The Proof of Christianity (1 Cor 15:1-11)

Sunday, April 4th, 2010
Sermon Series: 1 Corinthians, Easter, Topical

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The Proof of Christianity

I Corinthians 15:1-11

There are two questions we must face to appreciate today:

1) How do we know Easter is true?  and if it’s true,
2) Then what difference does it make?

God answers both questions in the Bible with Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 15.  The Corinthian church didn’t think Easter mattered.  They thought death was the end of their body forever.  When you’re dead, you’re dead.  But by denying a bodily resurrection, the Corinthians were actually questioning the entire Christian faith, since if there’s no resurrection, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.  And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then He’s a phony.  And if Jesus is a phony, then Christianity is a fraud and all Christians are wrong.

But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then it proves Easter is true, Jesus is alive, and everything He said about heaven and hell is true.  That means those who have Christ indwelling them are right, and everyone else is in serious trouble.  That’s why today is a fork in the road of your life.  If Jesus did rise, then He is real and the only way to be right with God, and if you don’t follow Him, eternal hell awaits.  But if He didn’t rise from the dead, then enjoy this service, go home, eat a great meal today and get as much out of life as possible, because this is all there is.

Today you must choose one path or the other.  But how can we know for certain?  Let’s look now at how Paul answers our doubts.  He gives us four positive proofs in I Corinthians 15.  How do we know Easter is true?

#1  The proof of perseverance

Listen to what God says in I Corinthians 15:1-2, “Now I make known to you, brethren, [literally; pay attention friends this is important] the gospel [that’s the good news] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”  God asks us:  Did you hear the gospel, believe it, and then by faith entrust your life to it (stand upon it), experiencing God’s continual deliverance?  In other words, do you have a genuine relationship with God that came by putting all your trust in Jesus alone to save you now and forever?  Is it just as real today as it was the first day you received Jesus?

It’s only true, Paul says in verse 2, if you hold fast–literally, if you continue to believe in and follow Jesus Christ.  Our holding onto Jesus is evidence that He’s holding onto us.  Maybe today you know of someone who turned away from Christ?  Church?  When a so-called Christian says they believed in Jesus, or even lived like a Christian for a time, but later rejects Christ, God says they’re showing us their salvation was never real in the first place.  They were able to let go of the things of God because they themselves were doing the holding.

As I John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.”

1 Corinthians 15:2 says such a person doesn’t hold fast the word because his faith was never real–it was empty, or vain.  He can’t hold fast because he’s not held fast.  Jesus repeatedly spoke of three categories of people:  believers, non-believers, and make-believers.  The make-believer has a phony faith that looks so real you can’t tell it from a real faith.  Yet Jesus says the make-believer is on a wide road that looks like it’s going to heaven, but actually it leads to hell.

Some of the Corinthians had outwardly acknowledged Jesus, verse 2, but they had not received Him, they didn’t stand in Him, were not saved by Him, and didn’t hold fast to His word which Paul preached.  So where’s the proof that Jesus is real?

Think about it.  Despite their immaturity and many weaknesses, the fact that the Corinthian church even continued to exist was strong evidence to the reality of Jesus.  Who but the risen, living Christ could have taken extortioners, thieves, adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, liars and idolaters that made up the Corinthian church and transformed them into a community of Christians who endured in their walk with Christ?

The endurance of the church of Jesus Christ through 2,000 years is evidence of His resurrection reality, that Jesus is real.  In fact, every time you write a check out of your checkbook, or write something on your calendar, you’re testifying to the impact of Christ.  When you write 2010, 2010 years from what?  From Jesus Christ, who changed all of history and has caused His mission and people to persevere through it all.  His Word, the Bible and His people have survived skepticism, persecution, heresy, unfaithfulness and disobedience, proving Jesus did rise from the dead and is alive today.

But you say, that’s not enough for me.  A lot of religions have been around a long time.  So, Paul adds, we know Easter is true because of the Word of God.

#2  The proof of the Bible

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3,4).  The prophecies about Jesus found in the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before His birth, prove the truth of Christianity.

What is that truth?  Look again at verse 3—“For I delivered to you as of first importance.”  Paul says he shared with you the number one priority, the Gospel, the good news about how to get right with God.  Paul says it’s not a message I designed, but merely delivered to you what God authored.  This is the most important–in a sense Paul is saying, “I didn’t arrive with the life saving drug then talk about the weather. I gave you the medicine.  Only the Gospel can cure you from the disease of sin.  I didn’t just instruct drowning men how to swim, I threw them the life preserver.  Only the Gospel can save you from the eternal drowning of hell.

So what’s this important message about?  The greatest sacrifice ever made.  The Bible gives us the two main facts of the Gospel in verses 3-4.

