Summary: One of the most important, most powerful and beautiful dimensions of Christianity is the hope it gives that physical death will not be the end, but through a resurrection we will enter God’s kingdom and experience eternal life
Four friends were talking about death. One of them asked the other three, "When you are in your casket and people are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?" The first man said, "I’d like to hear them say that I was a fine physician in my time and a great family man." The second fellow said, "I’d like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and a school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow." The third man replied, "I’d like to hear them say, ’Look, he’s moving!’"
Well, friends, I think most of us can empathize with that last fellow, but there is something better that I would like someone to say if I were lying in my casket. They are the words that Jesus spoke to Martha after her brother Lazarus had died. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Friends, this hope of resurrection, this hope of conquering death, is at the heart of Christianity. Yes, as Christians we very much believe that our faith in Jesus makes a difference in this life. Each and every day we are called to live in a way that expresses our love for God and for others. Yet, one of the most important, most powerful and beautiful dimensions of Christianity is the hope it gives that physical death will not be the end, but through a resurrection we will enter God’s kingdom and experience eternal life. Probably the time when I’m most thankful that I am a Christian is when I’m doing a funeral service for someone whom I know was a believer in Christ, and I can say to the grieving widow or widower, to the children and the grandchildren, "It is not over. Because of the resurrection, this individual will live again in the kingdom of Jesus."
Today, as we continue our journey through 1 Corinthians, we come to Chapter 15 where we will be exploring the first 28 verses. As we do, my hope is that the Lord will enable us to understand and experience the power of the resurrection in a fresh way, in a way that will provide hope and joy as we seek to follow Jesus Christ. Let’s pray that will happen.
Let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul has to say on the resurrection. He makes three basic points in this passage. The first is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. This is the heart of the Gospel, the good news that Paul proclaims. Sometimes there is discussion in the church about what constitutes the Gospel. What is the message we as Christians are called to share with other people? Some folks suggest it includes helping the poor, experiencing healing, etc. These may be results of the Gospel, but Paul makes it clear that this is not the content of his message. He gives us a succinct summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 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,... Jesus Christ: Crucified, buried and risen just as the Scriptures reveal; just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold. That is the Gospel, and from these events flow all sorts of great news. Jesus rising from the dead is the climax of the Gospel, and also the most difficult part for people to accept. Dead people tend to stay dead, both in the 1st and the 21st Centuries, so Paul gives an impressive list of eyewitnesses who can testify that they have seen the risen Lord. He mentions Peter and the other apostles, and in Verse 6, 500 people who saw Jesus on that occasion. This is apparently a crowd which had gathered to listen to Jesus after the resurrection; it may even be the folks who heard Him give the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28. And suspecting there are folks who might be skeptics, who might say, "Yeah, right, Paul," he also notes that as he writes, about 20 years after these things happened, many of these witnesses are still alive. He says if anyone has questions, go and talk to these people who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes.
Paul, however, goes on to say, "Not only have I talked to folks who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead, but I myself saw Him as well. Oh, not in the same way as Peter and others did, but I saw Him." 15:8 ...and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. This appearance happened maybe two or three years after the resurrection, when the Lord Jesus met Paul, then known as Saul, on the road to Damascus. It was this very special encounter which enabled Paul to become an apostle even though he was not an eyewitness of the resurrection like the others. That is why he calls himself "one abnormally born." Well, you might say that was just a vision; that Paul did not really see the risen Christ. I think Paul would respond, "Oh, it might have been a vision, but I really did see Jesus. And while the other witnesses may have been looking for Him, I certainly was not. I believed Jesus was as dead as anyone could be. But, after what happened that day as I was heading for Damascus, I totally changed my mind. What I saw, heard and experienced proved to me that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord."