Easter Changes Everything!
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Sunday, March 27, 2016 – Easter Day
In the 1920's an Englishman by the name of Frank Morrison had a life-changing event. Nothing was the same for him after it. Mr. Morison, you see, wasn't a Christian, and was so proud of that fact that he set out to disprove Jesus' resurrection, thinking it all a myth. So he headed off to Palestine to research the story.
But while he was there, something unexpected happened. The more he examined the evidence, the more impressive he found it, and the more tired he grew of his contrived ways of explaining the evidence away. Ultimately, by God's grace, finding the resurrection too difficult to disprove, he was convinced that it was a true, historical fact. He converted to Christianity and described his research in his book entitled, "Who Moved the Stone?" Truly a life-changing event for Morison!
You and I, dear friends, share the greatest life-changing event: Easter. It's what's gathered us together today and it changes everything for us. It means a world of difference to every aspect of our lives. It calls us to believe. It makes our salvation sure. It produces fruit in our lives. Listen now as Paul explains how this was true for him in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11…
1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
I. It Calls Us to Believe
When Paul was in Athens sharing the gospel there, Luke tells us in Acts 17(:32) that when Paul got to the part of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, the Athenians sneered at Paul. The idea of a bodily resurrection from the dead was foolishness to the "sophisticated" Greeks. It shouldn't be a surprise then, that there were also some in Corinth who denied this important truth.
For this reason the apostle Paul addressed the subject of the resurrection in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians—the famous resurrection chapter. Paul reminded the Corinthians that not only was the bodily resurrection a real, historical fact, but that to deny this truth had some devastating consequences.
"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you," he tells them. But, if they didn't hold firmly? "Otherwise, you have believed in vain." But the Corinthians didn't need to doubt the resurrection. Even though they didn't see the risen Savior with their own eyes, they could be certain it happened. How? Paul offered two witnesses—two very compelling and convincing evidences.
First, he tells them God promised it. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…"
God told them ahead of time, hundreds of years earlier, how Jesus would suffer and die. And God kept his Word. And God told them ahead of time how Jesus would rise from the dead.
Perhaps Paul was thinking of Psalm 16 which Peter quoted on Pentecost: "you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life…" Or perhaps he was thinking of Isaiah 53 which prophesied, "though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…" He could have been thinking of any number of verses, but the point is, God promised the resurrection. And just as he kept his painful promise of the crucifixion, he would certainly keep his joyful promise of the resurrection. This is evidence enough to believe in the resurrection without doubting.
But God in his grace gave them another convincing proof. He didn't ask them to believe blindly, but gave them evidence. They could talk to the eyewitnesses. Paul's list isn't even complete. He never mentions the women who saw Jesus, but did name Peter and the other apostles, and James, the brother of Jesus, who would back Paul when he said he had seen the risen Jesus. And if these leaders of the church weren't enough, there were 500 witnesses that all saw Jesus at the same time. And most were still alive. If the Corinthians wanted, they could investigate and hear the firsthand accounts of many reliable sources. There was no room for doubt.
And dear friends, even though we're a few thousand years removed from the Corinthians, there's no room for doubt with us. Every year around this time popular newspapers and magazines run stories which try to deny or explain away the resurrection. Last year it was the "Gospel of Judas." This year it was the Discovery Channel documentary on the discovery of Jesus' "tomb" and his remains. But even though the world today can't stand the idea of a bodily resurrection any more than the "sophisticated" Greeks could, you, on the other hand, can be certain of it.
Easter invites us to believe in Jesus bodily resurrection, not as some mythical or purely spiritual event, but as a true and real historical fact. You and I have many convincing proofs of the resurrection as well.
You want proof Jesus is alive? His tomb is empty. The eyewitnesses honestly reported how they came to believe in spite of their doubt, even when it didn't make them look heroic. Jesus body has never been found because he is alive. And if you want more evidence pick up a copy of Morison's book, "Who Moved the Stone?" or read Lee Strobel's "Case for Christ" or "Case for Easter" See how these men were convinced by the overwhelming evidence in spite of themselves.
