Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Easter Is Important -- 1 Corinthians 15

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Just recently, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary produced by James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame) and Simcha Jacobovici claiming that the family tomb of Jesus, including the tomb of Jesus Himself has been found in Jerusalem. And the remarkable thing of it all is that supposed confirmation this gives to the claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Here are His remains, in a family tomb, together with his father Joseph, his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene, his son Judah, and the disciple Matthew. Well, what are we to make of it? We cannot simply ignore the claim. If it is true, then the conspiracy theories of The Da Vinci Code and the entire genre of literature spawned by it’s popularity are closer to the truth than the Bible. If it is true, then we have wasted countless hours, countless dollars, and even countless lives through two millennia of Church history. If it is true, then not only could we all have slept in a little longer today, but we can and should every Sunday. If it is true, then the best we can do today is color some eggs, tell stories about bunnies which lay chocolate eggs, and then go fishing. And, by the way, you have no reason to expect a day off from your employer today, tomorrow or two days ago on Friday. Basically, it the claims of this documentary and other theories about a non-risen Christ are true, then the best thing Christians can do for the world is shut down all the churches and all the organizations and institutions established in the name of Christ over the last 2000 years, and go hide our heads in shame and embarrassment about the lie we have all believed. If it is true.

So what do we say to it all? Some have said, “So what?” Some have said that without a risen Christ, they can still go on and play church on Sundays and do nice things for people. They seem to think that removing all the spectacular from Christianity makes it more intellectually palatable for the rest of the world, so why not jettison belief in the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, the virgin birth, and every other supernatural claim of the Christian faith, and reduce it all down to moral improvement through the passing along of practical wisdom in the form of parables and proverbs. I think they are wrong. First, they are wrong because without a risen Christ, there is no need to play church. Second, without a risen Christ, there is no reason to do anything good for anyone – after all, we should just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Third, removing the spectacular does not make Christianity more intellectually palatable, but rather exposes it as a sham and superstitious system of mythology and worthless traditions. Fourth, they are wrong because wisdom in the form of proverbs and parables are powerless to transform people’s lives. Fifth, they are wrong because they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and fallen for the presupposition of the world which says that dead men don’t rise.

Rather than saying, “So what?”, I say, those documentarists have a tremendous burden of proof to shoulder. The tomb they have popularized is not a “new discovery.” This tomb was found in 1980, and was outrightly dismissed at that time by the entire academic community. The only reason that the thing is remotely of interest today is because of the craze of interest in debunking Christianity that has been throttled in recent years by the popularity of The Da Vinci Code. Secondly, we say that it would make no sense for the family tomb of Jesus to be found in Jerusalem. They had lived their entire lives mostly in Nazareth, and that is where we would expect the family to be buried. Thirdly, the entire claim of this documentary rests on the occurrence of names. The names on the ossuaries in this tomb are Joseph, Mary, Jesus the son of Joseph, another Mary (who is claimed by the documentary to be Mary Magdalene), Judah the son of Jesus, and Matthew. And the makers of this film claim that by virtue of statistical analysis, this must be the family of Jesus the Christ. The fact of the matter is that the name they claim to be Mary Magdalene is nearly illegible and has been understood by others to read differently. Add to this that it is highly unlikely that Jesus would ever name a son Judah, because of its connection to Judas. Add to this that it certainly seems unlikely Matthew would have been buried in Jerusalem, for though traditions vary on where he spent the latter part of his life, no tradition exists that assigns his latter days to Jerusalem. Also, it is an undeniable fact of historical record that many men and women in the first century Jewish world had the same names. There is a terrible lack of originality involved in the naming of sons and daughters. A more accurate statistical analysis than that which was done by the makers of this documentary would reveal that Joseph, Judah, Jesus, and Matthew are four of the top nine most popular names among Hebrew men in that day and time. Mary is far and away the most popular female name. If you were to stumble across a small family cemetery today with stones bearing only first names like Joseph, Rose, John, Edward, and Robert, you would no sooner assume this to be the Kennedy family’s graves than any other family’s, because of the commonality of those names.

We have discussed in times past the evidences of the Resurrection. We have spoken often of the universal agreement among those believers and unbelievers alike in first century Jerusalem that the tomb which had contained the body of Jesus was found to be empty on the Sunday morning after He died. So then arise the theories of how it got to be that way. First is the direct claim of Jesus Himself that He would rise from the dead. Second is the echo of that claim in the mouths of disciples who had initially doubted that it actually occurred. In saying this, they are either right or wrong. It is not my purpose today to talk about why I believe He lives. I have done that before. In fact, I did it last Easter Sunday morning. You can get a copy of it in written form or perhaps on tape. I can point you to numerous other scholarly resources on the subject. No, today I do not intend to discuss why I believe Christ is risen, but rather why it matters.

