The Eternal Gospel Proclaims: "Christ is Risen!"
March 15, 2015 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Resurrection of Christ
So, how do we minister to those that are suffering and struggling in this world. How do we minister to those that are facing the problem of pain and suffering? And I think as we look at the church in the West, the American church, we would have to say this is one of the great weaknesses that we face, all of us. The church in the West, the American church, in particular, is not good at grappling with pain and suffering, so said Paul Brand in his incredible book, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," a book I would commend to you. But many unbelievers might have even grown up in the church, but now as adults are living lives of unbelief, and they say plainly that they can't believe in a God who would allow such astonishing human suffering in this world like the Holocaust in World War II or random violence of terrorists who slaughter innocent people for religious or political or personal reasons. Others say it's because of a specific beloved person that they prayed for and they asked that God would heal them or spare them in some way, and they died. Might be a mother, a grandfather or a close friend, and despite the prayers of many and specifically their own prayers, they just...the person died, and now that's the root of their rejection of God. “Why didn't God answer my prayers,” comes the anguish cry. God abandoned me, so I abandoned him.
Well, the problem with pain and suffering and death for many people is the greatest challenge to biblical faith and believing in the God of the Bible, the all-powerful, the sovereign, loving, gracious and compassionate King rules over every little thing whose eye is on the sparrow and even birds don't fall to the ground apart from His sovereign will. They have a hard time reconciling such a picture of God with the sin and suffering and death they see in the world, the wretchedness of the human race, the foul ways in which so many die. The personal, the very personal rejection that people feel when God doesn't answer their prayers is simply too much to bear. Now, CS Lewis wrote about this issue, the issue of pain and suffering in a classic treatise entitled "The Problem of Pain," he wrote it in 1940. He addressed there a God who is both good and all powerful and who also allows people to suffer pain and death, and he said this, "We can ignore even pleasure, but pain insists upon being attended to." God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but He shouts to us in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Well, that's what he wrote in 1940, but 20 years later CS Lewis went through the greatest trial of his life, and that was the death of his wife to cancer, Joy Davidson. His grief was just overwhelming to him, stunningly deep, very real and personal. And he put his thoughts and reflections into a book entitled "A Grief Observed," which he published under a pseudonym. Now it's available under his name, but when it was first published, it was published under a pseudonym. And he wrote, "Nothing is more certain in all the Earth that I cannot go anywhere on this Earth or anywhere in the universe to find her. She is dead. She's gone and there's nothing I can do about that." He also wrote this, "Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms, when you're happy, so happy that you actually have no sense of needing him, if you then turn to Him with praise, you'll be welcomed with open arms, but go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, the sound of bolting and double bolting inside, and after that, silence. You may as well turn away." That's CS Lewis in "A Grief Observed." That sounds like a man in deep suffering, wrestling with pain at levels few of us can articulate as powerful as Lewis did in that booklet.
Now, Dr. Brand in his book, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," cited this to open the question of how we can best minister to those that are facing that level of acute pain and suffering or even to ourselves if we're going through it as well. He acknowledged the deep problem of what to say. What do you say in the hospital room? What do you say in the ICU, when you go to visit? Brand related the story of a young couple that he knew, John and Claudia Claxton, they were newlyweds in their '20s, they were just beginning a happy life together, but then suddenly Claudia was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, cancer of the lymph glands and she was given only a 50% chance to live and that only after radical surgery and painfully invasive treatments of various types. She underwent radiation therapy that aged her, caused her hair to drop out, left her completely listless, weak. She was nauseous almost all the time, but the Christians that sought to minister to Claudia in the midst of her sufferings in most cases did, it seems, more harm than good. The first man that came to her was a deacon in her church and he felt, and saying this to Claudia, he felt that God does everything for a reason and that God was trying to teach her something and that surely there was something in her life that was displeasing to God, some sin, and that she just needed to find what that was, that causal root sin and confess it and God would heal her. Later a woman from her church that she barely knew came, now this woman considered it an ongoing ministry that she had to the sick and dying, this was her personal calling in life. She didn't know Claudia well, but she came and she brought flowers and she sang hymns. She read some happy Psalms about rivers flowing in the deserts and deserts blooming and mountains clapping their hands and things like that, and whenever Claudia tried to change the subject and talk about her cancer, the woman immediately changed it to something more happy and positive. And her strategy was to combat the suffering with cheer and good will, but that woman only visited once and soon after she was gone, any cheerful mood faded away as quickly as the flowers that she brought.
