Cross Centered Hope (1Corinthians 15) – Easter Sunday

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I was __ years old when I first heard about death and attending a funeral. It was difficult to comprehend but my summary definition could be described as “no more”. No more would I be able to see my grandfather again. A __ year later I had another grandfather pass away. No more would I have grandfathers.

Various times in the next couple years our extended family had other’s who passed away that I would no longer be able to see. Each time there was a funeral and I chose not to attend. It was difficult for me to grasp the idea of death and I wanted no part of having to see it face to face.

One morning during my senior year of high school I was with classmates in a gym locker room getting ready for our first period class when an announcement came over the system. The person asked for a moment of silence as a student had a fatal car accident the previous night. His name was Charles “Chip” Smallwood. He was a friend of mine. We played basketball together and were in some of the same classes. No more would I see Chip.

__ years later my two other grandmothers would pass away. Again, to be seen “no more”.

 

Death is life’s greatest mystery. It is also life’s greatest misery.

Why does life have to end this way? Why does death divide? Is death really the end?

These questions can haunt us or they can lead us to on a journey to hope. In today’s message I want to share reasons you can have hope in the midst of death.

 

Easter is the reminder that no more does “no more” have to mean no more!

Hope for life after death comes through a Person – not a religion, not a system of good deeds outweighing bad deeds – but a real relationship with God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

To see this for yourself turn to 1Corinthians 15.

-          If you removed this chapter out of the Bible and its message you would remove Christianity.

-          Christianity rests on whether or not the resurrection actually happened.

o        No resurrection = no hope / life could be summed up as “no more

o        But, if there is resurrection = hope is possible.

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EXAMINE                 1Corinthians 15           Cross Centered Hope             3 anchors for why gospel brings hope

Corinthians is a letter to a church in the city of Corinth. Corinth was a port city, much like Baltimore MD, that was extremely populated, exceptionally prosperous and excessively promiscuous.

A religious man named Paul had a dramatic life experience that he gave up his religion in exchange for a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.[1] His testimony was, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

 

The gospel is the divine story of life (1Cor 15:3)

Whether it’s an adventure movie, a romantic novel, or a warm conversation over dinner, our culture loves a good story. Stories cultivate our imagination and capture our hearts and minds. Even my children are engaged almost every night as they sit on the edge of their seats to listen to me read them a bedtime story. Stories are like breathing to humanity with the gospel as our oxygen. The gospel is the divine story plan.

Paul says that he is delivering a message that he received of “first importance” and it was “in accordance to the Scriptures”. The message came from God – in accordance with the Scriptures. When Paul says this he is implying there was a plan – a story. God had purposed this plan since the very beginning of all time.

God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Therefore,

µ     You are no afterthought. God has plans and purpose for every person.

µ     Christianity is not superfluous. If the gospel originated in God’s mind and before the foundation of the world then we must pay profound attention to Jesus. C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”[2]   

µ     The gospel is the greatest story ever told. If the gospel is the greatest story we are free to surrender the drive of a perfect fairy tale image. This world isn’t that spectacular and our lives are not that impressive. While you are no afterthought, there is more to the story. If all we hear is “We are special; We are unique; My life is a snow flake;” then what we need to hear next is “I’m a narcissist!” The grand narrative of life is God working in every circumstance and every detail of your life to help you see Him. Jesus is the point and purpose of life. Too many view ourselves as the lead actor/actress of life where we are the center of our world. In reality, Jesus is the main character and we have a supporting role to complement Him.

µ     The action for you today is to recognize God’s purpose for your plans.

 

The gospel is a historical happening (1Cor 15:3-9).

Paul communicates the gospel with straight-forward happenings: Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ was raised on the third day, and Christ appeared to numerous individuals and crowds. These events actually happened in a historical time and place with a historical person named Jesus.

 

Jesus died for our sins.

-          His death was excruciating. Crucifixion was the worse form of capital punishment, reserved for cruel criminals.[3] Jews viewed crucifixion as being under God’s curse.[4] The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero asked that decent Roman citizens not even speak of the cross because it was too disgraceful a subject for the ears of decent people. The agony of crucifixion is due to the fact of its prolonged means of death. Those crucified would often hang on a cross for days, passing in and out of consciousness as their lungs struggled to breathe, while laboring under the weight of their dying body. Due to the fact that timber was so expensive, the wood of the cross was typically recycled wood, therefore layered with the blood and sweat of many others. The crucifixion process was started with the victim being stripped naked, humiliated and then attached his hands and feet across a wooden beam to expose the victim’s bare back. A Lictor, a professional executioner, would yield a cat-o’-nine tails, which was a whip with tentacle-like straps having heavy scraps of metal, bone and glass attached to the end of the straps. The intention of the Lictor was to tenderize the flesh of the shoulders, backs, buttocks and legs of the victim. As skin, muscle, tendons and even bones were ripped off the victim some would die from this scourging itself. After this scourging, there was placed on Jesus head crown of thorns. Long thorns that would pierce into his forehead, ears, brow and even skull.

