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The Heart of the Gospel

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:3-8


Well obviously, we are here today to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I think it's important to begin with the obvious question, and that is, does it really matter? Is it really that important to the Christian faith that the body of its Founder doesn't lie in some grave in the Middle East? Here's how Paul put it: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; [and] you are still in your sins." If Christ has not been raised, the Christian faith as we know it is worthless, and we are still in our sins. The resurrection is absolutely essential. J. Oswald Sanders, writing in his book The Incomparable Christ, writes this:

Of all the great religions, Christianity alone bases its claim to acceptance on the resurrection of its Founder. If it's not a fact ... our faith is without factual basis and is therefore empty. The Scripture writers become purveyors of intentional lies, and the Scriptures themselves unreliable. Deliverance from the penalty and power of sin is [nothing] more than a mirage.... Thus, Paul makes Christianity answer with its life for the truth of the resurrection.

It is, in fact, the heart of everything. That is Paul's point in the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church, where I invite you to turn with me this morning, 1 Corinthians 15.

Paul's purpose in this chapter is to respond to something that he'd heard was going on with the Corinthians. You see it down in verse 12, the end of the verse, "… how do some [of] you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" Paul had apparently heard that there were influential men in the Corinthian church who denied that the bodies of believers in Christ would ever be raised. They were probably Greeks. The Greeks accepted the immortality of the soul, but they really thought the idea of the resurrection of a physical body to be reunited with that immortal soul was a bit ridiculous. And so, apparently, they carried over that from their past into their faith in Christianity. And so, they were apparently teaching that once the believer's body dies, he continues to exist, but only his spirit not his body. That's the error Paul is trying to correct in chapter 15.

Here's the basic flow of his argument in this great chapter. The first 11 verses, Paul makes the point that the resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential to the Christian faith. It is an essential part of the gospel. And none of them were doubting the resurrection of Christ. But he wants it clear that this is absolutely crucial. In the second section, verses 12 - 34, he ties the resurrection of Christ to the resurrection, the future resurrection, of believers. The resurrection of Jesus Christ demands, eventually, the physical resurrection of those who believe in Him. Paul says to deny one is to deny the other. And then he finishes the chapter in verses 35 - 58 describing exactly what the nature of a resurrected body will be. It will have some similarities to our bodies today, but it will not be the same. And he explains those differences in the last part of this chapter.

Now this morning, I want us to look at just the first section of this chapter where Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection is a central tenet of the gospel that he preached. Notice in verses 1 and 2, Paul says, I'm about to "… make known to you…." Actually, they already knew it. This is a little tongue-in-cheek, frankly, a slight rebuke to them. He says I'm going to "… make known to you…," or better, I'm going to review or summarize for you the heart of my message.

Now notice what Paul says about his message in verse 3. Verse 3 says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…." I delivered it to you. Paul had already delivered this message to them; in fact, if you go back to the book of Acts, chapter 18 says that Paul was the first one to deliver this message to the Corinthians. He came into their city; he went into the synagogue, and he shared the gospel. And in fact, he lived there for 18 months. And so, again and again they had heard this message from him. Paul adds that he didn't invent this message. Notice what he says in verse 3, "… I also received …" it. That is, he received it from Christ and from Christ's Apostles. He says that in Galatians 1:11 and 12. But notice how he identifies this message in verse 3, it is "of first importance." It is primary; it is central; it is indispensable to the Christian faith.

So, what is this message he's talking about? Well look back in verse 1. There he calls it "… the gospel…." The Greek word translated "gospel" is "euaggelion". It literally means "to deliver a good message or a good report or good news." You see, the gospel, as the New Testament describes it, is simply the announcement that God has made to men, the announcement by God of good news to us. It is the central message of Christianity. And in verses 3 - 8, Paul summarizes that announcement God has made, that good message that God has delivered to us as His creatures through His Son and through the Apostles. Let me read it for you, 1 Corinthians 15:3,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Now, in this amazing summary of the message that he preached, Paul reduces the gospel; he reduces the core message of Christianity to four basic propositions. Four basic propositions. But notice the propositions are all about a person. The gospel, the good news, is about a person, Jesus Christ. The good news isn't in you; it's not in me. There's no good news to be found anywhere in our own hearts. The good news is about a person. And the good news is captured, primarily, in four events from this person's life: notice in verse 3, He "died"; verse 4, "He was buried"; also in verse 4, "He was raised"; and then in verse 5 and through 8, "He appeared." He died; He was buried; He was raised; and He appeared. There are the four basic propositions that make up the central message of the Christian faith. Let's look at them together.

