Easter Sermon: The Empty Threat of Death, I Corinthians 15:1-11

People of God, this is the day of Resurrection! From this day to May 20th, we will celebrate the Easter Season. It is a remarkable pity that most evangelicals limit the Easter celebration to one Sunday. The reality is: this season goes all the way to Pentecost. When Jesus rises on the third day, he remains with his disciples until he ascends into the heavens. For the next few weeks we are going to explore the nature of the Resurrection. This day is not like any other day. The exalted and glorified Messiah no longer stands at the mercy of corrupt judges, but now He is the Judge of the world. N.T Wright summarizes well the preeminence of the resurrection:

Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins.[1]

The resurrection is the proof that we do not live in Lent forever; that a life of glory, celebration, and hope is present here and now. We do not wait until death to experience joy; joy is ours in the resurrection of the Son of God.

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Pastor Mickey Schnider and his successor, Ben Rossell, a few days ago. Pastor Schnider invited our waiter for a sunrise service. The waiter became very defensive, and began to give us a glimpse of his world view. He told us that he is divorced; that he has to work day and night; that he sees his children only on the weekends, and that he believes that his faith is private, and as long as he does good to people, then he will be in heaven when he died. We encouraged him to come and visit, and find a message of hope in the church. But his reaction to our request gave us a distinct sense that he prefers his life as it is. After he left, we reflected, and concluded that this man is living as if Christ had not been raised from the dead. He is living in despair; hopeless. There is no empty tomb of relief in his future, but only death.

What Easter Sunday teaches us is that the gospel is more than an intellectual assent to the empty tomb, the gospel is transformative. It changes us; it is a message of hope to the sinner and the needy; the broken-hearted and the one who despairs.

On this holy day, and the next few weeks, I would like to draw our attention to Paul’s perspective of the resurrection. In previous years, we have seen the women’s perspective on the Easter narrative in the gospels, but today we will delve briefly into Paul’s resurrection magnum opus. And we are drawn immediately to that poetic and powerful chapter in I Corinthians 15.

Chapter 15 may appear to be an abrupt change of subject matter from the previous 14 chapters, but Paul is very purposeful. In essence, he is saying: “What is the use for any of these instructions? What is the use of discipline, what is the purpose for tongues in the church, of order and decency, community, love, and gifts if there is no resurrection?”

So, in 58 verses Paul answers that question. He answers it in three parts:[2]

In verses 1-11, he re-establishes their commonly held belief that Christ was raised from the dead. In verses 12-34 he answers two contradictory ideas: belief in Christ’s resurrection and a denial of their own. Paul says that if you believed Christ was raised from the dead, then you cannot deny the inevitability of your own resurrection at the end of history.  First the head is raised, that is Christ, and then the body, his chosen people.

Finally, in verses 35-58, Paul answers the question: “In what form are we raised?” Paul says our physical bodies are raised at the resurrection.

This Lord’s Day we will focus on the first 11 verses:

Paul begins with a reminder in verses one and two:

 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.

We know that the Corinthian Church is troubled in many levels. There is immorality and a vast abuse of the gifts given. The body is broken and fragmented; the saints have lost a sense of perseverance, and so Paul re-orients their attention. Paul is saying: “Let me tell you where the source of your faithfulness lies?” In chapter 14, Paul rebukes them for their ignorance. Now, he begins by reminding them of “the gospel he preached.” Paul wanted them to embrace and receive this gospel. The apostle says “this gospel is your salvation provided you hold fast to it.” The Corinthians are familiar with the Easter narrative. What Paul is telling the Corinthians is what has been said by Cephas, Apollos, and by others who had visited the Corinthian church.[3] “This is a message you can rely on,” says Paul.

He continues in verses 3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[4]died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Paul is arguing that this is no novelty; that this message is rooted in something beyond his words. I Corinthians was written in the early 50’s, and Paul is saying that he is simply carrying this great message of hope that occurred only 20 years earlier. And that this is not simply a message among messages, but a message of first importance: “… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This truth was well formed before Paul came on the scene.[5] This is what he received and passed on. Some things needed clarification in the last twenty years: like the new relationship between Jew and Gentiles, or the dispute over circumcision, but the death of Christ and his resurrection, these are the basic elements of the faith.

Would you like proof of this? He appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve. Paul is saying that Jesus appeared to the foundational characters. This is not hear-say, this is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by those who even doubted our Lord after his death, like Thomas.

But Paul also says that the events—the death and resurrection—had consequences for the entire world order. Notice that Paul does not say “Jesus died for our sins,” rather he says “Christ died for our sins.” Why is this important? It is important because Christos is the word for Messiah. This is very intentional. “Messiah” is a royal designation. When the prophets spoke of a coming Messiah they were making a statement of his worldwide kingly rule.[6] “It is because Jesus is Messiah that his death represents the turning point in history.” In his death, we are rescued from the present evil age; and in his resurrection, we are made new in a new creation; in a new world. The empty tomb is empty because the threats of death are empty threats.

