Assurance of the Resurrection
John 20:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15.20-28
The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. John wrote the Fourth Gospel in the context of fist century religious pluralism. He highlighted seven signs performed by Jesus that signified his identity – the Word became flesh. John highlighted these signs to convince people to receive Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, and the only one in whom people experience eternal life (John 21:30-31). In Jewish thought, the eight in a series indicated the climax, conclusion, and the dawn of God’s new action. For example, God created in seven days; the eight day, therefore, emphasized a new beginning. The resurrection of Jesus serves as the eight and final sign (signpost) to the status of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This climatic eighth sign means that newness characterizes the life people receive through Jesus because of His resurrection.
What is the message of the Fourth Gospel in the context of our culture that also expresses incredulity to the message of the resurrection of Jesus?
First, believers gain assurance because of followers of Jesus lacked an expectation of the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:1-2). Mary expressed her devotion to Jesus through expensive loyalty. At the threat of peril to her own life, Mary, along with other women, walked to the tomb of Jesus to complete the preparations of the body of Jesus for burial. Since Mary witnessed three crucial events, she functions as a link or connection between the truth of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
The role of Mary as witness to the resurrection gives credence for the historical resurrections of Jesus. Jews, unfortunately, often downplayed the value and role of woman as legal witnesses. All four gospels point to the role of women as first witnesses. If John and the other Gospel authors “created” the story of the resurrection, then they would not have made up the story of the women’s testimony.
Second, believers gain assurance of the resurrection as they examine the evidence for the resurrection (John 20: 3-8). Critics of the resurrection often suggest that the expectancy of the disciples created their belief in the resurrection. Despite the prophecies of the Old Testament (v. 9) and the teachings of Jesus, the disciples exhibited an incredulity about the resurrection. The evidence of the resurrection conquered the questions and doubts of the disciples. Peter and “the other disciple” (John) actively pursued the evidence available to them. The placement and neat folding of the facial cloth pointed to an explanation other than grave robbery. Lazarus came out of the grave clothed with burial cloths (John 11); yet, the resurrected Jesus had no need for burial cloths so he neatly folded the cloths. The empty tomb and the placement of the burial cloths brought John to believe without seeing the physical body of the resurrected Jesus. The Bible, however, does proclaim the importance of the appearances of Jesus as irrefutable evidence provided to skeptical disciples.
Third, because of the resurrection of Jesus, believers have assurance of their future bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15.20-28). Paul provided assurance of a future resurrection for believers on the basis of Christ resurrection and believers union with Christ. “Firstfruits” was a religious celebration of God’s provision of the harvest (Lev. 23.9-14). Worshipers presented the “firstfruits” as a thanksgiving offering in anticipation. The worshipers offered the “firstfruits” of the harvest in anticipation of additional harvest. Christ was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection, thus, assuring additional resurrections in the future. Furthermore, believers gain assurance on the basis of the temporal nature of death. Death is like sleep in that death is restful and temporary. (Paul did not mean that believers pass into a state of unconsciousness by means of the analogy of sleep.)
Paul gave assurance to believers through a comparison/contrast of Adam and Christ. Adan and Christ represent the beginning of two types of humanity. All people in union with Adam and his sin (“in Adam”) die now. All people in union with Christ (“in Christ”) will live in the future. Humans united with Adam and his choice of disobedience die. Humans united with Christ through faith live.
Fourth, the truth of the resurrection demands personal testimony (John 20:17-18). Every resurrection appearance of Jesus recorded in the Bible concludes with a challenge to tell others of the good news. The risen Jesus, then, expects His followers to teach the reality of the resurrection to others. While we have not seen the resurrected body of Jesus, Jesus commanded each believer to bear testimony to our encounter with the resurrected Lord. The best way to celebrate Resurrection Sunday is to proclaim the resurrection every day.
Remembering the Sacrifice
1 Corinthians 11.17-29
Jesus instituted two ordinances for His church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. An ordinance is defined as “a practice established by Jesus Christ with the command that it is to be carried out.” Baptism is an initiatory ordinance by which a believer makes public his or her faith commitment to Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial community meal recalling the sacrifice of Christ.
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? How do believers observe the Lord’ Supper?
First, the Lord’ Supper is celebrative worship (1 Cor. 11.17-22). Baptist theologian David Dockery wrote, “The highest form of corporate worship is the Lord’s Supper.” As churches observe the Lord’s Supper, the church gathers not as a memorial society to a dead founder of a movement; the church gathers in celebration of a Living Lord. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, is not something added to the end of the service of singing, prayers, and preaching; the Lord’s Supper is worship.
Jesus functions as the center of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper belongs to the Lord. Jesus is the host of the sacred meal. The Lord provided the elements for the Supper, namely, His blood and body. The Lord of the Supper also invites people to the His banquet table.
