The Gospel in Four Simple Points

1 Corinthians 15:1-5   |   Sunday, March 23, 2008   |   Code: 2008-03-23-PJ


 by Phil Johnson

     Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15, and we're going to take a close look at a passage that should be familiar to you. You hear it quoted all the time. I quote it frequently, but I don't think I had ever taught on the text until recently.

     This whole chapter (1 Corinthians 15) is devoted to the subject of resurrection. Here Paul defends the historicity of Christ's resurrection, straightens out some terrible confusion that was festering in the Corinthian church regarding heaven and the afterlife. He teaches some important truth about the future, and the coming bodily resurrection in which believers and unbelievers alike will be raised bodily, physically, in tangible flesh-and-blood form from the dead. And Paul's overriding theme throughout this chapter is that a right understanding of the principle of bodily resurrection is a paramount aspect of Christian doctrine. The bodily resurrection of Christ is so essential to the truth of Christianity that if you don't really believe it happened, you are not even a true Christian. And the hope of our bodily resurrection is likewise one of the cardinal principles f the faith.

     Paul starts this chapter by making the point about Christ's resurrection—that this truth is one of the essential, non-negotiable principles of gospel truth. And the main part of the chapter, starting about verse 12, is a defense of the truth that we—you (Christian) and me, and every authentic Christian—we will also be raised from the dead in bodily form. And then (verse 54), "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." So our bodily resurrection at the end of the age will be the ultimate consummation of Christ's victory over death, which is the very thing we remember and celebrate today.

     But this morning I want to look only at the opening five verses of this famous chapter. This is a vitally important text, because it's a concise summary of the gospel in Paul's own words. His stated intention here is to declare the principles of gospel truth that are "of first importance." Here is Paul's summary of the essential, indispensable, necessary, non-negotiable, primary facts of the gospel. In other words, these are the first and foundational truths we must believe in order to be authentic Christians—true believers—saved people. Let me read the text—verses 1-5 in 1 Corinthians 15:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;

2  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

3  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;

4  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures:

5  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

Now I realize verse 5 stops mid-sentence and Paul goes on to give an exhaustive list of the people he knew about who were eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection. But what I have read in those four verses alone is more than enough to summarize what Paul is saying about the gospel.

     The question Paul undertakes to answer in this short passage is this: If you could reduce the message of the gospel to its bare essence, what is it? If we were to summarize the gospel in the briefest, simplest possible outline, what are the main points? If you were to list the points of doctrine that are matters of first importance—the primary, most essential doctrines of Christianity; the fundamental points of every true Christian's confession of faith—what would that short-list look like? What is the very essence of the gospel?

     That's the question Paul is answering here. Verse 1: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . . "

     Notice the context. Paul has just concluded several chapters of admonition about various problems in the Corinthian church—starting with their divisiveness (chapters 1-3) and culminating in the charismatic-style craziness that existed that church, where people who claimed to have spectacular spiritual gifts were turning their corporate gatherings into chaotic contests to see who could manifest the most spectacular gifting. Paul deals with that in chapters 12-14. The verse just before our text sums up Paul's answer to all the problems in the Corinthian church—chapter 14, verse 40: "Let all things be done decently and in order."

     That verse is the end of Paul's practical admonitions in 1 Corinthians, and here at the start of chapter 15, he tackles one huge doctrinal matter he wants to deal with.

     Incidentally, this is backward from Paul's normal pattern. Normally, he first lays a thorough doctrinal foundation, and that becomes the basis for his practical admonitions. He does that, for example, in Romans—where well over half of the epistle (the first eleven chapters) are devoted to doctrinal instruction, and then he turns to the matter of practical application starting in chapter 12. He does the same thing in Galatians, dealing with doctrinal issues in chapters 1-4 and reserving the practical instruction for the last two chapters. You see the same pattern in Ephesians: three chapters of doctrine, followed by three chapters of practical wisdom. That's Paul's normal pattern: doctrine first; then application.

     First Corinthians is different, mainly because the problems in that church were so profound and so numerous—so Paul pretty much jumps right into dealing with practical matters, right from the get-go. Barely ten verses into chapter 1, he says, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you." And right there he starts the long process of addressing the massive problems in that church.

