Faith Or Superstition
August 31, 2014
1 Corinthians 15:1-34
FAITH OR SUPERSTITION?
August 31st, 2014
1 Corinthians 15:1-34
The other day I went downtown and went into a shop on Fort Street. I was only in the store for about 5 minutes and when I came out there was a cop writing out a parking ticket.
I went up to him and said, "Come on, man, how about giving me a break"? *He ignored me and continued writing the ticket.
I called him a "Nazi." He glared at me and started writing another ticket for worn tires on the car.
So I called him a "doughnut eating Gestapo." He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he started writing a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes.
The more I abused him, the more tickets he wrote. Personally, I didn't care. I came downtown on the motorcycle, and the car that he was putting the tickets on had a bumper sticker that said "too many Christians, not enough lions."
Some people think that a Christian is a lot like an ostrich, whose brain is not much bigger than its eye.
Paul is writing about 22 years after Jesus death and resurrection. At issue – some teachers in the church at Corinth either taught that there is no physical resurrection, or, more likely, that there is no afterlife – and the problem is that this teaching seemed to have taken root in the church and many were convinced by it.
Paul counters this teaching with the reality of Jesus’ resurrection of the dead. I’ll just touch on the main points of Paul’s argument as we go through this quite lengthy passage.
I. The Resurrection is Part of the Good News (15:1-4)
15:1 I remind you, brothers, of the good news which I proclaimed to you. You accepted it, you took your stand on it, 2 and you will be saved by this good news if you hold fast to the message as I proclaimed it to you. If you don’t, you have believed in vain. 3 Because I delivered to you what I received of first importance: the Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he was raised (from the dead) on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Paul begins his argument for an afterlife with reiterating what many believe was an early creed in the church.
Paul had taught the believers in Corinth what was most important about the Christian faith: Jesus died for sins and he was buried and he was resurrected.
Paul added that the OT already spoke of the fact that this would happen to the Messiah, God’s anointed, the Christ, who would come and save God’s people by freeing them from oppression and making them right with God. Since Paul does not give us the actual passages, we are left to guess which ones he meant.
a. Jesus’ atoning death in the OT (v.3)
Paul could be referring to the death of the suffering servant written about in Isaiah 53, whose death paid the penalty of the sins of the nation of Israel:
He was pierced through for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment fell upon him for our well-being, and by his scourging we are healed. … YHWH has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him. … He was cut from the land of the living. ... YHWH was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; he rendered himself as a guilt offering …. My servant will justify the many as he will bear their iniquities …. Because he poured out his life to death and was numbered with criminals. He himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:5-12
b. Jesus’ burial and resurrection in the OT (v.4)
Here are some passages that Paul may have had in mind:
My flesh also dwells secure because you will not abandon my soul to the abode of the dead, or let your holy one see decay. Psalm 16:9-10
O YHWH. You have brought my soul up from the abode of the dead. You restored me to life among those who go down to the pit. Psalm 30:3
Come, let us return to YHWH. Because he has struck us down, he will also bind us up. After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Hosea 6:1-2
The fact that the OT already spoke of Jesus’ resurrection in particular, gives weight to its importance. But then Paul goes on to the proof that Jesus in fact was resurrected from the dead.
II. Eyewitnesses - Proof of Jesus’ Resurrection (15:5-11)
5 He appeared to Cephas [= Apostle Peter], then to the twelve. 6 After that he appeared to more than 500 brothers at the same time. Most of these are still alive, although some have died. 7 Later he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 And last of all, he appeared also to me, even as to a miscarriage, 9 because I am the least of all the apostles. I am not even worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by God’s grace I am what I am, and his gracious actions toward me did not fail to impact me. I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God working with me. 11 Whether I preach or they, this is our message and this is what you believed.
For Paul, the greatest proof of the truth of Christianity was his own encounter with the risen Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus – when he still tried to have Christians imprisoned.
As we know, that event overthrew all of his former convictions, turned his life upside down, made him probably the most effective church planter and most influential Christian leader in all of history, and it was the reason for his suffering and execution.
Having given the setting – Jesus’ resurrection is preached by all Christians and is proven by the eyewitness accounts of his post-resurrection existence - he addresses the false teaching head on.
III. The Denial of Jesus’ Resurrection (15:12-19, 29-32)
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then exposed as false witnesses of God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ (from the dead). But God did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. … 29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death daily - I mean that, brothers - just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought “wild beasts” in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
Let’s briefly summarize his argument:
i. If Jesus was raised from the dead, it proves the reality of an afterlife.
ii. If there is no afterlife, then Jesus could not have been raised from the dead.
iii. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the Christian message and belief in the forgiveness of sins for eternal life would be useless.
iv. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, those who relay the Christian message would be self-deceived or lying charlatans.
v. If there is no afterlife, getting baptized for the dead makes no sense.
vi. If the Christian hope is relegated to this life, Christians are to be pitied more than all others.
vii. If there is no afterlife, then Paul is foolish to live a life of service, sacrifice and daily danger instead of living it up.