New Testament terminology for the memorial meal enhance the understanding of the observance as worship. While Baptists prefer the terminology “Lord’s Supper,” the terms “Eucharist” and “Communion” are biblical terms. Eucharist means “Thanksgiving”. Jesus took the bread and cup and gave thanks. Believers enrich the Lord’s Supper as they celebrate the blood and body of Jesus with thanksgiving. The term “communion” also points to the Lord’s Supper as an act of worship of the people of God. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10.16). In the Greek New Testament, the word “communion” is koinonia or fellowship. By participation in this memorial meal, we spiritual share in the death of Christ.
The church at Corinth had perverted the fellowship associated with the body and blood of Christ into divisions and schisms.
Second, the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the cross (1 Cor. 11.23-26). Some denominations, like Quakers, do not observe the ordinances. Jesus commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Remembrance is more than recollection. By remembrance, believers reflect backwards on the crucifixion of Jesus and bring the past event into their present experience. In other words, remembrance is an act that makes the crucifixion fresh. Remembrance mans to recall the crucifixion with vividness and power so that it affects the present. Specifically, Jesus commanded believers to remember His body and blood. Jesus voluntarily submitted His for our sanctification (Heb. 10.5-10). His blood inaugurated the new covenant of forgiveness (Heb. 9.22).
Through remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus, believers renew their commitment to Christ, commitment to the church, and commitment to the church’s mission as they “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11.26).
Third, the Lord’ Supper is an opportunity for examination (1 Cor. 11.23-26). As a pastor, individuals have said to me, “Pastor, I am not going to participate in the Lord’s Supper because I am not worthy.” In the Greek New Testament, “unworthy” is an adverb rather than adjective. The term describes observing the Supper in an “unworthy manner” rather than an “unworthy person.” The truth is not no individual is worthy of the sacrifice of Christ. The Christian Standard Bible expresses the meaning well, “…whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11.27). Participating in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” occurs in the context of divisions and schisms.
- With Worship
- With Remembrance
- With Examination
Lesson Passages: 1 Corinthians 12
Donald Williams, a professor at Toccoa Falls College, analyzed some difficulties regarding spiritual gifts, “It is one of the great ironies of ecclesiology, one of the great tragedies of church history, and one of the great triumphs of Satan that a doctrine so conducive to the health and unity of the body of Christ as that of spiritual gifts should have become the occasion for an outpouring of divisiveness, fear, and polarization” (underline mine). Unfortunately, Williams words are true.
What is a spiritual gift? The Greek word translated “spiritual gift” is charisma. The Greek word for grace is “charis;” a charisma, therefore, is a grace gift. The suffix “ma” indicates results. A spiritual gift is a grace gift that produces results. Two truths apply to every believer. First, a believer neither earns nor deserves a spiritual gift. Second, a believer should expect a spiritual gift to produce results. A spiritual gift is an ability given by God to serve Him and the church that produces beneficial results.
The New Testament contains four spiritual gifts lists (1 Cor. 12:8-11; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). According to 1 Peter, one may categorize the gifts into two broad categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. By adding the gifts mentioned in the gift list, one compiles a total gift list of twenty gifts.
What does Paul teach about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12?
First, God sovereignly bestows gifts upon believers (1 Cor. 12:4-7). This unit expresses seven truths. First, the passage highlights the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit in a concert of unison pour out the gifts. Second, the Spirit gifts the church with a rich variety of gifts. No one Scriptural list contains all the gifts; however, the spiritual gift lists place a premium on the gifts of communication of the Word of God, namely, prophecy and teaching. Third, believers exercise spiritual gifts in a variety of ministries. Two people with the same gift may exercise the gift in widely different ways. One believer with the gift of helps may use his/her gift of helps as part of the hospital ministry team; another believer with the same gift may use his/her gift of helps in meeting the needs of shut-ins. Fourth, God sovereignly bestows a variety of powers in the exercise of the gifts (v. 6). God energized Billy Graham to exercise the gift of evangelism on an international scale. Yet, the same God may energize a local church pastor with the gift of evangelism, yet few people outside his community may know him. Billy Graham and the pastor have the same gift but different empowerments. Fifth, the Spirit equips every believer with at least one spiritual gift (v. 7). No believer can claim he or she cannot serve the Triune God. Sixth, since a sovereign God bestows the gifts, the area in which a believer is gifted is a signpost to God’s will. A spiritual gift as a signpost reads, “Go this way.” Seventh, God graciously grants gifts for the one purpose of building up the Body of Christ. Gifts, then, are not for a believer’s satisfaction, selfish desires, or merely private benefit.
Second, spiritual giftedness means that believers share diversity, mutuality, and dependence (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Paul illustrated diversity, mutuality and dependence by means of the analogy of a body. Body parts have diverse functions. Paul notes that the eye has a different function than a foot, for example. Church members have diverse functions within the Body of Christ; each member, however, is important. We mutually need and depend on one another. When a body member does not function, the entire body suffers. Likewise, a believer that does not exercise his or her spiritual gift deprives the entire church.
Third, spiritual gifts provide a remedy for schisms (1 Cor. 12:25). Members should minister to each other through the area in which they are gifted. Mutual dependence and ministry rules out the possibility of schisms.
