Tuesday, April 14, 2009

1 Corinthians 15: Why Today (Resurrection Sunday) Matters

There is much cultural confusion about this day that so many call Easter. Consider what happened at a church outside of Pittsburgh a few years ago. In their Easter production, instead of portraying a crucified Jesus, they beat up the Easter Bunny.

For many people, today is just another day. It doesn’t matter at all. For some people, the only thing that matters about this day is new clothes, big meals, bunnies, eggs, and candy. But for Christian people, today is about the most important event in human history – the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. The Christian faith is based on the belief that a dead person came back to life. And because that person, Jesus Christ, came back to life in His resurrection, this day MATTERS.

Paul tells us here that this belief that Jesus lives again is central to the Christian gospel. He says that it is a matter of first importance. Why is it so important?

I. The Resurrection is a matter of historical fact (3-8)

Paul does NOT say, “Jesus rose from the dead. Just trust me. Take my word for it.” No, rather, he seeks to validate the resurrection of Christ by pointing to evidence that supports that claim. The evidence is as strong than that of any fact of history. Paul mentions two elements of evidence here in this passage: the scriptures, and the eyewitnesses.

First, in v4, he says, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The NT writers understood that many OT passages spoke of the resurrection. They refer to Genesis 22, Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Hosea 6, and other passages which foreshadow and predict the resurrection. These Old Testament were compiled together by the Jews at least 200 years before the time of Christ. So when Jesus spoke of His own death and resurrection, He was not inventing new ideas, but proclaiming ancient truths which were fulfilled when His tomb was found to be empty and He appeared to His disciples.

This brings us to the second piece of evidence, the eyewitnesses. The OT Law established a principle that two or three witnesses would be required to confirm the truth of a matter. Paul tells us here of 514 eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. If we add the ones mentioned elsewhere in the NT, we have 640 eyewitnesses of the resurrection. And Paul says in effect, “If you don’t believe me, go ask them.” That is what he means when he says, “Most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” Think for a moment about the people in our churches. We have people in our churches who fought in World War II. We have people in our churches who lived through the Great Depression. Perhaps some here were present or nearby when the Tiananmen Square protests occurred or when Mao Zedong came to power in China. These are eyewitnesses of historic events. But Paul says that among the members of the churches of that day and time were MOST of the 640 or more eyewitnesses who saw the risen Lord Jesus with their own eyes. You could talk to them for yourself about their encounter with Him.

Of course, they could have all been lying. Maybe it was all a hoax and the people who claimed to have seen the risen Lord were all telling a great lie. Well, isn’t it interesting that of the ones who told their story, there is no variation or disagreement in the details? And isn’t it interesting that no one in the first century ever came up with a way to disprove what happened? And isn’t it interesting that many of those who claimed to have seen the risen Lord Jesus died for their faith in Him? You may say, well, people die for a lie all the time. Think of the Islamic suicide terrorists who die for the lies of their religion. Yes, but everyone who dies for a lie dies believing that it is true. And if the disciples of Jesus made up the story of His resurrection, then they died for a lie knowing it was a lie. One, two, a handful more may have been willing to do that, but a vast number of those first-generation Christians in the first-century embraced the death of a martyr willingly because they knew that the resurrection of Jesus was a fact. Many of them had seen Him with their own eyes.

But then again, maybe it was a hallucination. Solomon and I are big ice hockey fans. And because hockey is not as popular as other sports here in the Triad, we always notice things about hockey. The other night, we were leaving a restaurant and we overheard someone’s car radio going over the night’s hockey scores. And Solomon said, “Am I hallucinating, or did I just hear hockey scores?” I said, “No, you weren’t hallucinating because I heard them too!” You see a hallucination is a private experience. Two people can take hallucinogenic drugs and both will hallucinate, but they will not see or experience the same things. 640 or more people saw the risen Jesus and had the same experience of Him. This was no hallucination. This was reality. You see, today matters because the resurrection is a matter of historical fact.

II. The resurrection is a matter of personal significance.

Historical facts are important. We all need to know some of them. I was a history major in college, so I tend to think we need to know a lot of them! But even I will admit that very few historical facts make much difference in our daily lives. But the resurrection of Jesus is a personally significant matter.

Notice that Paul says in vv12-15 that it is the basis of our faith. If Christ is not raised, Paul says, then our preaching is “in vain.” That means that it is hollow, empty, meaningless. What Paul means is that the GOSPEL we preach is hollow, empty, and meaningless. And therefore, those who have believed it have put their faith in NOTHING. Our faith is in vain. If Jesus has not risen from the dead, then in who or what do we believe? A carcass. Actually, not even a carcass, because by now that carcass has decomposed into a pile of ashes that have long since been scattered into the desert sands. We have fallen for the biggest lie in history if Jesus is not alive. We might as well take the cross down from the wall behind me and put up a big picture of the Easter Bunny, or even better yet, just shut down operations all together. Apart from the resurrection, there is no Jesus in whom to put our faith.
He goes on to say in vv16-19 that the resurrection is the basis of our hope. Putting your faith in Christ is worthless because there is now nothing left to hope for if He is not raised. If Christ is not raised, then we have no hope of ever being with God, because “we are still in our sins.” The Bible tells us that sin separates us from God, and this separation will be eternal unless sin is forgiven. But the forgiveness of sins comes because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He died in our place to bear the wrath of God against our sins. And in His resurrection He triumphs over sin and death, the grave and hell to reconcile those who trust in Him to God forever. Unless of course, He didn’t rise from the dead. In that case all we have to look forward to is hell. Paul says in v18 that our Christian brothers and sisters who have already died are perishing. In that case, there is nothing to hope for, only a future to fear and dread. And if we have only had hope for this life, then Paul says we are to be pitied more than all men. How pathetic must we be to believe in a myth or a fairy tale, to live without indulging in all the pleasures that this world offers, believing all the while that an eternal paradise was awaiting us? This is what the world must think of Christians. Unless of course Jesus really did rise from the dead. In which case, we have the hope of eternal life spent in the presence of our living Savior.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our faith and our hope are fixed upon Him, and our lives are lived in that reality. This brings us to the final point. The resurrection is the basis of our service. Paul says in v58: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

If we know that Jesus is alive, then we must not sit around waiting for heaven but rather be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord. Our faith in Christ should not waver. We can daily live in the confidence of His Word and His promises. And we can put our hands to the task of the Lord’s work. Always, Paul says, ALWAYS!!! ABOUNDING!!! in the work of the Lord. Why? Because it is not in vain. Our Lord lives and receives our service to Him, and nothing done for Him will go unnoticed or unrewarded by Him. Never give up, never stop, never step aside from the work of the work of the Lord. The risen Christ is worthy of our service, and He sees it, and He receives it as being done unto Himself, and He will be faithful to supply our needs in the work and reward our labor in it.

It makes a difference to believe in the risen Jesus. This is one historical fact that comes to bear every day on the lives we live in what we believe, what we do, and what we hope for. Today matters. It matters because the resurrection is a fact of history and because the resurrection is personally significant.

No comments: