There she sat dining last Sunday evening across the street at a Parisian Café. She is Ms. Bernadette – one of our fashionable members. There was no way she could know, on that cloudless evening, what we would all watch in shock and remorse the next day: Notre Dame would fall. That 8th Century Gothic Sanctuary, with its more than 1300-year-old wooden roof, its stones and spires like spears and artillery at military rest would be engulfed in flames just a few hours later.
It’s a picture that captured the world. The church was on fire. As images of the smoldering pews and the water-run altar flooded the web and newspapers alike, one striking and most obvious image shone forth almost apocalyptically. Amid the wrecked ruins of the cathedral, with everything having fallen around it, with smoking beams and fermented cornices, the golden cross at the altar was still standing. What a picture!
It’s a kind of defiance of the cross to outlast empires, civilizations, and attempts at its own destruction. There is something magnificent in that photo. Why has the story of the cross of Calvary lasted all these years? Why does it still arrest the attention of humanity today?
1 Corinthians 15 answers that question. It is because the story of the cross did not end with the cross. We can tell, with indisputable proof, that the cross was not the final act of Him who was hung upon it.
The watching world does not have a problem with Jesus being born. It does not disturb them that he lived. Some are even willing to admit that He performed a dynamic ministry and affirm that he was put to death by crucifixion. But to say more, to assert a literal, physical, actual, and bodily resurrection is to them unthinkable and intellectually dishonest. They say that Jesus was an outstanding moral example. He was a model wise man, and a prolific teacher, but like every other crusader – the world thinks – He was silenced at death.
We know of 10-12 other Jewish men in the 1st Century AD who claimed to be the Messiah or a quasi-Messianic figure. We know that those movements came to a screeching halt at the violent deaths of their founders. The noted New Testament scholar N. T. Wright reminds us that if or when that happened, their followers had a choice. If their followers wanted to continue the movement they could find a replacement Messiah, or they could give up the movement and go live an un-rebellious life.
The disciples of Jesus Christ didn’t do either of those two things. Instead, they kept going as if their leader wasn’t dead at all.
Any careful reader of history has to wonder, how is it that these men and women who followed Jesus to his cross suddenly transformed into an irresistible, courageous new church that could not be stopped? They claimed no new leader. Instead, they insisted that Christ was still in charge. And if asked by CNN why they kept going, their answer would be that Jesus had been raised from the dead; that He still spoke, and that He was still alive! How did they know? They had seen Him.
The resurrection is the capstone of the gospel. It turns a dark crucifixion Friday into a Good Sunday morning. It says to us that Christianity is not concerned with mere mortality. Our faith is higher than Plato’s philosophy of the immortality of the soul. It is more resilient than the easy dismissals of the Sadducees. It is more satisfying and revitalizing than the notions of resuscitation. Christianity is concerned with the resurrection of the dead.
That’s why we are at church this Sunday and every Sunday. Something happened that Sunday morning that made every Sunday thereafter remarkable and precious. It is this: He got up!
This text is tailored to teach us that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact, and its certainty transforms us from death to life. But what does the resurrection accomplish in your life?
The Resurrection causes your salvation (vv. 1-4)
The resurrection matters because it is efficacious. It accomplishes something in our lives.
Paul makes the resurrection known to the Corinthians, and by extension to us. The text can also be read to mean that he ‘reminds them.’ Culture, the passing of time, and life itself will harden you and cause you to dismiss the truth. That’s the case for Corinth.
A few years ago, I stood amid the wrecked ruins of the ancient city of Corinth. It occurred to me why Paul had to remind them of the gospel he had received. That morning, it took us only 25 minutes or so to get to Corinth by bus from Athens. It was more than geographical proximity that caught my attention. It was the philosophical adjacency that struck me. The captivating logic of Athens had spilled over. The thoughts of Athens traveled into the minds of the Corinthians faster than our bus carried us over. That empty intellectualism, those elementary principles of Athenian thought made Corinth something like Rome’s little brother. So, Paul has to reveal to them what He has already preached to them.