Another woman came who was a faithful follower of television healers, Faith Healers. Uh-oh. Well, this woman came, and she was enraged at what the deacon had said and said, "Actually, it's never God's will that we ever be suffering in any way at all, that all suffering comes from the devil and that she needs to muster up enough faith to claim her healing and that God would heal her." Well, after she left, Claudia tried, but she didn't know how you do that. How do you muster up faith? Faith seemed to be slippery and like a cloud or something like that, and so it really didn't seem possible for that, and she was actually more depressed than ever after this woman left. Then, a very spiritually mature woman in the Church brought along some books about learning to praise God in any and every situation. She said, "Claudia, you need to come to the place where you can say to the Lord, 'God, I love you for making me suffer like this. It is your will and I know you know what's best for me and I praise you for bringing me into this trial, I praise you in all things. And including this, I will give you thanks.'" After this woman left, though, Claudia's mind was filled with grotesque images of God, like some powerful troll that stood by the road and seized people and pick them up and squeeze them until they finally gave thanks for the squeezing and then he'd set them down. And she said, "This is just completely damaging, it's repulsive" and her faith was actually draining.
Then her pastor came, and talked to her and said that God had chosen her somewhat like a spiritual athlete and that her faith was being put on display, and that if she was able to overcome this suffering and grief that other Christians would watch and be strengthened by her example. So, she should think of herself like an Olympic athlete and all of the trials and the pain somewhat like hurdles in front of her, and once she had crossed all these hurdles, she could come into like the victory stand of a gold medal of having been faithful in the trial and others would be strengthened by her example. But after he left, she wondered why she'd been chosen for this event, and she wasn't thrilled with the idea of her own faith being put on display.
Well, what do we say, then? Do we go? Do we visit and when we get there, what do we actually say? Or what do we say to ourselves when we're going through this? All of these contradictory forms of counsel show how actually incredibly difficult it is to know what to say to somebody going through intense suffering. In one sense, the whole book of Job is written to address this problem, some would say, "Do what Job's friends did it first, go and don't say anything at all," and that's when they were at their best. But once they started to talk, it didn't end for 25 chapters, and very little of what was said was helpful. Now, that could be us and we don't wanna slam them too much because we mean to help but when we get there, we don't know what to say. Well, I would say that there is probably no chapter I would commend for your consideration as vigorously for this moment as 1 Corinthians 15. I don't say that that's the only chapter, Romans 8 is very encouraging. There are so many, but 1 Corinthians 15 with its teaching, not only on Christ's resurrection, but on our final glorious resurrection. I would commend it to you as the home base, the centerpiece of counsel that we would give to ourselves and to others in facing sin and death and suffering.
So, over the next four weeks, beginning this week, we're going to be looking in depth at 1 Corinthians 15 leading up to Easter Sunday. We're gonna look this morning at this first section and then God willing, Rick Lesh will preach next week, Andy Winn the week after and then I'll finish on Easter Sunday, God willing. And our goal is to heighten in each of you, the awesome power, the sense of the victory of Christ over death. His resurrection victory and how He means to give that to each one of us who trust in Him. Our goal is to heighten that in you, to prepare you to face some of the most profound trials any of us will ever face in our lives. Now, the immediate reason in 1 Corinthians 15 for this chapter even being written, if you look at verse 12, it says there, "If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" So apparently, there were some Corinthian Christians who were saying there's no such thing as a bodily resurrection, so Paul writes this whole chapter to refute that. And it comes out in, I think in four sections for us this week, we're gonna look at the historical fact of Christ's resurrection as central to the Gospel.
