Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (Easter Sunday: Series A)

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This is the account God has been directing to accomplish the recovery of His global Kingdom and reestablish its rule through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Triduum, the three days from Good Friday through Easter morning, brings the Church calendar to its apex with the crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. All preaching must be focused on the sacrificial and availing work of the Son of God.

Whatever happened in the tomb was something beyond human understanding. So, the primary image for Easter is a profound absence and presence:

  •   Absence, in that all we have is the empty tomb.
  • Presence, in that while the tomb is empty Christ is alive, with a gloriously  transformed body, and with us!

Themes of victory, new creation, Scripture fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God dawning will overwhelmingly resound in all Christian preaching for Easter.

In the resurrection, Jesus transcended time, space, and death; those things which limit human existence. So, the stone was not rolled away for Jesus, but for the disciples and for us. We need to see the evidence that the “right hand of the Lord has triumphed” (Psalm 118:16) in raising Jesus so we might believe, and through believing “have life in His name” (John 20:31).

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul calls the Church back to her fundamental story. This is so the world can hear anew and with startling power and certainty its own story and where that story, the great narrative of human reality, is taking them, new creation under the lordship of Jesus.

Paul tells how the Kingdom of God, under the reigning Christ, began. He explains how the rumblings of the Kingdom rolled through the centuries and was chronicled in Scripture only to burst on the scene to overwhelm old categories of being human, governing, life, and death. What is more, he tells them how all of this has immediate impact on their identity as the Kingdom people of Christ, indeed, as the family of God. Preachers will note how Paul includes himself at the end of this list of eyewitnesses of the transformed-through-the-resurrection Jesus of Nazareth. He does so to show this is where the story of Judaism leads. This is where the history of Israel attains its fulfillment.

1 Corinthians 15 is one of the greatest sustained discussions of any topic on which Paul has written. It is the longest chapter in the New Testament. Its topic: The resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, and the future resurrection of those united to Jesus by faith.

In verse 12, it appears some of the Corinthians needed instruction or correction concerning the Resurrection. The bigger issue for Paul is how these Corinthians have lost their story. The real reason why Paul gives them a bracing lecture on the Resurrection and places it here at the final major theme of the letter is he is trying to get the Corinthian Christians to understand where they are and who they are in the World’s central narrative. This is the account God has been directing to accomplish the recovery of His global Kingdom and reestablish its rule through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church needs to be brought back to her story, her roots, the foundations we possess because we have been made Kingdom people, the very family of the world’s rightful, living King. It is this Jesus who has brought Israel’s history to its climax and has immediate bearing on them because Israel was always the way God was going to address the problem of the world’s rebellion and our personal and collective treasons. The gentile Christians must see themselves as the fruit of the climaxed story of the Jews. They have got to get back to their roots and learn to understand themselves “according to the Scriptures,” as he says in verses 3 and 4. It is the entire narrative or, better, metanarrative (the overarching umbrella story) of God’s great work of redemption in and through real, human history which renders these people as their people. This history is their history. His identity is their identity. The entire story is bearing witness to an earth-shaking, cosmos-altering event that tilted reality in a decidedly God-ruling way: The death and resurrection of the world’s King, Jesus.

If they understand in Corinth where they belong in this fact-based narrative, so many other things which have troubled them will be seen in the correct light. Therefore, the preacher may want to bring in issues addressed in this letter, from allegiances to sexual purity, to personal and communal identity. All are impacted by the very physical death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Church needs to be brought back to her story, her roots, the foundations we possess because we have been made Kingdom people, the very family of the world’s rightful, living King. 

Likewise, with the discussion concerning the Eucharist in chapter 11. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to see this meal in light of the longer, larger story, as the expressed means by which God fulfills His sworn promise to give Himself to His people; how this is the means by which Christ is really with us, never to leave nor forsake us. It declares how we are bonded to Christ and He to us, continually renewing us in forgiveness, strengthening us for service, and bonding us one to another. He came, He comes, He will come again.

