April 16, 2006

Proof For The Resurrection-Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1–11


Proof For The Resurrection-Part One

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

There are many benefits to being a Christian. One of those is resting in our acceptance by God. The Bible teaches that we are adopted into His family, received thanks entirely to the work of Christ, and loved unconditionally throughout eternity. Since all of God's children are secure and placed on equal footing, we can cease any striving toward self-promotion. As a matter of fact, such a spirit of competition in the church is contrary to the unity God wills.

All levels of spiritual maturity are equally encouraged and respected. All races and genders are equally loved and accepted. All gifts and talents are equally important and celebrated. There are no second-class citizens. We are all placed on the same level at the foot of the cross. The Bible gives no warrant for divisions within the church and repeatedly condemns these divisions and those who make them.

Yet there is one and only one dividing line clearly drawn in the Scriptures. According to the Word of God, all of humanity is placed in one of two camps. The dividing line is not to be drawn in the church; rather, the dividing line is to be drawn between the church and the world - between those who are children of God and those who are not, between those who are destined for heaven and those who are not, between those who are saved and those who are not.

This becomes very clear as we begin the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. In verse 1 Paul speaks of the gospel which he preached, the one which they received, in which they stand and in which they are saved, as verse 2 indicates. This message that we commonly call the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). It is the good news we must accept and rely upon if we wish to have eternal life.

What is the gospel message? This message "of first importance" as Paul said in verse 3 is distilled into three chief components. Half way through verse 3 we read, "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" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Possibly a creed borrowed from the early church, the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith alone in the God of that message is what God uses to save us from eternal death and divide us from the kingdom of this world.

Paul needed to hammer this point home before he could begin his primary intention for composing chapter 15. You see, the gospel is the foundation of our salvation. And the foundation or heart of the gospel is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This morning and all of chapter 15 is devoted to that topic.

According to H.D.A. Major, "Had the crucifixion of Jesus ended His disciples' experience of Him, it is hard to see how the Christian Church could have come into existence. The Church was founded on faith in the Messiahship of Jesus. A crucified Messiah was no Messiah at all. He was one rejected by Judaism and accursed by God. It was the Resurrection of Jesus, as St. Paul describes in Romans 1:4, which proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power" (The Mission and Message of Jesus, Dutton, 1946, p. 213).

Hank Hanegraaff once said, "The resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity. It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions. Through the resurrection, Christ demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Abraham, Buddha, or Confucius. He is utterly unique. He has the power not only to lay down His life, but to take it up again" (Resurrection, W Publishing Group, 2000, p. 15).

The Christian faith either stands or falls based upon the Resurrection. Disprove that one doctrine and everything we believe and hope comes crashing down like a house of cards. The Scriptures affirm this. Beginning in verse 17 of this chapter we read, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 17-19). Simply put, if there is no Resurrection, there is no salvation. And if there is no salvation in Christ we who are gathered here this morning are fools.

So is it any wonder that critics and skeptics throughout the history of the church have used most of their time and energy to assault and seek to disprove the Resurrection.

Since chapter 15 was written to defend the Resurrection, I would like to take the five most powerful attacks against the Resurrection and use the material provided in this chapter to refute all of them. We'll cover two this morning and the remaining three next week.

Now I am aware that the majority of you gathered here this morning do not need to be convinced concerning the reality of the Resurrection, so it is my desire that this material will serve to strengthen your faith and provide you with biblical truth to defend this essential doctrine. Overall, I pray as we cover this material that you will be encouraged by the Resurrection of your Savior and the reliability of the evidence.


The first attack we'll examine made national exposure in 1965 when Hugh Schonfield wrote his controversial book entitled, "The Passover Plot." The thesis basically goes like this: Jesus was only a moral man who sought to be the Messiah by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies even to the point of staging a mock death and resurrection. Joseph of Arimathea and a mysterious "young man" were part of the conspiracy. However the plan went bad when the Roman soldier speared Jesus on the cross causing His death. Jesus is still dead and the so-called "risen Lord" was not Jesus, but the "young man."

Is that what really happened?

If the "Passover Plot" is accurate, we are left with a tremendous difficulty in explaining the countless lives that have been transformed as a result of the Resurrection. People like this Corinthian church (1 Cor. 15:1-2). People like you and I. And especially people like all of the early church leaders.