The first proposition is: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. This first proposition of the gospel has to do with the reason Jesus died. And notice, the reason had to do with "sins." Now, we don't like the word sin so much, but it's a simple word to understand. It simply means "the violation of God's law or God's standard." That's sin: the violation of God's law or God's standard.

You see, the Bible teaches that God is our holy Creator and our rightful King. The Bible begins this way: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." God made absolutely everything. And the fact that He created everything means that He owns everything, including you and me. In fact, Psalm 24 puts it like this: "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." We all belong to God: He created us; He owns us; He sustains our lives every moment. And because He created us, because He owns us; He then has every right to tell us what to do and how to live. In fact, to help us understand the relationship that we all have to our Creator, the Bible often refers to Him as the King of all the earth. Psalm 47, He's called "the King of all the earth." God, our Creator and our rightful King—we, you know, we don't often think of God as King. Because we live in a democracy, we're so used to calling the shots and choosing our leaders. We didn't choose our Creator, He created us. This is not a democracy. The universe in which we live is not a democracy, it is a theocracy, a monarchy, run by our rightful King. And God, our Creator, our rightful King, is holy and pure and completely without sin.

And like every king, the King of the universe has established laws for living in His kingdom. And He's established rewards for keeping those laws, and penalties for breaking them. Those laws of His are written in the bible. They're also written, in some sense, on the conscience of every person. You sense that there is a standard for right behavior, and when you violate that standard, what does your conscience do? Yours, like mine, condemns me: you shouldn't have done that. That is a reflection of the rightful King giving us His laws.

What He demands of us is perfect obedience. That's a pretty high standard, but that's what He says. Listen to James 2:10, "Whoever keeps [God's] whole law and yet stumbles in one point [James writes], he has become guilty of all." That means if we sin just once, we are as guilty or as liable to punishment as if we had broken all of God's laws. You say, wait a minute, that doesn't seem fair. How can only one sin create that problem? How can one sin make us deserving of eternal punishment? Think for a moment of a stained-glass window. It consists of many individual pieces that have been joined together. How many times would you have to hit a stained-glass window with a hammer in order to ruin the entire window? Just one time. Hit it one time with a hammer, and it is no longer whole. The same is true with the law of God.

Though it is made up of a number of individual laws, God's law is a whole. In fact, it consists of two indivisible commands. Jesus Christ, when He was on the earth, explained what those commands are: you are to love God perfectly your entire life, every moment, and so am I; and we are to love everyone in our lives as we love ourselves. That's the standard. That's the high and holy character of our God, and it's what He has established for His subjects. So, how many times do we have to act in selfishness or self-love to fail to love God and others perfectly? Fail for only one moment your entire life, and you have shattered the commands to love God perfectly and to love others perfectly, and you and I immediately become deserving of punishment and judgment. So, God is our holy Creator, and He's our rightful King, who has told us how to live in a way in keeping with His own perfect righteous character.

But here's the bad news: we have all rebelled against God's rightful authority in our lives. Paul describes our response to God. Did you see it in 1 Corinthians 15 in the words "our sins"? Sins: our violation of God's laws. We have each rebelled against what we knew about God, what He wanted from us. We feel it in the pains of conscience. We see it when we read the Bible. Frankly, we see it when we look at the life of Jesus Christ. And we haven't just sinned once, but we have sinned plural: sins. So, we have shattered God's standard of perfection again and again and again and again. That's the reality. In spite of that, ask the average person how he or she hopes to get to heaven, and even though they know they sin, somehow, we have all convinced ourselves that God must be happy with our best efforts: if I just do the best I can, He'll be happy.

