If you saw a traffic accident, would you be a good witness?
Could you report to the police what you had seen?
Was the car that caused the accident blue or black –
or red or green?
What make of car was it?
Was it travelling too fast?
Was the driver a man or a woman?
Was the driver using their mobile phone?
Did the dog run in front of the car?
Were you distracted by seeing a person wearing a gorilla suit?
Where, precisely, were you standing when the accident happened?
It's very important, isn't it, to be a good, reliable witness?
In 1 Corinthians 15 we read about two witnesses. Both were witnesses to the resurrection. One witness was divine and the other witness was human. Together they pointed to the same event. Together they give the complete picture. But in addition to these two reliable witnesses, we are told about another witness, the false witness who denied the resurrection
This morning I have three simple headings
1 The witness of the Bible.
2 The witness of people.
3 The false witness
1 The witness of the Bible (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
At the beginning of 1 Cor. 15, Paul wanted to remind people of what they already knew. He wanted to jog their memories. Here were things that they must never forget. Here were things that were foundational to the Christian faith. They were not optional extras, but were at the heart of what Christians believe. They were (as Calvin put it) 'the principal and fundamental elements in the Gospel' (Calvin, 1 Cor, 313). They were a simple summary of the Christian faith. They sound as though they were a simple creed.
So Paul wrote,
Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (vv.3-4).
Do you notice what he stresses? How he emphasises the importance of scripture? These things were not made up, but were already found recorded in what we call the OT.
In other words Paul was saying that according to the witness of the Bible:
Jesus was buried
Jesus rose again
or, put another way, the Bible says that Jesus has died, and that Jesus is risen!
These two things (Jesus' death and resurrection) are at the heart of the Christian faith. Take them away and nothing remains. Take them away and the Christian faith has no substance.
Take them away and your faith is groundless.
Take them away and you remain in your sin.
Deny them and our witness is false.
These two things are central to what Christians believe.
Every Sunday we say what we believe in the words of the creed.
We believe that Jesus has died. We believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. And without his death and resurrection, we remain unforgiven, we remain in our sins, we are spiritually dead and have no spiritual life. As Paul puts it,
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (v.14)
Ignore the resurrection and we are lost. We have no hope. We are literally hopeless people.
When Paul says that Jesus died and rose again in accordance with the scriptures, then we need to check out what the Bible says, in the OT and in the NT. The Old anticipates the New.
The OT points us forward to the NT, and the NT records what had happened. In scripture we have the testimony of the prophets and the testimony of the apostles. Here is God's written word and we need to read it for ourselves and to take notice of what God says to us. That's why personal Bible reading is so important – to inform us, to teach us, to reveal to us the truth of God. Above all the scriptures point us to Jesus. The Word and the Spirit confirm the truth to our hearts.
In Isaiah 53 the prophet tells us about the death of the Lord Jesus.
He took our infirmities ... he was punished for our sins … and by his death we are forgiven.
Now, that's good news, isn't it? That on the cross Jesus died for you and for me. And not just that he died, but that he took our sins upon himself and died in our place. In other words, he was our substitute. He took the punishment that we deserve.
In John 20 we read about Peter and John running to the empty tomb. Mary had told them that Jesus' body had been taken away, and she didn't know where it was. So Peter and John went to see for themselves. Peter arrived first, and went inside. He saw, but didn't immediately believe. John, however, saw with his eyes and believed in his heart.
The Bible tells us then about the death and the resurrection of Jesus. But not merely in telling us the story, but in making it clear that the good news concerns the forgiveness of our sin and the hope of everlasting life.
The Bible is a reliable witness because it's God's word; and God's word is addressed to each one of us.
But (may I ask you) do you trust the Bible? Do you believe it to be true? Do you allow it to shape the faith you profess?
2 The witness of people (1 Cor 15:5-8)
In 1 Cor 15 Paul gives us a list of those who were witnesses of the resurrection. Whether they were individuals or groups of people, they had all saw the risen Jesus. We take notice of their faith and their testimony.
1 Jesus appeared to Peter
Peter was one of the leading disciples.
Once Peter had been a fisherman. But when Jesus called him he left his nets and immediately followed him.
Once Peter had confessed 'that Jesus was 'the Christ of God'.
In other words that he was the anointed one, the promised Messiah, sent by God.
Once Peter had promised not to deny Jesus, but then he broke his word and denied that he ever knew him.
Three times Peter denied Jesus, and three times he needed to be restored. So Jesus challenged Peter:
'Do you love me?' 'Do you love me?' 'Do you love me?'
As Jesus asked Peter that question, he asks it of us too. 'Do you love me?' Do you trust me? Do you believe in me? Whatever you have said or done. If you come in faith to Jesus he will hear your cry and forgive your sin.