Fact #1 in verse 3–Christ died for our sins and was buried

This is good news.  Why did Jesus die?  For our sins.  What is sin?   Sin is our selfish, proud independence, rejection of God’s rule, and disobedience of God’s law.  It is any wrong thought, unloving action, harsh word or bad attitude, which means we are all sinners–our nature is to sin.  And the penalty for our sin is death, not just physical death, but eternal punishment in hell forever, called the second death.  But God loves us so much, He had His own Son, Jesus Christ, pay the price for our sin–yours and mine.

Did Jesus’ death on the cross really satisfy all the righteous anger of God for every sin that’s ever been and ever will be committed?  Yes!  Isaiah tells us in his letter in chapter 53, verse 5-6, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities . . . Each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Does that mean everyone is a Christian?  No.  You must have faith in what Christ alone has done in order to have forgiveness of sin in your own life.  But some will say, “Jesus could never forgive my sin.”  Really?  God forgave Paul for murder, David for adultery, and Mary for prostitution.  No matter what you have done, Jesus Christ can forgive you if you turn to follow Him alone, which leads us to the second fact about the Gospel.

Fact #2 in verse 4–and that He was raised on the third day

This is more good news–Jesus is alive.  The word raised is in a tense that means Jesus was raised from the dead at a point in time, and He continues to be raised even now.  But how do we know?  Where is the proof?  Did you see the proof Paul gives to convince us the Gospel is true?  He says it twice in verses 3 and 4.  What is it?  According to the Scriptures–“Scriptures” in this passage refers to the Old Testament.  Jesus said several times we’d find prophecies about Him in the Old Testament written hundreds (some thousands) of years before He was born.  And these prophecies and their fulfillment prove Jesus is God, who took on human flesh, died for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead to live as the only way to know God, go to heaven, be born again, to have forgiveness and real purpose.

The Bible proves what Jesus said and did is true.  You say, “How does the Bible prove Jesus is real?”  Think through just eight Old Testament prophecies and by using simple probability, try to answer one question:  one man in how many men has fulfilled this prophecy?  Then allow me to give a conservative estimate for you to see how the Old Testament prophecies prove Christianity is real and the resurrection really did happen.

First  Micah 5:2 predicts the Christ will be born in Bethlehem

One man in how many, the world over, has been born in Bethlehem?   Take the average population of Bethlehem, from Micah down to the present time, and divide it by the average population of the earth during the same period and you come up with 1 x 10 to the fifth, or one man in one hundred thousand was born in Bethlehem.

Second  Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me

Of the men who have been born in Bethlehem, one man in how many has had a forerunner to prepare his way?  1 x 10 to the third or one man in one thousand

Third  Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon. . .a colt, the foal of an ass.”

One man in how many, who has entered Jerusalem as a ruler, entered riding on a colt the foal of an ass?  Let’s say 1 x 10 to the fourth or one man in ten thousand.

Fourth  Zechariah 13:6 says, “What are these wounds in thine hands?  Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’”

Christ was betrayed by Judas, one of His disciples, causing Him to be put to death, wounds being made in His hands.  One man in how many, the world over, has been betrayed by a friend with that betrayal resulting in him being wounded in his hands?  It’s very rare to be betrayed by a friend, and still rarer for the betrayal to involve wounding in the hands.  Let’s say 1 x 10 to the third power or one man in one thousand.

Fifth  Zechariah 11:12 says, “And I said, give me my price; so they weighed for my price 30 pieces of silver.”

Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver?  This would be rare–let’s say one in one thousand or 1 x 10 to the third.

Sixth  Zechariah 11:13 says, “I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”

One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, returned the money, had it refused, threw it on the floor in the house of the Lord, then had it used to purchase a field from a potter?  Was there ever another incident involving all of these items?   One in 100,000, or 1 x 10 to the fifth.

Seventh  Isaiah 53:7 says, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

One man in how many, after fulfilling the above prophecies, when he’s on trial for his life, though innocent, made no defense for himself?  We will use 1 x 10 to the third or one in one thousand.

Eighth  Psalm 22:16 says, “They pierced my hands and my feet.”

One man in how many, from the time of David on, has been crucified?  One in 10,000 or 1 x 10 to the fourth

If these estimates are considered fair (I made them low), one man in how many men, the world over, will fulfill all eight prophecies?  What’s the probability?  By figuring all of our estimates together mathematically, we end up with 1 in 10 to the 28th power (28 zeros).

Now, what’s the chance any man might have lived from the day of these prophecies down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies?  We can answer this question by dividing our number by the total number of people who have lived since the time of these prophecies.  Conservatively, this ends up being 1 in 10 to the 17th power (17 zeros). There is one chance in 10 to the 17th power that one man could fulfill these eight prophecies.

