He Is Risen
“Can you be Christian and not believe in the resurrection?” shouts the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune. What a crazy question. You would think that as soon as the journalist began researching this topic among Christian clergy, she would have decided that it was a foolish question not worth pursuing. Instead, her opening paragraph states, “Many scholars dismiss it. Some theologians downplay it. Even some worshippers dodge it. But, for most Christians, the idea that Jesus Christ’s body literally was resurrected is a given, a fundamental of the faith.”
The only surprising thing here is that it wasn’t unanimous among the Christian leaders she interviewed that without the resurrection, our preaching and even our faith itself are useless.
—Jim L. Wilson and Rodger Russell
There were believers in the church at Corinth who had accepted the message of the gospel as Paul had presented it to them, but somewhere along the way they had begun to doubt the resurrection. They had decided that it was not an essential doctrine to believe to be a Christian. It is likely that Greek thought had influenced them. The Greeks believed that the body was evil and the spirit good, so immortality was for the spirit. Christians believed in a bodily resurrection that was, according to Paul, an essential belief to be a Christian.
W.A. Criswell said, “These verses are the clearest and most concise in all of Scripture as to the essence of “the gospel.”1
Paul sought to make sure the Christians in the church at Corinth had a clear understanding of the gospel. This is what I hope to do for you as well today. Maybe you are watching this and you are a believer: Let this be a reminder and an encouragement. If you are watching this and you are not a believer, I hope that you understand the fundamentals of what Christians believe and you will consider it for yourself. Let’s look at what Paul wrote:
1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Show the Gospel
Show the Gospel
Paul wanted to make sure the believers had an absolute understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message that he had given to them when he was there had been accepted by them. They had placed their faith in it, yet was now denying the very foundation of their belief system - the resurrection.
The gospel of Jesus is the way in which they are saved and are being saved. The word Paul used here can be translated as delivered, rescued, or healed. It is the idea that the salvation Christ offers is the deliverance from sin and the judgment. It is a healing of our broken condition, the broken relationship between mankind and God. Yet you and I know that we are not immediately taken into the physical presence of God. Salvation has an already and a not yet quality to it. We are saved immediately and able to enjoy a renewed relationship with God, but that salvation will culminate when Christ returns.
Paul made it clear that anyone who did not hold to the gospel he had preached could not be saved. Only by this gospel could they be saved from God’s judgment. Salvation comes through belief in the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is the initial belief, but it doesn’t end there. Salvation is a process which requires the continuity of belief.
There are many people that walk an aisle, say a prayer, then leave the church and never look back. They don’t think about Jesus anymore. They think they are secure in their salvation because they made that decision that one time.
Paul says you are being saved if you hold to the message I preached to you. There is a condition to salvation: you must persevere in that belief. If you have joined us for our Revelation study, you may have noticed that Jesus keeps saying the same thing there. To the church that conquers, to the ones who overcome, they will receive His blessings. Paul believed that saving faith would set itself apart from insincerity through time. True believers persevere in their commitments to Christ. A temporary faith makes no appreciable difference in one’s life because the gospel fails to take effect.
If you lose your belief in the gospel, you were not saved. Paul precluded those who denied the resurrection from claiming salvation in Christ.
3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
He wanted them to understand that the proclamation that he had given them and is about to give them again does not originate with him; rather, it was what he had received himself. He simply passed on the confession of faith to them. It was a formula used throughout the Scriptures that details the essentials of the faith.
The first was the idea of the substitutionary death of Christ. Paul wrote in
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Every person who has ever lived is guilty before God. We have all rebelled against Him to do our own thing. This has condemned us to death. Paul also wrote in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. This is what we all deserve. But notice what Paul continued to write in
24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
By taking our place on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for your sins. He was the atoning sacrifice. He made reparation to God the Father for the wrong that we had done against Him. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness. When the Father looks at us, He sees the perfection of Christ rather than our wrong.
Paul says that Jesus died according to the Scriptures. He is probably thinking specifically of Is. 53, where Isaiah prophesies of a suffering servant coming to take the place for the people who had committed the crime against God. Therefore, Christ fulfilled the Scriptures.
Paul gives the evidence of the death of Christ in the fact that He was buried. He was laid in a tomb. The Romans were very good at killing people. They didn’t fail in this point. Jesus was dead. He didn’t just swoon. He was dead. He was buried. But thankfully for us, He didn’t stay dead.
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Paul affirmed that the resurrection of Jesus is essential for the gospel message. The resurrection testifies that Jesus indeed was the perfect sacrifice. It verifies that He paid the penalty for our sins. Paul says a few verses later:
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Those, then, who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
The belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ was essential to the gospel because it fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures.
1 Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. 2 He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence.
Throughout the Old Testament, deliverance often came on the third day. If you have read the OT, the expectation of miraculous salvation on the third day would come as no surprise. Jesus Himself referred to the sign of Jonah/
39 He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Interestingly, Jonah referred to being in the belly of the fish as being in Sheol, the Hebrew word for the grave. Jesus used the OT story to predict His own situation.
