“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 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. 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.”
In the midst of being busy—busy at home, busy at work, busy at play—it can be so easy to not keep the main thing the main thing. This can be our experience today, and it was certainly the experience of the church in Corinth, which had gone off-centre. They claimed to be wise, but they hadn’t wised-up to what Jesus did for them. They claimed to be mature, but they didn’t have any problems in abusing their sexuality. They claimed to be gifted, but they neglected the greatest gift of all, love.
That’s why Paul wants to make known here with crystal-clear clarity what’s the top priority. He began his letter with the cross of Christ. Now he ends with the resurrection.
Five things make up this gospel that was preached by Paul, received by the Corinthians, and became the very thing on which they stood and were saved by (1 Cor 15:1-2).
- Jesus died for our sins. His death was a real death.
- The same Jesus who absorbed your sins and mine was the same one who ended up in the tomb.
- On the third day, Jesus was raised bodily and physically. His body wasn’t stolen. The disciples weren’t hallucinating. This was the real deal.
- All these events were expected. By all means, never tire of marvelling at the wonder of a physical resurrection, but know that this was expected all along.
- Eyewitnesses—and lots of them!
This last point Paul really expands on: how much evidence do you need that Jesus conquered the grave?
Exhibit A: the disciples. The same guys who ate, drank, followed, and sat at Jesus’ feet day and night for three years then saw the same Jesus resurrected in front of their eyes. If he was a fake, they of all people would have known.
Exhibit B: 500-plus brothers in one spot, all at the same time. (That’s not including the women who were the very first to see Jesus in Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10.) This was no mean feat. There were no high-rise apartments or train stations to make this happen. The resurrection was not a private experience. Quite the opposite: he was making himself known. Furthermore, the fact that some eyewitnesses were still alive meant that these facts could have been denied—but they weren’t.
If it’s these five things that made up the gospel in Paul’s mind, if this is what is of first importance, then surely you and I need to major on these five things. But let me suggest two blind spots that can occur in our presentations of the gospel to others.
First, perhaps we could learn from the sermons in Acts that carried a distinct resurrection flavour to them. The apostles worked backwards with the resurrected Christ as their starting point. Could we do likewise in our evangelism? That’s not to deny the importance of the crucifixion, but beginning with the resurrection event opens a whole new vista of possibilities. It enables us to explain who Jesus is now (Lord of all, defeater of death, conqueror of sin and evil). It opens up discussion of what he is doing now (ruling, awaiting judgement of the living and the dead). And perhaps most crucially in the post-Christian world, the resurrection is the launch pad into intelligent dialogue on issues like same-sex marriage, the environment and abortion all because this created order has been vindicated.
Second, amidst the challenges and accusations that Christianity is a blind faith, we can take confidence in declaring boldly and proudly that it is anything but. It is clearly an evidence-based faith. What a comfort it is that believing in the risen Lord Jesus is not some wishful thinking. The same basis by which we send people to jail is the same basis for why we take our stand on this good news and no other. We’re doing exactly what science does—making decisions based on evidence-based conclusions.
So the next time you present the gospel, remember all five ingredients. But especially, remember the evidence that Paul is at pains to point out.
Or perhaps when that wave of doubt sweeps over, death confronts you, you get turned down for yet another job, or you are floored by a medical diagnosis, say to yourself: “Did Jesus rise from the dead? Yes. Why do I believe that? Because of the mountain of evidence.” And then rejoice that in amongst all those things that can distract us in life, you’ve got the main thing. That’s what matters most.