"HOW DO YOU KNOW?"

APRIL 1", 2018                                                          PASTOR DON PIEPER

EASTER SUNDAY                                                               ISAIAH 25:1, 6-9 In Paul's Footprints                                                Mark 16:1-7/1 Cor 15:1-11

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?"

There are some who find it ironic, that Easter falls on April Fool's Day this year...

Man:              APRIL FOOLS!!!                   (cartoon quip)

In Jesus' case, that's no April Fools! As Paul wrote in the opening chapter to the letter we just read from: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom..."

(1 Corinthians 1:18, 25)

That makes us fools for Christ... That doesn't mean our faith is mere wishful thinking tho'. Our faith is built on the solid ground of sound empirical evidence as cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians: "Christ died for our sins, was buried & was raised from the dead on the third day just as the Scriptures said"

(1 Corinthins 15:3-4)

The evidence comes to us in two primary ways - one, through the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecy, and two, in the form of personal experience passed on through eye-witness accounts.

The evidence of biblical prophecy, was the focus of the message two weeks ago. You can check that out online or by picking up a copy in the back. Scores of messianic prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus... Paul confirms the importance of this evidence when he writes: "Christ died for our sins...and he was raised on the third day !according to the scriptures]." (1 Corinthians 15:4)

And then there's the evidence of personal experience. Hobbes helps out...

{cfit's A Magical World, top of page 83] - The evidence of personal experience!

Back to the text...! Hidden deep in Paul's Corinthian letters there is buried treasure - the earliest testimony in the Bible of the resurrection of Jesus. Our reading from Mark is the first Gospel account, written around 60 AD, but these words from Paul even precede those of Mark's.

Paul initially visited Corinth during his second missionary trip around the year 51 AD, staying there about 18 months, and, "Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized"

(Acts 18:8)

Later, while in Ephesus, during his third missionary trip, about three or four years later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians around the year 55 AD, meaning that these words were written a mere 18 years after Jesus' resurrection, and between five to ten years before Mark was written.

Paul's words, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance..." (1 Cor. 15:3) are of great significance indeed! It reveals that what follows has been passed on to him in the form of an early Christian creed, the earliest Christian confession of faith on record.

In this creed, Paul refers to six distinct resurrection appearances. First is Peter, or in the original Greek, Cephas. Luke refers to it amidst other resurrection appearances, occurring in between Jesus appearing to Mary on Easter morning and to the two disciples leaving for Emmaus later that day. "They returned to Jerusalem at once. There they found the Eleven... who confirmed their report, saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon (Peter)." (Luke 24:33-34)

The use of the Aramaic name, Cephas, in Paul's creed is indication that Paul, who always wrote in Greek, copied a creed used in the spoken language of Jesus and first century Israel - Aramaic.

 

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"(Jesus) appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve..." (1 Corinthians 15:5) Paul refers to The Twelve, even though Judas was now dead, confirming that Paul is quoting a secondary source. This appearance is validated by three of the four gospels — Matthew, Luke and John.

"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, (Paul writes), most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:6)

This one is not mentioned in the gospels and is perhaps the most daring evidence presented by Paul. It's an invitation for any first century critic to confirm his report for themselves, talking to any of these five hundred individuals to verify the resurrection claim to their own satisfaction as most of the 500 were still living... Paul's saying, 'if you don't believe me or the Twelve, ask your neighbors!'

"Jesus then appeared to James." (1 Corinthians 15:7) This James is obviously not one of the original twelve disciples because he's already mentioned them. The original twelve included James, the brother of John, and James, the son of Alphaeus. That leaves one other James of notiriety, James, the brother of Jesus. The gospels report that Jesus had four half-brothers. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?"

