In our message today, we remember the glorious event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I want to read I Corinthians 15:3 and 4, where Paul says: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
We are especially interested in those last words, “he rose again…according to the scriptures.” In the church at Corinth, there were people who did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body and who denied also the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Imagine that! A Christian church with members who denied this centrally important truth of the Christian faith. The beauty of it is that, as a result, we have this wonderful chapter, I Corinthians 15, which sets forth this marvelous truth of the resurrection of the body.
In the first part of this chapter (vv. 1-11), the apostle Paul proves the resurrection, or he gives reasons why we should believe in the resurrection. There are four reasons that he gives here. The first is this, that this is the gospel that he preached unto them. This is the gospel that he preached when he first came to Corinth and preached. It was the gospel that they had received and that they had believed. He says in verse 11: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.” The second reason he gives is that the resurrection belongs together with the death of Jesus Christ. The One who died is the One who also arose from the dead. The death of Jesus Christ makes no sense, and has no power and meaning, apart from the resurrection. A third reason or proof that he gives for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the multiple appearances of the Savior to the disciples. He says that Jesus was seen of Peter and “of the twelve and above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto the present, but some are fallen asleep” (vv. 5, 6).
But there is one more reason for believing the resurrection, and it is the one that we want to consider today: that Jesus arose, and that the Corinthian church and indeed all Christians ought to believe the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ because He arose according to the Scriptures.
Now, the truth of the resurrection of the body and of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day is, I will put it this way, a difficult truth to comprehend. Apart from the Spirit and grace, we would not believe it. That is because it is the reversal of death. Death is final. Death is awful. Death is a prison. It is a power. We find a reference to death here in this, that He was buried. Jesus Christ was buried. Death is a power that cannot be broken. The cords of death are strong. If you would amass all the power that there is in the creation and in the universe, all the power of medicine and technology, all the power of government and military, all the power of men and of animals and of atoms and of angels and put it all into the effort of raising one man from the dead, this could not be accomplished. Death is a prison house with doors and locks that stay shut, as it were, to eternity. Jonah says in describing death: “The earth with her bars was about me for ever” (2:6).
Certainly that is the way the disciples thought of the death of Jesus Christ after He had been buried. When Jesus was laid in the grave, as far as they were concerned, this was the end. They went back to Jerusalem and wondered, in their grief, What now? They remembered the promises of Jesus and the teaching and the miracles, and now He was buried, and it seemed that all this was buried with Him. The situation to them seemed hopeless. Death was final. Death blinded them. Death was a wall that they could not see over and beyond. Even after Jesus was risen, they had trouble comprehending what had taken place. In John 20:25 Thomas says, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Again, in Matthew 28:6 you have the word of the angel: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.” And in Luke 24:44, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, He said: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you.” So, this resurrection of the body, resurrection from the dead, is a difficult truth to believe.
But, at the same time, death is what makes the resurrection such a glorious truth. Later in this chapter, the apostle Paul will write a hymn of victory: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (v. 55). Death receives a death-blow. Death is temporary. Death is a servant. Death is overcome in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Death is something like having cold winter weather in April, in the spring. We do not like the cold weather when it comes so late in the spring. But we can smile at it because next week it may well be 80 degrees again. Death is like that—it is temporary, it is soon overcome. That is true, first of all, in the death of Jesus Christ. Peter, preaching on Pentecost, says in Acts 2:24 that God has raised Him up, and “loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Yes, He was buried, but He was buried as One who would have victory over death. The decay of death could not touch Him. God did not suffer His body to see corruption. That is because He finished and overcame the curse of death already on the cross. He cried out, “It is finished,” and He overcame hell and everlasting punishment and everything connected with the curse of death in His death on the cross. He paid the price. He shed His blood. He satisfied the justice of the wrath of God.
That is the glory of the resurrection: death, which makes the resurrection so difficult to believe, is overcome. And that makes the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead essential to the Christian faith and central to the good news of the gospel. The consequences of sin, all of them, have been overcome by the death of Jesus Christ. Everything that leads to death—disease, human suffering, sin and its power; all the punishments of hell that follow death, whatever—Christ Jesus in His resurrection overcame all of these things. That is the glorious truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Satan knows that, and that is why he opposes this glorious truth of the resurrection. Always there have been those who oppose this truth. Jesus had to deal with it in His day. You remember the Sadducees who came tempting Him with regard to this wonderful truth? And this was the story, the propaganda, that the Jewish rulers spread when Jesus had risen from the dead. They said that His body was stolen away. The apostolic preaching, when it came through Peter and James and Paul and the other apostles was opposed on this point. Paul came to Athens and he preached and they listened with curiosity. But when he preached the resurrection, they mocked him. Before Festus, Paul preached the resurrection, and the response of Festus was, “Paul, thou art beside thyself. Much learning hath made thee mad.” And every generation has produced its Sadducees, its Athenians, and its Festuses.
Still today, historians deny this remarkable fact of history. Modernist theologians try to explain it away. Evangelicals downplay it. How often in pulpits today do you hear the preaching of the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and our justification and our regeneration and new birth and our sanctification and new life and our resurrection glory in the body on account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? The devil is behind this. He knows that it is the heart of the gospel. If you read only I Corinthians 15, this is what you see. If you take away the resurrection, Paul says, then there is no more forgiveness of sin. Then there is no power in the blood of Jesus Christ. Then all the dead will perish in hell. Then being a Christian is a waste of time and we are of all men most miserable. Then there is no good news in the gospel. Recognizing this, the apostle reasons for and proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I want to see how he does that here. How would you do that? Maybe you have to answer this question sometime. Someone says, “Well, prove to me that Jesus arose from the dead.” How would you do that? Our final answer, and our final line of proof, is this: Scripture—God, in the Scriptures—tells us that Jesus is risen from the dead. My faith is founded in the revelation and in the Word of God. That is the way Paul argues in the text here for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Paul, of course, means the Old Testament Scriptures. The book to the Corinthians was one of the earlier epistles, so Paul is not referring here to New Testament writings, but to the Old Testament. That is very important because Paul is giving here the strongest argument that he can. This is his final answer concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, both for the Jews and for the Gentile converts. “It’s in the Bible,” is what Paul is saying. “The Bible said that He would rise from the dead.” And, you see, that is always the final line of proof for the believer and for Christianity against the world of unbelief. When you argue with the unbelieving scientist about creation, or when you argue with a pro-choice advocate about abortion, or when you argue with today’s tolerant masses about homosexuality, the answer is: the Word of God—what does the Bible say? And that is what Paul does here. This may be argued against, but in the end the argument is against God whose Word this is. And that is why Scripture is called the sword of the Spirit.
What we see here in Paul using the Old Testament Scriptures to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the unity of the Old and the New Testament Scriptures. Paul says here, “When I came and preached the resurrection, I preached nothing new to you. What I preached to you was the same as what the Old Testament prophets preached and wrote about.” He simply brought to them the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures. Notice that in verse 3: He “died for our sins according to the scriptures.” Verse 4: “He rose again…according to the scriptures.” All of it was according to the Scriptures.
Christ Himself spoke with His disciples this way. Twice in His post-resurrection appearances in Luke 24 you find this. In the appearance to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, He says in verses 25-27: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Later, in the same chapter of Luke 24, verses 44ff., He appears in the upper room to His disciples and He says, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.” That is because, as John 20:9 says, “As yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” So, what Paul is saying here really is this, that you can prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures.
There are two lines of argument from the Old Testament that we should consider. The first is this, that the matter or the reality of the resurrection is spoken of throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, and that physical death is never presented in Scripture as the end, the final end for man. You can go all the way back to Genesis and the Garden of Eden and see it there. There, in the original creation, is the Tree of Life. And God says this, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, of the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22): “Lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” The potential for living forever is there in the original creation.
You see that in the promise that God made to Adam and Eve—of the seed of the woman that would come and crush the head of the serpent. That is a promise of the curse of death that came through Satan.
A little later in Genesis, Enoch is translated, taken into the presence of God without seeing death.
Then there is the faith of Abraham in the resurrection of his son Isaac. Hebrews 11:19 says that he accounted “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
Almost at the same time as Abraham is the record of the life of Job. Job expresses this very beautifully in chapter 19:25, 26: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
You have Elijah and Elisha, the two prophets who raised people from the dead.
Then there are promises of the resurrection, general promises, in Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces,” and in Hosea 13:14: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” So, the Old Testament Scriptures present the resurrection in a general way.
But also, the Old Testament connects the resurrection to the glory of the coming Messiah. In Psalm 16:10 you have this beautiful prophecy: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Peter, explaining this in Acts 2:31, says that David is speaking as a prophet. He is not talking about himself. His grave and his bones are here with us in Jerusalem. So, he spoke as a prophet of another, of Jesus Christ the Messiah. That is a wonderful promise that the resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ would take place. He is risen according to the Scriptures.
And we see in Peter’s use of Psalm 16 a general principle that we can apply to all the Old Testament references to resurrection from the dead. They look ahead to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus shows that when, in Matthew 12:40, He says that, as Jonah was three days in the fish’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days in the belly of the earth.
Then we think of the glory of Jesus Christ that is prophesied in the Old Testament. That is not an earthly glory, but it is a glory that comes to Him in His glorious resurrection body. Then His ascension, and His Kingdom from heaven. Isaiah 53:12, speaking of the Messiah in His glory, says, I will “divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” Psalm 72 says that His wide dominion shall extend from sea to shining sea. Psalm 110:1, speaking of the exaltation of Christ, says: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” All of these speak of the glory of Jesus Christ beyond His death and burial.
So Jesus Christ arose according to the Scriptures. It was always going to be this way. And the New Testament event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ completes the Old Testament prophecies that look ahead to this.
And Christ, the resurrected, lives yet today. The third day He rose again. The idea that is expressed here in the Greek in the perfect tense is that this marked a permanent, perfect, everlasting, irreversible resurrection. Christ is alive. He is alive today. And that means that the benefits of His resurrection are sure for us, His people. Because He lives, we are forgiven. Because He lives and rules from heaven, we are protected and cared for. Because He lives, we have victory in our confrontation of sin and Satan. Because He lives, the gospel goes forth with power to the ends of the earth to gather His people. Because He lives, I can face today, I can face tomorrow, and I can face the future. Because He lives, I can bring a loved one to the grave in confidence. Because He lives, I can face death in the hope of glory myself.
This is the beautiful truth of the gospel: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead according to the Scriptures.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for this wonderful truth and all the benefits that come from it to us. And we thank Thee, Father, that Thou dost give us faith to believe this marvelous truth and in it to find comfort and confidence for our lives. Bless us, we pray, in our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and give us to enjoy His life in us also. We pray, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.