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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:1-8
SUBJECT: Of First Importance #3: Christ Rose Again
In my opinion, Bette Davis was the finest actress in American history. Many actresses were more beautiful than she, some appeared in better movies or played a wider variety of roles, but when it came to snapping off dialogue, nobody did it better than Bette Davis.
But for all the great lines she delivered in the movies, the one I remember most was not in a movie. She wrote it herself in her later years, and if you're as old as I am, you know she was right-
Getting old is not for sissies!
The older you get, the harder life becomes. You can't see without your glasses; you wonder why everyone's mumbling; peanut brittle scares you; you're stiff as a board in the morning; spicy food gives you a bellyache; you're sleepy at 9:00, and every two hours thereafte, you're going to the bathroom. How you wish what was said about Moses could be said about you in your later years-
His eye was not dim,
Nor his natural force abated.
But you can't say that. The years have taken a toll on your body, and if you live another twenty or thirty years, things are going to get worse. No matter how many vitamins you take or yoga classes you sign up for.
If aging is hard on your body, it's even harder on your soul. Young people live with the illusion that life can be lived without consequences. The things you didn't do today, you can do tomorrow. The mistakes you made in the past can be unmade in the future. Age dispels the illusion. Nothing shocks me more than the many things I intended to do when I was young, but didn't do, and now I can't do them. Nothing discourages me more than the pain I inflicted on my wife and kids and friends in the past, and how it still hurts them. Even if they're not holding a grudge; even if I've apologized and tried to make amends.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could start over? If we could all start over? If the world could start over? But, of course, we all know that's a dream. The past is past, and unlike movies, it cannot be re-wound.
Or can it?
The message of Easter is: it can be re-wound, and more than 'can be', it has been. Easter, you see, is not about Easter egg hunts, not about chocolate bunnies, not about ladies decked out for church. Easter is about the world starting over! The re-wind begins with the Resurrection of Christ.
Before moving on, let's be sure we know what we're talking about. The Resurrection of Christ does not mean 'He went to Heaven when He died'. He did that, of course, but that's not the Resurrection.
It also doesn't mean that His body that died on Friday afternoon returned to life on Sunday morning. It came to life that day, but it wasn't a return to the life it previously had. Jesus didn't rise from the dead in the same way Lazarus did, for example, or the widow's son or the ruler's daughter. They came back to life, but the life they came back to was the same life they lost, a life scarred by sin and sorrow and sickness and loss and.another death.
The Life Jesus rose to was the Life of God, the Life of Heaven, a Life now above and beyond this present evil age! I don't mean it wasn't physical life-it was that-but it was the physical Life we were meant to have, and not the weak and mortal lives we have.
Jesus rose to a Life invested with power and glory, incorruptibility and immortality!
Did He really rise from the dead? Paul says He did, in I Corinthians 15, and in many others places as well. In Romans 1, for example, he says Jesus-
Was declared to be the Son of God with power.by the resurrection of the dead.
Why would he believe such a thing?
It is not because Paul was a superstitious primitive man, looking for a miracle under every rock. People in those days no more 'expected' resurrections than we do. Some Jews believed in the Resurrection, but they all thought it was way off in the future. As for the Gentiles? They thought it was ludicrous; it's likely what Paul means when he says the Gospel was-
Foolishness to the Greek.
Dead men stay dead. Paul and his generation believed this as firmly as you and I do. They may have been 'pre-scientific', but they weren't stupid!
Well, then, why did Paul believe Jesus rose from the dead? He gives us three reasons:The first is credible eyewitness accounts-
He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then, at one time to more than five hundred brothers, most of whom [were] still alive.
These men were not crackpots; they didn't turn every cloud into a UFO or see Elvis working at 7-11! They didn't believe Jesus would rise from the dead, and it was nearly impossible to convince them He did. Read the Gospels and you'll see the first witnesses of the Resurrection were Mary Magdalene and her lady friends. When they told the disciples, they thought they were nuts! When Peter and John went to see for themselves, they saw and empty tomb, and wondered what happened. It wasn't until Jesus appeared to them in person that they believed-and even then-they were slow to do it. They thought He was a ghost or a spirit, and it wasn't until they touched Him and saw Him eat that they believed.
But one of them wasn't there that night, Thomas. We he heard what had happened, he thought his friends had lost their minds. Like you and I, he knew, 'Dead men stay dead'. A few days later, Jesus appeared to them again-and this time Thomas was there. Knowing what he had said before, Jesus dared him to-
Put your fingers into the nail prints; and thrust your hand into my side. And quit being faithless, but believe!
More than five hundred people saw the previously dead Jesus alive. They had nothing to gain by telling lies, and a lot to lose. Why would they make up the story? And why would thousands, and later millions of people, some of whom were highly intelligent and not at all gullible believe it? The most obvious answer is: Because He did rise from the dead!
The second reason Paul believed in the Resurrection of Jesus is, he himself saw Him alive. Paul was not one of the twelve men who followed Jesus early on. But he knew all about Him. He was a rabbinical student at the time, and hated Jesus with a passion. The day Jesus died was a red-letter day in Paul's life. Paul knew Jesus was dead-and 'Good riddance'.
When people started saying He was alive, Paul hit the ceiling, and did everything he could to stamp out liars by whatever means necessary. The disciples were hardy souls, however, and Paul couldn't silence them with ugly looks and threatening words. He arrested them, threw them in jail, tortured them, and gave consent to the stoning of Stephen.
No one in the world was less likely to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus than Paul. His whole life and career and reputation depended on Him being dead and buried. But on the Road to Damascus, he saw for himself. Jesus appeared to Paul, and not in a dream. Paul saw the Man Himself alive and in glory. Not a disembodied spirit, but the whole Jesus, body and soul.
Paul believed in the Resurrection because he himself was an eyewitness to it. Not at the same time the others saw Him, but he saw Him. And for Paul, 'seeing is believing'.
ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
The third reason Paul believed Jesus rose from the dead is because the Bible said so. He had read the Bible his whole life, and firmly believed in the Resurrection, but, like other Pharisees, he believed it was a future event. But when he saw Jesus in His Resurrection Glory, something clicked in his mind.
The end of the world has come into the middle of history. God is going to raise the dead and set things right, but not all at once. The Resurrection starts with Jesus; it moves on to His People, and finally, the whole world is raised from death to life.
Thus Jesus becomes a kind of firstfruits. This is a term rooted in the Old Covenant and well-known to Paul. Firstfruits were just that: the first apples or oranges that ripened in a farmer's orchard. When he found them, he gave them to God as a tithe and portent of the good things to come.
This is what Jesus is! Raised from the dead, He is given to God and anticipates the future harvest, which is the Resurrection of all God's people on the Last Day.
Is the Resurrection of Christ really in the Old Testament? It is. Psalms 16 and 22 are 'proof texts' and others have been found, but I don't think Paul had a handful of verses in mind when he said Jesus-
Rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Here's what I think he meant, more or less:
Beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
God's aim is so high and our efforts at self-improvement are so low that nothing can bring this to pass short of the Resurrection! And this is what God is going to do. First in Jesus. Then in His people.
THE TWO ADAMS
Paul develops the idea in vv.21-22-
For as by a man came death, by a Man has come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Adam was the father of the human race. By rejecting God and choosing Satan, he destroyed himself and everyone else. Hitler killed millions; Adam has killed every dead man, woman, and child in the history of the world! He's at the root of our problem. Did he ever repent? I don't know. Did he regret what he did? I can't say. But whether he did or not doesn't matter! The damage is done and Adam's apologies and tears and efforts to make things right won't make things right.
But what if there's another Adam? A better Adam than the first one? And what if He remained loyal to God? What could He do? He could start the world over again. He could engender a new human race, a race, not bound for damnation but destined to glory.
Jesus is the New Adam! Through faith in Him we become the New Human Race, and this time, we're not going to Fall, we're not going to be cursed; we're not going to die. We're going to live, and not the wonderful life the first Adam was living in the Garden, but a life far better than that! A life that cannot go wrong or be lost. We're going to share in the Life of the Resurrection!
In fact, we already do. Most people underestimate the difficulty of believing in Jesus. They think it's a matter of upbringing or logical arguments or attractive examples or maybe scare tactics. Some of these things are good, but they don't enable a sinner to believe. Because they're not powerful enough.
What is? Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:19-20-
And what is the immeasurable greatness of that power to those who believe, according to the working of His great might, that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.
In other words, the Life Giving Power that raised Jesus from the dead has raised us to Spiritual Life already, and will one day be exercised again, raising us to the full life of the Resurrection!
When that happens, all the wrongs you've done, all the hurts you've inflicted, all the good you never got around to will be redeemed. We will share not only in Christ's immortality, but also in His joy.
The regrets of middle-age and old age will be things of the past, and wiped away with every tear.
This is the message of Easter-
Behold, I make all things new.
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