Lesson: Witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection
By Rev. Leo H. McCrary II – April 17, 2022
Taught From – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Our lesson this week is going to be our Easter Sunday School lesson. For nearly two months we have been taking a look at a unit of lessons titled ‘Instructions to a Troubled Church’. While we have been taking a look at the troubled church in Corinth during this stretch, our lesson this week does not focus on any divisions; we will be taking a look at Paul testifying of the eyewitnesses of the gospel and the resurrected Christ. This week’s lesson is being taught from 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
Saved by the Gospel
When I think of the gospel, I think of Christ – His birth, teachings, preachings, death, resurrection, and ascension. The gospel, while it should be believed, is disputed and not believed by many people, past and present. So, essentially, we see Paul speaking of the eyewitnesses to Christ as a means to encourage the readers of this letter to be of faith.
Persuading those open to receiving
So, Paul initially states and declares of the gospel that the gospel is a saving gospel, if you were to hold fast (keep) to it (vss.1-2). Those who hold fast to the gospel are genuine in their faith. I have spoken on the thought of their being different levels of faith in the past couple of months and I want to mention this again. You see, while there are genuine believers who hold fast to the gospel, there are many who doubt the gospel.
There are those that waver when it comes to having faith in the gospel; one moment they say they believe and the next moment their faith has evaporated. James likened those that waver to being like a wave of the sea that is tossed back and forth. Those that are double-minded, James said, are unstable in their ways in being unstable, they would not receive anything from the Lord (Jas. 1:6-8).
At the same time, there are fully convicted doubters of the gospel – they have absolutely no faith. The gospel is for everyone and can save everyone, however, those that are fully convicted in doubting the gospel, they cannot be helped nor can they be saved. I say all of this because I believe the preaching of the gospel is meant to persuade those that are open to receiving it – not for debating those that aren’t open to receiving it. Those that are fully convicted in doubting the gospel are beyond being persuaded.
Fulfillment of the scriptures
So, persuade those that are open to receiving the gospel, Paul speaks first to the fulfilling of scripture.
Paul first states, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (v.3). So, let us consider for a moment that group that Paul is reaching out to here with this statement. We have to remember that there were those who were in Corinth that were Jews, not just Gentiles. So, some of the Jews may have been familiar with the prophets, like Isaiah, and the prophecies of the Messiah.
Yet, while they may have been familiar with prophecies of the coming Messiah, they may have not believed Jesus when He was standing in the midst of them. So, to speak to the fulfillment of scripture so that they might believe, Paul points out that Jesus, the Messiah, died and was buried but rose again the third according to the Scriptures (v.4).
To those that may have struggled with the texts and believing them, Paul speaks to the fact that there were eyewitnesses to Christ. Typically, it is easier for us to believe an eyewitness report over text that was written down many years ago. So, Paul speaks to how the resurrected Christ was seen first by Cephas and then by the twelve” (v.5) – Cephas is Peter. Cephas, which is translated, A Stone, was the name given to Simon by Jesus (John 1:42).
The twelve was just the more common name for the closest disciples – Judas Iscariot had killed himself by this point so there were only 11. In fact, in the gospels, you will see where the closest disciples were referred to as the 11 after Judas Iscariot had hung himself and died (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9; Luke 24:33).
Eyewitnesses to Christ’s Resurrection
What else is an interesting point about Paul’s statement is that he mentioned Jesus first appeared to Cephas. First, I want to mention that according to Mark’s gospel, it was Mary Magdalene who Jesus first appeared to (Mark 16:9). The other synoptic gospels and John’s gospel testifies to this fact because we read that a group of women went to visit Jesus’ tomb very early on the first day of the week where Mary Magdalene, again, saw the resurrected Jesus first (Sunday) (Matt. 28:1-10; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
After seeing Jesus, the women ran and told the 11 but none of them believed the women’s report. Now, the gospels do tell us how Peter and John ran to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty, but, again, they did not necessarily believe Jesus was risen (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11:). So, why does Paul mention that Peter saw Jesus first?
I do not believe he did this to necessarily discredit Mary Magdalene, though I could see how some would believe that to have been the case. However, if we pay close attention to this verse, we will see that Paul, in this moment, was speaking solely about Jesus’ appearance to the 11. So, out of the 11, Jesus first appeared to Peter, which is another fascinating statement because none of the gospels testify to this. I do believe that this was the case and that Paul was not making this up; it just wasn’t recorded for us in the gospels.
Paul then testifies to some of the other appearances of the resurrected Christ which included 500 brethren at one time (v.6). This is also one that does not appear in scripture though we certainly know that Jesus was making His way around appearing to believers after His resurrection. For example: His well documented appearance on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27). Jesus told the women to let the disciples know to go to Galilee because He would be there (Matt. 28:10).
Along with that appearance, Paul mentions Jesus’ appearance to James (v.7), which James must have spoken about to Paul because this is also not written about in scripture. Paul then speaks of Jesus’ appearance to the other apostles, though this was likely Jesus’ last appearance when He ascended. Lastly, Paul writes about how Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (v.8).
I believe that there were many eye witness reports of the resurrected Jesus during that time. Of the 500, Paul wrote how some were still living during the time he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians and I do believe that they were testifying of seeing the resurrected Jesus. Not only were they testifying to what they witnessed but the apostles were doing the same, and those that believed the eye witness reports were likely doing the same.
Gospel of God’s grace
At this point in his testifying to the eyewitnesses of the gospel, Paul takes a moment to speak about himself. Paul states, “I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (v.9)?” Why do you suppose Paul made this statement about himself at this moment in his letter?
Firstly: I believe Paul made this statement to show those who were doubters of the gospel that he was once just like them – a doubter and sinner. In fact, Paul shows that he was even worse than a doubter! Paul persecuted the church by beating and imprisoning believers! Paul literally stood by as Stephen was stoned to death for ministering the gospel (Acts 22:19-20).
Secondly: I believe Paul made this statement to show the doubter that they can also be saved considering that the Lord had saved him. Paul states, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain” (v.10). We are saved by the Lord’s grace, not by anything that we have done – this is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). God’s grace is shown to us through the gospel – the gospel that I preach and it is this gospel of Christ that saves.