2 Jesus appeared to the Twelve
The 'Twelve' here refers to the twelve special disciples or twelve apostles. Those whom Jesus had called to be with him and who were sent out by him. In Acts 1 we read about the qualifications for being an apostle. Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus. He had sold him for thirty pieces of silver. He soon came to see that what he had done was wrong and he committed suicide. Once the Twelve had become the Eleven, another was needed to replace Judas. The qualifications were clear. That he had been with Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension and most important of all, to have been
a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:22)
So again being an eyewitness was an important qualification.
To have seen Jesus in the flesh and to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. While we today cannot see Jesus with our eyes, we can believe in him in our hearts. But do you believe?
Do you trust in him? Have you committed your life to him? And if you know him and love him how obvious is that to other people – to members of you family, people at work, people in your street?
3 Jesus appeared to 500 and more people
For Jesus to have appeared to individuals and to a small group of his followers would be understandable. But here it is said that Jesus appeared to more than 500 men. That is to 500 men plus women and children. So we are talking here about a large group of people – over 1,000 witneses. This was no symbolic resurrection: but a physical resurrection from the dead.
They had all seen the risen Jesus with their eyes. Here was no figment of their imagination. Here was no mass hysteria.
But here is the testimony of many reliable witnesses.
All of whom had seen the risen Jesus.
And did you notice that some of them
had fallen asleep (v.6)
That's not referring to what sometimes happens to people in church, but here it simply means that in the past twenty or thirty years since Jesus' death and resurrection, that some of the original witnesses had died!
4 Jesus appeared to James
This is James the brother of Jesus. From the start Jesus' brothers and sisters did not believe in him. They thought that Jesus was mad. But at last James believed, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and later died as a martyr.
Sometimes family members don't believe as we believe, and so we need to express God's love to them in a sensitive way.
To speak silent words of love through service. At home often our actions will speak louder than our words. Our lives more than our lips. Again, do others see something of Jesus in us?
5 Jesus appeared to Paul
The final human witness was Paul. His testimony was that Jesus
appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born(1 Cor 15:7)
'Abnormally born' refers to Paul's physical appearance: he was probably unattractive to look at. He was a nobody, but by God's grace he became a somebody. While Paul had not been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, the risen Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. And that for Paul had been a life-transforming encounter.
Three times in the book of Acts we read about Paul's conversion (Acts 9, 22, 26). When the risen Jesus appeared to Paul he said to him,
I have appeared to you to appoint you to be a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.(26:16)
And did you notice? That Paul had to have been a servant and an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
So far in in 1 Cor 15 we have two clear witnesses to the resurrection. The witness of the Bible and the witness of people. The testimony of the prophets and the testimony of the apostles.
But there is a third witness too. Not a positive witness but a negative witness. Not a witness to the resurrection but a testimony of denial. What is referred to in v.15 as the false witness. That's our third heading:
3 The false witness (1 Cor 15:12ff)
To believe in Jesus crucified is easier to believe than in Jesus risen from the dead. The first is a probable outcome of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but the second I something harder to understand and to appreciate in terms of what had happened and in terms of its significance. Look at v.17-18. If Christ had not been raised – then believers are still held and bound by sin. Held captive by Satan. If Christ had not been raised then those who had already died were lost and never to be raised. If Christ had not been raised then we have been deceived – our preaching is useless, our faith is useless and we are to be pitted and despised.
We are used to those who deny the evidence before them.
Think of the Hillsborough disaster, when the evidence was twisted, and those who were actually present were not believed. Think of the so-called holocaust deniers. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary – the witness of the survivors and written testimony from the time – they deny that the mass extermination of the Jews took place at the hands of the Nazis.
Think of those in the first century who denied the resurrection. Primarily of Christ himself, but also of Christian believers, who after death are not raised.
Whereas the scripture recorded the truth, and the disciples testified to the truth incarnate, there were those who denied the truth. They maintained that there was no resurrection (v.12, 13, 29) whether of Christ himself or of those who followed him, and believed in him and who trusted in him.
What were those resurrection deniers saying? Simply that Christ had not been raised from the dead. Yes, he had died. But no, he had not been raised. But in saying that they were denying what had happened on that first Easter Day, and were denying the evidence of the 500 and more; they were denying the testimony of the Twelve who had seen the risen Jesus and had been with him for the forty days after the resurrection.
Was it made up, or was it true?
The apostolic preaching – and the subsequent preaching all preaching down the centuries – has at its heart the death and resurrection of Jesus. Take that away and the consequence is clear. If Christ had not been raised then we have been deceived – our preaching is useless, our faith is useless and we are to be pitted and depsised.
But the message of 1 Cor 15 is perfectly clear. Look at v.20 –in spite of these objections, inspite of the words of the resurrection deniers – the evidence was to the contrary 'Christ has been raised from the dead'. To remain in the first Adam spells death as the consequence of the fall. To remain in the second Adam is to experience life in all its fullness, sins forgiven, and future hope.
1 Cor 15 has so much to tell us, so much to challenge us, so much to give us confidence in believing and in trusting the one who was crucified and now risen from the dead.