…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. 1 Cor 15:3-7
Everything about the Christian faith hinges on one event: The resurrection. If the resurrection took place, then it proves the claims of Jesus and gives credence to the Gospel. If the resurrection did not take place, the Christian faith has no foundation. As a consequence, one of the earliest possible creeds of the church is about the fact of the resurrection. Contained in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul declares that he is delivering to the Corinthians what he received as “first Importance”, listing three basic declarations of the faith.
First, Jesus died for our sins. To be very clear, Jesus died! Through the years, people have tried to discount the resurrection by saying that Jesus only weakened to the point of appearing dead, and then revived in the cool of the tomb. This is a weak attempt to discredit the resurrection. Let there be no doubt: He was dead. But his death meant something. Paul says clearly that He “died for our sins”. Jesus died on the cross as a substitution for you and I, as we were condemned by our sins. He suffered the penalty for us. He paid our price.
Second, He was buried even though the tomb was found empty. There is no record of anyone seeing Jesus’ resurrection take place. Granted, there were guards at the tomb who fell as dead men when it happened. There was an angel present to roll back the stone. A group of women were nearby and Peter rushed into the empty tomb. But there is no record of an eyewitness seeing Jesus come back to life. I have often imagined what it must have been like for those first few moments and hours as everyone tried to hypothesize about what had happened. Did someone steal the body? Had the disciples hid Him? The scripture records that there were those who remembered that He said He would rise from the grave…but true faith was hard to come by. The empty tomb was a shocking reality to everyone, disciples and skeptic alike.
But Paul’s third point is the basis for our hope. Had Jesus simply died and his body disappeared, we would all be stuck in a place of reasonable skepticism. However, Jesus revealed himself to multitudes. He appeared to Peter, Mary, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Twelve, and then to a crowd of over 500. When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, there were still living eyewitnesses who saw Jesus’ after He had been dead, buried, and raised on the third day. You might discount the testimony of one person. You might even explain away the claims of his closest companions. But when hundreds of people give the same testimony, it begins to become impossible to ignore. The early church did not have to spend much time trying to prove the resurrection, because there were too many people who were alive and saw Jesus with their own eyes.
The central message of the early church was the resurrection. A risen Savior was the Hope that all people were pointed to. It is no different today. The FACT of Jesus’ resurrection is an exclamation point at the end of the good news. It is a definitive declaration that all God promised to do for us through Jesus is coming to pass. And even though you and I were not present to witness it for ourselves, the Holy Spirit is as work in us to confirm the truth that the early church spoke. And to quote the hymn writer: “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”
Blessings and a Happy Easter to all!