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1 Corinthians 15:3-4 by Robert Dean
Young men beheaded in Egypt. Students burned to death at an African university. Children viciously hunted down to be slaughtered. Why? Because they’re Christians. Listen to this lesson to see why a Christian has victory in death, even cruel deaths like these. Learn about the doctrine of atonement and why it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross. See what substitution means. Find out the details of Jesus’ burial and the astonishment of the many eye witnesses who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. Appreciate that because of the resurrection we, too, can have victory over death when we accept the risen Christ as our Savior.
Series:Holiday Specials
Duration:46 mins 27 secs

Death, Burial, and Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:3–4
Resurrection Day Special 2015
April 5, 2015

“Father, we thank you that we have this time on the earth to serve you, that we have a mission given to us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth; that we have a mission given to us to make disciples, to cultivate those who are dedicated learners and students of the Word of God to grow to spiritual maturity. Above all we are thankful that we have a salvation that is complete and full, based not on who we are, but upon the work of the Lord Jesus Christ: that he died in our place; He died for us and paid our penalty that we might have everlasting life. And Father, as we focus this morning upon the resurrection and its importance in our lives, we pray that we might be strengthened and encouraged in the faith, encouraged as we understand the gospel more clearly, more precisely, that you might use us as your witnesses. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”

Last week as we were studying in Matthew 11, our Lord makes a prayer to the Lord where He talks about the fact that only the Father knows the Son, and only the Son knows the Father. As we were looking at what that taught about the Trinity and about the deity of Christ, we came to this verse: John 10:15 NASB “even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep”. This is a profound declaration of the deity of Christ. He is claiming that His knowledge of the Father is equal to the Father’s knowledge of Him, the assumption being that the Father of course—His audience would understand—would be omniscient and would know all things. And Jesus says that His knowledge of the Father is as exhaustive and as comprehensive as the Father’s knowledge of Him. Nothing could be clearer in terms of His claim to deity. But then He added an additional thought and said, “I lay down my life for the sheep”—a clear statement of Jesus’ intent to give up His life to die on behalf of (in substitute for) the sheep. This brings to bear the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: what the Bible teaches about what took place on the cross when Christ died; that it was in our place. It was, as theologians say, a penal substitutionary death (substitutionary = He died in our place; penal = He paid a penalty for us).

Whenever we talk about the death of Christ, we don’t want to stop there because Jesus didn’t simply die on the cross on that day 2,000 years ago; He was buried, and He rose from the dead. This is what the apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4. There he is talking about the foundation of our belief. He is talking about the elements that made up the payment for our sin. His ultimate argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is against those who were beginning to say there really wasn’t a resurrection. And Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15 is to emphasize the historical basis for the resurrection, the Scriptural basis for the resurrection, the implications of the resurrection for every believer, one of which is, if the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ didn’t occur, then we have no faith; we are still in our sins; there is no salvation; and we are the biggest fools of all.

Then he goes on in that chapter to describe that Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection; that in terms of His resurrection body, His mortality put on immortality; and in the same way our mortality will put on immortality and must, if we are going to spend eternity with God; leading up to his ultimate conclusion, the apex of his argument in the chapter, that because of this we have victory in Christ, victory over death.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, he is giving us the components that make up the work of Christ on the cross for not only our salvation in terms of justification and regeneration, but also in terms of the foundation for our spiritual life. 1 Corinthians 15:3 NASB “For I delivered to you as of first importance [priority] what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  

He is making three points here to focus our attention on understanding the gospel, and all three are necessary in order for salvation to have been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. The first is that Christ died for our sins. The second is that he was buried. People don’t spend a lot of time talking about the burial, but he includes it here. It is not that the burial is important for our justification; but the burial is important for there to be resurrection. As we will see, the resurrection is the foundation for all Christian life teaching in the New Testament so that the death of Christ relates to what we call phase one salvation, justification by faith along. Christ paid the penalty for sin; that work was completed before He died physically on the cross. The resurrection passages in the New Testament focus on the resurrection as the basis for our new life in Christ, the basis for the Christian life, and our future eternal life in heaven. So these three things are emphasized: He died for our sins; He was buried; He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. We will look at each of these three elements this morning as we think about the significance of the resurrection.

First of all, the Bible teaches in the Old and New Testaments that Christ died for our sins. In the Old Testament it is the prediction that sins would have to be paid for, that the Messiah would come and would die for the sins of the world—the Messiah is the one who would pay the penalty for sin. This is pictured in the sacrifices, pictured in various events that occurred in the Old Testament, and it is specifically stated in a number of places. The one that we will look at is in Isaiah 53.

