“Christ died .…was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
In John Masefield’s drama The Trial of Jesus, there is a striking passage in which the Roman centurion in command of the soldiers at the cross comes back to Pilate to hand in his report of the day’s work. After the report is given, Pilate’s wife beckons to the centurion and begs him to tell how the Prisoner died. When the story has been told, she suddenly asks, “Do you think He is dead?” “No, lady,” answers the centurion, “I don’t.” “Then where is He?” to which the Roman replies, “Let loose in the world, lady, where…no one can stop His truth.” And so it proved, for as soon as Jesus was risen and ascended, He empowered His disciples to make known the gospel of the resurrection throughout the whole of the then-known world.
The gospel of the resurrection is an indisputable fact, an indispensable faith, and an irresistible force. Perhaps nobody sets this out as clearly as does the great apostle Paul in that classic chapter known as the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. To him, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was:
I. An Indisputable Fact
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel .…how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3-4). With the perception of a theologian and the brilliance of a logician, Paul declares that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ was, first of all:
1) A Fact of Prophecy
Christ “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). What an arresting phrase this is—“according to the Scriptures” ! What did Paul mean? Quite obviously, since there was no New Testament in those days, he was referring to what we call our Old Testament. Paul was a student of those Hebrew Scriptures, and from his familiarity with them he could declare with categorical impressiveness that Christ “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). In other words, the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets all predicted the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; see the Law (Genesis 3:15), the Psalms (1 Cor. 16:10-11; also Acts 2:25-31), the Prophets (Isaiah 53:10-11). Against the background of such Old Testament predictions Paul announces, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you .…how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;…and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3-4). The resurrection of the Savior is a fact of prophecy.
2) A Fact of History
“Christ died for our sins .…and…rose again” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Dr. F. F. Bruce points out that these words of the apostle Paul constitute one of the earliest pieces of documentary evidence concerning the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This statement of fact is dated less than twenty-five years after the Easter event. So impressive was this supporting evidence that it affected every one who heard it. Among the tens of thousands who were transformed by the gospel of the resurrection, Paul names three such witnesses in this very chapter—Peter (v. 5), James (v. 7), and Paul himself, (v. 8).
II. An Indispensable Faith
Proclaims the apostle: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain .…And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins…If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 19). In these words we have the apostle’s estimate of the significance and value of the pivotal event we commemorate on Easter Sunday. Everything depends upon this central fact—a risen Christ. If Christ was not raised, then our preaching is empty, our faith is false, and we .are in a state of abject misery. But since the resurrection of Christ is an indisputable fact, then it follows that the resurrection of Christ is an indispensable fact.
1) Faith in the Preaching of the Christ
“If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). In the last analysis, preaching represents the word of Christ. Everything that Jesus ever said during His earthly ministry must be judged in the light of the resurrection, for if He did not rise from the dead, how can we trust the words He spoke? How can we believe the claims He made? How can we aspire to the standards He set? In other words, if Christ was not raised, then both our preaching and our faith are vain. But Christ is risen, and as a result, every single word Jesus spoke rings with authority and vibrates with life; we can trust Him implicity.
2) Faith in the Power of the Cross
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus Christ never rose from the dead, then Calvary means nothing at all; other men have been crucified, and Jesus must be numbered among them. On the other hand, if He truly rose from the dead, then Calvary represents the unique redemptive act of God, providing forgiveness and salvation for men and women like you and me. Because He rose we can say that Christ “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). There is forgiveness and pardon through the blood of the cross because the resurrection of Jesus Christ invests that death with a saving significance. Peter knew this from personal experience. That is why he could write that we are “begotten…again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
3) Faith in the Prospect of the Church
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). When Jesus Christ was here upon earth, He said to His disciples, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). This prediction was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the nucleus of that Christian church was brought into being. Indeed, it is a fact of history that belief in the resurrection brought the church to birth. And when the church dispersed from Jerusalem to conquer the earth, it was the resurrection message that was the driving power behind it. If Christ had not physically and factually risen, the church which bears His name would have perished long ago, for numbers of fierce attacks—social, political and intellectual—have been launched against her down through the centuries. Often, indeed, she has seemed doomed and dead, and the grave diggers, like Hume, Voltaire, and others, have been busy; but always, like her Savior, she has risen from the grave and rolled away the stone. Only the fact of the resurrection of Jesus can explain the existence of the church of the living God.