     Now I should say that Paul doesn't simply jump into practical matters devoid of any doctrinal foundation. From the start of the first chapter, he continually refers to the gospel as the bedrock doctrinal principle on which all his practical advice is based.

     He says things, for example, like chapter 1, verse 6: "the testimony about Christ was [already] confirmed among you." Chapter 1, verse 17: "Christ sent me . . . to preach the gospel." Verse 18: "the preaching of the cross is . . . the power of God." Verses 23-24: "we preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Chapter 2, verse 2: "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Chapter 3, verse 11: "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." And so on. All through this epistle, Paul keeps referring the Corinthians back to the gospel as the foundational truth on which literally everything else hinges. The word gospel appears 12 times in the first nine chapters, and the name of Christ more than fifty times—plus several scattered references to the cross. So the theme of the gospel permeates this epistle from start to finish, and Paul's assumption that the Corinthians were thoroughly familiar with the gospel message is the reason he skips the preliminary doctrinal section that he includes in most of his other epistles.

     It's significant, I think, that at the beginning, Paul uses the expression "Christ crucified" as a synonym for the gospel. When he speaks of "the preaching of the cross" he is likewise speaking of the gospel. That's shorthand, of course. In other words, when Paul speaks of "Christ crucified," he isn't excluding the truth of Christ's resurrection from the gospel—and he makes that fact undeniably clear in our text.

     Much less are we supposed to think that when Paul says, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" he literally meant that he had eliminated everything but the crucifixion from his preaching. Acts 20:27—Paul "[did not shun] to declare . . . all the counsel of God." As Christ Himself commanded in Matthew 20:28, Paul taught people—including the Corinthians—"to observe all things whatsoever [Jesus] commanded."

     But those references to the cross and the crucifixion are a kind of verbal shorthand that speaks of all Christ's atoning work—not just the crucifixion but the resurrection as well. In fact, the resurrection was the culminating event that made sense of what happened on the cross. It is the essential climax and the glorious end of the crucifixion story, and Paul makes that fact inescapably clear in 1 Corinthians 15. So when Paul says he preached nothing but Christ crucified, he was most certainly not suggesting that he omitted the truth of the resurrection when he preached. He preached the whole message of the cross—explaining the full and true meaning of the crucifixion and giving the end of the story, which was the resurrection.

     And just in case someone is unclear about that, Paul spends this entire chapter—1 Corinthians 15—stressing the fact that bodily resurrection is essential gospel truth—including both the literal, historical bodily resurrection of Christ and the final resurrection and glorified bodily existence of the saints in the new heavens and new earth.

     Now, Paul is also using shorthand here in at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15. When he introduces this section by saying "I declare unto you the gospel"—here is the gospel one more time—he is not reducing the gospel to three or four plot-points in the form of bare narrative elements. He is summarizing truth of the gospel message and making the significant events of the story into four headings that make a neat outline for all the essential truth of the gospel.

     So let's look closely at the text here. Verses 1-2 are where Paul introduces this section of the epistle. As I have already suggested, it's a major transition in the flow of the epistle. Paul moves from that long section where he basically confronts some serious misbehavior in that church, to this closing discussion of the principle of resurrection and the absolute necessity of that truth to the gospel.

      Paul is actually correcting one final error in this chapter, but this one is a uniquely doctrinal error. Up to this point, he was mostly confronting bad behavior. Here he attacks a false doctrine. Apparently there were people in and around the church in Corinth who weren't convinced that the Christian message about resurrection was meant to be understood literally. You may remember from Acts 17 that the notion of bodily resurrection was a major stumbling-block in Greek culture, and the philosophers of Athens were absolutely shocked and appalled that someone of Paul's obvious learning and intelligence could believe in the literal resurrection of the human body after death. Corinth was just 50 miles as the crow flies from Mars' Hill in Athens, and the idea of resurrection was just as hard for Corinthians to fathom as it was for the Athenians. From what we learn here in 1 Corinthians 15:12, it seems people had somehow got into the Corinthian church who were saying "that there is no resurrection of the dead." Period. In all likelihood they were teaching that Christ rose spiritually but not bodily and that believers would likewise rise only in a spiritual sense.

     That idea was certainly more compatible with the Greek notion of what the afterlife was like. They believed in life after death, but they considered the notion of bodily resurrection foolish.

