• Pastor Mark Driscoll
    • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
    • April 16, 2006

Father God, we thank you for this great day – this great day to celebrate the most important event in all of human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. And Jesus, we thank you that the tomb is empty, that sin is forgiven, that death is conquered, that you are exalted, and that salvation has been granted by grace to all who would receive your gift. Jesus, we pray as we would study tonight that we would love you, that we would see you, that we would follow you, that we would believe in you, and that for that to happen, you would send the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and our minds to receive the truth of Scripture, that we might acknowledge that you are Lord, King, God, and Savior. It’s in your great name that we pray. Amen.

Well, as we get into it, we’ll be looking at the resurrection of Jesus, and I’ll start with an anecdote. I’m the father of five kids; I have three sons, two daughters, whom I love very much, and just had a nice brunch and Easter egg hunt and good daddy time with them and I get the pleasure of working from home quite a bit, doing a lot of studying, research, writing. So I’ve got a nice library at home with all of my books, and my 4-year-old son Calvin, his favorite thing is to sneak up behind me while I’m studying and scare me so that I squeal, which is one of his favorite things to do. And he does this quite often. He’s very good at it; he’s very quiet. Almost Ninja-esque – he’s just very quiet.

Sneaks up on me, and this week he did that as well – snuck up and scared me, and I squealed , as usual, and he laughed at me. And then he stood back and he sort of took in my library and my study for the first time, and he noticed thousands of books and hundreds of magazines and articles and newspapers, and computer and radio and telephone and cell phone and Blackberry. And he looked at everything, and he said, “Dad, you sure need to know a lot.” I said, “Yeah, I do need to know a lot.” And then my son Calvin asked the most poignant existential question that any 4-year-old has ever posited, because he’s an existential philosopher.

And he said, “Dad, I want you to tell me: what’s the most important thing you know?” I thought, “Well, that’s a good question for a 4-year-old.” And I thought, “Boy, what a great question. What is the most important thing you can know?” And you think about all the information that we are constantly bombarded with, from media and advertising. The average home has multiple TVs. The average TV is on eight hours a day. The average person spends three hours a day online. Just think of all of the constant influx of information. And out of that sea of information that you’ll receive throughout the totality of your life, what would you answer would be the most important fact that you know?

What is the most important thing that must be known? So today I will tell you what I told my buddy Calvin, and I took him to 1 Corinthians 15 – that’s where I’ll be with you this evening – answering his great existential question regarding what is the most important thing that we can know. And here in this text that we’ll be investigating – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Paul says that what he is going to tell us about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the most important thing in all of human history; the most important fact to be known. He declares it to be of first importance. So he begins answering this very important question of what must be known in 1 Corinthians 15:1.

He declares, “Now, brothers” – and that’s a term of endearment for Christian brothers and sisters, for male and female Christians who love Jesus – “I want to remind you of the gospel” – the gospel being the good news. Life is filled with bad news. There is sin and injustice and war and oppression and famine and evil and death. There is plenty of bad news. If you watch the news, you get plenty of bad news. He says there is also this gospel, which is good news, and the good news is about Jesus. He’s going to tell us good news about Jesus – that Jesus became a human being. Our eternal God took on human flesh to identify with us.

He lived a life so that he could sympathize with us in every way, being tempted as we are, suffering as we are, yet he did not sin as we do. And then Jesus died. He died in our place, Paul will declare, for the reason of taking away sin, and then three days later he rose. This is the good news – that the world is filled with bad news, and the good news, the best news we’ve ever heard, is that God has loved us in Jesus. That God has dealt with our sin problem in Jesus. That God has conquered our enemy of death in Jesus. And this is good news.

He goes on to say, “I remind you of the gospel that I preached to you” – as news reporters give us the news, so preachers are to give us the good news of Jesus – “which you received” – and that would be my prayer for all who come here today. That you would not only hear about Jesus, but that you would receive that as personal, transforming, life-altering truth for yourself – “on which you have taken your stand.” The result being, then, we would pray, that upon accepting the truth of the person and work of Jesus, that your whole life would be built upon that truth, and that you would stand for the remainder of your life and into your eternity on the truth that Jesus is God, who takes away sin and conquers death, and that he alone is worthy of worship as God.

