Just as the heart pumps life giving blood to every part of the body, so the resurrection is the gospel life to our souls. The resurrection often seems to be ignored discussions concerning Jesus. Often the focus remains on the life of Jesus. Certainly the death of Jesus is proclaimed, especially as we partake of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week. But I want us to consider the great importance of the resurrection. The first century Christians did not partake of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday or Friday because these were the days of the betrayal, arrest, or death of Jesus. They did not partake of the Lord’s Supper on Saturday because Jesus was in the tomb that day. The first century Christians took the Lord’s Supper and remembered their Lord on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection of Jesus. Sunday is the resurrection day. The resurrection is the heart of the gospel. I believe we can say it more forcefully: the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When the apostle Paul preached, he declared that he was on trial for his “hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). The resurrection is so central to the gospel that we enter into the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and Paul spends a significant portion of his letter teaching the resurrection of Jesus and what it means to the world.
The Gospel Is Where You Stand (15:1-2)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV)
These Corinthian Christians are in this spiritual trouble because they have lost their focus from the essential things of our Lord. They were fighting over who they had been baptized by and how that made one greater than another. They were full of divisions. Paul says he must remind them of the gospel that he preached to them, in which they must stand, or else they have believed in vain. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul. The teaching he is giving them is the foundation by which we stand. This teaching is the ground to hold fast to. Paul declares that they had received the gospel, they were to stand in the gospel, they were saved through the gospel, and they were to hold fast to that gospel message. This fifteenth chapter is an anchor point for your life. No matter how hard the winds of life blow, this is the point of your grip. This fifteenth chapter is the strength that picks you up off the ground and causes you to stand. Your whole life is predicated on this message. The apostle Paul says that their past (you previously received the gospel), their present (you presently are to stand in the gospel message), and their future (you are being saved) are founded right here in this truth of the resurrection of Jesus. But Paul has a concern for his audience. He is concerned that they have believed in vain. He speaks of them starting well in the gospel, but concerned that they would lose their grip and no longer stand in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel Evidence (15:3-8)
The apostle Paul begins by telling them that he delivered to them the most important thing. What Paul gave them was not a new teaching, but handed down information. Paul is preaching what the other apostles are preaching and what was preached to him. This is the great foundation in which we stand: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he made many resurrection appearances.
Notice the first foundation by which is stand is the repeated statement, “according to the scriptures.” All of the events that happened to Jesus were foretold by the prophets and are found in the scriptures. Everything that happened was according to the plan of God. None of the gospel was left to chance. None of the gospel came about by accident. Isaiah 53 tells us that the Christ would die for the sins of the people. Where do the scriptures say that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day? Psalm 16 declares that the Christ would not see decay, which occurred after the third day. The Christ must rise on the third day because the scriptures declared that the Holy One would not experience corruption or decay. The prophet Jonah experienced resurrection from the watery grave, the belly of the fish, after three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-40). Your faith in the gospel is rooted in knowing the scriptures from Genesis to Malachi which speak about the kingship of Jesus, how he would die for our sins and raise for our justification.
The truth of this gospel message could still be validated by eyewitness testimony while Paul wrote this letter. Paul is not making up the resurrection. Your faith in the gospel is also root in the witnesses of the gospel message. Of the over 500 disciples that saw the resurrected Lord, most of them are still alive, Paul says. Then Paul declares that he also saw the risen Lord. The second foundation by which we stand are the witnesses of the resurrected Lord. There is no doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. This is the gospel message and this message changes everything.
These verses are not information points for Christians. It is easy to treat Jesus as simply information. Yes, he lived, he died, he was buried, and he was raised. These are the things you know. Therefore you have the gospel. But you don’t have the gospel if this is all you have done. This information is supposed to cause something. We are supposed to see something in the gospel. The apostle Paul says you would see the grace of God (Acts 20:24) and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4,6) so that you will walk worthy of that gospel (Philippians 1:27). This is what we see Paul describing now about himself.
The Gospel Changes Everything About Us (15:8-11)
Notice how Paul describes his eyewitness event. He says “last of all.” Seeing the risen Jesus was a requirement for being an apostle of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:22). Paul, therefore, is the last apostle because he was the last to see the risen Jesus. No one else would see the risen Jesus after him. Anyone who claims to have seen the risen Lord after the conversion of Paul is lying because Paul says he was the final one. Paul does not merely say that he saw Jesus. He was the last of them all to see Jesus. All other claims to have seen the risen Jesus are false.
