Confident Christianity: “The Foundation” – 1 Corinthians 15, Part One

Glenn-BeckRadio personality Glenn Beck recently told a story about a hypothetical TV series he would like to make in order to drive home an important point. He set the opening scene like this:

Every episode would begin with a man doing something heinous. For instance, Beck said, “the man would appear closing a heavy metal door to a sealed gas chamber. He would then pull a lever and peer through a small peek hole into that gas filled room while watching people inside die horribly. That would be the opening 45 second. The scene after, Beck posited, the camera would find that same man playing with his children on the carpet of their living room. The entire episode he would be a fine, upstanding citizen, and a good husband and father. He would be scripted so as to win the audience. If you were watching him, you would like him! At the end of the episode, when you found yourself enjoying this man’s humor, attitude about life and basic mind frame – he would do another heinous deed. The entire series would agitate you with the contrast between the man’s normal life and his awful deeds. In the end, the story would beg you to ask yourself a question: “How could such a good man do such horrible things?” The answer is simple: He surrendered, little by little, his core beliefs to compromise for some seemingly good reason. Beck then closed his little parable with these words: “So it is when we think we should surrender some small part of our value system to make people happy. In the end, the price will be horrible.

I am not a regular listener to Beck. In fact, I don’t think I have actually ever listened to a program he produced before in my life. At the same time, when I was driving down the road the other day and this story passed by me quickly – its details stuck with me. Why? I suspect it is because of the passage I want to talk about in this lesson on 1 Corinthians 15. The passage is well known to be about the Resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, it is true to say the passage under consideration is as famous (among Bible students) for the theme of the Resurrection of Jesus as the notion that chapter 13 is known as a “love chapter”. The passage answers probing questions concerning the Resurrection of Jesus and even what is prophetically promised for believers – but that is not the MAIN POINT Paul made in the chapter. His point was closer to the idea Beck presented. It was this…

Key Principle: When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

If you go back and study antiquity, you will find the issue of the Resurrection was hotly disputed in ancient Jews, but it was also on the minds of several important Roman celebrity thinkers. When the Christian message spread, the notion came under fire across the Roman Empire. Let’s say it this way:

As Christianity grew it encountered the ideas of Seneca the Stoic philosopher and tutor of Emperor Nero in his youth, as well as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (who taught the body was inherently degraded but soul was, in essence a good thing). Add to that, in Corinth the believers of that city appeared to feel the spreading influence of some of Nazarene Judaism (literally some Jews from a Sadducean background joined the congregation at Corinth). Since Sadducees did not believe the Hebrew Scriptures taught a body resurrection of individuals, they therefore could not accept that Jesus’ resurrection was part of the justification message. Because of their knowledge of the Law, they were confusing the congregants by saying the Good News message of Jesus did not have to include the Resurrection.

Think of it this way: since (strictly speaking by the standards of old Atonement Law) men and women were rescued from wrath by the death of an animal – Jesus’ death was all that was necessary for the solution for sin. (15:12). According to that line of argument, the Resurrection would eventually be made to seem less important, and it would eventually fall from being an “essential of the faith” to being a mere appendage.

Watch this line of argument, because it is rampant in our day. People will say: “Stick to the essentials and don’t get bogged down in the details!” On the surface that sounds both well-reasoned and reasonable. On closer inspection, though, it is harder and harder to pin down what people think is included in the essential teaching of the faith.

Let me ask you frankly: “Do you think Paul would think defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman was essential? In his writings, as we have seen in the study of this letter earlier, he maintained those who would not restrict the marriage bed to those who are monogamously married to one of the opposite sex were to be ejected from the church. He noted in chapter 6 that such activities were part of the past life of some believers, but never the present – for participants in such things are “not part of the Kingdom of God.” Does that sound to you like a “marginal issue” or one essential to the practices of believers? Yet you will be repeatedly told (even by other believers) it is “majoring on minors” to insist that such behaviors remain immovably in the category of sinful practice.

Do you believe Paul would have been willing to surrender the literal Creation of the physical world as an optional belief? How about the notion that Adam and Eve were literal creations of the Living God? What would happen to the Gospel if that was a mere story in light of Paul’s writing of these words from 1 Corinthians 15:21 “For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”?

Let’s just lay it out so that every college student can understand what is at stake in swallowing the compromise of “keeping it simple” when it comes to sharing our faith. If Peter would have been willing to surrender the literal flooding of the earth by the Lord God, what would his words about future judgment come to mean when he wrote about literal Bible history in 2 Peter 2:4:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly [lives] thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day by [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment…”

Beloved, don’t be silenced by others who want to embrace practices long forbidden to gain acceptance to the world. The fathers of our faith would tell us to stand our ground and speak truth even when truth is not popular or widely accepted. The siren call to compromise is not new to this generation – it has beckoned believers ever since truth was written down for us in God’s Word. Paul faced that in this passage, and his test case was the veracity of the Resurrection account from the Word in 1 Corinthians 15. His problem may have been a different one, but his commitment was the same that I am calling out for you and I to make. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Paul argued the truth of the Resurrection was five things:

1. It was a timeless truth: The Gospel he preached was unchanged from what they heard when he came to them (15:1-2).

2. It was prophetically sound: The Gospel he preached was fully rooted in Holy Scripture, and included the following facts:

a. Messiah died as a penalty to pay for the sins of those who believe on Him (15:3) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Isa. 53:5-12; John 1:29).
b. Messiah was physically buried and bodily raised from death to life (15:4) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Ps. 16:8ff).

3. It was historically verified: Messiah was seen by His followers many times in many settings (15:5-7) and those who saw Him continually testified of this (15:7b).

4. It was a part of the writer’s personal experience: Paul was not boasting when he claimed that he saw and spoke with the Risen Savior and was commissioned by Jesus as the others who brought the message to the world (15:9-11).

5. It was a matter of the message’s integrity: If Messiah hasn’t risen, we have misled you and lied (15:13-16) and you are not God’s people (15:17) and those who died believing this are lost (15:18). We are all pathetic liars (15:19).

Our message is based on very specific reported facts of history that define the family of faith. They aren’t opinions of sages; they are facts of history.

The Apostle says these events caused the formation of a body of “believers”. Don’t get fuzzy on what we are taught in Christ! The truth is some that was announced by God and is a revealed set of truths. Move in on verse one again:

15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand

You will see that our message was brought in content and ANNOUNCED (euangellion – cp.1). It was found in a message OF GOOD NEWS that can be verbally communicated. The Gospel isn’t a harsh message that brings condemnation – but a liberating message of full payment. We aren’t sharing RULES with people – we are declaring their bondage ended!

You can also note the hearer had to CHOOSE to “take it along with them” (receive is the term “paralambano” – 1b). It was obtained by a deliberate reception. The Gospel requires response and grasping. It is not a passive reception of a baby in a baptismal font, but the decision of a thoughtful mind. No one gets to Heaven by accident, stumbling in the pearly gate. They must decide to receive the message.

Note the end of verse one. The choice of receiving Christ caused the recipient to “take their stand” or “FIX THEIR HOLD” on it (stand is the term “histemi” – 1b). The Gospel impacted the person who came to Christ and changed the recipient in future action. Having decided on the veracity of the message, they clung to that message. The life perspective changed.

Step back, then, for a moment. The Good News of Jesus has to be individually accepted and makes a change in the life of one who truly embraces Jesus. Is that YOU? Do you recall making the message of Jesus – that He came and died in your place for your sin – your chosen belief? Did that belief change your life choices and behaviors?

Paul continued talking about the Gospel, our essential message, and made clear some other important truths about it. He wrote:

15:2 [the Gospel] “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Here Paul made clear the choice to receive Jesus and fix hold on Him alone for our spiritual life SAVES the recipient (save is “sozo” – from to rescue or cure – v.2a). If sin is the sickness, the Gospel is the cure. One must understand that without the Gospel a man or woman is not simply “impaired” but utterly LOST. The lost condition is greater than a simple “brokenness within” – -it is a condition whereby they are utterly separated from God. It is to that condition Jesus referred when He said in John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The issue of SAVED and LOST is technically separation from the Father in Heaven.

