The Reality of the Resurrection

April 16, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Historically and currently, Christians come to the same conclusion as Paul: If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then all of Christianity makes sense. Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection. (I Cor. 15:1-11)

I. The Resurrection Is Real
Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and appeared to many witnesses (I Cor. 15: 3-7). The resurrection is not a moral pathway or something we do, but something God has done for us. Christianity is simply something that happened with real evidence that has to be believed. The most compelling evidence to Pastor John was the radical transformation of so many lives of people who met the resurrected Christ.

II. The Resurrection Has Implications

A. If the Resurrection is real, Jesus is real.
If the resurrection is real, then Jesus probably was who He said was and all his claims, whether spiritual or objective, were true.

B. If the Resurrection is real, death is over-rated. (I Cor. 15:6)
Although death often seems so powerful, overwhelming, the Bible presents it more gently. Paul describes it as falling “asleep” (I Cor. 1:6). Because of Christ’s resurrection, death has lost its “sting” (I Cor. 15:55), beginning with Christ and continuing with us.

C. If the Resurrection is real, we have to talk about it.
It is good news to be shared with all: Jesus was raised, never to be sick, broken, or die again. Believing in the resurrection is the cure for death; believing in the resurrection gives us eternal life. This news is not about us, but about a loving God who has reached out to us by His son’s death and resurrection, to transform our lives here on earth and allow us to live with Him forever.

If we are Christians, may we celebrate and live out the implications of the resurrection intentionally. If we are not believers, may we offer ourselves to God who loves us, died for our sins, and welcomes us to His eternal family.

Discussion Questions

  1. Has the resurrection of Jesus changed or transformed your life?
  2. In a few sentences, how would you share the resurrection story with a friend who is a non believer?
  3. Has fear of the cost ever influenced your sharing the resurrection story? What costs might block you personally? How might the living Christ want us to handle this?
  4. When you have been around death, was it peaceful or full of sting? (Check out I Cor. 15:55, I Cor. 1:6, I Thess.4:15, Rev.14:13, Luke 2:29, Phil.1:21)
  5. As Christians, how do we “celebrate and live out the implications of the resurrection intentionally”?

Introduction

If you have a Bible with you, let me invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. If you don’t have a Bible with you, that’s no problem. The verses will be on the screen so you can follow along there. If you don’t own a Bible, we would love to give you one today. Just stop by the information table on your way out, and it would be our pleasure to give you one.

But turn to 1 Corinthians15:1-11. This is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church in a city named Corinth – a church that was experiencing some confusion about the doctrine of the Resurrection – and this is what he says:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed – 1 Cor. 15:1-11

Nabeel Qureshi did not want to become a Christian. That much he knew for sure. Nabeel was a University student, and an American-born son of Pakistani imigrants. His Pakistani family was loving, and generous, and wonderful – but his family was also devoutly Muslim. So Nabeel knew that if he became a Christian, there would be an incredible cost. Not only would he have to deny most of what he as a Muslim had believed to be true for his whole life, but he would probably be cut off from his family. He would lose his relationship with the Pakistani/Muslim Community, and his parents would lose all standing amongst their family and friends. For them – and for him – there would be great cost. So Nabeel didn’t want to become a Christian.

But Nabeel had a good Christian friend – an extremely compelling guy named David – that had presented the claims of Christianity to him, and Nabeel couldn’t get those claims out of his mind. They ate away at him. He was pretty sure Islam was right, but he really wanted to make sure that he gave Christianity a fair trial even if the risks for him were great.

He wanted to be right, so he went over in his mind the differences between the two faiths and asked himself what beliefs would have to change in order for him to be convinced of the truth of Christianity: He came up with three:

  1. He would have to believe that Jesus had actually died on the cross, because most Muslims believe that Jesus was crucified but the Quran says he did not actually die on the cross.
  2. He would have to believe that Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
  3. He would have to believe that Jesus was divine: That he claimed to be – and was – the Son of God.

So those were the three issues. Those were the things he had to be convinced of if he was going to do what he did not want to do and become a Christian.

