Introduction: This week I talked to a young man who has just resigned and left the church he was called to pastor. I think the world of this fellow, who is a leader-in-the-making. I would be happy if he were my pastor. If he were my pastor or the pastor to my family, I would be grateful. But he became the pastor of a congregation where there there was one man– an old deacon who was used to having his own way – who was outvoted on a matter. This man simply tore the church apart. He would rather ruin the church and destroy a young preacher than not get his own way. I have seen this happen over and over, and it always upsets me. I had a wonderful first pastorate (and my second pastorate hasn’t been too shabby either), due to great people who supported and helped me and prayed for me. But not every pastor has that.
In the book of 3 John, the apostle John talked about a man in a local church in circuit. His name was Diotrephes, and he even disrespected the apostle John because he himself loved to have the preeminence (verses 9-10).
Well, churches and marriages and Christian groups and organizations are made of people with different attitudes, different levels of maturity, and various views about things. Sometimes a Diotrephes slips into the mix. In the Bible there is one book totally devoted to bringing unity and health back to a divided or fragmented congregation—the book of 1 Corinthians. We’ve been going through this book for several months, but we’ve had several weeks off so let me review the book briefly. Let’s begin here in chapter 1 and we’ll walk through a review.
Review: Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians begins with an introduction, in which he states the theme of the book. The key verse of the entire book is 1 Corinthians 1:10: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
That is what Paul was seeking to accomplish with this letter. He was trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, so to speak. Then he begins addressing the problems plaguing the church. There were ten of them, and my contention is that these ten problems cover any and all problems that churches can reasonably have. In a broad sort of way, every kind of church problem imaginable is touched on somewhere in this letter. This is the Bible’s manual on preventing or correcting problems in Christian groups. Here is the list as we’ve seen it so far (through chapter 15):
- Personality factions – chapters 1-4
- Church discipline – chapter 5
- Lawsuits – chapter 6a
- Immorality – chapter 6b
- Martial status – chapter 7
- Christian liberty – chapters 8-10
- The Lord’s Supper – chapter 11
- Spiritual gifts – chapters 12-14
And now tonight we are coming to area #9 – essential doctrine. As if they didn’t have enough problems already, some of the Corinthians were arguing about essential doctrines and even denying the biblical teaching about the resurrection. According to 1 Corinthians 15:12, some of the Christians in Corinth were denying there was a resurrection from the dead. In response, we have 1 Corinthians 15, which is called the Resurrection Chapter of the Bible. Here the apostle Paul gives us his most definitive teaching on the resurrection. This is a long chapter (58 verses), so I don’t want to try to tackle the whole chapter tonight. But we’ll look at the first paragraph.
The Resurrection is Essential (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
In verses 1-4, Paul tells us that the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential. It is at the very core of the Gospel.
Verse 1: Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
The word “Gospel” comes from the Old English word “Godspell” and means “God’s story.” It’s the translation of a Greek term meaning the “Good Message.” If I were going to preach a sermon just from this one verse, I would have four points.
- We hear the Gospel – it is preached to us.
- We receive the Gospel – we agree with its message and appropriate it for ourselves.
- We take our stand on the Gospel – it becomes the foundation stone of our lives.
- We need to be reminded of the Gospel. There’s an old hymn that says, “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best / seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”
Verse 2: By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
There are two ways of interpreting this. My Southern Baptist friends would say that someone who has truly believed will hold their faith firmly to the end, and if they don’t it’s a sign they were never saved to begin with. Some of my Armenian friends would suggest the possibility of apostasy. In either case, the idea is that saving faith is a sustained faith. The resurrection is essential to everything as it relates to the Christian faith.
The Resurrection of Christ is Credible (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Second, the resurrection of Christ is credible. In Acts 1, Paul’s colleague Luke told us that Jesus showed Himself alive by “many infallible proofs.” Here the apostle Paul is striking the same note. In these verses He gives us two lines of evidence. As we’ve seen, he demonstrates the credibility of the resurrection by appealing to fulfilled Messianic prophecy. But He also now is going to list some of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances. He begins by connecting the resurrection with the entirety of the Gospel.
Verse 3: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
Notice the words “of first importance.” This is Ground Zero of theological truth – Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. The word Scriptures there would indicate the Old Testament. Jesus died for us in keeping with the predictions of Old Testament Scriptures. This morning I pointed out that 27 percent of the Bible is prophetic – that is, more than one verse in four was predictive at the time it was written. Many of the Old Testament predictions had to do with the coming Messiah, and those passages are remarkably detailed about the death of Jesus Christ.
Verse 4: that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
The concept of the resurrection in general is predicted in the Old Testament. The book of Job is arguably the first and oldest book of the Bible. It was arguably written, perhaps by Moses, even before he wrote the Pentateuch. It deals with a man named Job who lived in the Patriarchal period. In 19:25 Job said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”
One of the last books to be written in the Old Testament was the book of Daniel. Look at Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens.”
