Summary: This is a controversial but hopefully delicate sermon about Jesus’ appearance to Peter, and about how some things just aren’t our business to know.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – What About Peter?
Tonight we are going to start off by reading our scripture, a very early creed of the church. It was like an Apostle’s Creed, a few brief but clear lines of doctrine about what the early believers actually believed. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.
This is, at least to me, an interesting bit of scripture. It starts off with the words “received” and “passed on”, which were technical terms used by Jewish rabbis to say that what was about to be said is considered part of holy tradition. This was something the early church passed on from one believer to another with the idea that it was doctrine. And if you think about it, there are things in there that Paul didn’t usually write: Cephas, the Twelve, and the third day. All those were terms Paul didn’t usually use, which implies that what he was writing was not originally his words.
The creed itself can be traced back very far. OK, we know that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians between 55 and 57 AD. He says in the 1st 4 verses that he has already passed on this creed to the church at Corinth, which would mean that it had to be before his visit there in 51 AD. Therefore the creed was being used within 20 years of the resurrection, which is really quite early.
In fact, some scholars trace it back even further, to within 2 to 8 years of the resurrection, between 32-38 AD, when Paul himself first learned it in Damascus. This is very early material of what the early church believed. His resurrection was not a wonderful idea that someone 300 years later came up with, to keep the peasants controlled through mysticism and superstition. The concrete evidence of Jesus’ resurrection has been believed right from the start, from day 1.
There is something in this creed, though, that sounds a little out of place. When did the Risen Jesus appear to Peter? I’m certainly not saying He didn’t. I’m saying that we just can’t figure out when it was.
The truth of Jesus’ appearing to Peter is confirmed additionally in Luke’s record of events. After the 2 disciples who saw Jesus while they were walking with Him on the road to Emmaus, they returned to the other disciples and said, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”
So we have 2 different books – 1 Corinthians and Luke – both mentioning Jesus appearing to Peter, but we have no idea of what happened, or when it happened. Scholars over the years have more or less pieced together what happened that morning.
A number of women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome the mother of James and John, Joanna, and still more – went to the tomb, found it empty and the body gone, and angels telling them that Jesus was alive. They ran back to where the disciples were staying, and told them they didn’t really know what had happened, but that Jesus’ body was gone. Peter and John ran to the tomb, and left after they found the tomb empty as well.
Mary Magdalene came back and was the 1st, as far as scholars can guess, to see the risen Savior. John wrote about that appearance. The other women came back to the tomb as well, and they met Jesus too – Matthew records this appearance.
Some scholars think that Jesus ascended to the Father at some point in the run of the day, but as far as I can tell, that’s not a popular opinion. That would explain where Jesus was between the women seeing Him and the Emmaus Road disciples seeing Him, though. Luke takes great pain to describe the Emmaus Road happenings, and it seems to take awhile for it to happen.
After all, at the end of it, when those disciples return to where all the others were staying, they barely have enough time to say what had just happened when Jesus showed up there too. And John tells us that this incident was by now in the evening. This group was the disciples, but as John tells us, minus Thomas. He wouldn’t be seeing Jesus for another 7 days.
Well, that explains the last part of v5 of 1 Cor.15 – “then to the Twelve.” That’s also the end of the 1st day, resurrection day itself. V6 goes on to say, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.” This likely happened in the region of Galilee, as Matthew describes – most believed, but some doubted. V7 says, “Then he appeared to James…” That would be Jesus’ half-brother, likely. He got a special appearance not described in the Gospels at all. V7 also says, “…then to all the apostles.” That was probably the Mount of Olives, back in Jerusalem, as Matthew and Luke describe.