Friday, June 26, 2015

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – The Bones of Jesus (a sermon)

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

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."

February 26th, 2007, CBS News reported, “The bones of Jesus have been found.” “Titanic director James Cameron and Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici say they aren’t trying to undermine Christianity with their new documentary that claims the remains of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their child – have been found. The two men unveiled two limestone boxes they believe once contained the remains of Jesus and His family during a news conference held at the New York Public Library.

Cameron, best known for producing the blockbuster movie “Titanic” said the $4 million dollar documentary doesn’t set out to undermine Christianity. “No…it’s very far from the case,” said Cameron. “What this DOES is celebrate the “real life existence of this man, who, 2,000 years ago had a vision and communicated it to people.”

The report went on to say, “The claim that the bones of Jesus have been found could challenge the Christian belief that Jesus died and was resurrected three days later.”

Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but to say that this documentary “isn’t an attempt to undermine Christianity” – isn’t just disingenuous - it is a bald faced lie. Folks, without the resurrection, there IS no Christianity.

But beyond that - I don’t understand the big mystery here? The Bible has always plainly stated WHERE the bones of Jesus are. The writer of Hebrews tells us those bones are “seated at the right hand of God” … on His throne!

Every so often someone propagates a story aimed at debunking the claims of Christianity. Remember the DaVinci Code? Now it’s the bones of Jesus. Next year it will be something else. Why? Because man knows that the resurrection of Jesus is what sets the claims of Christ and Christianity apart from all other religions. Without the resurrection, the Bible is a farce and we are still dead in our trespasses and sins. So every year or two we will hear a story attacking THIS MOST ESSENTIAL... FUNDAMENTAL doctrine of the church.

The resurrection of Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church. Well over 300 verses of the Bible support it. We are told that it is a ‘SIGN for unbelievers’ in Matt. 12:38-40. It is the ANSWER for our doubts – Luke 24:38-43. It is the GUARANTEE that the teachings of Jesus are true (Acts 2:22-24) and is the very center of the gospel message itself – Romans 4:24 and 25.

The resurrection provides us with the impetus for evangelism – Matthew 28:18-20, it is the key to the believer’s power to live the Christian life – Romans 6. It is the reason Christians don’t fear death – John 11:25. It is how we know with certainty that Jesus is coming again, Acts 1:11.

And - according to THIS chapter - it is the one doctrine that proves Christians will ALSO be resurrected from the dead.

No chapter of the Bible speaks to the importance of the resurrection like THIS chapter. It is NOT because Paul is trying to convince the Corinthians to believe in the resurrection. They have already accepted it. Instead, Paul emphasizes it because he knows no other doctrine would be MORE excoriated than THIS ONE.

Knowing that our faith would be challenged repeatedly, Paul offers 3 powerful evidences of the resurrection that enable us to successfully defend this doctrine.

We can KNOW that the resurrection is a fact of history by considering the testimony of these three witnesses:

1. First, there is the testimony of the Saints in vv. 1 and 2.

Whenever a case is presented in a court of law, witnesses are called to the stand to either substantiate or undermine the credibility of the person on trial. Since the claims of Christ are on trial, the first witnesses called to the stand are THE VERY ONES who have (a) benefitted FROM the resurrection, and (b) are under attack for believing in it. Paul brings two important points to light:

First is the transforming reality of the resurrection. One way to know that the resurrection is real, is to consider the incredible change that comes over those who believe in it. There was once a time when the Corinthians practiced all sorts of sexual sin, violence, drunkenness and partying… they were sensual – a people polluted by sin – and for that - DESTINED for hell without hope of eternal life.

But all that changed when they placed their faith in Jesus. His resurrection power totally transformed them, as Paul told in chapter 6 verse 11, “and such WERE some of you; but you are washed, but you are sanctified; but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God!”

One of the greatest proofs that can be offered in defense of the resurrection is all of the lives that have been changed by it!

As I reflect over my OWN faith journey – I remember an 18 year old boy in my High School who was known throughout our little community as a rebel. ALWAYS in trouble. His reputation for violence, drugs and loose living, preceded himself. He came from a troubled home and seemed DESTINED to continue the cycle of rebellion begun by his father a generation before.

But one day I heard a rumor that the young man had given his heart to Jesus. A few weeks went by, and people were talking about the radical transformation that had come over him. Months went by and I heard he was preaching! The next time I saw him, he didn’t even LOOK like the same young man. WHY?? Because the Gospel changes people!

I wonder, folks, has the Gospel changed YOU??

I don’t care how many commentaries you've read or how many verses you've memorized, or how well you articulate the gospel to your friends – your witness means NOTHING if your life hasn’t fundamentally changed!

Don’t you understand??? Your lost friends measure the truth claims of the Bible based on the difference it is making in YOU. When YOU are no different than THEM - when you are just as sensual and profane as THEY ARE - they won’t hear anything you've got to say about Jesus!