     Whether these doubts about the literal resurrection were spreading in Corinth because of deliberate false teaching, or perhaps they had some postmodernists in their midst and some well-meaning person in the church was trying to contextualize the gospel so it wouldn't pose as much of a challenge to people in that culture. I don't know. Either way, a denial of bodily resurrection was such a corruption of gospel truth that Paul needed to correct it with force and clarity, and that is what this chapter does.

     So bear in mind first of all, that he's writing this to stress that bodily resurrection is essential, not to categorize any other doctrines as non-essential. And, He says, I want to review the basics of the gospel with you one more time. Verse 1: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain." In other words, You are saved by God's grace through faith in this truth—and if you don't believe all of this truth (he implies) you are not really saved. (That's what the phrase "you believed in vain" implies.)

     So he's going to review the gospel with them, and he here is how he sums it up (verse 3): "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received." Two crucial things to notice about that statement, and I'll point them out in reverse order.

     First, he stresses the fact that he "received" the gospel—and as we learned in our study of Galatians 1 and 2, he is expressly claiming that he received it by direct revelation, from the risen Christ in person. He didn't learn it in an apostolic seminar. It wasn't taught to him by any of the other apostles. He "received" it from Christ by revelation, and he "delivered" it to the Corinthians intact. This is an explicit claim that what he had preached to them, and what he was about to write to them, was divinely revealed truth—not merely his personal opinion.

     Second, notice the phrase "of first importance." That's what you have if you're reading the New American Standard, the English Standard Version, or the New International Version. The King James Version and the New King James Version says "I delivered to you first of all." But this does not mean "first in chronological order"; it's speaking of the core gospel truths that are first in order of importance. These are the primary truths of the gospel—the most essential, fundamental, basic truths on which all other truths rest. Paul enumerates four points. We'll use those four points as our outline this morning. Here are four points of gospel truth that are foundational to every other truth of Christianity. They are the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and eyewitness evidence of the resurrection of Christ. Four historical events that all take us back to that one pivotal weekend that culminated in the bodily resurrection of Christ. Let's consider these one at a time as we work our way through the text this morning. First is—


1. The Crucifixion of Christ

     The end of verse 3: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . " That's the first fundamental principle of gospel truth.

     Now, it would be a serious mistake to conclude from this verse that the actual starting point of the gospel is Good Friday and the crucifixion. The real starting point takes us all the way back to the Old Testament, which is what Paul is referring to when he says "that Christ died . . . according to the Scriptures." He is concerned here not merely with the historical facts of the gospel narrative (although as we're about to see, he is definitely concerned with the story as real history). But his focus here goes beyond the bare facts of history to the actual meaning wrapped up in those facts. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." There is an infinite wealth of doctrinal truth loaded into that simple statement. Paul sweeps up into those few words the doctrine of atonement, the meaning of Christ's death, the mechanics of our justification, and the authority and accuracy of Scripture. All those doctrines and much, much more are subsumed and implied in that simple statement "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."

     Especially for the seminary students in our midst, let me say this: There's a tremendous amount of discussion and controversy these days about what academic theologians refer to as "narrative theology." Narrative theology in its simplest and most benign form starts out with a recognition that a significant portion of Scripture is given to us in narrative form—story form. The gospels, the book of Acts, and much of the Old Testament is history, told in narrative fashion rather than purely didactic terms. The entire life of Christ is given to us in four parallel narrative accounts—stories and incidents from the life of Christ rather than a list of His attributes and doctrines about the hypostatic union of His divine and Human features on a series of power-point slides.

     And one of the important points we draw from that fact is that God Himself recognizes the power of stories as vehicles for truth. Nothing wrong about that; it's something we all can absolutely affirm.

     But as "narrative theology" has gained popularity as a fad and a buzzword in academic circles, you have to be more and more cautious when you hear that expression being thrown around. It has become a shield to hide behind for people who have been bitten by the postmodern bug and think we need to reinvent Christianity to suit these postmodern times. They say the story is all that really matters; the interpretation of the story can be fresh with each individual. They say we should be less concerned with abstract doctrines an simply embrace the narrative for its own sake—and it doesn't really matter if each culture or each individual interprets the story differently. The story is what is most important, not any underlying doctrinal grid.

     So, to give a specific example based on this very text, I have actually corresponded with people who insist that what matters is "that Christ died for our sins," not whether His death was a substitution for our punishment, or an example fr us to follow, or merely a graphic picture of the wickedness of sin. And (they say) it doesn't matter whether you believe His righteousness is imputed to us or infused into us or merely given to us as a pattern to follow. If you believe the simple story ("that Christ died for our sins,")—and you can "believe" it in almost any fashion— then you are in; you're a true Christian and shame on anyone who ever questions you on doctrinal grounds.

     That is patently false, and Paul's full statement proves it. The point he is making is "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." The meaning of the atonement is one of the first principles of the gospel, not merely the historical fact of it.

     And Scripture clearly says that "Christ died for our sins" by standing in our place and in our stead and taking the punishment—the full weight of God's wrath—which we deserved. Listen to the Old Testament (Isaiah 53, starting in verse 4):

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

Isa 53:5  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. [OK, someone says, but that says we considered Him smitten by God. It doesn't mean God was really the One who smote Him. Read on:]

Isa 53:6  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . . .

Isa 53:10  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

What Christ bore on the cross was the penalty of sin—the full weight of God's wrath against sinners. That's how He "died for our sins according to the Scriptures." And if you don't believe that's the meaning of the cross, then you haven't embraced the first principle of the gospel.

     The cross is not just a moving narrative designed to elicit a feeling of sympathy for Christ in His sufferings. I don't care if you watched Mel Gibson's film about the crucifixion ten times and cried your eyes out every time. You haven't embraced the meaning of Jesus' death unless you believe Christ suffered all the horrors of the cross as the sacrificial Lamb of God—a substitute for sinners who actually deserved not only all the pains and punishment of Roman crucifixion, but also the full weight of God's eternal wrath against sin. And you still haven't got it if you have never seen yourself as one of those sinners who deserved that judgment.

     When Paul says "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," he means all of that. In Romans 3:25, Paul says Christ's blood was a propitiation—an offering to satisfy the wrath and righteousness of God. Let's be honest about this: That's a crude-sounding truth, isn't it? Are you uncomfortable with the idea that God demanded a blood sacrifice in order to make His forgiveness possible? Do you think it makes God sound severe and maybe even ruthless to require the life of an innocent Victim—in this case, His own Son—before He would forgive guilty sinners who actually deserved the punishment Christ took? Does your mind resonate with those who want to tone that truth down because (they say) "it sounds like cosmic child abuse?"

     If so, you haven't yet grasped the very heart of the gospel. Hebrews 9:22: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." Leviticus 17:11: "it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul." God does not forgive apart from a full and perfect sacrifice. And that involves the shedding of the lifeblood of a perfect, flawless, sinless, substitutionary sacrifice. But no sacrifice was ever good enough (Hebrews 10:4) "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." So Christ offered "one sacrifice for sins forever."

     All of Scripture teaches the truth of substitutionary sacrifice. Of course, ideas like blood atonement and  propitiation challenge the sensitivities of secular postmodern culture. So there is no shortage of people today who call themselves Christians but want to refine (and redefine) the gospel to eliminate hard truths like those. Still, that's the very idea Paul has in mind when he says "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." It's the very first principle of gospel truth.

     Here's another one.


2. The Burial of Christ

     Verse 4: "and that He was buried." Now at first glance, we might be surprised to see Paul name the burial of Christ as one of the first, most essential principles of gospel truth. Although all of us who are members of Grace Church and regulars in GraceLife would affirm the truth of Christ's burial, it's a point most of us would not necessarily think of instantly as one of the fundamental truths of Christianity. It's not something most of us meditate very deeply on, even on Easter season, when we are supposed to be remembering the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

     Is there some secret, mysterious doctrinal significance in the burial of Christ that Paul is trying to bring out here?

     No. Remember that these four points from the gospel narrative are shorthand. They are categories that include bigger truths, and they imply many more truths than the bare facts of the events themselves. What does the fact that Christ "was buried" suggest to you?

     The point Paul is underscoring here is the reality and historicity of Jesus' death. Jesus did not merely appear to die. His death was not a charade, designed to fool His enemies. It was not a myth, devised to teach some abstract idea. It was real; he was truly and literally dead; and that is a fact of history.

