First Corinthians chapter 15, and we’re having a great time studying the resurrection. This tremendous chapter, a very long chapter – 58 verses, by far the longest chapter in 1 Corinthians – deals with resurrection.
A recent scholar, C. F. Evans, writing on the resurrection, says, quote, “To a greater extent than it is anything else, Christianity, at least the Christianity of the New Testament, is a religion of the resurrection.” End quote. He’s right.
John Locke, the famous British philosopher, said, quote, “Our Savior’s resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity. So great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it.” End quote.
Now, those two statements just emphasize two points that I want you to remember. Christianity is built on the resurrection, and the messiahship, the lordship of Christ is built on the resurrection. It is the cornerstone of Christian truth. It is so important to the basis of Christianity, to the claims of Jesus, and I would add to the destiny of every human soul, the resurrection is the sine qua non of history. It has the greatest impact of anything on human destiny as well as divine plan. And so, we study it with great excitement and anticipation.
And, you know, it’s great to study it today, because there’s a new interest in the afterlife, and there’s a new interest in death. In fact, Psychology Today, September ‘76, said, “Death is now in vogue.” In other words, it’s a topic that you can talk about now. It’s something that people are discussing.
A recent Gallup Poll reported that 73 percent of Americans strongly believe in life after death. And if you’ve seen anything about high school and college coursework, you know that both in colleges and high schools, they’re now offering courses on death. In fact, I was reading about a couple this week where they are allowing, in these two particular schools, students to lie in a coffin just to kind of get the feel of it.
And everybody is concerned about death, even the 27 percent who aren’t too sure they believe in life after death, have thought a lot about death. Everybody does. You might be interested to know that the average teenager thinks about death once every five minutes, according to surveys.
Now, people have to offer an answer to this, and so we have all kinds of solutions to the problem of death and what happens afterwards. Some people teach soul sleep, that when you die, your soul goes to sleep for a while, and then you awake into some nirvana, some celestial Disneyland, or some Happy Hunting Ground or whatever. After your soul has slept for a while.
There are others who believe in what is called termination. And that’s the materialistic view that when you die, you go back to dust: forget it; it’s over; lights out; extinction. There are others who believe in what is called reincarnation, which I prefer to call recycling. That’s just where you get turned in, and you come back as something else.
And then there are others who teach what is philosophically known as the philosophy of absorption, which is what the Greeks believed, surrounding the Christian church, that every man was indwelt by a spark of deity, and when the body died, the spark went back to the big fire which is god. In other words, you’re absorbed back into the divine mind. This is what the Hindus believe and the Buddhists. They believe you’re absorbed back into the divine mind; you lose your personhood; you lose your individuality, you cease to exist, and if you’re fortunate, you get recycled later on back as somebody else.
But the view of absorption, the view of reincarnation, the view of extinction all involve the loss of self. They all involve the extinction of personhood. They all involve the end of you forever. But the Bible teaches that we’ll live forever, and that you will live forever as you. And that’s different than most human philosophies.
Now, I can’t get too excited about reincarnation. I want to see myself as me in the way that God can remake me for His kingdom. I can’t get too excited about extinction either. That makes everything seem so useless. And least of all can I get excited about absorption, going back into some floating supernatural fog. Some people get excited about that. You wouldn’t believe the rhetoric about getting absorbed back into some deity.
Leslie Weatherhead writes – just listen to this – “Would it really matter if I were lost, like a drop of water in the ocean, if I could be one shining particle in some glorious wave that broke in utter splendor, in perfect beauty on the shores of some eternal sea?” Sounds drippy to me.
We don’t want to lose our identity. The Bible says that the soul of man is eternal, and the Bible adds, too, that the body of man is going to be redone in an immortal fashion.
Listen; we are unique persons, and we will be us forever, in a unique way. And yet, with some wonderful modifications that’ll equip us for God’s wonderful kingdom.
Now, that’s exactly the message of 1 Corinthians 15, because the Greeks were teaching absorption. That you just kind of go back into the – you’re a drip in the eternal sea. And the Christians came along, and the message of the Gospel was that you would be raised bodily.