“By this gospel” Paul says in verse 2, by this good news “you are saved” – saved from hell, saved from sin, saved from death, saved from the wrath of God and eternal separation from the love of God. All of this salvation is occurring through the person and work of Jesus Christ being poured out into history. He says, “If you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” So Paul says, indeed, we have a problem; that problem is simply sin. And we’re all sinners. We all have, in word and deed and thought, done what we were not to do, and not done what we were to do. We have sins of omission – not doing the right. We have sins of commission – doing the wrong. We are all sinners. The result of sin is death, and we all die.

And that is the bad news: that we are all sinners, and we all die. And the good news is that Jesus Christ has come to love and to save us; to rescue us from ourselves and the perilous eternity that we face. So Paul then continues by explaining a little more about this good news in verse 3. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.” Of all that can be known, this is the one thing that absolutely, assuredly must be known. And then he goes on to give us what is the summary of an early church creed; it was that which the early Christians memorized to denote the sum total of their affection, the person and the work of Jesus.

The early Christians, in the very days and years following the resurrection of Jesus, developed this early creed to remind them succinctly of what they believe. And now, 2,000 years later, we are studying it because we believe the exact same thing as the early Christians. Our faith has not changed to any degree, and what they believed, we believe as well. And here is their creed: “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He’s going to root all of this in the authority of God’s Word, the Bible. He’s going to tell us that history had been, for hundreds and thousands of years, foreshadowing and eagerly anticipating the coming of Jesus.

And the Old Testament tells us hundreds and thousands of years in advance that Jesus would be a man born of a virgin woman in the town of Bethlehem. That he would live a life without sin. That he would be betrayed by a close friend for 30 pieces of silver. That he would be crucified as his mode of execution. That he would be laid in the tomb of a rich man, and that three days later he would rise to take away sin and to conquer our enemy of death. All of this is told throughout the Old Testament, eagerly anticipated and expected by God’s people. And what he says is that when God, Jesus Christ, came into history, he fulfilled all that was promised and longed for in the Old Testament text of Scripture.

“That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” And that is the Christian euphemism for death. “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Paul declares that the most important fact in all of human history is the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus.

And he gives us four lines of reasoning and evidence to help bolster the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, thereby assuring us that placing our faith and trust in the resurrection of Jesus is altogether wise and good, because it is altogether grounded in historical reality and fact. The first thing he declares is that Jesus Christ died. This is under attack. There are popular books, forthcoming films that deny that Jesus died. There are also religions, like Islam – not to be unpleasant – but that also declare that Jesus Christ did not die. So we must establish the historical fact of Jesus’ death.

Jesus underwent a flogging, which is a brutal beating that left him near dead. Many men died just from that unbelievably excruciating beating. Flesh was removed from his body. He was in shock. He was bleeding profusely, hungry, dehydrated. He had had a sleepless night before his intense flogging – he was near death. And then they took Jesus – the professional executors did – to his place of crucifixion. They literally nailed him to a Roman crossbar through the hands and feet. This was a painful, publicly humiliating way to die, and Jesus died and breathed his last.

The professional executioner who was there to ensure his death declared him to be dead. To then guarantee his death, a sword – a spear, rather, was sent through Jesus’ side, under his ribcage, up into his heart, puncturing his heart, causing water and blood to flow out of his side, thereby guaranteeing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus most certainly was dead. Jesus died. Jesus died – for what reason? Lots of good people die. Lots of innocent people die untimely, unjust, and unpleasant deaths. Why did Jesus die? That is what is so significant for us. Paul says that Christ died for our sins. See, the penalty for sin is death.