But the more he thought through those three issues and turned them over in his mind, the more Nabeel drew the same conclusion that Paul draws in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion is this: That the claim on which Christianity primarily stands or falls is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you believe in the resurrection, all of Christianity logically follows. If you don’t believe in the resurrection, none of it follows. As Paul goes on to say in this chapter, without the resurrection, the preaching of Christianity is vain, and the faith of Christianity is vain. It’s all about the resurrection.

Think about it: Paul lists in our passage four things that were of primary importance in the gospel:

  • Jesus died for our sins
  • He was buried
  • He rose again
  • He appeared to several groups of witnesses

But these all center on the resurrection: If Jesus rose from the grave, then he must have died – he must have been buried – and only if he rose would it make sense that he appeared to witnesses. It all centers on the resurrection.

Likewise, Nabeel recognized that if Jesus rose from the grave, he must have died on the cross – and if he rose from the grave, then his claims of fulfilling prophecy – of being sinless – of dying for our sins – of being God’s Son – would become almost impossible to refute. He knew that the Christian faith stands or falls – on the truth of the resurrection.

That’s why Resurrection Sunday is such an important day for us! He is Risen!

Today we are going to talk about that! Today we are not so much going to go through this passage verse by verse, but we are going to look at two key concepts from this passage about the resurrection:

  1. The truth of the resurrection – whether it happened.
  2. The implications of the resurrection – consequences since it did happen.

Today we are going to talk about those things, and my goal is two-fold:
1. Some of you believe in Jesus’ resurrection: If that’s you today, I want you to celebrate the resurrection as we talk about it and be challenged to live out the implications of the resurrection more intentionally.
2. Some of you may not believe or maybe you’re not sure. If that’s you today, I hope to present evidence today that God will use to convince you that what we are celebrating today is real – that Jesus really was raised from the dead—and that because of that – you can trust him with your life.
That’s my goal today. It’s fairly straightforward, but that’s a big goal!

The first thing I want to talk about today is the truth of the resurrection. My first point today is this:

The Resurrection Is Real

Paul states in this passage, that the Resurrection is real. He says in verse 4 that Christ was raised on the 3rd day. He says it’s of first importance that we believe that. He gives evidence: six different appearances to at least 530 people, most of whom were still alive when he wrote this, so they could be contacted to see if they had really encountered the resurrected Christ.
What Paul is saying is just this: The resurrection is real.

It’s very important that we understand it. It has to be real. It has to be. Christianity at its core is not like many religions. Christianity it not a moral pathway to be followed – like Buddhism. It’s not about something you do. It’s about something that God has done for you. Christianity is not a ceremony to be performed – like Islam – or a mantra to repeat – or something to add to your life to help you prosper. Christianity – at its core – is a message about something that happened, that is to be believed. Christianity is all about believing the story of the gospel. That’s why it stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection.

I believe that Christianity works. I believe that it can change your marriage for the better. I believe that it can give you the ability to forgive. I believe it can give meaning to your life like nothing else can. I believe it works. I believe it works, because it’s really true. Christianity is based on a historical truth that we believe. It has to be true. That’s why Paul goes on just a few verses later in this chapter to say this:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead – And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. And those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
– 1 Corinthians 15:14-17

Paul is saying you can put all the faith you want into something, but if it isn’t real it doesn’t matter. The resurrection has to be real.

And it is real. The New Testament gives us evidence for the truth of the resurrection. First of all, there’s they eyewitness accounts of the gospels – four accounts, written either by eyewitnesses or people that are working with eyewitnesses. They all say the same thing:

  1. That Jesus was crucified, speared, and certified as dead.
  2. That he was buried in a tomb with a huge stone across the entrance and a detachment of Roman soldiers watching it.
  3. That three days later, that tomb was empty.
  4. That the resurrected Jesus appeared and spoke with various people.

Four accounts, based on eyewitnesses, and they all say the same thing.

Then there’s this list of witnesses that Paul gives here: Six appearances to at least 530 people. Paul names many names. He encourages his readers to talk to those witnesses and decide for themselves whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead.