The significance in the substitutionary atonement of Christ is that sin had to be paid for. There was a penalty that was established by God in the Garden of Eden, that when Adam sinned he would die immediately. That death would be spiritual; it was not physical. He didn’t die physically immediately. Adam lived to be over nine hundred years of age. He died spiritually the instant he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that plunged the human race and all creation under the condemnation of sin. It was a legal penalty that was applied to all of creation at the instant Adam sinned. That plunged everyone under condemnation. So that legal penalty had to be paid; and this is the focal point of what happens at the cross.

In the Old Testament, the word that is used to describe this is the word atonement. That word is not really used in the New Testament at all. It is just used in English translations, and it was a word that was coined by English theologians translating the Old Testament into English. The Hebrew word is kaphar, and for many years it was thought that the primary focus of kaphar was to cover. Yet further studies that we have had in the twentieth century showed that the primary meaning had to do with cleansing, and the atonement pictures that we see in the Old Testament are all pictures related to substitution. The place that we see the idea of substitution most clearly in the Old Testament is in one of the great prophetic messianic passages, Isaiah 53. I have just selected three different verses to emphasize this: Isaiah 53:6, 10, and 11.

Isaiah 53:6 NASB “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” This applies to every single human being; all of us have gone astray. In just a few chapters later, Isaiah will say, “All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” indicating the universality of the corruption of sin: that all have sinned. As the New Testament says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And “the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” is the picture of substitution: that Christ the Messiah was to receive the sin penalty for everyone.

Isaiah 53:10 NASB “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting {Him} to grief; If He would render Himself {as} a guilt offering, He will see {His} offspring, He will prolong {His} days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” In the Levitical offerings we see in the guilt offering that the substitutionary idea is present in the death of the animal on behalf of the one who is bringing the sacrifice.

Isaiah 53:11 NASB “As a result of the anguish of His [Christ’s] soul, He [the Father] will see {it and} be satisfied [propitiated]; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” This is a clear statement that the purpose of the death of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is to provide justification for the many. “He will bear their iniquities” is the picture of substitution. 

The Old Testament gives us this background with the imagery, especially the Day of Atonement, and also Passover. The Day of Atonement was one day each year in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, when the high priest of Israel would enter the holy of holies and place the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the mercy seat to symbolize and picture the future work of the Messiah. This was done every single year. That sacrifice represented two things: When the high priest sacrificed that lamb, it was a picture of the penalty that had to be assessed, that instead of the worshipper dying, the animal died. It was the penalty that had to be paid for sin. And it emphasized the idea of the payment of a penalty and the idea of substitution.

The Passover lamb was a lamb that was to be taken on the tenth of Nisan, four days before the observance of Passover, and was to be observed to see that it was without spot or blemish. It was a picture of the fact that the Messiah who would pay the penalty for sin would Himself be without spot or blemish—would be untainted by sin.    

Exodus 12:3 NASB “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household’.” This lamb was to be spotless. [5] “Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.” This is picked up in the New Testament by Peter in 1 Peter 1:18 19 NASB “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [19] but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, {the blood} of Christ.” The phrase “the blood of Christ” is always a reference to the death of Christ; that He died for us. 

The same image is picked up by John the Baptist when Jesus first came down to him at the River Jordan. When he saw Jesus he said: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.  So here we have this connection between Old Testament prophecy and pictures, and the New Testament connecting all of this to the work of the Messiah and what happened that day on the cross when Jesus Christ died. The blood of the lamb in the Old Testament was symbolic. It represented the death of the lamb, which in turn was symbolic representing the future death of the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. The application of that blood over the Ark of the Covenant depicted the application of that blood with reference to the justice and the righteousness of God so that His judicial demand of the payment of a sin penalty was met and His righteousness and justice would be satisfied.

This is why Paul can say in Colossians 2:12–14 NASB “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The certificate of debt was nailed to the cross, not when we believed, but when Christ died. It paid that initial sin penalty so that the issue now is not what sins we have committed, but whether we have trusted in Christ. The sin penalty issue has been taken away. We are still spiritually dead; we were born that way. And we are still without righteousness, so we have to trust in Christ in order to receive new life to be made spiritually alive and to receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. What Christ’s death on the cross does is pays the penalty for all sin.

The second aspect that we see in terms of the payment of the sin penalty, the act of atonement, is substitution. Substitution means that one person takes the place of another person. And in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ because He is the God-man, that which He does has infinite value. The sin of Adam was not just against man; it was against the infinite requirements of an eternal infinite God; that sin has infinite manifestations; and only one who had a sacrifice with infinite value could pay the penalty for sin. Thus, the God-man dies upon the cross. The humanity of Christ stands as our substitute; His deity gives that which He does infinite value.