What is more, the church has a glorious destiny, for beyond this life she has an eternal future. Christ, who gave Himself for the church, is coming back again to rapture His church, to present her without spot, or blemish, or defect, before the glory of the Father (Ephes. 5:27).
III. An Irresistible Force
“Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). If the opening of this amazing chapter deals with the fact of the resurrection, and the heart of the chapter presents the faith of the resurrection, then the concluding verses speak of the force of the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:54-57).
1) A Revealed Force
Paul states this succinctly when he says that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). Christ made some extraordinary claims before He went to the cross. Likening His body to the earthly temple, He announced, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19; see also John 10:17-18). Such statements as these were vindicated when the stone was rolled away and the grave was revealed to be empty. In the triumph of the resurrection the Son of God exemplified every other manifestation of divine power, including the creation of the world.
2) A Released Force
He said to His disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is well to remember that the teaching of Jesus was complete before He ever went to the cross. But the disciples were unable to preach His truth. They had the theory but they lacked the power. But on the basis of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit, in liberated resurrection life, and those weak disciples, filled with His life, boldly went everywhere making the Savior known. They could now preach with fearlessness and suffer even unto death.
Face up to this gospel of the resurrection as a fact, a faith, and a force in Christ—to believe and receive. And having believed and received, go out to a lost world and tell men and women that Jesus died and rose again to be the Savior of sinners.
…Sir Edward Clarke (1841-1931), English lawyer and politician, has attested: “As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidence for the events of the resurrection. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling” (Pulpit Helps, published by AMG International, Chattanooga, Tenn.).
…e.g. “Alfred Lord Tennyson met General William Booth while both were out walking. ‘General,’ said Tennyson, ‘what is the news this morning?’ ‘The news, sir,’ replied Booth, ‘is that Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification!’ ‘Ah,’ replied the poet, ‘that is old news, and new news, and good news’“ (Paul Rees, World Vision Magazine, April, 1966).
…Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956), American author and critic, was an irreverent and vicious cynic to the end. He once declared, “Either Jesus arose from the dead or He did not. If He did, then Christianity becomes plausible; if He did not, then it is sheer nonsense.” No, not sheer nonsense, but rather false and powerless. False, because Jesus said He would rise. If He did not rise, then He and all the apostles are found liars. Powerless, because He is not alive to make good His promises. If Christ was not raised, we Christians are yet in our sins. But thank God, that is not so. Christ is risen indeed, is alive forevermore, and holds the keys of hell and of death.
…An anonymous writer has said that “the church of Christ owes its very existence to the fact that in this…graveyard of the world there is one gaping tomb, one rent sepulchre.”
…e.g. “A father and mother lost three children in one week by diphtheria. Only the little three-year-old girl escaped. On Easter morning, the father, mother, and child were in Sunday School. The father was the superintendent. He led the school in worship and read the Easter message from the Bible without a break in his voice. Many in the school were weeping, but the faces of the father and mother remained serene and calm. ‘How can they do it?’ men and women asked each other as they left the church. A fifteen-year-old boy, walking home with his father said, ‘Father, I guess the superintendent and his wife really believe all of it—Easter, you know!’ ‘Of course,’ answered the father, ‘all Christians believe it!’ ‘Not as they believe,’ said the boy.
“Do you really believe in Easter? Is the resurrected Christ your hope? Can you say with the apostle Paul, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:54-57)?” (B. Charles Hostetter, Informer, April, 1961).