For example, how do we account for the change in the Apostles? Almost all of these men were in fear, hiding behind locked doors during the time of the crucifixion (Jn. 20:19). They were afraid; they thought the plan went sour. Even they saw little hope in a Messiah that was crucified a criminal of Rome and hung on the accursed tree (Gal. 3:13). All hope was lost. Even when the ladies who first saw the resurrected Jesus reported the news the Scripture says, "These words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them" (Lk. 24:11; Mk. 16:11). John adds, "For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead" (Jn. 20:9).

But as we read the history of the early church, particularly in the biblical book of Acts, and examine the letters these men have left behind, how do we account for the dramatic change in their lives? What was the turning point to transform a bunch of unbelieving scaredy-cats to bold proclaimers of the truth who established the Christian church (Eph. 2:20) and turned the world upside-down (Ac. 17:6)?

There is only one possible answer: Seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ (Jn. 20:8; Ac. 1:22). As verse 5 of 1 Corinthians 15 says, "He appeared to Cephas" (Aramaic - Peter), the first among the Apostles, the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem church who was restored by the risen Christ following his denial (Jn. 21:15-17). Verse 5 also says "then (Jesus appeared) to the twelve" (a generic name for the Apostles). Everything changed once they saw the risen Lord.

The church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette said, "It was the conviction of the Resurrection of Jesus which lifted His followers out of the despair into which His death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and they had seen Him and talked with Him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus Himself would probably have been all but forgotten" (History of the Expansion of Christianity, Harper and Row, 1970, p. 59).

How about James, the half brother of our Lord? Though James lived with Jesus for much of His life, he acted just like his cynical brothers. Just months before the crucifixion in John's gospel we read, "For not even His brothers were believing in (Jesus)" (Jn. 7:5).

Yet James held a prominent position in the early church and even composed one book that bears his name contained in the New Testament. How do we account for the transformation? Verse 7 says, "then He appeared to James." Like the others, he was changed when He saw the resurrected Jesus.

How about the Apostle Paul? In 1 Timothy the man called himself "a (former) blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor" (1 Tim. 1:13). Before he came to Christ he did everything within his power to the extent of murder to destroy the Christian faith.

Yet nearly half of the New Testament books were written by Paul. He traveled the world planting churches and is considered by many to be the greatest Christian minister who has ever lived. What caused him to forsake his outward religion, acknowledge he was an enemy of God and now serve the Lord he once opposed? Again how do we account for this dramatic change in Paul's life?

The Bible teaches us in Acts 9 when Paul was "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, (he) went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Ac. 9:1-2). However on his way the text says he encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ (Ac. 9:3-6). His life would never be the same.

Beginning in verse 8 of 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul humbly acknowledged, "And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (1 Cor. 15:8-10).

Now returning to the "Passover Plot." Do you really think that theory which suggests a mysterious "young man" pretending to be the resurrected Jesus Christ could have achieved these dramatic changes in these once skeptical but now bold leaders of the Christian church?


Second, the "Swoon Theory." The "Swoon Theory" concocted by 18th Century Rationalists basically claims that Jesus never died on the cross. He merely fainted and when placed in the tomb, the cold air and burial spices revived Him. He managed to escape and convince His followers He rose from the dead.

Is that what really happened?

First of all, if Jesus really was the Messiah, He needed to die. In verse 3 we read, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Christ needed to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. He was the true Lamb of God whose death would make atonement (Lev. 16). He was the sheep led to the slaughter (Isa. 53). He was pierced through for our transgressions (Isa. 53; Psm. 22; Zech 13). He poured out Himself to death (Isa. 53). According to Scripture Jesus had to die and He knew it!

One day after the resurrection Jesus appeared to two men on their way to a village called Emmaus. Not recognizing our Lord, they spoke of their grief regarding the crucifixion and death of Jesus (Lk. 24:20-21). Jesus replied, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (Lk. 24:25-27; 24:44-47).

Think about your options, beloved. If Jesus never died, He is not the Messiah. And if Jesus never died, but told people He did and then faked a Resurrection from the dead, well then, He's a liar as well.

Additionally, as the Scriptures declare in verses 3 and 4, Jesus died and was buried. Evidence from ancient historians, many of whom were not Christians, supports these facts as well. Jesus Christ was crucified and pronounced dead. So before we run off and say He never really died, let's consider those who were with Christ at Calvary, those who made this official pronouncement: The Roman soldiers.

These men were masters in death. They killed hundreds of people, many by crucifixion. They knew when a man was dead and made sure of it when such a man hailed Himself King (Jn. 18:37) and was sentenced to die an enemy of the Empire. They were not permitted to leave the victim until they were assured of his death (Mk. 15:44-45).