All of this was done publicly, thereby bringing utter shame and making an utter spectacle of the victim. Sweaty, sun-baked, nailed naked to a cross, bloodied and body fluids oozing was an atrocious sight. The crowds gathering around this sight today would be like viewing an execution in front of a local mall. Females were mostly withheld from this form of execution but when such they were turned to face the cross so the public did not have to view a woman’s facial expressions, as it was harsher to see females suffer. In fact, today we have the painful word – excruciating – which literally means “from the cross”. On this cross, nails/spikes were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet – the most sensitive nerve centers on the human body. He was then lifted up as the cross was placed into a pre-dug hole. Further mockery would take place as the crowd hurled insults and spat into his face.

-          His death was an exchange.

The purpose of Jesus’ death was not for His own sin or crimes but for those of humanity. Paul says in another place, “[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21). Also, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus’ death was substitutionary for us that we might have hope in life, forgiveness of sin, and restored eternal life in the presence of God.

 

Jesus was buried.

-          His burial implied death. The Roman executioners were grimly proficient and practiced at crucifixion. In fact, the Roman soldiers ensured Jesus’ death by thrusting a spear in His side with a mixture of blood and water pouring out (John 19:34-35). His body was wrapped in linens and spices which following the beatings, floggings, crucifixion and a pierced heart would have killed him by asphyxiation; not to mention three additional days without medical attention or food and water. There simply is no credible theory that Jesus survived the cross and was placed alive in a tomb to exit after healing or recovery.

-          His burial implies definitiveness. The last cry of Jesus was “It is finished τετελεσται” (John 19:30). All that was necessary to obtain our salvation was complete; Jesus accomplished it. 1Cor 15:55 “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”à Whatever sin or struggle you have needs to be buried. Trust God to transform death into life.

 

Jesus raised & appeared

-          His tomb was empty. Every other religious leader from Buddha, Confucius, to Mohammed or Joseph Smith are all enshrined in a tomb and a place of worship for their movement. Not Jesus’ tomb – it’s unexciting and empty!

-          His resurrection occurred on the third day in accordance with Scripture.

o       Prophecies from OT (Psalm 16:10; Ps 22; Jonah/Mat 12:40; Isa 25:8, 53:8-12; Hosea 6:2)

o       Prophecies from Jesus (Mat 12:38-40; Mk 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34; Jn 2:18-22).

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-          His resurrection testified by apostles and over five-hundred witnesses.

-          His resurrection first testified by females. In the first century and prior, a woman’s testimony was not accepted as valid. Early Christians were mocked for the resurrection noticed first by Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, Joanna and other women (Luke 24:10-11). This vital historical fact shows 1) the Scripture’s accuracy in simply stating what happened and not attempting to shape the narrative for its own theological ideology, and 2) Christianity would liberate the role of women to equal value of genders.

-          His resurrection has been testified throughout history from the martyrs of the first century to many whom are persecuted today. Some died and some live today for this sake.

-          His resurrection assures our resurrection. As believers, we are united to Him and He to us. Therefore, we can live with the very same confidence that Jesus had while He walked on earth. Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 1Corinthians 15:19-20, 22 “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”

 

The gospel is a present day mission (1Cor 15:32-34, 50-58).

Paul views the resurrection as vital to Christianity. Christians are to be pitied as fools if there is no resurrection. Yet, because of the resurrection life has meaning and life has a mission. The resurrection is more than wishful thinking – it is God’s story and it was a historical happening.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, German scholar at Tubingen “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.” [5]

Many reject the resurrection simply because they do not want a Lord. They don’t want Jesus or anyone else telling them what to do and how to live. They say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:32).

But when you reject the resurrection you do not do so based on religious reasons but you are rejecting historical truth. Just as you cannot unscramble an egg you cannot undo what has been completed in history.

Jesus is the Savior who died to conquer sin, satan and death.

à Your past can be forgiven.             à Your present can be shaped with faith, hope and love.             à Your future can be secure that God sees you as His very own son/daughter – as Christ!

 

Jesus is the Lord who was raised to give eternal life and equip each person with a mission.

 

Jesus’ mission is not safe and comfortable, it’s dangerous.

-          Can you imagine why God would send His Son to suffer humanity and die a cruel death only for His followers to have a safe, smilingly comfy faith… No. His mission is radical surrender to spread His gospel from neighborhoods to nations.

-          If you think obedience to Jesus is dangerous… it’s more dangerous to NOT obey! Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

o       How can Christ-followers imagine looking at Jesus in Heaven, seeing the nails in hands & feet, bruised brows – one who on earth stilled storms, calmed waves, cursed fig trees, defeated death and now has blazing eyes of fire and a sword in his mouth – and today’s Christianity somehow thinks halfhearted faith and witness will be justified…?

o       God says hold nothing back, going all in, risk it all for the cause of Christ and the mission of God’s kingdom.

 

à Our mission is to wake up (1Cor 15:34). Awaken to God and exchange living life with self as the center to complementing the beauty and glory of Jesus. à Our mission is to abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain (1Cor 15:58)

 
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[1] Helpful illustration to understand Paul’s life change is to imagine a extreme Republican becoming a radical Democrat with all the attached social values & policies (government role, state rights, healthcare, immigration, foreign policy, SSM, gun control, abortion, etc.)

[2] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), p.101.

[3] Much of the following information on crucifixion comes from Mark Driscoll’s Death by Love pp 17-34, and his sermon “The Cross: God Dies”, along with John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.

[4] Deuteronomy 21:23

[5] Quoted in Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible. p. 113