Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Is the Gospel Foolishness?

1 Corinthians 15:1-20

In addition to Easter, today is also April Fool’s Day.

The origins of April Fool’s Day are somewhat mysterious. We don’t really know where it comes from. One story says that it came out of the switch from the Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar in the first century BC, to the Gregorian Calendar, established by Pope Gregory XIII, in the 16th century.

You see, the Julian calendar was not accurate enough. Over the centuries it had drifted quite a bit. So a new calendar was commissioned, which we still use today. In the Julian calendar, New Year’s Day was March 25. But, at that time, Holy Week and Easter were always celebrated at the end of March. So the celebration of New Year’s was moved to April 1. The Gregorian calendar moved New Year’s to January 1, so it wouldn’t interfere with Easter. After the new calendar was adopted, those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1 were mocked as “April fools.”

That’s one explanation, but it’s probably not right, because we know that April 1 was already a day for jokes and hoaxes before the Gregorian calendar. Some think April Fool’s Day actually goes all the way back to the Romans. So we’ll probably never know.

The real question for us is, “Are we April fools for believing in Jesus and his resurrection?” The gospel says, first of all, there is a God. Not everyone even thinks that’s correct anymore. And this God is all-powerful, all-knowing, infinite, and so on. And yet this God became a human being, a man named Jesus. And Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He offered himself as a perfect atoning sacrifice for sin. And after he died, he rose from the dead on the third day. He was seen by witnesses, and then he ascended into heaven.

There are plenty of opportunities in there for someone to say, “That’s foolishness.” The Bible even admits as much. In 1 Corinthians chapter one, Paul says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe.” The real lynchpin of the gospel is the resurrection. Jesus himself said his resurrection would be proof of his authority and identity. Did it happen? There are good reasons to believe it did.

First, there were many eyewitnesses. Paul speaks of this to the Corinthians, and his first evidence is the number of eyewitnesses.

He mentions Peter first. Peter, of course, had denied he even knew Jesus to save his own skin. Jesus appeared first to Peter, the leader of the disciples, the one who bragged that he would never deny Jesus. And Jesus restored him to leadership.

Then he appeared to the twelve disciples. At one point he appeared to more than 500 witnesses at one time, “most of whom are still alive.” The implication is clear: “You can talk to someone who saw him with their own eyes.”

Then he appeared to James. This is not James the Apostle, but James the brother of Jesus. If you read the gospels, you find that Jesus’ own brothers thought he was crazy. They didn’t believe in him, until after James saw Jesus risen from the dead.

Finally, Jesus appeared to Paul. Not only did Paul not believe in Jesus, but he was actively working against Jesus’ followers. He was persecuting them. Paul went from being an active opponent of Jesus to a great proponent of Jesus because he saw him with his own eyes.

Paul doesn’t even mention the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection, which were the women who went to the tomb. In the first century world, women were considered to be unreliable witnesses. Their testimony was not admissible in court, unless it was corroborated by a man. The fact the Gospel writers all agree that it was women who saw Jesus first is an interesting confirmation that it really happened, because that’s not the kind of detail they would have made up in a false story.

Now some have claimed that the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead, but what they meant was that he had risen “spiritually.” He didn’t rise physically from the dead. Well, if that were the case, no one would have challenged them on it. Most ancient people believed in ghosts. And they didn’t describe a spiritual resurrection, but a physical one. The resurrection accounts are about the disciples touching Jesus and about Jesus eating food with them. There was physical evidence he had risen.

Some have said, “Well, it was just a mass hallucination. One person imagined they saw Jesus risen, and everyone else just caught up in the story.” Mass hallucinations are not a common occurrence. Plus, people tend to imagine things they expect to happen. The gospels make it clear the disciples weren’t expecting the resurrection. And again, you still have physical evidence, including the empty tomb.

Paul doesn’t mention the empty tomb, since it’s unlikely these Corinthians were going to get to Jerusalem to see it any time soon. But on the day of Pentecost, in the city of

Jerusalem, in Acts chapter 2, Peter made reference to the empty tomb. Those people had the opportunity to inspect it for themselves.

That reminds us of a second reason to believe in the resurrection: Christianity would have been easy to exterminate in the early days if the authorities could have disproven its central claim; that Jesus had risen. There was only a small group of believers at the beginning, and the evidence was at hand. And the authorities certainly wanted to stamp it out, both the Jewish and Roman authorities. Last year, we showed the movie “Risen,” which was about the authorities trying and failing to prove the resurrection a hoax. The authorities couldn’t prove Jesus was dead because they couldn’t find his body.

The official story was, “The disciples stole his body in the night.” That was pretty unlikely. The disciples were terrified, and it’s not like they could have easily overwhelmed an armed guard of soldiers to steal his body.

But what if they had stolen his body? Well, then they would have been spreading a lie. And they would have known it was a lie. The third reason we should believe in the resurrection is the disciples were so convinced Jesus had risen that they were willing to suffer and even die for their beliefs, and many of them did.

Charles Colson was one of Richard Nixon’s men involved in the cover up of the Watergate affair. He and the other men involved all agreed that they would tell the same story. It didn’t work. Once the pressure was on, they started to crack. They weren’t going to go to jail to help someone else get off the hook. After he became a Christian, Colson said it this way, “People will die for the truth, but they will only die for a lie if they really believe it’s the truth. If anyone had the opportunity to know if the resurrection was real or not, it was the disciples. And most of them died for their belief.”

It is an act of faith to believe in the resurrection. We do have to trust that it’s true. But it’s not an act of ridiculous faith to believe in it. There are good reasons we should believe in the resurrection.

As Paul reminds the Corinthians, if it were not for the resurrection, we would have no hope. We would still be dead in our sins. “But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. And he is the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.”

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