Epistles: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – The Resurrection
Dan Rogers: Good morning everyone. Good to see you here once again and as usual, it’s time now in our service to talk about God’s word. Our text for today is going to be from 1 Corinthians 15. Before we get to the text, let’s talk a little about the background in which Paul is writing to them, to the church in the city of Corinth. Anybody know anything of interest about the city of Corinth that you’d like to share with the rest of us? What do you know about that town in ancient Greece?
Person: It was a very well-known town in that area. It was important as far as commerce.
Dan: What made it important and why it was such a center of commerce?
Person: It had the port.
Dan: Big port city, right. Ports on two oceans, right in the heart of Greece. Anybody know where it was in relation to Athens?
Person: It wasn’t too far away. It was within …
Dan: Athens was to the east and Corinth was about 50 miles west of Athens, almost straight across right in the middle of the country. As Pat said, it was a major city. Port activity is going on there. What about its religion? What was happening religiously in the city of Corinth? Do you know?
Female: I think it was very mixed, if I understand. There were lots of people coming and going, traveling through it, that brought their religion and cultures and traditions with them, so, very multi-ethnic.
Dan: We could say pluralistic, probably a lot of religious beliefs passing through the city Corinth. Anybody remember what the main… They had many temples but their main temple, anybody remember who it was dedicated to?
Person: It had a very large temple dedicated to Aphrodite.
Dan: Aphrodite, that’s right. Aphrodite was the goddess of?
Dan: That’s a nice way of saying it, Robert. Thank you. Yes, she was the goddess of love, erotic love, so yeah reproduction. It probably happened quite a bit there at the temple, but according to some accounts there were over a thousand temple prostitutes in the temple of Aphrodite ready to be a part of the religious activities of the city.
It’s a port city. It’s an important center of commerce, pluralistic and what we call today a huge sex trade going on in that city. Of course, of all things, God raises up a big church in the city, not in Athens where all the smart folk are. No, no, no, no, over in Corinth, which was called by some writers of the day the sewer of the Roman Empire, and that’s the way even the locals …
Person: Where they really needed it.
Dan: Exactly. That’s where God goes, where he’s really needed, so we have this church emerging in Corinth that the apostle Paul founded, and now Paul is away in Ephesus and he hears these things. Anybody remember? What does he hear coming from Corinth?
Person: He hears that they’re beginning to take in maybe some of the pluralistic ideas that are in the culture around them, and that’s not what he started them off with. He wants to go back and help them.
Dan: Right, and there’s this house of Chloe, and the people are writing letters to him saying, “Boy you left, and this church has gone to pot.” Without you here, people are believing all kinds of wacky ideas. What about this problem? We have problems that you didn’t have in Judea. We got people getting divorced and multiple marriages and surrogate children (you see, I’m projecting this forward now anachronistically), stem cell research. We’ve got issues and we want to know, what does Jesus say about stem cell research?
We may say, “That’s a strange way of phrasing it,” but it’s no stranger than the questions they asked Paul for his day. He’s like, “Jesus didn’t really talk about that because he didn’t live in Corinth.” I’ve got to figure out: what do I say to these issues that you’re bringing up that we never had in Judean culture at all? This is a whole new world, but I think we can identify with it because it’s very much like our world today. So a little bit of background there, and we’re going to be talking in chapter 15 about the resurrection of Christ.
We have a picture here on our TV set. Take a look at it here. This is a picture, if not the tomb a similar tomb perhaps, where Jesus was buried. You notice that it’s hewn out of stone in the side of a rocky cliff and the doorway going inside and if you could see the stone. You see the top of the stone there? Then maybe if you could follow it right around that, you can see that stone would roll over and roll back to make access to the tomb. That gives us an idea of the kind of place maybe that Jesus was buried …
Robert: Is that very typical or unusual?
Dan: That’s very typical – for the wealthy, if you were wealthy enough to afford a tomb like this. If you weren’t quite as wealthy, they still might put you in a tomb, but they tended to stack you. That’s why it says that Jesus was laid in a tomb that no one had ever used before, so he had the tomb all to himself for 3 days and 3 nights and then he was out.
Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 15. One thing I’d like for us to keep in mind is I’m going to throw out a premise here. See if you can follow along, agree or disagree if you like, but all of these questions that are being asked, Paul is saying, “I don’t have a specific answer from the words of Jesus about this,” but then he’s going to argue that, “But wait, Jesus is alive. He is still present with us and in us and he is still the source of inspiration and answers to these kinds of questions.” How are we to live? We are to live in light of the resurrected Christ, that he is alive, he is present with us, among us and in us therefore this should lead us and inform us as to how we are to conduct ourselves.