If you are not careful, the philosophies and unbelief of the world will seep into your heart and undermine your faith. That’s one reason why coming to church is a worthy discipline. Hearing the word proclaimed, singing it in community reminds you of truth in a society hell-bent against truth.
I love the way the curtain raises on this passage. Paul says, “The gospel I gospeled to you.” This is an intriguing construction of vocabulary. Multiple words are available to describe preaching. Twice before in this letter when speaking of his preaching, Paul used the Greek words kerygma and katangello. Those are simple, normative Greek ideas for proclamation, but when he opens chapter 15, he chooses words that are specific to Christian preaching. He writes them in both noun and verbal form: the gospel I gospeled to you.
In one double emphatic statement, Paul argues that the gospel is the subject of its own verb, and it is the action of its own idea. In its very proclamation, it accomplishes its intended goal. The message itself is good news. That’s what Gospel means, but it’s as if he suggests that the act of preaching this message is equally good.
What exactly is the good news? This might be a strange issue to raise in a Christian church, but in the last year we have seen too many Christians and Christian preachers deny the very gospel that we proclaim. In a world where preaching is confused about the good news; in which some of our brightest and ablest churchmen are abandoning the time-tested revelation of the scripture in favor of ecumenism and political correctness; in a time in which parishioners are trading the truth of God’s word for the myths of culture – Paul reminds us that we have a responsibility to Gospel the Gospel. We have to be found telling the truth about Jesus.
But just before he tells us what the gospel is, he first tells us what the gospel does.
Listen to what Paul says the gospel does.
It steadies you. If you believe it, the gospel will save you and stabilize you. In the gospel, the Corinthians stand. It is in this very message that Christians find our hold. The Resurrection Gospel enables us to hold our ground. In other words, the Resurrection Gospel is not a promise that the ground won’t move, but it is a promise that when the ground stops moving, whoever believes it will still be standing. That’s stability!
Spurgeon sensed this. He said we do not simply do something for God, but we are assured that Christ has done more for us. When he started a theological college for underprivileged students in 1856, he chose the motto: Teneo, Et Teneor – I hold and am held!
After a devastating, landscape shifting storm in Rockford, Illinois, my Pastor –Dr. K. Edward Copeland – drove a couple of us around the city to see the damage of the storm. One particular block grabbed my attention – well, one particular tree. It still stood while the trees around it fell. It was a white oak. I looked it up and discovered that its roots ran as deep as its branches ran high. That tree started to preach to me. It testified of weathering a storm and of watching other trees collapse.
Isn’t that the testimony of gospel preaching? While you are holding it in your heart, you discover that it is holding you!
It is saving you. Only the gospel can save. But this is not just future or past salvation to which Paul refers in verse 2. The good news here is that God is presently saving us. Theologians remind us that there is such a thing as salvation past: that is, we have been saved from the penalty of sin. They tell us about salvation’s future: that is, we will one day be saved from the very presence of sin. In our text today, Paul argues for a contemporary, ever-present salvation. We are being saved from the power of sin. Even in the right now, because of the Resurrection Gospel we are not slaves to sin.
But the question still begs to be asked: what is the gospel? What makes it the good news? This is a fair question both in 1st Century Corinth as well as in 2021 America. There is not always universal agreement on what the gospel is. Paul lays out, by way of direct revelation from The Lord Jesus Christ, what the gospel is. Of most importance, Paul lists these 3 things:
I hope you never tire of hearing those 2 words: Jesus died. He focuses immediately, directly, and conclusively on the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not to say that His immaculate birth, or His miraculous ministry, or His sinless life somehow lose their significance in our retelling of the story. What it means is that His birth matters in light of His death. His ministry matters in light of His death. His sinless life matters in light of His death. All roads of the gospel lead to a tree outside the holy city.
He died on behalf of our sin. Notice that Paul does not merely say, “Christ died.” Our preaching cannot simply proclaim the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It must tell people why He died. There is nothing unusual about a man dying. All men, eventually die. What is striking is that Christ died for our sins.
