The Resurrection of Christ

March 31, 2024 ()

Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, 17-22 |


The Resurrection of Christ | 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, 17-22
Brian Hedges | March 31, 2024

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 15. We’ll be reading from there in just a moment.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most pivotal event in the history of the world. Hermann Bavinck, the great Dutch theologian, said, “The resurrection is the amen of the Father upon the ‘it is finished’ of the Son.” It is the foundation of apostolic Christianity.

We’re here this morning because we believe that Jesus Christ is alive. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today we’re looking at one of the great chapters in the Bible, a chapter that’s really all about this theme of resurrection. We’re not going to read all of it, but we’re going to read a portion of it. It is a part of a short series that we’re in right now called “Christ in 1 Corinthians.”

Last Sunday Brad began this series by looking at the call of Christ from 1 Corinthians 1, and then Friday night we looked at chapters 1-2 and the cross of Christ, and then today, of course, our focus is on the resurrection of Christ.

We’re going to read 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 and then verses 17-22. You can follow along on the screen.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

Now drop down to verse 17.

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

This is God’s word.

This is really a simple message this morning. I want us to consider:

1. The Fact of the Resurrection
2. The Power of the Resurrection
3. The Hope of the Resurrection

Or, if you prefer, we’re first of all looking back into history—seeing what happened in the past and what the record shows us about this momentous event. And then we’re going to consider the power of the resurrection for the present—for our present lives and how the risen Christ can change and transform us today. And then we’ll end by looking towards the future and how the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope.

1. The Fact of the Resurrection

So first of all, the fact of the resurrection. And here we’re really just asking the question, what happened? And I don’t want to spend too much time on this, you’ve heard many messages like this, I’m sure. But I do want us to just be clear on what took place on that first resurrection morning and why we believe it. And we could put it this way: first of all, the fact of the resurrection is that Jesus physically rose from the dead. That’s what the resurrection means. It means that Jesus of Nazareth, after being executed by crucifixion and buried, was raised from the dead.

Now just understand, this does not simply mean that the spirit of Jesus lived on. It doesn’t simply mean that he entered into some kind of afterlife or went to heaven with his father after he died. It doesn’t simply mean that he lived on in the hearts of his friends and followers. It means, rather, that the very body which had been crucified, nailed to a tree, and then was taken down from the cross and wrapped in linens and placed in a tomb, that that body came back to life. It means that Jesus woke up, started breathing again. He sat up and then he walked out of the tomb in a physical, glorified, resurrection body.

As the apologist C.S. Lewis put it, “The man in Christ rose again, not only the God.” That’s the whole point. We believe that a man—this man, Jesus of Nazareth, in the middle of human history—overcame death, that he came back to life, and that Jesus Christ is alive today.

Perhaps no contemporary person has put this more convincingly, more wonderfully, than the poet, John Updike, in his poem, Seven Stanzas of Easter. Here’s just a portion of it. He said,

Make no mistake, if He rose at all
It was as His body.
If the cells disillusion did not reverse, the molecules
Reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft Spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and befuddled eyes of
The eleven apostles.
It was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinge, thumbs and toes,
The same valved heart
That pierced, died, withered, decayed and then
Regathered out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

Jesus Christ is alive, physically alive. That’s what the resurrection means. And the evidence for this is that Jesus appeared to his followers. Now there’s many lines of evidence, but I just want to focus on this line of evidence that’s found for us in 1 Corinthians 15, as Paul here writes that he appeared to Cephas (that’s Peter), and then to the twelve, and then to more than five hundred people at once. And Paul lists six different appearances of the resurrected Christ for a total number of well over five hundred people. The eyewitnesses of the risen Christ constitute some of the strongest lines of evidence for the historical reality of the resurrection. This is why we believe that Jesus is alive.

Now, of course, the skeptics will say that these were actually hallucinations. The disciples only thought that they saw Jesus, but they didn’t really see Jesus physically alive. Maybe they had an experience. Maybe they were overcome and delirious with exhaustion and with grief and with sorrow. Maybe because of their unhinged emotions they had some kind of an emotional experience. Maybe they had a spiritual experience. Maybe they had a vision of some kind, but they didn’t really see Jesus physically alive.