But some of the philosophies of Corinth began to encroach upon the Corinthian church, and pretty soon, there was a gang of Corinthian Christians who were denying the bodily resurrection. They were saying, “All right, we’ll buy the immortality of the soul, but we’re not going to buy the body bit. We’ll buy the idea that the soul will go on forever, but not attached to the body in a unique personhood.
And Paul is writing the fifteenth chapter to try to straighten them out on the fact that they must believe in the immortality not only of the soul, but of a glorified body that allows for a person to continue to be a person forever, the same person he was, only marvelously changed, sinlessly changed by resurrection life.
And so, the message of 1 Corinthians 15 is not the immortality of the soul, it is the – it is the immortality of a glorified body. That’s what Paul wants to talk about. The Greeks were denying bodily resurrection. They were denying physical resurrection. They were denying literal resurrection so that you are a person, unique, confined within a glorified body. That’s what they didn’t believe. And that’s what the church at Corinth had begun to question, and that’s what Paul answers.
And as I told you last time, the way he approaches it is this: he starts out with the first 11 verses on the resurrection of Christ. And he says, “Look, we already believe that Jesus rose literally, physically, bodily from the grave. We all believe that. That’s the Gospel. We all believe it. Now, if you already believe that Jesus rose literally, physically from the grave, then why do you have a problem believing that for your resurrection?” That’s his whole argument.
“If Christ rose, then He is the first fruits of them that slept, and we, too, shall rise.” And in 1 John 3 it says, “We shall be” – what? – “like Him.”
Now, Paul’s message is very simple. He wants them to accept the bodily resurrection, which they don’t accept. So, he starts on common ground, which they do accept, that is the bodily resurrection of Christ. And he uses that as the premise upon which to postulate their resurrection.
Now, as we started out the chapter, we noticed that he begins by refreshing their minds about the gospel of the resurrection. And he says, in effect – look at verse 1 – “The Gospel which I preached, which you already received, in which you already stand, by which you are being saved, that Gospel” –according to verse 3 – “is that Jesus died for our sins” – verse 4 – “that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.” And later he says that not only was He risen, but He was seen, and he begins to list all the people who saw Him.
So, he says, “Look, the Gospel which we preached, you received, you stand on, you’re saved by, the Gospel which has been the basis of all of our faith, and the basis of the church is a Gospel involving a physical, literal resurrection. Look,” he says, “if you already accept that, then why do you have a problem with the concept of bodily resurrection? You already believe Jesus rose bodily.”
This is a great approach, you see, because He redefines what they already believe and says, “If you already believe that, you have no reason not to believe that you, too, shall rise bodily. If God can sustain one in the grave and bring Him out in a physical, glorified resurrection, He can do it for you as well, and will do it, since Christ promised to be the first fruits of them that slept.”
Now, verses 1 to 11 then is refreshing the Gospel, reminding them of the gospel of the resurrection. Now watch this; as he reminds them of it, he reinforces it by the testimony to its validity that he gives. He goes through stating it, but he doesn’t just state it, he just has a way of hammering home its validity. And he gives five evidences to strengthen them in their confidence in the resurrection of Christ. The apostle here weaves into this restatement of the Gospel five evidences indicating that Jesus did rise, in fact, bodily, physically, literally out of the grave.
And we saw last week – and we’re not going to go into these in any detail; just to remind you – but we saw last week, number one, the testimony of the Church. The testimony of the Church.
He says, “Look, you have received it” – verse 1 – “you stand in it, and you are saved by it.” In other words, he says, “The very fact that you, 20 something years later after the resurrection believe this thing, have been saved by this thing, stand on this thing, hold to this thing is indication that it was true. You’re living proof. You’re evidence. You are a resurrection fellowship. You have received the gospel of the resurrection. You have believed the gospel of the resurrection. You hold the gospel of the resurrection. Your lives have been literally transformed by the gospel of the resurrection. So, you are the first line of evidence.”
How else could you explain the fact that chapter 6 says that a whole group of people, some of whom were fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, effeminate, extortioners, thieves, and he goes on and lists all of those things. But all of a sudden they were transformed by Christ. How could that be explained other than by the living Christ and the living power of the living Christ? The fact that you believe it, and you’re only 20 years away, the fact that you have confidence that it happened, and you’re this close is indication enough that it’s true. And it has been evidence all throughout history - the existence of the Church has been evidence that, in fact, the gospel of the resurrection is true. Look at the Church. Would all of this have happened from a hoax? Certainly the Corinthians’ very existence marshaled evidence of the validity of the resurrection. The living Christ had built that Church.
Number two, the second line of evidence that we looked at last week was the testimony of the Scriptures, and in the end of verse 3, he says, “According to the Scriptures.” In the end of verse 4, he says, “According to the Scriptures.” And we marked the fact in our minds that everything that happened in the death of resurrection of Christ was prophesied where? In the Old Testament. That’s the Scriptures.
The Old Testament said it would all happen, and it happened exactly as the Old Testament said. The Old Testament generally predicts resurrection for everybody. That’s right. In Psalm 49:15, it predicts the resurrection of the human being. In Psalm 73:24, it predicts the resurrection of the physical, the body; I’m going to be with the Lord. In Isaiah 26, it even states that we’ll be resurrected. In Daniel 12:2, it again states that we’ll be resurrected.
So, the idea and the concept of mankind being resurrected is in the Old Testament. And so is the promise that Jesus would rise from the dead. And we saw that, didn’t we? In such places as Psalm 16 and so forth.
And so, there was the promise of the Scripture that is should come to pass. This is what God said. They believed in the validity of the Scripture. We might do well to remind some of our Jewish friends that - when they say, “Well, I don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah,” we do would do well to show them Old Testament Scripture that predicts the Messiah will rise from the dead, and show them, in fact, that Jesus did; He fulfilled Scripture.
So, you don’t need to speculate that this is just someone whimsical thing. He’s saying, “You can’t just pass off the resurrection. You can’t just say it’s a non sequitur; it doesn’t matter. You can’t just set it aside. It is a prophetic absolute. If Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead literally, physically, and bodily, without corruption, as Psalm 16 says, then He’s not the Messiah. That’s how important it is. The Scripture predicted it; it has to be. Just as it predicted He would be born in Bethlehem. And just as it predicted that He would die, so it predicts that He would rise.
And, of course, when Jesus came into the world, He immediately picked up this Old Testament scriptural format, and he began to speak immediately about His death. As early as the second chapter of Mark, in verses 18 to 20, the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting. Now, there was only one fast required in all of the Old Testament, and that was the fast of the Day of Atonement. All the others were optional. And the Pharisees had made up a lot of optional fasts, and they fasted twice a week. I think basically they fasted on Monday and Thursday, if I remember right. They fasted often. And they considered it a sign of spiritual virtue.
So, apparently, the disciples of John the Baptist fell into this habit, and they did it as well. They came across Jesus and His disciples, who weren’t doing it, and they said, “Well, how come if we do this, and the Pharisees do this, you don’t?”
And He says, “Because you don’t fast when the Bridegroom is here. But one of these days, the Bridegroom will be taken away. Then will His disciples fast.” In other words, as early as the second chapter of Mark, He was talking about being taken away. And the phrase there, “taken away,” in the Greek is the same one used in Isaiah 53:8 in the Greek rendering to speak of Him taken away to slaughter.
So, from the very earliest part of His ministry, He began to predict that He would die. But it didn’t end there. Later on in the Gospel of Mark, by the time He gets to the eighth chapter, He’s not just talking about His death; He’s talking about what will follow His death. And in Mark chapter 8 and verse 31, he says, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, by the chief priests, by the scribes, and be killed” - now watch this – “and after three days rise again.”