     Back to the first point, where Paul says "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," the lesson, again, is that the authentic gospel includes the true meaning of Christ's death "according to the Scriptures." That stresses the importance of sound doctrine. Here, when Paul says, "that He was buried," he's saying that the true gospel affirms the historical facts of Christ's death and burial. If you don't believe in the literal, historical, biblical account of what occurred when Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected, then you haven't really believed the gospel.

     Now this is vital for us, because we live in an era where there are lots of self-styled religious experts, including men who have attained the level of bishop in a supposedly Protestant body like the Anglican church, who have said they don't believe it matters much whether the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection are literally true.

     Paul says here that it does matter. He was buried, and Scripture says He was buried under the watchful eye of a Roman military guard who, under Pilate's personal orders, in the words of Matthew 27:66, "went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a [round-the-clock] guard [on the sepulchre]." Roman solders—men from units who specialized in carrying out crucifixions—knew very well how to tell whether someone was really dead. The gospel accounts all take pains to make clear that Jesus was well and truly dead, and "that he was buried," and that this was a real event in time and history—not merely a legend that can be bent and shaped to accommodate individual opinions and contextualized to suit the beliefs of secular cultures—like Corinth, and like our culture today—where people think they are too sophisticated to take the idea of bodily resurrection seriously, but they still want to have a gospel suited to their own personal style of skepticism.

     No Paul says. The true gospel includes these facts: "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,"—that His death was real and literal, and the proof is "that he was buried"—buried as the Scriptures describe, spending "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" according to Matthew 12:40. Incidentally, because I know someone will ask, that expression "three days and three nights" was a common expression in those days signifying more than one twenty-four-hour period but less than a week. It wasn't supposed to be a precise calculation of time. That was the reckoning in vogue at that time, because the marking of time wasn't strict and formal. So if you take the idiom in its original sense, that's a historical fact as well: Christ's burial fulfilled the sign of the prophet Jonah which He foretold in Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, and Luke 11:29-30. His burial over that long, dark weekend from when they took Him down from the cross until He rose from the dead at the dawn of the first day of the week, is one of the primary points of gospel truth—because it proves so much. It establishes Jesus as a truthful prophet; it proves that He was well and truly dead; and it underscores the literal historicity of the biblical account.

     So those are the first two essential points of the gospel narrative: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried." The crucifixion of Christ and the burial of Christ. Here's point number three, the pivotal one:


3. The Resurrection of Christ

     This, of course, is the great event in the gospel narrative that we are celebrating today. Verse 4: "and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." This is the pivotal point of all human history. It is the single greatest miracle anyone ever witnessed, the most important milestone in all God's redemptive plan. In fact, it is the supreme sign and wonder in the history of the universe—overshadowing even the original creation in its far-reaching significance. The resurrection of Christ is the exclamation point that punctuates the gospel narrative.

     Christ arose. Although He Himself had foretold it on more than one occasion, His disciples were completely unprepared for it. It caught them totally by surprise. Some of them doubted it till they saw Him with their own eyes. But the evidence was undeniable, and every one of them except John ultimately died rather than deny the truth of it. And even John, before he died of old age—while he was still affirming the literal truth of Jesus' resurrection from the dead—John suffered the loss of everything he held dear rather than renouncing the truth of what he had seen with his own eyes and his hands had handled.

     We don't have a lot of time to review the biblical accounts of the resurrection. But take note of that phrase at the end of verse 4: "he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." Now it's easy to think of Old Testament passages that speak of the death of Christ. I already read from Isaiah 53, where that is the main theme. There's also Psalm 22, which is filled with specific historical details about the crucifixion, all prophesied centuries before Christ actually died.

     But what does Paul mean here, when he says Christ "rose again the third day according to the Scriptures"? Are there Old Testament texts that predicted the resurrection?

     There are a few. Very few, but they are there. They are subtle and easier to understand from this side of the resurrection than they were before that first Easter Sunday. But the Old Testament did contain prophecies about the resurrection. Acts 2:27 tells us that Psalm 16:10 was speaking of the resurrection: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." Isaiah 53:10 even has a hint of resurrection in it. After that great prophecy that unfolds the meaning of Jesus' atoning death, it says, "He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand."

