Raised? Really?
Dr. Greg Fell
1 Corinthians 15:3-20
September 23, 2017

Open our Father’s Word if you would this morning to 1st Corinthians chapter 15, and as you're opening to 1st Corinthians 15 I would proclaim to you, “He’s risen!”

[Congregation quiet]

That was really weak. [Congregation laughs]  I mean, like on Easter Sunday you say “He's risen indeed” and it's half a year later and – ah – that was so six months ago, right?  Later.  Later.

Do you really believe in the person of Jesus Christ?

I have a friend who I will call Bob because, well, his name's Bob.  A Jewish friend.  And he knows that I'm partially Jewish by birth and for the past six years Bob and I have been having this discussion.  And Bob says, “Well, I don't know if Jesus even really physically existed.  It's kind of like, I don't know, you know the abdominal snowman or something like that.  It's like an urban legend.”

I think, well, that's just real convenient if you don't want to believe in something you just dismiss it as truth.  And what about that whole resurrection story?  Even if we can prove that Jesus existed, that resurrection story is kind of wonky, don't you think?  I mean a guy dies and then He comes back to life?

I even have some questions about the resurrected body.  It says if you're a believer that we're going to have a resurrected body, and my question to the Lord is, “Well okay, which one do I get?  Do I – am I stuck with this one, or do I get my younger version of me, you know?  And do I get any say in this, because I'd like a shorter nose if you don't mind.  And I kind of miss hair, you know?

So have you ever thought about not only what you just said you believed in: yes, Jesus really existed, but how do you defend that to the culture, the community, the neighborhood in which you live?  And by the way, you can't use Scripture because they don't accept the Bible that you're holding as truth.  My friend Bob does not.

So regarding the person of Jesus, let's deal with that one first.  We really have to go to the historians, and I've done this with Bob.  Let's look at what the ancient historians and then the modernists also say.  This is the argument that I've had with Bob.  For instance, if we go back to the first century AD there's a historian known as Flavius Josephus.  Flavius Josephus was a Jew who did not believe in the miracles and claims of Christ, but in his infamous work called “Antiquities” he mentions the person of Jesus.  That there was a man from Nazareth, who walked the face of the earth, who said the things that we have recorded in our scripture that Jesus said.

Or if we go to one of the Hellenistic.  One of the Greek historians.  There's Publius Tacitus.  And Publius Tacitus, who's one of the greatest Roman historians of the 1st century AD, not only mentions Christ but he also talks in his work about the crucifixion of Christ.  He talks about Pontius Pilate.  He talks about the entire event that we also have recorded in Scripture.

So the ancient historians would affirm, well yes, Jesus did exist.  Well, what are the modernists saying?  Again I'm going to quote from two unbelievers.

If you go to Bart Ehrman, who's a secular agnostic, which means he doesn't even believe in God let alone Jesus.  He says this in his work.  Regarding Jesus he says he certainly existed as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees.

Or Michael Grant, who's a classicist.  Michael Grant says, “in recent years no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus, or at any rate very few.  And, they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger indeed very abundant evidence to the contrary.”

So that's my apologetic to Bob, to the culture, to the community.  You say, “I don't know if he even physically exists.”  Oh yeah, He did.

But what about that crazy resurrection claim of the Christians?  That's really what all Christian faith hinges upon.  In fact, look at 1st Corinthians 15 verse 16.  Paul is writing to the church in Corinth 30 years following the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And even the Christians in Corinth doubt the resurrection, as evidenced by this passage.  Paul's making an apologetic.  He says in verse 16 f the dead are not raised not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ hasn't been raised then your faith is fuel you're still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

This “fallen asleep” is not what you're doing right now while I'm talking.  This is a euphemism for those who've died.  They've perished!  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, then we are of all people most to be pitied.

So why is Paul writing this to Christians in Corinth 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ?  Well, it is because they're influenced by their culture, just as you are.  The reality is culture informs our theology more than our theology informs our culture.  And that's unfortunate.