There’s the gospel’s and Paul’s list of witnesses. Earlier this year our congregation did a series from the book of Acts – the story of the very beginning of the church – the events that happened immediately after Jesus’ resurrection and his return 40 days later to heaven. It was mind-blowing to see the transformation that occurred in the people that had been associated with Jesus before and after the empty tomb. To my mind, their stories are the most compelling evidence that Jesus actually rose from the grave, because they were radically transformed. When you read their stories, there’s no way that they made this up – no way that it was a hoax – or a hallucination – or a misunderstanding. They simply were not the same people after the resurrection.

Let me give you some examples.

  • First of all, there was Thomas. Thomas was one of “the 12” that Paul mentions in our passage. Although Thomas had been one of Jesus’ disciples, he fled on the night that Jesus was crucified. When the other disciples told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Thomas said and I quote: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side (where the spear had been), I will never believe it.” Eight days later, he met the resurrected Christ. Who invited him to do just that. Thomas said “My Lord, and my God” and he worshipped Jesus, and he began to bear witness to his resurrection. He died as a martyr – skewered with a spear for testifying to the resurrection. Now do you think a guy like that would die for some fantasy that the Apostles concocted to hide their embarrassment? No. He knew the resurrection was real.
  • There was Peter. Paul mentions him by name in this passage. On the night Jesus was crucified, Peter bailed on him. He denied that he had any association with Jesus three times and then he fled. Before they had even sentenced Jesus – before Peter was even in any real danger – he fled. He ran away because a little slave girl recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples. Not exactly what you would call a “stick with you” kind of guy! But 40 days later, Peter becomes the boldest of the disciples. He becomes the spokesperson for the 12 – the lead preacher for Christianity – the first one to walk into trouble. When Peter preached about Jesus at the Temple, he was tried and beaten by the very same guys that crucified Jesus – the guys he had run from. His response is to go straight back to the temple and preach again. In the end, Peter would suffer crucifixion, just like his Lord. But he would not back away from declaring the gospel. Why? What happened that changed him? He met the resurrected Christ.
  • Then there was James. Paul also mentions him by name here. James was one of Jesus’ biological brothers. This might surprise you to hear, but Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during the time of his earthly ministry. They thought he was a fraud. By the way if you want to know how they could not believe in a guy who could do miracles, let me invite you to come back next week. We are going to start a series called “The Real Jesus” where we try to see Jesus not as our culture sees him – or as we want to see him – but as he is really portrayed in Scripture. And we are going to be surprised by what we learn! But James did not believe in Jesus before Jesus’ death. But 40 days later – after he has seen the resurrected Christ – Acts tells us that James gathered with the other followers of Jesus suddenly ready to testify. And he does. James writes one of the books of the New Testament. He stays in Jerusalem through the worst of the persecution that the Church experienced and, in the end, James was stoned to death for Jesus. Why? Because he knew the resurrection was real.
  • Last on Paul’s list is Paul himself. Paul had no connection to Jesus during his ministry. He wasn’t one of the 12, wasn’t one of Jesus’ family members. Paul was just a guy who hated Christians. He was a Pharisee – an expert in the Jewish Law who saw Christians as disrupting the traditions of Judaism. So as he says in this passage, he was one of the ones who persecuted – who imprisoned – and executed men and women who followed Jesus. He hated Jesus. Until the resurrected Christ appeared to him and spoke with him. It completely changed the direction of Paul’s life. In the end for following Jesus, Paul would suffer many of the very same things he had dished out: He was whipped five times, he was beaten with rods three times, he was stoned and left for dead and, ultimately, Paul was executed for his faith in Christ. But he would not recant. No matter what the cost.

This was true across the board. As we read the book of Acts and see the increasing persecution and martyrdom of the church, do you know how many left? How many of the Apostles – how many of Jesus’ family members – how many of the women who came to the empty tomb walked away from their faith? Not one. Not one.

