It All Comes Down To This

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  15 : 1-22
Subject: Life; Resurrection; Easter; Power of Jesus; Lordship; Death, Victory Over

1 Corinthians 15:1-22

When I was in high school I LOVED geometry - which is surprising because I had struggled with Trigonometry and Algebra - but with geometry everything just fell into place. I got an A - applause please!

One of the reasons I did well was because I had an excellent teacher - but another factor was that to me at least - geometry made SENSE. We would learn postulates and use them to prove theorems to be true - and those truths enabled us to figure out how to prove other theorems. In essence, with geometry, truth literally ADDED UP.

Here’s something else. I loved doing homework in geometry because our teacher gave us clear plastic sheets on which to solve problems using special pens - VERY MODERN - VERY HIGH TECH - and then the next day we could use a brand new invention called an overhead projector - to show our work to the rest of the class. Here’s a picture for you YOUNG people. To me, geometry homework wasn’t home-WORK. No - it was more like home-PLAY. I mean, if I could prove that if such and such was true - then such and such would also be true - FUN!

By the way - teens out there - if you ever wonder how math can possibly help you later in life - I will testify that GEOMETRY can! It definitely comes in handy even today 46 years later! Here’s an example - in geometry we learned that parallel lines are always the same distance apart. Well, this geometric principle has helped me back out of the Wehunt driveway countless times. I just use the rearview mirror on my left to steer the car such that it’s always the same distance from the left edge of the pavement. I don’t even have to look at the mirror on the other side to see the right edge - because their driveway is perfectly parallel all the way - which means if I stay the same distance from the left - I’ll stay the same distance from the right.

Using this geometric truth works because I haven’t hit their mailbox yet! So - pay attention in geometry class!

I share all this because in today’s text - whether he knew it or not - Paul uses geometrical thinking in that he shares several “if then” statements - theological postulates the he uses to show that the Christian faith all comes down to the death and resurrection of Jesus. IF Jesus died and rose again - THEN Christianity is valid. Of course I should word it, “SINCE Jesus died and rose again - THEN Christianity is valid” but I get ahead of myself. Paul’s point in this 15th chapter is that everything we believe and do as believers comes down to these two facts. You could say that our text for this morning is the essence of Christianity. By the way J. B. Phillips agreed because he called this chapter “the most important chapter of the Bible.” Take your Bibles and turn to 1st Corinthians 15 and let’s read from this chapter. Follow along. We’ll go through verse 22.

1 – Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 – By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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, and then to the Twelve. 6 – After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 – Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 – and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 – For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 – Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. 12 – But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 – If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 – And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 – More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 – For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 – And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 – Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 – If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 – But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 – For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead coes also through a Man. 22 – For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Okay - quick Geometry review.

A “postulate” is a truth. Theorems must be proven to be true based on postulates. At least, that’s what they told me in geometry class in 1971 - and keeping with that theme let’s look at our study as “geometry homework.”

Postulate 1 – Jesus really did DIE on the CROSS.

Let’s review why this postulate is indeed TRUE. In verse 3 Paul says: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures - and was buried…”

Note that Paul reminds his readers that “this happened according to the Scriptures.”  In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross had been foretold - which of course helps validate this first postulate. To show you what I mean, here’s a small sampling of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus’ crucifixion - prophecies that were given and recorded in Scripture hundreds of years before Jesus was born:

Isaiah 50:6 said that He would be beaten and spat upon - which of course, He was.
Isaiah 53:12 said that He would be “numbered with the transgressors” which was fulfilled by His being crucified between two thieves.
Zechariah 12:10 and Psalm 22:16 said that His hands and feet would be PIERCED. In other words, these ancient texts foretold crucifixion before it was even invented.

By the way, at the time the death penalty was stoning. Therefore, this prediction of crucifixion is particularly noteworthy.

Here’s something else. The Jewish Passover sacrifice and Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death coincide exactly. He was indeed the long-awaited Passover Lamb.

Jesus was the point - the fulfillment - of this ancient object lesson.

Psalm 34:10 said His bones would not be broken - just as the Passover Lamb’s bones were not broken - as a foretelling of Jesus’ death.
Psalm 22:18 said that His clothing would be divided - that they would cast lots to determine who got what - which the Roman soldiers on His execution detail did.
Psalm 69:10 says that He would be given vinegar and gall to drink.

I could go on and on but the fact is - Jesus’ death on the cross was clearly foretold hundreds of years before it happened - yet some of the people in Corinth had apparently begun to doubt the truth of this first postulate. Some didn’t believe Jesus really died on the cross. And people today do as well. Many say Jesus just swooned and then the coolness of the tomb revived him.

But that makes absolutely no sense. Remember, before being crucified Jesus was cruelly beaten - a beating that was accurately portrayed in Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion.

Now - in those days there were two kinds of scourging or flogging: Jewish and Roman. The Jewish version limited the punishment to forty lashings. But in the Roman version of scourging there was no specified number of times that a victim could be beaten. It could go on and on and on - -and often it did. In fact, historians tell us the Roman Lictors would have buckets of SALT water on hand to use to throw on the victims’ fresh wounds in order to revive them when they passed out - so they could continue to beat a conscious victim. Understandably then, the Romans commonly called their version of scourging “halfway death.” I mean, it was not uncommon for a man to die from a Roman scourging. This explains why Jesus was physically unable to carry His cross and Simon of Cyrene’s help had to be enlisted. This also explains why He died after being on the cross for only six hours. The truth is Jesus was beaten almost literally to death - BEFORE He was nailed to those cross beams. In fact, Mark’s gospel parallels Matthew’s when is says “they BROUGHT Him to the place of Golgotha” (Mark 15:22), suggesting that Jesus was actually BORNE along to Calvary - probably walking with much difficulty, needing the constant support of Simon - not just his help in carrying the cross.

Once Jesus finally made it to Golgotha and was nailed to the cross and it was lifted into place - in order to breathe He would have had to press up on the nails in His feet - a movement that would have scraped His raw back against the rough wood. As His body lost more and more blood His heart would have beat faster and faster. Dehydration would have occurred and the breathing would have become more labored and intense. In fact, His heart would have beat so hard in an attempt to compensate for the loss of oxygen - due to the lack of blood - that it eventually would have ruptured. Then His chest cavity would have filled with fluid - and John’s gospel says this is what happened to our Lord. Remember? Since it was the day before the Sabbath and the Jews did not want the bodies on the cross on that Holy day - they asked Pilate to have the legs broken which would hasten death. So the soldiers took a huge mallet and broke the legs of the other two. This made it impossible for them to push up to breathe and death would have come very quickly. When they came to Jesus these Roman soldiers familiar with crucifixion and death saw that He was already dead but just to be sure they thrust a spear up through His side into His heart. And John - who you should remember was present - close to the cross that day - says when the soldier did this blood and water came out - which means the heart had indeed stopped beating and the blood was settling in the chest cavity.

So the fact is Jesus didn’t SWOON on the cross. He DIED on the cross. That’s a POSTULATE or FACT you can take to the bank.

Postulate 2 – Jesus really did RISE from the DEAD.

Paul states this one in verses 4-7 when he says that Jesus: “…was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me…”

And - as Paul says - Jesus’ resurrection was ALSO prophesied in the Scriptures - hundreds - even thousands of years before His birth. Here’s some examples:

Psalm 16:10 says, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”

In his sermon on Pentecost Sunday Peter quoted this psalm and said that Jesus’ resurrection was a fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul quoted the same psalm when he preached at Antioch many years later. So both of these Jewish men knew this Psalm was a Messianic prophecy.

Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 also foretell Jesus’ resurrection.

In John’s account of his going to Jesus’ empty tomb, he confesses they did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until finding the tomb empty, because, “he did not know these Scriptures that prophesied the Messiah must rise from the dead” (John 20.9).

Jesus said that Jonah’s experience foretold His resurrection. In Matthew 12:40 He said, “…as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish,so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” So - in the same way Jesus’ death by crucifixion was foretold - so was His resurrection - helping VALIDATE this second postulate.

And to further validate it I would remind you that the amount of evidence for the resurrection is amazing. Even some renowned atheists have acknowledged this postulate. For example, this guy, Anthony Flew, one of the most respected atheistic philosophers within the last fifty or sixty years claims: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”

Well, Flew was correct - proofs of Jesus’ resurrection abound - but since we’re studying Paul’s writings - let’s look primarily at His life as proof.

I. First let’s examine WHEN Paul said Jesus rose from the dead.

This is important because many people say the New Testament accounts of the resurrection were put on paper so long after Jesus’s death that they were just myth. But myths take a long time to form - and the New Testament was written VERY soon after Jesus’ resurrection - FAR too soon for a myth to have developed. Let me explain. Paul was converted - He met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus about five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. He wrote the first letter to the Corinthians in about 52AD - but in it he says he had preached to them about the resurrection five years EARLIER. So if Jesus died in 33AD and Paul was converted - after seeing and talking to our Risen Lord in 38 AD - and preached the resurrection to the Corinthians in 48AD - well you don’t need geometry to figure out that’s only TEN YEARS. Do you realize how quick ten years goes by? Ten years is WAY too soon to be legend. It’s still fresh in people’s minds. Here’s some examples to show you what I mean.

I remember where I was when I heard JFK had been assassinated. That was November 22, 1963. I was in my fifthgrade classroom when the principle came on the PA and told us. That was 53 years ago! I still remember everyone in shock - and crying.
As I told you last week I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. That was 47 years ago.
I remember where I was when the first gulf war began on August 2, 1990. I was leading a youth Bible study here in the LOFT - and we rolled a TV in and using rabbit ears watched the newscasts as the bombs began to fall.
I remember where I was when the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001. I was running on my treadmill while watching TV that Tuesday morning. That was 15 years ago.

