(I preached this sermon Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 at Christ Center Alliance Church (Chinese) in Miami Florida)
Sunday, April 16, 2017
(I preached this sermon Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 at Christ Center Alliance Church (Chinese) in Miami Florida)
Breakpoint Radio Co-host John Stonestreet wrote an article entitled, "Questioning Jesus' Existence." He writes, "When you're CNN, you publish annual articles suggesting Jesus never existed. It's what you do" He continues, "Every year around March and December, this and other news outlets exhume the long-dead thesis that the New Testament is based on a mythological figure, not a Man who really lived, died, and rose from the grave two thousand years ago."
He goes on to report that in March of this year CNN republished an article by John Blake entitled, "Decoding Jesus: Separating Man from Myth." Blake writes, "On Easter Sunday millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash on many issues, almost all agree that he existed." He continues, "But there's another view of Jesus that's been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors and scholars say Jesus never existed."
In December of 2014 The Washington Post published an article by Raphael Lataster entitled, "Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just does not add up" He concludes his article, writing, "In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus' historical existence--if not think it outright improbable."
I could go on and on citing others who attack the credibility of the Biblical account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And perhaps there is nothing that gains the attention of the skeptics more frequently than the New Testament claim that Jesus Christ died, was buried in a tomb and three days later rose from the dead.
The Apostle Paul faced a similar controversy. As we read in I Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church was compelled to address those who denied the resurrection of the dead and the implication of that denial with regard to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we look at this text this morning, note with me first of all, the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In verse one and two, Paul reminds the church in Corinth of the gospel he had previously preached to them. He writes, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain."
He continues in verses 3 - 5 writing, "For I delivered to you as of first importance..." Did you get that? "...of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." (ESV)
Paul then continues to identify others, including himself, who had seen or encountered the risen and living Christ. Verses 6 - 9, "Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (ESV)
Elsewhere other Biblical writers emphasized the authenticity of Jesus' resurrection. The physician Luke in Acts 1:3 says that Jesus, "...presented himself alive to them", that is the apostles, "...after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (ESV)
Dr. Clark Pinnock, one of my theology professors in seminary, commenting on this verse writes,
"The certainty of the apostles was founded on their experiences in the factual realm. To them Jesus showed himself alive by 'many infallible proofs' (Acts 1:3). The term Luke uses is tekmerion, which indicates a demonstrable proof.
The disciples came to their Easter faith through inescapable evidence available to us through their written testimony."
He continues, "It is important for us, in an age that calls for evidence to sustain the Christian claim, to answer the call with appropriate historical considerations. For the resurrection stands within the realm of historical factuality, and constitutes the excellent motivation for a person to trust Christ as Savior."
Despite the claims and protests of the skeptics, the Scriptures place an emphasis on the historicity of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this truth that we stand on when we proclaim the gospel to a world in need of a Savior!
Our faith is not based on fiction nor tradition. It is not based on theory, nor the conjecture, speculation, opinions or other notions conceived in the mind or heart of men. It is grounded in historical fact and authenticated by the testimony of eyewitnesses. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, lived on this earth, died for our sins, was buried in a tomb and rose from the dead three days later.
As Alexander MaClaren writes of this passage,
"Now the first thing that strikes me here is that, whatever else the system unfolded in the New Testament is, it is to begin with a simple record of historical fact." He continues, "It becomes a philosophy, it becomes a religious system; it is a revelation of God; it is an unveiling of man; it is a body of ethical precepts. It is morals and philosophy all in one; but it is first of all a story of something that took place in the world."
Jesus Christ was not the figment of someone's imagination. He was not the product of someone's dream world or ecstatic vision. He was God incarnate, who lived in our space and time dimension over two thousand years ago in the land of Palestine.
As the Apostle John testified, the Word "..became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:14 And in his first letter, writing of Jesus Christ he said, (SLIDE) "... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, [public] and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--" 1 John 1:1-2 (ESV)
And the Apostle Paul goes out of his way to emphasize the authenticity of the historical facts that shape the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And of course, this was consistent with Jesus' own words. On several occasions He spoke to His disciples of His impending death and resurrection. His death did not catch him by surprise. He knew His assignment from the beginning, telling his disciples on one occasion, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 (ESV)
And Luke records these words of Jesus, in his gospel, chapter 9, verse 22, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (ESV)
So first of all we have the historical evidence that Jesus Christ did live, die and was raised from the dead. Note secondly, the centrality of the resurrection to the gospel message.
Having made a compelling case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul continues by drawing very important deductions or inferences with regard to our faith. verses, 12-13,
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised." (ESV)
He argues that if there is no resurrection, Christ could not have been raised from the dead. He then he draws this logical and faith shattering conclusion. Follow carefully the logic of his reasoning in verses 14 - 19,
"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain." He continues verse 15,
"We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are nor raised."
