130331 Easter Sunday

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 March 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: I Corinthians 15:1-8
Theme: We Preach Christ Crucifeid...And Risen!

Have you ever seen a dead body? That's not all that unusual. In fact, if you have attended a funeral at St. Matthew's there is a good chance that you have seen one right up here. Now how many of you have ever seen a dead body come back to life? I don't see any hands, and to be honest, I didn't expect to see any hands...because that just doesn't happen.

Death is a fact of life. Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, everyone expects to die. And when you die you're dead. You can poke and prod a corpse. You can try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. You can use shock paddles, but it won't do any good. Even the most advanced advances of modern medicine haven't figured out how to bring someone who has died back to life.

And so you would have a right to be skeptical if someone came up to you and made that kind of claim. You would have questions. You would need proof. You would really need to be convinced before you would believe something so unbelievable.

That was the position Paul found himself in when he wrote his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. Some of them were struggling with the resurrection of the dead. Some of them had even denied the resurrection of the dead. And Paul had a choice to make: "Do I give in or do I stand up? Do I change my message to make it more appealing to the logical Greek mind, or do I proclaim the gospel, as illogical and unbelievable as it might be?"

We have Paul's answer in I Corinthians 15, the longest chapter in the letter, the most thorough treatment of this all-important doctrine in the entire Bible. Paul concluded that there can be no compromise when it comes to the resurrection. Paul believed (and rightly so) that the resurrection is the lynchpin of the Christian faith. Without it we are lost. Without it we might as well go home. Even if it didn't make sense, even though it defied human reason, Paul proclaimed: "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (I Corinthians 15:20).

But before Paul made that claim he built his case. Before he wrote about all the negative consequences of denying the resurrection, he laid out his reasons for believing in Jesus' resurrection. Paul's primary proofs (there are two of them) are recorded in our text for this morning. These proofs are important because they address our doubts. They solidify our faith. They empower us and embolden us so that with Paul...

WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED...AND RISEN

I. Proof #1: We have the testimony of the Scriptures
II. Proof #2: We have the testimony of eyewitnesses

Before Paul tried to "prove" anything to the Corinthians, he made an impassioned appeal. He didn't want to argue with them. He didn't consider them to be his enemies. He called them his brothers: "Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain" (1,2).

Paul's preaching in Corinth had produced fruit. The Corinthians believed the gospel. They were saved by the gospel. They took their stand on the gospel. But some wolves had infiltrated the flock. They opposed Paul. They contradicted Paul's message, and so Paul needed to set the record straight: "If you believe them," he said, "if you don't believe me, then you have believed in vain."

And Paul anticipated how his critics would respond: "Listen to Paul. He always has to be right. He always has to be in control. He won't allow any voice to be heard except his own." That wasn't what Paul was saying, not at all, but just in case that was what some people were thinking, he set the record straight again:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance" (3a). Paul wasn't some kind of spiritual dictator. Paul didn't set himself up as the founder of a new religion. Paul never claimed that any of his teachings were his intellectual property. He only passed on what he had received. And God used Paul to convey these important spiritual truths:

"That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (3b-4). Paul's words sound like something out of our creeds. In fact, in this short list Paul repeats the same phrase twice, a phrase that is almost identical to what we confess in the Nicene Creed: "in accordance with the Scriptures."

"Well, yeah," we might say. Isn't that obvious? When we read the gospels, we can digest all the details about Jesus' crucifixion, the seven words from the cross, the soldiers casting lots, etc. And just a few minutes ago we heard Luke's account of the resurrection with the women and the spices and the angels and the empty tomb.

But we need to remember that when Paul wrote this letter there was no New Testament. When Paul put down on paper that Christ died for our sins "according to the Scriptures" and that he was raised on the third day "according to the Scriptures" he was talking about the Old Testament Scriptures. Do you get Paul's point? He's saying that if you are someone who needs to be convinced, if you want proof that Jesus died and rose again, you can find all the proof you need in Old Testament prophecy.

That reminds me of another Easter story. It was Easter Sunday when Jesus walked with two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus. They were sad. They were confused. They had believed that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel, but now he was dead, and so were their hopes.

Do you remember what Jesus said to them on the road? He wanted to convince them that their hope was alive because he was alive. But instead of saying, "Look at me. Look at the nail marks in my hands. Look at the wound in my side," instead of pointing them to himself, he directed them to the Old Testament Scriptures: "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

I wonder which passages Jesus used to prove his point. I wonder which prophets he quoted to open their eyes. Maybe he used Isaiah's picture of Good Friday to show that the crucifixion was the fulfillment of prophecy: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (53:5).

Maybe Jesus quoted David in Psalm 16 (like both Peter and Paul did in Acts) to prove that his resurrection was the fulfillment of prophecy: "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay" (10).

We don't know which prophets Jesus quoted on the road. We don't know which passages Paul had in mind when he wrote that Christ died and that he was raised on the third day "according to the Scriptures." But we can be sure that he didn't dream up these things on his own. We can be certain that these stories hadn't been invented and then passed down to him by the disciples. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Old Testament Scriptures preached Christ crucified and risen.

But the Gentile Christians in Corinth hadn't grown up with the Torah. They probably weren't all that familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. And so maybe they wanted more. Maybe they were looking for some additional evidence. Or maybe Paul decided on his own to produce another proof of the resurrection. He had already provided a strong defense, but he was not about to rest.

In addition to the testimony of the Scriptures, Paul asked them (and he asks us) to consider the testimony of eyewitnesses. And he provides us with a pretty long (but not exhaustive) list: "He [Jesus] appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born" (5-8).

Peter is first on the list, perhaps because he needed to see Jesus more than anyone else. The last time he had seen the Lord he was in the act of denying him. Imagine the guilt and shame he must have felt. And then imagine the joy that filled his heart when he saw his Savior alive!

Next Jesus appeared to the Twelve. Maybe this happened on Easter Sunday evening minus Judas and Thomas. The disciples were hiding behind locked doors. They were afraid for their lives. And then without any warning Jesus appeared to them and gave them peace.

We don't know much about the appearances to James or the apostles or to five hundred of the brothers at the same time. Instead of getting into specific details, Paul is building a mountain of evidence. When he wrote this letter most of these people were still alive. And if the Corinthians wanted proof, if they wanted the testimony of two or three or fifty witnesses, all they had to do was ask.

By putting his personal encounter with Jesus at the end of the list Paul was saying: "I saw him too. I saw the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), but you don't have to believe me. Talk to Peter. And if you don't believe Peter, ask James. And if you don't want to believe the testimony of Peter or James or the apostles, there are literally hundreds of other people who will tell you the exact same thing. We are all witnesses that Jesus lives."

That word, "witness," is interesting. In Greek it is "marturos," and from it we get the English word, "martyr." We can't interview these witnesses today. We aren't able to investigate their claims, but we can examine their lives. Why would these people be willing to give up so much if they were living a lie? Why were these witnesses willing to suffer and, in some cases, even become martyrs if their Savior was still dead?

Why did they show such unwavering devotion to their Lord? Why were they willing to die for their Lord? Because he was alive. Because they had seen the living Lord with their own eyes. Because the risen Lord had transformed their lives. Because the ascended Lord equipped them and empowered them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

And this morning it is our privilege to add another link to that unbroken chain. Thanks to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, following in the footsteps of that great cloud of witnesses, bringing our Lenten journey to its glorious conclusion, we preach Christ crucified...and risen.

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! The tomb is empty. Our hearts are full. Today we celebrate Jesus' victory over Satan and sin and death. He lives! Because he lives we will live. Because he lives we will live...forever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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