Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2019
Lesson 43: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (ESV)
The King’s Plan
I served for a time as captain in the Pomona Space Squadron. It was back in the late 1950’s when I was about 10 years old. My friends in the neighborhood and my brother made up the loyal and adventurous crew.
Our up-stairs screened-in back porch was transformed into the command bridge of a star-ship. We put tables along the railings to hold our controls so we could fly our missions. Every switch, button, and dial I could strip from old radios was mounted on a cardboard panel. We used the kids technology of the 1950’s to make it seem as real as we could. A hole was cut in a box and covered with a piece of thin white paper so a ViewMaster projector behind it could show color pictures of star fields on our viewing screen.
My mom made T-Shirts for all of us with our own Space Squadron emblem stenciled on the front. We had hours of great fun during the summers when there was no school — but there was lots of imagination.
It all lacked one basic quality — it wasn’t real. We never left our house at 35 Pomona Place in Buffalo, New York. We never really had to navigate an asteroid belt. When it was lunch time, the mission went on hold and everybody went home for lunch. But we were just playing. It was the way we wanted it to be. We weren’t really ready to give up our toys and back yards to do battle in space. The first Satellites were just beginning to go into earth orbit, and it would be years before the first human really went into space. When you’re 10, pretending is what you like to do.
Sadly, many who should be celebrating the real things are just pretending too. Even fooling themselves.
Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians is about the Resurrection of Christ. It’s celebrated in our era during the Easter season. People all over the world celebrate that Holiday. There will be bunnies and colored eggs to decorate homes and stores. New spring outfits will be worn. There will be pictures of an open tomb with a rock rolled to the side. And dinners of traditional foods will be eaten with families.
But much of that will be empty of any substance beyond mere holiday symbolism. We borrowed the bunnies and eggs from the pagan fertility festivals of Spring. The outfits and dinners are nice traditions. They refresh our closets, help the retailers, and give us some good family time together — they can all be good things.
But the real substance, often lost and merely artificially represented, is the victory of Christ. His death and resurrection was a major turning point in all of human history. It’s the only foundation upon which we can build a meaningful life.
To most, it’s little more than a historic memory, an important event along with many others. But Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem to die as a martyr, or to be an example of honorable suffering. He didn’t go there to start a new religion, or to gain a reputation for himself.
He came as God in human flesh to pay for the crimes of his people, and to reveal the true nature of God’s Kingdom. He came as King, but also as a servant. He was the Great Shepherd who became one of the sheep to become a sacrificial lamb.
Like our play fantasies as children, like our modern video games, and escapist movies, without the gospel, religion lacks this basic quality too. When we have the trappings of religion and superficial holiday symbols without the reality, it’s a fake, a good show with good feelings, but still — no substance.
That’s not the the pure religion described in the Bible. It’s a celebration designed to appeal to blind eyes and confused hearts.
Most know the story of the Sunday before the resurrection. Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The people saw him fulfilling that prophesy and started cheering him with shouts of Hosannah.
That was the Aramaic expression, “Ho Shannah” which means “Save!”
They laid palm branches and their coats on the road as he rode by them.
But he didn’t come to be the kind of King they expected. He wasn’t going to overthrow Rome, or to give the Jews revenge against the Gentiles. He was coming to die for them, to overcome the penalty of death for them. He was coming to call them to give up their selfishness and sins.
When they heard his teachings in the week that followed, it became clear that he wasn’t what they imagined he would be. They were hoping in an illusion. They stood by watching him being crucified on Friday.
But, though the people couldn’t see, a plan was in place and it was on track. The people cheered in ignorance on Palm Sunday, and were discouraged when it wasn’t what they expected. But their unbelief was part of the great victory. Jesus came die for sinners, even for many who at one time misunderstood him.
The great battle to overcome Satan and sin wasn’t to be fought on a vast battle field like the spectacular scenes in Hollywood movies. It was fought on a single hill, on a cross, by one man: God and humanity joined as the eternal person of Jesus Christ.
God is and always was King of all kings and Sovereign ruler over all that is. This truth was progressively revealed and advanced through the ages. Some of that plan was told to Adam, more to Noah, more to Abraham, more yet to Moses. Then more was told to David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
But the greatest revealing came at an open tomb one Sunday morning outside Jerusalem. A new era had come. The battle was won, and the means of giving life was completed. It’s in the power of that resurrection that the King rules and populates his Kingdom still today.
1 Corinthians 15 explains the resurrection.
As Paul begins this chapter, he prepares us by reviewing God’s plan in a grand panorama.
This is the gospel … the good news, the one and only way to salvation.
1. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
2. and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.
This is the essential foundation for our Christian faith — the real thing, the gospel, the good news. He wasn’t telling them things they didn’t already know. He was reminding them what he’d taught them, what they knew so he could build his case on it, a case to strengthen their confidence, and to make their obedience even more joyful.
His message is assuring, assuming they’ve truly believed and are clinging to it as truth. It’s as if Paul was saying to the confused, compromising, and bickering Corinthian church, look down at your feet and see the ground you’re standing on as Christians.