Notice Paul said at the end of verse two the “salvific effect” occurs only for those who POSSESS the Gospel (the terms “hold fast” are a translation of “katecho” – to firmly bind to). This must be more than a casual nod to the concept – it requires a binding of Jesus and His work to the life of the recipient. A second emphasis of the BINDING nature of the recipient (after his statement in verse one) should help to clarify that it must be a serious and real choice to be effective. It is more than knowing the facts of the Gospel; it is surrendering control of life to Jesus.

We preached the Resurrection this past Sunday, as we have done since this church body began to meet in the early 1980’s. Yet, it is easy for us to lose track of how important this message is to our body. Look at verse 3:

15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…

Did you notice the Gospel was the HIGHEST PRIORITY message for the Apostle to bring to the Corinthian people (the term “protos” is translated “of first importance” – 3a). He taught them much over the one and one half years he was with them – but nothing was of higher importance in the public ministry.

The message of the church is and always was rooted in the salvation message. Jesus came to set us free from sin and open a way to God that was closed to most and temporary to the Jews of antiquity. The Temple provided a temporary covering over of the problem, but Jesus fixed the problem once and for all time.

Paul RECEIVED the message. He POSSESSED the Gospel before he shared it with them (the term “received” is again the term from verse one – “paralambano” – or choose). He was not unsure of its truth, or uncommitted to its details. In fact, he continued, the message included DEFINED HISTORICAL FACTS. Note the verses:

15:3b “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

The Apostle could not be more clear. Jesus died as my substitute for SIN (not for sime mere political posturing or a life example for men to learn from). He was here, and He was killed. His physical body was buried in a tomb and that same body came back to life from its dead state (15:5,6). A message without the components is a different message.

These facts were PROPHESIED from the Scriptures – the very Word of God (15:5). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry was drawn from the Prophets of old – and not some contrived story. In fact, without an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, one could not grasp the judicial terms of sin’s separation, and a sacrifice’s valuable nature to bring justification.

Paul wanted to be very clear that the whole message hangs together or falls together! He continued the teaching to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:12 “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

To make the argument even clearer, Paul shared that NO COMPONENT of the message of the Gospel can be extracted without collapsing the whole – because the veracity of the account hangs together. A truth shrouded in lies is not the source you can trust for your eternal destiny.

In the case of the Corinthians, it is clear that some were struggling with the notion of the life after death for the BODY. They may have believed in HEAVEN, but saw no reason to elevate the physical body to a place that required literal resurrection. Paul rejected this out of hand. Look at his reasoning:

• If there is no resurrection – the message we told you of Christ included a claim that was not true! 1 Corinthians 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

Can you really trust a message that is embedded with lies and half-truths? Following a flawed Bible is more senseless than living beneath a cracked dam! Either the Bible is true or it is a waste of your Sunday morning to learn from it.

• If there is no resurrection and the claim concerning Jesus was fabricated, you have believed an empty story of corrupt liars in the place of real faith! 1 Corinthians 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

If Paul was a liar and the other Apostles charlatans, we have no hope in Christ at all. He was a good man who died an untimely and unfortunate death – and nothing more. His moral teachings were those of a flawed man to be set beside other greats of human history. He is not alive and offers nothing for sure. Martyrs like Stephen were NOT men of God if Christ is not Risen, but deceivers justly killed for promotion delusion and deception.

• If there is no resurrection, we are not God’s people – but are still separated from God! We will be persecuted throughout history, only to die for lies! 1 Corinthians 15:16 “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The point is that if the elements of the Gospel are not all present and true, then the message is not the good news at all! The message of the Bible is either TRUE or it is a terrible book of deception that has offered false hope to billions.

One cannot simply argue that the text has “elements of truth” with occasional “misstatements” and “fabrications” without thereby implying the faith of Christ to be BOGUS.

The argument applies even more broadly! Consider for a moment how many other teachings hinge on the truth of this one. One such teaching is the place and work of Jesus now (John 14; Rev. 4 and 5). Either Jesus is our advocate, or He was a relic of history and nothing more.

Ah, but Christ IS RISEN.

