Today is Easter and that means we are going to take a hard look at the greatest event in human history. So, let’s get to business.
In 1 Corinthians 15 we have the most extensive treatment on the resurrection in all of the Bible. Here, Paul lays a foundation about the reality of the Lord’s resurrection in order to encourage the believers about their future resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus is so important that everything dealing with Christianity pivots on it. Without the resurrection none of the other truths we gain from God’s Word would matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would simply be another empty religion alongside all the other manmade religions.
Because it is the cornerstone of the gospel, the resurrection has been the target of Satan’s greatest attacks. If the resurrection is eliminated, the life-giving power of the gospel is eliminated, the deity of Christ is eliminated, salvation from sin is eliminated, and eternal life is eliminated. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (NLT). If Christ did not live past the grave, those who trust in Him surely cannot hope to do so.
Without the resurrection salvation could not have been provided, and without belief in the resurrection salvation cannot be received. God’s Word clearly says in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him form the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9, NASB). It is not possible, therefore, to be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: 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 Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me. (CSB)
Let’s unpack this and see what God’s Word has for us today.[i]
Paul says in verse 1, Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you…. Paul wants to be clear about what the gospel really is and what it is all about. It is crucial that we have a good understanding of what the gospel truly is and is not.
- The word gospel means good news. When we are talking about the gospel, we are talking about the good news that only comes through Jesus Christ.
- The gospel is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel is 100% about what Jesus accomplished on the cross and what He declared through His resurrection. Your salvation is based completely on the gospel. Let’s be clear.
- The gospel is not faith in Christ plus baptism.
- The gospel is not faith in Christ plus church attendance.
- The gospel is not faith in Christ plus being a better person.
- The gospel is not faith in Christ plus anything else.
- The gospel, as you will see, is about placing your faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for your salvation.
Paul told the Corinthians that he wanted to remind them of the gospel he preached to them. Again, the word gospel means good news. The world is full of bad news. If you watch the news tomorrow morning you are going to hear about disasters, wars and rumors of wars, famines, crimes, along with political and racial hatred. Last week you would have heard about the same thing and next week you will hear about more of the same thing. In the middle of all that there is good news. There is a gospel worth hearing, receiving, and building your life on.
Because of this gospel and good news there is hope. It is news so good it is worth gathering to celebrate every weekend. This news is so good that it eclipses all of the other bad news and gives us joy even when the world around us is falling apart. What is this good news?
It is the news that the Heavenly Father loves you. It is the good news that God sent His Son to live a sinless life that we could never had done in order to die in our places for our sins. After Jesus paid for our sin on the cross, He rose from the grave to new life. When you place your faith in Him and give your life to Him, your sins are forgiven by Jesus and you also are risen to new life, like Jesus. That is good news. That is the gospel.
Back to verse 1, Paul says, Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Paul encourages us to do something with the gospel about Jesus. We need to receive it, stand on it, hold to it so that we can be saved by it. What does all that mean?
Receive the gospel
The first thing Paul says is they received the gospel. Most of the information in this world is white noise. We hear it and we can ignore it. It ultimately doesn’t matter. That is not true with Jesus. What Jesus did on the cross and with the empty tomb is the most important information in the world. We must receive That means we can’t ignore the good news of Jesus, like we do with other information in the world. We must take it into our lives and respond to it. As a matter of fact, in John 1:12 we are told, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (ESV).
Stand on the gospel
The second thing Paul says is they have taken their stand on the gospel. Standing on something means its foundational to your life. It is what you build your life upon. What Jesus has done for us on the cross and with the empty tomb must become foundational to our identities. When you build your life upon the gospel of Jesus it impacts how you treat people, what your values are, how you manage your money, how you raise and train your children, what kind of employee you are, what kind of a person you are. It changes how you think about God, sin, church, other Christians and those who need Christ in their life. When you take a stand on something it is foundational, but you also defend it. It’s important to you. It is significant to you.
Saved by the gospel
A third thing Paul says is, they are being saved by this gospel. Paul also says in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed oof the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (ESV). The word salvation is a small word that covers a lot of territory. Salvation deals with your past, present and future.
As followers of Jesus, we are able to say, “I was saved.” We talk about when we placed our faith in Christ and He forgave us our sins. We became a child of God. We were born again. We were adopted in His God’s family. We talk about it in the past. This is what God’s Word calls justification. We are forgiven an we are pardoned.
As followers of Jesus we are also able to say, “I am being saved.” This means we are growing spiritually. We are learning how to live in victory. God is teaching me how to love Him, love others, and love myself. God is working on me and I’m learning how to forgive others, be more kind, and be generous and patient with people. I’m becoming more and more like Christ. I’m learning how to die to myself and let Christ live through me. This is what God’s Word calls sanctification.
As followers of Jesus we are also able to say, “I will be saved.” This means when I die I go to heaven. I get a brand new body, a brand new home, brand new mind, a brand new environment. I will not sin, I will not get sick, I will not die, I will not experience grief, pain, or misery of any kind. This will happen in the future. God’s Word calls this glorification.
Let me be clear. This is not getting saved three different times. This is one salvation expressed in three different ways. It is the gospel of Jesus that produces all of that!
Hold tightly to the gospel
A fourth thing Paul says is they must hold to the message that he preached to them. He is telling us to hold tightly to this information. If this truth begins to slip from us then we are letting the most important message and the most significant information in human history slip away from being the foundation of our lives. If you are not careful you will let the distraction of this world loosen your grip on the gospel being the foundation of your life. Paul and I are not saying that you will lose your salvation. What we are saying is that what should be the foundation of your life starts to slip away. You get distracted by your career, by finances, by relationships, by your health, and by your hobbies. Hold on tightly to the gospel. Keep it at the foundation of everything you are and everything you have. Don’t let anyone or anything else become more important to you than the gospel. Build your life on it and hold on to it.
