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04.23.17 Our Redeemer Lives, So What? 1 Corinthians 15:1-20 Sermon Summary

by on April 24, 2017

Some in the Church at Corinth didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s response may as well have been written to us.

Summary Points

  • The Corinthians’ (and our) denial of the resurrection
  • Five arguments Paul makes for the resurrection
  • How Job testifies to the necessity of resurrection
  • How resurrection is our salvation

At the time of Jesus, there were various Jewish groups. One group was the Sadducees. They were the fundamentalists of the day—biblical literalists who only recognized the first five books of the Old Testament as authoritative. They also denied the resurrection of the dead.

The Apostle Paul, himself a member of another group called the Pharisees, might have had the Sadducees in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Like the Sadducees, some Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead. It wasn’t because of their perspective on the Bible, however. It was because of their Greek philosophy.

The Corinthians were Gentile, that is, non-Jewish. They were brought up in Greek thought which denied the resurrection of the dead. Instead they believed in the immortality of the soul. Whether or not the soul had a pre-existence, the idea was that in this life the soul is trapped by the body. Death is a welcome release of the soul. The soul is what’s real, what matters, and what lasts.

Perhaps you’ve read a Christian devotional that shares this perspective. Or perhaps you’ve sung a Christian hymn written within it. If you’ve gone to a Christian funeral lately, you might very well have heard this perspective. The problem is the immortality of the soul is not Christian teaching.

Christianity teaches the resurrection of the dead. Being a Pharisee, Paul already believed in the resurrection of the dead. But it was Jesus’ resurrection that really proved it for him. Paul refers to this teaching as his good news, his Gospel. And he finds himself having to defend it in among the Corinthian churches because they think that since there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no way Christ could have been raised from the dead.

Paul’s defense comes in five parts.

First, Paul reminds them that it is the tradition. “I handed on (literally, “traditioned”) to you what I myself received.” He did not make up the teaching about the resurrection of the dead. He simply proclaims it.

Second, Paul appeals to the testimony of others. He says after the resurrection Jesus appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, then to a group of 500, to James, then to all the apostles. It is as if he is inviting the Corinthians to go and interview any of these folks who are still living about the resurrection of Christ.

Third, Paul continues by citing his own personal experience. “As to one untimely born, the resurrected Christ appeared also to me.” In other words, traditional teaching and the testimony of others only serve to affirm what Paul himself encountered on the road to Damascus.

Fourth, Paul makes a theological argument. He says that “Christ died for our sins.” The idea of sacrifice to gods for sins would have been familiar to the Corinthians. Most ancient religions required sacrifices to appease the deity and secure forgiveness. But because repeated sacrifices were effective for doing this, repentance and transformation were not assumed. So you sin again? No problem. Just make another sacrifice.

But the resurrection from the dead expands Christ’s work beyond mere sacrifice for sin. If Christ is resurrected, his disciples have his help to live a new kind of life now. This is what baptism represents for Paul. In Romans 6 he says that since we are buried with Christ in death, we are raised with him to newness of life—not in some afterlife, but now!  We can have hope for a new life beginning right now. But that is not the extent of our hope.

Paul adds a fifth argument from theology: We have hope also for those who have already died. Because of the resurrection of the dead, Paul says, those who have died have not perished. They will be raised from the dead because Christ was raised from the dead as the first fruits of the harvest. Those who have died, and those who will, are the rest of the harvest.

Paul puts forth these five arguments to convince the Corinthians to abandon the heresy of the immortality of the soul and embrace the Christian teaching of the resurrection of the dead. From another perspective, the resurrection of the dead is the guarantee of God’s justice. It is like an extension of the case of Job.

Job was subjected to inexplicable suffering, but his friends believed they had the answer. If only he would confess his secret sin, the punishment of it would cease and his suffering would end. But Job knew he was innocent. He was convinced that his redeemer was alive, and that before he died, even if it cost him his health, he would be vindicated by the defense of his redeemer. Job challenged his friends to wait and see with him.

Though not exactly in the way he envisioned, Job was vindicated in his lifetime. But not everyone is. Jesus wasn’t. The martyrs are not. There are some things in our lives are not resolved in this life. There are some things in our lives that cannot be resolved in this life.

But in the resurrection of the dead, these things will be resolved. What we cannot understand in this life, we can still believe will be resolved in the resurrection. This is the center of Paul’s gospel, his good news. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection also. Our lives and this world will be redeemed. There will be justice. The scales will be balanced. What is lost will be found. What is broken will be healed. God’s intention of justice and righteousness will be realized.

And in this is our salvation, as we hold fast to the message Paul proclaimed. Because Christ is raised from the dead, the first fruits of we who will also be raised. So we are not still in our sins. Paul’s proclamation is not in vain. And our faith is not in vain. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.

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