But Paul does not simply say that he was the last to see Jesus risen from the dead. Paul says that Jesus appeared to him “as one untimely born.” The untimeliness by which Paul speaks does not mean that he simply saw Jesus later than all the other apostles. This phrase refers to a miscarriage or a premature birth. It pictures a life that is unable to sustain itself. What does Paul mean by this? Verse 9 gives the explanation of what this means. He is “untimely born” not because he became an apostle later than the others, but because he “persecuted the church of God.” Paul perceived himself as so unworthy and unfit to be called to apostleship because he was a persecutor of Christians. Paul is speaking of his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever in Jesus and persecutor against Jesus and his disciples. Paul says basically, “Somehow I am an apostle. I should have been left for dead, like a premature birth or a miscarriage because of my sinfulness. But instead of being left in that condition, God gave me life and made me an apostle, of which I am unworthy to be called.” Paul could have said that he was the greatest of all the apostles. He was the most educated. He was the most notorious. He was the most honored. He was not some fisherman from Galilee. He was Paul, trained at the feet of Gamaliel, and one of the greatest Pharisees! He wrote more books of the scriptures than any of the other apostles. Look how great Paul is! Paul says he is the least. Paul says he is unworthy. Paul says that he is like a miscarriage. We read things like this and think he shouldn’t be so hard on himself. This is some really bad self-esteem, Paul! No it is not!
The gospel demands humility.
This is what the gospel message does. The gospel message causes us to see who we really are. We are nothing. We have no life within us. Our sins are reaching as high as the heavens, and beyond. If Paul is unworthy, then we most certainly are unworthy. The gospel message demands humility. The gospel message makes me look in the mirror and see the wretchedness of my sins. The gospel makes me see that I am not great but that I am nothing! But we argue, “Not us. We are so useful. We are so valuable.” Listen to Paul again:
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9–12 ESV)
This is who we are. This is where we stand before God. Jesus came to justify the ungodly (Romans 4:5) and Paul is the immense of example of this! So does this mean that we go around feeling like miserable wretches? No, look how Paul continues.
The gospel changes who we are and what we do.
Paul went from persecutor to apostle. Isn’t that amazing? That is what Paul is asking the Corinthians to consider. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” For us, God takes us from being ungodly and declares us righteous. It is by God’s grace that a radical transformation has begun in my life. His grace becomes the catalyst for change. This gospel message of the death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything about our lives. If it does not change everything about who we are and what we do, then we have heard the gospel message in vain. But Paul says that the grace of God was not in vain toward him. Paul has a concern of this for the Corinthians back in verse 2. Rather than the grace of God being in vain, Paul says that he worked harder than any of them. But to make sure that they do not misunderstand, Paul emphasizes that it was not himself, but the grace of God that was working in his life. Grace leads us to work hard or else we have not experienced grace! Grace does not lead to laziness. We are not standing in the hope of the resurrection and not holding fast to the gospel message if we are not propelled to greater effort in Christ.
If we forget these things, then we have nothing. All that we do is empty if the gospel is not the basis (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:3). It is easy to focus on acts and outcomes and forget why we are doing what we are doing. If what we are teaching is not about the gospel, then we have nothing. If what we are doing is not from the gospel, then we have moved away from God. Why do we assemble? The good news of Jesus is why. Why do we serve? The good news of Jesus is why. Why do we submit to one another? The good news of Jesus is why! Everything we say and do is because of the good news of Jesus. The gospel is the answer. The gospel is where we stand.
Has the grace of God been proclaimed to your ears in vain? Has this gospel of the resurrection changed who you are and what you do? Has it caused you to see your great need and humbly seek his grace? What tragedy to see the power of the resurrection only for us to do nothing about it! The gospel redirects our energies away from the ungodliness that we previously dabbled and plunged ourselves into. Now our energies are directed toward the grace of God working in us. This is the message of good news in which we stand. This is the message by which we are being saved. What are you standing on? Have you truly received this? Have you truly believed it? Are you truly resting upon it, depending your life on it? Is the grace of God working in your life? Can you see the transformation in who you are and what you do? Stand in the gospel of grace, be declared righteous by God, and be moved to act to the praise of God’s glory.