Paul just said this gospel, this good news, is so significant that you need to receive it, build your life on it, and hold on to it tightly because it is the news that saves you like no other. It has both an immediate impact on your life and an eternal impact on your life.
After Paul tells us what the good news of Jesus can do for us and why it is the most important thing we needed to know and hold on to in our lives, he explains to us why we can know this was not just some made up fake news, but accurate and true news. To say someone lived and died is one thing, but to say they lived, died, and arose again is something else. Jesus rising from the dead is an extraordinary claim. How can we know it took place when we were not there?
Paul goes on to say in verse 3, For I passed on to you as most important what I also received. Out of all the things Paul had received about God, God’s kingdom, and all the truths he passed on to others, Paul says this is the most important. If you take all the truths in the Bible and stack them in order of importance this truth about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the most important.
At this point Paul is going to give us a summary of the gospel. He mentions four things: the death of Jesus, the burial of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the appearances of Jesus.
The Death of Jesus
The first thing Paul says about Jesus is, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Why is this important? Well, there were some who believed Jesus didn’t really die. But the facts and evidence are overwhelming.
- It was a public death. It happened during Passover in Jerusalem when the city was overrun with people.
- It was well-documented by Christian and non-Christian historians of that time.
- A squad of Roman soldiers were in charge of making sure Jesus was dead. To make sure Jesus was dead one of the soldiers thrust a spear into His side putting a whole in His heart.
- Pilate made the Roman soldier who killed Jesus certify his death before Jesus body was released for burial.
Before Jesus was ever born the Old Testament prophesied that He would die for your sins and mine (Genesis 22:8, 14; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; and Hosea 6:2). Because God is holy, He could not ignore our sin. Because God is loving, He sent His Son to die for our sin so we could have eternal life (John 3:16). He died the death that we deserved. While on the cross Jesus was separated from God so you and I could be reconciled to God. Jesus actually died and He died for our sins.
The Burial of Jesus
The second thing Paul says about Jesus is in verse 4. He says, that [Jesus] was buried. Why would Paul mention this. Because there were some who believed Jesus didn’t actually die and therefore wasn’t really buried. There is overwhelming evidence, both Biblically and historically, that Jesus died and was buried.
- After Jesus died His body was taken down from the cross.
- It was prepared for burial. This meant the wrapped Jesus’ body in strips of cloth and more than 100 pounds of spices.
- Jesus was placed in a tomb. Jesus didn’t have His own tomb, but a quiet disciple named Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus his own personal tomb to use.
- Joseph was a rich man and he owned a large tomb. It was an easy-to-find tomb. Extraordinary precautions were taken by the religious and political leaders to ensure Jesus’ body was not moved or stolen from that tomb.
- Roman guards were placed at the tomb.
- A stone was rolled in front of the tomb. The stone would have weighted about two tons.
- A Roman seal was placed on the tomb to ensure that it was not disturbed. If the seal was found broken, then the wrath of Rome would come down on whoever broke it. The penalty for breaking the seal was death.
Jesus died a real death. He was buried in a real tomb. This sets the stage for the greatest event in history which would become the greatest news in history!
The Resurrection of Jesus
Then Paul says in verse 4, that [Jesus] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…. The Bible tells us some great details about that resurrection morning.
- An angel from God appeared at the tomb, rolling back the stone.
- The angel’s appearance was so brilliant these hardened guards trembled and became like dead men. They collapsed to the ground in fear.
- After the angel rolled away the stone to reveal the tomb was empty, the guard ran to the chief priests to tell them what happened.
- The religious leaders agreed to concoct a story saying the disciples stole the body at night while the guards were asleep. That’s a bad cover: could mean the death penalty for the soldiers and how could they know who stole the body if they were asleep?
At the moment of the Lord’s resurrection, everything that Jesus said was confirmed. He is the Messiah. He is the Savior. He is Lord. He is God. We now can have eternal life. We now can have our sins past, present, and future forgiven. We can now be justified, sanctified, and glorified. We can now start looking for His return. We can trust God’s Word and experience both abundant and eternal life. At this moment the devil is defeated, sin is conquered, and death has lost its power. This gives us light in the darkness, an anchor during the storm, and a foundation to build our life on.
So what happened next? Jesus started making appearances.
The Appearances of Jesus
Paul says in verse 5, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me. After the resurrection Jesus would prove and give evidence by allowing hundreds of people to see Him alive. These people would include His friends (the Twelve), strangers (the five hundred), His family (James) and an enemy (Paul).
Why is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the most important piece of information we need to know? The Bible tells us that if we miss this truth we will die in our sin. We will spend eternity suffering the just consequences of our sin. We will live the rest of our lives addicted and being destroyed by our sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus is our only hope. This is why Paul began by telling us we must receive this truth. We must stand on this truth. We must hold on to this truth because we are saved by responding to this truth that we call the gospel.
What have I done with the most important thing I need to know? I ask you today, have you received the truth of the resurrection? Paul said we must receive it. We must stand on it and not fall away from it. That is the only way the work of Jesus on the cross and empty tomb will benefit us. So I ask you, do you know Jesus? Do you belong to Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus? Do you sing to Jesus? Do you live for Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Do you open your Bible and read it to meet Jesus? Do you look forward to the day you will see Jesus face to face?
[i] The doctrinal problem on which this chapter focuses was not the Corinthians’ disbelief in Christ’s resurrection but confusion about their own future resurrection. Paul was not trying to convince them that Christ rose from the dead but that one day they, too, would be raised with Him to eternal life. Nevertheless, to lay the foundation, in the first eleven verses he reviews the evidences for Jesus’ resurrection, a truth he acknowledges they already believed (vv. 1, 11).