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The Life of Jesus: His Resurrection

April 20, 2014

Sermon:  The Life of Jesus: His Resurrection
Text:  I Corinthians 15:3-8, 51-57

In this fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, Paul shares the good news of the resurrection.

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.
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


This is the Word of God for the people of God.

Ron Wells, a dear friend, was the Minister of Music on staff at First Baptist Church when I was the Associate Pastor for Pastoral Counseling and Family Ministries. Ron and I served together for a long time. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he had times of remission and times when he really fought a battle as the disease progressed. I remember the time we thought we were going to lose Ron. Almost everyone believed that he would only live just a few weeks after Christmas, but he rallied again and had another short period of remission.

Doing pretty well by Easter Sunday, Ron told his wife, Mary Jane, that he wanted to go to church. She also wanted to go to church, so they got ready.

When Mary Jane put on a new dress which Ron had never seen, he commented, “Mary Jane, that dress is beautiful! When did you buy it?”

She answered, “Ron, I actually bought this dress for your funeral. I thought that on this Easter Sunday, I should wear it.”

There in microcosm is exactly the meaning of Easter. In the face of the reality of death, we affirm that death is not the end. It is a transition to a new and greater life for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus.

We started the series The Life of Jesus after Christmas, talking about the miracle of the incarnation, how the great God of the universe could become a human being in Jesus Christ, a child born in Bethlehem. “The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ Jesus,” Colossians 1:19 says. We see in John 1:14 the words, “The Word was made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among us.” Jesus was the God-Man, 100 percent God, 100 percent human.

Now we come to the cross. On Good Friday we witnessed Jesus in the fullness of his humanity as he suffered and died like a common criminal. We also witnessed the divinity in his forgiveness. We saw that he conquered sin and saw in the resurrection that he conquered death itself. Today on this Easter Sunday as we conclude our series, we see here the ultimate miracle and in this miracle the fullness of Christ.

For centuries many have struggled with the idea of the resurrection. We might call them resurrection doubters. They have wanted to turn into investigators as if they were FBI agents, asking, “Let’s examine this. Could this really be true?” They enter into something like CSI: Jerusalem, saying, “We have a case of the missing body, which we can surely solve.”

I want to refer you to some of the comprehensive and diverse resurrection accounts in the biblical record. According to my count, Jesus made at least sixteen resurrection appearances recorded in the Bible. Matthew 28 gives us two accounts. First, the women went to the tomb of Christ early on Easter Sunday morning. Mary and the one known as the other Mary were leaving the tomb when they encountered Jesus. He directed them, “You go to my disciples and tell them to go ahead of me into Galilee.” The disciples traveled to Galilee as directed, and Jesus encountered them there on a mountainside, giving them the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.

Luke 24 offers us three resurrection accounts. One of my favorites tells of two people – Cleopas and his companion, perhaps his wife – traveling along a road to Emmaus, a little village about seven miles from Jerusalem. These two were walking, grieving deeply the death of their Lord. The cross was difficult for these followers of Jesus. Jesus joined them and began to teach them from the Scriptures. They did not recognize him at that point; but after they arrived at their home in Emmaus, they did recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Cleopas and his companion hurried back the seven miles to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. There, along with the other disciples gathered in that upper room, they had another encounter with Christ.

At some point that day – probably between those two appearances – Jesus appeared to Simon Peter. Luke did not directly describe this appearance, but the other apostles reported it. Paul mentioned it in I Corinthians 15.

John Chapters 20-21 offer more of these remarkable appearances. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene early on Sunday morning, she did not know him at first. She thought he was the gardener but recognized her master when he called her name.

Later Jesus, entering through a closed door, appeared to the disciples gathered in that upper room. There he saw all of his disciples except Thomas. Some people have given this disciple a hard time about his absence. Please, give Thomas a break. Some prefer to grieve alone. Thomas possibly wanted to grieve by himself, not with a group.

When the disciples told Thomas they had seen Jesus, Thomas responded, as honestly as he could, “You know, I’m not going to believe it until I see it for myself.” We call him “Doubting Thomas.” He, like many of us, was a doubter for exactly one week. Thomas, a man of faith, did have a moment of doubt, but he believed when he saw Jesus. Jesus gave him the last Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed” (John 20:29).

On another occasion Jesus appeared to Simon Peter and some of the other disciples who decided to return to their previous lifestyle of fishing, to their nets and boats. They had fished all night but had not caught anything. I have been there and done that, and being unsuccessful is not a happy experience. It does give you, however, a lot of time to think.

Early in the morning Jesus walked on the shore and called out to them, “What have you caught?”

Do not ask a fisherman what he has caught. Look in the cooler first. Fishermen are embarrassed to say, “I fished all night but didn’t catch a thing.” That was the case here.

As in Luke 5, Jesus directed them, “Put the nets out on the other side of the boat.”