Now perhaps that would stand up if only one or two people had seen Jesus. But when you look at all of the Gospel records and you look at all of the evidence and all of the many different people who saw Jesus in all of these different settings and different states of mind and heart, it becomes very compelling that something happened, that Jesus really had appeared physically to the disciples.

In his outstanding book Basic Christianity, John R.W. Stott compiles this historical evidence of the various eye witnesses. I want to read a lengthy quote to you. It’s the longest quote I’ll read to you this morning. But I think this bears noticing, as Stott puts together all of this different evidence to show how Jesus appeared to his followers. He says,

“An investigation of the appearances reveals an almost studied variety in the circumstances of person, place, and mood in which they occurred. Thus there were three individual interviews: Mary Magdalene, Peter, and James, and an interview with two on the road to Emmaus. There were at least ten to whom Christ appeared on the first Easter day and eleven or so more the following Sunday, while St. Paul claims that more than five hundred brethren saw him together on one occasion, probably in Galilee.

“As for places, so far from the appearances happening in one or two sacred spots, there were almost as many places in which he was seen as groups of people who saw him. They were the Garden of the Sepulchre, somewhere between the garden and the city, the upper room, the road to Emmaus, a mountain in Galilee, the lakeshore of Galilee, and the Mount of Olives near Bethany.

“If there was variety in person and place, there was variety in mood also. Mary Magdalene was weeping. The women were afraid and astonished. Peter was full of remorse and Thomas of incredulity. The Emmaus pair were distracted by the events of the week and the disciples in Galilee by their fishing. Yet, through their doubts and fears, through their unbelief and preoccupation, the risen Lord made himself known to them. He broke through the thick barriers of their faithlessness. Let no man dismiss these revelations of the divine Lord as the hallucinations of deranged human minds.”

I really do believe this is compelling evidence and that if you look at the Gospel records with intellectual honesty, if you study the history, if you consider every alternative that has been suggested, it becomes very compelling that this is the only really plausible explanation for what happened—that Jesus Christ emerged from that tomb and physically appeared to his disciples. They became so convinced of this resurrection that they were then willing to give their lives for him and even die as martyrs.

And this reminds us, of course, that among all the religions of the world, Christianity is uniquely grounded in history. There are many religions that don’t depend on historical claims. You can be a Buddhist without it really mattering whether Buddha really existed or not or if any of the details of his life are historically accurate. But Christianity rises or falls with this one central claim: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If he really did rise from the dead, that changes everything.

And it changes our lives in the here and now. It’s not just the fact of the resurrection in history, it’s also that the risen Christ is now alive and working in the hearts of people to change them and to transform them. And that leads us to the second point.

2. The Power of the Resurrection

Now, again, there are many different ways we might approach this, many threads we could chase down in the epistles that show us different aspects of the power of the resurrected Christ. What I want to do is simply look at three case studies that are mentioned here in this passage, three people to whom Jesus appeared that illustrate for us three different ways in which the power of the resurrection can work in our lives today.

(1) The first of these is the case of Peter, and it shows us that the risen Christ can forgive the guilty. You see it in 1 Corinthians 15:5, where Paul says, “He appeared to Cephas,” Cephas being, of course, the Aramaic name for Peter. Now Peter, you will remember, was one of Christ’s first followers. He belonged to that inner band of disciples along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He was the spokesman for the apostolic band, and evidently he was quite a character, which is why you always find Peter speaking up, often with his foot firmly placed in his mouth. You remember that Peter was the first one to confess that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the Living God. That’s recorded for us in Matthew 16. But shortly thereafter, he contradicted Jesus to himself when Jesus began to tell his disciples of how he must suffer and die.

Peter probably considered himself Christ’s most loyal follower because when Jesus said that all of the disciples would forsake him, Peter was the one who said, “Not me, Lord. If everybody else forsakes you, I’m going to be true to the end. I will never forsake you.” And Jesus said, “Peter, before the rooster crows, you’ll deny me three times.” And true to Jesus’ words, when Jesus was being hassled about from one trial to another, Peter was confronted in the courtyard of the temple and he denied with oaths and with curses that he even knew Jesus. And then Jesus looked at Peter, Peter remembered Jesus’ words and he went out and wept bitterly.

