[We will be taking a week’s break before posting more meditations]
1 Cor 15:3-8 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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to 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 James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.
If you don’t like reading Scripture, you don’t want to read this meditation today. Over the past week we have been considering the resurrection accounts of the four Gospels. The person who doesn’t know their Bible might be tempted to believe that this is the only source of references to Jesus’ resurrection. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From the very outset, after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the disciples, while they waited for the coming Holy Spirit, as instructed by Jesus, decided to appoint a twelfth apostle to replace the now deceased Judas. When considering who might be suitable, considering the possible candidates, the primary qualification was that whoever it was should have been a witness to all Jesus had done and especially, “one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22) One the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers, Peter got up and preached under the power of the Spirit and a key part of that message was the declaration that, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:23,24) and then later, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32).
A while later when preaching after a spectacular healing, Peter again declared, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:15). Subsequently it was recorded, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 4:33). Thus the declaration of the resurrection was a key part of the testimony of the early church again and again. When Peter was called to go and speak to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, he declared, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40)
Later, when the apostle Paul was saved he continued the same approach: “Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18 – in Athens). This became a regular feature of Paul’s preaching and often found in his letters, e.g. “declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) and “us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24). Indeed he made the point that without the resurrection there was no point in their preaching and really no point in the existence of the church: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”(1 Cor 15:14)
Not only did Peter preach it in the early days, when he came to write letters to the church he continued to declare, “he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet 1:3). When John had his revelation on the island of Patmos, he encountered the Son of God who declared, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18)
Thus we see the resurrection of Jesus Christ is testified to throughout the New Testament. We have cited but a few examples of that. This was the belief of the early church. Whereas they had been just a bunch of frightened men, hiding away behind locked doors, something happened that transformed them into fearless preachers, most of whom gave their lives as martyrs for this belief that they declared again and again: “He is risen!” There may be many other things that mark out the Christian faith as unique among world religions, but this one thing marks out Jesus Christ as the Son of God – he died and rose from the dead, a unique event in history. Read and believe, believe and be changed!