Jesus had already built a fire when they returned to land because he expected the group to eat fish for breakfast. Have you ever been fishing and when you got home, somebody had already cooked the hush puppies? Scripture says the disciples caught 153 fish, the number of known countries in the world. Some scholars speculate that number was one fish for every country. John often used fish as a symbol that Jesus had called them to be fishermen of men throughout the entire world. It was during this occasion that Simon Peter, who had previously denied Jesus three times, was restored.

While eating breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love me?”

The word Jesus used for love was agape, which means deeply committed love.

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, you know I love you,” using the word philia, which means “I love you like a brother.” Simon Peter, who knew that he had denied Jesus three times, just could not muster the courage to say, “I love you with a deeply committed love.”

Jesus asked a second time, “Simon, do you love me with agape love?”

Peter answered, “Lord, you know I love you,” again using the word philia. “I love you like a brother.”

A third time, Jesus asked Simon Peter the question, taking him where he was: “Simon Peter, do you love me?” asking if he loved Jesus like a brother.

Simon Peter answered, “Yes, I love you like a brother.”

From that point on, Simon Peter and his ministry were restored. He became a great apostle of the Christian church.

Mark originally ended his Gospel rather abruptly, giving us the feeling that the experience the women had was more like Halloween than Easter. Unsure of what had happened, they were terrified. Later on, some well-meaning Christians, deciding that Mark had not quite said enough, borrowed from Matthew and Luke and filled in the blanks. These experiences were all different, but Mark gave the account to us the way he heard it. By doing so, he left room for us to experience the resurrection in our own way.

The book of Acts records Jesus’ appearance to the church in Jerusalem.

Forty days after the resurrection Jesus would ascend to heaven. He took the apostles out on a hillside and spoke to them. Then they stood gazing into the sky.

Angels appeared and asked, “Men, why do you standing gazing into the heavens? Jesus has returned to heaven. You go to Jerusalem and do what he has told you to do. Wait.”

They did.

It is in Acts that we learn that Stephen saw the risen Christ at his death. This book also gives us the story of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus when he encountered the living Christ. Thank goodness for the wealth of information Paul provided in his letter, as recorded in I Corinthians 15. He said, “It was like I was untimely born. It happened to me much later. I can tell you it was no less real” (I Corinthians 15:8). Paul’s experience with the risen Christ remarkably changed his life forever. He was never the same again. Neither was the world. Paul also gave us what might have been an early creed of the Christian church.

Some scholars say that this outline of the resurrection appearances was perhaps written as near to the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection as ten years. Though it does not mention all of the accounts that we have mentioned, it does include appearances that appear nowhere else in Scripture. Paul said that Jesus appeared to James though we have no other account in any of the Gospels. He also told us that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at one time, which includes only men. Adding the women and children increased that number. Jesus also appeared to John in a vision while John was in captivity, in exile, on the island of Patmos.

Do you know doubters denied that the resurrection was real? The resurrection has been attested over and over again. That is why Paul wrote later in this chapter, “If some say there is no resurrection from the dead, then why do we preach this?” (I Corinthians 15:14). He went on to say in Verse 17, “If the resurrection did not happen, then the cross of Jesus is meaningless.” If the story all ends with a tragedy on Golgotha, it basically ends with hopelessness. Christ overcame death itself through the resurrection.

Matthew’s Gospel offers one explanation about why so many people might have denied the resurrection. Matthew 28:11-15:

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

While I was in seminary, a fellow named Hugh Schonfield wrote The Passover Plot. Basically, he took this passage from Matthew and claimed the entire story of the resurrection had been created.

Let me ask you: Does the fact that we have at least sixteen resurrection accounts give you any reason to doubt? Some say, “They all differ. They are not all the same.” Of course the versions are not all the same. People experience the risen Christ in different ways. It would be more suspect if the witnesses were all in agreement.

Doubters could say that maybe collusion occurred here, that the disciples got together and said, “Let’s get our stories straight.” They did not do that. They reported the information just the way they experienced it. Of course the accounts were all different. There is certainly some overlap, but we also see great diversity in these appearances.

If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, why did the disciples change so much? You realize they were really a bunch of cowards, hovering in an upper room, terrified that they were going to be killed too. By the Day of Pentecost, however, something had happened, giving them remarkable boldness. Peter, a Galilean fisherman who had denied Jesus three times, could stand up on Pentecost and preach so that people understood. Three thousand people were converted that day. Acts 17:6 calls them “the men who turned the world upside down. The reality of the risen Christ had changed them. If they did not believe that Christ really conquered death through the resurrection, do you think they would be willing to go through the torture and die for the cause of Christ? At some point one of them would have probably said, “You know, we made it all up. Please do not kill me.”