But that wasn’t the only time. If you read the gospel, you can see several times before His death where Jesus predicted He would die and then return on the third day.
The Greek term translated rose here is in the perfect tense, emphasizing the ongoing effects of this historical event. Christ is a risen Savior today. He didn’t live again and then die again later. He still lives today. He is the Living God.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.
Paul seeks to show how the resurrection is well-founded. Early Christian evangelists validated the certainty of Jesus’s resurrection by recounting his post-tomb appearances to authoritative eyewitnesses. Peter was the first of these witnesses, Paul was the last.
Following Peter, Christ appeared to the Twelve, a term speaking of the original disciples, even though Judas Iscariot was no longer apart of them. In my opinion, the testimony of the Twelve is one of the strongest. Following the death of Jesus, his most devout followers were hiding in fear. The original twelve suddenly came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead and were willing to die for that belief. Their belief in the resurrection transformed these men. Church tradition says that all of these men except for John died as martyrs for their beliefs and confessions of Christ as risen from the dead.
After appearing to the Twelve, Paul records that Jesus appeared to over five hundred believers at once. Paul added that most of these witnesses were still alive when he wrote. In effect, Paul was inviting the Corinthians to check this out if they wished. Jesus’ resurrection was not just His spirit being received in heaven. His body was raised from death and was seen not only by individuals and by small groups, but by a large group as well.
Critics try to dismiss the group sightings by calling it mass hallucination. The problem is that mass hallucination means that they all would have to be together. Jesus appeared to these different groups at different times. That is not how mass hallucination works.
Another testimony that is quite compelling is that of James, the brother of Jesus. Scripture tells us that James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. Honestly, who could blame him? If one of my brothers tried to convince me that he was the Son of God, I would try to have them committed. But James later became a leader in the church in Jerusalem. He also died as a martyr. If Jesus appeared to His brother and convinced Him that He was the Resurrected Christ, I am pretty convinced.
After He appeared to James, Paul says that He appeared to all the apostles (except for him). Most scholars believe this refers to Jesus’s ascension, when He was returning to heaven. He had made it known what would happen; who would want to miss that? Further, before He ascended, He commissioned them to be witnesses to all the world. They were to go and tell everyone they met about what they had seen and heard. Guess what; they did it! You and I are here today, 2000 years later, still telling the story. Let us continue to be faithful in telling people about the miraculous work of God in our salvation.
Finally, Paul refers to his own witness. Christ came back in body to speak with Paul. Paul makes it clear that he saw Jesus, not as a spirit, but in His bodily resurrection. Jesus was not raised from the dead as a spirit, but had a physical body.
38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
The Greeks believed in immortality of the soul, but Paul sought to help them understand that the body would be resurrected, as Christ’s example demonstrated. In the rest of this chapter, Paul defends the bodily resurrection of Christ and the believer.
Paul speaks of his experience in an interesting way. He says that he was born at the wrong time. The word Paul uses here ektromati refers to a premature birth. Unlike the Twelve, Paul became an apostle without having had the “gestation period” of knowing Jesus on earth, ministering with Him, listening to His teaching. Rather than being eased into apostleship, Paul was dramatically confronted on the Damascus road. His apostleship was rather sudden, but that does mean it is any less. The other apostles all verified and validated Paul as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted his writings as Scripture.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, 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. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed.
Paul closes this section by pointing out his own unworthiness but God’s amazing, stunning grace. Paul considers himself as less than worthy of being called an apostle because he had previously persecuted the church. He had killed people who testified to the gospel, but now, by God’s grace, Paul was the one testifying to it.
By human standards, Paul should have been subject to the idea of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye, but that is not how God works. God described Himself in this way:
6 The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, 7 maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.
God is loving and merciful. He is also full of grace. When mankind rebelled against Him, He set into motion a plan to bring us back to Himself. When we broke the relationship with Him, He sought us out. When we subjected ourselves to slavery to sin and to death, He loved us so much that He sought to deliver us from it. And it cost Him everything.
16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus, God the Son, the second person of the Triune God, was sent by the Father to take on flesh, to live a perfect life, yet to die on a cruel cross to pay for your sin. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, for three days later, He rose! He is risen!
God the Father raised Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and He lives forever. He has conquered death. As a believer, you share in the inheritance of Christ. We can be united with him forever.
The gospel was uniformly preached by all of the witnesses that Paul mentioned. On this all the apostles agreed—Christ’s resurrection was central to the gospel. If you don’t believe that, you cannot claim to be a Christian. You must believe it, and you must cling to it.
Do you believe?
Do you believe?
He is risen from the dead and he offers to you the gift eternal life with Him.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, you can be saved from the coming judgment. God said He would not leave the guilty unpunished. The book of Revelation records what is going to happen in the last days. History is moving toward an end. When that end comes, God will punish those who have sinned against Him, which is everyone. But the one who trusts in the resurrection of Jesus Christ find in Him a shelter from the judgment.
9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.
13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Paul also wrote to the Corinthians
2 For he says: At an acceptable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!
Won’t you believe in Him, repent of your sins, and call upon His name for salvation today?