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I Corinthians 15:20-31

     20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

     29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

        “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

The followers of Jesus were not the first who appeared in the ancient Hebrew world declaring that their leader was the Messiah. In fact, there were a number of others. But what distinguished the followers of Jesus from all the others was that they said their master had been killed and then raised from the dead. And according to the claims in the New Testament, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people after his resurrection, including the leaders of his movement, who published their accounts in the documents that were compiled as the New Testament.

In today’s world, there are many people who discount the possibility that Jesus actually rose from the dead – including some who call themselves Christians. Those people claim to be followers of Jesus in the same way followers of Karl Marx call themselves ‘Marxists’ or followers of Menno Simon call themselves ‘Mennonites.’ They appreciate his teachings without accepting the truth of the resurrection.

But Paul will have no part of a Christian faith without the resurrection. He says that without the truth of the resurrection, the whole thing is hollow – it’s a system for putting your trust in a purely worldly hope. We might as well party hearty, because when the party’s over, it’s over.

For those of us who genuinely accept the historical reality of the resurrection, three things serve as the foundation of our belief.

First of all, the New Testament record is the best-preserved record in human history. No other set of documents in history has been subject to such rigorous checking and cross-checking as the New Testament. Teams of scholars have worked constantly throughout the 2000 year history of the church to ensure that the Christian scriptures are accurately translated and handed down. And those scriptures, all written or compiled by people who lived during the lifetime of eyewitnesses of the resurrection, all state the unshakable conviction that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.

And by the way, the historical record shows that those same authors of the New Testament, when they went into the world to tell about their own encounters with the risen Christ, spoke with such absolute certainty about the resurrection that people throughout the Roman world left everything to follow Jesus.

Second, Jesus himself foretold that he would be killed and then rise from the dead. Again and again in his teachings, he told those following him that this would come to pass. It was a shocking and unexpected teaching on his part, but one that he clearly regarded as an aspect of his earthly ministry.

The cultural expectation among the Jews was that the Messiah would come as a military conqueror to drive out the Romans and re-establish a free and independent Israel. But Jesus did something very different – something nobody expected. There was absolutely no expectation among the Jews that the Messiah would come to die for the sins of the world – or that he would then rise from the dead to establish a new ‘temple’ – a new meeting place between God and humankind.

The fact that Jesus foretold his shocking death at the hands of his nation’s leaders – and that this prediction came true – provides powerful support to his matching assertion that he would then rise from the dead.

Finally, as we have said in past Reflections and will probably say again in future ones, the accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus are so uncharacteristic of the ancient Hebrew world that it becomes harder to believe they were made up than that they are true.

Some people claim the leaders of the early church invented the resurrection in order to gain recruits for their new religion. But if they did, they invented stories that made themselves look like cowards who abandoned Jesus in his hour of greatest need – hardly the kind of story you make up if you’re trying to recruit followers.

And what’s more, the stories in the gospels all say that the first ones to discover the resurrection were women. In the ancient Hebrew world, that would instantly cast into doubt the veracity of the story, because women were regarded as unreliable witnesses. (And Mary Magdalene might even have been a former victim of mental illness.) So nobody in the ancient world would have made up a story like that. They would only have reported the story that way if they absolutely believed it to be true.

It’s also worth noting that the accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus include some ‘extraneous information’ – like the fact that some people heard Jesus speaking on the cross and mistakenly thought he was calling to Elijah. The presence of that kind of extraneous information is strong evidence that those who reported it believed absolutely that they were reporting a true and factual account.

Finally, the lives of the early leaders of the church bear witness to their certainty that they had encountered the risen Christ. After running and hiding when Jesus was crucified, they then re-emerged on the world stage a few days later. And when they did, they were so bold and confident in their faith that they were willing to be killed as Jesus had been. What changed them from cowards to fearless martyrs? They said it was those very encounters that convinced them that death no longer had power over them.

For all these reasons, we believe in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul said twenty centuries ago, that belief is the heart of our faith – of our confidence that we will someday share in that resurrection.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the great demonstration of your love for us that took place on the cross, and for the living hope we share as believers in the resurrection of Jesus. Give us the confidence and the words to share that hope with those around us who have not yet come to believe. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 47 and 57; Jeremiah 44:1-14; and Matthew 11:16-24.)