1 Corinthians 15:1-11 CSB
1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, not worthy 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 was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed.
We spent the past two weeks looking at two evidences of of the message of Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul presented in 1 Corinthians 15. In both messages we explored the significance of the Old Testament scriptures for demonstrating that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Today we are going to look at a third. And I feel this evidence is the most convincing.
The third evidence that the Apostle Paul presents for the message of Jesus Christ are the…
Witnesses of the Resurrection
It’s hard to deny the testimony of many witnesses. Put yourself in the shoes of a person in the time right after Jesus died. Paul recorded this about Jesus, that…
There were a lot of witnesses of the resurrection, so it should have been very easy for someone to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Many people saw him and talked with him. The more people you have that are saying the same thing happened, the more substantial the evidence is. With a crowd of 500 witnesses on top of the apostles and other disciples, they may as well of had the resurrection on video, because it was really hard to deny it.
If you have one person saying something you can call him a liar. If you have two people saying something, you might think they ate something that is making them hallucinate or something like that. But, over 500 people witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. You just can’t argue with that kind of evidence.
So who are these people who saw the ressurection, exactly?
The first witnesses that are mentioned here are Cephas and the 12.
Cephas is the Aramaic name of the Apostle Peter, one of the twelve Apostles. And I think Peter presents and interesting juxtaposition. Peter denied Christ three times in his death, claimed he never knew him. But then Peter became a powerful witness of the resurrection. The Christ he denied in death became his Lord in the resurrection and he proclaimed that Lordship boldly.
The reference to the 12 is a reference to the twelve Apostles, which includes Peter, but not Judas because he is dead at this time, after betraying Jesus. They probably did include Mathias who was added to the Apostleship after Judas hung himself. You can read about that in the book of Acts.
Some people argue that the references to the 12 apostles as witnesses isn’t quality evidence, because the 12 were so close to Jesus, of course they wanted to preserve their beliefs, so they fabricated this story about Jesus. But, that’s frankly just something that people who don’t want to believe in Jesus say. There is no evidence for that. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. The Apostles didn’t fabricate a lie about Jesus coming back from the dead and then vehemently insist on the truth of the lie, so much that they were beaten, imprisoned, and eventually killed for their beliefs. People don’t die horrible deaths to preserve meaningless lies.
And if the 12 still aren’t enough, Jesus appeared also to 500, all of which are now dead, but most were still alive when Paul wrote this letter. Most scholars put the appearance to the 500 at the event of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Jesus had gone to Galilea as the angel told Mary Magdalene that he would go. That’s where the disciples had gathered after Jesus died. There were a number of events that happened between the time that Jesus rose from the dead and the time that he ascended to heaven.
One of those is the famous Matthew 28 speech,
The power of this statement is that even if you want to believe that the 12 apostles fabricated the resurrection, you could, in those days, find someone else—probably many people—who had seen
Jesus, and who were unaffiliated with the disciples.
Most of these people could be found in and around Jerusalem and should not be terribly difficult to locate. They were out in public telling their story and making more disciples. You could probably ask around at the Temple and be directed to any number of them. There were lots of witnesses, 500.
Then Paul says that Jesus appeared to James and all the apostles. The James referred to here is James the brother of Jesus. His testimony is probably more valid than anyone else alive at the time, because, we know from the scriptures that James did not believe his brother was the Messiah of Israel while he was on earth. It doesn’t appear that any of his other siblings did either and at times in the Gospel accounts it seems as though Mary, Jesus’s mother, doubts that he is the Messiah.
But, when James saw that his brother rose from the dead, he became one of the most zealous and gifted Christians in the group, so much so that he became the first elder in Jerusalem. It’s funny, because the Catholic church and other orthodox traditions claim that Peter was the first Pope. But, James was the very first official ruler of the Church in Jerusalem and all of the other churches that were planted in other cities fell under his leadership as well. That’s how significant James’s testimony is.
I want to address this idea of ‘James and the other apostles.’ Paul isn’t being redundant, referring to the 12 again when he says ‘other apostles.’ That doesn’t make grammatical sense, because James isn’t one of the 12 at all. Rather, the word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent one.’ The 12 got the title apostle from the Mark 6 sending out of the 12 apostles, where Jesus sent the 12 out in pairs to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God to the people.
But, then in Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 disciples—or we could say, other apostles, sent ones—to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom. This might be a reference to those 70 other apostles. Regardless, Paul was generally saying that there were lots of other Christians who witnessed the resurrection. Go find them.
And then Paul refers to himself, claiming that even he experienced the risen Lord. Let’s read that story.
Paul was also called Saul in those days. He was a Jew and a zealous persecutor of Christians, responsible for the death of many. Luke wrote in the book of Acts,
And, thus, Saul, upon experiencing the risen Christ gave up persecuting Christians and became a Christian himself. You can see why he might consider his own testimony to be highly credible.