Two Greek prepositions indicate this great doctrine of substitution. The first is the preposition ANTI. We use it at the beginning of that well-known word, the “Antichrist”. Often people think of that in terms of the Latin preposition where anti means against, but the Greek preposition indicates substitution; it is a substitute Christ, a false messiah when it comes to the Antichrist. A clear way to see this preposition used in just a particular sense is in Matthew 2:22 NASB “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of [ANTI] his father Herod, he was afraid to go there…” So we see that idea of substitution—one person replacing another. But it takes on a spiritual significance in a number of passages, and here are two that are important:

Matthew 20:28 NASB “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for [ANTI] many.” There are many people who say Jesus died for our sins, but what they mean is Jesus died on account of our sins; it is not substitutionary, it is what is called the governmental or moral view of the atonement. It is the idea that Jesus has just manifested how someone should properly live and give his life in a way that he gives his life for what he believes in, or he gives his life in a way that somehow pleases God and therefore God is going to save all mankind. It is not an idea of a payment for a sin penalty. So sometimes we have to be very careful when we assess statements that people make about their Christianity. Someone, for example, who belongs to a very liberal denomination – and there are a number of liberal denominations who don’t believe in a substitutionary atonement as we do – they believe in a governmental atonement. So when they say, “Jesus died for my sins” they don’t mean what you and I mean by that. There are denominations such as the United Church of Christ who hold to a governmental atonement. They don’t really believe in sin like you and I believe in sin either.     

The second word that is important is the Greek word HUPER. It too means in place of, or substitution. When it is used with a genitive case following it, it has this idea of substitution. A very well-known passage Romans 5:6-8 NASB “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Again and again and again we find this substitutionary idea. We find it at the Lord’s Table. When Jesus said, “This is my body which is given for you,” He is talking about substitutionary atonement. Romans 8:32 NASB “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all …” Substitution—in our place. 1 Corinthians 15:3 NASB “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …” That is Paul’s authority. His authority is not some sort of philosophical understanding of atonement, but a biblical, Scriptural understanding of atonement. Then Peter states it in 1 Peter 3:18 NASB “For Christ also died for [as a substitute] sins once for all, {the} just for [as a substitute for] {the} unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” We see this emphasis at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15:3 that Christ died for our sins—substitutionary atonement. So we can’t get to Sunday morning without going through the events of the day when Christ is crucified on our account.

The next thing that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 is that “He was buried”.  A lot of times people don’t talk about the burial. They just sort of go past that and think, “well, in order to have resurrection you have to have a burial first, so that is just sort of there as a way to lead to the third one.” But the burial of Christ is also quite important. Notice that in this picture, there is a scarlet cord that is stretched across the rick that closes the tomb, and it is sealed at both ends with a wax seal. This is described in all of the Gospels, but we want to read John 19:38ff:

NASB “After these things [after Christ had died on the cross] Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret {one} for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.” This was after the soldier has stuck his spear into Jesus’ side, and the Gospel of John says that blood and water came out. Medically it has been attested that when somebody dies this kind of a death, the death of crucifixion, he is hanging over and as the bowels are pushed up against the diaphragm, what happens is that the blood separates into serum and into red blood cells. This would then collect on the diaphragm. So when the spear of the soldier penetrated the side of Jesus, it punctured the diaphragm, and it looked as if blood and water came out. This is evidence that He is already dead, and it counters any idea that He just passed out, wasn’t really dead.

John 19:39 NASB “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds {weight.}” After all the ordeal of the flagellation whereby chunks of flesh would have been ripped out of our Lord’s body, and then being hung on the cross where the nails had penetrated His wrists and ankles, being up there for six or seven hours, then wrapped in a hundred pounds of spices, the idea that He is going to somehow come to consciousness and have the strength to struggle out of this is just absurd.

John 19:40 NASB “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” They had to get Him in the grave before sundown when Passover would begin. [41] Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” A lot of people miss “there was a garden”. It is only stated in the Gospel of John. Today you can visit the approximate site of the tomb but in the eleventh century the Muslims who controlled Jerusalem wanted to eradicate all evidence of Christianity, so they just basically chiseled down the hillside there where the tomb was. So there is nothing left of it. That was one of the causes of the Crusades. It wasn’t because Christians in Europe were imperialistic and just wanted to go beat up on Islam, it was that the Muslim rulers were defacing and destroying Christian holy sites. That was just one of the reasons. But all of this was right there together. There were tombs there, and there are still some tombs there that can be seen.       

