“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-6
In the year 50 AD, Paul traveled to the city of Corinth and started sharing the good news of Jesus. In a short time, Paul founded the church there and spent a year and half there leading the congregation before he departed. In 54 AD, Paul wrote the letter we know as 1 Corinthians to the church there. In the letter, Paul reminds the believers of the message he had shared with them at the start. In chapter 15, he writes about the passion of Christ in rather matter-of-fact terms. He recounts that Jesus died and was buried and that the scriptures foretold of this. He then goes on to say that Christ rose again and once again he notes that the scriptures foretold this would happen. Then, in what I think is one of the greatest apologetic moments in the New Testament, he writes that Christ appeared, not just to his disciples who had pledged themselves to him and followed him for three years, but to more than 500 people, most of whom were still alive as of the time of the letter’s writing.
Understand what Paul was getting at here. He wasn’t just saying that Christ appeared to 500 people. He was saying that here are 500 witnesses to the risen Christ who can testify to having seen him. He is saying to those who were reading the letter, “This is what happened and if you don’t believe me, ask any of the hundreds of others who saw him. If I’m lying, they will tell you.”
Dr. Gary Habermas, currently the Distinguished Research Professor at Liberty University once said, “Here’s how I look at the evidence for the resurrection: First, did Jesus die on the cross” And second, did he appear later to people? If you can establish those two things, you’ve made your case, because dead people don’t normally do that.” Today, even the most liberal of biblical scholars and historians concede that Jesus of Nazareth lived and that he died in Jerusalem on a Roman cross. And given the number of witnesses of Jesus’ appearances after the crucifixion, it can be safely believed that he was alive after his death. Given that dead people don’t normally do that, what else are we to believe?
Paul’s surety regarding the resurrection was great. He had himself encountered the risen Christ. He had no doubts about the resurrection and he would eventually die for his proclaiming of the gospel of Jesus. But he wasn’t the only one. The Disciples clearly believed in the resurrection. In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were martyred with the gospel on their lips and the twelfth, John, lived only because he survived the attempt on his life. Their perseverance in holding strong in the face of death to the fact of the resurrection helps us to believe all the more deeply and firmly. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!
Rev. Pat Bell