Paul had it in with the high priest and the synagogue rulers. He was educated and he was a Roman citizen. His future in Rome was all set up. He was going to be a powerful man. But, he gave it all up because he met Jesus. You don’t just give up a life like that, becoming a lowly wandering Jew, unless you are certain you experienced what you think you experienced. And Paul was certain. And we see his testimony about the risen Christ all over the New Testament.
Now, some people have noticed that in this list of witnesses there are no women. Some people believe that the early Christians adopted the misogyny of the ancient world and that Paul wouldn’t have listed women because their testimony wasn’t considered trustworthy. There might be some truth to the idea that the culture would not have seen the testimony of a woman to be as valid as that of a man. We know that is not really true, but that was believed to some extent back then.
But, there is no clue in the text whatsoever that Paul was trying to make that point here. In fact, I think Paul does mention women, just not by name. He mentions the 500, and if 500 people gathered to see Jesus after the resurrection, then it makes sense that there would be women among them. As you read the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—there are always women present when people gather to see Jesus.
But, I think they are in another place in the passage too. I imagine there are women counted among the ‘other apostles.’ There are a few places in the New Testament that suggest that there were women who were considered apostles—not part of the official 12, but the other apostles. The most clear is Junia,
It’s a bit ambiguous in English, but most scholars believe the intent of the Greek is to identify Junia as an apostle. And that makes sense, because it’s very clear in the New Testament that women were teachers outside of worship gatherings and that women were appointed as Deacons in the early church, so we should not be surprised to see them valued in apostolic roles as well.
And besides, it was women who found the empty tomb and the angel told the women to go tell or witness what they had seen to the disciples.
That’s sort of a side note, but, Paul is not making a point that women are not credible. We know that there were many women who were witnesses of the resurrection and agree that they carry the same burden of proof as men in carrying their witness into the world. That would have been true then and it is definitely true today.
So, these are the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection that Paul referenced.
It’s pretty easy to see why people would believe that Jesus came back from the dead at the time that it happened. But, it is a little more difficult to weigh the evidence of those 500-plus after almost 2000 years. For them it was easier than for us because there is so much time in-between us. But, I think there are good reasons to acknowledge that there is still…
Power in Witness
Let’s consider the facts.
What do we know?
• We know that people were skeptical about the resurrection in the early church.
• We know that people testified about the resurrection to those who were skeptical.
• We know that people believed because of the testimony.
We know today that testimony about the resurrection is the way that the early church grew. So, notice the logical fallacy. If you are going to say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then you have to say that the early church didn’t grow because they experienced the resurrection and told people about it. But, we know from history that the early church did grow because they believed that Jesus rose from the dead and told people about it. They really believed this or there would be no such thing as the church!
I mean, where did the church come from if it didn’t come from the place that history tells us that it came from?
There is really no difference between our historical record of the testimony and the original witnesses, themselves. The vastness of the church is evidence that the original testimonies were true.
Consider how witnesses work in a court room.
Imagine you are a lawyer. In a court hearing you call a witness. The first thing you have to do is establish the credibility of the witness. The opposing lawyers are going to try to discredit your witness, but it’s your job to demonstrate the witnesses credibility. But, maybe you can’t. Your witness is a drug addict or something like that and they decide they aren’t sure they really saw what they think they saw.
And that’s okay, because you have another witness. So, you call your witness and establish credibility. But, the opposition points out that your witness has bad eyesight and could have seen the event incorrectly.
That’s okay, because you have another witness, and another witness, and another witness.
You have so many witnesses, that even if every single one can be discredited individually for some reason or another, at some point it will become impossible for the jury to believe their story is wrong.
And that’s what we’re talking about here. You can argue that any one of the testimonies recorded in the scripture are wrong.
But, at what point does the volume of witnesses prove it true?
We have the 500 plus witnesses Paul mentioned. Then we have countless other witnesses mentioned in other places in the New Testament. Then you have thousands of members of the early church who experienced the power and the presence of the risen Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. And then when they took their witness all over the Roman Empire, you have the explosive expansion of the church all over the Rome over a period of less than 100 years—100’s of thousands of people professing Christ in a place where Christianity is illegal and punishable by death. Yet, the testimony was so powerful, the evidence so compelling, that people continued to believe in Christ, crucified, and back from the dead.
We have so much evidence of this inside and outside of the Bible that it’s crazy not to believe it.
In a court room, this is called case law, by the way. Not only do you have an incredible amount of witnesses. But, you have previous cases you can go to that establish precedent for your case.