It's been a long time, but I remember when I was in school. You probably do too. Some of you still are. And you're in school; occasionally you face a really hard class; not talking about Shop or PE, I'm talking about one of those really hard classes. And it's so hard that the teacher gives you tests. You know, those are to evaluate how you're doing in the class. And you take a test, and the entire class does so poorly that the teacher has to do something. And so, the teacher changes the entire grading scale. Let's say 75%, which used to get you only a C, because everyone did so poorly, and even though you got 75%, and you're at the top of the class, and so what was once a C becomes a low A. And you rejoiced: this is great! They call that grading on a curve.

But you know how it happens. Once that happened in one class, it becomes easy for students to assume this is going to happen again. This is, you know, school's not as hard as I thought it was; it's going to happen with every teacher; every teacher will grade on a curve. You remember the shock it was when you took that Algebra test, and Mr. Mathematician didn't grade on a curve; instead, we got the grade we truly deserved?

This is how it works spiritually. We live in a world that is filled with people that when it comes to goodness and spirituality, everybody grades on a curve. We all score poorly and so we go around congratulating each other on how wonderful our 30% looks: it's great, oh, you got 50, wonderful, good for you! And we begin to get the idea that that's how it is with God. Maybe God grades on a curve too. Listen, we can kid ourselves all we want, but that's not what God says.

Let me show you how God grades our keeping of His laws. Look at Romans 3. Romans 3:9. This is painful to read, but this is God, our rightful King, assessing our conformity to His laws. Verse 9, Romans 3, Paul writes, "What then? Are we better than they?" Here he's contrasting Jews and Gentiles, and he says no, nobody's better. "For we have already charged that both Jews and … [Gentiles] are all under sin…." And then he quotes from the Old Testament. Now, listen to God's grade of your morality and my morality:







Look over at verse 23, "…for all have sinned and … [are falling] short of the glory of God…." Not only have we all sinned again and again and again, violated God's standard, we also consistently and constantly fail to measure up to God's standard of perfection. That is God's grade of every human being.

And the consequences of our failure to keep His law are absolutely disastrous. How does God say He's going to respond to our failure? Is He going to grade on a curve, and it'll all be OK? Look over at chapter 6 of Romans. verse 23, "For the wages [our sin has earned us] the wages of sin is death." Not just physical death (Although that's certainly a reality for every human being as a result of sin.), but as Jesus explains in His ministry, as the rest of the New Testament explains, something more ominous: eternal death. That is, an eternal existence separated from God, enduring the punishment our sins have earned. That's what Jesus taught.

Now here's the point. Not a single one of us has the slightest whisper of a hope of getting right with God on our own. Our grade will never measure up to His standard. We cannot rescue ourselves. That's the background behind the idea of "sins" in 1 Corinthians 15. And that brings us back to Paul's statement there. Look at 1 Corinthians 15 again. Now it makes sense. "Christ died for our sins." Jesus came to rescue us, to be our Savior is another way of saying that, to spirituality rescue us.

And notice, Paul calls Him here "Christ." That is not Jesus' last name. You know, we hear Jesus Christ, and you think Jesus is His first name, Christ His second name. "Christ" is a title. It's the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Hebrew word for Messiah. You see, long before Jesus came in the first century, hundreds of years before, the Old Testament prophesied that a special One would come, the Anointed One. He was called the Messiah, Hamashea. He would come and deal with sin.

Now here's the good news. I've described God accurately to you. It's the way the Bible describes Him: He is a God of impeccable holiness, purity; He cannot look with any delight on a single sin; His justice demands that every single sin you and I commit be punished. That's all true. But that's not all that's true of God. He's also a God who is a being of incredible love and goodness. And His own great heart was moved with our misery, with what we had done to ourselves, with the slavery with which we had enslaved ourselves, and He acted on our behalf. In fact, you're familiar with the most famous verse in all the bible: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His ... Son." God loved you and me so much that He sent His Son into the world, His eternal Son who was absolutely equal with Him. And although He continued to be God, when He came into the world He also came as a full human being. He was everything you are except for sin, fully human.

Why did He come? He came for two reasons. He came into the world to live the life sinners should have lived. Ever wondered why Jesus didn't just come down for the weekend, die on Friday, rise on Sunday, go back on Monday? He was here for 33 years. Why? He needed to live the perfect life God's laws demand. And He did for 33 years. He lived life the way you and I should be living it: a perfect life that perfectly met God's standard. That's why Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5, said, He "knew no sin." Or what about Peter? Peter was with Him day in and day out for the better part of three years during His earthly ministry. You know what Peter said about Him? 1 Peter 2:22: He "committed no sin." People who live with you ever said that? He came to live the life we should have lived.