Next week, not trying to steal any thunder, but Rick will handle from verses 12-34, and that is the certainty of our resurrection as proven by connection with Christ's resurrection. So, our resurrection is certain because Christ is raised from the dead, and Rick will say as God leads in that section, and then Andy will look at, in verses 35-49, the nature of the resurrection body among other things. And that's gonna be an incredibly encouraging study. And then I'll finish up with the timing and the implications of our bodily resurrection at the end, verses 50-58.
And in all of this we're coming to consider a simple question. As Job put it in, Job 14:14, "If a man dies, will he live again?" That's what's in front of us here. How can a body that's been destroyed by worms or destroyed by microbes or burned up in fire or bloated and dissolved in water or consumed by predators or any of the other things that happens to our physical bodies after death, how can that body, how can a dead body rise again? Now, the idea seemed preposterous to Greek philosophers around Corinth, the city of Corinth, especially in Athens. You remember when Paul went to preach in Athens, he went to Mars Hill and there he was disputing with some Epicurean and stoic philosophers, and it says in Acts 17:32, when they heard Paul preached on the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, utter disdain for this idea. To them, it was foolishness. Their basic premise was to reject the body, the physical body is essentially corrupt, and to go completely for a spiritual, or pure idea, spirit kind of thing, a dualism there in which the body is corrupt and evil.
But the more you read the Bible, the more you understand the inexorable force of God's sovereign will and the fact that God never makes mistakes, ever. The more you see that God does everything for a purpose, and He gave us human beings bodies for a reason. Can you imagine God waving the white flag on the whole body thing and saying, "Yeah, that didn't really work out, did it? Tell you what, let's spend eternity as disembodied spirits and just forget all that body thing that we went through?” I can't imagine that. God's not going to admit failure there, he's going to redeem the body, and we're gonna spend eternity in resurrection bodies and that's going to be glorious. And may I say to you, the fact of Christ's resurrection and of your resurrection and Him through faith in Him is infinitely greater than anything that you're facing in your life right now, good or bad. It's bigger than any triumph you have received, it's bigger than any tragedy you're going through, this is so much greater and bigger than anything any of us are facing. God means for us to have physical bodies; he intends it. We know that from creation, we know that from Christ's incarnation; we know that from Christ's miracles which were attending to the sick, dying and dead human body; we know that from his bodily resurrection from the dead and from this teaching that we will be raised as well, God intends this. Philosophers thought they knew best. Matter is evil and spirit is good, but that's not true. In Christ, God has answered everything, and it begins in verses 1-11 with the basic fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which answers all questions once and for all.
The Resurrection of Christ Foundational to the Gospel (vs. 1-2, 11)
So we're gonna say in verse 1 and 2, also in verse 11, the resurrection of Christ, the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead is foundational to the Gospel we preach. Look at verse 1 and 2, it says, "Now brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. Now by this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preach to you, otherwise, you have believed in vain."
Some Corinthians Asserting Christ Had Not Been Raised
Now, as we said some Corinthians were asserting that there is no such thing as a bodily resurrection from the dead, there's no such thing as a resurrection. Paul remedies this by reminding them of the Gospel that he preached to them in their city in Corinth. "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel," he says.
Paul Reminds Them of the Gospel Message
Now, this points to the need all of us has for... Have for constant reminders of the Gospel, we're never going to outgrow it, you're never gonna get to the point where you graduate beyond needing to hear the Gospel. Reminders of the Gospel. We need to understand that there's a process of salvation that we're going through here, and the Bible uses time orientation works, words like, we have been saved and we are being saved and we will be saved. So, we have been saved in the past, that looks back to our justification. By faith in Christ, our sins are forgiven, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the living God. Given the indwelling spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. All that happens in an instant justification.