Paul concludes this section in verses 6-11. The purpose of these 11 verses is to re-establish in the minds of the Corinthians their core beliefs; what they were to be known for: a people who are redeemed by Christ’s death and given new lives by his resurrection. But Paul puts these in a much larger context. He puts it in historical language. He is saying: “This is going to affect you, but it is also going to change the world.” The resurrection is historical. The resurrection cannot contain itself to mere individuals. The resurrection is not the idea of a privatized elite group. The resurrection is public, because Jesus is a public figure; because the gospel is a public gospel. If the Corinthians want to live this public gospel, they need to shape up by purifying the Church; by taking heed to the apostolic warnings, and by believing in the claims of Messiah.

Paul connects the resurrection to history. Jesus appeared to over 500 witnesses, to the apostles, and ultimately to Paul himself, who was untimely born. He is referring here to his Damascus experience. For Paul, the appearance of Jesus in his resurrected body was also the resurrection of Paul. There is a lot of discussion as to what this phrase “untimely born” means.[7] The word refers to a premature birth.[8] In other words, Paul could have continued in his destructive path. What Path? Verse nine:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Paul views the persecution of the Church as an act of utmost betrayal. This is why when Jesus approaches Paul before conversion, he asks: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus views the persecution of the Church as persecution of himself. Paul is making a broader point: that the resurrection is real and historical, because it transformed the life of a persecutor of Christ and his Bride.

He concludes in verses 10 & 11:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

My persecutions have made me who I am. God did not see me as a wasted vessel, but rather poured his grace upon me, and turned me into a loyal disciple of Christ.  In the end, he says that it does not matter who labored, but that God worked through the Word of the Gospel; that He made you a fellow-heir of the gospel; a resurrected member in a new creation.

So, How Shall We Then Live?

A few Easter implications from I Corinthians 15:

First, and foremost, rejoice on this day. Do not let this day go unnoticed. This is not merely the celebration of an event, but a declaration of an event. Declare it then. It would be interesting to get people’s reactions if you greeted them with “Christ is risen.” How are you today? Christ is risen! You have seven weeks to try it.

Secondly, kill and destroy pietism today. Stop believing that your faith is private. It is not. And if it is, the gospel of the resurrection is still very much in its tomb stage at this point in your life. Inundate the internet with resurrection. Listen to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Celebrate. Rejoice and be glad in the God of the Living. Do not allow the cult of death to set the standard.

Thirdly, we need to get resurrection theology, as Paul sees it. For Paul, when you die your body is not glorified; your soul is glorified in the presence of Jesus. Your body remains in the grave until the Final Resurrection at the end of history. You do not say of a Christian when he dies: May your soul rest in peace, because the Christian soul is very much alive, and not asleep. It is the Christian body that is asleep until the final resurrection when God will bring soul and body together into an incorruptible body. We grieve in death because our bodies are still corrupting.

Fourthly, we need to also to consider that the Resurrection of Jesus is a picture of our own resurrection. Jesus ate. Jesus sang. Jesus laughed. Jesus enjoyed company. Jesus was not an ethereal, ghostly being flying around playing a harp day and night. What Jesus was when he was raised bodily is what we will be. If Jesus had not been raised bodily we would have reason to despise the body. But because Jesus was raised bodily, we are called to love the physical; to love this world. This world is our home and we are doing more than just passing through. We are agents of redemption making all things new.

Finally, it is impossible not to apply this to our own worship context. Worship is designed to celebrate this disproportionate amount. In worship, Easter is preeminent and Lent is secondary. In worship, Lent only goes to confession, but Easter goes all the way to Benediction. In worship, Easter is singing, believing, eating and drinking. Every Lord’s Day, when we meet as a people, we come face to face with the resurrection reality. You come this morning because you know that you are not seeking the living among the dead, but you have found the living and resurrected Christ who has been raised from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!




In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pgs. 255-257.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 714-715.

[3] N.T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God, 318.

[4] N.T Wright says that “Cristos” is a Messianic royal designation; 320.

[5] Fee, 722

[6] Wright, 320.

[7] See Fee, 735.

[8] Wright says that Paul felt “ripped from the womb in a traumatic way”, 328.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in I Corinthians, Resurrection, Sermons/Easter. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Easter Sermon: The Empty Threat of Death, I Corinthians 15:1-11

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  3. Pingback: the rebirth of God « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  4. Pingback: Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Empty Threat of Death, Part III, I Corinthians 15:20-28 | Resurrectio et Vita

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