Let me tell you what the culture was at that time.  There were basically two groups at the time that Paul wrote this.  You have those who are the Jewish people and those who are the Greek – the Hellenists.  And there were three different philosophies at the time.  Both the Jews and the Greeks believed in the supernatural, but for the most part they did not believe in the resurrected body.  And their argument is, “why would you want a resurrected body?”  After you die, do you really want to – but have you ever wished you didn't have the body that you have?

Have you ever been that sick?  Have you ever been so sick that you were afraid you were gonna die and then you got sicker and you were afraid you wouldn't?  I mean, why would you want a body?  And that was the thinking.

There were three major philosophies at the time of Christ.  Those who followed Homer.  Homer had this philosophy where he said when we die the body ceases to exist – the spirit goes on living, but it goes on living in a place called Hades for eternity.  Now if you're paying attention, that's bad news!

Plato agreed with Homer that the body dies; the spirit goes on living in a place called Hades.  But Plato said Hades wasn't a bad place, it was a good place.  Because, you go on for the rest of eternity to discuss philosophy.  And all but two of you are laughing.  The two philosophers in the room are not.  There's a reason you have no friends [laughs].

Then there was a third group called the Epicureans.  The epicurean said not only does the body die but also the spirit dies.  We just go into random particles into the universe.  And so the epicurean mantra is “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”  In other words enjoy life while you can because after this there's nothing.

So that's what the influence of the culture and the philosophy of the day was in Corinth.  And the idea was, why would you want a resurrected body?

The second group were the Jews.  Now the Jews had a different idea about the afterlife.  They did believe in the resurrection of the body.  All except for one sect of the Jews called the Sadducees; they didn't believe in the resurrection, they went along with the Hellenists.  But the rest of the Jews said, “Well it says in the Old Testament, you know, God created the body.  He created male and female.  If He created it it's a good thing, it's worthy to be preserved, and therefore it's worthy to be resurrected into eternity.  But!  We shall all be resurrected at the end of history.  At the end of time.  Together.”

The problem they had with the resurrection of Jesus was He rose at the wrong time in history.  He rose in the middle not at the end!  Oh and he did it by himself, which was kind of selfish, don't you think?  So that's why they had a problem with Jesus's resurrection.

And by the way, have you ever had doubts? I mean on Sunday you say, “oh yes we believe in Jesus.  We believe in the resurrection.”  But on Tuesday at 3 in the morning, have you ever thought, is this real?  Is this real?  Look at verse 12.  If Christ is preached that He's been raised from the dead, how does some among you say there's no resurrection of the dead?  Speak Paul's writing to those who doubt.

And by the way, if you've ever doubted, don't feel bad.  You're in great company.  I'm going to start referring to a passage in Luke chapter 24. You don't have to turn there.  Most of you will remember the story.  But there was a lot of doubt of those who were even following Christ at the time His crucifixion and His resurrection.  In Luke chapter 24, following the death, the crucifixion of Jesus, there were His followers, His disciples.  They’re kind of hiding because they thought, “Well we've been following Jesus and they came after Him, so they're going to come after us as well.”

Now the role traditionally in the culture at that time: when a, when a Jewish person would die it was the Jewish woman's role to anoint and prepare the body for burial.  But there was a problem because there's also another Jewish tradition and that is – in fact it was a law, a rabbinical law at the time – that you could not work on the Sabbath.  In fact you did nothing on the Jewish Sabbath.  You weren't even allowed to cook on the Jewish Sabbath.  You had to cook meals in preparation for that 24 hour of Sabbath.  You couldn't walk but a certain distance from your home. You couldn't do your job.  The Sabbath was for rest, relaxation.  It was for a time of worshipping God.  You couldn't even check your Facebook back then, okay?

Here's the problem. Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon. The Jewish Sabbath is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  There wasn't time to prepare the body.  So what did they do?  They took the body, they placed it in a tomb, they rolled a stone over the tomb, and they said we'll come back on early Sunday morning.  By the way, that's where we get our tradition of the sunrise service.  And we will prepare the body.  And that's exactly what they did.