Let us try to visualize this probability chance.  If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat and thoroughly stir them, then ask a blindfolded man to draw one out, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten.  Suppose we take 10 to the 17th silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas.  That will cover the entire state two feet deep in dollars.  Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.  Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must only pick up one silver dollar and get the right one.  What chance would he have of getting the right one?  The same chance the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present.  Incredible, isn’t it?

The Old Testament Scriptures, written long before the birth of Christ, prove that Jesus Christ is real.  They prove He is the only way to be right with God.  If you think my estimates are too high, lower them as low as you like, but don’t forget there are over 300 Old Testament prophesies concerning Jesus, not just eight.

In the business world, if an investment has nine chances in ten of being profitable, and only one chance in ten of being a failure, it’s usually a safe investment.  Whoever heard of an investment that had only one chance in ten to the 17th power of failure?  Yet we are offered this investment by God. By submitting to Jesus Christ as our Master, we know from only these eight prophecies, which only have 1 chance in 10 to the 17th power of being wrong, that investment will yield the wonderful dividend of eternal life with God forever in heaven, and abundant life now in Christ.  Any man who rejects Jesus as the only way to be right with God is rejecting a fact proved more absolutely than any other fact in the world.  It is proven by the Scriptures.  There is still another indication.

#3  The proof of the appearances

Look at verses 5-8. Christianity is proven by the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.  “And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

The New Testament points to ten main appearances of Jesus after He rose from the dead.  The word appeared (here used four times) means to be seen, literally to establish the reality of your sight with human eyes.  Jesus was really seen.  He was not wished for, nor imagined.

As Luke wrote in Acts 1:3, “To these Jesus presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”  And look at who Jesus was undeniably seen by–verse 5 says Jesus came to Peter.  Why is Peter singled out here?  To show that any sin, even denial and desertion can be forgiven.  Peter had just denied Christ three times, but after rising from the dead, Jesus said make sure you especially tell Peter.

Then in verse 6, Jesus appeared to more than 500, many of whom were still alive 20 years later when Paul wrote to the Corinthians and could personally testify to the fact of His bodily resurrection.  Verse 7 says Jesus also appeared to His half brother James.  Can you imagine what it would be like for your brother to come back from the dead and declare to you He is the Son of God?  If my brother did that, I would smack him.  But James didn’t, because there was no denying it.

Then verse 8, Jesus appeared to Paul and transformed Him from Christian-killer to Christ-proclaimer.  But what if they were all wrong?  Good question.  Just for a moment, let’s examine the other options.  If Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead, then what could have happened?  Here’s what some say.

First, some say the believers went to the wrong tomb.  This view states that after just three days, the women who reported the body missing had, in their emotional state, gone to the wrong tomb.  But if this is true, then all the disciples went to the wrong tomb.  The crack Roman unit ended up guarding the wrong tomb.  All the Jewish Leaders who wanted Jesus dead also forgot which tomb He was in.  And the owner of the tomb, Joseph of Arimathea, also forgot where his own tomb was–not very likely.

Second, some say the resurrection was just a wishful hallucination.  This theory asserts all those who saw Jesus, wanted to see Him alive so badly, they dreamed Him up in their minds, somehow saw Him, talked to Him, therefore they believed Jesus had risen from the dead.  Not only is this view unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations, but also doesn’t make sense.  For this to be true, everyone who saw Jesus would have to have imagined Him.  Then every one of His post-resurrection appearances would also have been a hallucination.   Every one of the 500 who saw Jesus after the resurrection, also imagined Him.  And again, all the Jewish leaders had to do was to produce the dead body to disprove the Christian claim, which they didn’t.

Third, some say Jesus did not die on the cross at all, but that He just fainted or swooned.  This theory says Jesus didn’t really die–He merely passed out from exhaustion and loss of blood.  Medical knowledge was not good back then, so everyone just thought He was dead.  So what do they say happened next?  They speared Jesus in the side, blood and water flowed out (signifying death).  They wrapped Him in grave clothes about six inches thick, with a goop that made those clothes as hard as a cast.  Then they laid Him in a tomb, rolled a 2-ton stone in the way and put 4 to 16 trained Roman soldiers there to guard it.

Then what happened next was incredible.  Some moisture from the cave began to form on Jesus’ forehead, and He awoke two days later.  Though He’d been tortured, crucified and speared, He unwrapped Himself from the inside of this gigantic cast over His entire body, He removed the 2-ton stone over the entrance, beat up all the guards and ran away.  After that, He told everyone He’d risen from the dead.

Fourth, a few say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, but that the disciples secretly came, stole His body and claimed He rose from the dead.  How did this happen?  The depressed and cowardly disciples, who fled when Jesus was arrested, finally banded together into a crack fighting unit.  And while all the guards were asleep (which meant their death if they were caught), the disciples quietly tip-toed past the Romans without a sound, rolled the 2-ton boulder back and stole the body away.  After that, and for the remainder of their lives, each of them separately and together claimed that Jesus was alive–a claim that each one suffered and died for.  History tells us . . .

