Monday, March 21, 2016

Evidences of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-10)


I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when the story broke almost sixteen years ago. I was sitting in my office at the church I was serving at the time, preparing a sermon, when I saw online one of the most amazing news stories I had ever seen. It was September 21, 2000 – I know because I printed the article and saved it. The BBC headline read, “French Mayor Bans Death.” The mayor of a small village on the French Riviera issued a decree which said (and I quote), “It is forbidden for any person not in possession of a family vault to die on the village’s territory.” It seems that a court of law had blocked plans to build a new cemetery in the village, and since the old cemetery was full, the mayor had no other choice but to outlaw death. The day after the decree was issued, the mayor was asked about it, and he said, “No one has died since then, and I hope it stays that way.”

That story has stuck with me all these years because, to my knowledge at least, no other civil government has ever outlawed dying. However, as we come to the celebration of Easter, we are reminded that, if Jesus really did what the Bible says that He did when He died for our sins and rose from the dead, then for all practical purposes, death has been rendered invalid and impotent forever to those who trust in Him. The claim is bold, and the consequences are infinite and eternal for those who believe or reject it. So, is there sufficient evidence to believe such a claim – to believe that Jesus actually died for our sins and rose from the dead? As we explore our text today, I hope you will agree with me that there really is!

In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” What is the gospel? The word means “good news,” and here in the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says,

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which you are also saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believe in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared ….

So, the Gospel, which Paul says is of first importance, is summarized here as the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Paul says that this is the message that he preached, and the message that they believed, and the message which has the power to save. And notice that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is essential to this good news. Remove the resurrection, and there is no good news – no gospel at all! And if there is no gospel, there is no salvation from sin, and no hope of eternal life! Remove the resurrection, and the message is that Jesus died and was buried. That makes Jesus no different from any other person who has ever lived or ever will. But Paul says that it is essential that we believe that death was not the end for Jesus Christ, but that He triumphed over sin and death and the grave by His bodily resurrection on the third day. Thus, in Romans 10:9, he writes, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

No less than 104 times in the New Testament we find reference to the resurrection of Jesus. Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote in his History of the Expansion of Christianity, “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which his death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and they had seen him and talked with him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus himself would probably have been all but forgotten.”

Similarly, H.D.A. Major has written in his book The Mission and Message of Jesus, “Had the crucifixion of Jesus ended his disciples’ experience of Him, it is hard to see how the Christian Church could have come into existence. That Church was founded on faith in the Messiahship of Jesus. A crucified Messiah was no Messiah at all. … It was the resurrection of Jesus, as St. Paul declares in Romans 1:4, which proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power.”

Now, Paul does not simply throw the resurrection on the table and say, “Believe it because I said so.” Nor do I. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is very much rational and warranted by the evidence that supports the claim. The evidence for the resurrection of Christ is as strong or stronger than the evidence for any event of history. And though that evidence consists of more than what we find in our text today, the evidence that is contained here in our text is profound and sufficient to persuade us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really did happen, that He is who He says He is, and that He has done what He said He would do. So let us begin to examine this evidence carefully.

I. Exhibit A: The Evidence of Scripture (vv3-4)

Notice, if you will, the repetition of the phrase, “according to the Scriptures” in verses 3 and 4. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

In Luke 24:44-48 we read that, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and said to them, “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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Luke continues, “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. You are witnesses of these things.’”

In referring to the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, Jesus is speaking of the entire Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible is known as the Tanakh, which is actually an acrostic formed by the first Hebrew letter of each of its three sections: the Torah (the Law); the Nevi’im (the prophets); and the Kethuvim (the writings, of which the Psalms is the largest portion). Jesus was telling His followers that His death and resurrection had been foretold throughout the entire Old Testament, for centuries before it took place.

Consider this example from the Kethuvim, the writings. On the day of Pentecost, as Peter preached, he comes to the resurrection of Jesus, and puts the point forward by referencing Psalm 16. Peter says,

… God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, “I saw the Lord always in My presence; for He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had “sworn to him with an oath to seat” one “of his descendants on His throne,” he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither “abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. (Acts 2:24-32)

When Jesus was asked by the scribes and Pharisees for a sign to prove Himself, He responded with this reference to the Nevi’im, the prophets. “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall 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 shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:39-40).

In the book of Hebrews, Chapter 11, the writer points us back to Abraham and the account recorded in Genesis 22 (in the Law, the Torah), concerning the sacrifice of Isaac. We read in Hebrews 11:17 that Abraham “offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.” The promises that Abraham had received included the promise that “in Isaac your descendants shall be called.” In other words, Isaac would be the father of Abraham’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. And Abraham was offering him on the altar of God in obedient faith, for, as the writer of Hebrews says, “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” A “type” is a symbol, a visible prophecy if you will. So, when the angel of the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand, sparing the life of Isaac, and the Lord provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice, this was a foreshadowing, a symbolic picture, of the fact that God Himself would offer His only begotten Son as a sacrifice, and would raise Him from the dead.

As we survey the New Testament, we find Jesus, Peter, and Paul all making reference to various Old Testament scriptures as they set forth the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. So, from these examples, we can see that the Scriptures are an evidence of the resurrection, for the resurrection is not only reported as a fact in the New Testament, it was prophesied in advance in the Old Testament.