Baptism for the dead could take up a whole sermon, so let me just quickly comment that what was happening at the church in Corinth likely was not the norm. Paul never commended it nor condemned it, he simply commented on it as part of his argument.
Today, Mormons will be baptized in Mormon temples for dead relatives and friends who did not receive a Mormon baptism, which Joseph Smith taught was a requirement for salvation.
Paul then goes on to speak about what happened and what will happen since Jesus was resurrected.
IV. The Implication of Jesus’ Resurrection
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the first; then, when he comes again, those who belong to him.
In essence, Jesus’ death and resurrection made possible the resurrection of his followers when he returns to earth. He is a second “Adam” who reversed the actions of the first Adam, which resulted in physical death.
24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Jesus is currently destroying the spiritual powers and authorities, and when he has complete reign, he will destroy death and hand over the kingdom to God the Father.
27 For he "has put everything under his feet." [Psalm 8:6]. Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has put all things in subjection to him, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
These verses raise an interesting questions about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes of Jesus as being in the form of God and equal with God in his preexistence with God (Phil 2:6), yet here he seems to indicate that this equality may not be completely reestablished since Jesus ultimately will put himself under the rule of God the Father.
However, Paul’s real point is that in raising Jesus from the dead, God has initiated a sequence of events that will, in its finality, lead to the destruction of death so that God is once again, as in eternity past, all in all, that is, supreme in every quarter.
Paul then closes his argument with a warning:
V. The Warning Regarding Teaching Something False
33 Do not allow yourselves to be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some among you who are ignorant of God - I say this to your shame.
Basically, Paul is telling the believers in Corinth to stay away from those who insist on teaching this error and to become more knowledgeable about the character and plan of God. The implication is that to continue the present course will only lead to disaster when it comes to their salvation.
In any case, I don’t want to belabour Paul’s argument in this message, but go beyond it to something that relates to it, and that is the assurance we have of the truth of what we believe.
VI. The Limits Of Faith And Hope: wishful thinking and unrealized dreams
Faith and hope are wonderful things. They will do much for us. Paul tells us in chapter 13 that faith, hope and love are enduring qualities.
Faith, or belief can carry us a long way. In fact, we can only exist on faith - faith that the laws of nature will continue to apply, faith that there will be a tomorrow, faith in our own ability to do certain things. We would be mired in fear, incapacitated by anxiety, stymied by self-doubt if we did not have faith. At times faith is unfounded. It is simply wishful thinking.
And faith can be a fickle thing, particularly faith in what cannot be seen or touched. How often do we hear about those who have lost their faith? Where there is faith, doubt can creep in.
Is there really an afterlife? Does God really exist? Is Jesus really who he said he was? Am I just being naïve or duped or gullible or superstitious?
I once heard one cynic say: One man’s faith is another man’s superstition, it just depends from which angle you look at it.
Christians, we are told in chapter 11 of Hebrews ought to have a faith that has conviction and assurance, that the things we believe in actually exist even though they may not be visible in the present.
Hope is also a wonderful thing. We can hope in a better future, a better job, better education, better health, better financial situation. But hope at times is nothing more than a pipe dream. It can disappoints us. At times we don’t get what we hope for.
In Rom. 5:5, the apostle Paul writes that our hope in God will not disappoint us, and we can have this assurance because the Holy Spirit has been given to us as evidenced by God’s love being poured into our hearts.
VII. The Reasons for My Assurance
1. Intellectual Assurance - knowing that my faith is reasonable and rational
Paul wrote his letter just over 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. At that time there were many eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection that were still living, AND who were willing to put their lives on the line for proclaiming Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah.
Without the resurrection of Christ, Christianity is dead in the water. Its intellectual integrity is blown out of the water. It is nothing more than the history of 2,000 years of religious delusion.
I read the following on a pagan website this week: “I reject God because I am smart and because I think logically and rationally. People who believe in God are stupid and they don’t think. If I am wrong and God does exist, I would rather go to hell than have to stop being a rational.”
One thing I value is intellectual honesty - something that at times I found sadly lacking when it came to my theological education. Some of my professors at Bible College seemed to dismiss out of hand anything that did not fit into their own theological thinking.
The focus in theology was on predestination.
The focus on the Holy Spirit was the cessation of the spiritual gifts with the apostolic age.
The focus on morality was that Jesus did not drink alcohol or turn the water into wine, and that when it speaks of this in the Bible, it is simply referring to really good grape juice.
The focus on science was that, for whatever reason, the light of stars and galaxies millions or billions of light years away were created by God to fool us into thinking that the universe is very old.
Even though I was just a new believer, I was shocked by some of these things, and some of the professor’s answers to my questions.
It reminded me of the Church in 1633 condemning Galilei Galileo as a heretic for opposing the dogma proclaimed in 1616 that the sun rotated around the earth, and forced him to recant and to live under house arrest for the last 9 years of his life.
In 1984 Pope John Paul II initiated a review that found that Galileo’s trial unjustly condemned him and publicly apologized to and reinstated Galileo in Oct. 1992.
Galileo said “The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” The same can be said of the Bible. It is not a scientific treatise.
When Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds (and it is about the size of a speck of dust), that would grow into the tallest garden plant and become a tree, he was NOT stating a botanical fact.
The mustard plant grows at most to a height of about 5 or 6 feet, or 1.5 - 2 m. There are plants that have smaller seeds and that grow larger. Jesus was simply pointing out that of all the herbs, mustard has one of the smallest seeds yet grows into one of the largest plants.
To tell you the truth, I do not think that God is asking us to commit intellectual suicide in order to find him. Truth is truth, and the truth, yes truth that finds its reflection in the Bible, can be found in a lot of different secular or non-Christian religious sources.
For example, while I disagree with Buddha that the whole point of existence is to escape suffering, I can affirm with him that a person should be generous, speak without being hurtful, and live a life of service because Jesus taught the same.
While I disagree with much of modern philosophy, I can affirm with Immanuel Kant that there are no logical arguments that can prove absolutely either the existence or the non-existence of a God and that faith continues where human knowledge ends.
While I disagree with most of what Muhammad taught, I can affirm that love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand.
Those who have taken the witness of the NT seriously, particular when it came to the resurrection of Christ and the transformation of his followers after his resurrection, realize that there is good reason to believe in Christianity. Logic, reasoning, intellectual honesty do not have to be abandoned.
Great minds like J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were convinced Christians; with Lewis after a prolonged and sincere intellectual struggle, but once convinced, it changed their lives.
VII. The Reasons for My Assurance
2. Spiritual Assurance - meeting the risen Christ
Meeting Jesus is experiencing God in the here and now. For many of the original disciples it was the time they personally met Jesus after the resurrection. That is no longer possible for us … at least not in the same way.
However, some people have visions of Jesus speaking to them.
Others receive instant physical or mental healing and there is that unmistaken knowledge that this was God, and not simply a natural phenomena.
Others have experienced an answer to prayer that can be said to be nothing short of a miracle.
Others again receive a spiritual gift or a special filling of the Holy Spirit where they have a renewed sense of God’s presence, a new desire to simply praise God, where their prayers are not simply a list of requests, but simple a heart overflowing with thanksgiving and praise to God.
Others again may experience a peace that truly passes all understanding.
Maybe a new yearning to walk closer with God, a new spiritual hunger.
Maybe a new way that the Scriptures become alive and speak to them.
Maybe a new desire to accomplish something for God.
Maybe a new enthusiasm in worship.
Maybe a new desire to help others.
Maybe a new sense of peace in difficult circumstances. Maybe a new way of reacting to the things that happen to them.
Maybe a new joy that has previously escaped them.
Maybe a new ability to be transparent and real
Oh, there may still be hurt and disappointment and loneliness and sorrow in their lives. But these no longer are so overwhelming that they control all of life.
All of these are various ways that faith and hope become assurance, ways that we encounter the living Christ in our hearts and our lives and our minds.
The apostle Paul wrote:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are those who inherit eternal life - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…. Romans 8:16-17
Some Christians think they never had such an experience. They may be like doubting Thomas who said, “If I cannot see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
They can lack the experience of intellectual affirmation or inner transformation that should prove to them the reality of their faith. And because of this, they doubt, they question, they waiver, they compromise.
Doubt is natural, but doubt can be so great it can lead us to abandon our faith and our moral convictions.
On the other hand, when our faith and hope is based on conviction, we will be motivated to live for God … willing to make sacrifices, willing to serve, willing to care.
Assurance won’t make us perfect or remove all doubt or all temptation. Yes, there will be times when we will struggle or make a wrong choice. But when we do, we will get back to God, walk close with him, search for him with our mind and our heart, our spirit, and pray that he would again make himself known in our lives.
Would you pray right now, setting aside any spiritual pride, any fear of what others would think, anything that would quench the Spirit’s work and put out the spiritual fire in your heart, …
… and invite God’s Spirit to fill you anew, from top to bottom, to be open to His guidance and his love, to renew a sense of God’s presence and make you all that he would want you to be?