups in general.  It’s not at all unlikely that while the other women remained at the tomb, Mary Magdalene individually ran back to tell the disciples what had happened.  And for good reason.  If Jesus’ body was stolen, the disciples would be blamed, and there would soon be a manhunt for them.
  • Who the “they” are is unsaid.  It’s unlikely that Mary had any coherent theory at the time.  It wouldn’t make sense for either the Jewish priests or the Romans to steal the body – they were the ones who set the guard to ensure the disciples wouldn’t do anything to it.  All Mary knew is that the body was gone, and she didn’t have any explanation for it.
  • Mary is panicking here, but notice what is unsaid, yet still true this whole time: Jesus is alive.  Jesus had risen from the dead, but Mary (nor the disciples) didn’t know it yet.  Without that knowledge, Mary’s whole world was crumbling around her – but it didn’t change the fact that it was still true.  Mary may not have known that Jesus was alive, yet He was.
    • Jesus is alive, whether or not we believe it.  Our faith may affect our future in Christ, but it doesn’t affect the fact of Christ.  He IS risen – He IS alive.  If we don’t believe the fact, we’re the ones living outside of reality; not Jesus.
  • So Mary tells Peter & John what she saw, and what do they do?  The only logical thing: check it out for themselves…
  • Peter & John’s examination: the empty tomb (3-10)

3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.

  • As a runner, I’ve got to appreciate this.  Some take this to imply that John was younger than Peter, which was the reason he beat Peter to the tomb.  It’s doubtful there were too many years separating them.  John just had a better kick to the end. 🙂  Obviously, this wasn’t Chariots of Fire – these were two young men desperately racing to see this thing for themselves.

5 And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

  • Interestingly, although John arrives at the tomb first, he stops short of entering it.  Whether he is in shock of the things he saw, or hesitant to defile himself with a dead body is unknown.  At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in trying to force a logical flow of thought on any of the people involved.  Their emotions had pretty much taken over at this point (which is totally understandable).
  • Peter, however, does go in.  John may have beat him to the tomb, but Peter still beat him inside.  What Peter saw astounded him.  The “linen cloths” in which Jesus was wrapped by Joseph and Nicodemus were there, but there wasn’t a body.  And beyond the cloths was the “handkerchief” that had covered Jesus’ face, and that was rolled up to the side.  BTW – “folded up” is not the best translation.  The word used by John describes something that is wrapped or rolled; not folded.  Scholars debate whether this describes that the handkerchief maintained the basic circular shape of Jesus’ head, or looked to be rolled up & placed to the side. 
  • Whatever the case, what happened is clear: this had been no grave robbery.  In a robbery, the movements would have been quick.  First the robbers would have had to deal with the Romans – but supposing that the soldiers were no problem, the robbers still had to move hastily for fear of being discovered.  They certainly would not have taken the time to unwrap Jesus’ body (with the 75 pounds of spice that was on it) – they would have taken it wrapped & all.  They certainly wouldn’t have taken the time to roll up the head covering & place it to the side.  This wasn’t the scene of a rushed robbery; this was a calm, purposed departure.
  • In addition, think about the grave clothes themselves.  When Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, he had to have people unwrap him.  He had to have help once he walked out of the grave.  But what happened here?  How did the grave clothes of Jesus get left behind in the tomb, at the place where He laid?  If there had been a robbery, and if people unwrapped Jesus, shouldn’t the cloths been tossed every which way?  Nothing about this made sense.  It was as if the Person who unwrapped Jesus had all the time in the world, because He had no fear of discovery.  The only way that would happen was if it all took place inside the tomb when the stone was still sealed.  IOW, it had to be done from the inside, and there was only one Person on the inside: Jesus.

8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.

