Historically True, Eternally Significant
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, KJV).
Perhaps due to the influence of Greek philosophers in Corinth, a skeptical attitude had invaded the church regarding the validity of the resurrection; some were saying, "there is no resurrection of the dead," (see verse 12). Paul had to deal with this because of the direct implications on the faith of the gospel.
Just in the first two verses of the text, notice five basic things about the gospel: (a) it is to be preached, (b) it must be received, (c) those who receive it must stand on it, (d) by this reception of the gospel sinners are saved, and (e) we must "hold fast," or "keep in memory" the gospel, "unless (we) have believed in vain." Any approach to the gospel or teaching that ignores these five things must be rejected. This was Paul's starting point in his affirmation of the truth of the resurrection, and the resurrection of Christ in particular.
In the preaching of the gospel, the apostles announces these historical truths:
(1) "Christ died for our sins."
(2) "He was buried."
(3) "He rose again."
(4) "He was seen."
This great text makes us aware and helps us "keep in memory" the real events in history upon which the gospel (and our salvation) is based. The message proclaimed by the apostles was not based on something enacted in another place, like the activities of the Greek gods. The gospel preached by the apostles is based on real events; happenings that can be given date, place and persons involved. Too, these events happened in the view of many (assembled to celebrate the Passover), so these were matters "sufficiently known, and not denied by any one" (Macknight, Apostolic Epistles, p.#197). Christ really died for our sins, He was buried but rose again and "was seen." On the basis of these significant events that happened under the providential hand of God, there is good news for sinners: we can be saved! Jesus Christ "died for our sins ... the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit," (1 Pet. 3:18). In another place, Paul simply said, "We believe that Jesus died and rose," (1 Thess. 4:14).
"And that He was buried," is not redundant. It functions to verify the reality of His death. A dead corpse was laid in the grave. Perhaps this was stressed in response to Jewish counter-charges that the "risen" Lord had never in fact risen, but had been stolen away. Christians were able to answer: "He not only died, but he was buried, and we can show you an empty tomb!"
The Biblical account of these great events must be central in our preaching our worship and our lives. Gospel truth can make a difference in our lives to the extent we understand and are convinced of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Thus Paul urges us to "hold fast" (NKJ) or "keep in memory" (KJV) these historical events. The Christian must know, his faith is not built on legends, fairy tales or even myths, but on actual events.
The fact of Christ's resurrection has enormous implications. Had it all ended on the cross, there would be no good news to share, no church, no New Testament, and no hope (see vss. 12-19). The resurrection is fundamental to our faith, and must have a prominent place in our preaching (see: Acts 2:24; 3:26; 4:2, etc.). The fact of His resurrection is not just about a "surviving influence" or "a resuscitated corpse." "The resurrection was a dramatic act of God by which He arrested the natural process of decay and decomposition ('you will not ... let your Holy One see decay'), rescued Jesus out of the realm of death, and changed his body into a new vehicle for His personality, endowed with new powers and possessing immortality," (Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p.#76). Further, the resurrection assures us of God's forgiveness (Acts 17:30,31), testifies to us of God's power (Eph. 1:18-20), and is our guarantee of God's ultimate triumph (1 Thess. 4:14).
These events go back into the counsels of eternity (1 Pet. 1:18-20), were foretold by the prophets (Lk. 24:44-46), are pictured when one obeys the gospel (Rom. 6:1-4), and must be preached to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). Everything that took place under the hand of God before that fateful day of crucifixion was in preparation for it. All that came after it was in order to apply it to us. To Jesus, His death meant pain, sorrow and humiliation; and He went through that ordeal for us! "For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame," (Heb. 12:2). He died our death, that we might live unto Him.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 1.5; May, 1994