Paul’s question, “Did you believe in vain?” echoes Israel’s question at Meribah while they wandered in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7), “Is the Lord among us or not?” Is Christ really raised? Will we be raised? Does God’s promise deliver what it says—really? Christians who live in the midst of trials, temptations, and our own nagging flesh want to know.
If you decide to preach on Luke 6, I would suggest drawing these two concepts from the OT and the Epistle together, at least implicitly. The miracles of Luke 6:17-19 lead us to the authoritative preaching of Jesus (Luke 6:20-26), and the preaching of Jesus is always accompanied by His mighty deeds. Preaching is powerful, but preaching is never alone. Preaching is either accompanied by miracles or the miracles are the basis for our preaching. Simply said, the Christian proclamation of Law and Gospel is effective, not merely because words have power (although they certainly do!), but because proclamation is grounded in God Himself as the source of all reality who has made Himself known in human history through mighty deeds of judgment and mercy. Preaching is therefore grounded in history and has the power to create a new reality. God calls into existence things which are not (Romans 4:17), and yet what we proclaim is grounded in the things which are already in Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and rose from the grave; events verified by eyewitnesses. Thus, the Church has always had to keep both the miracles and the preaching together. If not, we empty the words of their power by denying their origin in history and in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Or we in some sense deny the external word as the Holy Spirit’s vehicle of salvation, because we are always looking for some sign or miracle rather than the miraculous Word itself.
In the Scriptures we have preaching accompanied by miracles and we have miracles that are the basis for preaching. Paul is describing the latter. The basis of Christian proclamation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a historical event. But what His death and resurrection are as events, now become reality for us, delivered to us through preaching and holy baptism, so all who receive His death and life have the hope of resurrection. When we preach, we must preach each aspect of the resurrection: the past historical event, the present reality through faith, and the future hope.
Paul’s first phrase concerning the resurrection is γνωρίζω δὲ ὑμῖν or, “I am making it known to you.” The language is that of revelation. Notice how Paul is not merely reminding the Corinthians of the Gospel he once preached to them and they received. He is preaching it yet again, as for the first time, so they might receive it anew and be strengthened in faith. The language of giving (apostolic preaching) and receiving (in faith) offers preachers an alternative to the more rationalistic approaches we so often hear in modern evangelical (Arminian) preaching and apologetics. The resurrection of Jesus can too easily be preached as a historical event to which the mind must give its consent, so that one is forced to make a choice to have the facticity of the resurrection compel them to believe, simply because believing anything else would be unreasonable. Paul, however, is not appealing to reason, but preaching to create and strengthen faith in the Gospel in which we stand and through which we are being saved (vv. 1-2). The Gospel is based in history, but it is not a reminder of past events. It is the powerful delivery of the fruits of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, etc., to create faith, comfort us, and give us a sure and certain hope of our future life with Christ. Baptism ought most certainly to find a place in this sermon!
In preaching the Corinthians text, first you have Paul’s emphasis of the past and present giving and receiving of the Gospel (an existential argument of sorts). Paul then gives the historical content of the Gospel to us in what looks to be an early creedal formula. He not only grounds the Gospel in history with the testimony of many witnesses, but also in the promises of the Old Testament, κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς (v. 4), now fulfilled. Some have observed how “according to the Scriptures” could be a reference to one or more of the Gospel accounts. It certainly might, but it should not be ignored how Christ regularly points to the OT to teach of His death and resurrection on the third day (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:44-47, and many more). Consequently, so does Paul (see Romans 1:1-6). In this creedal formula, it could also be Paul is hinting at the event of Pentecost by shorthand or perhaps allusion with his mention of Jesus’ appearance to the πεντακοσίοις or Pentecosters (literally, “the 500”). Whether or not Paul intended to reference Pentecost, he is clearly walking through the order of the historical events which constitute the Gospel. This Gospel, and not another, is the Gospel Christ preached through Paul and the other apostles. This Gospel has been believed by Christians and attacked by the world from the beginning.
If you choose to preach on 12-20, you will have the powerful rhetorical argument of Paul which nearly preaches itself. You may want to keep in mind the errors he is addressing in the church at Corinth.
Furthermore, Paul’s arguments in 12-20 remind me of the wonderful (perhaps apocryphal) story of Katie Luther, who, during some difficult days at home, in which Luther fell into a deep depression, dressed up all in funeral black. When Luther saw her, he asked, “Why are you dressed like that?” She replied, “Christ is dead. I’m going to His funeral.” Luther cried, “He’s not dead, Katie; Christ is risen!” “Indeed,” said Katie, “now you can start acting like it.” And at once Luther cheered up.
When we preach the resurrection and the hope we have in Christ, we are preaching against a culture and our own sinful flesh that has no hope. Our people are susceptible to the world’s hopelessness. So, your sermon on this text will preach the hope of the resurrection right into their hearts, as though it were the first time they have ever heard it. This is what Paul does here, and your people will find comfort in looking at the resurrection from every angle.
Concordia Theology: Various resources in helping you preach 1 Corinthians 15:(1-11) 12-20 from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO.
Text Week: Resources from a variety of tradition to help you preach 1 Corinthians 15:(1-11) 12-20.