As a matter of fact, the Scriptures say they did not break the legs of Jesus to hasten His death because He has already died on the cross (Jn. 19:31-33). Rather they pierced Jesus in the side, out which flowed "blood and water" (Jn. 19:34), leading many to believe Jesus had already died of cardiac rupture or cardiorespiratory failure.

Modern medical experts have analyzed the events surrounding the death of Jesus. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), doctors made this conclusive statement: "The important feature may be not how He died but rather whether He died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured His death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge" (Mar. 21, 1986 - Vol. 255, No. 11).

The next time someone comes up to you and says, "I don't really believe Jesus died on the cross," you may wish to respond (in love!) in the following manner.

"Let's conduct an experiment. We'll put you through so much stress that you actually begins to sweat drops of blood. We'll beat you in the face. We'll keep you awake one night due to intense sorrow and another night due to lengthy legal trials. During this time you will receive no food or water. Then we'll repeatedly beat you with a whip containing sharp bones and metal balls on the end of each strand. Your skin will be shredded, your muscles will be torn, your organs will be lacerated and you will experience extensive blood loss. We'll place a crown of thorns of your head and then use the wooded scepter we placed in your hand to beat you some more. Then we'll place a heavy beam weighing 75-125 pounds on your back and force you to carry it to your place of execution. When at the site, we'll drive 5-7 inch nails through your wrists and ankles. We'll let birds of prey tear at your body as you suffocate in excruciating pain for six hours on the cross. Then, we'll pierce you in the side with a 6-foot infantry spear, puncturing your heart, and watch the emission of both blood and water. Finally we will place you in a tomb, tightly wrap your body in pungent spices and cover your face, and permit you no medical attention. Would you like to undergo the experiment? Do you think you could survive?"

Think about it, my friend. Even if Jesus survived this bloody ordeal and managed to fool all the Roman soldiers at the cross, do you really think this man who not only logic, but also the Scriptures declare, "His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness" (Isa. 52:14-NIV) fooled all His disciples less than 50 hours later? Do you really think anyone in such a condition could remove the stone, sneak past or fight off the guards and command a following from His unbelieving and frightened men, claiming to be a resurrected King? Would you follow a man like that to your death?

One author said, "(This) is the most impossible thing of all; the poor, weak Jesus, with difficulty holding Himself erect, in hiding, disfigured, and finally dying - this Jesus an object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of His adherents, a risen conqueror, and Son of God! Here, in fact, the (swoon) theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection" (Keim, Quoted in Thorburn, The Resurrection Narrative and Modern Criticism, p. 183-85).

The "Swoon Theory" is absolutely preposterous. Furthermore, it's a rather modern invention because all the earliest records ever made on Christianity are empathic about Jesus' death (Little, Know What You Believe, p. 65).

My friends, be sure to come back next week as we conclude this sermon. We'll examine more evidence from 1 Corinthians 15 that proves the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But as we finish allow me to mention some comments from learned men who have examined the evidence and walked away with affirming conclusions.

Sir Edward Clark said, "As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. For 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. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect; the gospel evidence for the Resurrection is of that class and as a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate" (Cited in MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 402).

William Lyon Phelps, Yale's distinguished professor in English literature remarked, "It may be well said that the historical evidence for the Resurrection is stronger than any other miracle anywhere narrated" (Cited in McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 215).

The historian Thomas Arnold, of Oxford University, wrote, "I have been used for many years to study the history of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is better proved by fuller evidence than the great sign that God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead" (Cited in MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 403).

We don't need their verification, but doesn't it tell us something! Don't you agree that it takes more faith to believe the lies than it does to believe the truth? Don't you agree that God has given us substantial evidence not only through the external testimony of Scripture, but also the internal testimony of our hearts (Lk. 24:32), that Jesus Christ did just as He predicted: He died, was buried and rose from the grave victoriously? This is the gospel according to 1 Corinthians 15. And this is the gospel we must believe if we wish to be members of God's family. May God grant you confidence in the gospel, which centers on that foundational truth, the Resurrection!

As scientist Sir Michael Faraday was lying on his deathbed, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life and death. "Speculations?" He said, "I know nothing about speculations, I am resting on certainties, I know that my Redeemer liveth, and because He lives I shall live also."

other sermons in this series

Apr 22


Edification or Self-Exaltation

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1–40 Series: 1 Corinthians

Apr 15


Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 18


You Need Us

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:21–27 Series: 1 Corinthians