You can only wonder what went through Peter’s mind that next Saturday, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion. How remorseful he must have felt, how guilty, how ashamed, how crushed with his own personal denial of Jesus Christ. Maybe Peter even considered following in the footsteps of Judas, the betrayer, in taking his own life. Perhaps he wondered how God could ever forgive him. I’m sure that he was numb with despair and grief.

But whatever the case, it’s a marvelous word that we read in Mark 16, which Brad read for us earlier in the service, when Jesus sends this message through the angels and through the women to Peter. We read it in Mark 16:6-7.

“And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

And Peter—a special message for Peter. And according to Paul’s report here in 1 Corinthians 15, there was, then, a special appearance of Christ to Peter, a one-on-one encounter between Peter and the Lord Jesus, where Peter was restored. And we know that something then changed in Peter’s heart and life. This once brash, but then cowardly disciple who had denied his Lord and his Savior, becomes in the book of Acts a powerful apostle proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ in spite of persecution, in spite of anything that anyone can threaten to him, and eventually Peter, this man who must have felt so much regret for his sin, eventually he dies for the sake of Jesus. It shows us how the resurrection can transform the guilty and the ashamed, giving them a new assurance of God’s forgiveness and deep confidence with Christ in the world.

Brothers and sisters and friends, this morning I want you to know that that same gospel can free you from your shackles of guilt and shame. Whatever sins you’ve committed, even if you’ve committed some terrible crime, whatever dark secret haunts you in the night, whatever thing you think that God could never forgive, this story and many others like them, assure us that because Jesus bore our sins on the cross and because he rose from the dead leaving our sins in that tomb, we also can be forgiven.

Tim Keller, in his book on the resurrection, said,

“The resurrection displayed unmistakably to the world that Jesus had paid our debt to divine justice, opened a door to life without the crushing weight of self-salvation, and making it possible for God’s renewing presence to enter the lives of those who acknowledge him as Lord and Savior.”

And that assurance of divine forgiveness can be yours as well. Jesus, the risen Jesus, still changes the guilty and assures them of his grace.

(2) Secondly, the risen Christ can also convince the skeptic. And here we have the case of James. 1 Corinthians 15:7 says, “Then he appeared to James.” James was the half brother of Jesus Christ. But we know from the Gospel records that he did not actually believe in his brother’s messiahship during Jesus’ life. In fact, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was without honor in his own country.

In Mark 3 there’s a scene where Jesus’ family arrives on the scene, and they want to seize Jesus and lock him up because they think he’s crazy. You know? Put him in the asylum; put him in a straight-jacket, this man who’s claiming to be the Son of God even though he’s their brother. But his family doesn’t even believe it.

But something changed in the life of James. The Jewish historian, Josephus, says that James was stoned to death illegally by the Sanhedrin, sometime after AD 60, for his faith in Christ. What changed in his life? What turned this indifferent relative of Jesus into a loyal follower? What turned this skeptic into a martyr of the Christian church? And the answer is that he saw his brother alive and that he knew that Jesus was more than just his brother. He was also the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Lord of the world, and his life was transformed. And from that time forward, James refers to himself not as the brother of Jesus, not as the son of Mary and Joseph, but as the servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the New Testament letter which bears his name shows.

This shows us that the resurrection can transform us in our indifference, in our skepticism and cynicism as well. It can turn spiritual apathy into a burning zeal for Christ, and it can convince the most hardened skeptic that Jesus really is the Son of God.