Time Orientation of Salvation
So, we can speak in past tense like Ephesians 2:8 and 9 does, "For by grace, you have been saved through faith." That's past tense. This verse, verse 2, "By this Gospel, you are being saved." There are other verses that give a sense of the ongoing present work of salvation. 1 Corinthians 1 speaks in this way. We are being saved in sanctification. On growing development, ongoing development of growth in Christ. And then finally, we are going to be saved at the end of the world. We're gonna be saved on Judgment Day, we're gonna be saved on that day when God is consigning people to eternity in hell. We will be delivered from that on that day. Romans 5:9 says, "Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him." It's a future salvation. Past, present, future – the Gospel does it all. The Gospel does it all. We need to hear this Gospel message. It's an ongoing work of salvation and we need to drink it up, we need to stay close to it, we must continue to hear of Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected.
The Gospel Does an Ongoing Work in Our Souls
So, Paul reminds them of the very same Gospel message he first preached to them, he says, which they first believed, on which they have, he says, taken their stand, it's where their souls are standing on. This is their standing in grace. We don't need a new Gospel, we don't need an enhanced Gospel, we need the same Gospel, and we need to be reminded of it, and we need to continue to believe in that same Gospel.
Continued Faith in the Gospel is Essential to Final Salvation
It's not enough to start believing the Gospel, but then later stop believing the Gospel and think that you're going to go to heaven. That is not true. Look at verse 2 again, "By this Gospel, you are saved if... " Now, does that word if bother you? I don't want any ifs. No ifs, no conditions, just by this Gospel you're saved. Period. Well, there are many of those type of statements and assertions in the Bible by this Gospel, you're saved, period, but there are also some if verses as well. There's one here, there's one in Colossians, and it always has to do with perseverance. It's not enough to begin the Christian life, we have to see it through to the end. We have to continue to believe this gospel, you have to keep going on. So, Paul is effectively issuing a warning here. Now we need to have a renewing of our faith by continual feeding on the Gospel, we need to continue to believe in it. Hebrews 2:1, the author there says, "We must pay more careful attention therefore to what we have heard so that we do not drift away." Drift away. Almost certainly, I'm speaking to some people right now that are in the process of drifting away. I don't know exactly who you are, but I fear it, I'm concerned about it. The elders, we watch over it and we pray about it all the time, who is giving indications of drifting away? But the remedy in Hebrews 2:1 is, pay more careful attention to what you've heard, and what is that? The gospel. If you're drifting away, then get back to the Gospel, back to Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, justification by faith alone so that you don't drift away. Now, in the sovereignty of God, I want you to know if you've been genuinely justified by faith, you're never gonna drift away. Never. But the way by which He will keep you close is this very same thing, you're gonna keep on hearing and believing the Gospel. That's how he's gonna do it. And you most certainly will. So, Paul's point here is, he preached the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected when he first came, nothing's changed. It's not a new gospel message here. The resurrection of Christ was essential to the Gospel he preached, and whether he preached it or someone else preached it, verse 11, it doesn't matter, that is the gospel they heard and they believed.
The Resurrection of Christ was According to Scripture (vs. 3-4)
Now in Verses 3-4, he asserts that this resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of Christ was according to the scriptures. Paul gives this beautiful statement of verse 3 and 4, "For what I received, I passed on to you as a first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures."
The Gospel Paul Received
So this gospel, Paul says, is something I received and I just passed it on to you. I just picture the apostles like table waiters that get from the master chef, this beautiful, just delicious, aromatic meal and their job is just deliver it to the table. And Paul is in effect saying that, I received this gospel, I passed it on to you. I didn't make it up, he says in Galatians, I wasn't taught it by any man.
This Gospel Paul Passed On
This is something God crafted in the heavenly realm before the foundation of the world, this gospel message, and that's what we receive, what I received, I passed it on to you, he says. And he says, that is the first important, it's top priority, this gospel message. Nothing's more important than these doctrinal ideas. This is the glowing center of what God is saying to a world in its sin. This is the center of what he's talking to us about. The power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, he says in Romans 1:16. Now the Bible is filled with many fascinating doctrines, isn't it? There's so many fascinating doctrines, like the doctrine of election and predestination, which God willing we'll get to very soon in Ephesians 1. It’s fascinating, people, whether they agree with it or not, it's fascinating and endless discussions about it. So also the doctrine of the calling of the nation of Israel to be God's treasured possession, and what went on in the past, what's going on now and what the future of all that, fascinating. People spend endless time talking about it, the concept, all the concepts of end time teaching, people are fascinated about it, about the anti-Christ and the abomination of desolation, all the things that come with the end time teaching and it is fascinating. Theology textbooks are filled with doctrines about angels and demons and other practical things in the Christian life, about prayer and marriage and parenting and money and all of those things.
“As of First Importance”
All of those things, however, are of less importance than this, the Gospel message. This is of first importance, the top priority, the most important thing a church can do is preach the Gospel, a pastor can do is preach the Gospel, it's a top priority.
The Basic Historical Facts of the Gospel
Now we come to the basic historical facts of the Gospel, Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. The scripture, the Old Testament, that was what Paul meant by according to the Scriptures, the Old Testament taught very plainly, substitutionary atonement. Christ died in our place. He died under the wrath of God. He died the death we deserved for our sins. In Adam, we all die a death penalty, we came into Adam's sin and we came into death. Because of Adam's sin, death entered the world, that's why there is even the need for a resurrection, it's because of Adam and his sin. Death entered world through Adam's sin and each of us dies because in him we sin and most of us die because like him we sin. You know, we sin in the same pattern as Adam who received commands from God and didn't do it, disobeyed. And we violate our conscience, and we commit active transgression against God and we sin and we die. The wages of sin is death. We deserve eternal death for our sins, but Christ came to pay the penalty for our sin. He came to pay the death penalty, Christ died for our sins. And he says according to the scriptures. Well, do you, FBC, have any idea of some scriptures that might have taught substitutionary atonement, any Old Testament passages, in particular that might have been very helpful for teaching substitutionary atonement, please say that you know some scriptures that have to do with substitutionary atonement?
If not, let me remind you. Remind You. Isaiah 53:5-6, "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. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity, the sins, the transgressions of us all." That's substitutionary atonement. So, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried. Now, Paul doesn't say, according to the scriptures, but he could have. We know that Christ's burial in a rich man's tomb was also predicted in Isaiah 53, wasn't it? He was with the rich in his death. He says very plainly, with the rich in His death, and so he was given a grave with a rich man. Now, the mention of the burial here, I think stress is the physical nature of the death and the resurrection, like saying, dead and buried. It's just very physical. His body died, his body was buried, his body was raised up. It's very physical here.
So, the emphasis on the burial is actually pretty important. And frankly, the empty tomb was one of the greatest physical evidences of the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the empty tomb. It doesn't just go away, the idea of the empty tomb. The fact is that it's... Everyone knows that within a month and a half of Jesus dying, his followers, were in downtown Jerusalem preaching that He had risen from the dead and they had seen it with their own eyes, meaning the tomb was empty. You can't get away from the empty tomb. Now, Jesus' Jewish enemies tried to stop the resurrection by posting a guard, remember that? And the guard was there, but they didn't stop anything, they just became witnesses to the resurrection. You can't stop God from doing what He wants to do. And so they come to there... The Roman soldiers come and they say, what are we gonna do? And we're in trouble, and he said, well, I'll tell you what, we'll pay you money, and you are to say that the disciples came during the night while we were sleeping and they stole the body. And if this report gets to Pilate, the Governor will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble. So they took the money and that was the story that circulated. Makes no sense. So, you were a Roman guard posted somewhere and you fell asleep. Why am I talking to you? You should be dead. [chuckle] That tomb was empty, and it gives clear historical evidence to the resurrection from the dead, and it says, "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The resurrection was intrinsic to the Gospel message that Paul was proclaiming all over the world, and it is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead. Now, he was raised from the dead according to the scriptures. Again, you can go to Isaiah 53. It's almost like one-stop shopping for everything Paul's saying here. You can go to a lot of other places, but in Isaiah 53, clearly, the suffering servant died. He died.
It says, they made His grave with the wicked. You don't need a grave unless you're dead. He died, he was deprived from life. But listen to what it says, "He made his grave with the wicked and with rich in his death, yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him, and he's put him to grief, and when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring and prolong his days." So, he's gonna prolong his days after his death, that's called resurrection. The will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. And in Isaiah 53:11, "Out of the anguish of His soul, He shall see and be satisfied." That's resurrection or even better, Psalm 16, which they quoted in the day of Pentecost. David said a thousand years before Christ was born. He said, "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay." David wrote that not about himself, because he died and his body did decay, but he wrote it about the Messiah, that He would be buried, but would not decay, He would die, and God would not abandon Him to the grave, but would raise him up.
The Resurrection of Christ from the Dead was According to the Scriptures
Now, it says Christ died and was... According to Scripture, He was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day, according to scripture. The third day, we wouldn't have any idea, except that Jesus told us it was similar to Jonah, and it says, "It was the sign of Jonah, for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a large fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the Earth." And that one Jesus told us. So, by summary, the resurrection of Christ from the dead was according to scripture. This is not some innovation of Paul's. The Scriptures pre-date all of the Greek philosophers whose writings are cited. The Hebrew Scriptures predate Plato and Aristotle and Socrates and all of those philosophers that were mocking the resurrection.
The Resurrection of Christ was Verified by Eyewitnesses (vs. 5-7)
But not only that, the resurrection of Christ was verified by eye witnesses. Look at Verses 5 and following, “and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve, and after that he appeared to more than five hundred people. 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 the Apostles, and last of all, he appeared to me also as to one abnormally born.”
These Eyewitness Accounts Move the Question Beyond Any Doubt
Well, listen, these eyewitness accounts move this matter beyond any reasonable doubt. The testimony of two or three witnesses is sufficient in the Old Testament to establish any issue, though here we have the clear testimony of over 500 witnesses, 500. Now, he begins with Peter, the chief of the apostles, the apostle to the Jews. Now, I think Paul singles him out because of his role in the church. He was the foremost apostle that Jesus chose, the leader of the Twelve. Now, Paul was considered the least of the apostles, they were criticizing him, attacking him, mocking him, minimizing his ministry, somewhat like he's a minor league apostle, but the major league apostles, those who were in Jerusalem and all that, he said, alright, well, let's start with the major league apostles, and they saw the resurrection. And so, He appeared to Peter and Peter testified to it personally and publicly on the day of Pentecost. It says in Acts 2:32, "God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact." And then to the Twelve, he says.
The Twelve were the inner ring of Jesus' select apostles, they were chosen to be witnesses of his life and death, but especially of His resurrection. And I think this ultimately points to the clear proof in the upper room. What would you give to have been there in the upper room? And the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, as John tells us. And suddenly Jesus comes and stands in their midst, and Luke 24 says, "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' And they were startled and frightened thinking they saw a ghost. And he said to them, 'Why are you troubled?' Why do doubts rise up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, it is I myself, touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.' And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet, and they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement. He asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ And they gave him a piece of boiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence.” So, He appeared to the Twelve and gave convincing proofs that He had risen from the dead. And then all of these other eyewitnesses as well, verse 6-7, “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. And then He appeared to James and to all the apostles,” etcetera. This is the only mention in the New Testament of the 500 eyewitnesses, the only one. We don't have it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, we just have it here. But it's pretty amazing when you think about it.