If it were not for our sin, He would not have died. Christ’s death is tethered to our human failure. He took our place. He bore our grief. He carried our sorrow. Isaiah says that He was smitten of God and afflicted… He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. He did not die for a better society, or greater economic opportunity, for a political party, or for behavior modification. He did not die as a societal rebel or as a religious reformer. He died for our sin. He died to pay our debt.
He died according to the scripture: Paul is arguing that the Bible ain’t been wrong yet! The sufficiency and integrity of the Holy Scriptures are still intact. The Bible is the most reliable, accurate, and prophetic book in all of human history. Its predictions about the savior are correct.
Maybe Paul is thinking about Jesus as pictured there in Psalm 22 when the Psalmist says, “They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Maybe Paul was thinking of Isaiah 53: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Maybe Paul was thinking of Jeremiah 8:22, the question at the temple gate answered on the hill called Calvary – Is there no balm in Gilead?
It doesn’t matter where you read: The Bible has not been wrong yet!
- Its predictions are correct
- Its judgments are indisputable
- Its corrections are timeless
- Its assertions are reliable
- It’s fresher than tomorrow’s newspaper
- It’s more definite than the constitution
- It’s the backbone of science
- It’s the foundation for the highest philosophy
- It the inspiration of poetry
- It’s the interest of music
- It will build your faith
- It will fight your temptation
- It will light your path
- It will clarify your decisions
- It will feed your soul
- It will clean your conscience
- Its words are wisdom
- Its claims are true
- Its hope is eternal
- It has never disappointed
- Time cannot age it, and ages do not time it.
- The word is alive! You’ve never read a book like it, and no other book has read you, but it.
- It’s a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path
- It’s sweeter than the honey in the honeycomb
He was buried
It’s important that we not just tell people that Jesus died. We have to tell them that He was crucified and buried. This is a word about the certainty and finality of the death of Jesus. His burial in that borrowed tomb, sealed with the insignia of the empire was supposed to be the grip of death. But I’m glad that the story doesn’t end there.
He was raised
We cannot leave Jesus there. People need to know that He was raised from the dead! The tense of the verb changes when Paul got to this part. This verse does not just say that Christ is risen. In the perfect tense, it proclaims that He is still risen! He is still alive! He still speaks. He still reigns. He is never to die again! But He did not raise Himself. God the Father raised Him from the slumber of death. Death took Jesus from earth, but God took Jesus from death. He was raised literally, actually, victoriously, historically, and majestically!
The Resurrection proves that God was telling the truth (vv. 5-8)
It is indisputable.
Paul does not leave the argument to time or the scriptures alone. But he proposes that the best way to prove that you have been raised from the dead is to… show up! Make an appearance.
We can respect the history of this text without making it too historical. I have not seen the bodily resurrected Jesus, but I have experienced Him. I wasn’t there when He showed up to the 500 in Galilee. I wish I would have been alive, standing in that crowd of hundreds who watched him majestically and marvelously ascend into the heavens. I wasn’t there.
Yet I can say that although I’ve not seen Him in the flesh, He has come to see about me. My experience of the resurrected Lord is not like those of 1 Corinthians 15, but it is valuable. His appearance has changed me: I was blind but now I see. I was sick, but now I am healed. I was lost but now I am found. I was weak, but now I am strong. And He still will come to see about you.
I’ve not seen Him, but He has seen me. He has looked down on me. I’ve not seen Him, but I love Him. I’ve not seen Him, but I’m going to see Him.
The Resurrection is transformative (vv. 9-11)
Grace is God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Paul says, and so you believed. People have come to belief in striking ways.
John Wesley got saved listening to Psalm 130 being sung at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. After he had traveled the world preaching, he had not yet known the warmth of the Resurrection Gospel upon his own heart. He got saved hearing the word proclaimed. People have come to belief in striking ways.
A carpenter got saved listening to a soundcheck at Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon was testing the acoustics of the new church, unaware that anyone was listening. He started to recite scripture and that word reached a carpenter in the balcony. He got saved. People have come to belief in striking ways.
At the end of the day, it matters not so much who told you. The power is in the Resurrected Christ who is preached.
So today we celebrate the most important news of all time: He got up!
Charlie Dates is Senior Pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Contributing Editor of Preaching.