There’s only one reason for that. There’s only one reason for the behavior of Thomas, and Peter, and James and of all the apostles: The resurrection is real. They saw it with their own eyes, and it changed them forever – every one of them.

The resurrection is real. That’s the first thing I wanted to say. Now the second is this:

The Resurrection Has Implications

If the resurrection is true – if it really happened – then there are consequences. There are results – there are impacts that it has for reality and for our lives. There are implications.
Let me give you three. The first one is this:

1. If the Resurrection is real, then Jesus is real

If the resurrection is real, then Jesus’ claims are true. If the resurrection is real, it validates Jesus’ claims about himself. Let me explain what I mean. Jesus made a whole bunch of claims while he was here on earth. There were a lot of things he said about himself. He made some claims that were very spiritual – very sort of immaterial – not objectively verifiable in nature. For example, He claimed that He was divine. He said He was God’s Son. That’s not something that we can directly observe. He also claimed that He was going to die for mankind. That He himself was sinless and that somehow his death was actually going to pay the penalty for other people’s sins. He once said “The Son of Man (that’s one of the things he called himself) did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In other words, his death was going to purchase life for people. He made these immaterial claims, right?

Jesus also made claims that were more physical – more observable – more verifiable – about things he was going to door things that were going to happen to him:

  • He predicted that he would die in Jerusalem.
  • He predicted that one of his 12 disciples would betray him.
  • He predicted that the chief priests and Romans would kill him.
  • He predicted the manner of his death: crucifixion. We saw that last week.
  • He predicted the time of his death.

Jesus predicted multiple times that he would rise from the dead three days after he died. He said “Destroy this temple (meaning his body), and I will raise it up in three days.” He said “As Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth for three days.” He made objective claims.

All of Jesus’ objective claims were fulfilled. They happened just as Jesus said they would. That in and of itself tells us this guy had some serious connection to the divine. Rising from the grave on your own with no prophet to pray for you or miracle worker to call you out now that is a feat indeed! It fulfills prophecies that were made centuries earlier about the Messiah. It fits perfectly with Jesus claim that he was dying for the sins of others. He paid the price in death, but Scripture tells us that because he was innocent, death could not hold him. It validates Jesus’ claim that he was divine. Why would God raise someone from the dead who had blasphemed – someone who had claimed to be God when he really wasn’t? The point is – if Jesus’ objective claims were true, then there’s good reason to believe his subjective claims were true too. There is very good reason to conclude that if the Resurrection is real, then Jesus is really who he claimed to be.

That was exactly what Nabeel Qureshi found. He studied it, and he came to believe that the resurrection was real. Once he did that, he had to give serious consideration to everything else Jesus claimed about himself and to the truth of Christianity. Because he realized if the resurrection is real, how can Jesus not be? Nabeel asked God for guidance, as he studied it out and wrestled with it. But in the end, he came to believe that Jesus was exactly who he said he was – that he was the Son of God – and that he had died for our sins. Nabeel gave up everything and became a Christian.

Let me say that some of you are here today and you’re going to face the same choice. You’ve looked at the evidence, and honestly, it seems that Jesus rose from the grave. Now you have to decide – what you’re going to do with his claims? Are you going to follow him? Are you going trust him with your life? Or are you going to keep saying “no.”

If the resurrection is real, then Jesus is real.

2. If the resurrection is real, then death is over-rated.

We are so afraid of death in our culture. We’re terrified of death – of the separation it brings – of the finality of it. Many would do anything to fight it off. It seems so overwhelming. So powerful.

One of my guilty pleasures used to be watching the TV shows about hoarders – you know, people with stuff stacked up the ceiling. I guess it makes me feel good about my own level of cleanliness! But I’m amazed how many times that hoarding is a response to death.

I remember, one time I was watching a show about animal hoarders. There was one guy on there who had in his house 2,000 pet rats. It was terrible. They were pulling his hair out to make nests nd crawling everywhere. It was like Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. And this was a normal-looking guy. He owned his own business.

