The Resurrection: The Rock on which we stand

 Please read I Corinthians 15: 1-20 and Acts 10: 34-43 and then pray: Almighty God, as we celebrate the resurrection of your Son, and as we once again hear and receive the good news of his victory, fill us with His life and power so that we may live and serve with hope, joy, love, and perseverance. Amen!

I Corinthians 13 is perhaps the most recognised and famous passage in Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth. It is regularly read at both weddings and funerals because it speaks of the excellence and supremacy of true love. And yet when it comes to funerals, I think 1 Corinthians 15 is the better passage of Scripture to read and to rejoice in. This is because it is the most significant chapter on resurrection hope and victory to be found anywhere in the bible. 1 Corinthians 15 is nothing less than 58 verses of pure everlasting hope in the face of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death! Towards the end of this magnificent chapter, we read these memorable words of defiant faith;

… then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (54-57)

 If you and I were living at the time of Paul and other apostles like Peter, what message would we have heard if we had listened to their preaching? What would have been the content of their sermons? What was the content of their gospel, which is the gospel of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ? The jewel in the crown of their gospel preaching was always the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day. The proof of the pudding is in the eating – or at least in paying close attention to the sermon outlines and content of the apostles which are recorded for us by Luke in the book of Acts.

In every sermon in Acts – you will hear with clarity the message of Jesus’s resurrection from dead! There is an ever-continuing emphasis on the resurrection. (Acts 4:33) Part of Peter’s sermon preached in the home of Cornelius was read to us today. What was the key ingredient in that message? (Read Acts 10: 37-43) And what about Peter’s first great message on the Day of Pentecost? What did he focus upon on that day of seismic importance? (Read Acts 2: 22-36)

 We could go on and on and examine every sermon outline in the book of Acts and there are many from the lips of Peter and Paul. Why did the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day dominate the preaching of the apostles? The reason is this. Without the resurrection there would have been no apostles, no preaching, no Church, no gospel, and no salvation. As Paul says plainly in 1 Corinthians 15:14; “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

 The only reason there was a group of apostles to preach the gospel, and the only reason there is a gospel at all, and an ever-growing worldwide Church, is that the risen Jesus appeared to those apostles and gave them the great commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28: 16-20). The risen and victorious Jesus not only gave them a great and noble commission, he also gave them many convincing and irrefutable proofs that he was alive (Acts 1:3, 10:40-41), and he went on to send them the person and the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as he said he would. The historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit are the two historical facts which account for the fearless preaching of the apostles and the subsequent universal growth of the Church of whom Jesus is the Living Head.

 When passing on the preaching baton to the young preacher and evangelist Timothy, Paul his spiritual father, gives him this direction and encouragement;

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

 What Paul is doing in 1 Corinthians 15 is reminding this Church and all God’s people everywhere and at all times (1 Corinthians 1:2) of the vital and fundamental core truths of their faith and the Christian gospel. We all need to be reminded again and again about what lies at the heart of our faith and our hope. We celebrate Easter every year because we need to be reminded of what is of first importance. (3) We cannot be reminded enough about the essentials of our precious faith. (2 Peter 1: 12-15). Here are the essential facts and truths according the established creed of the apostles;

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,
and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (3-5)

 Notice Paul emphasises four facts;

  • The death of Christ for our
  • His burial in the tomb.
  • His resurrection on the third day.
  • His appearances to the Twelve and to many other eye witnesses (still alive) after his resurrection.

The four facts are presented as two couples. The first two go together (death and burial) and the second two also go together (resurrection and appearances). Jesus died and was buried on the Friday and he was raised to life and began to appear to his followers on the third day – the Sunday. Please notice 4 very important facts about these 4 vital truths!

Firstly, these truths are historical truths which firmly imbedded in the history of our world. Christianity is a historical faith based on historical events. Jesus died on a cross! He was crucified under Pontius Pilate and he was laid in a tomb owned by a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who was called Joseph of Arimathea. On the third day, he rose from the dead. His tomb was found to be empty. This is history not make-believe. The resurrection is a verifiable historical event of monumental proportions. God raised His Son from the dead – and he was then seen by many witnesses over a period of forty days. (Acts 1:3) On one occasion – there were more than 500 eye-witnesses, people who could and would willingly testify to the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive. Many serious seekers and enquirers who have set out to disprove the historicity of the resurrection have failed miserably, and not a few have ended up accepting Jesus as their Lord and God. Frank Morrison’s famous bestseller “Who moved the stone” is one such example, with his first chapter entitled, “The book that refused to be written.” Paul attests to the historic nature and magnitude of the resurrection and to his own personal encounter with the living Christ. (8) His Damascus Road encounter with Jesus revolutionised his life and his thinking. This has proved to be one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

Secondly, these truths according to Paul were not only a historical reality, they were a physical reality. Jesus physically died – and died an agonising death on a cross after he had been brutally physically assaulted and tortured. He was physically placed into a tomb, his body wrapped in grave clothes and burial spices. On the third day, he physically rose from death and he then went on to be literally, physically seen by his followers. Thomas, the doubter was invited to physically touch the wounds of Jesus. Jesus physically ate with his disciples on several notable occasions. The whole of 1 Corinthians 15 is built on the premise that Jesus rose physically from the dead. He has a resurrection body – physically recognisable but gloriously transformed. Christ is the first-fruits; we shall follow on with our bodies argues Paul. (20, 23) This is basic Christianity and anyone denying the reality of Christ’s physical resurrection has no right to refer to themselves as a Christian. If Christ was not raised physically, Christian faith would be utterly futile and meaningless, and a complete waste of time and energy. (17) Paul would have remained a Pharisee. The New Testament would not have been written!

