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. 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: 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 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. 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. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Corinthians 15.1-11 (NIV)
In today’s passage, Paul talks about the basis for believing in the Resurrection. The first Christians didn’t believe in some hallucination. They didn’t believe in the feeling of a ephemeral presence. They believed in the Risen Lord and it was a life-changer for them. It can be a life-changer for us as well.
The term Paul uses above when he talks about receiving the Gospel is a technical term that indicates great care was taken to transmit accurately eyewitness accounts. Repeatedly the NT writers indicate to us that they placed great premium on telling the truth and therefore, eyewitness accounts were carefully preserved after they were validated. Yes, Paul did meet the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts. 9.1-9), but he also received the Gospel with its account of Jesus’ resurrection from the first believers who had experienced first-hand the Risen Lord. Jesus wasn’t a figment of their imagination. He was real. There is simply no other way to explain why the Christian faith took off like wildfire.
When God raised Jesus from the dead, he validated who Jesus was and ushered in the beginning of God’s New Creation. More on that later this week. What this means for us right now is that we have real hope. First and foremost, in validating Jesus by raising him from the dead, God reminds us that through Jesus he has taken care of ending our exile from him forever. This is the heart of the Gospel and as Paul reminds us today, God didn’t just make this up on the fly. He didn’t look around at his creation and decide that it wasn’t working and that he’d best go to Plan B. No, sending our Lord to die for us was in God’s plan from all eternity. This reminds us that God is not a capricious God, that he is firmly in control, and that he has acted decisively on our behalf.
Second, in raising Jesus from the dead, we are reminded again in a powerful way that God is a God we did not expect. We look around at our broken world, at the massive suffering and hurt the we and others experience. We long for an omnipotent God, a god of our own making, who will descend to his world and zap all evil and evildoers (as long as we don’t fall into that latter category, that is). We wonder why God just doesn’t come and put everything aright. But that is not how God has chosen to manifest himself. He has chosen to manifest himself as a crucified Messiah and that leaves us baffled. Why would he do that? He has chosen to inaugurate his New Creation through Jesus’ resurrection and promised to return again in great power and glory to finish what he started. Why would he do that? He requires that we live in the “already-not yet,” where evil has been vanquished but not finally, and he asks us to receive this in faith. Why would he do that?
Of course, I don’t have the answers to these questions. Nobody does (and run like crazy from anyone who tells you they do). But this is what it means to live by faith, to have a faith that changes us and others at a fundamental level. The Resurrection reminds us that life does have meaning and purpose, that life is so much more than a biological existence. It reminds us that God has knocked down all the barriers that our sin has erected and invited us into a life-giving relationship with him now and for all eternity. In other words, as Jesus reminded us, life is having a relationship with the living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Resurrection also reminds us that God’s promises are true and that living in faith isn’t as absurd as it looks at first blush.
Are you ready for that kind of living, with all of its challenges and opportunities? If you are, then say “yes” to God’s gracious invitation to you (if you have not done so already). You know he is a God who will deliver because he is a God who raised Jesus from the dead and gives life where there is none. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!