For a contemporary example of someone who didn’t actually see the risen Christ with his own eyes and yet came to believe, consider a man named Frank Morrison. He was an English journalist in the twentieth century, and he set out to prove that the story of Christ’s resurrection was a myth. He had respect for Jesus as a moral teacher, but he decided he would study just the final week of Jesus’ life. He didn’t really believe in miracles. He didn’t believe in the supernatural. He would study the final week of Jesus’ life and he would write a book. But as he studied that week and as he looked at the trials and the crucifixion and the claims and the counter-claims and all of the evidence, he completely changed his mind. And so the first chapter of his book was called, The Book That Was Not Written. The book he did write was called, Who Moved the Stone, one of the great twentieth century books of a popular apologetics, and this man, once a skeptic to the claims of Christ, became a devoted follower of Jesus.

Of course, that story could be told many times as people who looked at the evidence honestly were led to believe that Jesus really is the Christ. And maybe this morning some of you are here and you’re not a committed Christian. Maybe you are a skeptic as well. Maybe you don’t believe. And maybe you are here just because a friend invited you or a family member invited you or you were curious. And if that’s you this morning, first of all, I just want to say I’m really glad you’re here. I hope you feel welcomed in this gathering. But I want to challenge you to read the Gospels for yourself. Work through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read the New Testament. Look at the portrait of Jesus, not as he is characterized in film or TV or the news, but look at these earliest records of the life and the teaching of Jesus Christ. Look at what they claim. Study the history. Dig into it deeply and see if you are not also convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

(3) The risen Christ can convince the skeptic, can forgive the guilty, and he can also convert the enemy. And here we have the case of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. Paul says,

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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.”

Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, had been a very religious man. He was a Jewish man. He was a member of the Pharisees. He was self-righteous. He tells us in Philippians 3 that according to the law, he was blameless, but he hated Jesus Christ. He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah and he had set out with a personal ambition to lock up the Christians. He was one of the first instigators of persecution against the followers of Jesus. In fact, when the very first Christian martyr, named Stephen, was stoned to death by a mob in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus was right there approving of everything that took place. And then he went on a crusade where he would find every person who confessed the name of Christ and he would lock them away in prison—and something happened to Saul of Tarsus.

One day he’s on the road to Damascus and he has an encounter with the glorified, risen Christ himself. It stops him in his tracks and Saul of Tarsus is absolutely transformed. The enemy becomes a friend. The murderer becomes a missionary. The antagonist becomes an apostle. Hatred gives way to a ministry that for the rest of his life is marked by the deepest love, self-denial, and self-sacrifice for others.

The story shows us the power of Christ to convert even the enemies of Christ, the enemies of the gospel, and to turn them into believers. It shows us how the power of the resurrected Christ resurrects us, raises us out of death in sin so that we experience new life in Jesus Christ. Paul said this has happened to him. As he writes to the Ephesians he includes himself when he says, “We were dead in our trespasses and our sins, but God made us alive together in Christ.” Remember those wonderful words from the hymn writer, Charles Wesley, when he said,

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

I want to ask you this morning, has that happened to you? Have you been resurrected out of death and sin and discovered new life in Jesus Christ? Have you been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God’s beloved Son? If you are here this morning and you have never experienced new birth, let me say to you that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you too will be saved. This is the power of the resurrection.

3. The Hope of the Resurrection

And then finally, number three, we consider the hope of the resurrection. It’s not just that the resurrection is a fact from history when we look back into the past, and it’s not only that the resurrection gives us transforming power for the present, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope—a confident expectation of what God will do for the future. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:17-22. Let me read that little paragraph again. It says,

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [That means that if Jesus is not really alive there is no hope.] Then those also who have fallen asleep [by this he means believers who have already died] in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

This passage connects the resurrection of Jesus Christ with the hope of the gospel, and it shows us that the resurrection is as vital to gospel hope as the light and heat of the sun are vital to life on this planet. Without the resurrection, there’s only darkness and despair. C.S. Lewis said it well in his book Miracles. He said,

“The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the first fruit, as Paul says here in this passage. He is the pioneer of life, language echoing Acts and Hebrews. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so. This is the beginning of the new creation. A new chapter in cosmic history has begun.”

And I want us to just think for a moment about two dimensions of this hope and then we’re done. There’s a personal dimension and there’s a cosmic dimension.