He also came to die the death sinners should have died. Jesus Himself said He came to die. He said He came to give His life as a ransom. That's why He came. Not for Himself, not for His own sins, He didn't have any. Listen to Paul speaking to those who believe in Jesus. Paul says in verse 3, "Christ died for our sins." The Greek word that's translated "for" here means "on account of." There is some relationship, Paul says, between Jesus' death and our sins, the sins of those who believe. The question is, what is that relationship? Well, we don't have to live in suspense. Jesus Himself defined it in a verse we looked at a few weeks ago on Sunday night.

In Mark 10:45, Jesus said this, "… Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life [as] a ransom for many." Now the "for" there is a different Greek word. The Greek word there is the word "anti". It only means one thing, always only one thing. Jesus says, I came to give My life as a ransom in the place of many. Jesus Himself defined the reason for His death, the relationship between His death and sins, as substitution. Substitution. So, Christ died for sins in the sense that He died in the place of those whose sins had merited death. God's holiness, God's justice, demands that every single sin you and I have committed be punished. Christ took on Himself the guilt of each one of those sins of everyone who will ever believe in Him, and then He suffered the just punishment of God against each one of those sins during those six hours on the cross that Friday. God the Father turned His back on His Son like you and I deserve to have God turn away from us.

You say, is that really what was happening at the cross? Listen to Paul in Romans 3. He says, "God [publicly displayed] Jesus." He put Jesus on public display on the cross. He refers to the cross in that verse, and then he says, as the "propitiation." Now that's a big word we don't use very often, but it's a word that simply means this: as the satisfaction of God's wrath against sin. That's exactly what was happening on the cross. Or take 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in Him. Or a verse we looked at Friday night. First Peter 2:24, "… [Christ] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the cross." There's the remarkable truth of what happened on the cross. Jesus took the guilt of every single sin of every single person who would ever believe in Him, and then He suffered God's punishment against those sins.

By the way, this idea of the Messiah dying, and of His dying as a substitute for sinners? Paul says, this wasn't some new idea I invented. Look at what he says, it was "according to the Scriptures." According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. There are a lot of places we could go to see the prophecies of Jesus' death, but of course the most famous, the most clear, Isaiah 53. Look at it with me. Isaiah 53:5, "He was pierced through for our transgressions." Now remember, this is 700 years Isaiah is writing before Jesus' death.

… He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the LORD has caused the iniquity [or the moral perversion of each of us]

To fall on Him [to strike Him].

Verse 8, "… He was cut off out of the land of the living [He died] For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?" Verse 10, "The LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; …" and Christ made Himself a "guilt offering" to God. Referring to the sacrifice when you sinned and you offered a guilt sacrifice to God, Jesus was Himself a guilt offering on behalf of sinners. Verse 11 ends by saying the Servant will bare the iniquities of His people. So, it was "according to the Scriptures."

So, the first proposition of the gospel is, Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. That brings us to the second. That one's foundational, we took longer with it. Let's look at the other three.

Number two: Christ "was buried." Christ was buried. All four gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) explain how Jesus' body was buried. It was taken down from the cross on Friday afternoon before sunset, because the Sabbath day began at sunset. It couldn't stay on the cross through the Sabbath. And then two men (the Bible tells us), two very wealthy, influential men, who were members of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, but who had become followers of Jesus Christ secretly (Their names are Nicodemus, you meet in John 3, and the other is a man called Joseph from Arimathea.), they took the body of Christ delivered to them by Pilate, and they quickly prepared it for burial. They had to get this done before sunset.

So, they took the body and they wrapped it, the Scriptures tell us, with strips of cloth. And in between the layers of strips of cloth, they added about 75 pounds of this sticky, gummy, aromatic spices to keep down the odor from the body. And then they placed the body that had been prepared in a nearby, new tomb. It was, in fact, the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had had made for himself. We know even today, basically, where that tomb is in Jerusalem. Once Joseph and Nicodemus had placed Jesus' body into the tomb, they sealed the tomb with a very large, circular stone. Paul says our Lord "was buried."

