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First Importance

Apr 01, 2018

Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Easter (season), Easter Sunday


Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen. The LORD has put you in a special time and place Christian. He has called you to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Co 5:7). That’s easy right? No, it’s not. In fact, it is so hard if not for the Holy Spirit working through Christ’s Word and Sacraments, you would never do it. By ourselves we are nothing but skeptics and unable to generate faith within our hearts. On our own, we would drown in unbelief.

Quite naturally, therefore, we resonate with St. Thomas. “So, the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the LORD.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe (Jn 20:25).’” Well, Thomas was very fortunate. He got what He wanted. Eight days later the LORD came to the disciples again, but this time Thomas was present. Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe (Jn 20:27).” Thomas then answered the Lord, “My Lord and my God (Jn 20:28)!” St. Thomas received the evidence and most of the historical record agrees as to what St. Thomas did with it: he went out as an apostle-missionary (it appears all the way into India). He no longer doubted and was strong to receive a spear that took his life on-account of proclaiming that Jesus was alive (the spear as the instrument of his martyrdom recorded in W. Ellwood Post, Saints, Signs, and Symbols, London: SPCK, 1964. 15). St. Augustine said, “He doubted that we might not doubt (Eds., Packer, Tenney & White, The Bible Almanac, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980. 534).”

It’s true. Why would the LORD have St. John record a scene like this? Because the LORD knows better than anyone, we doubt. So, the LORD put in His Word Scriptures like these for our own good. We must see the full significance: St. Thomas saw Jesus alive after He had died; St. Thomas had Jesus standing in front of him after He had been buried; and then St. Thomas saw the very marks of the wounds that indicated the One once dead was now living. St. Thomas was an eye-witness to the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. That is why this is recorded in Holy Scripture! Then this eye-witness being bold and courageous – having seen the LORD and knowing that His promise was true: the LORD would never leave Him – was enabled with great power to proclaim the Gospel even in the face of threats to his own life. St. Thomas could do it for this simple reason: since His LORD and Master had conquered death and since His LORD and Master had promised him the same, then indeed even if he was martyred, he would yet live. And 2000 years later, this quality of witness from St. Thomas blesses us so that we may have a living faith in Jesus Christ as well.

The LORD, however, is superabundant in His care for us. He did not stop with the account of St. John about St. Thomas, but what was recorded even before St. John’s gospel was our epistle this morning in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 for this High Feast of the Resurrection of our LORD. It is simply amazing and overflowing in solidifying our faith in Christ! If St. Thomas was a skeptic, then St. Paul was a denier. If St. Thomas had been willing to express his doubts to the other apostles, then St. Paul was an accessory to murder of other disciples. If St. Thomas was on the cusp of losing his faith, then St. Paul was more interested in destroying the faith. And yet, look at what has been recorded for us! This destroyer of the faith turned around 180 degrees and became completely loyal to spreading the message had risen from death! “Thus Nero publicly announcing himself as the chief enemy of God, was led on in his fury to slaughter the apostles. Paul is therefore said to have been beheaded at Rome… (Tr. C.F. Cruse, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. 63).”

What changed St. Paul? The answer is that He saw Jesus once dead but made alive. And without resting on he saw alone, St. Paul continued: the LORD also appeared to St. Cephas/Peter; the LORD also appeared to all the apostles; and then the LORD appeared to more than 500 who had continued to confess that Jesus was the Christ and at the time of St. Paul writing this, most of these were still living.

Then the LORD appeared to James – this James was not one of the apostles, but the LORD’s brother (most likely a cousin but was brought up within Joseph’s household with Jesus). Why single this James out? Because during the LORD’s earthly ministry, this James didn’t believe that his brother Jesus was the Christ. John 7:5 makes this clear: “…not even his brothers believed in him.” For St. Paul to record that Jesus appeared to His brother James after Jesus had died is to offer extraordinary confirmation for the resurrection of Christ.

If anyone had been ready to justify their prior unbelief, then that would have been St. James. Instead, while he could have continued to go with the popular crowd that also rejected Christ, he did everything in his power to put himself in the worst possible position for danger to his own person. He had a 180-degree change in position towards Christ and to top that, he became the LEADER of the Church in Jerusalem. That is, St. James put a big TARGET on his back for those who had hated his brother and put him to death. “According to Josephus, the first-century historian of the Jewish people, James the Just [as he was also called] was martyred by being stoned to death in Jerusalem in AD 62 (William C. Weedon, Celebrating The Saints, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 191).” That’s what preaching that Jesus rose from death got him, and that was just fine by him.

