My parents encouraged me to begin reading the Bible shortly after I began learning how to read. At the time, I thought that the books of the Bible were written in the order that they appear in the Bible. It wasn't until I was a little older that I figured out that each book of the Bible was written by itself and there are many different ways to arrange the books of the Bible. One of the things that sort of surprised me at first was that some of the epistles were actually written before the Gospel accounts were available in written form. Today's epistle comes from one of the earliest writings in the New Testament. Many scholars feel that the account of the resurrection in today's reading from 1 Corinthians may be the first written proclamation of the resurrection.
Today's epistle was written to a church that had many struggles. The city of Corinth is in a very strategic spot. It is on a narrow isthmus that connects the two parts of Greece. The citizens of Corinth along with the sister city of Cenchreae had worked out a way to lift ships out of the sea, carry them across the isthmus, and place them back in the sea on the other side of the isthmus. This turned out to be a huge time savings for the ships and Corinth soon became very wealthy.
The only thing is that Corinth also became very immoral. After all, what are sailors supposed to do while their ship is making its way across the isthmus? Corinth soon became a center of both moral and immoral forms of entertainment for the sailors who were waiting for their ships. In fact, Corinth became a verb. To Corinthianize came to mean to live a pagan and immoral life similar to the citizens of Corinth.
In spite of all of this, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul to establish a Christian congregation in Corinth. Paul spent a great deal of time in Corinth helping them with all the struggles that a young church would have in the middle of such a corrupt, pagan, and immoral culture.
The members of the congregation in Corinth also sent several delegations to Paul after he left their city. They still had struggles and they still looked to Paul to provide them with guidance from the Holy Spirit. As a result, Paul sent at least four letters to the church in Corinth. Two of those letters survived and became First and Second Corinthians in the New Testament.
Today's epistle reading comes near the end of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. He has dealt with several of the dividing issues in the congregation. At various points in this letter, he has encouraged, scolded, warned, and guided. Now, as he nears the end of the letter, he gets back to the basics. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that the most important teaching is that Christ died for our sins and rose on the third day.
Today there are many false scholars who insist that Christ's resurrection was a hoax. They insist that the either the disciples or the early church fabricated a resurrection in order to jump start this new religion called Christianity. Sadly, there are millions who buy into this false scholarship. Paul's words to the Corinthians not only tell us that Christ has risen, but they also challenge those who say He has not.
You see, Paul followed his proclamation of the resurrection with a list of witnesses who saw Jesus alive after He had died on the cross. When Paul states that these people saw Jesus, he does not mean a glimpse out of the corner of the eye. He is not talking about the kind of witness who says he saw Elvis or Big Foot. He is talking about witnesses who had conversations with Jesus, who ate with Jesus, who touched Jesus. He is talking about first class, reliable, credible witnesses - the kind of witness that you can put on the stand at any trial. Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that they could talk to Cephas or any of the other twelve apostles. Then there is that group of five hundred who saw Jesus. How many witnesses do you need?
People who study mythology say that you have to get far away from someone or something in order to start a myth about it. You have to be far enough away so that no one can say, "Hey, I was there and that is not how it happened," or "My Grandmother told me all about that and here is how she said it really happened." You need a great distance in time or space so that no one can check your facts.
Christianity does the exact opposite. It starts in Jerusalem - where anyone can take a few hours and check out the tomb - where any decent investigator can find witnesses to the people and events. If you were going to start up a fake religion that depended on a fake miracle, you would not start it up in the very city where this fake miracle was supposed to happen. You do not start it up less than a generation after the miracle was supposed to happen. You just can't do that with a fake. You can only do it with the truth - in this case, the truth that the resurrection is real.
The witnesses of the resurrection are not just credible witnesses because their accounts of the resurrection line up and make sense. They are also credible witnesses because they were willing to die rather than change their story. No sane person would die for a story that he knew was false. The fact that hundreds of martyrs gave up their lives shows us that the resurrection is the truth.
What does it mean that the resurrection is the truth? It means that when Jesus was on the cross and said, "It is finished," then it really is finished. He has taken all our sins away from us and made us righteous before God. It means that every promise He every made will come true. It means that those who believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins will live forever in the joy of His presence.
What does it mean that the resurrection is the truth? It means that the loved ones that we have buried in death will not remain that way forever. It means that when we buried them, we experienced a different kind of grief. We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our grief is the grief of those who will be apart for a long time, but not forever. The resurrection means that the day will come when we will see our loved ones again.
The resurrection means that when a believer dies, the Lord takes him out of this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven. It means he leaves behind all sin and sorrow - all pain and sickness - all that make life in this world so hard and frustrating. It means he now waits in the presence of the Lord, his savior, Christ Jesus.
The resurrection means that the day will come when Jesus will raise all the dead and will give eternal life to all believers in Christ. It means the day will come when there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell. It means that all those who wait with the Lord in heaven and all those who are still alive on the earth will be changed. We shall all live in our bodies, but these bodies will be immortal, heavenly, perfect bodies. They shall be our bodies, but all the corruption of sin will be gone.
The Apostle Paul describes it this way: [1 Corinthians 15:51-57] 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
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