Now, why is that an important part of the gospel? For two reasons. First of all, because it was evidence of His genuine, physical death. Jesus really died. It'd been guaranteed already by the Roman soldier. You remember, at the appeal of the Jewish leaders, you couldn't leave the three bodies (Jesus' and the two thieves') on the cross on the Sabbath day, and so they had to hasten their death.

Well, the death of crucifixion was the death of suffocation, a slow lingering death in which the victim would pull himself up to get a breath of air, and then drop back down on the weight of the wounds. And when he could stand it no longer, and his lungs began to crush for need of air, he'd push himself back up and get another breath of air, sink back down. It was a slow excruciating death of suffocation. So, to hasten the death, the Romans had a way of coming through, and with a great iron bar, breaking the legs of the victim, so that they could no longer push themselves up. Very quickly their life would flee.

But when they came to Jesus, they noted He was already dead. But a Roman soldier was responsible to ensure the death of a crucifixion victim, and so John tells us that a soldier did what was typical of Roman soldiers at that time when there was a crucifixion. To ensure the death of the victim, he came, with Jesus, with a spear. Now when you see paintings of the spear in Jesus' side, there's like this tiny, little gash here in His side, like he pricked Him with the point to see if blood came out. Unfortunately, the picture is far more gory and brutal than that. This Roman soldier was there to insure Jesus was dead, and so he took his spear and he rammed it up through the abdomen into the chest cavity, piercing the heart to ensure that Jesus was in fact dead. The Centurion certified to Pilate the governor that Jesus was dead. He was certifiably dead, and that's why he was buried. You don't bury a live a person. He was buried, because it was well known He was in fact dead.

Jesus' burial also would become a key piece of evidence in His authentic, physical resurrection. There are two lines of evidence that convinced His disciples of the resurrection. One of those was the empty tomb. We'll look at the other in a moment. His body had been placed in a tomb near where He'd been crucified. Here's the key. Everybody knew where the tomb of Jesus was: not only His disciples (Two of them had put His body there.), the women had watched and were coming back on Sunday morning (as we read this morning) to further anoint the body with spices; and on Saturday, the leaders of the Sanhedrin had gotten Pilate to put a Roman guard at the tomb to check and make sure the body was still there, then to seal it and guard it. Everybody knew where the tomb of Jesus was. Even though it was sealed and guarded by the Romans, on Sunday it was empty. And it still is. Even Jesus' enemies, who knew where the tomb was, never one time denied the empty tomb, and they never produced the body. The best they could come up with was some lame story about the disciples stealing His body when they had placed a Roman guard in front of it to ensure that didn't happen. Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried.

The third great proposition of the gospel Paul preached is: Christ "… was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. If you examine the sermons of the early church in the book of Acts, you quickly discover that the resurrection is at the heart of all of those sermons, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of the gospel. Jesus had really died. His corpse had really been buried, but "He was raised." Literally, the Greek text uses the perfect tense: He has been raised. The verb implies an event that happened in the past with permanent results. Jesus was raised at a point in time and is still alive. He now has the power of an indestructible life.

I love what John writes that Jesus said to him on the Isle of Patmos. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, "I am ... the living One; ... I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys … [that is, the authority] [over] death and … [the grave.]" He was raised from the dead. By means of a divine miracle, God caused the physical life in the body of Jesus to be restored. If you've ever stood over the body of a loved one, someone that you loved dearly, and looked down at his or her lifeless body, you know exactly what happened to Jesus. That's exactly what He experienced. He was physically dead, but the life that left His body on Friday came back on Sunday morning.

But it wasn't the same kind of resurrection as those He Himself had performed. Take Lazarus for example. What had Jesus done with Lazarus just six weeks before? He had spectacularly, fantastically raised him from the dead after four days. In fact, his own sister said, don't remove the stone because his body already stinks, decay has started. And Jesus comes and raises him from the dead. But when He raised Lazarus, he raised him in the same physical body in which he had lived before. He just restored that same body to health. Lazarus eventually died again. I always thought that would have been hard. But that time he stayed dead. There's no Lazarus anywhere on earth today. He's dead. His body has fully decayed in some Middle Eastern grave.