The Eyewitness Testimony of these 500 Plus People Should Settle the Matter Forever
I like to picture the trial, the court trial wherein these 500 witnesses are summoned to give their testimony, how long would you give each one? Let's give them 12 minutes, alright? Just to make the math turn out well. 12 minutes, 500, that works out to 100 hours of eyewitness testimony. That's two weeks at 12 minutes each. And these are different people from different walks of life, testifying that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Now, he says some of them have fallen asleep, meaning they died, and by this, he's cutting off the idea that if you die, you're lost forever. Some first century people were teaching that. They were thinking that the return of Christ was imminent, immediate, and if any died they must not have been Christians. He said, no, no, no, some of those eyewitnesses have fallen asleep, but most of them are still alive. And he appeared to James, the brother of Jesus, and then to the other apostles and all of these eyewitnesses.
The Resurrection of Christ Empowered Paul to Labor (vs. 8-11)
Paul Mentions Himself Last of All
And then he mentions himself, last of all, and He says, "The resurrection of Christ transformed my life and empowered me to minister for the glory of God." Verse 8, "Last of all, he appeared to me also as to one abnormally born", he puts it. It's a strange phrase, a strange word, Like a miscarriage or premature birth, something like that. Someone born out of sequence, out of the normal sequence of things. Probably picking up, I mean, with this issue of deformity, picking up on the mockery, I think, of His body and His presence. You know, they said of him that, in 2 Corinthians 10, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing."
The word “Paulos” is, I think Latin name, means small, like a dwarf. So, you get the picture of a very unimpressive, twisted, small individual who is almost a little bit repulsive to look at. He says, "Okay, that's me, I was born like a miscarriage, untimely and not in the ordinary way, but I also was an eyewitness of Christ's resurrection. And it was not in the ordinary way, I got a foretaste of the glory that will be when Jesus returns in the clouds and everyone will see Him with their own eyes and all nations will mourn because of Him, but God was gracious to me. And instead of me, mourning, I was saved by that heavenly glory." The account in Acts 9, "As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.' 'Now get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do.'" Well, that was his salvation, but it was also the beginning of his ministry, it was the beginning of his hard work.
Paul Speaks of His Call to the Apostleship
In Verse 9, he says, "I am the least of the apostles, and I don't even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." He never forgot the wretchedness of his life of rebellion against Christ, never forgot it. How he willingly consented to the death of Stephen and held the garments of those who were murdering him. And how immediately after that, he began to destroy the church. Paul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off, picture that in your mind, men and women, and put them in prison to be executed. He calls himself in 1 Timothy a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. You know what's interesting, if you look at 1 Corinthians 3:17, it says, "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for God's temple is sacred and you are that temple." So, you just take the word temple out and put the word church in there. Anyone who destroys God's church, God will destroy him. He's jealous and protective over his church. Paul was that person. And instead of being destroyed, he got saved and drawn into a ministry, not of destroying the church, but of building it up, and he never forgot his wretchedness and the grace God showed him on the road to Damascus, it changed him forever and it unleashed him.
The Grace of God in Christ Changed Him Forever
Look at verse 10, "By the grace of God, I am what I am and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." What an incredible statement that is. Couldn't we all say that? "By the grace of God, I am what I am." I think you ought to say it more than you do. I am a Christian. That's what I am, I'm a Christian, above all other things. More than a husband, more than a pastor, more than a father, more than any of my roles, I am a Christian, and by the grace of God, I am that. “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” And then He says, beyond that, His grace to me was not without effect. I worked harder than all of them. This is not an arrogant statement, it's just a true statement, he's not boasting about himself, not at all.
Paul’s Example of Hard Work for Christ was Based on the Resurrection of Christ and that Power in His Life
Now, here we have an amazing and mysterious balance between the sovereign energy of God and the corresponding labor of Christians. The sovereign energy of God and the corresponding labor of Christians. Doesn't he say in 1 John, "We love because He first loved us"? Well, I think this text would say, "Yes, we work, why? Because He first worked in us." By the grace of God, He's working in me powerfully, and that grace is effective. It gives me energy. It gives me drive. He's gonna end up, at the end of this Chapter in Verse 58, by saying, because of the resurrection, we should work hard. Look at verse 58, "Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." The grace of God is there like an indescribable irresistible force in the people of God, in the Church of God to accomplish the works of God in this world. So just go to God and say, "God pour out your grace on me and make me, unleash me, make me a hard worker for you, willing to suffer."