II. Exhibit B: The evidence of the eyewitnesses (vv5-7)

Most of us are familiar with a disciple named Thomas. We have even given him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. When it was told to him that Jesus rose from the dead, he did not believe the report initially and demanded some proof. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have perhaps judged Thomas too harshly. Think of it: if one of your friends had died, and three days later, you were told that he or she had risen from the dead, you would not be likely to believe it either! We would want proof, just as Thomas demanded. But there was proof. Luke says in Acts 1:3 that Jesus “presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs.” Thomas received that proof because the Lord Jesus appeared to him. In fact, He appeared to many people. And these eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus are powerful evidence that He is risen indeed.

Consider the abundance of eyewitnesses. In Deuteronomy 19:15, a principle of jurisprudence is set forth which says that the testimony of a single witness should not be considered credible, but “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” Well, if that is so, then how much more certain is a matter which has no less than 640 eyewitnesses?

In verses 5-8, we find a listing of at least 514 eyewitnesses: Cephas (aka Peter); the twelve; more than 500 brethren at one time; James (the half-brother of Jesus); and Paul himself, in the encounter on the Damascus Road. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find at least 126 other eyewitnesses. They include Mary Magdalene (Jn 20); Joanna and Mary (Lk 24); Annas and Cleopas (Lk 24); 120 different people (Ac 1); and Stephen (Ac 7).

Now, supposing that you were on a jury, and the defense attorney said, “We will now bring the witnesses up one at a time to give their testimony.” After how many would you say, “Okay, we have heard enough”? I don’t know of any case that would require 640 eyewitness testimonies. Now, perhaps you say, “But we cannot bring these eyewitnesses in to testify, because they all died two millennia ago!” But the next statement Paul makes ensures us that many of these eyewitnesses were still alive when he wrote these words, and could have been questioned at that time about the matter. The eyewitnesses were not only abundant, they were available! He says, “many of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” So, some of them had already died, but many of them could still be consulted about the resurrection of Jesus.

So, we have the evidence of Scripture, and the evidence of the eyewitnesses. But Paul goes on to present another piece of evidence here.

III. Exhibit C: The evidence of transformed lives (vv8-10)
Paul says, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Paul is referring to the incident in which he encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. That incident changed his life! We first encounter Paul, or Saul (his Hebrew name) in Acts 7:58. There he is present at the martyrdom of Stephen. Acts 8:1 says that he was “in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” So enraged was Saul over what he considered to be blasphemy on the part of the Christians, that he “began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women” and putting them in prison (Ac 8:3). Acts 9:1 says that he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” But as he set out for Damascus to track down Christians there, he was confronted by the risen Lord.

That encounter so radically changed his life, that after just a few days with the disciples in Damascus, the Bible says, “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Ac 9:20). The people were amazed (9:21) and confounded (9:22) at his transformation. Here in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Paul puts the matter succinctly: “I persecuted the church. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

We could point to countless others. C. S. Lewis was an atheist who despised the notion of God. But after he met Christ in a profound way, he devoted the rest of his life to making Christ known through his writings. Only in heaven will we discover how many people have come to faith in Christ through reading his book Mere Christianity. I could name several of them myself. The same is true of Josh McDowell, one of the most widely known defenders of the Christian faith alive today. He set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but soon found that he couldn’t, and became a follower of Jesus. His little book More than a Carpenter has influenced thousands to come to faith in Jesus, and his big book Evidence that Demands a Verdict has equipped many Christians to defend the faith with cold, hard facts.

Like Paul, I could point lastly to myself. In high school, I was an atheist. I argued with Christians who tried to witness to me, and frankly, I think I won most of the arguments. I had a close friend with whom I engaged in all sorts of sin and destructive behavior. After graduation, he and I parted ways, and I began to associate with a different group of people. They happened to be Christians, but they didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t one. They loved me as I was. And as I watched their lives, I saw that they had something I lacked. They had a peace and joy about them, and a love that I found impossible to manufacture. As they invited me to church and Christian gatherings, almost daring me to read the Bible, God began to open my heart until that moment that I could no longer deny His existence. The awareness of his existence was terribly frightening to me, for I knew the depth of my own sinfulness. But when I heard the good news of Jesus Christ and how He could save me from my sins because of His death on the cross and His resurrection, before I even knew what was happening, my eyes were filled with tears and my mouth was uttering words of confession and faith in Him! And my life was changed!

A few years ago, my old friend that I used to run around in sin with came back into my life through social media. He posted something on Facebook to this effect: “God moved as I preached in the prison last night, and dozens were saved.” I sent him a message: “I think you and I need to get together.” And we met for lunch that week and shared about how each of us had come to know Jesus and how he had radically changed our lives! Both of us were amazed and astounded at how the Living Lord Jesus is still in the business of transforming lives today. He changed Paul’s life. He changed my life! He changed my friend’s life! He can change your life too!

Sir Edward Clarke, a once prominent English attorney for King’s Court said, “As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. For me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the high court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling.”

Historian Thomas Arnold said, “The evidence for our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be and often has been shown to be satisfactory. It is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece as carefully as every judge summing up on an important case. … I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is better proved by fuller evidence than the great sign that God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

In John 11:25-26, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” And after that statement, He asked a very important question: “Do you believe this?” Do you? If not, why not? I suggest that if you do not believe it, it is not because of the evidence, but rather in spite of it.

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