Then he makes this deduction, verses 16 - 19, "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (ESV)
Friends, our faith as followers of Jesus Christ rests on the testimony of those who over two thousand years ago witnessed a Savior who lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death for our sin, and by the shedding of his blood on that cross of shame paid the penalty of our sin, broke the power of sin, and then conquered death when He was resurrected from the grave three days later. But all of that would have been to no avail, writes Paul, if there is no resurrection and if Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead.
Back in April of 1990, the cover of the news magazine, U.S. News and World Report was entitled, "The Last Days of Jesus" In his concluding section on the resurrection of Jesus Christ Jeffrey Sheler wrote,
"It is Christianity's most irreducible tenet: On the third day, Jesus arose from the dead." He continues, "From the very beginning Christians have proclaimed the bodily resurrection as a validation of all that Jesus taught and all that they believe. It is the foundation upon which all else rests."
G. Campbell Morgan writes, "If Christ hath not been raised then the Cross of Calvary was nothing more than the tragic ending of a mistaken, if noble life. All the values of evangelical Christianity are dependent on interpretations of the person and mission of Jesus resulting from acceptation of the central fact of His resurrection."
Deny the cross and you have no Savior. Deny the resurrection and you have a dead man who claimed to be a savior.
We have noted the historicity of the resurrection and what follows logically, the centrality of the resurrection to the gospel message and our faith. Notice thirdly that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only hope of eternal life for those who believe. Verses 20 - 23 of our text. "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have 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. But each to his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (ESV)
There are two relationships described here. One comes by physical birth; one comes by spiritual birth. All of us by human birth are related to Adam the first man. And by virtue of that relationship share in a common end, death, both physically and spiritually.
Adam was created a perfect human being. Morally, he was without sin. Physically he was without a flaw. Socially, once he awoke with Eve at his side, he was complete and content. In fact he had a perfect marriage.
Spiritually he walked in fellowship and harmony with God. He lived in a perfect environment, free of disease and conflict or evil of any kind. But he chose to step beyond the limits God had placed upon him. And his rebellion and disobedience brought spiritual and physical death to his experience. And to ours for we share in the result of his rebellion. Verses 21 and 22, "...by a man came death...""For as in Adam all die..." Our sinful nature is evidence of our relationship with Adam.
But Paul speaks of another relationship, again verse 22, "...in Christ shall all be made alive." We did not enter into our relationship with Adam by choice. We entered into it by virtue of our physical birth. But the relationship Paul speaks of,
whereby we enter into life, is established by faith in a risen Savior.
Remember Paul's words in verse 1 and 2, "...I would remind you... of the gospel I preached to you, which you received... and by which you are being saved..." Then in verse three he goes on to declare, "...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day..."
As sinners, we all must pay the penalty for our sin. "In Adam all die..." But Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin on the cross of Calvary and was raised from the dead.
Before Christopher Columbus ventured west and discovered the new world, Spanish coins had the stamped outline of the Strait of Gibraltar imprinted on them. Under that imprint were the words, "No more beyond." The Strait of Gibraltar lies at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, the western end of the known world at that time. After his return and the discovery of the new world to the west, the wording was changed to read "More beyond."
Jesus Christ went through the narrow gate of death on our behalf. Many thought he would never return. But He did. He paid the penalty for our sin. He broke the power of sin. He triumphed over death in His resurrection from the grave.
Therefore He can guarantee the same for those who put their trust in Him. There is life beyond the grave!
Verses 24-27a "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God put all things in subjection under his feet."
And later in this chapter, Paul writes these words of triumph, verses 54b-57, "'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (ESV)
Remember verse 23, "Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ."? The question I ask this morning is, 'Do you belong to Christ?" If you know Jesus Christ this morning, take comfort in these words. But, if you are here this morning, and have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, I urge you to respond to the evidence you have heard this morning from the Word of God. The evidence points to but one conclusion: Jesus Christ is alive! And if He is alive, it would be foolish to ignore His claim on your life.
We are told that the upper peninsula of Michigan used to be an almost unbroken wilderness. Back then two men set out on foot to go to a new mining camp. After traveling quite a distance a snowstorm obliterated their path. A little later they were surprised to notice they were not alone. They saw the footprints of at least two other men. This reassured them that they were on the right path and they hurried on. Suddenly, an Indian appeared, pointed to the tracks in the snow, and in broken English said, "White man lost --go round and round." You see, the two men had been treading on what is called "the death track" walking round and round and round in a life threatening blizzard, but going nowhere.
Are you on the death track this morning? Or is your ultimate victory over death secure in Christ in whom you have placed your trust for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. His resurrection from the grave is the only thing that guarantees that hope. He alone can offer you resurrection life.
© James P McGarvey, All Rights Reserved