So in Luke chapter 24, the women come to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body as they were supposed to do.  As they come to the tomb they see the stone rolled away.  They look inside, they see that the bodies missing.  And there are two men in white clothing – turns out they’re angels.  Women don't recognize that at the time, and they said to the men, “What have you done with His body?”  And the response to the women was, “Well, He's not here.  He's risen from the dead just as He said.  Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”

So it's real clear that Christ had already taught them He was going to rise from the dead, but they doubted.  So much that they even believed the body would be there.  Later in that passage there are two men that are walking on the road to Emmaus, and they're having this discussion of all that had taken place over the past week.  They're talking about all of the events that had happened in Jerusalem.  Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, comes up and joins them but they don't recognize Him as Jesus.  And the two men in that passage are even named: it's Cleopas and the other guy.  I mean, how would you like to be mentioned in Scripture as a footnote, you know?  You're the other guy.

Anyway, they're talking and Jesus says, “What are you guys talking about?”  They said, “you're not from around these parts, are you?”  Okay, marginal reading.  “You don't know what's just happened?!”  And they – there’s a whole paragraph in that chapter of Luke talking – and they explain all that had happened.  Christ then takes them to the Old Testament Scriptures and he begins teaching them for the better part of that afternoon in that walk all that must happen.  And they get to the end of that discussion and they go, “Huh!  You're Him, aren't You?”  They also doubted the resurrection.

Or how about that guy named Thomas?  We call Thomas the – it’s been two millennia and you still can't let that go, can you?  One sentence out of this man's mouth for his entire life, and that's what we remember him for.  Even the disciples didn't believe.  They're holed up in the room, the women come back and they announce to the disciples, “He's not there!  He's risen!” and they go… “you guys have been hanging out in Colorado smoking the product, haven’t ya?”

Peter runs.  I love Peter.  You know Peter is this impetuous, expressive guy.  He's always, you know, sinking in water, cutting off ears, that kind of thing.  But at this point I love what Peter does.  He runs to the grave.  He says – he comes back and says, “No, he's not there.”

For some reason, we don't know where Thomas was, but he wasn't in the room at the time when the women came back.  He comes into the room – this is great, this is great – and he says as he comes back into the room and they declared to him, “He's not there!  He's risen!”  And Thomas goes, “Unless I touch the nail prints in his hands, in his feet, I won't believe.”

I love God's timing and I love God's sense of humor.  Jesus waits until that moment.  Walks into the room, puts His arm around Thomas.  “Hey, how’s it going Tom?”

You know, I would have loved to have had a picture of Thomas's expression at that point.  And Jesus says, “Thomas.  Unless you touch and feel, you won't believe?  How blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”

The issue today in America is this.  We have a hard time believing in the supernatural because we are Western thinkers.  In America, our culture is scientific.  We are empiricists.  We look at rational thought, and unless we can touch and feel and taste and measure, we don't believe.

If I were to ask you where the current statistical geographic center of Christianity on the entire globe is, where would you think it would be?  Many of you would say the North American continent, and I would say you are wrong.  If you were to map all those who believe who say that they are Christians around the entire globe, the current statistical geographical center of Christianity is in a place called Timbuktu.  It's in Mali, Africa.  Timbuktu.

Or if I were to ask you which continent has the most number of those who are professing Christians, again you might say the North American continent.  Again you would be wrong.  The most – the largest number of believing, professing, Christians on the entire globe are on the European continent, not the North American continent.  Now granted, the European continent is a much larger landmass and has a much larger population.  But the reality is Christianity abounds predominantly in countries where the supernatural not is only believed but is experienced on a daily basis.  The southern half of the globe, not the northern half of the globe.

So what is your evidence of the resurrection to somebody in your culture, in your neighborhood, in your job, in your workplace that doesn't believe?  I'm going to share 3 with you this morning.

First the belief of the doubters.  If you can convince someone of the truth of something that they are skeptical about, that's pretty strong evidence.  Look at verse 5.  Paul is writing this as a historical understanding that they knew was true, and he says, “Here's the evidence.”  He appeared to Cephas, then to the 12.  He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time.  Most of them were still alive though some had fallen asleep.  He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles.  And last of all as to one untimely born, he appeared to me.  I am the least of the Apostles, unworthy to be called one, because I persecuted the Church of God.  In other words, Paul says, “Even I doubted.”

So the belief of the doubters.  That's a pretty strong evidence, and there's good historical evidence of all this large mass that believed in the resurrection after his death.  Well, my friend Bob would say, “That was just mass delusion.”  Okay, let's go with that possibility.  I mean it is true that when emotional events happen across the globe there are mass groups of people that will follow that.  Let's go with what about that idea.

That's the second evidence of the resurrection.  The transformation of the culture.  You see, when people go crazy, what do they do?  I don't care what the culture, what the time period, what the race.  When somebody goes crazy, they isolate from society, they withdraw, and when approached, they attack.

What did these Christians do?  Just the opposite.  If it was mass delusion, they would have isolated.  They would have withdrawn.  But instead they ran into the culture.  They were so convinced of the resurrection, that when the culture was abandoning the elderly and the poor and the widows, they ran in with love and compassion.  They were so transformed by the reality of “Wow!  There is more to life than what we've got right here!” that they realized they needed to share the reality of the resurrection and the power of God.

The transformation of the culture is a great evidence, but the third and I think most compelling evidence of the resurrection is the uniqueness of the message.  I'm going to make a generalization here, and as you make generalizations there are always exceptions.  But generally speaking, what do most religions claim you need to do if you want to have an afterlife?  And the answer is we really need to live a good life, right?  If you lead a good life and you do the right things, well, then you have chance in the afterlife.  Christianity is the only faith that turns that on its head.  Christianity is the only religion where we are restored to God not by our works, but by His works.  Christianity is the only faith that has a prophet who has died for its followers.

Paul says in verse 3, “I delivered to you as of first importance that which I also received.  That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.  He was buried and on the third day,  He rose in accordance with the scriptures.”  That’s unique.  Ours is the only faith where God says you can't be good enough for the afterlife, but I'm going to make you good.  I'm going to come and die in your place.  I'm going to step onto earth in the form of man.  And I'm going to redeem you in relationship to myself.

So what? Well, most people live with the idea of what if?  What if my spouse dies or leaves me?  What if my business fails?  What if a hurricane comes through my town such as Houston, or Florida and – and takes all that I've got?  What if I get cancer?  What if?  That's the fear of humanity.

If you really believe in the resurrection, you don't live in the what if.  You live in the even if.  Well, even if my spouse leaves me, or dies, or a hurricane takes all that I've got, or my finances fail, or even if, I still have the hope of eternity.  You see, if you really believe in the resurrection that transforms your entire thinking about culture.  Suddenly instead of being defensive you care about others.  You reach out because God's love and compassion has been experienced in your life and you want to share it with others.

You're no longer judgmental of others, you are concerned about them and realize just like you, they are broken but they have hope.  You see, the even if tells me, “Wow!  I have a hope that the rest of the world doesn't have.”  If you believe in the resurrection, you live differently as did the early Christians, and you also are an ambassador to your culture.  Your behavior is transformed because you have joy where there was not joy.  You have peace where you lack that.  You don't fear any longer but you have – oh, if you really believe in the resurrection…  Well, you're able to proclaim as Paul did in verses 20, 21, and 22.

In fact, I'm going to ask you.  Would you stand if you believe in the resurrection?  Would you stand where you're at right now and proclaim that with me by a confession of faith as Paul writes it in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verses 20 through 22?

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

He's risen!  [He’s risen indeed!]

See, you said that with a little bit more conviction than you said at the beginning of the message.  There is a Creed called the Apostles Creed, and Hillsong has put that into a musical form.  I just find it a great confession of our faith, and the worship team is going to lead us in that.  Maybe some of you know this.  It was being played before the service, but let's sing together the Apostles Creed.

[Music]

Our Father everlasting
The all-creating One
God Almighty

Through Your Holy Spirit
Conceiving Christ the Son
Jesus our Savior

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one!

I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus