By J.R. Miller
1 Corinthians 15:3-28
"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." There are "first things" in the gospel, things that not only come first--but are first in importance. Not all truths are of equal value. There are some we must know in order to be saved, and there are others which one may be ignorant of and yet be saved. The truths given by Paul as first are those which tell us of Christ's death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. We should be sure that we understand these great teachings.
Some people in these days would like to leave out these great facts in receiving Christ, taking Him only as an example and as a Teacher. But this is not enough to save us. We need a Redeemer to take away our sins, and we need a victorious Savior who has conquered all enemies for us--including death--and is able to save us out of all our distresses. The cross and the broken grave are the true symbols of our redemption.
The scarlet line of the Redeemer's blood runs through all the Scriptures. We find it in the law of sacrifices, which seem to have been given at the very gate of the lost paradise. We find it in the prophets and in the Psalms, where the sufferings of the Messiah for His people are foretold. We find it in the Gospels, for the shadow of the cross fell back over all the life of Jesus. He spoke over and over of His death, and said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many. In the Acts and the epistles we find the same red cord running, for we read continually of redemption through the blood of Christ; of His suffering, the just for the unjust; of our being redeemed by His precious blood, and of the blood that cleanses us from all sin. Nothing could be clearer than the declarations of the Scriptures, that Christ died for our sins. This tells us what a terrible thing sin is--to require such a costly atoning sacrifice. It reminds us, too, what a fearful thing it is for anyone to reject the redemption of Christ, thus keeping his own sins. There is no other way of salvation. To reject this redemption is to perish eternally.
Just as important as Christ's death for our sins, is His burial and resurrection. Perhaps we have not all thought of this. We are told much about Christ's death for us. Our hymns are full of the story of the cross. We come to Christ as sinners for forgiveness. We do not think so much, however, of the blessings that come to us from His broken grave. But if He had died only, and had not been raised from the dead--He could not have been the Savior we need. It is a great thing for us that we have a Savior who was dead and is alive again, alive now for evermore.
One blessing is that He knows the way of death just as He knows the way of temptation and the way of sorrow--and can guide us when we come to pass into the dark valley. Another blessing is that He has proved Himself stronger than death. He could not be held of it. During His life, He met all the other enemies of our souls. He met temptations and was victorious. He encountered diseases and demons and showed His power over them. He ruled the forces of nature--changing water into wine, walking on the sea, quelling the storm. He showed Himself master over death when He called back at least three people to life. Now He Himself met death and went down under his power--but here again He proved Himself master, vanquishing death and coming alive from the grave. Thus He conquered every form of enmity and antagonism, and stands at the close, victor over all things. Hence He is able to be our Savior who knows all about life, and who has lived victoriously through it all. He is our Friend as well as our Savior. He is with us in all our life, as Companion and Helper.
The appearances of Jesus after His resurrection, during the forty days that He remained on earth, were in order to make it very clear to human witnesses that He was really alive again. Hence He met His disciples and friends at different times and left none of them in doubt.
It was a wonderful moment to Peter when Jesus appeared to him. Peter had denied Christ bitterly, saying with oaths and curses that he did not even know the Man. A little later Jesus looked at him, and that look broke Peter's heart. He went out and wept bitterly. That same day Jesus died. The grief of Peter can be imagined. He had done a great wrong to his Friend, and now he would never see Him again to ask forgiveness. How glad Peter must have been that morning when Jesus stood before him alive! Now Peter could get forgiveness.
Of the other witnesses, Thomas is one of the most interesting. He doubted when he heard that Christ was risen. He would not believe it until he could see Him for himself, and see and feel the wounds in His hands and side. Jesus gave him the proof he demanded, and Thomas was convinced. So at the end of the forty days there was a company of witnesses ready to go out and tell the world of the death and resurrection of Christ, and who believed what they told and were ready to give their lives in proof of their faith.
The last appearance of the risen Lord was to Paul himself. The effect of this appearing of Christ was wonderful. It found him a persecutor of Christians--bitter, relentless, breathing blood and slaughter against them. It changed Saul to Paul; the enemy of Christ--into a friend. The whole story is told in this eighth verse, showing how the resurrection of Christ transformed Paul's life. He became a preacher of the Savior and of the gospel he had been trying to destroy. We learn from what this belief did for Paul, what it will do for all who will accept it.
Paul always remembered the evil he had done before he became a Christian. This kept him humble. It also stimulated him to work for Christ. A regiment of soldiers failed once in a battle, proving cowardly. The reproach on their good name stung them to the heart, and they waited eagerly for an opportunity to bum out the disgrace. The time came at length, and in a battle they did heroically. The recollection of their old shame became mighty energy in them. So it was with Paul. He became a far more earnest apostle, no doubt, than he would otherwise have been, because of the constant remembrance of his past life. Who has not done some things to give Christ pain? We should be all the more loyal and devoted Christians, because of the remembrances in us of unworthy things done in the past.
The resurrection meant so much to Paul that he was earnest in telling others what it should mean to them. The fact of the resurrection of Christ, is the keystone of the arch of Christian truth. Take it out and the whole arch falls to the ground. If the body of Jesus yet sleeps in the grave beneath the Syrian stars, we simply have no Savior, and all the hopes of Christianity are empty dreams, with nothing substantial in them. "But now has Christ been raised from the dead." The resurrection is true beyond all question. Not a shadow of doubt rests upon the teaching. No other fact in all history is more certainly and indubitably established. Hence all the promises and hopes of Christianity are sure. Not one of them can fail. They all bear upon them the double seal--a cross and a broken grave.
If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, our faith has an immutable foundation, our sins are forgiven, and we, too, shall be raised. There is an Eastern story of a child who saw a silver spangle lying in the sand. Picking it up, she found that it was attached to a fine thread of gold. As she drew this out of the sand there were spangles on it, and the filament seemed to be endless. She wound it about her head and about her neck and her arms and body until she was covered from head to foot with golden threads and silver spangles. So it is when we take up this one truth of the resurrection of Christ. As we lift it we find that it is attached to a thread of gold, and as we draw up the golden thread we find all other truths and blessings, promises and hopes clinging to it. To believe the resurrection of Christ is indeed to have all the treasures of redemption in our possession.