  • It was as John personally saw all of this with his own eyes that the light began to dawn on his faith.  Again, it’s unlikely that either Peter or John were able to think through all of this logically at the time, but it was certainly enough to spark the match of John’s faith that would turn into a raging unquenchable fire.  “He saw and believed.
  • Have you believed?  You may not have seen the evidence with your own eyes, but you’ve heard eyewitness testimony of it.  What we have in the New Testament are not the writings of men who lived generations after these events took place; these are first-hand accounts.  These are what scholars would call primary sources.  You can’t get more first-hand than that of the apostles of Jesus.  They saw the evidence of Jesus first hand, and they believed.  They believed despite the costs that would come to them.  They were willing to give up their careers for Jesus – they were willing to endure torture for Jesus – they were willing to die in horrendous ways for Jesus.  Why?  Because they were absolutely convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Remember that these men were the same men who abandoned Jesus at the first sign of trouble.  When the Jews & Romans came to arrest Him, Jesus’ disciples scattered & were nowhere to be seen for days.  Yet after that Sunday morning (and especially after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit), the disciples became extraordinarily public in their faith.  They so spread the gospel that they were accused of turning the world upside-down.  What would make that change?  What would cause that to happen?  It all had to be true.  Jesus had to be risen from the dead.  They saw, and they believed.
    • Now it’s your turn.  Believe!  Have faith in the Risen Jesus!  Today is the day that you can be transformed by the Living Son of God.  You can know the forgiveness of sins, the reality of being made a child of God today, and the promise of living as a child of God for all eternity in heaven.  You can be saved!  (You’ll have an opportunity to do that at the end of the message, but you don’t have to wait until the end to be saved.  Place your faith in Christ right now.)

9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

  • This emphasizes the fact that the disciples hadn’t yet understood everything.  They saw the evidence, and John believed what he could, but there was more to understand.  Jesus had indeed taught them everything they needed to know about Himself over the course of the past three years, but they were slow to believe.  And at the moment, they were still in shock.  They needed time to put it all together – and most importantly, they needed the Holy Spirit who would continue to teach them these things & help confirm everything that Jesus had already said.
  • BTW, the Scripture does teach that the Messiah would rise from the grave.  Not only had Jesus personally taught of His resurrection multiple times during His ministry, the OT proclaims it as well.  Over and over again, the Bible speaks of the everlasting reign of the Messiah, while also speaking of His sacrificial death.  That only takes place via a resurrection.  The Messiah’s resurrection is foreshadowed in the event of Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac, with Abraham knowing that he and his son would return from the mount (Gen 22:5), and that God had the power to raise the dead (Heb 11:9).  Psalm 30:5 sees David thinking God for bringing his soul up from the grave & keeping him from the pit. And perhaps the most direct prophecy of resurrection (which Peter and Paul each quote): Psalm 16:10, "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption."  The resurrection may have been mysterious, but it certainly should not have been a surprise – the Scripture is replete with references to it.
  • That all speaks to the prophecies regarding resurrection, but what about its necessity?  John wrote that “He must rise again from the dead.”  No doubt it was necessary in order that prophecy might be fulfilled, but it’s more than that.  The resurrection of the Messiah was necessary in order that the Messiah might be the Messiah.  IOW, the resurrection is necessary because of what it proves.  When we think of the cross, we think of the price that was paid for our sins (and rightly so).  But how do we know that price has been paid?  After all, many men died via crucifixion, and obviously all men die at some point.  The wages of sin is death, and death is something that is expected of every human being.  What is it that makes the death of Jesus different?  It’s that He is the only person who didn’t deserve to die.  He was/is completely innocent of sin, being that not only is He the perfect Man, but He is also the perfect God.  But how do we know that?  Sure Jesus performed miracles, but many men performed miracles.  Elijah performed all kinds of supernatural acts, as did Moses, yet neither of them were the Messiah.  What sets Jesus apart?  How can we know He is different?  The resurrection.  One of the reasons Jesus had to rise from the dead was for proof that His death was truly sufficient for all death.  Only the death of the sinless Messiah would be enough for the world, and the only way to know that is for Jesus to rise from the grave.  It would be if death had no permanent hold upon Him, because what Jesus did was more than enough.  And it was!  Romans 1:4, "and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."  We know that Jesus is who the Bible says He is because He is risen from the grave.
    • We can know…do you?  The declaration of God has been made; we need believe!

