1 Cor. 15:1-8
Today we’re wrapping up the evidence I’ve gathered for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To summarize, we’ve examined 1) the huge rock and Roman soldiers which were placed in front of the tomb, 2) the fact that the primary witnesses would not have been allowed to testify in open court, 3) the fact that none of the disciples (among the Eleven or any others) were expecting the event, and 4) each and every one of the disciples were willing to die for the faith, something they would have to know was a lie if the event didn’t take place.
That brings us to today’s passage. If you know the book of 1 Corinthians, then you know that Paul had a unique relationship with the Corinthian church. Like any parent of a rebellious teenager, he simultaneously wanted to hug them and strangle them. His first letter to them is a litany of problems. Chapter fifteen is where he deals with some people who were actually denying the general resurrection of believers (which will happen when Christ returns). The point he’s leading up to is that if resurrection is impossible, then Christ hasn't been raised either.
But he starts out the chapter with a simple restating of the Good News in order to lead into all that. He presents four propositions which are literally essential to our faith. People use the term essential to mean "really important," but that’s not what I mean here. I mean these four things make up the essence of the message, like the essence of water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. On these the Church stands or falls. That’s why he calls them “of first importance.” They are: A) Christ died for our sins, B) he was buried, C) he was raised from the dead, and D) He was seen by witnesses.
What I’d like to focus on today is his list of witnesses here. We’ve seen some of these people before, such as Peter and the apostles. But he lists some others as well which should interest us.
First he just casually mentions that at one point Jesus appeared to over 500 believers at one time. We’re not sure when this actually occurred, since there’s nothing that happens to be recorded in the Gospels which would definitely match that description. But the very fact that he just casually mentions it is noteworthy, since he also says that while a few of them are dead (“fallen asleep”), most of them were still alive when he wrote this. You might've heard of mass hysteria, but there’s nothing we’ve ever seen which could explain over 500 people experiencing the same illusion at the same time.
Second he points to James. This isn’t the apostle (and brother to John), since that James would've been one of "the Twelve" Paul alluded to earlier in the passage. No, this is referring to the half-brother of Jesus. Please keep in mind that none of Jesus’ (half) brothers believed in him before the Passion. In fact, on at least one occasion they came to forcibly take him away because they thought he was crazy. But later on, this same James became a pillar of the church, the leader of the first church council, and the author of one of the books of the N. T. (yes, that James). What happened? It’s explained in today’s passage: “Then he appeared to James.”
And finally we have the climax of this short list. Say whatever else you like about him, Saul of Tarsus was never a fence-sitter when it came to the message of Jesus Christ. He was violently opposed to it, going from house to house and hauling Christians out of them to put them on trial. In fact, he was on his way to Damascus in order to find more Christians to arrest and kill when he met Someone. He met the risen Lord Jesus. And the #1 enemy of the church became its #1 spokesman. He was the last witness to be presented, but he’s one of the strongest.
So what does this mean to us? Well, I don’t really have anything that you haven’t heard before. But here’s one thought to leave you with. In another letter Paul tells us that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead now lives in us. Think of the power that it took to breathe life back into the dead body of Jesus. And know that this very same power lives inside of you. Pretty amazing, huh?
Lord Jesus, you are amazing. I thank you that your life, your power, your victory is now mine as well. Now, what’s next?