Grace be to you.
The text of the Holy Scripture that I am going to consider today is the first letter of the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth that we have just heard (15:1-10).
Dear brothers and sisters,
how am I to live? That is the question! What is the truth that is the truth for me to live? How to live in truth?
These personal questions were haunting a desperate young man in the north of Sjaelland in Denmark when looking over the Baltic Sea.
Another young man, much earlier, came to Milan, Italy, to take up one of the most respected academic positions in rhetoric, while his heart was searching for wisdom and truth and while he was living in wild sexual experiences. The young man with a restless heart was approached by a simple child who told him: “Tolle, lege” (“take up and read”). The text that the young man read was Romans 13:13-14: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.“
And another young man was travelling from his home-visit back to a university when he was struck by a terrible storm, causing him to fear for his life and of eternal judgment. After this breaking experience, he turned to a monastery. This made his father furious, because his father considered the son´s decision a waste of money of his son´s university education.
Now, your homework: Try to guess who these three young men were?
All these three young men were desperately searching for the right way how to live their lives. All these men had life possibilities open, received the best education of their time, and could just enjoy their lives without burdening themselves with these troublesome and “useless” questions.
And all these men could easily turn to the morals and laws if they wanted to know how they are to live. The same was true for the vibrant city of Corinth two thousand years ago. The restless people could turn to the current philosophies or the variety of cults. Corinth was as colorful as Prague today, yet people were still restlessly searching.
Education, reason, social positions did not satisfy our three gentleman, nor pleasure of life. Then, how were they to live? After all, all three of our gentlemen could turn to the revealed law of the Old Testament to find the way how to live. But all three of our gentlemen knew too well that even this law does not satisfy their restless hearts. That is because the demands of the law are as wide and deep as the Baltic Sea. Add to that their hearts were infected and corrupted so they do not want to obey the law. The effect of the law to them was as striking and destructive as the life-threatening lighting of the storm. The same was true for the Corinthians of Paul´s time.
When writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminded them of the gospel that he preached to them (15:1). They can lose this gospel, but Paul reminded them, this gospel has the power and ability to save them (15:2). This gospel is of the first importance, the apostle says (15:3). If anything is important in this world, it is this gospel. If something must be taught and received, it is this gospel. This gospel is of the first importance to all the desperate questions of one´s life. And this gospel is to be received and passed on, nothing less, nothing more; that is the preaching of the pure gospel. The Apostle Paul sums this gospel in which God offered Himself to the sinful world: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (15:3 – 8).
For my sins and corrupted heart, I deserve to be struck down by the wrath of God like the young man by the lighting. But Christ was struck by the nails instead of me. For my filth, I deserve to return to dust as God had told my ancestor Adam. But Christ was buried instead of me. But Christ was not defeated forever by the one through whom death came; instead, He rose victorious and death lost its sting: “Thine by the glory, risen, conquering Son”.
The gospel of the Lord´s resurrection of which Paul reminds the Corinthians and us is no myth, nor a motivation talk. It is a fact, a reality, a truth. Paul spends three whole verses to present the assurance and proof with legal profoundness. To establish a legal fact or truth at a court, it took two adult witnesses. To testify about the truth of Christ´s resurrection, Paul brings in not only the witness of Peter, but also the rest of the apostolic band, more than 500 hundred people who saw the resurrected Christ at the same time whom some still lived (go and check with them!), then the testimony of Christ´s resurrection by James–brother of Jesus (who else must have recognized Jesus!)–, and then the resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul himself as the last one. Abundance of witnesses; and if the readers of Paul wanted to check, they had the chance. “Stop doubting and believe.” says the Lord to doubting Thomas (John 20:27). What a comforting and joyful assurance! “No more we doubt Thee.”
In verse 15:9 comes Paul´s wonderful witness of the unearned grace of God that is reaching beyond human expectation. Paul persecuted the church, probably witnessed and endorsed the stoning of Stephan. Paul does not see himself as deserving to be called an apostle. Rather, he sees himself totally unfit to deserve any of God´s favor or to serve Him. Paul even calls himself an abortion or the one abnormally born. This can have something to do with him not being with the apostolic band while Jesus was physically with them or, perhaps, he was made fun of because of his some kind of physical disability and perhaps for not being eloquent in speech. Anyway, not the best fit to become an apostle of Christ! This Paul, this wretched and perverted man, is what he is, that is an apostle, “by the grace of God”, and this grace in him is not without effect but works abundance of fruit (15:10).
What a wonderful news that surpasses human expectation and understanding! When there is no hope, when one is so corrupted and so filthy that he sees no good in himself, when one becomes so desperate that he sees how worthless and vain he is, there breaks in the cross: Christ died also for you and your sins, your Savior was buried with them and He rose victorious over your sin and death. This you comfortably and joyfully trust as it was proven by the abundant witness. And fear not! He still is breaking His suffering body and shedding His blood for you this morning and every Sunday no matter how corrupted, filthy or hopeless you are. And trusting this gospel, you are free not to worry about yourself: “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So then, you may live and work like a giant and bring blessings to your brothers, but not you, but the grace, like in Paul.