John Stott has said that “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of the resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” Now to some in our world today, that is music to their ears. They want nothing more than for Christianity to be destroyed. But I suggest to you that the Christianity that most of them see regularly has already been destroyed because it has lost the significance of the fact that we worship and serve a risen Savior. Why is His resurrection significant?

I. The Resurrection is Significant for the Savior

There have been several movements in academic theology to search for the “Historical Jesus.” I suggest to you that the Historical Jesus is the Biblical Jesus, and that is a Jesus who was God incarnate, crucified for our sins, and risen from the dead. If you subtract one of those elements, you do not have the Biblical Jesus, and therefore you do not have the Historical Jesus. In First Corinthians 15 that Paul goes to great lengths to establish that Christ is Risen from the dead. It was prophesied in Scripture (vv3-4), it was testified by eyewitnesses (vv5-8), it was manifested in changed lives (v9-10). Now, why does He go to such great lengths to establish the resurrection as a fact?

A. The Resurrection Affirms the Deity of Christ

Nowhere in Scripture are we led to believe that the resurrection established the deity of Christ—that is, that He was not God until He rose from the dead. Rather, we find in Romans 1:4 that He was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection declares that He is the Son of God. The phrase “Son of God,” does not mean that He is less than God or something other than God, but rather that He and God are of the same exact nature and substance. Jesus had claimed this for Himself. In John 10:30, He said, “I and the Father are One.” Many people have gone to great lengths to suggest that He did not mean that He was God. However, the people around Jesus when He said that understood exactly what He meant. The Bible says in John 10:31-33 that they picked up stones to kill Him, accusing Him of blasphemy saying, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” They knew what He meant. He was claiming to be God. Now anyone can claim to be God. Many people have made that claim in history. Why believe Jesus over any of them? Because Jesus said He would prove it. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Him, He said in Matthew 12:39, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign ; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” He claimed that He would prove that He was indeed who He claimed to be by conquering death and coming out of the grave. And Paul says in Romans 1:4 that the resurrection of Christ from the dead POWERFULLY DECLARES it as a matter of fact.

B. The Resurrection Affirms the Sovereignty of Christ

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that He will judge all the nations. On what basis does He make that claim? What reason do we have to believe Him? How can a dead man judge the world? In Acts 17:31, Paul proclaims that God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, meaning Christ, having furnished PROOF to all men by raising Him from the dead. He will judge the nations because He is sovereign over the nations, and His resurrection proves this.

C. The Resurrection Affirms the Purity of Christ

Jesus told His disciples before He went to Jerusalem in Matthew 20 that He would be delivered over unto death, He would be mocked and scourged and crucified, and “on the third day He will be raised up.” And when they found the tomb to be empty, an angel said to them, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” JUST AS HE SAID. Those are important words. You see, Jesus said He would rise from the dead. What if He didn’t? What kind of person makes statements like that are not true? Jesus would be a liar. And so what? He’d be in good company – the world is full of liars. There isn’t a one of us who haven’t told a bold-faced lie, maybe this week, and maybe even today. So what? Jesus is a liar. Well, if He is a liar, then He cannot be the Savior. For in order to be the Savior, He has to be able to die in our place, that His death might pay for our sins. And His death cannot pay for our sins if He has His own sins to pay for. C. S. Lewis has well said, “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 a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” Is He a liar? Or did He rise from the dead, just as He said He would? It is a significant question for understanding who Jesus is.

D. The Resurrection Affirms the Victory of Christ

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then He is merely a guy who died on the cross, just like any number of other first century subjects of the Roman Empire. His mission, His claims, He Himself, lie defeated in a grave somewhere – either the one found by the Discovery documentary or some other one somewhere. Let us gather some flowers and place on His tomb, or better yet, let’s just forget everything we have ever known about Him. But Paul has gone to great lengths in 1 Corinthians 15 to demonstrate that Christ is risen from the dead. Skeptical Thomas was confronted with His wounded hands and pierced side, and called Him Lord and God. He is victorious over death, victorious over our sins, and victorious over Satan, and this is affirmed by His resurrection.

So it matters! Without the resurrection, Jesus is not who He claimed to be, He is not who the Bible says He is, and He is not who we have gathered to worship today. It is significant for the Savior that He be risen.

II. The Resurrection is Significant for the Scriptures

Turning our attention back now to 1 Corinthians 15, you will notice Paul says in vv3-4 that the death and resurrection of Christ are of first importance, and that both happened according to the Scriptures. In fact through the rest of this chapter, Paul strings together one Old Testament quotation after another, demonstrating that the resurrection was not invented by those who wrote the New Testament, but rather it had been proclaimed in advance by those who wrote the Old Testament.