     But I think in this case, the phrase "according to the Scriptures" is most likely a reference to the gospel accounts themselves—especially the gospels of Mark and Matthew, which were almost certainly already in circulation (and apparently well known to Paul) when he wrote this epistle. His account of the Lord's words during the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 is verbatim identical to the accounts of Matthew and Mark. And even though Paul is emphatic in saying he received knowledge of those events by divine revelation, I think it is significant that he says he had told this to the Corinthians before, and here he repeats the wording exactly as it appears in the gospel accounts. The Corinthians could compare the records of Matthew and Mark with the account they had received from Paul and thereby verify that what he had told them was true.

     So I think there's some evidence to suggest that the earliest gospels were already available to the Corinthians and known to them. If so, when Paul says Christ "was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," he may very well have had in mind Jesus' own words in the gospels when He told the disciples he would rise from the dead—such as Matthew 17:22-23, where Jesus told His disciples, "The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day." Or Matthew 16:21: "Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." r Matthew 20:18-19: "See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."

     The point is, first of all, that Jesus' resurrection was indeed prophesied by Scripture. But please get this: The more important sense of those words in 1 Corinthians 15:4 ("he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures") is an exact parallel to the same expression in verse 3 ("Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures"). In other words, the main point is not merely that this was prophesied, but that the true meaning of it is defined and determined by Scripture, not by our subjective interpretations of it.

     And what is the actual meaning of Christ's resurrection "according to the Scriptures"? Paul Himself answers that in Romans 1:4: Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." The resurrection vindicated Christ, who had died as a common thief, between two actual thieves—alongside sinners and on their behalf. First Peter 1:21: "God . . . raised him from the dead and [thereby] gave him glory." Ephesians 120-21: God "raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Romans 6:9: "Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him."

     Here is the bottom-line meaning of Christ's resurrection: When God raised Him up, that vindicated Him; it demonstrated His victory over death; and it gives us an unshakable assurance of our own justification.

     That barely scratches the surface of what Paul means when he says "he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures"—but it gives you the flavor of that truth.

     So there's the crucifixion of Christ; the burial of Christ; and the resurrection of Christ.

     Now, quickly, here's the fourth essential truth of the gospel narrative:


4. The Eyewitness Testimony about the Risen Christ

     There's an important parallelism here. The first and the third point stress the true meaning of the gospel narrative with that phrase "according to the Scriptures." The second and fourth points stress the literal historicity of the gospel narrative alongside its true meaning.

     Christ did not merely rise from the dead in some invisible, intangible, spiritual, non-corporeal, or mythical sense. He arose bodily from the dead, so that His glorified body could be seen and touched and handled. And the proof is in verses 5-8: "that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve . . . " and so on. Paul cites literally hundreds of eyewitnesses who could testify to the literal truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ. And that, he says is another one of the first essential principles of gospel truth. Christ's resurrection—not a symbolic or allegorical idea, but the actual, historical, literal, bodily resurrection of Christ.

     And Paul spends the remainder of this chapter outlining the reasons why that truth is real and literal and absolutely crucial to the authentic gospel message.

     What he is teaching is that if you do not believe that truth in the literal and historic sense—if it's not the basis for your hope in Christ, your expectation of eternal life, and your own anticipation of a literal, bodily resurrection, then you have not truly believed the gospel.

     That's the whole reason we celebrate today. And I ask you—visitors and GraceLife members alike—to examine your hearts and honestly face the question of whether you have genuinely embraced the gospel as Paul presents it in this passage. It starts with the death of Christ as an atonement for our sins—a historical event that was as real as any event in history, punctuated by His burial under the watchful eyes of Roman soldiers who knew death when they saw it. It includes the truth of substitutionary atonement, which satisfied the wrath and righteousness of God. That in turn implies a recognition of our guilt and utter unworthiness. And then it culminates in the amazing resurrection of Christ from the dead—as the firstfruits of all who believe and are justified and will one day rise bodily as well, to spend eternity in His presence.

     If you truly believe that, you are saved, and the fruit of salvation should be evident in your life. If you've never embraced the gospel, I urge you to turn to Christ today and be saved.