Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
You may not need reminding that the European Football Championships (the Euro’s) are with us and right on cue, England fans are thinking that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year! The flags are out in abundance, the England shirts worn proudly, and the national ‘football’ anthem is being sung- “Three lions on the shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. 30 years of hurt, never stops me dreaming.” The problem is that it is now 55 years of hurt, since that glorious July day when Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup at Wembley in 1966. This is Pastor Pep Talk #66, perhaps that in itself is a sign! But what England football fans do, we all do in different ways. We look back to some historic event and this inspires our dreams and inflames our hope for the future. For example- Will it be a scorching summer, like 1976? Mary defeated cancer, so don’t lose heart, everything is possible! Without wishing to rain on anyone’s parade, the 55 years of shattered dreams for England football fans testify that past performance really is no guarantee of future success. As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote- “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” The journey can be hope-filled but it’s very likely to end in anti-climax. Sorry Gareth. So where can we genuinely find hope? The Apostle Paul tells us that it is found in the Gospel (or good news) of Jesus Christ, that is anchored in four historical facts.
Fact #1- “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (v3)
Paul uses the term ‘Christ’ deliberately because this means Messiah or God’s promised King whose arrival His people had longed for as he would deliver them. But this rescue would take place not through some magnificent military conquest, but through his death on the cross. As the Prophet Isaiah declared 700 years before- “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:5) This is the salvation that lies at the heart of the Gospel. Our sins separate us from God and make us objects of his wrath. But by dying on the Cross, Jesus was taking our place and bearing God’s wrath for our sins, so that we’d not have to.
Fact #2- “that he was buried” (v4)
Shortly after my mother died in 1991, I had to go to the Funeral Director’s with my stepfather to begin to plan her funeral. I will always remember the undertaker saying to us- “So what would you like to do with the body?” I wanted to say to him- “Don’t refer to my mum as ‘the body’!” But actually, he was right. Dead people are bodies and bodies have to be dealt with. So it was with Jesus’ body. He was buried- placed in a tomb and several people witnessed exactly where and what happened. His burial confirms his death. This is important because it knocks on the head any bogus ideas that Jesus didn’t really rise again but was resuscitated. This lie gets peddled all too regularly. His lifeless body was placed in a tomb hastily because after sundown on the Friday, the Sabbath began, and that meant no work was to be done.
Fact #3- “that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (v4)
Some people don’t think that the Old Testament speaks of the resurrection but in Psalm 16 David says- “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (v9-10) He couldn’t have been speaking of himself because he would die and that was that. But God’s Holy One is a reference to Jesus and he would not “see decay” but was raised again on the third day. All through Jesus’ ministry when he told his disciples about what was going to happen to him, he told them about his resurrection- “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of man. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31) The fact God raised his Son to life is proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for sin.
Fact #4- “and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (v5)
Just as the burial confirmed his death, so too his multiple appearances (read v6-8 for more) confirmed his resurrection. Last year was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. In recent years, there have been people who’ve tried to deny the reality of the Holocaust, but there are still people alive today who were in Auschwitz and they’ll give their accounts of what really happened. Some people in Corinth had begun to doubt the reality of the resurrection from the dead (read the rest of chapter 15) so Paul tells the Corinthians about lots of people who witnessed Christ’s resurrection who were still alive and would vouch for it. His resurrection from the dead is what guarantees our resurrection.
Facts must be believed
Simply knowing that these four facts happened is one thing, but what needs to take place is for such knowledge to become faith. Paul begins the short section with these words- “Now, brothers, 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, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (v1-2) The Gospel of Jesus Christ, is what Paul preached, the Corinthians believed, and by which they are saved for eternity. And this gospel, anchored in these four historical facts about Jesus, is what they must keep believing. As we put our faith in what Christ has done for us, then we can know the reality and hope of eternal life. With regard the work of Jesus, past performance really does guarantee future success and victory, as Paul goes on to declare- “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all (those who have put their trust in him) will be made alive.” (15:22) England may be victorious this summer, and we’ll certainly enjoy the journey while it lasts, even though the outcome is uncertain. If you’ve placed your life in Christ’s hands, the journey at times may well be very rocky, but you have great hope as the victory is already assured. Praise God!