Do you see the pattern? The skeptic St. Thomas saw Christ alive after His crucifixion and was killed by a spear for preaching the resurrection; St. Paul saw Christ alive after His crucifixion and was killed by having his head cut off for preaching the resurrection; and St. James saw Christ alive after His crucifixion and was killed by being stoned by a mob. Why go through any of this? But for one reason: because it’s true. Christ rose from the dead.

And that’s why one should be a Christian. It is true that already upon the cross of Calvary the LORD defeated death since that was when He entered death and overwhelmed it with the light of life. However, if not for the resurrection, you and I would never know it. If not the for the resurrection, we would have every reason to doubt. Nothing that the LORD taught or did during His life and death would have been cancelled out. Death would have the last word.

Therefore, the Resurrection of the LORD is the single most important day in Christendom. It is the pivotal event of the faith. St. Paul wrote at 1st Co 15:14: “And if Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” He reiterated at verse 17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” He emphasized at verse 19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I can’t begin to tell you how important these words are to further make the case for the certainty of the resurrection. They represent a concept called falsifiability. This is when a statement – any statement – can possibly be shown to be false or be proven wrong. Our faith is like that. It doesn’t rest on a feeling or subjective opinion; it is not up to survey says polls; it does not depend on religious experience. It is based on real history; real events. And if you remove this one piece called the resurrection, then there is no faith. By admitting this, St. Paul was saying that this is what makes the Christian faith so compelling, because people don’t go from a place of security to putting their lives on the line for nothing.

The only reason St. Thomas, St. Paul, and St. James did what they did was because they knew that Jesus Christ had conquered death, and since they belonged to Him, that they too would do the same. And Christian this is true for you too. With this foundation of early eye-witnesses and the plethora of testimony throughout the ages, this Word of Christ has reached you and by the Holy Spirit given you faith not in the Easter Bunny or some myth that ignores reason and history, but through faith that rests on the foundation of what happened in history: Jesus rose.

Consider the results. You really don’t have to do what some are trying to do: preparing to donate their brains in the hope that their thoughts might be downloaded in the future. This field called biomechatronics is becoming serious business. It is hoped that after death, one might continue to live but in the body of something artificially engineered or perhaps in another person’s body. In this way it is thought that you would live on. Why this? Because of the assumption that when death comes, that’s it. Game over. So, when Stephen Hawking recently died, his bold atheism was reported to the world. He said, “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die.” And by his own admission, such a death to him meant that he ceased to exist. If this is true, do you also see how such a view might impact a soul? It can lead to a meaningless nihilism in which some forms can become violent and destructive since moral principles are also non-existent in accord with this worldview.

Which leads me to speak of the results of the resurrection of Christ. Since Christ is living, it must be understood that Easter does not mean that He lives apart from His people, but much to the contrary, He lives with them. He lives with you!

He lives with them in a such a way that still requires faith to know this, but once faith knows then there is no doubting the life. Now, life is not only eternal, but immensely meaningful. Everything the child of God does has meaning when faith in the resurrection directs movement and action. With faith in the living Christ, works we do are good works and lasting works which follow us into heaven (Rev 14:13). These good works help the neighbor; they benefit the other. This means the resurrection is the source of love and meaningful life. Christ risen means that love exists, because one can now give without constraint since life is now eternal in the Risen Christ. Love can happen with no strings attached since Christ has already provided all things to the one who loves…even eternal life. The one who knows the Risen Christ can’t get more than they already have, so they give freely. This is love. Free with no conditions.

Such loves gives-up life for another (if not immediately, then slowly over time). Was St. Paul being only poetic when he wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Eph 5:25).” If a man truly loves his wife this way, then he takes more upon himself. Is this one reason why on average women outlive men; and why in most marriages, the wife will outlive the husband? Perhaps, but the point is – if this is the case – then none of this is begrudged.

Christ’s resurrection has granted us life that can never end, so even if all is given to another, life remains; even if one dies for another, life is still had. Why? How? Because Christ is risen!

So how important Christian is the resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ? It is life, eternal life…we can know, we give up our lives for Him, we give up our lives for others; we can love; we can rejoice as we do so, all because Christ is risen! So, let us say it again: “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”