It was long before promised in predictive prophecy. The Gospel is not just a story made by men – it was revealed truth by God Himself.

Not long ago two young ladies sat in our church for a sermon and came to a day of classes at GCBI. They were struggling with the idea that we can know if the Bible is true, and know that Jesus was Who He said He is. They asked: “How can we know it is not one of the other religions of the world?” It was a thoughtful question from true searching hearts. I replied as I will to you in this lesson: “The Bible is the only one of the ancient texts that is so thoroughly historically attested. Walk the lands of the Bible. Stick a shovel in their soils. You will uncover evidence after evidence of the Bible’s veracity in historical detail. Scholars do all possible to punch holes in the ancient record. Yet, consistently, one find after another silences their claims.

That isn’t all, but that was the beginning of my quest to know…Because God made promises, and God keeps His promises, and the Bible contains His promises – we can see that Jesus fulfilled God’s promises. No Bible – no salvation. Yet, our world is FULL of evidence concerning God’s existence and we are trained to look past it!

Let me take a moment and offer you a few straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there. Don’t forget to consider the fact the Bible claims that people have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God in Romans 1. God appears to be hiding in plain sight.

Is there any “hard evidence” that God exists? I think there is.

Start for a moment by considering the complexity of our planet, and how that design points to an Intelligent Designer who both created our universe, and sustains it today. There are countless examples demonstrating God’s design, but we are limited in time, so let us consider a small sampling of the evidence…

Our planet

Consider for a moment the unique planet on which we live. Did you know the size and position of earth have both been calculated by scientists to be ideal for its purposes? Consider this: the planetary size and position accounts for its exacting gravity. Its hold on the thin layer of gases extends a mere fifty miles above the Earth’s surface. A smaller planet, like the planet Mercury, would not be able to hold such an atmosphere, even if one could be produced there. Earth appears, at least so far, to be the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain flora and fauna, as well as animal and human life.

The Earth is located an idea distance from the sun for our living systems. The temperature variance the planet encounters (about -30 degrees to +120 degrees) is ideal for all its systems. Further from the sun, the earth could sustain no life, and all living materials would freeze. Closer to the sun and the surface would become a fireball and all life would be consumed. A slight fractional variance in the earth’s position to the sun would kill everything here. Yet, the Earth remains a perfect distance from the sun rotating around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph and allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be warmed and cooled with the turning. Earth has only one moon, but it is the perfect size and distance from the Earth to balance its gravitational pull. The moon pulls our ocean tides so our life waters do not stagnate, and pulls them out so that oceans do not spill over the continents.

The Simplest Component of Life

Consider for a moment something as ubiquitous as water…It is largely without color, odor or taste, and yet it is essential to most all living things on earth. Our plant life, our animal life and our human existence depend on water, because our very bodies consist of about two-thirds water. Water as a substance is uniquely suited to life: With a wide margin between a boiling and freezing point. Water is one of the primary ways we have been outfitted to live in an environment of fluctuating temperatures while maintaining a steady 98.6 degrees. It acts as a universal solvent for necessary chemicals, minerals and nutrients to be carried through our bodies. It is chemically neutral, and does not affect the makeup of the substances it carries. It enables substances to be absorbed and used by our body. Its unique surface tension allows water in plants to flow upward against gravity, pulling internal water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees. It freezes from the top down and floats, allowing fish to live beneath the surface of frozen regions. Since ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans, the earth was designed with the ability to remove salt from the water and distributes fresh water beneath the planet’s surface. The massive oceans evaporate and leaving their salts, forming clouds moved by the wind to disperse water over the land. This is a purification system supplying and sustaining life.