So, from Mark chapter 8, He begins to talk about this. In Mark 9, verse 9, the same thing, “Till the Son of Man is risen from the dead,” Jesus says. In verse 31, He taught His disciples again that He should be killed and rise the third day. So, He began to each death and resurrection from the earliest part of His ministry. Why? Because this was the essence of His whole ministry was wrapped up in these things.
The mission of Jesus was to die and to rise. And this became the format for all the apostolic preaching. As soon as you get into the Church in Acts 2, the first sermon ever preached is preached on the resurrection. You get into Acts 3, the second sermon ever preached is preached on the resurrection. When in Acts 1 they went about to choose somebody to take the place of Judas, he had to be a witness with us of the resurrection, because that was the bottom line.
And so, the mission of Jesus - as He sees it Himself, as the Old Testament prophecies see it, as the epistles relate it – the mission of Jesus was to set up a kingdom. And for that, He must live. But in order to have any subjects in His kingdom, He had to pay the price of sin, and for that He must die. So, He had to live and die, and to do that, you’ve got to rise in the middle. Right?
And so, the resurrection becomes the middle of the Gospel. He must die to pay the penalty of sin; He must live to set up a kingdom. And so, in the middle, He’s got to rise from the dead. And that’s what the Scripture said. The Old Testament again and again and again and again predicts the death of the Messiah, the death of the servant, the death of the sacrifice. And it also predicts the King is coming, and He will set up His kingdom, and He will reign. And if you’ve got a dying Messiah, and a reigning Messiah, you’ve got to have a resurrection in the middle. It was absolutely obvious that that had to happen, all over the Old Testament, according to the Scripture. So, the resurrection evidence is given by the existence of the Church and by the testimony of the Scripture.
Thirdly, it is given by the testimony of eyewitnesses. Look at verse 5, “And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve. And after that, he was seen of about five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present time, but some are fallen asleep” – or have died. “And after that, He was seen of James, then of all the apostles.” Stop there.
Now he’s giving the third area of evidence, the testimony of eyewitnesses. Human courts today – human courts all through history have pretty much predicated the decisions that they make on the basis of eyewitnesses where possible. That is the most conclusive kind of evidence. And especially where you get intelligent, competent, sound men and women with real integrity giving the testimony. That’s very strong evidence.
So, Paul appeals to that. He is saying, “In case you have any question about the bodily resurrection of Christ, let me tell you about the five hundred plus people who saw Him.”
A lawyer by the name of Sir Edward Clarke said, quote, “As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day. To me, the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again, in the High Court, I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains affect. The Gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer, I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.” End quote. So the testimony of a lawyer, a capable man in searching out evidence.
Professor Thomas Arnold was 14 years the famous head master of Rugby, author of a famous three-volume history of Rome, appointed to the chair of Modern History at Oxford University in England. And this is what he writes, quote, “The evidence for our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be and often has been shown to be satisfactory. It is good, according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece as carefully as every judge summing up on an important case. I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others, but to satisfy myself.
“I have been used for many years to study the history of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them. And I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is better proved by fuller evidence than the great sign that God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” End quote.
So, a lawyer; so a historian. And a theologian, Charles Hodge, says, “It is the best authenticated event in ancient history.” Why? “Because of the massive evidence of eyewitnesses.”
Verse 5 says, “And He was seen” – literally, He appeared. And we say that because Jesus was never seen by anyone to whom He did not reveal Himself after His resurrection. Mary Magdalene was in the garden. She saw Him. Did she know it was Him? No, she thought it was the gardener, and she didn’t know till He revealed Himself. Two disciples, who had been with Him for three years, walked along on the road to Emmaus. Did they know who He was? They didn’t know who He was until He revealed Himself.
In John 21, He appears on the shore, and they don’t know who He is until He chooses to reveal Himself. Post resurrection, no one saw Jesus as Jesus until He revealed who He was to a select group.
And so, He revealed Himself after His resurrection. And now Paul chronologically lists those revelations. And incidentally, since this is the oldest record of the resurrection, written even before any of the Gospels, this is the first insight into who were the eyewitnesses who saw Him. Number one was Cephas, and that’s Aramaic for rock. Greek for rock is what? Peter. And Luke 24:34 when the road to Emmaus, disciples came along, they reported to everybody else that He was seen by Simon.