1.  Peter was crucified upside down

2.  Andrew was crucified, yet shared Christ for days

3.  Matthew died by the sword

4.  John is the only one who died a natural death, but we’re told he was boiled in oil twice for his faith in Christ

5.  James, son of Alphaeus was crucified

6.  Philip was crucified

7.  Simon was crucified

8.  Thaddaeus was killed by arrows

9.  James, brother of Jesus was crushed by stones

10.  Thomas was thrust through with a spear

11.  Bartholomew was crucified

12.  James, son of Zebedee died from the sword

If the disciples stole the body, then every one of them died for a known lie.  Is that what happened?  Jesus’ followers couldn’t have faced torture and death unless they were convinced of His resurrection.  Their testimony of the resurrection is a proof of the reality of Jesus and the truth of Christianity.  When someone says, “Prove it,” just point to the tomb.  Buddha is still in his, and so are Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Confucius and Mary, but the tomb of Christ is empty.  Point to the lives of those Jesus appeared to and say, “Would you knowingly die for a lie?”  The post-resurrection appearances of Christ are a proof.  Add to these evidences, the final proof of this passage.

#4  The proof of a changed life

Look at verses 9-10.  “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”  A changed life is an incredible proof of the reality of Jesus Christ.

Before meeting Jesus, Paul was an intolerant, proud, temperamental, bitter, persecuting, religious bigot.  But after his conversion, he became a patient, kind, enduring and self-sacrificing servant of God.  He changed from Christian-killer to Christian-equipper, from a religion to a relationship, from a law-lover to a love-giver, from a Jewish-zealot to a Gentile-evangelist.  The risen Christ totally changed Paul’s life and He can change yours as well–if you let Him.

What changes did Jesus make in Paul?  The Bible records four major changes that God will produce in every Christian.  This describes the real thing, not the phony religiosity of today.  Are these true of you?

First  Disclosure of your own sinfulness
Look at verse 9, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  Paul openly admitted his sinfulness.  What about you?  Are you honest about your sin?  1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  Do you admit sin or excuse it–confess it or ignore it–blame others or blame yourself?  You can’t become right with God unless you admit sin.

Second  Dependence upon God alone
Look at verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” Salvation is by grace.  The heart of a Christian admits everything in life, minus your sin, is grace.  God’s grace is giving you what you don’t deserve, that which you could never get for yourself.  God’s grace gave you your family, home and your job.  You say, “Hey, I work really hard to keep my job.”  Yes, but Who gave you the strength to work hard?  Are you a self-made person, or one who is dependent on God’s grace alone?  You can’t know Christ unless you are dependent on God alone.

Third  Dedication to serve others

Paul writes in verse 10b, “But I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”  A true Christian serves not because of guilt or pressure, but because Jesus has given us so much, we can’t help but give back to the one who gave us everything.  Is that your heart?  Is there any ministry in your life that can only be explained by God serving through you?

Fourth  Devoid of self

Although Paul admitted he had “labored even more than all of them,” he wasn’t concerned about who got the credit.  Look at verse 11, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”  It didn’t matter who did the labor or who got credit, as long as those separated from God came to Jesus.  God gives Christians a heart of love that destroys the competitive spirit to be better than others.  To Paul, it didn’t matter who hit the ball, as long as home runs were made.  How about you?  Are you a genuine believer or a make-believer?  I know Jesus is real, because Jesus changes lives–He changed Paul’s, Jesus continues to change my life, and if you look around you, you’ll see what an amazing difference He has made in the lives of friends, family and acquaintances at Faith Bible Church.

Jesus can change habits, transform personalities, heal hearts, forgive guilt, mend marriages, fix families, restore relationships, break bitterness and give you a love for others you never thought possible.  And remember, it isn’t you (it’s no longer I who live), but it’s Christ who lives in me.  Only Jesus can live the Christian life–changed lives prove Jesus is alive.

The proofs of Christianity are undeniable:  fulfilled prophecies, post-resurrection appearances and changed lives.  Does your life prove Jesus is alive, that He’s real?

#1  A Christian not only knows about Jesus, but knows Him intimately and personally, like a friend–do you?

#2  A Christian is not one who made a decision about Christ once, but someone who has Jesus, through His Spirit, living in you.  You are born again, made new– are you?

#3  A Christian is not one who comes to church semi-regularly, but someone who has been so blessed, forgiven, cleansed and loved by God that he or she, out of gratitude, gives their whole life to Christ in devoted service, 24 hours a day.  That’s a Christian.  Are you one?

You can be.  But don’t forget, Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with Me is against Me.”  And Jesus proved to us that He alone is the way to heaven.  Acts 17:31says, “God . . . has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

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ABOUT THIS PREACHER

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.
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