This morning we will finish the study we began last Sunday on the first eleven verses of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul wrote that he had received the gospel and passed it on to the people of Corinth because it was a matter “of first importance.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is the most essential of the essentials of the Christian faith. And what is the content of this good news? Paul wrote,
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, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)
Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, and He was raised on the third day. We spent our entire time last Sunday taking a look at what I believe is the singular most consequential event in the history of the world and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Paul’s day there were unbelievers, mockers, and skeptics. In every generation since there have been those who have arrived at the logical, rational conclusion that dead people don’t come back to life. It just seems so far outside of the realm of possibility, it’s absurd to think about it. That’s what many say. Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, wrote,
Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk. (Richard Dawkins)
That’s a catchy quote, but I think that Richard Dawkins might want to take another look at the documentation of the account of Jesus’ resurrection. In our Scripture for today we are going to take a look at some of the eyewitness accounts of those who saw Jesus after He had been raised from the dead. First, let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 NIV)
The truth of the matter is that it is not just hardened atheists like Richard Dawkins who do not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There are a growing number of people who say they are followers of Jesus who believe that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual and not physical. I want us, as a church, to be reminded that the keystone of our faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus. If it is true that Jesus was not raised from the dead then “our faith is futile and we are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). In spite of all of the skepticism, those who were closest to Jesus, those who were dejected and full of despair as Jesus hung lifeless on the cross, they said He appeared to them and history records that their lives were never the same again…they were changed. What was it that brought about the change? C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Miracles,”
In the earliest days of Christianity an “apostle” was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection… to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection… The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection… (Lewis, C.S., Miracles. pgs. 188-191).
In the court of law there is nothing like eyewitness testimony. Any attorney who is trying a case has two forms of evidence they can bring to the jury: First, there is circumstantial evidence. Let me explain. Thursday morning I woke up so I could get busy writing our study for this morning. I looked outside and the sidewalk and street were wet. I didn’t see it rain, but based upon what I did see I felt confident that it had rained during the night. That’s circumstantial evidence. Second, there is direct evidence which consists of eyewitness testimony, photos, videos, and documents which are strong support for what has been alleged. If I was driving down Western and a car ran a red light and hit another car at the intersection at Western and 122nd while I was stopped at the light–I witnessed the accident. My testimony is invaluable because I was an unbiased eyewitness to the accident.
In our Scripture for today we see that Paul lists six different individuals or groups of people who saw Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus appeared to…
- Cephas or Simon Peter
- Then to the twelve
- To more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time
- Then He appeared to James, the brother of Jesus
- Then to all the apostles
- Then He appeared to Paul
I do want to say that this is not an exhaustive list. The Gospels record that Jesus appeared to others as well. People like Mary Magdalene, Salome, and other women who were at Jesus’ tomb on resurrection day. Also, Cleopas and his friend, who Jesus appeared to while they were walking on the road to Emmaus. We read about them last week. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t say that these people “saw” Jesus, but that Jesus appeared to them, Jesus made Himself known to these people after His resurrection. I want us to know that this list is not exhaustive, Jesus appeared to others as well as those included in Paul’s lists. I want us to focus on the three individuals that Paul places in this list, but before we do that I want us to recognize that before Jesus appeared to anyone, His disciples were anything but expecting His return. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Turn with me to John 20:18-19 and let’s read together what happened when Mary Magdalene told the disciples she had seen the Lord.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:18-19 NIV)
Did you notice where Mary Magdalene, and a few moments later, Jesus, found the disciples? They were hiding, behind locked doors, for the fear of the Jewish leaders who they believed would come after them in the same way they came after Jesus. Leon Morris writes,
The apostles were not men who were poised on the brink of belief and needing only the shadow of an excuse before launching forth into a proclamation of resurrection. They were utterly skeptical. Even when women they knew well told them of their experiences, they refused to believe. Clearly irrefutable evidence was needed to convince these skeptics. (Morris, Leon.)
Irrefutable evidence was needed and so it was irrefutable evidence that Jesus would give them. Luke writes in Acts that “he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3).
Is that what it would take for Peter, or Cephas, that was his Aramaic name, to believe? Paul writes, in verse 5, “and then he appeared to Cephas.” Now, that’s an interesting person to place at the top of the list isn’t it? If you will remember, the last time we saw or heard from Peter, before Jesus’ resurrection, he was denying that he even knew Jesus. If you will turn back to Luke 22, we can refresh our memories.
55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:55-61 NIV)
Peter said he would die for Jesus earlier that same day. Now, he denied that he ever even knew Jesus. At the moment when Jesus needed His disciples to stand up for Him, Peter was nowhere to be found. Why would Peter be one of the first people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection? Jesus’ appearance to Peter certainly wasn’t because he deserved it more than anyone else, but it had to have been because Peter needed to see Jesus more than anyone else.
The Simon Peter we run into after Jesus had appeared to him is far different from the cowering Peter who denied he knew Jesus. Peter preached such a powerful, courageous sermon at Pentecost and the Church was born as more than 3,000 people became followers of Jesus that day. Peter was chosen by Jesus as one of the most important leaders of the early church along with James and Paul. History tells us that Peter was killed under Nero’s persecution in 64 AD. He was to be crucified like His Lord, but Peter said he was unworthy to die like Jesus so he asked to be crucified upside down.