Somewhere along the line, right after Jesus came out of the grave, He went right to Peter.
You say, “Why did He do that? Peter was a coward; he didn’t deserve anything. Why didn’t He go to dear, beloved, faithful, wonderful John or one of those other disciples? Why did He go to Peter, the disciple who denied Him?”
Well, I don’t know that I can give the exact answer, but I have a few ideas. Number one, I think God wanted to emphasize what grace is and what love is and what forgiveness is. And aren’t you glad He picks up the unworthy folks? Aren’t you happy about that? I am. Jesus needed Peter for a strategic ministry. You see, He can use crooked sticks as well as He can use straight ones. And He went right to Peter because He needed Peter. And after all, Peter had denied Him, but what had he done immediately after he denied Him? He went out and did what? He wept bitterly. And I think he had a broken heart. And I think the thing that Peter was so left with was that he had denied Jesus, and now Jesus was dead, and he could never make it right. So, Jesus went right to him and met with him.
Now, we don’t know about that meeting, because the Scripture doesn’t tell us about it. It was just a very private meeting. But Peter became eyewitness number one.
You say, “Well, why did they pick Peter out?”
I’ll tell you why. Who was the unquestionable leader among the twelve? Peter. Who had the greatest ministry in the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts? Peter. Who was the guy with the greatest line of credibility, with the greatest believability, with the most clout, with the greatest power, with the greatest impact on the early Church in Jerusalem? Peter. And he picks out the prime witness of the resurrection and says, “Peter believed it; he saw Him.” And they got to say, “Wow, and Peter’s something. What a man.”
Post resurrection, Peter was indomitable, powerful. Peter believed it. And then, verse 5, “Then He appeared to the twelve.” You remember that same day it says in John 20:19, “And the same day, it being night, the disciples were in the upper room, the door being shut, and Jesus appeared to them and said, ‘Peace be unto you’”? Immediately, in John 20, after the incident with Peter, and He’s right to the upper room; and He meets the twelve. Now, there’s only 11 now, but “the twelve” became their official title. They were called “the twelve.” Even though there was only 11 because of Judas’ apostasy, they’re called “the twelve.” And so, Jesus went to be with them.
It’s recorded also in Luke 24:33 to 43. And He met with the disciples. And He shared with them, and they became witnesses. Now listen, now these are not just fly-by-night characters; these are the apostles who were writing the theology the Church was born out of. Do you see? From Acts 2:42 on, the Church studied the apostles doctrine. They were the bottom line; they were the ones who articulated the revelation of God. And he says, “It is Peter who was the primary one, and the rest of the twelve, they saw the living Christ.” That’s evidence, folks. These are competent, intelligent witnesses.
And then he goes on to verse 6, and he says, “After that, He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once” – at the same time. And he adds this – “of whom the greater part remain to the present time, but some have died.” He says, “Here’s a second line of evidence. Not only” – now watch this – “Not only is the resurrection validated by the character of these witnesses, but by the number of these other witnesses. You’ve not only got the twelve, whose character is impeccable, unquestionable, but you’ve got the mass of 500 people who saw the living Christ.”
So, in one case you have the quality witness; in the other case, you have – what? – quantity witnesses, the great number. Now, where did this occur? Well some believe it occurred in Jerusalem, because that’s where so many people lived that were associated with the Church. But if you really look at the text in Acts 1, you find there were only 120 disciples in Jerusalem, when the Church was born, gathered in the upper room? There may have been some more, but it seems best to assume that Jesus’ greatest reception was not in Jerusalem, but maybe the greatest crowd of people would have been in Galilee. And in fact, perhaps the sighting of Jesus by the 500 occurred on some hillside in Galilee, when Jesus was in Galilee, as Matthew indicates, in the latter chapters, He would be. So, whatever; but somewhere in Jerusalem perhaps a little less likely, but maybe in Galilee, more likely, Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. That’s a lot of witnesses. You have any case in court that you want to have, and you drag through 500 people who all say the same thing, that’s fairly convincing.
