3 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, 5 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 (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV).
So Paul recognizes (and so must we) that the gospel is preached to us, received by us as a gift, is that by which we stand, and that by which we as Christians are being saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Yet, there is the concern by Paul that the Corinthians by their actions had believed in vain.
Some of the Christians in Corinth were wondering what was the true importance of the resurrection. Was it really necessary? Yes! In fact, Paul begins to outline that it is of “first importance.” In other words, the gospel is not the gospel without a risen Savior—without a crucified and resurrection Christ! Again, he breaks this down into four components in his defense of the resurrection, outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
First, Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.
Christ’s death was necessary. He died on a wooden cross outside the camp, bearing the curse for us by becoming a curse on our behalf. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). What is this “cup”? This is the cup of God’s wrath that is poured out on sin in judgment (Zechariah 12:2). Since Jesus had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), then he stood as the scapegoat, bearing the curse of the sins of the people outside the camp (see Hebrews 9-10). Christ served as a propitiation for our sins, taking the wrath that was deserved and directed toward us, and putting it on Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:30). Only in this manner may Christ make us righteous before God.
Secondly, we see “that he was buried.”
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:39-40:
39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The prophet Jonah (whom Jesus refers to not as a myth or a fable, but as a real, historical person) serves as a foreshadowing of what would happen with Jesus. So many ask for a sign—Jesus provides one in Jonah, which in turn signifies the greater ‘burying’ in Christ who would be buried not for his own sins (a la, Jonah) but in payment for the sins of all who would believe.
Even King David prophecied about this is Psalm 16:
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
Peter clarifies this for his Jewish listeners in Acts 2:25-31 that this passage in Psalm 16 refers not to King David, for his tomb was clearly known to all as well as the bones it contained therein—but this was referring to another who was buried but did not see corruption or bodily decay. This is King Jesus whom David prophecied would be resurrected.
Thirdly, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
This fact caught the two disciples by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Jesus told them in Luke 24:25-27 that this was foretold clearly in the OT. Sin kills, and since Jesus bore our sins, He died—but He did not stay dead. In those three days in the ground, he went into Hades to declare victory to those who rejected him in this life (1 Peter 3:18-21). He showed them that it was all true and that He conquered! And He came forth from the grave with that same message: victory! Death has been conquered, sin’s affects have been vanquished, and all those who surrender to Him have what He has (Ephesians 2:4-7). There is no gospel without a risen Savior and Lord.
Lastly, and that he appeared … .
Yes, there were eyewitnesses. Cephas (a.k.a., Peter), the disciples, and “he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” He appeared to James, then to Paul (Acts 9:1-19). This was within 10-15 years of the event and Jesus’ life and ministry, which were burned into their minds. But also, with Jesus still being alive, His Spirit still worked, moved, led, and inspired their writings for a record for us (read the book of Acts, as well as 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Eyewitnesses are well and good (in fact, every NT book was written by an eyewitness to Jesus life and ministry, or was connected to one who had). But 2 Peter 1:19-21 tells us that the word of God is “more sure” than any eyewitness.
But do not discount that there were eyewitnesses.
Recently, I had the chance to watch a Founder’s Day service at my alma mater, Palm Beach Atlantic University, that honored Dr. Ray Robinson, who served as our choral director and helped shape the School of Music and Fine Arts into a truly Christ-centered school. It was a beautiful thing to behold being in the midst of that.
In the weeks leading up to this, I was on a Facebook thread with a number of former students who were contacted to see if we could all make it to honor him. Even though I graduated from there almost 20 years ago, I remembered so many details of that life-changing, life-altering, and in many ways life-saving time, that I not only could recall details of it, I could correct anyone who may have remembered various events incorrectly.
Imagine walking with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. Imagine being either for him or against him. Do you think that this man, for whom more literature and art and music has been dedicated, could remember clearly the details of this Man’s life?
Some of you may reject this, saying it’s a fable or a myth. But I submit that if these things were not so, and with Paul and the apostles being so public, that each of these things would have and could have been refuted right there on the spot. Christians, by and large, are not naïve. They want to know if it’s true and are seeking out its truth.
But we also know that this is a historical and spiritual book. Satan wants you to deny it, even while he knows it’s true (James 2:19) and our flesh wants to deny it in its fallen form simply because we were born with the desire to want to have authority over our own lives. If we believe the historical matters are true, then we have to deal with the spiritual matters that are just as true. We are sinners destined for judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28) and must surrender to Christ who bore the brunt and the wrath of that judgment on the behalf of all who would believe.
This gospel declared and delivered also demolishes all strongholds set up against it. If you reject this, then what stronghold is holding you so strongly? Is it that reliable? Consider this gospel in the midst of your other considerations.