Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Part 6
Paul took the “character of faith” approach to answer the church at Corinth’s questions about the reality of the resurrections. First, he presents the facts. He describes how he was told, and how, in turn, he told them that Christ had died for our sins, had been buried, and was raised on the third day (vv. 3b-4). He reminds them that these events took place as it had been predicted in scripture. After having been raised, Christ appeared to Cephas, to the twelve disciples, to over 500 people, most of whom could attest to having seen him, to James, to the apostles, and finally to Paul himself. The people that Paul cites are well known as supporters and believers, and their testimonies are neither casual nor frivolous. In light of their proven devotion to Christ, they have provided the sort of sober insistence that the resurrection is true and must be taken seriously.
It is interesting to ponder all the developments in natural science, psychology, and anthropology that have occurred in the years between the time Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians and now. Yet the questions the Corinthians were asking are no easier to answer now than they were then. What does it mean to say that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead? Is the fact there was no body in the tomb sufficient proof that resurrection took place? Why were the followers of Jesus so slow in recognizing him after the crucifixion? Was he not really fully human, but a sort of emanation, just one step removed from a ghost? Or, not to put too fine a point on it, should we just say he was a ghost, and be done with it? Is this peculiar belief part of the self-hypnotic suggestion that can prevail in a group gathered around charismatic leaders?
Another Paul, writing in mid-twentieth century America, also addresses this issue as one that concerns the character of faith. Paul Tillich pointed out that fact has less to do with the resurrection than faith.1 The fact that can be certified is that Jesus of Nazareth surrendered to death, and that is the ultimate, and so far as we know, the universal result of life. But the victory of Christ over death is a statement of faith, known by those who declare it to be true through the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor 2:7) that Paul says is not the “wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6) but has been revealed by God “through the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:10).
Tillich described Jesus of Nazareth as the “bearer of the New Being.”2 The New Being was that which conquered the destructive consequences of estrangement. Tillich’s choice of words is important, for he casts human beings as estranged (not separated) from God, which he also terms as the Ground of Being or Being Itself. This notion is significant because it suggests that human beings are never so cut off from God that their experiences of meaninglessness, despair, and anxiety are excluded from God’s creating, sustaining, and fulfilling love. The introduction of this idea is what Tillich claims Jesus as the Christ brought to the awareness of human beings by means of his death and resurrection. He showed that under the conditions of existence human beings are not cut off from God, even by death. This assertion is what Tillich terms “the New Being,” his term for the awareness of this truth.
Jesus of Nazareth revealed to his followers a picture of the nature of God and God’s relationship to human beings that invited participation and commitment. They responded to his example and teachings. They glimpsed what it would mean to have and sustain the vision of the New Being that he represented.
When Jesus was crucified, the fact of the matter was that he died. Ordinarily, this would mean that the New Being, so closely associated with him, would also pass from human awareness. But his followers, who had been taught “through the Spirit,” and thus were caught up by, or in Tillich’s terms, grasped by, the New Being as exemplified and explained by Jesus, knew it could not be subject to time, space, causality and substance. At the same time, in their minds, it was indissolubly united with Jesus of Nazareth. He did, factually, die. But the New Being, that with which he was so inextricably associated, was eternal. A tomb could not contain either him or it. Through resurrection, fact and faith unite. The New Being, along with the teachings and example provided by Jesus, was just as enlivening of faith as it was before the crucifixion.
Jesus as the Christ affected his disciples for the same reason that he affects his followers today. There was a personal unity with God that he communicated and to which his followers could witness. The spiritual presence that pervaded his teachings as he spoke them continues to enliven human souls today, and thus the experience of the New Being in Jesus as the Christ is still the teacher. The resurrection, once understood as the continuing of the ministry of Jesus as the Christ as the New Being, becomes one of the evidences of faith. The “truth” of the resurrection cannot be explained by referring to a transmuted physical body, the manifestation of a soul communicating from the beyond, or a psychological event in the minds of his followers. It has the character of thought on which faith is based, and it is part of that wisdom that is communicated “through the Spirit.”
Paul’s opening of the topic (vv.1-2) locates the questioners with regard to the system of thought that he is invoking. They have heard the gospel, he himself preached it to them, and they understood not only what it was he said, but also what it was that the Spirit communicated to their hearts. This transaction saved them from the consequences of their sin, that of believing they were cut off from God.
The First Baptist Church
1. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Volume 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 155.