I mean all you needed, according to the Old Testament law, was that something had to be confirmed in the mouth of – what? – two or three. God always goes overboard, everything He does. He just had 497 more than He needed.
And listen to this; this is so great. He says, “The majority of them are still alive. You check it out.” Not only the character of witnesses who would some of them be dead, but the quantity of witnesses, most of whom were still alive. “You can ask them yourself.”
And finally he adds – I love this – “And after that He was seen by James, and then again by all the apostles.” James. Who’s James? James the son of Alphaeus? James the son of Zebedee? Both of those were apostles. I don’t think that’s who he has in mind. This is James, the brother of our Lord, the one who wrote the epistle of James. The one who became the head of the Jerusalem church in the sense that he was the leader. James, the brother of Jesus – the half-brother – the son of Joseph and Mary.
You say, “Well, what’s so important about this?”
Well, this is a witness of a different kind. Listen to John chapter 7, verse 5, “For neither did His brothers believe in Him.” Now you’ve got the testimony of His own brother who is an unbeliever.
You say, “Well, what’s the importance of this?”
Listen, the importance of this is the fact that here you have a witness right out of His family, who was a skeptic, who has totally been changed, and He is now a believer of the resurrection. Now, James didn’t believe that Jesus was who He claimed. James didn’t believe. John 7:5 says it’s. Didn’t believe. Maybe when Jesus died, James began to feel a little remorse, and maybe as he knew the circumstances of the death of his half-brother, humanly speaking, maybe he began to feel some admiration for Jesus. And Jesus wanted a witness out of His own family, because, you know, it would be hard. People would say, “Ah, don’t kid us about you resurrecting from the dead. Your own family doesn’t even believe it.”
And so, Jesus sought out James. Jesus appeared to James in resurrection form, and James believed. And James was changed. And James, it says in James 1:1, starts out his letter by saying, “James, a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Well, that’s a big change for an unbeliever.
Now you’ve got not only the testimony of quality men, and of a quantity crowd, but you’ve got the testimony of a skeptic here. And right out of Jesus’ own family, an unbeliever is transformed into one who does believe. The resurrection convinced him when all the rest of the stuff didn’t, apparently. He’d watched Jesus’ life. It didn’t convince him. The resurrection did.
And then, again, it so-and-so at the end of 7, that he appeared to all the apostles. And if you read Acts chapter 1, it tells us how that happened. In verse 3 it says, “He showed Himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen by the apostle” – literally – “forty days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
So, He appeared to the apostles again at least on three occasions to them as a group. And so, you can see the witnesses are really there. Quality type men. Quantity of people. And even a skeptic.
J. N. D. Anderson writes, quote, “The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrication, that they were purse lies. But so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude.
“In fact, it would be an impossible position. Listen; think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, mean and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching that is ever known, and who even, on the testimony of their enemies, lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards, cowering in an upper room one day, and a few days later, they are transformed into a company that no persecution could silence.”
And he goes one to say, “Attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more than convincing themselves of a fabrication doesn’t make sense.” It doesn’t. So, the evidence mounts. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is attested to by the Church, by the Scriptures, and by the eyewitnesses.
Fourth, the testimony of a special witness. A special one. Verse 8, “And last of all, He was seen of me also” – who’s this? Paul. “And last of all, He was seen of me also.” Now, he throws in – this is a whole other category of witnesses. This isn’t some quality person who’s very much behind Jesus; this isn’t 500 believing brethren; this isn’t His own human brother. This guy is a Christian killer. That’s right. He says, “I am as one born out of due time. I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God.”
Here is a totally unbeliever. He is a total persecutor of the Church. He says, “I am the last to see Him. Last of all.” By the way, that’s a good word for those who keep claiming appearances of Jesus. Isn’t it? Paul says, “I am the” – what? – “the last to see the resurrected Christ.” This makes us suspect the myriad of so-called experiences of seeing Jesus.