But the Old Testament didn’t just speak of the resurrection for humanity at the end of the age; it also specifically predicted the resurrection of the Messiah, which, of course, presupposed, the Messiah’s death. See Psalm 16:9-11 (with Acts 2:22-33) and Isaiah 53:10-12
Verse 5: and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
Paul lists some (but not all) of these accounts. He didn’t mention the Lord’s first appearances to Mary Magdalene, but he does tell us that on Easter Sunday, Jesus made a special appearance to Cephas, or Peter. Then He met with the Twelve, which is recorded in the Gospels.
Verse 6: After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, through some have fallen asleep.
Many commentaries speculate that this large meeting was the one recorded at the end of Matthew 28, when Jesus appeared by prearrangement to His disciples on a hillside in Galilee.
Verse 7: Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
This James would have been His brother, or half-brother. James was not a believer. He was not a follower of Christ. He ridiculed and resented Jesus. And yet, after the resurrection he went on to become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and the author of the epistle of James (see Matthew 13:55 and Galatians 1:19).
Verse 8: and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul is referring here, I think, to the time Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. According to Acts 1:21-22, seeing Jesus Christ in the flesh was essential for apostleship. The original Twelve saw Jesus in the flesh during His three years of earthly ministry, but Paul saw Him in His post-resurrection and glorified state. The glory of Jesus was greater than the sun at the zenith of the sky, and it destroyed Paul’s eyesight.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is Impactful (1 Corinthians 15:9-11)
Third, the resurrection of Christ is not only crucial to the Gospel and believable intellectually. It is impactful. In verses 9-11, Paul talks about how the resurrection changed his life from a church destroyer to a church planter.
Verse 9: For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Here we see Paul’s humility coming out, yet he goes on in the next verse to defend the true nature of his apostleship.
Verse 10: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was no without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
This verse reminds us of Galatians 2:20 — not I, but Christ. Because of the resurrection of Christ, He can live within us and work through us. He is alive, so He makes us what we should be and He causes us to work as we should work. Indeed, it is the risen Christ Himself living through us and working through us.
I love 1 Corinthians 15, because it makes sense of life. Without the core truths of this passage, life makes no sense and ends only in tragedy. We know that we may encounter death at any time. Perhaps you saw the story this week of what happened on I-40 in Heritage. Three brothers – the newspaper said they were Christians and Good Samaritans – were traveling from Myrtle Beach back to their home in Nebraska. It was nighttime and dark. They saw what appeared to be a wreck, and they stopped to see if they could help. The driver was missing and one of the brothers – he was only 27 – went to look for him. He stepped over the guardrail, but he didn’t realize he was on a bridge. He thought he was stepping onto the ground, but there was nothing but thin air. He fell 100 feet to his death in the Stones River.
We never know when something is going to happen to us or to our loved ones, and if it weren’t for the truths of 1 Corinthians 15, I think I would live in a state of despair. Death is always a tragedy—there’s no way around that. But because of the resurrection of Christ, it becomes a triumph for the followers of our Lord.
Not long ago I came across the story of a man named Isaac Bridgman in an old magazine. I’m going to read it to you as it appeared in an 1847 magazine:
“Isaac Bridgeman, seventeen years Minister of St. John’s Chapel, West Street, Walworth, Surrey, departed this life 5th July, 1846, in the 57th year of his age. His complaint was a disease of the heart….
“He mentioned to his wife that on the 11th June, in a bower of a friend’s garden, he had a very gracious manifestation of the Divine presence, and a sweet foretaste of the heaven to which he was soon going; for two hours was he thus engaged with God, and from that time his heavenly-mindedness, peace, and joy in God were great. In relating the circumstance to her, he said, ‘My meditation in that bower was chiefly on the glories and joys of heaven, with an assurance that I should soon enjoy its blessedness for myself, accompanied with a very good time in prayer for you and my children. I saw many roses in that garden full of bloom and beauty, but none equal to the Rose of Sharon…. And round about that garden I saw many a tree stately and fruit-bearing, but none equal to Him who is the Tree of Life, which is planted on both sides of the river of God’s city.’
“Seeing his wife in tears, he said, ‘I may be better tomorrow, and that will be well. I may be worse tomorrow, and that will be well. For the hand of God is on me, the love of God is in me, and the heaven of God is before me….’
“When Mrs. Bridgeman asked him if he had any anxiety of any kind in his mind, he replied, ‘Not a morsel, for temporal things to me are nothing; and as to you, my dear wife, you are in the hands of my heavenly Father. I long to be in heaven, but I do not wish to make haste. I would neither linger nor leap, God’s time is best.’”
Here was a man who had an experience with God on June 11 in the bower of a garden that removed from him all fear of death, and on July 5, he went to be with the Lord. That’s a 1 Corinthians 15 state of mind. Life on earth is fragile and uncertain, but we have a Savior who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried and raised on the third day according to Scriptures. And by the grace of God we are who we are, we do what we do, and we have the peace that we experience. We can say with Paul, it’s “Not I, but Christ.”
 “The Deathbed Experience of the late Isaac Bridgman,” in The Earthen Vessel and Christian Record & Review for 1847, Vol. 3 (London: James Paul, 1847), p. 59-60.