(1) First, the personal. The person dimension of the hope of the resurrection is this: it means that our suffering, your suffering, my suffering, someday will cease. It means that we will be reunited with dear loved ones who have already passed away in Christ. It means that our bodies will be resurrected and glorified, that death will not have the final word in our lives.

One of the greatest examples of this is that wonderful story from Joni Eareckson Tada. She was injured when she was seventeen years old in a diving accident, paralyzed then from the neck down, and confined to a wheelchair since that time. And in one of her books, she recalls attending a convention where the speaker closed the service by asking everyone to drop to their knees in prayer. Hundreds of people around her are getting to their knees, but she can’t. She’s confined to her wheelchair. And this is how she describes this scene. She says,

“Tears were streaming, because I was struck with the beauty of seeing so many people on bended knees before the Lord. It was a picture of heaven. Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven, I will be free to jump up, dance, kick, and do aerobics. The first thing I plan to do on resurrected legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus.”

In another one of her books Joni talks about how she thanks God for the wheelchair and for being with her through it, and then she said, “Now you can send that wheelchair to hell.”

Translate this to your own experience of suffering, of heartache, of disappointment, grief, and pain. And I want you to know that as surely as Joni’s legs will be able to dance and jump and do aerobics, so surely will cancer be eradicated from your body forever. So surely will the grief of personal loss be forever removed. So surely will your mind, perhaps now beginning to be afflicted with dementia, be fully restored. So surely will all the tears that you shed with a broken heart be wiped away by Jesus himself, never to return. This is our hope. It’s our hope that in spite of what we face in this life—we'll all face it; we’ll all face sickness and disease and death and dying and decay, some way or another either personally or through personal loss—but in spite of all of that, there’s a hope that holds us steady, the hope that’s given in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(2) But this hope is not only personal, it’s also cosmic, because the resurrection promises a renewed and restored material world. Jesus as the second Adam restores the world that is fallen and he brings about a new creation. The early Christians believed this so strongly that they talked about waiting for a new heavens and a new earth. And their vision for the end—and you can see this in the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22—their vision for the end is not that of disembodied spirits going to be with God in heaven. That’s the intermediate hope that we’ll be with Christ when we die, but that’s not the great hope. The great hope of the end is not us going up, it’s the city of God coming down, where God himself makes his dwelling place with men, where Christ, the Son of God, makes all things new and the whole cosmic order is renewed and restored.

Do you remember those wonderful words from Isaac Watts in his second-coming hymn that we often sing at Christmas, “Joy to the World”? “He comes to make his blessing flow / Far as the curse is found.” Everything that the curse of sin has affected in the world, all of the fallenness that is around us, is reversed when Jesus comes again and the world is made new. And that’s our hope. A personal hope, yes. But it’s a hope for the world. It’s a cosmic hope. A hope of new creation.

Brothers and sisters, this morning as we think about the fact of the resurrection and the evidence for this momentous event, that Jesus rose from the dead, and as we consider the power of the risen Christ at work in our lives, whatever it is that needs to change, he is able to change it as we think about the hope of the resurrection.

Let me ask you if this hope is yours. Do you believe that Jesus is alive? Have you confessed him as Lord and Savior? Have you found the assurance that your sins, even yours, are pardoned and wiped away? That your heart has been made new by the power of Christ? That your life has been transformed? If you're a Christian this morning, that hope belongs to you. You can walk in that hope this week. If you’re not a believer this morning, today you can call upon the name of the Lord and you also will be saved. Let’s pray.

Our gracious God, we thank you this morning for the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. We thank you that our sins have been carried away and that Christ is now alive—alive in history, alive at your right hand, and through the Spirit, living in our hearts. Lord, thank you for how this has already touched and changed so many of us in this room. Our prayer is that for anyone here who has never believed, that today would be the day of salvation.

Lord, as we come now to the Lord’s table to observe the sacraments and receive the emblems of the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ, to remember that Chrsit died for us and was raised and is coming again, we pray that by your Spirit you would work in our hearts whatever is pleasing in your sight. Lord, would you search us this morning? Would you draw us to yourself? Would you give us fresh eyes to see Jesus and all of this beauty and glory? And would you be glorified in our worship? We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.