We see this also with chapter 13. Paul stresses how love is the one thing which endures into the new world God is remaking. The fact of the existence of a new world, that it has already been launched beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and all God’s people will be given new bodies in order to exist in the altered conditions of time and space when Christ returns, all of this is basic to everything Paul has said.

Paul wants to be clear the resurrection is the rock-bottom reality for the Christian. This is not reincarnation. This is not resuscitation. He is talking resurrection, something completely different than a Hindu coming back as a horse. Paul, the other apostles, and literally a thousand other eyewitnesses had been reporting a bodily resurrection had taken place; resurrection right in the middle of human history. In fact, it has already become a carefully guarded and perfectly preserved tradition. It is the Gospel itself. In ancient Greek culture “gospel” or “good news” was a military term borrowed from the battlefield. One commissioned by high-ranking officer would be made an apostolos or an emissary to report the good news of victory to state officials and citizenry. Paul, the apostles, and many others were saying, “We were there. We saw the victorious One, the One who gained victory over sin, death, evil, and divine judgment,” so much so that this One was vindicated of all He ever said and did. Now, through this victory, He has been crowned the world’s rightful King forever and ever. The only reason for being a Christian at all is if this message continues to be the solid ground on which you stand.

And that is the other point. This message, this report of victory is rock-solid. First, Paul mentions he passed on or delivered to the Corinthians a code of confession he himself had received. Behind these verbs lie technical Jewish terms for the careful transmission of tradition. In other words, verses 1 and 3 state up-front Paul has nothing new to say about the resurrection. He received something which was already an established code of confession and handed it to them in the same creedal formula. That formula, though we hardly get it in our monochrome English translations, is glowing technicolor in Greek. It is a creed in song form. Even in a crude English translation we catch the cadence in verses 3-7:

...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 

How far back does this Code of Confession go? Scholars cede Paul wrote 1 Corinthians about the year 55 AD, but he said he had already delivered it to them. This takes us back to his first trip to Corinth in the spring of 52, according to Acts 18:1, 5, and 12. Paul had it before then, though. He received this code of confession upon his conversion in 37 AD. Now, if Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 3, in the year 33, then the code of confession, that Paul was calling “the Tradition” which converts like him immediately received as the Gospel truth, came before the year 37. I remember the great Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, Graham Stanton, saying how for anything to be called the established tradition in this technical Jewish formula for the accurate preservation of momentous truth, you can bet it took more than a week or two for it to become established, entrenched, and universal. Stanton dated this creedal hymn to within a year or two of the resurrection. It was and is the Gospel record eyewitness affidavit.

There is more. It was a huge number of people, likely people at the trial, at the crucifixion, and at the tomb who knew Jesus certifiably dead and were now testifying and preserving it in a code of confession. It is a veritable creed on which they staked their lives, how this same Jesus was manifest to them. Not on one occasion under hypnotic groupthink, but over a six-week period, under different circumstances, combinations of eyewitnesses sometimes upwards of perhaps a thousand people at once, He was manifested to them with a transformed human body; the future of humanity in the here and now. Jesus had passed through death and come out the other side, having undergone a process called resurrection, and sporting the future embodied state of humanity in the new world. Just ask Cephas, or the Twelve, or James, or all the Apostles, or the more than five hundred men, not to mention the hundreds of women, plus Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jesus. You want witnesses? We have witnesses galore. This did not happen in a corner, but in the capital city when it was packed with millions of visitors. The narrative also includes not a bunch of anonymous nobodies but the Governor, King, Tetrarch, and Sanhedrin, all the biggest names and powerbrokers in the city. Paul effectively says, this is your story, your identity. These are your people. This is your legacy and history. This is your salvation and your God.

His death, His resurrection all happened “according to the Scriptures.” It was told to us beforehand. Now, it is being told post-facto. The world’s history and Jewish history was like a story in search of an ending. When Jesus rose from the dead, the ending was now revealed. This was the conclusion God Himself provided, giving meaning to everything.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.