Let’s turn to the next individual on the list, James. Two of Jesus’ disciples were named James. There was James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus. These guys can’t be who Paul had in mind because they were part of the twelve that Jesus appeared to earlier. This James has to be James the younger brother of Jesus. What’s really interesting about this James is that even though he was a younger brother of Jesus, he never believed in Jesus before Jesus appeared to him. We know this because in John 7:5 we read, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” In Mark’s Gospel there is a story about a time when Jesus entered into a house and the crowd of followers who gathered to hear Jesus was so great that Jesus and His disciples weren’t even able to eat. In Mark 3:21 we read,
21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21 NIV)
That’s just downright embarrassing isn’t it? I mean we’ve got this story of the Hero, Jesus, the Son of God who has come to save us from our sins and yet His own family thinks He is out of His mind–that’s embarrassing. At the same time, I believe that it’s details like this that prove that God’s Word is not the invention of a group of people, but that it truly is the Word of God. No committee who was putting together a publicity campaign to start a new religion would ever include details like this.
The next time we run into James, after Jesus’ resurrection, is found in the very first chapter of Acts where we read,
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14 NIV)
All of the apostles were there together. It was the usual crowd: Peter, John, James the son of Zebedee, Thomas, and rest. The women were there, so was Mary, Jesus’ mother, and then we read, “with his brothers.” The skeptic became a servant of his brother, now his Savior, Jesus. He says so himself in the opening line of the book he authored in our Bible, the book of James: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (James 1:1 NIV). James not only became a servant of Jesus, but he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia he described his conversion and how he went to Arabia for three years before going back to Damascus and then to Jerusalem. Then, in Galatians 1:18-19, Paul writes,
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles– only James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 NIV)
James remained the leader of the church in Jerusalem until 62 AD when he was stoned to death because of his commitment to Jesus.
Last on the list of the individuals that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 is his own personal story of how Jesus appeared to him. Let’s read verses 8-10 together.
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. (1 Corinthians 15:8-10 NIV)
Peter was a disciple of Jesus, James, the brother of Jesus, was a skeptic, but Paul, who is called Saul of Tarsus before he met Jesus, was an adversary, more like a terrorist towards those who were followers of Jesus. The first time we meet Saul in the Bible is in Acts 7. In Acts 6, a follower of Jesus named Stephen had been brought up on charges of blasphemy. He was really guilty of nothing other than being an unashamed follower of Jesus. When they gathered to stone Stephen to death, in Acts 7, we find they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. In Acts 8:1 we read, “And Saul approved of their killing him.” Just two verses later we read,
3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:3 NIV)
Saul thought he was being obedient to God. He was a Pharisee, trained under one of the most famous and highly regarded rabbis in all of Israel, Rabbi Gamaliel. Saul was determined to wipe any memory of Jesus from the land and the way to do it was to rid the world of all of Jesus’ followers. In Acts 9:1-2, we read,
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 NIV)
Today we hear many people asking questions, “Why am I here? Is there more to life than this? What is my purpose?” Saul was asking none of those questions. He knew who he was and he was convinced of his purpose, that is until he was arrested by Jesus.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:3-9 NIV)
Saul became Paul and his life would never be the same again. He traveled by land and sea to share the good news of the transforming power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. He planted churches along his missionary travels whenever people would come to accept Jesus. He was beaten time and time again, run out of town over and over again, and eventually beheaded because of his commitment to Jesus. Paul’s life was radically transformed. He was changed! Before you place Paul on a pedestal you need to know that it all happened because of the grace of God. Paul said, “I am the least of the apostles and don’t even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” I want us to think about something before we go. Paul knew his story. He knew that he had been there and cheered on those who stoned Stephen to death, he knew that he had set out for Damascus to arrest Jesus’ followers, and he knew more than anyone how totally committed he was to destroying the church. He was so undeserving and yet, God’s grace had been extended to him, he had been forgiven, and called into Jesus’ service. Could it be that Paul’s unworthiness is what compelled him to preach grace everywhere he went? Who knew God’s grace more than Paul? God’s grace launched Paul into the world and everywhere he went he proclaimed the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus because it was not only Paul’s hope, but the only hope for all who would believe. Paul wrote,
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. (1 Corinthians 15:10-11 NIV)
Paul said he worked harder than all of the apostles, but he didn’t want anyone to think it was Paul himself so he finished his sentence, “yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
I mentioned early in our study that Richard Dawkins might want to take another look at the documentation for the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. Today, we’ve taken a look at three men: One, Cephas, Simon Peter, was a disciple of Jesus who failed Jesus miserably when the heat was turned up in the kitchen. After Jesus died, Peter went back to fishing until…until Jesus appeared to him and his life was changed, radically changed. The second man we took a look at was one of the younger brothers of Jesus, but a skeptic. When Jesus appeared to James his life was changed, dramatically changed. The last, Paul, was no friend of Jesus or of Jesus’ followers. He was to the followers of Jesus what Ben Laden was to America until Jesus knocked him to his knees and opened his eyes. The evidence for Peter, James, and Paul was irrefutable and they were changed.
The question that is before us today is this: What about you? You’ve heard the evidence this morning so now what are you going to do? Will you walk away? Just go back to the life you knew before you walked in here today? Or, will you cry out to Him this morning and allow Him to turn the page and lead you and use you to share His grace and mercy with those He has placed around you? I pray that as we leave this morning we will never be the same again.
Britton Christian Church
February 20, 2022
1 Corinthians 15:5-11