One of the problems that he is now dealing within Corinth is that there are evidently some people there who say there is no resurrection. Why would a Corinthian steeped in Greek and Roman teaching not believe in the resurrection? What was the common Greek or Roman idea? What happened to you when you die according to Plato?
Person: You left your destructive body.
Dan: Right, you left your physical body. What left? What was that thing? What did Plato called it?
Female: Your spirit.
Dan: Your soul.
Dan: Your immortal soul, according to Plato. Your immortal soul couldn’t wait to get out of that body because what was his view of the body?
Dan: Evil, dirt, foul. The cause of all your problems is your body, so what you have to do is get your good eternal, immortal spirit out of that old body and let it go to heaven to be with God or the divinity forever. I think it’s very easy to see why Corinthians could lean in that direction, even as some Christians do today, unbeknownst to them.
The Corinthians were beginning to think that way and Paul says, “No, no, no. There is a resurrection.” He’s going to begin to argue for the resurrection by the most important resurrection of all, which is the resurrection of Christ, because if you can’t accept that, there’s no point of discussing it any further.
Let’s see what he says here, and I want us to notice, if we can, how does he make his argument? What kind of proof does he use? Let’s pretend that Paul is in the court of law and he’s arguing the case for the resurrection and he’s going to bring in his evidence, his proof. Let’s notice what it is.
First Corinthians 15. Paul 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.” Any comments about that? What gospel was that? What did he preach to them?
Person: The good news …
Dan: It’s interesting he doesn’t say he preached the Scriptures. He preached the gospel, “the gospel I preached to you.” Who does this Paul think he is? This seems like what he preached is what’s important.
Person: But they received it.
Dan: If they received his gospel they received Paul.
Dan: “Remind you of the gospel I preached to you which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” What do you think that means?
Person: They believed him and they took a stand that this was where they were going to be.
Dan: And if they’re beginning to doubt it?
Robert: They can point back to what they heard originally from him, trying to redirect them.
Dan: Exactly. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” What does he mean by that? Let me comment that Paul is often a master of sarcasm, tongue in cheek, and ironic speech. What he’s arguing with them and sometimes in an argument you take a very strong extreme position in order to argue back from it, so think about it.
“By this gospel you are saved …” What gospel is it?
Female: About Jesus, the resurrection.
Person: The good news about Jesus.
Dan: The resurrection, but whose gospel does Paul say it is, in verse 1?
Robert: The gospel he preached to them.
Dan: That’s right. That’s what you need to get back to, the gospel I preached. By this gospel (he means what I preached), you’re saved. What if you don’t believe me?
Female: Then you’re just wrong.
Dan: You’re not saved. You’re dead. Why are you talking about the resurrection – you’re dead if you don’t believe what I taught you.
Person: It’s all been in vain.
Dan: In other words, he’s saying my preaching is meaningless if you don’t believe something has changed in your life. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you believed in vain.” What am I, a liar? Have I deceived you? If I have, you’re dead in your sins. If you cannot accept what I taught and what I said, you’re dead in your sins.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.” They may not recognize that, but that’s a rabbinic expression for the faithful passing on of oral tradition. He’s using his knowledge as a rabbi, probably just came to him easily to say, “What I have received I have passed on.” Now he’s really saying: though you heard it from me, it’s not mine. I have it from Jesus, but I want you to know that I very authoritatively and reliably have passed this on to you.
“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.” What do you think he means by that statement of first importance?
Female: It’s the most important thing in your life.
Dan: Yeah. The kind of the basis, for everything else must build upon that, but can you see why you’re saying that. If you reject the resurrection of Christ, everything tumbles like a house of cards. The immortal soul will not get you there. Jesus came alive. The incarnation is critically important, and if you missed that, you’ve really missed the boat entirely.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” What does he mean according to the Scriptures?
Person: It was foretold.
Male: The Messianic prophecies about Jesus.
Dan: Yeah. Where do you find them?
Male: Old Testament.
Dan: Did they have a New Testament yet?
Person: He was writing it.
Dan: Yeah. He is quoting the Old Testament as proof. In other words, you know how Jesus died for your sins, and the Old Testament is full of that.
Dan: You had to be a Christian, I think, to really appreciate that fact. He’s telling them something that he has taught them that they should know, that this was prophesied. How would that strike you if you’re in a court of law and Paul is arguing to the group, “as you know, of first importance Jesus died for your sins,” and how does he prove it?