Well, we have case law for the resurrection. I don’t understand being skeptical about this today. The jury isn’t out on whether or not Jesus came back from the dead. The witnesses spoke 2000 years ago and the judgment has been made and the case law was written. We call it the New Testament. We call it the Bible. And unless you have credible evidence that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then that case doesn’t get to be opened again. That’s not the way law works. Jesus came back from the dead and the Bible is the case law that proves it, based on the testimony of many witnesses.
And there is a…
Timelessness of Witness
A lot of things get old. But, no one can ever tell you that you haven’t felt or experienced what you know you have experienced. You have a story about how you have experienced God and so long as that story accords with the stories we read in the Bible, then no one has any right to tell you it isn’t true.
And that’s why witness is so powerful. Jesus said,
Notice, for Jesus, telling people how you have experienced Jesus isn’t optional. It’s what Christians do.
If you are a Christian, then you believe that you were a wretched sinner and that you were under God’s wrath. And you believe that Jesus’s death covers over your sin so that you don’t have to experience God’s wrath. You have a real story about how your guilt and shame has melted away because of the cross of Jesus Christ.
And what? is someone going to try to tell you that Jesus isn’t real and so you should still feel guilty and ashamed?
Of course not.
So, you have a story to tell.
If you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus didn’t just die, but that he came back to life. And you believe that he was the first-fruits of the resurrection and by that you believe that you also experience new life because Jesus got new life. And if you experience new life in Christ and you are filled with joy that you never had, and you find satisfaction in living the Christian life, and you take pleasure in caring for other people, then no one has the right to take that away from you.
I mean, what is someone going to tell you? that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead and so you should give up all your joy, all your satisfaction, all your pleasure in doing good things? Is someone going to tell you that you should just go back to being the same old miserable person you were before you knew Jesus?
Of course not.
So, you have a story to tell.
If you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus ascended to heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord. And you believe that you are a prince in His Kingdom and that it is your joy to tell other people about Jesus.
What are people going to say to you? that you should go back to being the old selfish Lord of your own life and stop serving Jesus?
Of course not.
So, you have a story to tell.
And I want to encourage you to tell the story. Be a witness in the world you live in.
It’s actually kind of absurd that people would call themselves Christian but then never tell anyone about Jesus. Jesus gave this illustration. He said,
It’s stupid to light a lamp and then put a basket over it so that the light doesn’t make it into the room. It’s stupid to turn on the light in your closet and then close the closet door. The light doesn’t do anything that way. It’s stupid to have Jesus, the light of life, living inside you if you never shine that light back out into the world. Jesus went on to say,
If there is light in you, you have to let the light shine into the world around you. You have to be a witness.
You know, churches tend to swing one way or the other on a pendulum when it comes to witnessing and evangelism. Some churches emphasize the responsibility of every believer to be witnesses, to tell other people about Jesus. And other churches look to their pastors to do the witnessing as if it were one way or the other.
But look back at Paul’s list of witnesses.
The church leaders, the apostles, are in there. Pastors do have a responsibility to witness about Jesus—and we do the work.
But, you’re the 500. You’re all of the other witnesses. And it’s pretty evident that the early church did not grow because of the witness of the 12 apostles. It grew because of the 500. So, you have to go. You have to tell your story. You have to tell people about the magnificent things that Jesus has accomplished in and for you.
I believe the characteristic of faith that is lacking in the church is affection. I believe that we have lost our affection for God. The comforts of our age have dulled our senses like too much strong drink so that we no longer see the magnificence of grace. We know we need God’s mercy, but we don’t truly love God’s mercy.
Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount, I think, is a great example of a song that we can pray through to try to recover that affection. We’re going to sing this song as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a few moments, but I want you to consider some of the first verse.
Robinson calls Christ the fountain of every blessing that God pours out upon us. But, he recognizes the tension. He recognizes that our hearts are tuned to the affections of worldly things. And so, like you tune a guitar so that it makes a beautiful tone, we ask God to tune our hearts so that we can sing the beautiful song of grace.
We watch the clock when the band plays because our affections lie elsewhere. We get frustrated with the reading a proclamation of the Word of God because our affections lie elsewhere. We compromise the standards of God because our affections lie elsewhere. As Christ’s Church we need a new affection, that is, Christ Himself.
We don’t love grace because we aren’t in tune with grace, but pray that your heart would be tuned to sing of the marvelous grace of offered freely through Jesus Christ.
For, streams of unceasing mercy flow forth from the fountain that is Christ. The never-ending mercy of God through Jesus Christ beckons us to sing aloud, at the top of our lungs even, songs of praise. We sing songs of thanksgiving to Jesus Christ who has taken away all of our sins.
Let me pray for you and then we will celebrate the Lord’s supper as we remember the sacrifice of Jesus and pray for our affections to increase that our hearts might be tuned to sing of God’s grace.