Well, Paul was writing about the Resurrection just TEN years after it happened! This is why he could say, “Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom ARE STILL LIVING - though some have fallen asleep.” In other words, “If you doubt MY eyewitness account - go talk to all the other people Jesus appeared to. The vast majority of them are still alive!” I mean, if Paul’s eyewitness account was not true - we’d have all kinds of books written by people who were still alive and kicking who would have disputed it. But we don’t.

II. Here’s another “Paul Postulate Proof:” His transformation.

Remember Saul - PAUL BEFORE HE BECAME A CHRISTIAN - Saul hated Jesus. He hated the Christians. He was persecuting them. That was his life’s work. Well, what could have turned him around other than, as he writes to Corinth, the fact that he met the resurrected Jesus? Why would SAUL - the guy who LIVED to KILL Christians - become one himself? Why would he become Paul whose sole reason for existence was to lead more and more people to faith in Jesus?

Why would Saul who held the coats of the people who stoned Stephen to death become Paul who, “became all things to all men so that by all possible means he might win some?”

The only thing that answers these questions is that Saul SAW - Saul TALKED TO our Risen Lord that day on the Damascus road. That experience - proved to Paul that the Christian faith was valid.

III. Here’s a third Paul Postulate Proof - He was willing die for his faith in Jesus.

Remember, when his old friends learned of his conversion they were so upset that they made a vow not to eat or drink until they put him to death - but this didn’t stop PAUL from telling people about Jesus. In 2nd Corinthians 11 Paul describes his life since he put his faith in Jesus. He says, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely - and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones - Three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits - in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food;I have been cold and naked.”

Would you live like that for a lie? Would you endure all that for something you made up? I don’t think so. The only explanation is that Paul really did see Jesus alive - five years AFTER His death on the cross.

There are of course other PROOFS - postulates that don’t deal directly with Paul. Here’s a couple. First, Jesus’ tomb is EMPTY.

You know a lot of TOURISM is based on visiting the tombs of famous people. You can go to New York City and visit the tomb where the body of President Grant has been laid. You can go to Springfield, Illinois and visit the tomb of Abraham Lincoln. You can go to Atlanta and visit the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr. But no tourist company can say, “Do you want to see where Jesus Christ is buried?” Because He’s not buried anywhere. He’s alive.  There are two graves in Jerusalem - claiming to be where Jesus was buried. This is one of them and as you can see - it’s empty. So is the other one by the way. Jesus’ tomb is empty because unlike every other human being on this planet, He died - and then He ROSE. I could go on listing things that prove the resurrection but suffice it to say this is a second postulate you can take to the bank. So - to summarize our geometric study thus far: Jesus really did die - He really did rise from the dead.

Now - as I said earlier, you need to understand the importance of these two statements. All of our faith hangs on these proven postulates. Timothy Keller writes, “IF Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about ANY of what He said?” Jaraslav Pelickan said, “If Christ is risen - then nothing else matters. And if Christ is NOT risen - then nothing else matters.” Surely these two preachers were inspired by Paul’s words in our text. Do you remember how he put it? He says: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”


Without the FACT of Jesus’ death and resurrection - the postulates of the Christian faith fall apart like tumbling dominoes one after another. But - as we have just proved - the evidence shows that of course He DID die - and He DID rise. Because of this Paul can say: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Listen - our faith is well-grounded! Amen?

Okay - continuing our “geometry lesson” let’s rejoice in this fact by looking at TWO VERY IMPORTANT THEOREMS of our faith that we know are TRUE - since Jesus did indeed die on the cross and rise again.

Proven Theorem 1 – Our SINS really can be FORGIVEN.

You see, Jesus didn’t just die on the cross - He died there for a purpose. He died FOR OUR SINS. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” And on that Cross Jesus DIED our death.

He suffered that scourging - suffered as He hung there and then died for US. He paid the consequence of our sin.

And the fact that Jesus ROSE PROVES He is God’s sinless Son - which proves He was qualified to die in our place. Let me explain - let me lay it out for you in Geometric proof form.

God is Holy - Perfect. We are not. None of us even come close. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That includes you and me. It includes Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. It includes EVERY human ever born - or to be born. We are ALL sinners.

Well, the Bible teaches that God hates sin - so the fact that we are sinners who willfully sin in thought, word, and deed puts us in opposition to God. Our sin separates us from God - in essence it makes us His enemy. Have you ever watched The Discovery Channel? If you have then you know that often they show films of lions hunting water buffaloes like in this picture and things like that. These films depict the natural hostility that exists between various beasts of the animal kingdom. Well, according to the Bible, the most natural enemy WE all have in our sinful fallen state is our Holy God. R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “The natural enemy of the sinner is One Who is holy, and not only holy but powerful, and not only powerful but just, and not only just but omniscient not only omniscient but immutably so.” God is all of these things. He is Holy, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. And as I said - we are SINNERS.