But when the Father raised Jesus, He didn't just give Him the same body He had before, He gave Him a new, glorified, perfect body. That's why in Philippians 3, talking about us in the future, he says, "[He] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory." It was a real, physical body. Jesus said after His resurrection, I have flesh and bones, I'm not a spirit. He urged the disciples to touch and feel that He had a real, physical body. He ate and drank often with His disciples; the account is recorded. And yet it was different. It was a body no longer subject to normal human weaknesses, no longer subject to illnesses and diseases or to death. It was the kind of body that someday those who believe in Jesus will also have. Paul describes it right here in this chapter. Look down at 1 Corinthians 15:42. Here's what it was like:

So also, is the resurrection of the dead. [The first body] is sewn a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body. [One is subject to decay and death, the other's not.] [One] … is sown in dishonor, [but the new body] … is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

Again, still real, touchable, physical, able to drink, able to walk, able to eat, but different, no longer subject to the curse.

The Father raised Jesus out of death to this new kind of physical life, and notice He did so, Paul says, "on the third day." Psalm 16 had prophesied, David had prophesied, and this is quoted often in the early sermons of Acts, that the Messiah would die but that His body would not be allowed to decay. Well, if you don't follow the embalming process, as Jews in the first century did not, that begins within just a couple of days. But Jesus was raised on the third day, really within about 36 hours if you figure from 3:00 Friday afternoon till early Sunday morning. And this was an important piece of the prophetic puzzle. He had to be, because His body couldn't be subject to decay. That had been promised.

And again, Paul wants us to know that this idea of the resurrection of the Messiah is not a new idea. He adds, it's "according to the [Scripture.]" It happened as the Old Testament said. Psalm 16:10, "… You [will not] allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." Or look at Isaiah. You know, we normally think of Isaiah 53 as a prophecy about Jesus' death, and it is. But the resurrection is prophesied here as well. Isaiah 53:10, "But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering." Now watch this. After His death, after He presents Himself as a guilt offering, "He [that is, the Messiah] will see His offspring, He will prolong His days." That implies the resurrection. Verse 11, "As a result of the anguish of His soul," He'll see that anguish and when it's all done "be satisfied." Verse 12: He will be allotted "a portion with the great, ... He will divide the booty with the strong"—because He died. All of these verses imply continuing life, resurrected life.

Now, why is the resurrection so important? It's important for a lot of reasons. But let me just give you three.

The resurrection is important because, number one: it affirms that Jesus' claims are true. Isn't that what He Himself said in John 2 early in His ministry? He said, talking about His body, He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it" again, and that is the authority by which I do everything I do. In other words, Jesus said, if you find My body buried in some Middle Eastern grave, I'm not who I claimed, and don't believe a thing I said; on the other hand, if I am resurrected from the dead, then you better believe I am everything I claim to be. And this what the Apostles said. Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he makes the point of the resurrection affirms this. After he speaks of the resurrection, he says, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made [Jesus] both Lord and [Messiah.]" He's affirmed who He claimed to be.

A second important reality of the resurrection is: it affirms that the Father had accepted Jesus' death for sins. How do we know that God was pleased to accept everything Jesus did on the cross? How do we know that if Jesus died and stayed in the grave, if His body is still rotting in some grave? We don't. But we know that God accepted His sacrifice for sins, because the Father put His stamp of approval on all of that by raising Him from the dead. Listen to Romans 4:25. Paul connects the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ as opposite sides of the same coin. "He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." It goes together. The resurrection affirms that we can be declared right with God based on what Jesus accomplished in His death.

But there's a third important reality that the resurrection affirms, and it's this: someday Jesus will be the judge of every single human being. Paul points this out on the Areopagus in Athens when he was preaching that famous sermon in Acts 17. He says, "… [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men [of who that will be] by raising Him from the dead." Listen, the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is absolute guarantee that every single person listening to me this morning will one day stand before Jesus Christ. You will either stand before Him as a believer in Him to receive your reward as Paul describes it, or you will stand before Him at what John the Apostle calls the Great White Throne of judgment; when you will be before your King, your Creator, and give an answer for why you have lived in rebellion against Him. But it's coming, and His resurrection proves it. Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scripture.

