Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Resurrection of Jesus

Today is Easter Day, the day on which many Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, we should celebrate his resurrection every day. Surprisingly, some Christians have made great mistakes concerning it. 

Paul was aware that questions had been raised in Corinth with regard to the doctrine of the resurrection. The idea of resurrection was alien to the Greek mind as can be seen from the contemptuous response of the Athenians to Paul’s message to the Areopagus. Greek philosophy regarded matter as evil and the spirit as good, therefore the thought of spirit returning to matter was abhorrent to them. Greek ‘wisdom’ had affected the Corinthian church in several ways (see 1 Corinthians 1). So the apostle describes and explains the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15.

First of all, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ is an essential aspect of the Christian gospel, and that an ongoing commitment to it as an article of faith is required in order for one to be a genuine believer: 'Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain' (vv. 1-2). In actuality, the resurrection of Christ is as necessary for salvation as is the death of Christ – they are matters of primary importance: 'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures' (vv. 3-4). How can Paul say that the resurrection of Christ is as essential as his death? He gives three arguments.

Firstly, Paul stresses that the resurrection, because it was predicted in the Old Testament, is biblical. This is Paul’s basic argument, more important than the other two he mentions (eyewitnesses and personal encounter). One reason for its priority is that the other two cannot give the meaning of the resurrection. Eyewitnesses observed but could not interpret; personal encounter is by nature subjective and open to misinterpretation. But the scriptures are the touchstone by which to understand everything, even the activities of God.

Paul’s second argument is that the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. The risen Christ was seen by many: 'and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles' (vv. 5-7). Paul can call on many witnesses. In other words, Christ rose from the dead.

Paul’s third argument regarding the risen Christ is that he can be personally encountered, even although he is no longer on the earth. Paul himself had so met Jesus: 'and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed' (vv. 8-11). 

May we have an encounter with the risen Saviour today.

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