But not only do we see the transforming reality of the resurrection, Paul also shows us a TROUBLING reality of the resurrection. Truth is, there are a lot of folks in the church who are “Christian” in name only. They are Professors - NOT possessors. Paul calls it “vain belief” in verse 2. It is troubling to think that there may be people in church who possess “vain (empty… worthless) faith.” Maybe they think going to church, getting baptised, singing the songs and dropping a few dollars in the offering plate is all takes to go to heaven. But unless you have been transformed, all your religiosity is MEANINGLESS.

How about you? It has been said, that "the only Bible some will ever read … the only Jesus some people will ever SEE," is through you? If that is true, what kind of story are they reading? Is it a transforming story or a troubling story?

The first witness called to the stand to validate the resurrection is the Testimony of the Saints.

2. THEN Paul turns to the testimony of the Scriptures in vv. 3 and 4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

He is referring to the Old Testament. The prophets of the Old Testament clearly predicted the suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. So, all those skeptics out there who suggest that the resurrection is somehow a new concept or a perversion of the scriptures, only speak from ignorance – the OT predicted the death and resurrection of Christ hundreds of years BEFORE HE WAS EVEN BORN!

You may recall how, after His death and resurrection, there were two unnamed disciples traveling on the Emmaus Road, discussing the terrible tragedy of our Lord’s death on the cross. They were confused and broken hearted. The events of that weekend had taken the faith right out of those men. But Jesus appeared to them and said, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures.”

During His ministry, Jesus confronted unbelieving Jews who asked for a sign of His Messiahship. He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and yet NO sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

On the day of Pentecost, Peter, in his sermon where 3,000 men gave their hearts to Christ, quoted Psalm 16, and said that David, the writer of the Psalm, was looking ahead to the resurrection of Christ.

Paul, while standing before King Agrippa, was asked to give a defense of himself, and answered, “And so, having obtained help from God, I stand this day testifying to both small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses SAID would take place; that Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead, He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people AND to the Gentiles.”

You see - This teaching was NOT new. For Peter, Paul, and even Jesus Himself quoted prophecies recorded in the OT hundreds of years BEFORE Jesus was even born, substantiating the teaching of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

So TWO witnesses have been called: the Saints and the Scriptures, attesting to the truth of the resurrection. AH but there is one more witness…

3. Paul calls the Skeptics to the stand. It is ONE thing to hear the testimony of those who WANT to believe the message of the resurrection – but that doesn’t make for very compelling evidence. If you are unconvinced, then listen to those who had every reason to OPPOSE the teaching, who had every reason NOT to believe…let’s hear from the SKEPTICS. Notice vv. 5-8, “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

The first skeptic called to the stand was Peter – though a disciple and outspoken supporter of the Lord, you will recall how he ran in fear for his life on the night of our Lord’s betrayal – how he denied - not once, but three times, even KNOWING the Lord. A man who would have quit and gone back to fishing were it not for a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

How else would you explain the kind of change that would come over a man who, when asked by a servant girl whether he knew the Lord, cursed and swore he didn’t, but later became such a vehement proclaimer of the resurrection that he would volunteer to be crucified upside down in order to remain loyal to the Lord. How would YOU explain that kind of change? Would a man endure torture and death for what he knew to be a lie???

Or consider James. He too makes the list of witnesses who saw Jesus alive. James was the half-brother of Jesus. During our Lord’s ministry, James thought Jesus had lost his mind and even came to one of His meetings seeking to take Him home. James was embarrassed - a skeptic - but sometime after the resurrection, he became a mighty leader of the church and a man who would write one of the books of the NT. Why else would a man SO radically change his mind, except actually seeing with his OWN eyes his resurrected brother?

Or what about Paul? An ambitious young man – a Jewish zealot who believed he was serving God by stamping out Christianity. He hated Jesus. He hated Christians. He had Stephen, one of the first deacons, stoned to death for preaching the gospel. In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to imprison many more Christians when he met our resurrected LORD, was changed and charged with the responsibility of preaching this message he had his whole life opposed.

Would an enemy of the Gospel willingly perpetuate a lie and say that Jesus, a man he hated, was raised from the dead???

But there were many MORE eyewitnesses. More than 500 people saw Him at one time. And yet ALL of these witnesses, every one of them, proclaimed the exact same message: “He is RISEN!” And for 2,000 years, that message has been changing the hearts and lives of men, women, boys, and girls – for it is indeed, the only message that CAN!

Hollywood can launch its pseudo-intellectual attacks all it wants – but I choose to believe more reliable witnesses …the Saints, the Scriptures, and the Skeptics.

Who will YOU believe?

Maybe you are here today and you have never placed your faith in this resurrected Lord. Maybe you have been trusting in your goodness, your religion, or the fact that you go to church - to get you to heaven. You can’t honestly say that you have completely, ONLY trusted Christ to save you. And today, you have been presented with powerful evidence. What will you do?

No matter what you hear, no matter how persuasive the presentation… NO ONE has found the bones of Jesus...for they - aren’t - here! As the Angel of heaven asked His disciples, “Why do you seek the living among the dead???”