In fact, Peter even writes, “Whom having not seen, you love.”
Paul says, “I saw Him.” When did you see Him, Paul? You weren’t even around, fella. “I saw Him. I was on my way to Damascus.” Read Acts 9. “And I was just going there, and I was breathing out fire and slaughter, and I was going to do my thing. See? And all of a sudden, I got slammed to the dirt, and there in front of me was the blazing, glorious, resurrected Christ. And I said to Him, ‘Lord, what will You have me to do?’”
Paul saw Him. He saw Him, and He was so brilliant, He blinded him. It wasn’t the blinding of darkness; it was the blinding of light, like gazing at the sun. “I saw Him,” he said. He says, “I saw Him as one born out of due time.” Literally, tō ektrōmati, from the word ektrōma which means a premature birth. Ektrōmati is an aborted fetus. Now, that’s interesting. He says, “I saw Him as an aborted fetus, an abortion, a miscarriage.”
What’s he saying? Well, it seems to suggest, initially the Greek word does, that he was born too soon. But the fact is, in relation to the 12 apostles, he wasn’t born too soon; he was born – what? – too late. Well, how do you explain that? Well, perhaps the Greek word can imply that. Some commentators feel that the Greek word simply means an untimely birth, which means he could have been born too early, like a miscarriage;, or too late, retained to long. And maybe the word can mean that. Maybe he’s simply saying, “I was born at the wrong time.” It’s possible that the Greek word could just be a general word meaning a birth at the wrong time, either early or late.
The problem with that view – it’s okay, and it might be true – is that we don’t have any other use of the word to support that in that manner, though it could be true.
Other people say, other commentators say, that Paul is really, really just designating Himself as the worst, the ugliest, the discard of humanity. Paul may be just saying, “I’m nothing more than an abortion.” And incidentally, he used the definite article here. It literally translates this way, as “the” abortion. And some commentators say that there may have been some people who called him “the abortion,” because it was a term of derision and despite and hatred. And the people hated him so much for his gospel of grace which counteracted their systems of law.
You want to put it all together, Paul is simply saying, “I was useless. I was ugly. I was despised. I was worthless. I wasn’t even born at the right time, and yet it was me that Jesus appeared to.” And that tells me that God is no respecter of – what? – persons. Aren’t you glad for that? Paul says, “I saw Him. I saw Him.” And he uses the emphatic pronoun in verse 9, “For I, who am the least of the apostles, I’m not fit to be even called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”
Can’t you imagine that all through the life of that dear man, in his mind he saw the visions coming back of the people he had persecuted because they loved Jesus Christ? They were all his brothers, and he’d killed them once. “I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “The least of all.”
Verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain.” Beloved, it is always by the grace of God we are what we are. Is it not? If you’re saved, it’s of His grace. It’s what Paul says. “It was a sovereign thing; it was unmerited; I was just going to kill the Christians, and the next thing I knew, Jesus came, and He appeared to me, and He changed me, and He made me an apostle. And I can’t believe it. I was the scum,” he says.
Like the old story of Mel Trotter that I love so much. Mel was such a drunken bum, that when his little daughter, three years old, died of malnutrition, because he never bought food for her - he spent all his money on booze – he took the clothes off her body and took them to a hock shop. His wife had put the clothes on for the funeral, and he stole the clothes and hocked them so he could buy some booze. Left his dead daughter naked. Mel Trotter stumbled into a mission and found Jesus Christ and became one of the greatest evangelists America ever knew.
God is no respecter of persons. He picks up the scum. And He picked up some scum named the apostle Paul and turned him into the greatest apostle. And he says here, “His grace was bestowed upon me, and it was not” – what? – “in vain.” You know what’s beautiful about that? Paul didn’t just accept salvation; he gave his life to fulfill God’s will.
You know, you have to wonder sometimes if sometimes God’s grace is not maybe just kind of in vain because somebody gets saved, and then they become sort of a spiritual flake. They never do anything. Not Paul.
