The Twenty-Ninth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
Imagine the shock and sheer panic you would feel upon hearing news that the body of Jesus had been found in a tomb somewhere near the city of Jerusalem, and that the remains were positively identified as those of the central figure of the New Testament. What would your reaction be? Fear? Anger? Would it even matter? Would you still call yourself a Christian? While no one is going to find the body of Jesus in a tomb near Jerusalem because Jesus was raised from the dead the first Easter, nevertheless, the question is an important one because it pushes us to face a more fundamental question. How do we know that Christianity is true? Why are you a Christian? And why does any of this really matter?
Having spent considerable time working our way through Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, we come to 1 Corinthians 15, one of the most important chapters in all the Bible. I speak of 1 Corinthians 15 as an especially important chapter because it is here that Paul defines the gospel (vv. 1-11), that Paul addresses the fact of the resurrection (vv. 12-19), that Paul speaks of the relationship between the second coming of Jesus Christ and the bodily resurrection of believers (vv. 20-28), that Paul speaks of the relationship between our Lord’s bodily resurrection to the Christian life (vv. 29-34), before he takes up the subject of the nature of the resurrection body in verses 35-56. What makes this particular chapter so important is that all of these topics are foundational to Christianity, and all of these topics are the object of attack from those outside the church, or else subject to much confusion within the church. This is what makes understanding this chapter so important.
Last time we dealt with the opening verses of chapter 15 (vv. 1-11) in which Paul defines the gospel in terms of those historical facts associated with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, according to the Scriptures. This is the gospel which Paul preached and which the Corinthians believed. It was this gospel which established the church in Corinth as well as churches elsewhere. To preach the Christian gospel is to proclaim these facts to both Christians and non-Christians alike in such a way that everyone understands we are making a truth claim (i.e., that Christianity is true and all other religions are false), and that we are speaking about our salvation being accomplished for us by Jesus Christ in ordinary human history through the shedding of blood (which is rh typable), on a Roman cross (which would have given you splinters if you rubbed your hand across it). The gospel itself is a truth claim.
We also know that Jesus was raised from the dead the first Easter because the tomb in which he had been buried was empty despite a huge stone which sealed the tomb’s entrance, and despite the fact that the Romans placed a guard on the tomb. We also know that Jesus was raised from the dead because the risen Jesus appeared visibly to all the apostles, to over five hundred people at one time, and then finally to Paul, who considered himself completely unworthy of such an honor. Paul not only appeals to the fact that he himself saw the resurrected Jesus while traveling on the road to Damascus, Paul also appeals to the fact that most of the five hundred people who saw Jesus were still alive–the implication being that the Corinthians knew who many of these people were, and that the events associated with the gospel were not only true, they were common knowledge.
The Christian faith therefore is a public faith. It is based upon certain historical facts which if true, establish Christianity as the only true and viable religion, and which if false (i.e., these things did not happen) then Christianity cannot be true no matter how many people claim to be followers of Jesus.
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