Very briefly, the fourth and final proposition of the gospel message is that: Christ appeared to eyewitnesses. Christ "appeared," verses 5 - 8. God choose to establish the historical reality of the resurrection through more than 14 different post-resurrection appearances. Jesus appeared to more than 500 different people in at least 10 different locations. He appeared to individuals, to pairs of individuals, to small groups, to large groups. He appeared to men and to women. He appeared in public and in private, at different times of the day, in Jerusalem, and all the way up in Galilee. Here, Paul only mentions six of those appearances.

Notice verse 5, the first one: "He appeared to Cephas." That's the Aramaic name for Peter. That was on the day of the resurrection. It's recorded in Luke 24:34.

"Then to the twelve." That's a technical term for Jesus' Apostles. Of course, there weren't twelve. Judas had killed himself, committed suicide. Thomas was not there that night; he was later to see the risen Christ.

The next appearance Paul mentions was about 1½ to 2 weeks later: verse 6, "After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep." This appearance was probably in Galilee at the time of the Great Commission, recorded in Matthew 28. All of Jesus' followers from the Galilee area got together; Jesus commissioned them. When Paul wrote this letter in about 55 AD, some 25 years have passed since the resurrection. But Paul says, while some of that 500 have died, most of them are still living. The clear implication, folks, is that the resurrection of Christ was confirmed by actual eyewitness testimony. If in 55 AD you doubted whether or not Jesus had been raised from the dead, you could go to almost 500 different people scattered across the land of Israel, and they would affirm to you in person they had seen and heard and touched the risen Christ. This was clearly no hallucination.

Verse 7, the fourth appearance was to James. This is Jesus' half-brother. This is the one who grew up in the same home as Jesus but didn't believe His claims. In fact, six months before Jesus' crucifixion, John 7:5 tells us His brothers were not believing in Him. But in Acts 1:14, we find that after Jesus' ascension when the 120 are gathered in the upper room, Mary's there (Jesus' mother) and Jesus' brothers. Because in-between that time, Jesus had appeared to James, His younger brother. James, who had remained skeptical about Jesus and His claims even though he lived in the same house with Him, became His follower when His brother appeared to him after He had risen from the dead. In fact, listen to how James begins his letter in the New Testament. Does this sound like your brother? "James, a … [slave] of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Verse 7 gives us the fifth appearance: "Then to all the apostles." This probably refers to the ascension, the scene pictured for us in Acts 1. And then verse 8, last of all He appeared to Paul also. On the Damascus road, recorded in Acts 9, Christ actually appeared, the risen Christ, to Paul.

Now folks, what I want you to see here is that there were eyewitnesses, more than 500. To become a Christian is not to check your brain at the door. The good news is not some leap of faith. It is based on the record of the Old Testament, Hebrew Scriptures written hundreds of years before Jesus came. It rests on the written record of Jesus' handpicked representatives, the Apostles. A record that's recorded for us in the New Testament. It rests on the person and claims of Jesus of Nazareth Himself. And it relies on the eyewitness testimony of more than 500 people who saw the resurrected Christ.

And if you think they were all just gullible, remember, two of them absolutely rejected Him until they saw Him after the resurrection. And that was James His half-brother, and the Apostle Paul. John Walvoord writes, "Taken as a whole, the appearances are of such a varied character and to so many different people under so many different circumstances that proof of the resurrection of Christ is as solid as any historical fact that can be cited in the first century."

So, the propositions of the gospel are very straightforward: Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to many eyewitnesses. That is the heart of the gospel. That is the core message of the Christian faith, and that is very good news. But folks (listen carefully.) that good news does not become yours automatically. Jesus said you have to personally respond to that good news. How? Well again, let's let Jesus speak. In His first recorded sermon in Mark's Gospel, Mark 1:15, He says this. Here's how you ought to respond to this message of the good news. He's talking to you. This is what He would say to you today if He were here.

He says, "… repent and believe ... the gospel." Repent and believe the gospel. "Repent." That means to turn from everything in your life you know is sin; you know is a violation of God's law. You have to be willing to turn from your own way back to God. That's what He's saying.