God is a holy, righteous, and good God. An offense against God results in the penalty of death, and we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s good glory and God’s expectations for us as a people, myself included – sinner, absolutely guilty as charged. And subsequently, that penalty of sin must be paid, and that consequence of death must be faced. And out of love and grace and mercy, God became a human being. He lived without sin. He died as a substitute for our sin. He paid our penalty of death. And he rose to forgive sin and conquer death, thereby taking away the human problem of sin and eliminating our final enemy, the grave.

Jesus Christ died – historical fact – for – theological meaning – our sins, as our substitute, in love, in our place. What that means is when I think of the cross, I think that I should suffer, I should die, I should undergo the same sort of horror that Jesus did because of the person that I am and the life that I have lived. But I will not die that kind of death, and I will not face that kind of eternal judgment and separation from God, because of the love of Jesus. First thing he says: Jesus Christ died for our sins.

Secondly, that he was buried. We know that Jesus’ body was then taken off the cross. It was prepared for burial. In that day, the preparation was not unlike what we would call mummification, where they would wrap the body in upwards of 100 pounds of linens and spices. It was a major preparation of the burial. It was a large process, an arduous process. Once the body was prepared, it was then laid into a tomb. Jesus was born homeless; he had no tomb, so one of his disciples – more of a secret disciple – who was quiet about his faith, a rich, affluent, powerful, well-known public figure named Joseph of Arimathea, gifted to the dead body of Jesus his own personal tomb.

This is to fulfill what was promised in Isaiah 53, that Jesus would be buried with the rich in his death. And his body was laid into that tomb, so that tomb was widely known to belong to a public figure – easily verified. A large stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb to guarantee that no one would tamper with the body. The seal of the government was placed over that tomb to ensure that no one would tamper with the body of Jesus. And then to further guarantee that the body would not be tampered with, a guard was posted to make sure that the body was not stolen and was in no way tampered with. Jesus died, and he was buried.

Then Paul says his third line of evidence is that Jesus Christ – unlike anyone who has ever lived, unlike any religious teacher who has ever taught, unlike any miracle-worker who has ever served – Jesus Christ conquered death. This makes him distinct from and superior to everyone who has ever lived, and everyone who will ever live. Jesus Christ rose, and this claim is altogether unique. This claim is altogether worthy of our investigation, because all of Christianity hinges on this central, significant issue of the resurrection of Jesus. And there are differences on secondary matters, but on this matter, all Christians are agreed – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox all believe Paul’s simple summation that Jesus died, Jesus was buried, and Jesus rose.

So then Paul bolsters this amazing claim of the resurrection of Jesus with evidence about the eyewitnesses. Not only did he rise from death; his fourth point is that Jesus appeared. That people saw him. That this was known public fact; this was not obscure, hidden fact of the day. This was public news and public discussion. He says first of all that Jesus appeared following his death and resurrection to his friends. This includes Peter, whom he names, Peter being the leader of the disciples who was trained by Jesus personally for some three years. Peter was a man who was a bit of a coward. He denied Jesus three times as Jesus went to his execution. Peter was a man who lacked courage until he saw Jesus risen from death.

Jesus spoke to him, reinstated him as a leader for his ministry, and Peter was altogether transformed into a bold, courageous man by the resurrection of Jesus. He went on to preach the resurrection of Jesus, to suffer for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. He wrote two books of the Bible bearing his name, 1 and 2 Peter, and ultimately, when they went to crucify him he didn’t recant. In fact, he remained devoted to the teaching of the resurrection of Jesus, even though they crucified him upside-down. They crucified him upside-down. And some say, “Well, these men were liars,” and the question simply is do they have the character of liars?

These are men who serve the poor and the needy and the widows and the orphans and the outcasts. These are not men that are greedy, seeking power, fame or fortune. These are men who suffered, were on the run, were hated and despised, and were murdered in poverty and in shame – for what reason? For the truth. Jesus also appeared to his other disciples, who saw him, including Thomas, who perhaps like some of you, was a great doubter. And he wondered if Jesus had indeed risen from death, and he said, “I won’t believe it for myself unless I see it with my own eyes, and I touch it with my own hands. I need to have the evidence.”

And so Jesus appeared to Thomas, and Thomas investigated the body of his friend, and saw his crucifixion scars. And Thomas said, “I am absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ did die – I was there. That he was buried – I saw it. And Jesus did rise – I am a witness.” And he fell down – as we all should – and Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God,” and Thomas worshiped Jesus Christ as God. So Jesus appeared to his friends; also to strangers. Paul says that over the course of some 40 days, he appeared to crowds numbering over 500 people at a time. Jesus appeared to large crowds of people. At that point, you were looking at more rural type of living, and people who were scattered. For 500 people to come together, that is a very major, significant public event.

What that tells us is that Jesus was not in hiding; he was widely known. This would’ve been front page of the newspaper, and the leading story on the nightly newscast. This was the discussion at work. This was the discussion at synagogue. This was the discussion around the dinner table – that Jesus was alive, and he was walking around, and he was visible publicly. And he was scheduling meetings and going to meals and making appearances, and everyone had an opportunity to verify that he had indeed risen from death.

And Paul says, “If you don’t believe me, then go ask the eyewitnesses,” because this was not penned at a point in history where it was dozens or hundreds of years following the resurrection of Jesus, with competent, sufficient time for myth, legend, fable and folklore to occur. This in fact was penned when many of the eyewitnesses were still alive and could verify the facts. Jesus appeared to friends and strangers, and family, and he mentions James. Now, James was Jesus’ brother. Now, during his earthly life, Jesus had two brothers, James and Jude – neither of whom, while he was alive prior to his crucifixion, worshiped him as God, for understandable reasons.

Most of us would not feel comfortable worshiping our big brother, amen? That just seems reasonable. If your brother said, “I’m God,” you would say, “Well, you think you are.” That’s how all the big brothers are – and they’re not. They’re not God. And we know that they’re sinners, because we live with them, right? How many of you, if your brother said, “I am without sin,” you would chuckle, you know? And if he said, “I’m God,” you would chuckle so hard you’d have to call 911. You would say, “You’re not sinless, and you’re not God.” And with Jesus’ brothers, during his life, they didn’t believe that their brother was God.

And then when he rose from death, they believed that their brother was God; that God had become a human being, and that happened to be their big brother. And they were so utterly transformed that they not only became Christians, who worshipped Jesus – something that good Jewish boys don’t do. Good Jewish boys don’t just pick people to worship; they must be absolutely convinced that the God that they’re worshiping is the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, lest the Ten Commandments be brought to bear upon them, that they would worship a false god and suffer the eternal torment of hell.

And his own brothers said, “You know what, it’s true. We lived with him. He’s our brother. He never sinned. We saw him die. We saw him buried. We went to the funeral. And we saw him rise, and it’s our brother. He said he was God, come down from heaven to live without sin, to die to take away sin, and that he would rise to prove that he was God on a mission of salvation. And he did exactly what he said he would do.” And they began worshiping their brother as God. They both became pastors. They both wrote books of the New Testament bearing their name, James and Jude. James became a very prominent leader in the early church, pastoring from the very preeminent church in Jerusalem.

And Paul says, “What would it take for someone to worship their brother as God?” Extraordinary evidence – such as the resurrection. And some of you would say, “Well, these are his friends, maybe his acquaintances, and his family. Perhaps they were predisposed to eagerly yearn for the coming of Jesus from death. Maybe they worked together out of their hearts’ longing, because what they really wanted was Jesus to rise. Maybe they made this up and hundreds of thousands of people were in on the lie, and maybe they all suffered for it for no apparent reason” – all of which is an exceeding stretch. And to make the final point, that absolutely nails the case of the resurrection of Jesus, Paul says, “I saw him, too.”

Now, Paul was not an acquaintance, friend or family member of Jesus. He was an enemy of Jesus. He hated Jesus with the kind of deep hatred that few have ever had for Jesus, or anyone else. And he despised Christians. One of our first introductions to Paul in the book of Acts is where he is participating in the public execution and unjust murder of an early Christian leader, a deacon named Stephen, because Stephen worshiped the resurrected Jesus. And Paul’s mission was to murder people who worshiped Jesus – until he saw the resurrected Jesus. And upon seeing Jesus restored to life, Paul was struck with the incontrovertible fact that Jesus Christ was and is God, who has taken away sin and conquered death, and deserves our worship alone.

And Paul was radically transformed. He went from a murderer of Christians to a pastor of Christians. He went from someone who put Christians to death to preach the hope of their resurrection at their funeral as their pastor. He went from a man who devoted his life to destroying Christianity to a man who gave his life in the service of Christianity. He is a man who was shipwrecked, homeless, beaten, left for dead, impoverished, on the run, and in prison for one reason: he wouldn’t stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus. And Paul is essentially saying this: “I wouldn’t lie. I would not have such a change of heart, a change of mind, and a change of life, if it were not indeed factual and true.”

And the question is why would a man like Paul tell a lie that is absolutely opposed to everything that he is committed to? That only condemns him as a fool? Why would he tell a lie that profited him no power, no fame, no money, no glory? All it brought him was shame, disgrace and death, when previously to that he was a highly respected, affluent man, who had a bright future before him. And he gave that all up, and had an absolute transformation in his heart and in his mind regarding the person and work of Jesus. The answer is because it’s true; because it’s true.

And the eyewitnesses were alive to verify this fact in that day. And we would be so foolish as to thousands of years following the fact to believe the testimony of people who weren’t eyewitnesses. To believe stories that were made up hundreds of years after the eyewitnesses lived. To follow the teachings of people who have great money to make, and have great fame to pursue by reinterpreting the story of Jesus, when those who suffered and died, homeless, broke and despised for the cause of the truth, tell us the facts. That Jesus lived. That Jesus died. That Jesus was buried. That Jesus rose. And that Jesus was witnessed by many – friends, family, strangers, and enemies alike.

And then Paul concludes in verse 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.” I murdered Christians. “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 was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” What he’s saying is this: that Christians are not good people. If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, you say, “I’m not impressed with Christians. I think they’re all sinners,” we would say, “Yes. That’s what we believe.” You may say, “Well, Christians are no better than I am.” “Yes. We would agree.”

Some of you are perhaps thinking, “What right do you have to tell me anything?” The answer is I have no right, just as Paul had no right to be a pastor. God does not choose us because we are good people. God does not choose us because we are lovely people. God does not choose us because we are deserving people. God chooses us in spite of who we are, in spite of what we’ve done. You say, “Well, how does that work? How do undeserving people get love? How do guilty people get forgiven? How do rebellious people get affection? How do condemned people get mercy?” And Paul says, “That is grace.” And that is the heart of the Christian faith.

I love the fact that my wife’s name is Grace; it reminds me of the centrality of all that we believe. We are a people of grace. We say we are all sinners. We don’t merit, deserve, earn God’s love and favor. None of us can claim a right for God to be kind to us, to forgive us, to embrace us, to endure with us, to deliver us into his eternal presence. None of us has that right. But, by grace, that offer is given freely. This is God’s love in action. This is God’s mercy in action. This is God’s kindness at work. It is all of grace. Paul says, “I’m saved by grace.” I would tell you, “I am saved by grace.” That is all. That is all. And all who are saved from death and hell and sin and judgment are saved by grace, through Jesus Christ alone.

And Paul says that not only does God’s grace save us from our old way of life, it empowers us for a new way of life. Paul says, “I’ve worked very hard, and I’ve accomplished a few things, but don’t pat me on the back. It was only by God’s grace that I got anything done. It’s only by God’s grace that I have had a transformation of my life, that God could use me for his purposes, that good could come out of this evil heart.” And so grace is the heart of all we believe. Grace is the sum total of what we are about; that God saves us by grace through Jesus. That God empowers us to live a new life, forever together with him, by grace; a life that is changed in this body.

A life that has eternal value, because it will be lived together forever with Jesus, who has made a way for us beyond the grave by his resurrection from death. And so today I must ask you this: have you received this truth? Paul says that we must receive it, and we must stand upon it for it to be of practical value for us. Do you love Jesus? Do you know Jesus? Do you belong to Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus? Do you sing to Jesus? Do you serve Jesus? Do you live for Jesus? Do you adore Jesus? Is your heart inclined toward Jesus? Does your mind open the Scriptures and search for Jesus? Does your heart long for Jesus? Do you wait for the day when one day you will see Jesus face to face? That is Christianity.

It is Jesus loving us, and us responding with love in obedience to him. And so we invite you today to receive Jesus Christ’s great invitation of salvation and grace and loving mercy and forgiveness. And the good news is it doesn’t matter what you have done. You certainly probably are not any worse than Paul – even the worst among us. And if God could love that man, and enable him to write a large portion of our Bible, then God certainly has sufficient love for us all, and is willing to embrace us as well through the death and resurrection of Jesus to take away sin, to reconcile us to God, to conquer our enemy of death, and to begin newness of life with him marked by grace. We invite you to that.

If you’re not a Christian, you need Jesus – not just morality, not religion, not church – Jesus – the living Jesus. You can pray to him today. Ask him to forgive your sins and be your God, and he will, because Jesus Christ is alive and well. He’s happy to hear from you. He’s happy to respond to you. He is delighted to answer prayer. We will ask you all to respond who are Christian or become Christian today, to partake of communion, which is remembering the body and the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for our sins. And we partake of it by getting up out of our seats, so that we show resurrection.

As people get up for communion today, I want you to be absolutely stunned by the number of people that Jesus has loved and served and taken care of and forgiven and embraced, and is working in and through, and sometimes in spite of. And I want you to know that as Jesus got out of his grave, God’s people together will get out of their grave – every tribe, language, tongue, nation – people of the earth – on our day of great resurrection at the coming of Jesus, sometime in the future. And then we respond by giving tithes and offerings as well. If you’re a visitor, not a Christian, you’re our guest; we don’t want your money. We love you.

Give your life to Jesus. That’s all we care about. Let us pick up the tab. That, too, is grace. Let us take care of everything. We’re just so glad to have you. And then lastly, we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate, because we were made for the singular purpose of worshiping God, and Jesus Christ is willing to receive our worship today. It will do your heart well. It will do your mind well. It will do your soul well to sing of the praises of Jesus; to thank and adore and glory in Jesus. It is that for which we were made, and if he is humble enough to receive our worship, then we should be delighted to give it to him in song together on this Sunday.

This day of the resurrection of Jesus, with brothers and sisters numbering in the billions around the world who, like Paul, say, “I have been saved by grace. God has loved me well, and I am exceedingly glad.” Amen? Let me pray.

Father God, we thank you for being honest about our need. We confess that we are sinners, fallen short; that we find ourselves separated from you, and in need of reconciliation of that broken relationship. And so Jesus, we thank you for humbly coming as a human being to identify with us. We thank you for courageously resisting sin and living without sin. We thank you for going to the cross and substituting yourself for us, dying in our place. And Jesus, we thank you today – this great day of resurrection – that the tomb is empty; that you are alive. That sin has been forgiven. That death has been defeated. That relationship has been restored. That grace has been poured out.

That new life has been given. And we say thank you so much, Lord Jesus. We worship you. We ask the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we might love you with redeemed hearts, and we might sing to you with redeemed mouths, and we might live here empowered by grace to live redeemed lives. Amen.

We are bombarded with messages from television, film, radio, iPods, email, text messages, cell phones, magazines, newspapers, books, blogs, websites, mail, and innumerable forms of advertising. Of all the things that we can know, what is the most important thing that we should know.
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