Remember the good news we brought to you and which you were so glad to receive. That’s the power that transformed you and gave you confidence in God’s promises. Don’t step off that firm foundation. Keep a good foot hold on what we told you. If you step off the foundation, there’s nothing left to support your hope and confidence.
If they doubted these fundamental facts of the gospel, and were drawn away by what’s not true, their original hope would have been proven to be in “vain,” it would have had is no real benefit.
But for those who did truly believe, they should now build on that solid foundation.
Next, Paul summarized the basics
of what that good news was about.
3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
The first issue, the most primary truth of all, is that Christ died for our sins. This is the focus of all Scripture. It was God’s first promise after Adam and Eve sinned and while they were still in Eden. One would be born of a woman who would bruise the head of the serpent.
God explained it more as history unfolded. Jesus was that Christ, the promised one; and he fulfilled the promise. He died in place of his sinful people to fully pay for their sins.
Death was the penalty we all deserve, and he paid it in full. Isaiah 53 is one of the places that told about his work hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. In verses 4-6 that chapter says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
To show that he was really dead, he was buried. They laid his dead body in a tomb, sealed the door, and posted Roman guards. His body truly died. His human soul was separated from it while he remained in the grave. As the final and complete evidence that death was conquered – he rose again from the dead on the third day.
Everything came about just the way God said it would in his word. When sin is overcome by the Messiah, death is conquered too, because death is the penalty for sin. That’s what the Scriptures said.
For example, there’s the promise in Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.”
Resurrection was the evidence that the debt had been fully paid.
There were many who personally witnessed
this victory over the grave.
5. and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
7. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
9. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Paul backed up what he was saying with evidence. God gave us his infallible word that proves beyond any doubt that it was true. But it was confirmed by the testimony of those who were there at the resurrection. By citing these witnesses, Paul showed that what he said was completely consistent with the facts. We say it was corroborative evidence. It confirmed that it all fit together perfectly. God’s evidence stands the test of history.
There have always been those who doubt the resurrection. For them to accept Christ’s resurrection gives too much room for truth in the rebellious soul. If he was miraculously raised from the dead three days after he died on a Roman cross, then God was behind it, and all that he said and promised must also be true. And if there is a resurrection of the dead, then all are accountable to God in the end. Fallen man doesn’t like to admit to things like that, so the resurrection is attacked constantly.
Paul lists a few examples of the many appearances of the resurrected Savior. He chose ones that would be particularly helpful to the Corinthians.
He was seen by Peter, also known as Cephas. He was seen by the group of 12. They were known by that name even when there were only 11 left after the defection of Judas. They saw the risen Jesus on several different occasions. There was a time when over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus Christ at one time. That was probably somewhere in Galilee. He was also seen by James, probably the one who was called the brother of Jesus. And he was seen by all the apostles, possibly including others who served the Apostles.
And Paul had even seen the resurrected Jesus himself. This was at a later time, years after the ascension of Jesus back into glory. Jesus appeared to Paul while he was making his way to Damascus. He was going there to capture Christians to put them in jail, and to persecute them.
But the great evidence wasn’t just the number of human witnesses.
It was God’s transformation of lost souls
into living children by grace.
10. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
11. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Paul gives God all the credit for both his faith and his actions. The risen Christ wasn’t just a fact of history or a point of religion to him. It was the power that made him what he is, that animated him every day. It was the grace of God applying the victory of the cross that changed him and the Corinthians.
Those who waved palms when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey had a wrong idea what it all meant. They ignorantly cheered somebody they thought would overthrow Rome. They wanted a national hero, an earthly king who would favor them over the non-Jews.
But Jesus didn’t come to become more powerful. He was already all-powerful. His coming was an act of grace to advance his spiritual kingdom.
He came to pay the debt of sin by dying. That’s what sin requires. And as both God and as a perfect human, Jesus was the only one who could represent us. No one else could die for somebody else’s sins without violating justice. No one else could pay the price — because no one else could suffer as much, no one else was innocent enough, no one else could love as purely.
The resurrection was the evidence that his work on the cross succeeded. Death can’t claim the souls of those redeemed by Jesus Christ.
This is the reality that few understand or experience. Without it, religion is just a good simulation. It’s “make believe”, not the real thing. It’s an offensive fraud that deceives and comforts lost souls on their way to damnation.
But with the message of the resurrection, is the redemption Jesus secured on the cross. It’s the evidence that the power of death was toppled. In the application of it to cold, blind, and hardened hearts, the pure grace of God gives life where there was death, and hope were there was only deception.
We have a living Savior, a King who is above all kings. And he loves his children even though none deserve it.
Those who believe in Christ’s redemption alone will one day be raised up out of their earthly bodies to be with Christ. They will be with him in a glorious condition waiting the day of Last Judgment. Their bodies will be raised uncorrupted, glorified into more than they ever were, and their souls will be reunited with their new bodies in the Great Resurrection.
That’s the victory Jesus brought into Jerusalem that day as he rode in on a donkey.
He came as Lord over them and over all things. He alone deserves to be worshiped by us, praised by sinners saved by grace. He replaces our “make believe” world into an everlasting Kingdom which is true forever.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)