Secondly Jesus says, "believe in the [good news.]" That is, rely on the good news. Put your total reliance in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. You say, reliance for what? Reliance for getting into heaven. Reliance for being rescued from God's future judgment against your sins. If you will repent of your sins and put you full reliance in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, if you will (to use the words of Paul in Romans 10), confess Jesus as Lord, then God will do something truly amazing. On the cross God will have treated Jesus as if He had lived your sinful life, and forever He will treat you as if you had lived Jesus' perfect life. That's the gospel. That's the really good news. It's the heart of the gospel.

The resurrection stands dead center in the middle of the gospel,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, [and that He appeared to many.]

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for the good news. Thank You that although our sins had alienated us to You; our sins had made us Your enemy. Thank You, O God, that You also are a God, not only of justice; not only of perfect holiness, but that You are also a God of great love and grace and compassion, and that Your loved moved You to send Your only Son to die for sins.

Father, may those of us who know Christ, who have come to know Him who died and was buried and raised again the third day and seen by many, Father, may our faith be strengthened as a result of this passage. May we have even greater confidence in all that we hold dear.

Father, I pray for the person here today who is still living in rebellion to You as King. Father, may this be the day that he or she turns to You and finds in Christ the One who brings forgiveness and reconciliation. Father, I pray that You would accomplish that for Your own glory and the glory of Your Son on this resurrection Sunday.

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.


Kangaroo Court: The Illegal Arraignment of Jesus Christ

Tom Pennington John 18:12-24

The Heart of the Gospel

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

The Murder of the King

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:27-37

More from this Series

Passion Week Sermons


If Christ Had Not Been Raised

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

The Promise of Paradise

Tom Pennington Luke 23:39-43

In Defense of Sinners

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:1-2

The Evidence for the Resurrection

Tom Pennington John 19:31-20:31

The Cross' Commentary on Man

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:33-44

God's Commentary on the Cross

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:45-54

Conspiracy! The Plot That Proves the Resurrection

Tom Pennington Matthew 28:11-15

Pierced For Our Transgressions

Tom Pennington Isaiah 53:4-6

Jesus' Own Evidence for the Resurrection

Tom Pennington Luke 24:36-49

The Fragrance of Worship

Tom Pennington John 12:1-8

The Innocent Found Guilty

Tom Pennington Matthew 26:57-68

The New Covenant

Tom Pennington Selected Scriptures

The Two Reasons Jesus Had to Die!

Tom Pennington John 11:47-57

The Place on Which We Stand

Tom Pennington Romans 10:5-10

Kangaroo Court: The Illegal Arraignment of Jesus Christ

Tom Pennington John 18:12-24

The Heart of the Gospel

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

The Murder of the King

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:27-37


Tom Pennington Matthew 28:1-7

Father, Forgive Them

Tom Pennington Luke 23:34

For God So Loved the World

Tom Pennington John 3:16

The Man on the Second Cross

Tom Pennington Luke 23:39-43

The Perfect Son

Tom Pennington John 19:25-27

The Rescue Mission

Tom Pennington Luke 19:1-10

Jesus Will Cost You Everything!

Tom Pennington Mark 8:34-38

The Triumphal Entry

Tom Pennington Mark 11:1-11

He Is Risen

Tom Pennington Matthew 28:1-7

God Forsaken

Tom Pennington Mark 15:33-37

He's Alive!

Tom Pennington John 19:31-20:31

I Thirst

Tom Pennington John 19:28-30

The Best Case Against the Resurrection

Tom Pennington Matthew 28:11-15

It Is Finished!

Tom Pennington John 19:30

Jesus' Last Words

Tom Pennington Luke 23:44-49


Tom Pennington Mark 16:1-8

The Worship Jesus Loves

Tom Pennington Mark 14:3-9

The Borrowed Tomb

Tom Pennington Mark 15:42-47

The Unlawful Arraignment of Jesus Christ

Tom Pennington John 18:12-24

The Foundation of Our Faith

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

The Real Reason for Jesus' Execution - Part 1

Tom Pennington Mark 14:53-65

The Real Reason for Jesus' Execution - Part 2

Tom Pennington Mark 14:53-65