(Matthew 13:55/Mark 6:3)

The gospels also report that during Jesus' ministry, his brothers didn't believe in him: "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7:5) "They said; 'He's out of his mind! "(Mark 3:21) Yet, after the resurection, James became a leader in the early church. Paul identifies him as one of only two men he met with during his 37 AD trip to Jerusalem: "Three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter... The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord's brother." (Gal 1:19)

So within four years of the resurrection James had not only become a believer but a recognized leader in the early church. He's also named by a non-biblical source — the historian, Josephus: "They brought before the Sanhedrin the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and

some others, and delivered them to be stoned"        (Josephus)

This citation not only confirms James as the brother of Jesus but also that he was martyred for his faith by stoning around the year 57 AD. It makes one wonder what would have converted James, who certainly knew about Jesus' teachings and miracles during his lifetime but did not believe? What's more, that he went from referring to Jesus as a madman during his life to be willing to die for his belief that Jesus was the resurrected son of God, is profound evidence that Jesus appeared to him alive...!

Next Paul refers to still other "apostles", a word that means sent out ones: "Then he appeared to all the apostles." (15:7) Since he's already mentioned the 12, 'all the apostles' must refer to all of those who'd also been sent out to spread the gospels, like Barnabas, Silas and others — All the others...!

Finally, Paul mentions himself: "And last of all he appeared to me also," (1 Corinthians 15:8) which took place a year after Jesus' resurrection. As noted, his earliest letter in the New Testament, Galatians, reveals that Paul went to Jerusalem just three years after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, and met with Peter and James, the most likeliest time that this creed was passed on to him.

So Paul obtained this creed just four years after the resurrection! It was virtually hot off the press! All that to say, that Paul's Corinthian creed provides profound validation of Jesus' resurrection! It was on such evidence that the early Christians had taken a stand for Jesus. They placed their hope and trust in him, been baptized in his name, and were following the lead of his living Spirit!

 

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Countless others have done the same. As Martin Luther would famously put it: 'Unless you can prove to me based on Scripture where I have erred, I will not recant. Here I stand I can do no other!'

(Martin Luther)

I think of the students at Columbine High School, who when confronted by gun-wielding class­mates refused to back done and also took a stand for Christ. On Wednesday of this week US Today ran an article with the headline, "Kidnapped girl refuses to convert to Islam". The girl is Leah Sharibu, one of 110 girls kidnapped from their school by the Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Her mom told a reporter: 'They told her they would release her if she converted, but she said she will never become a Muslim. I'm very sad but also overjoyed because she did not denounce Christ.'

(3/28/18 issue of US Today)

Paul's words are as timely today as they were when he wrote them. "I remind you of the gospel ...on which you have taken your stand!" (1 Cor 15:1) Most of us do not face the threat of violence but we are faced daily with the temptation to compromise our faith. Students are constantly confronted in our high schools and universities, as conveyed in the film, God's Not Dead..

[DVD clip from the film, God's Not Dead: 11:41 — 14:26; and 49:30 — 50:30]

Paul provides rock solid evidence that God's not dead, that Jesus' rose from the dead fulfilling ancient prophecies and validating the experiences of countless eye-witnesses. On this solid ground we can confidently take a stand and hold firmly to it, no matter what life might throw at us! As Paul notes: "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to (it)..." (1 Cor. 15:2)

Further, he notes that he passed on to us what was passed on to him. "I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said..!"

(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

You're here because someone along the way passed it on to you. Nothing is more vital than letting the risen one rule your heart, giving you courage to take a stand, to hold on firmly and to pass it on so that others may share in the wealth of Christ, for he was raised from the dead, just as the Scrip­tures said! He was seen by (Mary), by Peter and then by the Twelve After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, then by James, and later by all the apostles, (including Paul)."

(1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

And he's still appearing to people through the presence of the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, who he sends to those who open their hearts to him and pursue him. God's not dead, he's very much alive! Jesus lives and breathes among and within those who will have him — those like Nick Taylor, who left us this week to be part of Christ's church triumphant. Nick inspired us by his courage, his passion for Jesus, his willingness to take a stand at the mill, at the store, with his family & friends, holding firmly to the gospel he embraced when Jesus filled him with his Spirit at an Alpha retreat years ago, revealing to Nick that God's not dead! Jesus did die, but he rose again and lives among/within us by his Spirit!

Nick would want me to remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message of Jesus' death and resurrection! He lives! Jesus is risen...!