by Pastor Cherie Dearth
1Corinthians 15:1-11 NIV
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 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. 10 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. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
How many of you still have photo albums? Anyone at your house do Scrapbooking? It has become very popular, using special papers that coordinate with themes and color schemes. Materials are acid free, so that they will keep for a long time, so they won’t fade, so they won’t become lost. Now, many people keep their photos on their phone or their computer with online backup to make sure they aren’t lost. If you let it, your computer will make albums for you if you don’t want to take the trouble. Why do we have these things? Why is it important that they aren’t lost? They help us remember. They tell our story. Have you ever been to someone’s house, and they get out the family album.
This is my great-grandfather, Matthew (pictured with my mother). He came over to the United States during the Russian Revolution,
and he helped to bring over my Aunt Rose, his youngest sister. This is her.
Here is a baby picture of my mother with my grandmother.
And, it continues until, I show you a picture of a three year old child in on a “brisk” Easter morning … Not Joseph, but New Jersey. This is me. This is where I enter the story.
This is what the Apostle Paul is doing in this passage in 1 Corinthians. He is taking down the family album and reminding the Corinthians of how they got to this place. He starts at the beginning with Christ Jesus dying, rising, and being seen by many. Then, Paul shows how he fits into the story and how he passed on what he learned to the Corinthians. Where they fit in the story. By having this passage in the Bible, it is also sharing that family album with everyone who comes across it. This is where we appear in the story. That is why we celebrate Easter each year in special ways. We actually celebrate the risen savior every Sunday, the Lord’s Day, but Easter is extra special. We get down the family album and remember that THIS is what it is all about.
I continually have to remind myself that Paul and the people he wrote to were real people with real problems and issues. These writings are from 2000 years ago, and it can be easy to forget. Paul was a church planter. He had traveled out of the area, and in what we call 1 Corinthians he was writing a letter to his congregation to help them with some issues that had come up since he left. In fact, he was responding to a letter that they had written to him with questions, but along with the official letter he had heard some other reports about what was going on in the community. Paul addresses both, sometimes eloquently sometimes directly, but occasionally he makes a digression which illustrates that this is a personal correspondence, a personal letter, that we are made privy to. We get a little of this in verses 9-11. Where Paul says:
“9 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. 10 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. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Paul shows us his humanness in two ways here. 1) He shows how anyone can be used by God. He persecuted the church. The first mention of Paul in the book of Acts is when he witnesses the stoning of Stephen. When he is on his way to Damascus, and Jesus appears to Paul, he is on a mission to arrest and arrange for the execution of members of the Early Church there. One thing that was consistently true of Paul. He was always zealous for the Lord, but at that point, on the road to Damascus, everything changed for him. He went from being an outspoken persecutor of the church to being one of its greatest advocates. 2) He shows this battle within himself with his humility, his pride, and he profound gratitude for the grace of God.
“9 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. 10 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. “
The real person of Paul, writing in about 54 A.D., makes these digressions, questioning himself, but he gets back on point.
“11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
The Corinthians were real people too. People who squabbled, competed, did their best, but in the midst of all that sometimes got some things mixed up. Sometimes they were drawn back into some of the culture and ideas that they moved away from. One of these was the resurrection. People from almost every part of society were a part of the Corinthian church. There were men and women, slaves, day laborers, what we would call working class. There were also richer people and those with higher status in the government and aristocracy.
Corinth was one of the major crossroads of the Roman Empire, and philosophical speakers would come. It would be like going to the symphony. People who went to these thought themselves wise and sophisticated. They could accept the radical idea that God so loves us that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins on the cross. They could accept the teachings of Jesus. They were disciples, trying to do what Jesus taught, with varying amounts of success, like all of us, but there was something that some of them had a very difficult time with, the resurrection of Jesus.
With their philosophical sophistication and what they thought of as wisdom, some of them thought that the resurrection could not have really happened. They thought, this is not one of those things that we should take literally. It must be some kind of figure of speech. Wise people know that dead people, people who have been buried for three days, do not come back to life. It must be some kind of spiritual metaphor that the movement that Jesus started still continues, or that I want to follow those great teaching of Jesus. There are a lot of people who say that kind of thing now.
However, Paul, the Gospel writers, and the other Apostles tell us that without Jesus’ real life resurrection we miss the whole thing!
While the Gospel books appear earlier in our Bible, this passage describing what happened is the earliest account in the Bible.
“3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
It isn’t some kind of strange idea that he dreamed up. There are witnesses, and Paul lists them, Cephas (or Peter), the other Apostles, then over 500 people, both men and women, who are still living. In other words, if he brought the Corinthians to Jerusalem, he could introduce them to people who actually saw the resurrected Jesus. This is something that actually happened. It isn’t a metaphor for anything or an allegory or a parable.
Paul goes on to say starting with verse 12:
“12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Woah! That is how important the resurrection is, “14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
But he continues in verse 20:
“20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
It isn’t just that Jesus is the Messiah, and he’s been raised from the dead. It is that we know that he is the Messiah because he’s been raised to new life. It is Jesus’ bona fides. It proves that Jesus is who he says he is.
The cross is important. It is so important. There Jesus sacrificed himself, took our penalty. It was horrible and tortuous, but necessary, but for what? Everyone dies eventually. Many people were crucified during that time period. Many people claimed to be the Messiah and were executed. What is different about Jesus? Jesus was raised back to life. Not only was he raised to life, but he predicted it. (cf. John 2:18-22, Mt 12:30-40, Mt 16:21, John 10:17, 18)
Reverend Andy Stanley says that the basic premise of Christianity is that when someone predicts their own death and resurrection, and it actually comes to pass, we go with whatever he says. You may or may not be a Christian. You may not be sure, but if you are a Christian, that is what you believe.
With the act of raising Jesus to life, God did something entirely new. God fulfilled a promise from long ago, beginning a new world, a world redeemed. When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord, we die. Our old nature dies, and we are raised to new life with Christ! When Jesus was raised to life, it changed reality forever. God’s kingdom has come though we plainly can see that God’s will is not being done universally, yet. But, we are citizens of God’s kingdom. We are colonists, outposts of the kingdom. We are to demonstrate the life of heaven. We are to exude, to radiate this new life of love. We are to live the ways to be authentically human the way that God designed us, the way that Jesus taught. This is the new world that was unveiled when Jesus was raised, and the amazing thing, the blessing of our lives is that we are invited to live in this new world and be a part of it.
We are called to become a part of the story, to see our place in the family album. We can take our place next to the disciples who went from one day scattering at Jesus’ arrest. Huddling together in the upper room mourning Jesus’ death. Then when they are faced with Jesus’ resurrection become transformed. They become ones who speak boldly sharing the message of new life in Christ.
At Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minnesota, they display wooden panels that list the names of historical witnesses to the gospel. Two panels are blank. Former pastor, Paul Hanson, would tell his confirmation classes. “Those panels will have your names on them…” We are all invited to become part of the bold redeeming loving story of God! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!