Robert: According to the Scriptures.
Dan: Scriptural proof. This was prophesied. It came to pass. This shows who Jesus was. He fulfilled the prophecies. I got, “Your honor, may I offer my first point of proof, the Old Testament Scriptures? You note that they said this and Jesus did it.” Proof number 1.
Let me add to that, he says. “That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” You’ve read that in the Old Testament where Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, haven’t you? Do you think he’s pressing the issue a little hard here or what? What do you think is going on?
Person: He’s emphasizing that this was spoken of before. They just needed to look again to see where it was to understand it.
Female: This is the evidence. It’s as if he wants to make sure that it’s not his idea, that it’s truly fact. It was written in the Old Testament. “I’m just a messenger here, and I’m pointing to you where you can find the proof.”
Dan: What’s he assuming about these members of the church in Corinth?
Robert: I think he’s saying that they’ve all bought into this already, too, that when he was there they had already accepted this.
Dan: Yes. How can you give it up? If you accepted it once, you give it up now?
Robert: He hasn’t said that.
Dan: He hasn’t said that, but he’s assuming, too, that they believe the Old Testament?
Person: They’ve read it.
Dan: Are they Jews? We would believe they’re a mixed group, based on the city demographics, wouldn’t we? Yet he assumes that they are familiar with the Old Testament and have accepted it as authoritative.
Male: They had a Greek translation of it, so they must have used that one.
Dan: Probably read the Septuagint or other Greek translations of it and were familiar with it, and whether they were gentile or Jewish, they accepted it as authoritative, so his first point of argument seems to be, “Since you accept what we call the Old Testament, then haven’t you seen that it prophesied that Jesus would do these things and indeed he did do all those things that were prophesied?”
Verse 5, “And that he appeared to Peter.” Does that sound like another point of evidence?
Robert: Personal eyewitness.
Dan: He appeared to Peter. Do you trust Peter? Evidently, he thought they did, or I don’t think he would have appealed to him. What do you think? You know Peter, he’s a big man and important. You’ve read about him and heard about him. All right, I appeal to Peter, who seems to be the leader of our Jewish folk, and he says that he saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. You believe Peter, don’t you? “And then to the Twelve.”
Female: More personal witnesses. He’s backing it up.
Person: He’s getting more and more.
Dan: We got a jury now. We got 12. “After that [listen to this] 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.”
Person: Brothers and sisters.
Dan: You must be reading the New Revised Standard Version. Always takes as the Greek word adelophos and in the Greek of the day it was a general term for humans, for men and women. Because it’s in the masculine, and who knows what prejudices may be involved, the  NIV prefers to translate it as brothers, which is literally what it means, but the NRSV likes “brothers and sisters” because that’s probably actually what it meant, more inclusive than the NIV makes it.
“He appeared to 500 and most of them are still alive.” Does that sound like good evidence?
Female: I like that, because you can go ask them. If you need further proof, you can go seek them out and ask them yourself.
Dan: Do you think that the resurrection of Christ could have been some kind of hallucination, as some modern Jesus Seminar scholars and others say, that they just dreamed that it happened or made it up or that it was a fiction?
Person: Not with that many eyewitnesses.
Female: That’s not just a few people.
Dan: Right. You think they were all hypnotized? That was a big hypnotism. You can hardly get two people agree on anything.
Person: It sounds like it was at different times.
Dan: Yeah, or it may have been, and some theories are that it was all at one time, but it could have been certainly over the 40 days that he was here before he ascended. Quite a group of people saw him, and they’re still alive and they’re still able to come to court and testify and say, “Yes, I saw the resurrected Jesus.”
“Then he appeared to James.” Which James do you think this is, by context?
Person: His brother.
Dan: His brother, probably. Why do you think he said then, he appeared to James?” What’s the importance of James?
Person: James was also a leader in a church at that time.
Male: A church in Jerusalem.
Dan: That gives like a headquarters kind of guy, and important in the church. What also is interesting about James is, as Pat brought out, this is very likely his brother. Any of you have brothers or sisters?
Female: I do, yes.
Dan: Will they say you’re the Messiah?
Female: No, never.
Dan: They didn’t. Do you think it’s very easy for James his brother to say, “My brother is the Son of God. My brother is the Messiah. My brother died for all humanity’s sins,” and James didn’t say that until when?
Person: After the resurrection.
Dan: He did not believe his brother. Who would believe their own brother? Until after the resurrection. That makes James a credible witness.
“Then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” What is your translation have? The NIV has “abnormally born.”
Female: Mine says, “Had been born at the wrong time.”
Dan: I like that better.
Female: Explaining it like a miscarriage almost.
Dan: Yeah, a miscarriage, like I didn’t come when I should have come.
Person: This one says untimely, didn’t come at the right time.
Dan: What was Paul doing when he was called?
Person: Persecuting the Jews.
Dan: He was on his way to kill people.
Dan: He was known as … What was his name then?
Dan: Saul was on his way to kill some Christians, probably to torture them, persecute them, get them to blaspheme, and kill them so they go to hell – but life’s changed very dramatically. He was knocked off his donkey and blinded and went through an experience. Some of us God may call over a long time, but how many people get called like that? Jesus intervened in his life and said, “I am the one that you’re persecuting, Saul. I am Jesus. I am risen.”
He had to address him and say, “Oh, who are you, Lord?” He acknowledged him as Lord, recognized it was Jesus [and there was a] profound change in his life. Why do you think that Paul here brings his story into a point of evidence for the resurrection of Christ?
Female: The testimony.
Person: He’s the preacher that they’re looking to and he actually says he was there, “I’m the least but he also appeared to me.”
Male: Going back to Peter being cited as one, he denied Christ before the resurrection, too, like Paul did.
Dan: Very good point.
Dan: We got Peter who denied Christ until he met the resurrected Lord.
Male: James, too, actually.
Dan: James, who denied Christ until he met the resurrected Lord, and Saul.
Female: Paul has such an unbelievable story. It’s almost as if he was to say, “Look, I would never make this up. You can trust me, because look where I came from. This is not something that happens. That’s not normal. I would not make this up. I’m a credible witness to these events.”
Dan: Because I was actually opposed. I was against all this and I had a dramatic change and that was only possible because I encountered the …
Group: Risen Lord.
Dan: Peter, Simon – denied 3 times – “get thee behind me Satan” – risen Lord – life changed. James, “You’re my brother. Get out of town.” – risen Lord – my God. Saul, “I want to kill everything Jesus and his followers stand for” – the risen Lord. You see his argument?
Dan: The proof is in …
Dan: The proof is in the transformation of people’s lives, and if you can’t accept the Old Testament, which he says I think you can, if you can’t accept the word of eyewitnesses, which I think you can, at least notice transformed lives. People whose lives, they were this way and then suddenly they encountered the risen Lord, and their lives were dramatically turned around by this encounter. If Jesus was not raised, how do you explain the changes in these people’s lives?
Then he says, verse 9 going on about himself, “For I am the least of the apostles.” What do you think he means, I’m the least of the apostles?
Female: Maybe least worthy? He feels like, look where I’ve come from.
Robert: He didn’t live with Jesus 3½ years the same way as all the other apostles did.
Person: Maybe he felt like he was the last, the least. He’s in line, but he wasn’t one of the first.
Dan: He came along late – not in the right time supposedly, but yet he was made an apostle anyway.
Female: It was the right time.
Dan: Do you think that Paul felt like that he wasn’t as important as the other apostles?
Robert: I don’t think so.
Dan: What would lead you think that he didn’t think of himself that way?
Person: He puts himself right there.
Female: He was dynamic.
Dan: When he encountered Peter, and Peter wouldn’t eat with the gentiles?
Person: He rebuked him.
Person: He also calls himself, “I’m the least,” but he says, “I am the least of the apostles,” he does say that, so he’s putting himself right in there.
Dan: I think it goes back to his thing, I was one born out of time. I’m the least only because I wasn’t there from the beginning, so I’m not saying that I know everything and seen everything, but I’ll tell you I’m a pretty good witness of what I have seen.
Female: He is who he is.
Female: The personality that God gave him.
Female: I think he acknowledges his strengths and his weaknesses.
Dan: He’s very good at that.
Female: He’s worked very hard.
Dan: There are some scholars and commentators who would say that Paul suffered from personality disorder and schizophrenia when he says, “The good that I would do, that I do not do, the evil that I will not do, that I do.” Oh my, he’s got a multiple personality. They seemed to miss again his rhetoric and his love of language and his ability to argue and write, where he’s arguing from both sides of an issue to bring out the central point.
He says, “For I’m 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.” He understood that it’s all by God’s grace and by God’s mercy. “And his grace to me was not without effect.” What do you think that means?