1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best known, best loved, yet misunderstood passages in the entire Word of God. As I minister, I often quoted the passage in a marriage ceremony, although I realize the passage is not specifically about the married love of husband and wife. The context of this beautiful passage is the exercise of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church prided itself on the exercise of spiritual gifts within the membership. 1 Corinthians 12 concludes with a mention of “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), now Paul describes and depicts love as the more excellent way.
As Southern Baptists launch a Great Commission Resurgence, it is appropriate that we focus on a “more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians reveals the emptiness of spiritual gifts and ministries without love. Jesus gave unbelievers the right to judge the reality of our relationship with Him on the basis of love (John. 13:35). Without a Great Commandments Resurgence (the command to love), the Great Commission Resurgence will accomplish nothing. Let us acknowledge before God the sin “that so easily besets us” us – a competitive lust for power and control rather than the humility of spiritual love.
What does Paul teach about love in the so-called “love” chapter of the Bible?
First, Paul highlighted the necessity of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In these three verses, Paul mentioned in quick succession the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, and martyrdom. (Since martyrdom occurs in a context of a listing of spiritual gifts, many New Testament scholars conclude that the Spirit gives to some Christians the gift of martyrdom.) Paul detailed three realities of the exercise of spiritual gifts without love. First, the clear message of the gospel is not communicated. Without love, any communication of spiritual truth sounds like the unharmonious, unmelodious, worship of the pagan gong and cymbal (v. 1). Second, a loveless Christian is nothing, unusable in the kingdom of God (v. 2). Third, a loveless Christian gains no personal benefit from the exercise of a spiritual gift (v. 3). Without love, I gain nothing, I am nothing, and I do nothing. Yet, the focus of Paul is not “I” the individual. Paul wrote to the fragmented, divisive, immature Corinthian church. An unloving individual does not build up the church.
Second, Paul described the nature of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Paul’s description of love portrays a glorious portrait of Christ. No human being can truthfully claim this passage describes him or her. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is the type of loving heart for which every Christian should strive. Paul divides the nature of love into seven positive actions and seven negative actions. All seven negative actions – envy (3.3), boastful (4.6), arrogant (4.18), rude, self-seeking, irritable, and keeping of records of wrongs – describe the behavior of the members of the church at Corinth.
Paul portrayed the nature love by means of verbs. Love is something a believer does, as well as some matters a believer does not do. Love, then, extends beyond mere talk. All the verbs are present tense verbs that describe the on-going, habitual nature of the love virtues produced by the Spirit.
Third, Paul celebrated the permanence of love (1 Cor. 13:8-13). First, since love is an attribute of God, love will be never end. Love is eternal. Love characterized the relationship between Father and Son in eternity past (John. 17:24). In contrast, the purpose of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will be realized in temporal affairs when the perfect comes, perhaps a reference to the second coming of Jesus. Love never ends because love provides the dynamic for faith and hope. As G. Campbell Morgan noted, “And love, the greatest of these is love, for never forget that love is at once the strength of faith and the inspiration of hope.”
God’s Comfort in Trials
2 Corinthians 1:3-14
I learned a difficult lesson early in ministry. Despite my desire to serve the Lord, at times, the response of God’s people to my ministry was less than enthusiastic. During this time, I received comfort in the fact that Paul himself experienced challenges to his integrity and ministry. The major theme of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry against charges of a lack of integrity, vacillation, allowing others to intimidate him.
Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth is difficult to reconstruct. After our present 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote a harsh letter, made a painful visit, and sent Titus and Timothy to deal with the situation. Paul did not give up on his relationship with this troubled church. The apostle continually went the extra-mile in the hopes of restored fellowship.
What principles may we derive from Paul’s life during a difficult time in his ministry to believers?
First, every believer should praise God as the source of his or her comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Rather than his normal prayer, Paul blessed God. “Blessed” translates the Greek word eulogy – to speak well. We limit a eulogy to good words spoken about the dead; Paul spoke well of the living God. Paul praised God as the source of mercies and comfort. Comfort, the same root as paraclete in Jesus’s reference to the Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel, refers to God’s encouragement and strength through divine intervention in the midst of every trial we encounter.
Second, God calls every believer receives a ministry of comfort/encouragement to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Through His ministry of comfort, God purposes to equip a believer for a ministry of comfort to others. God intends that every blessing He grants to you become a resource through which you can help other people. Ask yourself the following question, “Under what difficult circumstances did God dramatically intervene in your life?” Based on your testimony, God may call you to reach out to others experiencing grief, financial challenges, or problem marriages. David Garland reminds us, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”
Third, every believer should derive comfort from the truth that our Lord suffered (2 Cor. 1:5). Some so-called preachers today proclaim a “health and wealth” gospel that claims that God wants every believer to be wealthy and healthy – a life without problems. This errant theology confuses the gospel of Christ with the American dream. Christian commitment, indeed, may increase our affliction. I know Christians passed over for promotion because of a refusal to participate in drunken office parties. Christians face persecution in many parts of the world. Remember believer that our suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of Christ.