10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

  • It’s a bit of a footnote, but it’s an interesting addition.  John doesn’t try to add to the narrative – he doesn’t try to make himself or Peter sound any more heroic or faithful than what they were.  John may have believed (at least a bit), but he still went home.  He didn’t go out preaching the gospel at that very hour.  He was in shock, confused, and unsure of himself…just like many of us would have been.  The disciples were normal people, just like you & me.  What made them different?  The empowerment of the Holy Spirit (which would later come in Acts 2) – that same power is available to us, too!
  • At this point, John turns back to Mary Magdalene.  She reported the news of the removed stone to Peter & John, but what happened afterwards?  That’s where her story picks up…
  • Mary’s grief: the angels (11-13)

11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

  • Unlike John & Peter, Mary never entered the tomb.  Unlike John, Mary still had not yet started to believe.  Obviously she had seen less evidence than either one of them (not for lack of availability), but apparently she didn’t even talk to John or Peter as they left.  Perhaps they were shocked & speechless – perhaps she was too distraught to attempt any conversation.  All we know is that Mary wept – and wept – and wept.  Eventually she did look into the tomb, and she saw two angels sitting where Jesus once had been.
  • There are a couple of points of interest: (1) The angels didn’t attract any attention.  According to the Synoptics, there had been angels when the women first arrived at the tomb, but it seems entirely possible that Mary fled the scene before she received too much of an explanation.  Obviously the angels had left at some point prior to Peter & John’s visit to the tomb, but now they had returned.  Yet they don’t make a massive visual entrance.  There’s no lightning bolt from heaven signaling their arrival.  Nor is there anything unusually special about their appearance other than their white clothing.  Nowhere in the Bible are angels ever pictured with wings, harps, or halos – those are imaginations dreamt up by medieval painters.  (2) Regardless of the angels’ lack of fanfare, Mary barely pays them any attention at all.  At the very least, we would think Mary would be curious as to when/how these two men arrived.  If they weren’t in the tomb when Peter & John were there & Mary was outside as they left, then where did these angels come from?  And especially if they were at all recognizable as angels…Mary still didn’t pay any attention to them.
  • Mary is so overcome by grief that she misses the miracle taking place right in front of her eyes.  Almost everywhere else in Scripture, when angels appear, men fear.  Invariably, those who witness angels have to be told not to fear.  Mary Magdalene is so distraught that she doesn’t even have the sense to be afraid of these angelic beings.  This is what lack of faith does.  Unbelief (and especially self-centered unbelief) causes us to totally miss the work of God.  And of course, this is only going to be demonstrated in an even greater way in a few moments.

13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

  • Even as Mary engages with these angels, she still clings to her grave-robber theory.  By this point, she’s seen the evidence, but she hasn’t absorbed it.  Her grief has blinded her to the good news of what has happened, and she is joyless in the very place where joy begins.
  • The empty tomb of Jesus is the greatest event in all history!  Although it was upon the cross where the work was completed (“It is finished!”) – it is at the tomb where that completed work is made known to all the world.  Creation mourned when its Creator died.  The earth quaked & the sky went dark as Jesus took His last breath on Friday.  Yet that particular Sunday morning was surely the most beautiful ever known.  Doubtless the birds sang more joyfully and the garden outside the tomb never looked more lovely than on the day its Creator walked among them again.  If the tomb is empty, it is because Jesus no longer lay in it.  Jesus had no more need of a grave, because He breathed the breath of life once more.  That is truly good news!
  • But it is news that will never be enjoyed by those who have no faith.  Beware that your grief and sorrow doesn’t blind you to the good news of Christ.  Be careful that your regret over past sin doesn’t bind you from running to the Savior for forgiveness.  Like Mary, you might have your own ideas and false theories – but the truth is still the truth, regardless of your faith.  Jesus IS alive, and He can be known.
  • Mary’s hope: Jesus (14-18)