And somebody may say, “Well, yeah, uh-huh. The resurrection happened. All you people, sure, the apostles would believe it. Sure, the 500 would believe it. Sure, James, His brother, he had a vested interest. He probably loved his brother humanly. And boy, he really wanted to believe it.”
Well, listen, folks, what are you going to do with this guy who didn’t believe anything? And it happened to him. He saw Christ before he believed. And it shattered his life. Tough for the skeptics to deal with Paul.
And so, he says, “It wasn’t in vain either. But I labored more abundantly than the rest of the apostles; yet it wasn’t me, but it was the grace of God was with me.” Kopiaō, “I worked to the point of exhaustion. And God gave more abundant fruit to me than He did to anybody else,” he says. “And it wasn’t me; it was God.” He’s not extolling his hard work. He’s saying, “I worked hard, and there was a more abundant response as God’s grace worked.” It’s the idea of results in the “more abundant” rather “effort.” God’s grace did it.
How do you turn a guy going killing Christians into the greatest apostle who ever lived? How do you take somebody who’s doing everything he can to destroy the Church into the greatest proponent of the Church that ever lived? There’s only one thing that could do it. He saw the living Christ. That did it.
And there’s a last evidence. The testimony of the Church, the testimony of the Old Testament, the testimony of the eyewitnesses, the testimony of a very special witness, and finally the testimony of the common message. Verse 11, “Therefore, whether it were I or they” – whether it’s myself or the other apostles – “so we preach, and so ye believed.” What’s he saying? He’s saying this, “We all are preaching the same message. We all are believing the same gospel, and it is a gospel of resurrection. So we preach the resurrection; so you believe the resurrection. Whether it’s Paul, or Peter, or the twelve, or James, or whoever it is, it’s all the same proclamation. And whether it’s Corinth, or Galatia, or Ephesus, or Colossae, or anywhere else, we all believe the same thing.”
Do you see the impact of that? Listen; one of the greatest testimonies to the resurrection is the unity, the uniformity of the common faith of the early Church. There weren’t a few over here who believed in resurrection, and a little segment over here who didn’t. That’s something new, folks. That’s something new. It’s only been in the age of the skeptic that all of a sudden we’ve got some part of the Church that’s the Church believing in resurrection, and some other so-called Christian church that denies it. That’s new.
Paul says, “Early we all believed it. And if we all believed it, and if we all believe that Jesus rose, and we all believe in a bodily resurrection” - then go to verse 12 and watch how his argument moves – “Now if Christ is preached by all of us that He rose from the dead, how come some are saying there’s no resurrection of the dead?”
And now he’s moving into the second part of his argument, which we’ll get into next week, “If you’ve accepted already the resurrection of Christ bodily, what’s the problem with the concept of bodily resurrection?”
Now watch this; go back to verse 8, and I’m going to close. There are three great implications of the Gospel right here for us, and I want you to get these as we close. Implication number one, when you hear the gospel of the resurrection, the first thing that should happen is a recognition of sin. “And last of all, He was seen by me, as a dead fetus, the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” The first implication the Gospel had in the life of Paul, when he met Jesus, he recognized he was a sinner.
Second, not only a recognize of sin, but secondly, a revolution of character. The second implication of the Gospel, in verse 10, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain.” In other words, he was changed. He was miraculously transformed.
The first implication of the Gospel is a recognition of sin. The second is a revolution of character. The third is a redirection of energy. “And so, I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God in me.”
Listen, beloved; when you hear the gospel of the resurrection, number one, you should respond with a sense of sinfulness. Number two, you should turn to Jesus Christ, the living Christ, for a revolution of character. And number three, you ought to be anxious to see a redirection of energy so that from then on your life is given not so that grace is in vain, but so that grace fulfills its plan; your life is given in a total commitment to bear fruit for His glory. I hope the truth of the resurrection has those implications for you. Let’s pray.
Thank You, Father, for the time we’ve shared, for the message of the Word of God. Thank You for the resurrection. Thank You that the resurrection is not a past event, to be remembered, but the culmination of the resurrection is a living Christ to be adored and served. May we do that, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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