Thirdly, the resurrection was not only historical and physical, Paul also says that it was biblicalin accordance with the Scriptures. Christ rose from the dead in accordance with Old Testament prophecies and promises. (3 & 4). One only needs to read Isaiah 53 and Psalm 16 to see the evidence for this. Peter quotes Psalm 16 on the day of Pentecost explaining that the Holy One who would not see decay was none other than Jesus – the Christ. (Acts 2: 24-32). Isaiah wrote eloquently and prophetically about the suffering servant who was bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. And who can forget the last few verses of Isaiah 53. (Read Isaiah 53: 9-12) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus helped two distraught and struggling disciples to see biblical truth;

This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24: 44-45)

 Have we had our minds opened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit to see that Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and triumphant ascension were all predicted and prophesied in the Scriptures? Do you see the truth? Our faith is thoroughly biblical and Jesus is clearly the promised Messiah and Suffering Servant who “died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Fourthly, the truths of Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances, are not only historical, physical, and biblical – they are also profoundly and powerfully theological. In other words, it is these basic truths that lead people like you and me into a true, personal, and living knowledge of God. The reality of Christ’s death and resurrection open the gate of heaven and the kingdom of God to us. (24) It is through these truths that our sins can be forgiven and washed away (17), we can be born again into new life and living hope; (1 Peter 1:3) we can be lifted with Christ into heavenly places; we can receive the gift of the Spirit and know in our hearts the hope of heaven; we can lose the fear of death and know the certainty of our own future bodily resurrection and eternal state and security.

So then, the truths about Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection and empty tomb, his appearances to his apostles and others which have led to the creation of the Church and the dynamic advance of the Kingdom of God – concern momentous historical, physical, biblical, and theological realities. As the Puritan Thomas Watson has stated; Christ did not rise from the dead as a private person, but as the public Head of the Church.

 How does all this gospel truth affect us right now? What do we do with this this gospel of the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Paul challenges us to do 3 things with this gospel which saves – which brings glorious and irreversible salvation and eternal life. Paul says that Christians, whether living in Corinth in the 1st century or Britian in the 21st century are to;

  1. Preach this gospel.
  2. Remember that they have received this gospel and hold on to it.
  3. Take their stand upon this gospel.

Read I Corinthians 15: 1-2. This good news must be taken by all Christians, but especially those called by God to preach, to the whole world. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). This is what Paul and the other apostles, and many other witnesses and followers were doing. He had taken the gospel to the heart of Greece and he was not finished yet. The means God has chosen to get this message out to the world is through preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. Here and on so many other places there is a stress on the preaching ministry – and the fact that this MUST be promoted and prioritised by the whole Church. We have already seen earlier how vital preaching was to the growth of the early Church in Acts. Paul glories in the privilege and responsibility of preaching! (1-2, 11). Earlier he has written; Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. (I Corinthians 9:16)

And woe to the Church of today if it fails to preach and share this gospel in the power of the Spirit with a sense of urgency and fearlessness. And the emphasis on preaching and preachers does not let most Christians off the hook, because every true Christian is called to be a witness to the resurrection. We are all summoned by Jesus to speak about the reality of the fact that “Christ is in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) We are all called to tell those we know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Do we do that? Do we take up the challenge to be a witness for Jesus? Do we share the good news of the resurrection and its massive implications for the world and for the future of every individual? We are poor witnesses indeed if we fail to speak.

Secondly, we not only preach this gospel and enthusiastically encourage and support its propagation and proclamation, we receive it personally and hold on to with all our ransomed powers. Jesus Christ – who is the Resurrection and the Life is to be personally received into our hearts and allowed to reign in our lives. The gospel must be personally and individually welcomed and received with humility, repentance, faith, and belief. If we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the deadwe shall be saved writes Paul. (Romans 10:9) And we must receive Jesus as both Saviour (because he died for our sins) and Lord (because he rose victoriously from the dead) – and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. Have you received Jesus as Saviour and Lord? This is what these mighty historical truths of the gospel must lead us to – complete surrender to Christ and his kingdom. We must hold on tightly to our living faith!

Thirdly and finally, the gospel is something we proudly and resolutely take our stand upon. We should all be able to say of this gospel of resurrection – We shall not – we shall not be moved. This is Paul’s defiant message at the beginning and the end of this amazing chapter 15. (Read v 1-2, 55-58). Notice Paul’s clarion call to believers; Stand firm. Let NOTHING move you! We live and die by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the Rock of our salvation! This is where we stand, and nothing should move us or cause us to falter from living as Easter people! The Church eats, lives, and breathes resurrection! Every bone in the Church’s body is infused with resurrection power and hope. And we can and will always sing of the resurrection with great purpose, power, joy, conviction, and hope. Resurrection songs and hymns are bold and full of faith and resounding hope! We have already sung words such as these – and on this we take and maintain our stand.

And we are raised with Him, death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered; and we shall reign with him, for He lives: Christ is risen from the dead. (Stuart Townend)

Friends, we must receive and hold on to this gospel of resurrection hope and joy as firmly as we possibly can. We must expend our energy in sharing it with the world. We must take our stand on this gospel and rejoice in the fact that NOTHING can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! Neither death nor life, angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation! Love has won! Jesus’ life and love are indestructible!  So, when death draws near at some point in the future and it will do – Stand firm – Let nothing move you! Be ready to meet the Lord of life and to live forever in His presence! Amen.

 Revd Peter J Clarkson (31.3.24)