The Operation of Our Brain

Consider for a moment the design involved in your brain. You are, in this very moment, simultaneously processing information of many types from a variety of sources using a number of senses. You observe colors and objects, subconsciously note the temperature of your surroundings, regard the pressure of your feet against the floor, sort out automatically the variety of sounds around you, and even detect unusual dryness in your mouth. You are designed with an onboard system to store processes and emotions, thoughts and memories, sensory warnings and comnforts. Simultaneously, your brain tracks and paces functions throughout your body. Your hypothalamus sends messages to maintain your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger sensor and movement of the steadying muscles to keep you upright. Even the slowest thinking human brain is processing more than a million messages a second, while sorting the varied importance of all the accessed data. Without effort, you are filtering out the unimportant, and screening information while you focus effectively. You were constructed with an ability to reason, to emotionally feel, to envision and plan and relate to other people. Your eye has “auto focus” and is able to distinguish among seven million colors handling an astounding 1.5 million messages — simultaneously. While evolutionary theory focuses on mutation, adaptation and incremental, the theory alone has been unable to explain the initial source of the eye or the brain’s development – for it is the start of living organisms, separating them from nonliving matter.

The Cause of our Starting Place

Consider our beginnings. Our scientists tell us there is cause and effect. Where there is an effect, a cause should be sought to be real science. While our research has overwhelmingly concluded that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light as the singular beginning to everything – we are also told there should be no reason sought for in that event – all began as a random activity with not purposeful beginning. Scientists offer no explanation for the explosion of light and matter in which they say all things had a beginning.

Our Uniform Codes

Consider the intelligent codes from which life replicates itself and upon which it all depends. Our world operates by uniform laws of nature. One obvious question is: “Why?” Every day you have learned to count on the effects of gravity, the cooling of hot food, the constant motion of the earth which rotates uniformly in 24 cycles, and recognition that the speed of light doesn’t change How exactly did random forces create stable laws that remain consistent? There is no logical necessity for a random universe to obey consistent rules or abide by mathematically precise designs.

A closer examination of our own DNA code allows us to confirm that information provides a cell within us the required knowledge to determine its own behavior. We have an internal instruction manual so that in every cell of our bodies there exists a complex instruction code, made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. Using these four chemicals, there are three billion letters in unique order for each human cell!! The code, or DNA, instructs the cell to act in a certain way. Is it beyond reason to ask: “How did this information programming get introduced to each human cell?” These chemicals uniquely instruct in sequential code every detail of how a person’s body should develop. Natural causes presume no purposeful code, but our biological systems yield extensive evidence of encoding. If we had a random beginning, this is the only example of such precise instruction that has no one intentionally constructing it.

Turn our attention for a moment to a final question. How do we know Jesus is truly the way, and not another world religion?

Survey the major world religions and you will discover that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. Uniquely and surprisingly, Jesus made much more than that claim, actually stating that He was “One with God” according to the Bible. That alone sets Jesus apart from all the others. Jesus said God exists and looking at Jesus was seeing God Himself expressed in human form. He claimed attributes belonging only to God like the ability to forgive people of their sin, free people from enslaving habits, and offer people an abundant life here, as well as eternal life in heaven. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

Did Jesus offer evidence for the claims?

In short, in His time on earth people followed because He did what people can’t do. He was widely reported to have performed miracles. He healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He demonstrated power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people, walked on top of a lake, commanded a raging storm to stop for some friends. He told people, “If you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.” They followed in huge numbers for the time and place in which He lived.

The final act of His life on earth before leaving us was to be given life after death. He conquered death itself. It is not an incidental action – it was an evidence of Who He claimed to be. It is THAT act that caused even the most reluctant disciple to believe, change his life to follow, and die if necessary for the truth of Jesus. His Resurrection was the single irrefutable evidence that changed the first followers.

Though God does not force us to believe in him, He has provided sufficient evidence of His existence and then made Himself evident in the power of the Risen Son. It is not a side issue – the veracity of the message hangs on the historical events.

When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

Christ is Risen. He has taken the sting of death…

A man and his were riding along in the car with the passenger side window down on a beautiful Spring morning. The little boy panicked when a small bee flew into the car, because he was allergic to bees and one sting could mean terrible pain and even death. His father saw the boy’s panic as he reached over and grabbed the bee. A moment later he released the bee back into the car. The little boy cried, “Dad, get it out!” The father replied: “Hush, son! He cannot hurt you. I took his sting so that he cannot harm you!” That is what Jesus did to death. His Resurrection proved the Father’s satisfaction. It is essential to the message, and it is true.