Alright, what applications can we take from these 11 verses?
Come to Christ
Well, of course, first and foremost, come to Christ. If you're outside, if you're on the outside, if you've been a blasphemer and a sinner, if you have been corrupt and you see not only bodily corruption in yourself as you age and have illnesses and all that, but you see, spiritual corruption, you are a violator of the law of God, flee to Christ. Trust in Christ. This is the gospel, it's plainly proclaimed to you this morning, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried and He was raised on the third day according to scriptures. All you need to do is trust in him and your sins will be forgiven. Now, if you've done that, you did it a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, a decade ago, a half a century ago, it doesn't matter.
Review the Gospel Daily
Go back again and again to the Gospel. Drink this gospel. Remind yourself of this gospel. Say to yourself, "This Gospel is more important than anything else I know. It is a first importance in my life. Feed your soul on the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected. Remind yourself that your sins have been atoned for by Christ's death, not by your own works, but by faith in Christ. And that he is raised to new life, and so you can live a new life in Christ. Just go over the basic facts of the gospel.
Labor for Christ
And then thirdly, labor for Christ. Labor, I mean, sustained labor for him. Find your spiritual gift ministry. What is it? What do you do? I don't consider attendance at church a labor for Christ. I think that's where you get fed and encouraged and strengthened, but your labor for Christ is your spiritual gift ministry and your ministry to lost people through evangelism and your ministry of the poor and needy through mercy ministry. What pattern of ministry is there in your life? And are you laboring? Are you working hard at it? I do not assume that every Christian labors at a ministry. And so, labor at whatever ministry was assigned to you, and if you don't know what that is, then ask the elders or ask a spiritual mentor or some friends that can help you identify your spiritual gift ministry and do it. Labor for it. And just know that it's going to be effective. Whatever you do, verse 58, "Whatever you do, your labor in the Lord will never be in vain. Everything you do will be for His glory."
Understand God Intended for You to Have a Body, and You Will!
Fourthly, understand God intended for you to have a body and you will have one for all eternity. He didn't make a mistake given you a body, and you're going to spend eternity... If you're a Christian, you're gonna spend eternity in a glorious resurrection body. Now, Andy's gonna have the pleasure of talking about the details of what that body will be like, and I'm actually a little jealous, but I'm looking forward to hearing that sermon, I would love to talk about it. It is a beautiful set of four couplets that we get to talk about. It's just beautiful. You are going to be in a powerful glorified body, not subject to decay for all eternity. Rejoice in that, look forward to that.
So therefore, fifthly, suffer well, suffer well. If you're called on to suffer, and all of us are, suffer like a Christian who's going to be spending eternity in a resurrection body. Don't cling to life in this physical body, don't cling to it. Trust in Him so that God can put your faith on display on a pedestal. Suffer well. And as you go to minister tenderly and gently to others that are suffering, help them to suffer well, don't merely say, "Suffer well.” Don't do that. But with gentleness give them these truths. "Someday we'll be in a resurrection body. How glorious will that be?" Let's live for God. Let's go to verse 58, "And our labor in the Lord is not in vain, our suffering is not in vain." Point them to the cross, and to resurrection.
Be Faithful in Evangelism
And finally, if we can, let's be faithful in evangelism this week. Let's find some people to talk about who don't know Christ and who need Him
Close with me in prayer. Lord, we thank you for the time we've had to celebrate today, to sing, to listen to the children singing. We thank you for the joy we see on their faces O Lord. Give us a child-like joy again, almost like we're rediscovering the Gospel for the first time. Help us, O Lord, to be renewed in our faith, help us to be renewed in our joy, that our sins are forgiven and that Christ has risen, and help us, O Lord, to do our pattern of ministry that you've called on us to do. And I pray now for any lost people, outsiders, that they would even now call on the name of the Lord Jesus and find forgiveness of sins, in His name I pray, amen.