The transforming power of the “most important”

Posted Oct 15, 2021

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Daily Scripture

1 Corinthians 15:3-11

3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, 6 and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. 9 I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. 10 I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. 11 So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

Reflection Questions

1 Corinthians 15 was the first written witness to Jesus' resurrection. Paul shared as “most important” the witness he’d “received,” and then described how meeting the living Jesus transformed him. He said if it weren’t true that Jesus overcame death, Christian faith was worthless. Scholar C. H. Dodd wrote, “The Resurrection of Jesus is not a belief that grew up within the church; it is the belief around which the church itself grew up, and the ‘given’ upon which its faith was based.”*

  • Jewish or Roman authorities could have easily stopped early Christian preaching like Paul’s: just display Jesus’ dead body. They had all the police and military power to find the body. They didn’t because they couldn’t—Jesus was alive! How can Paul’s confident mention of hundreds of still-living eyewitnesses deepen your trust in the reality of Jesus' resurrection? What difference does it make to you that Jesus is alive today?
  • “There are two ways to look at human history. One way is to focus on the wars and violence, the squalor, the pain and tragedy and death…. If I take Easter as the starting point, the one incontrovertible fact about how God treats those whom he loves, then human history becomes the contradiction and Easter a preview of ultimate reality. Hope then flows like lava beneath the crust of daily life.”** Which view do you choose: history as a hopeless story of violence and pain, or as a sad (but passing) denial of the hope in God’s ultimate victory based on Jesus' resurrection?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you went where most of us most dread going—the realm of death—and you emerged victorious! Help me claim your victory, and live and die in the calm assurance of your eternal love and life. Amen.


* C. H. Dodd, The Founder of Christianity. London: The MacMillan Company, 1970, p. 103.

** Phillip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Publishing Company, 1995, pp. 219-220.

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Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group and a men’s group, and serves on the curriculum team.

Back when I was in high school, one of our choir’s favorite songs was the African-American spiritual, “Witness,” which asks the compelling question, “Who’ll be a witness for my Lord?” (I can’t even begin to count the number of current social/educational edicts that our choir was violating. On the other hand, it’s also hard to imagine a composer balking at young people who (checks notes) enjoy singing their music.)

Aside: Since there weren’t many newspapers or magazines available to Moses during his 40 years of wandering the wilderness, it was really hard to get the Israelites to share. Thus, the phrase “Let my People go!” became a theme for several spirituals.

“Witness” cites several Old Testament witnesses like Methuselah, Daniel, & Samson. These are interesting selections, since spirituals typically focus on Moses, Abraham, or Elijah. Perhaps the composer was selecting heroes that were more applicable to the theme.

Aside: Delilah was known for refusing to give Samson’s pet rabbit any second helpings. As she famously declared, “Samson, I’m cutting your hare off.”

The hymn also cites a New Testament witness – Nicodemus. This pick makes a bit more sense. The African-American slaves were particularly drawn to Nicodemus because he, too, had to go to Christ under the cover of darkness & the idea of being “born again” with a new identity was very attractive to those wanting a new life as free people.

In today’s passage, Paul cites several witnesses to the resurrected Christ: Cephas (Peter’s name in Aramaic), The Twelve (the remaining Disciples), 500+ (a mass sighting on one occasion), James (Jesus’ brother), & Paul himself.

Author Lee Strobel cites this passage in his 1998 best seller, “The Case for Christ” as part of the proof of Jesus’ resurrection. While it does offer some helpful documentation, I find the most compelling Biblical evidence for the resurrection to be the Disciples’ actions post-resurrection. Consider the following:

  • We have Peter, who was so intimidated on that fateful Thursday night that he refused to acknowledge even knowing Christ 3 times. Post-resurrection? He is boldly preaching the Good News in the streets of Jerusalem, risking arrest & torture.
  • We have James, the brother of Christ, who was last seen questioning Jesus’ claims of divinity. He becomes a bishop-esque figure in Jerusalem & is martyred for his faith via death by stoning.
  • Then we have the Disciples, once cowering behind closed doors on Holy Saturday, who now travel to far-off foreign lands to preach the Gospel. Ten of the Disciples would die via horrifically violent deaths ranging from upside-down crucifixion to beheading.

Ultimately, though, I would submit that witnesses from 2,000 years ago might not be very persuasive to today’s readers. Perhaps our old African-American spiritual can help us out. The closing verse states: “My soul will be a witness for my Lord.” Huh. What if our own faith journey is the most influential witness for the resurrected Christ? What would that look like?

  • The woman, once notorious for being all-in on pursuing her selfish ambitions, who comes to faith & now selflessly serves as a caregiver to an elderly parent with dementia.
  • The avid golfer who becomes a believer & now joyfully spends his weekends serving in mission opportunities at church & all around Kansas City.
  • Or the couple, once known for being on the cutting-edge of all binge-worthy TV shows, who begin worshiping regularly & now prioritize hosting a small group Bible study on their free evening.

What if we think of our old spiritual as being a work in progress, with lots of stanzas just waiting to be added? What might our section say?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to research a bit more about Methuselah, who is primarily known for being the oldest recorded human, clocking in at 969 years of age. He’d be a real budget-buster at that Pampered Chef party: “Why yes, it does come with a lifetime warranty. Why do you ask, Methuselah?”

For those who haven’t heard our spiritual, here’s a rendition you might enjoy: Witness

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