14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

  • Incredibly, Mary has almost the exact same conversation with Jesus.  For the first time since John’s account of Sunday morning began, the Risen Jesus actually appears, and what ought to be the most glorious reunion in Mary’s life almost turns out to be a non-event as she completely misses what is going on around her.  Theories abound as to why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus.  It’s possible that Jesus hid His identity from her, as He apparently did in other post-resurrection appearances.  It’s possible that Mary’s tears so cloud her eyes that she can’t physically see straight.  And of course it’s possible that Mary is still so overcome with sorrow that nothing makes sense to her.  Regardless of the reason she didn’t recognize Jesus, it’s apparent that she’s not looking for a living Lord, but a dead one.  When directly asked who it was she sought, Mary flatly (but politely) accuses this supposed Stranger of being the one to have stolen Jesus’ body.
  • On one hand, Mary’s devotion is admirable.  After all, how exactly did she imagine that she would carry Jesus’ body back to the disciples?  Jesus’ body would have been far too heavy for her to manage.  None of those details mattered to her; all she wanted was to see her Jesus again, even in death.
  • Yet Mary could see her Jesus right then & there if she only looked up!  If she picked her heart up out of grief for enough time to listen for the voice of God, she would have known to whom it was she spoke.  Thankfully, Jesus reached out with His grace.  Knowing her weakness and inability to see Him, Jesus took the initiative and spoke to her in a way she would understand…

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

  • After everything Mary already experienced & saw, all it took was a single word: her name.  When Jesus spoke her name, the grieving sheep heard the voice of her Good Shepherd and recognized Him immediately.  This was her teacher – her dearest Rabbi calling to her.  He spoke, and she heard.
  • For some of you today, Jesus is calling your name.  To this point, you’ve carried around sorrow or sin or shame – but whatever your burden, you have been unable to respond to evidence of Jesus all around you.  But you cannot ignore Him calling your name.  Hear Him & respond!  Be careful not to harden your heart against Him.  Mary received what might have been a one-time opportunity.  She wasn’t guaranteed another chance and neither are you.  When Jesus calls your name, respond!
  • And respond, Mary did!  Apparently she grabbed hold of Jesus and didn’t want to let go…

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”

  • Be careful not to assume the worst of Jesus and think that He’s forbidding Mary even from touching Him.  From the KJV, it would be easy to come to that conclusion, yet we know from other post-resurrection appearances that Jesus could indeed be touched & handled.  In fact, that plays a major role in Thomas’ later encounter with Jesus (20:27).  The idea here is that Mary was presently continually holding on to Jesus, and Jesus has to reassure her that He isn’t going anywhere…at least, not yet.
  • Soon Jesus would leave, just as He had told His disciples while He was still with them in the Upper Room.  Very soon Jesus would physically ascend to God, and that would start a brand-new phase in both His ministry, and that of the disciples.  That’s the point that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples & empower them to do the work that God called them to do as the church.
    • BTW – that phase of Jesus’ ministry continues to this very day.  He still lives, yet He is ascended to God’s right hand, and it is the Holy Spirit who resides among the church today.  The Spirit indwells us at our salvation (something that will be pictured later in Ch 20), and in addition, He comes upon us for power.  It is only by the Holy Spirit that we have the power to do the work that God calls us to do as the church.
  • Even if Mary (and the other disciples) may have been left a bit confused by the message of Jesus concerning His ascension, notice the one thing they surely wouldn’t have misunderstood in the slightest: their inclusion in the family of God.  They were not only His disciples & friends; they were His brothers.  God the Father wasn’t only the Father of Jesus; He was their Father as well.  The same God worshipped by Jesus is the God worshipped by the apostles.  Every relationship that Jesus had with God the Father was shared by those who believed in Him.
    • That is the blessedness of being a believer! We are brought into the very family of God, and we share in the richness of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  What Father and Son share in eternal communion, is what we share through faith.  Christ holds nothing back once we come to faith in Him.  What He has been given, He shares with us in full.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