Verse 27 contains a reference from Psalm 8:6. Verse 32 is lifted from Isaiah 22:13. Verse 45 comes from Genesis 2:7. Verses 54-55 is a restatement of Hosea 13:14 and Isaiah 25:18. The Hebrew Bible was divided into three sections – the Torah, the Nebiim, and the Kethubim. Those three words give us the acronym Tanakh, the name by which the Hebrew Bible is known. And it is of interest that Paul uses quotations from each of those three sections, just as Jesus did in Luke 24:44-47. There He said to His disciples after His resurrection, “‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses (that’s the Torah) and the Prophets (that’s the Nebiim) and the Psalms (the Kethubim) must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

The resurrection is significant for the Scriptures in at least two ways.

A. The Resurrection Affirms the Unity of the Scriptures

The Bible was written in three different languages on three different continents by more than 40 different writers, most of whom never knew each other and lived in different places, times and cultures. It was written over a period of 1600 years, yet it has one single theme and purpose: the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity for the glory of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament and takes central focus in the New Testament. There we find reference to it over 100 times. It is mentioned directly or indirectly by every New Testament writer. So, without the resurrection, we have a disjointed collection of poems and stories, randomly assorted and without purpose.

B. The Resurrection Fulfills the Prophesies of the Scriptures

This is what Paul means when he says, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” It is what Jesus meant when He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day.” Where is it written?

In Hosea 6:1-2, we read this: “Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him.” Certainly those who heard these words initially understood this to mean that if they trust in the Lord, He would raise them up from their sufferings. However a long line of rabbinic traditions assigns this to a future belief of resurrection from the dead, and Paul says that Christ is the firstfruits of resurrection.

In Psalm 16:8-11 we read: “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” After the Resurrection of Jesus, both Peter and Paul referred back to this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection. Peter said in Acts 2 that David could not have been referring to himself, for he died, and was buried, and the whereabouts of his tomb was still known to them in that day. But rather, David was looking ahead to the Messiah, the coming descendant of David who was the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ. Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”

Also, when Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me,” it was not a cry of hopeless despair. Rather, it was a citation of the 22nd Psalm in which we read this very same line in verse 1; in verses 7-8, we read, “All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, "Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him." Certainly these things took place in this exact way as Christ was on the cross. In verses 14-16, we read, “I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.” Again all of this took place as Jesus died on the cross. His hands and feet were pierced, His bones were not broken, He thirsted, they cast lots for His garments, and when they pierced His side, His heart flowed forth blood and water, melted like wax within Him. Yet in verse 22, the Psalmist says, “I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” He knows that death will not be the end. And just as he says, Jesus rose from the dead and testified to the glory of the Father in the midst of His disciples.

And in that remarkable passage, the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet so vividly recounts all that the Messiah would endure, 700 years before it happened, we read that He would be “pierced through for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities,” yet “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days.” Thus the prophet knew that Messiah would have victory over His sufferings.

These are just a few of the prophecies fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so you see it is significant for the Scriptures, in that it establishes the unity of the Scriptures and fulfills the prophecies of the Scriptures. If Christ is not risen, then the Bible is just a book, not unlike any other collection of myths, superstitions and fairytales. But if He lives, it is a strong testimony that the Word of God is true, and therefore we should feed ourselves on it allowing it to point us to salvation and a life of bringing glory to God.

III. The Resurrection is Significant for the Saints

Finally, let me address why the resurrection of Christ matters to you, the individual, and to those who are born-again by faith in Christ in particular.

A. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Faith

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain. The word vain means “empty,” or “without meaning.” Then Paul says in verse 17 that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. Surely, we do not want to believe in things that have no value to us. But if Christ is not raised, there is no benefit of having faith in Him. It is worthless. Faith is only as valid as its object. If the object of our faith is Christ, and He is not risen from the dead, then our faith is empty. Really—what is the point of following a dead guy who claimed to be God, and claimed to be able to save us, and claimed He would rise from the dead, if indeed He didn’t rise from the dead? We are the biggest idiots on the earth if Christ is not risen from the dead. We have fallen for the biggest lie of history, unless He really lives. We might as well have faith in the Easter Bunny or the Great Pumpkin.

But Paul proclaims boldly in verse 20 that Christ has been raised from the dead, and as a result, he says in verse 32 that he is willing to fight wild beasts at Ephesus. Why face death for a worthless faith? Why not just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die? Because Paul is assured that he is not facing death for human motives, but out of absolute confidence that his faith is not vain or worthless, but valid and valuable, because Jesus is alive.

B. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Forgiveness

In verse 17, he says if Christ is not raised … you are still in your sins. What hope do you have to overcome the burden of guilt and shame we all carry for our sins if Christ is not raised? It is ridiculous to say that Jesus died for them if He is not risen victorious over them. We might as well point to the death of Ghandi, or Abraham Lincoln, or Alexander the Great and say they died for our sins. They are just meaningless words. But if Christ is risen from the dead, then He has conquered death, conquered the penalty of our sins, and stands victorious over them still, and is able to offer us forgiveness if we come to Him in repentance and faith.

In verse 18, Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ (those Christians who have died) have perished. You see, Jesus claimed in John 3:16 to come into the world because of God’s infinite love for us to prevent us from perishing and give us eternal life instead if we believe in Him. But if He is not risen, then He cannot give us eternal life, and our only other option is that we perish. It means that Billy Graham will experience the same life after death as Adolf Hitler. It means that the most godly people you have ever known are no better off in the end than the most ungodly. And if that is the case, then what motive do we have for living rightly? If Christ is not raised, then it does not matter how we live, for there is no remedy for sin, and we will all perish alike. But if He is risen as He said He would, then we have hope of forgiveness, of reconciliation to God from our sinful state, and of an eternal life in heaven that we do not otherwise deserve. That brings me to the final thought.

C. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Future

Notice what Paul says in verse 19 – “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Some of you know first hand the cost of following Jesus. Some of you have experienced firsthand to some extent loss of a relationship, a job, or possessions because of your faith in Christ. Certainly we know many of whom it could be said that they lost everything for Jesus’ sake. Why do we do it? Why do others who face death every day for Christ do it? Because they believe that He has promised something greater than this life. Jesus said in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The pages of history are stained with the blood of the martyrs. We find their sacrifice noble, admirable, and heroic. I suggest to you that if Christ is not risen from the dead, they are not heroes, but fools. There is no future hope unless Jesus is alive. But because we believe He lives, …

A. We have the hope of a resurrection

Paul says in verse 20 that Christ is the firstfruits. Now, anytime we find mention of firstfruits, it is with confidence that second, third, fourth fruits and so on will follow. He says in vv21-22 that death has come to the entire human race through one man – Adam; and life will come through one man – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the firstfruits, and after Him, those who are His. But if there is no firstfruit, there can be no second fruit. All we have to look forward to is death at best, hell at worst. But if Christ is risen, we have this hope, that we might rise from death also as He has promised to those who are His.

B. We have the hope of a renewed body

When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, He did it because He loved them. Because of their sin, they entered a state of death where their bodies would be prone to sin, sickness, and suffering. God did not create human life in His image for it to be lived out in that way. So out of His love for mankind, He did not allow Adam and Eve to access the tree of life, from which they might eat and live forever. He does not want us to live forever like this. In verse 53, Paul tells us that there is hope of this perishable and mortal body becoming imperishable and immortal. Then we shall live forever in that place where the Bible says that every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain. But this is only true if Christ is risen from the dead. Otherwise, we just have to buck up and endure the lingering effects of sin, the dreadful misery of suffering, and the agonizing pain of sickness until it sweeps us away in death. And then, if the atheists are right, we just rot away to dust in the earth, or else if they are wrong, we endure unimaginable suffering for eternity in hell. But if Christ is risen then it means that these bodies can be restored, renewed into something better – something immune to pain and suffering and sin. And we all long to put on that weight of glory. It is the hidden desire of every heart if we dare to utter it. But it is nothing more than a pipedream—albeit a pipedream that is experienced universally by every human ever to live—unless Christ is risen from the dead. But I suggest that God has placed this longing in our hearts to direct us to Himself, where we might find salvation if we turn from our sins to trust this risen Christ. And having found eternal life through Him, this perishable will put on the imperishable and this mortal will become immortal, and then Paul says in verse 54, “will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”

If Christ is not risen, the death is victorious over us. But if Christ is risen, then we will have victory over death, in like manner as He did. And we will taunt death by singing together that hymn of verse 55, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” God gives us this victory, Paul says in v57, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So you see, the resurrection matters. Take it away, and what are we left with? Nothing but hopeless despair. Live as you want to live now, for this is all there is. But Christ is Risen, and we celebrate that fact not just today but everyday as believe in Him and live for Him, knowing that this life is not the end, but that He has opened a highway to heaven for us through His own resurrection and the promise of ours as well.

THEREFORE, Paul says in v59, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. There is a better day coming because Christ has victory over sin and death and hell. And that victory belongs to you if you have turned from sin and trusted in Him as Lord and Savior. And if you have never done that before, why not today?

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