So they ask him “What on earth would drive you to live your life like this?” The guy started sobbing deeply. He told them that he had a wife that he dearly loved, and she died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and he couldn’t deal with the pain of that loss. He said “I just want to surround myself with so much life that I’ll never have to face death like that again”

Death seems so powerful – so overwhelming – so big. I want you to notice something. Look at the way Paul describes death in this passage:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have (look at this) fallen asleep
– 1 Corinthians 15:6

Look at that! Paul doesn’t describe death as a tragedy, or an outrage, or a disaster. He calls it “falling asleep!” Falling asleep is not something that is really scary at all. In fact, it’s kind of beneficial.

That’s the way the early church looked at death. They didn’t see it as that big of a deal. Listen to some of the terms that the New Testament uses to refer to death:

  • Falling asleep
  • Going home (1 Thessalonians)
  • A blessing and rest (Revelation 14)
  • Gain (Philippians 4)
  • Release from service (Luke 2)
  • Better (Philippians 1)

That’s not bravado. These terms were used by people that were facing persecution and death on a regular basis.

So how on earth could they look at death that way? How on earth could they say that? Only one way: Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His resurrection was the defeat of death for Christians – death is called an enemy in this chapter – but it’s called a defeated enemy.

Because Christ’s resurrection changed everything, it started THE resurrection. Christ is called in the Bible “the firstfruits of the resurrection,” because he was the first person to actually be resurrected. Other people in the Bible were raised from the dead, but they weren’t resurrected. They were really only resuscitated. They were alive again, but they were subject to the same decay – the same sickness – the same brokenness that the rest of us are.

But Jesus was raised incorruptible – never again to be sick – never to be broken – never to die again. The disciples saw that in Jesus. They spoke with him about it, and they were so taken by what they saw, that it literally changed everything for them. Christ’s resurrection had started their resurrection and they had seen it. Now nothing would stop them from testifying. Death held no fear for them. It was like falling asleep. They concluded quite clearly that death was over-rated. Paul says at the end of this chapter, that it has lost it’s sting.

If the resurrection is real:

  • Jesus is real
  • Death is over-rated

Now one more thing:

3. If the Resurrection is real, then we have to talk about it

Let me ask you a question: Let’s say you had a rich uncle who died that was a medical researcher. As you were going through some old papers from his estate, you found a cure for cancer. What would you do? Would you hide it? Would you keep it to yourself, just for you? Be like “Whew! Well, if I ever get cancer, at least I’ll be OK!” Would you say “Well – I really don’t want to bother anyone – I might interrupt dinner if I call someone to tell them – ” NO! If you found the cure for cancer, you’d share it! Right? You would put a patent on that bad boy so you could make money, and then you would tell people. No, you would share it.

Why? Because it’s the cure for cancer! It’s worth sharing! The resurrection is the cure for death. Believing in it gives people eternal life.

And it was meant to be shared. Four times in these 11 verses Paul talks about preaching the resurrection to them or passing it on to them. He shared it. If the resurrection is real, we have to talk about it. To return one more time to Nabeel Qureshi – that’s what he did. Because he was convinced of the truth of the resurrection, Nabeel risked everything and became a Christian. Although the cost was great, he talked about his faith. It was tough. He did lose his connection to his Pakistani community. It did break his parents’ heart. At one point, they cut off all communication.

He even reached a point a few weeks into it, when he had a major crisis. It was so painful that he asked God why didn’t just kill him the day he became a Christian. But God said “It’s not about you.” Nabeel says he kneeled on the floor for several minutes – completely frozen – unable even to shut his mouth. But while he kneeled there, God re-booted his brain. He took away his fear and his pain and his self-preoccupation, and He changed Nabeel’s mind so that he saw everything in terms of the resurrection. He began testifying – talking about the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus. He hasn’t stopped since. He wrote an excellent book called “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” that is kind of a guide to helping people of the Muslim faith find Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is real. It is a historical event that we celebrate today. Because it’s real, there are consequences:

  • It means Jesus really was who he said he was.
  • It means that death is over-rated. It’s not something to be greatly feared.
  • It means that we have to talk about it.