Instead, they all suffered, some dying early on, some by crucifixion. Paul was beheaded, and Peter was crucified upside down. Why did the disciples stick to the story? They knew the truth of the resurrection. Thousands of people were converted to Christ. This movement, which began to spread across the Roman Empire, affected a man named Saul of Tarsus. This Pharisee, who had been persecuting Christians, was changed on the road to Damascus. He became the most ardent advocate for the risen Christ of anyone in his day and time.

Throughout the centuries many people have experienced the resurrected Christ.

I have shared with some of you the story of what happened to me at Ridgecrest when I was nineteen years old. That night in a cabin I had a very real experience with the risen Christ, an experience that lasted about fifteen seconds. I do not know if I was asleep or awake. It does not matter. In an experience that was so vivid to me, Christ asked one question: “Kirk, are you willing to do what I want you to do?” Answering yes has made all the difference in my life.

Not everyone will get an opportunity to see him, perhaps only the hard-headed ones. Some of the rest of you have a heart that will be open to his desire to speak to you. Jesus wants to come into your life and work this change. He wants to turn you from a person who looks only to the world to a person determined to follow him.

I found out a number of years ago that I am allergic to insect stings. I was actually cutting grass one day when a little sweat bee stung me on my elbow. It took about a week for the soreness to leave my elbow.

A week or so later I took a group of men from the church I was serving in North Carolina on a rafting trip down the Nolichucky River. Twenty-three of us got in the church van early one morning and drove to the river. When I stepped out of the vehicle, a yellow jacket stung me right above the knee. I was wearing cut-off blue jeans. I am sorry to make you have that image in your mind. Perish the thought.

I had arranged for us to eat a pancake breakfast there at a campground. I sat down and started eating when I began to feel terrible. My tongue was thick, and my face was burning. Let me tell you what I did right. I was well-armed with good people all around. Of the twenty-three men on this trip, one was my personal physician, an endocrinologist. One was a good friend, an anesthesiologist, and one was a cardiologist. Two drug salesmen also went on the trip.

My personal physician, sitting across from me, looked at me and said, “Kirk, what is wrong with you?”

I said, “I feel terrible.”

He asked, “Have you been stung?”

I showed him where I had been stung, and he said, “My goodness! You are going into anaphylactic shock. We have to get you some medicine.”

The drug salesmen scurried around, hunting for Benadryl and some other stuff. I took that medicine, but it had little effect on me. These three physicians put me in a land rover and rode over the mountain and down the other side on a logging road into Erwin, Tennessee. I was in bad shape when we reached a drugstore; I was struggling to breathe, I had golf-ball sized knots all over my head, and I was fiery red.

Remember, now, that we were all dressed for rafting.

The doctors spread me out on the drugstore floor. My physician went to the pharmacy counter and ordered a shot of cortisone and a shot of epinephrine, adrenaline. The druggist kind of looked bug-eyed at him until he produced some credentials, then gave him two syringes and two vials of the medicine. They pumped a shot in each arm, and I literally bounced when those drugs hit my system. Within five minutes, all of my symptoms had vanished.

I told the men, “Let’s go rafting.”

They argued, “You’re not going rafting.”

“Yes, I am. We’re all going.”

I was so pumped with adrenaline and cortisone that they knew they could not prevent me from rafting.

“We’ll have to go in the raft with you.”

They put more medicine and syringes into a waterproof camera bag, got into the raft, and started down the river.

The anesthesiologist said, “I am so glad you are better.”

I agreed.

He repeated, “I am really glad.”

“Why are you saying that?”

“Well, we drew straws to see who would give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I got the short straw.”

I doubt those three physicians ever hit a lick with their paddles. I paddled like crazy while they basically went along for the ride. At one time I decided I was a pirate, eager to ram another raft and take over. The guide I knocked backwards into the water was one unhappy camper.

The next week I went to an allergist who said, “You’re allergic to anything that stings, but especially yellow jackets.”

Two years later the anesthesiologist and I were riding along in his old jeep on a trout fishing trip together in the mountains of North Carolina. A yellow jacket on steroids flew in my window and landed on the dashboard. I had never seen such a big insect in all my life. Any fan of Georgia Tech would have been proud to claim it as a mascot.

My friend, without hesitation, reached out and grabbed the yellow jacket. He crushed it when it stung him and threw it out of the window.

I asked, “Why did you do that?”

He explained, “I have been on a trip with you when you got stung, and I want to go fishing today.”

Do you know what he did? My friend took the sting for me.

Paul says, “O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55). Jesus, on this cross, took the sting of death for you and conquered sin. On Easter Sunday morning he conquered death itself by coming out of that tomb. We do not just celebrate an empty tomb; we also celebrate a risen Savior. “Ask me how I know he lives. He lives within my heart.”

My hope and prayer is that he lives within your heart. If you have never accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, could I invite you to step out and ask Christ Jesus into your life today?

Kirk H. Neely
© April 2014


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