Female: It changed him. The grace of God changed who he was from the very core. It’s striking to me how he is giving all the credit back to God and the work he’s done in him. It gives him a certain type of boldness despite his past, which is just amazing to me.
Dan: What do you think he wants his readers in Corinth and the church to get from what he’s saying about himself here, that he is what he is by grace, and that grace was not without effect? What do you think he wants them to understand perhaps about themselves?
Female: It was not without the works or the product.
Dan: Right. What were the Corinthians like by nature from their growing up in their city of culture?
Female: They were wild and crazy guys.
Female: And girls.
Dan: Girls, too. They had some problems in that town.
Female: He’s just showing that God can change anybody’s life. Anyone’s life can be changed through God.
Dan: Again, so what his point? What’s his argument?
Person: Mine says here that his grace has not been in vain, that he is able to do this, and he’s not in vain.
Female: To make you effective.
Dan: As with Peter, as with James, as with him, and what do you think he wants the Corinthians then to see?
Group: As with them.
Dan: As with them. Listen how he works this out, “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 what you believed.” I’m suggesting that his final point here is the Corinthians themselves. Can you see what I’m getting at there? What do you think I am saying by that, that the final proof is the Corinthians themselves?
Female: If you allow the grace of God to work in you, there will be transformation and change in your life.
Dan: Had there been change in the lives of these people? Do you remember who you were? Do you remember you live in the sewer of the Roman Empire? Do you realize what was going on? Do you realize what you participated in? They even had one member who was cohabiting with his stepmother, and these people had some problems, but overall they’ve changed.
Here’s Paul’s argument. Let’s see if we can follow it. Has Christ been raised from the dead? Is Jesus alive forever incarnate? He argues, yes. What’s his first evidence? Do you remember?
Dan: If you believe the Old Testament, then you got to believe these prophecies, and you know that Jesus fulfilled them. Proof number 2?
Robert: That Peter had seen him.
Dan: Right. We started by getting into eyewitnesses. We got eyewitnesses. We got Scripture testifies to it, proves it. We got eyewitnesses. Then what’s so dramatic about Peter, James, and Paul?
Doubting brother, doubting disciple, and a murderer. Zealous for God. Transformed lives. And then his final piece of that point is …
Person: Your transformation.
Dan: How do you explain you, and what happened in your life? If Jesus be not raised, then how do you explain you? How can you say that Jesus be not raised from the dead?
What do you carry away from this discussion, this argument of Paul about the resurrection of Christ? Anything in particular that stands out to you in this section of the Scripture that means something to you personally?
Person: That God’s grace touches every point, every part of it, and will come down and touch, he says you, me, and that it’s with us.
Male: There’s transforming power in the resurrection.
Dan: Transforming power and meeting the resurrected Lord.
Female: We are proof of the resurrected Lord.
Dan: We look at our own lives and say, “If I’ve changed, I didn’t do it.” It was in spite of me that I changed. I experienced the resurrected Lord in my life and I am what I am. I’m touched, and they said, “I’m still the least, and I do this and I work hard, but not me. It’s God at work at me, so he balances all of that out, but says in the final analysis, “I know I’ve changed, and I know that I’m participating with God in what he’s doing by his grace, but I know who I am, and I know it’s beyond me.”
There’s a power beyond me that made all of that possible and made all of that come to pass. I know my Redeemer lives. That’s a very powerful message for Easter or anytime of the year. I know my Redeemer lives.
Dan: Any other final closing comments?
Robert: God’s grace is not in vain in any of us. It seems like grace is not as direct as commands [are], but it does work.
Dan: It has an effect. He says it has an effect. Did the law have an effect?
Robert: It did.
Dan: It did. It killed us. [laughter] But grace, its effect is new life. Isn’t that amazing that people say, “Grace? What’s that?” It was a powerful force that has more power than law, than (as Robert says) commandments or stipulations or working on yourself to overcome and grow. Paul said it’s by God’s grace I am what I am and Paul says, “I think I’ve been used a bit.”
Female: I like the way it’s also so all inclusive, not only different people from different backgrounds but your actual way of conversion, whether it’d be very traumatic like Paul’s, or whether it be more subtle, of being taught as a child. It is equally valid. His grace covers them all.
Dan: Grace is a powerful thing. Quite a story, and certainly we know from our own lives, if not from all the other evidence that there may be, regardless of the Jesus Seminar folk or anyone else, we know our Redeemer lives, because as the song says, “He lives in each of us.”
All right. Well, let’s sing that final song then, and then we’ll close services today with prayer.
Author: Dan Rogers