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“God’s Power in Grave and Grace”

Easter Sunday 9:00 a.m.Mar.27/16 1Cor.15:1-11


Y’know, we’re actually meeting in the wrong place today. Before Christianity became an officially recognized religion in the Roman Empire under Constantine, early Christians used to meet for Easter worship often out in graveyards. Yes, cemeteries! How’d you like to be meeting out there this morning? There’s something very definite about a graveyard. Sobering. Serene and peaceful maybe, but grim and unrelenting nonetheless. All those tombstones staring at you unblinking. A graveyard underscores the finality of our mortality: death comes to us all.

      So how can we Christians have the audacity to proclaim and believe there’s such a thing as a resurrection? How do you argue with actuarial statistics? Is it just wishful thinking, a fairy tale, in the same category as the Easter Bunny and the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch at Hallowe’en?

      1Corinthians is one of the Apostle Paul’s first letters to the early church. In chapter 15 he goes to some length to establish a foundation for their believing in the resurrection – and it’s reassuring still to us here today!

      Like a skilled courtroom lawyer eager to argue his case, he calls a variety of witnesses to testify. First is the witness of the church. Vv1&11, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received...Whether, then, it is I or they [other apostles], this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” The word “received” here is a technical term for transmitting tradition, an official passing-on of truth like a relay runner passes on the baton. The character of the person who told us the message helps vouch for its credibility. Those who first explained the truths of the gospel to you would not knowingly be trying to trick you! The fact that they felt it important enough to try to impress it upon you arises from their having tried it and found it true in their own life.

      Paul makes a similar point writing to Timothy in 2Timothy 3:14 referring to Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (1:5), “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it...” As if to say, you can see the effect this teaching has had on the lives of those who sought to pass it on to you. That should count for something!

      Paul adds in writing to Timothy, 2Tim 3:15 “and [you know] how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” In Timothy’s case, “holy Scriptures” would refer to the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. So, besides the witness of THE CHURCH, Paul also calls on the witness of THE OLD TESTAMENT. Back to 1Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...”

      Jesus was careful to explain to His disciples that what happened to Him that first Easter was in line with what the Old Testament predicted. For example, Luke 22:37 “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” After His resurrection, on the road to Emmaus with two disciples, Lk 24:25-27 “He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A bit later to the gathered group He said, Lk 24:44f “"This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” If you want to see what passages He likely used, check out Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Ac 2:25-27, 3:25); see Psalms 16(8-11) and 22, and Isaiah 53.

      Jesus’ death and resurrection were not a “one-off” or a fluke, but carefully prophesied centuries in advance. It was a divine script the Sovereign God in His wisdom had written and brought to fulfilment.

      So, the first two witnesses Paul calls to the stand are THE CHURCH and THE OLD TESTAMENT.


Our modern communication devices are marvelous, but they have their limitations. This week IF:GATHERING came out with its own new “app”. Recently though my smartphone had hit a wall when trying to update some apps I had already installed: seems it thought it had run out of space! I had to delete some and trick some others into re-installing themselves. It IS possible to fill up your phone with too many apps.

      Paul the Apostle has APPS GALORE: not “applications” but “appearances”. In the next section, he calls to the stand half a dozen distinct appearances of the risen Lord Jesus to various eyewitnesses. Count them as we read vv5-8: “and that he appeared to (1) Peter, and then to (2) the Twelve. After that, he appeared to (3) more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to (4) James, then to (5) all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to (6) me also, as to one abnormally born.” Commentator Robertson notes, “There are ten appearances given besides the one to Paul.Nine are in the Gospels...and one in I Corinthians above (to James).”

      It’s significant that Paul notes most of the “500" are still living – as if to imply, “Go and check it out with them if you don’t believe me!” It’s also significant that all the apostles went to their deaths – many of them under torture – maintaining they had seen Christ alive again with their own eyes after being crucified. People don’t die for what they know to be a lie.


Next, lawyer Paul turns to firsthand-witness: it’s as if he takes the stand himself to testify! Anyone who had known Paul before his conversion - “Saul” as he used to be known - would have to admit that the change in his life was both drastic and dramatic. If the Lord wished to make a showcase of His resurrection power, using a sort of “worst-case scenario” as it were – Saul would definitely be a top candidate!

      Paul (his later name) admits frankly in 1Cor 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Elsewhere he paints more detail in the portrait: 1Tim 1:13 “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Note he mentions violence. In Acts 22:4 he recalls, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison...” Prison - death – Saul was a man to be feared, zealous to quash this upstart sect proclaiming some new Messiah.

      That’s not the sort of person who usually “turns on a dime” and does a complete reversal, beginning to promote the Saviour he so recently spurned! But after encountering Jesus on the road to arrest believers in Damascus, like someone “abnormally born” or “miscarried” / thrust forth out of time, Saul suddenly began arguing publicly that Jesus was in fact the Christ, drawing on all those Scriptures from the Old Testament he had studied and memorized under the famed Gamaliel. The PERSECUTOR became a PREACHER.


This brings us to the startling point about Easter: it’s not just about what happened to Jesus in the tomb that special “Lord’s Day” morning. It’s about His power available to work in each of our lives for those who put their trust in Him and receive His Holy Spirit inside!

      Before we come to Christ, we are STUCK in sin. The process of salvation takes us from being STUCK to STANDING with God, and being STRENGTHENED by His Spirit inside. V2 “By this gospel you are SAVED, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” We need saving when we are STUCK in sin. What do I mean by “stuck”?

      God’s estimate of the human race apart from His help is that we are lost, fallen, without hope eternally, destined for condemnation. Now, sitting here this morning you may feel like quite a respectable person: after all, your in church on Sunday morning, right? Kudos for that!

      But on our own human effort, according to Scripture, Isaiah 64:6 “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Yuck! Now, maybe you weren’t hounding people to jail and death and blaspheming like Saul was. But Jesus diagnosed our condition as being evil from the inside out: Mark 7:21 “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” - and several other things including greed, envy, and slander.

      As an self-confessed example, take famous British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. He was married and had been faithful to his wife; but one evening he nearly gave in to temptation. Ravi Zacharias writes of the incident in his book Can Man Live Without God: “Working as a journalist in India, he left his residence one evening to go to a nearby river for a swim.As he entered the water, across the river he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come to have her bath.Muggeridge impulsively felt the allurement of the moment, and temptation stormed into his mind.He had lived with this kind of struggle for years but had somehow fought it off in honor of his commitment to his wife, Kitty.On this occasion, however, he wondered if he could cross the line of marital fidelity.He struggled just for a moment and then swam furiously toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience.His mind fed him the fantasy that stolen waters would be sweet, and he swam the harder for it. Now he was just two or three feet away from her, and as he emerged from the water, any emotion that may have gripped him paled into insignificance when compared with the devastation that shattered him as he looked at her. [Muggeridge recalls] “She was old and hideous...and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper...This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.” The experience left Muggeridge trembling and muttering under his breath, “What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart.”

      That’s the sort of stuckness I’m talking about: our inherent inclination to be attracted to sin, and the ease with which we move toward it. But Paul declares when we hold firmly to the word that’s been preached to us, we ARE SAVED, and - v1 - we’ve received the gospel “on which you have taken your STAND.”

      Paul took a stand – after Jesus met him and Saul found himself falling to the ground on the way to Damascus. Soon Saul was a changed man – Paul. He boldly went to new area after new area preaching the gospel and was repeatedly persecuted himself now: beaten up, mobbed, even stoned for these new beliefs. But he felt God’s GRACE at work in his life, transforming him, STRENGTHENING him. Look closely at v10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them— yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Three times in a single verse grace is highlighted.

      “By the grace of God I am what I am”: yes he had been a persecutor in the past, a violent blasphemer – but now there was not a shred of violence in him; he was patient, didn’t react harshly, plodding steadily along just sharing the Good News about Jesus with people wherever he went. God’s grace makes you a new person, gives you a “do-over” character-wise, so people notice a positive change – you’re different. Because now you have “Jesus inside”. The Holy Spirit helps you love better, changes your essence, so you can say with Paul about your new being, “By God’s grace, I am what I am.”

      “His grace to me was not without effect.” His grace to me “has not been in vain” (NRSV), is “not without results” (NLT). The fruit of the Spirit begins to take root in our lives, so we act differently – love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control. You enjoy being around people who have those qualities!

      And, “I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Who’s doing the work here? Paul says it’s not actually him alone, but God’s grace “working through me” (NLT). Jesus STRENGTHENS us. Isaiah 40:29 “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Ephesians 3:16 “I pray that out of his glorious riches He [God the Father] may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being...” You don’t need to swim across that river in the direction of temptation: you’ve already got something better inside!


Jesus is Risen! He’s alive! His mission is to indwell His people, so we know His grace, and can share our new life in Him with others. As we take our stand in the truth of the gospel, we experience His positive change inside like Paul did, and are strengthened to face life’s challenges.

      FB Meyer in The Christ Life for Your Life suggests how a Christian can face tempation. “Remember further that His purpose is to deliver from the power of sin.The guilt is gone, but the power remains, and He can only deliver from that gradually.Now, understand me,...I do not believe in sanctification, I believe in the Sanctifier; I do not believe in holiness, I believe in the Holy One. Not an it, but a person; not an attribute, but Christ in my heart.

      [Meyer adds] “Abide in Jesus.Let the Holy Ghost in you keep you abiding in Jesus, so that when Satan comes to knock at your door, Jesus will go and open it, and as soon as the devil sees the face of Christ looking through the door, he will turn tail...” Let’s pray.