But really, you don't need any of these. God's Word promised it. We have these promises in the Old and New Testaments. This is the most overwhelming evidence. And God's Word should be proof enough. And yet God in his grace doesn't ask us to just believe blindly, but offers lots of other evidence as well. Jesus is alive. We don't need to doubt it, but can be certain.
So what's the big deal that he is alive? How does that change anything? Well, if Jesus had not risen, if he were still dead, our salvation wouldn't be won. Paul spells that out a little later in this chapter. In verse 17 he says, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead," our sins are forgiven and our salvation is certain.
II. It Makes Our Salvation Sure
Paul reminds them of that truth here. "I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…" And what is that gospel? He spells it out: "that Christ died for our sins …that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day."
If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, everything would be different. The Corinthians would remain in their sin and under God's wrath. They would have no peace with him. For just a human martyr dying on a cross cannot take away sin. But Jesus proved that he was more than just a human. No human can raise himself from the dead! Easter is God's stamp of approval on Good Friday and made the Corinthians' salvation and their own resurrection certain just as it did for Paul…
Just think of how Easter impacted Paul's life. First he was Saul, persecuting the church of God, opposing not just Christianity but Christ. How those sins must have plagued and haunted Paul. That's why he called himself "one abnormally born." He knew how unworthy he was to be given salvation, let alone to be called as an apostle, sent by Jesus.
But that's what happened. What a life-changing event Easter was for Paul, when he saw the risen Jesus on that road to Damascus! What a transformation took place in him! Easter made Paul's salvation certain to him. And he marveled at it, saying "by the grace of God I am what I am," and, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15), but he didn't doubt it. He knew for sure.
And we can be equally certain not just of Christ's resurrection, but of our salvation, and of our future bodily resurrection from the dead! If he hasn't risen, we've believed in vain. We'd still be left wondering about our status with God. We'd still be in our sin and under his wrath.
But we're not left wondering. "He was raised on the third day." Literally the Greek word is perfect in tense, "he has been raised." Its results are ongoing. They continue right now. He is alive!
And so, even though we too are completely unworthy of salvation, though we are all "abnormally born," born in sin and under God's wrath, by God's grace we are what we are. Easter makes our salvation sure. And so, Easter changes everything! We no longer fear death, because we know that we'll wake up from it. And we're free to live our lives without fear. We're free to live for him and produce fruits of faith…
III. It Produces Fruit in Our Lives
This Easter message was so powerful in Paul's life, it wasn't just a doctrine he knew and celebrated once a year. No. It was a truth he believed so firmly that he lived out his faith in the resurrection every day.
He says, "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them…"
Paul worked harder than any of the other apostles. He's not boasting, just stating a fact. Paul traveled more, suffered more opposition, wrote more epistles, and founded more churches. But what moved Paul to this relentless effort? What inspired him to work so hard? We just read it: the grace of God. Paul continues, "yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." In the end, it wasn't the messenger that was important, but the message preached. "Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed."
This message changed Paul. It gave him a new purpose in life—no longer living for himself, but for Jesus. Paul lived to serve him. Paul lived to share him.
And dear friends, Easter has the same impact on us. We were once like the greedy caterpillar that selfishly ate everything in sight. We lived to serve only ourselves. But then we died to our sin. And we were buried with Christ in our baptisms. And now, like the beautiful butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, we rise with him to live a new life. (cf. Romans 6:1-14) We're no longer selfish caterpillars, but are eager to serve our risen Savior, eager to live for him, eager to share him with others, while we wait to live with him forever.
Don't doubt the resurrection, dear friends, but believe it. Believe the promises found in God's Word. Believe the convincing proofs he gives. Your salvation and your future resurrection are certain. And don't let this awesome truth remain in your head, but let Easter change everything for you, just as it did for Frank Morison, just as it did for Paul. Go and live out your thanks to him as you work hard to produce fruits of faith. For he died for your sins. He was buried. And he was raised the third day. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.