The Gospel of Jesus Christ:
… He was born – to be our substitute;
… He lived the perfect life – to be our righteousness by faith;
… He died – to earn the forgiveness of all sin;
… He rose from the dead – that we too might rise from the grave one day; and
… He ascended with the promise to return and give all believers in Christ eternal life in heaven.
The Great Resurrection Chapter – 1 Corinthians 15
Paul was converted to Christianity by a direct intervention from Jesus Christ. The story is found in Acts 9. A man who was a violent enemy of the Church now has become its greatest evangelist!
He traveled to Corinth on his 2nd Missionary Journey. He wrote this letter – and possible three others (of which, only 2nd Corinthians survives) to the congregation in this Roman-Grecian City. The thought is that Paul wrote this letter while on his 3rd Missionary Journey but before he arrived at Corinth for a second visit.
It should be no surprise to us that Paul preached the Gospel to the people in Corinth. Obviously, the Holy Spirit blessed Paul’s efforts, as there is now a Christian congregation in the city.
The progression of the Gospel’s work in Corinth:
- Gospel Preached
- Gospel Received
- Gospel Is Where We Stand
- Gospel Is Saving
At the end of verse two is the point of this part of Paul’s letter and must have had a drastic effect on those reading it.
“Unless you believed in vain.”
Is that a possibility? Is it possible that believing in the Gospel is worthless?
The answer is “yes” is one condition is met – the lack of a resurrection.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….
While we have been learning the Gospels as “BLDRA” – Paul here focuses on just the “D” and the “R.”
While the entire Gospel is important, it hinges on the “D” and “R.” Without the “D” and “R” there is no Gospel and – as Paul will make the case for – we all believe in vain.
A key point for Paul – and for us – is that Christ died and rose “according to the Scriptures.” This phrase makes its way into the Nicene Creed. The “Scriptures” that Paul speaks of, however, are our “Old Testament.” The New Testament was in the early stages of actually being written when Paul wrote this letter.
Paul doesn’t indicate which “Scriptures” specifically – which is an indication in itself that Paul meant all Scripture.
But two passages come to mind.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
It is the resurrection of Jesus that is Paul’s point at this juncture of his letter.
A word about the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: After Paul left Corinth the first time, the members of the church apparently began to lose sight of the reason they were a Church. They – like many today – broke into factions. They also fell into some pretty gross sins (one guy decided that his Christian freedom allowed him to marry his step-mother). Paul writes about several subjects in this letter to correct the false teachings of the church – the Lord’s Supper, Worship, Use of Spiritual Gifts, – but the key subject of this letter is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the key element to the Gospel. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing else matters.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
The members of the Corinthian Church – presumably – have not direct contact with the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as we do not. They, like us, have to rely on the witness of those who were there.
Paul starts with Cephas (Peter).
Paul probably has in mind John 20, when Jesus “reinstates” Peter with “feed my sheep/lambs” three times (to overturn Peter’s three-fold denial of Christ).
Then Paul talks about all the Disciples (the “Twelve”).
Paul uses the term “the twelve” to indicate the original disciples. They would have literally been “the eleven” because Judas committed suicide before the resurrection. However, Paul may also be indicating the restored “twelve” after Matthias is chosen to replace Judas.
Then Paul talks about an appearance to “over 500.”
The only event that is recorded in the Gospels that Paul might be referencing is the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28.
“Fallen asleep” is a euphemism for “die.” Paul’s point here is that the Corinthians can still talk to someone face-to-face who had a face-to-face encounter with the Risen Christ.
Paul mentions James next.
This is “James the Just,” not one of the original 12 (James the Greater and James the Lesser). This is also – probably – the brother of (or step-brother) of Jesus. James comes late to the party, not believing in Jesus as Savior until after the resurrection. But he goes on to be one of the early leaders (bishops) of the Jerusalem Church. Tradition tells us he was martyred by stoning shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Before Paul moves on to himself as a witness to the Risen Christ, he mentions “the apostles.”
Again, no definitive explanation to who comprised this group. There are ideas floating around about this group included Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, etc. But this could also be the group of 70 (or 72) Apostles sent out on a missionary journey by Jesus in Luke 10.
8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Paul then mentions himself as one who can be considered a witness of the Risen Christ.
“One untimely born” is the translation of e;ktrwma. However, this might be misunderstood as Paul saying he also came late to the Christian party. The word in Greek actually means “an abortion, abortive birth; an untimely birth.” With this one, little word, Paul is making the case for the human state before Baptism.
In our natural human nature, as the Small Catechism teaches, we are born “spiritual blind, dead, and an enemy of God.”[Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH 1991, page 150]
R.C.H. Lenski goes a step further in his translation of this verse. “And last of all, as to the dead fetus, he appeared also to me” (RCH Lenski, Interpretation of First and Second Corinthians, Augsburg 1961, page 634).
Paul also enforces the fact that God is the one who is at work here. If anyone was disqualified to preach the Gospel, it would most certainly have been Paul. But by God’s grace – and by God’s grace alone – Paul is able to preach the Gospel. In fact, it doesn’t matter who preaches the Gospel.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul makes the claim that to say there is not resurrection of the dead, in general, then Christ is not risen.
If Christ is not risen, then …
Preaching is in vain.
Faith is in vain.
We misrepresent (lie about) God.
We are still in our sins.
Those who have died (and will die) will perish.
We are to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
But the eye-witness testimony of hundreds of people testify to the fact that Christ is, indeed, raised from the dead.
And if Christ is raised from the dead, there must be a general resurrection of the dead. His “logic” is that since death came through one man (Adam) so also life comes through one man (Jesus).
The “firstfruits” (although plural, refers to Christ alone) means that there will be others – indeed, all – will follow.
And yes, all the dead will rise on the last day, not just believers in Christ.
But not all will be raised to everlasting life in heaven. Some will be raised to everlasting death (same word as parish) used before.
Believer in Christ will be raised to everlasting life in heaven with Christ.
How do we get that?
Our Connection via Baptism – Romans 6
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
When Jesus was baptized, he put into the Sacrament of Baptism Himself (the Word of God) and gave Baptism its power.
When we are baptized, we were buried with Christ (that removes the sin) and raised with Christ (that gives us His righteousness – because the sin is now removed).
And now that we are raised and going to be raised on the last day, we can walk in newness of life today – but that is the topic for next week’s session.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
1 Corinthians 15:3a, 4
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: … that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:20
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.