Okay, try to picture this in your mind’s eye. God is on His throne. You and I are on the earth. And between you and Heaven is Christ on His cross. Max Lucado writes, “Our sins - yours and mine-have been placed on Jesus. God Who punishes sin, releases His rightful wrath on your mistakes. Jesus receives the blow. Since Christ is between you and God, you don’t. The sin is punished but you are safe - safe in the shadow of the cross.” So Jesus died for OUR sin. He took the punishment we deserve. The wrath of our Holy God fell on Him.

This is why when Mel Gibson filmed The Passion he decided that when it came time to film the scene where the Roman solder nailed the nails through Jesus flesh, Gibson would do it instead of an actor. Those are Gibson’s hands in this picture from the film - but you know, they could just as easily be your hands or my hands because our sin is what put Jesus there. We all nailed Him to the cross. Our sin - -the sin of every man, woman, boy or girl who has ever lived or ever will lived put Him there. Quoting 2nd Corinthians 5:21: “God MADE Him Who knew no sin TO BE SIN for us.” So - since Jesus paid the price for our sin - we can be forgiven. We can be cleansed. We can be made pure in God’s eyes. Our sins can be washed away. As the old hymn text puts it, “Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s side - there’s power in the blood - wonderful power in the blood.” Sing the chorus with me, “There is power - power - wonderworking power in the blood - of the Lamb - there is power - power - wonderworking power in the precious blood of the Lamb!”

Proven Theorem 2 – Since Jesus died for our sin and ROSE again - we really can live forever in Heaven.

Hear me - for the Christian death is nothing to fear! This is good news - the BEST news! Amen?

Yes - it is - because in spite of all the advances in medical science - we all really will die someday. Our bodies will wear out and cease to function. I stress this because there is this underlying belief or hope in our society that science will eventually defeat death - but actually science shows this will never happen.

I read this week that a team of researchers at Einstein College of Medicine has done extensive studies of death and longevity and they conclude: “Our data strongly suggest that the duration of life is limited.” Einstein’s lead researchers looked at global databases on lifespan and found it peaks at around 100 and then falls back down again. The limit seems to be about 115 or 125.

This is Jeanne Calment. She’s 122 years old. Currently she holds the record for longest life. Does she look like she’s going to live forever? No - of course not - and she didn’t! She died in 1997. At the ripe old age of 122 years 164 days. As I said, scientists now know that improvements in survival with age ten to decline after age 100 because the mechanisms that keep the body going simply wear out. This is because our bodies simply aren’t designed to live forever - just a century or so - at best.

Do you remember this picture I showed you of myself and my cousins on my mom’s side? I think it was taken around 1963 - the summer before JFK was killed. That’s me in the center holding the toy airplane. Well, here’s a picture of most of those same cousins taken this year. Do you notice a change? Sure - they’ve all aged. I have too - amen! On my mom’s side I had twelve uncles and aunts - about half of them have died. Cousins have also died. One of my favorites, my cousin Allen who was always coming up with was for us to have fun when we were kids - Allen has heart disease. Another Cousin has a tumor in his brain. It’s metastasized to other parts of his body. My favorite aunt has Alzheimer’s. I mean, she wouldn’t know me even if I wore a name tag. As sad as this is - it proves that our bodies wear out. To use Oprah’s wordage once more, “You’re going to die and you’re going to die and you’re going to die…”

If the Lord tarries long enough each of you in this room will be the star of a funeral someday. But don’t let that cause you fear! Just accept it as fact. I mean, if you are a Christian death is not something to fear - for thanks to Jesus death and resurrection death is nothing more than a doorway from this temporary fallen world - to Heaven where there is no disease or death - a place where we will live forever with Jesus and our loved ones. I mean, in Heaven all my aunts and uncles and cousins will be together on a porch again. Let’s sing again. Join me: “Because He lives I can face tomorrow! Because He lives, all fear is gone! Because I know - He holds the future - and life is worth the living just because He lives!”

To be clear - if you are NOT a Christian - death IS INDEED something to fear because without your sins forgiven - without Jesus interceding on your behalf - death is entering an eternity in a place where our loving God is not - a place so horrible it makes this world even with its disease and terrorism and disasters - look like a picnic. I won’t mention the NAME of this place because you know it. But - you don’t have to go there. Jesus died for YOUR sin. He defeated death - this bully that threatens us all. If you ask Him he will forgive YOUR sin - He will give YOU eternal life. He will even give you ABUNDANT LIFE NOW - as He uses you to do things of eternal significance.