  • Peter & John may not have shared much with Mary as they left the tomb, but Mary couldn’t help but share what she experienced.  They had experienced the empty tomb, but Mary experienced the Risen Jesus Himself!  She heard, touched, and saw the Lord Jesus alive, and her whole world changed that very instant.  One moment she was so overcome with grief that she didn’t even acknowledge the presence of angels in her midst, nor even recognized the Savior she longed to see.  The next, she was overcome with joy – her grief having turned to gladness.  Her Savior called her name, and she came to faith.  She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her Lord lived, and there was a glorious future in store for them all.  Even if Jesus hadn’t specifically instructed her to tell the disciples these things, there was no possible way of keeping it secret!
  • There still isn’t.  Jesus is risen from the dead!  How can we possibly keep that news to ourselves?  There are so many who need to hear.  Even as believers, we need to be reminded that our Savior lives.  He may reside in heaven, but He didn’t go there through death; He went there in power & glory.  And He will return the same way!  Are we ready to see Him?  Are we even looking to see Him?  We need to constantly tell one another the good news of our Jesus’ risen life!
  • And we especially need to tell the world.  According to some statistics, over 150,000 people die every single day.  How many of those know the Lord?  How many perhaps have never even heard His name?  WE are the ones to tell them!  Like Mary, we have been charged by our Lord Jesus to tell the world that He lives, and that He has a plan to come back.  We have been given the most glorious news in all of history: the news that Jesus died for our sins, yet lives today.  How many of those 150,000 who die today still have the opportunity to hear the gospel?  Tell them!
    • And if you’re someone who does not yet believe, how do you know you’re not one of those 150,000 people for today?  Or tomorrow?  None of us know how long we have left on this earth.  Even those who are told by their doctors of life-threatening disease don’t even have the next heartbeat guaranteed.  None of us do.  Take the opportunity you have today to believe the gospel!  Put your faith in Jesus, the One who is risen from the dead!

Conclusion:
Mary’s hope is our hope!  What Peter & John witnessed is evidence for us to believe!  Jesus is risen from the dead.  The battle against death has been won, and Jesus is the victor!  He lives even today, having risen to the right hand of God, though He will not be there for much longer.  He has promised to return, and one day all the world will know that Jesus lives!

How do we respond to the news of Jesus’ resurrection?  For some of us, it is simply to worship & to share.  We’ve believed upon Jesus in the past, and every Resurrection Sunday is another reminder of the glorious things that Jesus has done for us & the victory He has won.  So we give Him our praise & we recommit ourselves to telling our friends, neighbors, and family about Him.

For others of us, it’s an opportunity to recommit.  This week you’ve been reminded about the great cost of your sin, and you cannot bear to walk in it any longer.  Although you have asked Jesus for forgiveness in the past, you cannot honestly say that you’ve been walking with Him lately.  Today, you can.  Recommit yourself to Christ, knowing that His resurrection from the dead frees you from those things.  You don’t have to be blinded by guilt and shame any longer.  Hear the voice of your Good Shepherd & give yourself again to Him.

Finally, it’s also an opportunity to believe.  For some of you, maybe you’ve seen bits & pieces of the evidence, but you’ve never given yourself over to faith.  Maybe you haven’t wanted to believe – or maybe you have, but counted yourself unworthy of the love of God.  News flash: all of us are unworthy…that’s why God calls it “grace.”  God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, and because Jesus rose from the dead, now you can be made a son or daughter of God.  So believe upon Him today!  Turn away from your sins, confessing them to God & asking His forgiveness – and then believe upon Jesus, asking Him by faith to be your Lord & King.  He will save.  All you need do is ask.