“New tomb” means that no one else had been laid there. John 19:42 NASB “Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” According to the Latin poet Horace, the Roman practice was just to leave the body of a criminal up on the cross until it rotted and fell down. The Jews couldn’t do that. They had a very significant belief in the importance of burial of the body. They would even bury the bodies of their enemies after a battle because they believed the body needed to go into the ground. Since Passover was going to begin that night, they needed to get the body down and into the grave as quickly as possible. There were only two options because Jesus was executed as a criminal, and He could not be buried, according to Jewish custom, with His fathers. There had to be a special graveyard where they would bury a criminal. There would be one location where they would bury those who were executed by sword or were strangled, and then there was another graveyard where those who had been stoned, hanged on a tree or burned would be buried. It was unusual that Jesus wasn’t buried in either of those. It was also extremely unusual for a criminal convicted of treason against Rome to have his body released to someone who wasn’t a family member. But Joseph of Arimathea wasn’t just anyone.  He was highly regarded, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, and he went to Pilate in secret so he wouldn’t make an issue with other members of the Sanhedrin and asked for Jesus’ body (John 19:38). Pilate gave him permission to take the body.   

Jesus wasn’t buried, as He would have been under normal conditions, with criminals. Why? It is the fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 53:9 NASB “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” So the burial took place at a special gravesite that was owned by Joseph of Arimathea.    

When they buried Him the Sanhedrin came forward and said, “Wait a minute. We heard that this guy said He would be raised from the dead, so we had better put a guard on the tomb so that His disciples don’t steal the body”. So they went to Pilate. There has been a lot of debate among scholars, and it hasn’t really been resolved whether or not He was given temple guards or Roman guards. There are strong arguments on both sides. I tend to believe He was given a Roman guard. That would have been four guards with a centurion in command. Falling asleep under Roman regulations would have been punishable by death, so they wouldn’t have fallen asleep. They had strict discipline in the Roman army so that harsh penalties would have been applied. So falling asleep wasn’t an option for these guards.

When they put Jesus in the tomb, they put a rock in front of the tomb. We don’t know how heavy it was, but it would have been extremely heavy and very difficult for a single person to move it. There is a gloss on a fourth century New Testament manuscript that it was so heavy that twenty men could not roll it away. Certainly the first women who were there could not have rolled it away. And then it was sealed with a piece of cord that was across the entryway and sealed with wax at both ends, so that if it had been disturbed it would have been immediately obvious. Breaking the seal also would have been a violation of Roman law and a crime against the emperor. It is very clear from the evidence that this wasn’t something that involved a conspiracy or something that involved the disciples coming in and stealing the body. On that Sunday morning, something unique happened in history: a dead Man had risen from the dead.

When we look at the Scripture, we see that this wasn’t something that just happened in private, but there were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ in the next forty days, and even beyond. 1 Corinthians 15:5 NASB “and that He appeared to Cephas, then to The Twelve. [6] After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; [7] then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; [8] and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

A quick list of those to whom He appeared: Mary Magdalene, five other women, then to Peter, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (identified as Cleopas and Mary by tradition), to ten disciples in John 20, to eleven of the disciples, including Thomas, then to seven of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, and then to 500 believers (1 Cor. 15:6). He appeared to His half-brother, James, then eleven disciples again on a mountain near Galilee. He appeared to a group of disciples and others at the ascension. He appeared to Stephen after the ascension, the apostle Paul on several occasions, and then lastly to John on the Island of Patmos. So there were a lot of witnesses, and it is not mass hallucination.

In any court of law you only need two witnesses, and here you have well over 500, and maybe closer to 1000, witnesses who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection then, is fully attested in the Scriptures. This is also seen in evidence that the disciples who were fearful and scattered at the crucifixion re-gathered after the resurrection, and they had the courage that they didn’t have when Jesus was arrested. All but one of then gave their life, according to tradition and some Scripture, for their belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose on the third day, according to the Scripture. They were very clear about that, and it gave them courage to go forward.

What are the results of the resurrection? There are two results that are significant for the Christian way of life. First of all, we recognize that we have victory over death. Paul builds to this in 1 Corinthians 15. We pick up on the last five verses.

1 Corinthians 15:53 NASB “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. [54] But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘death is swallowed up in victory. [55] ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ [56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; [57] but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [58] Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not {in} vain in the Lord.” The victory is the victory over death.    

I believe that the most significant aspect of the resurrection is emphasized in Romans 6:2–6. Paul is shifting from understanding justification to understanding the spiritual life, and he begins with this rhetorical question: If grace covers our sin, then just let’s sin all we can. NASB “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” This isn’t talking about water baptism; this is talking about identification with Christ’s death on the cross at the instant of our salvation. Sometimes we refer to it as positional truth. It is also referred to biblically as the baptism by the Holy Spirit.  [4] “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” We are to walk in newness of life. Why? Because Christ conquered death on the cross, conquered death in the resurrection, and now we have life in Him. So we are to live as new creatures in Christ. [5] “For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection, [6] knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

So the resurrection of Christ is glorious because it shows the approval of God the Father for the work of Christ on the cross as He is raised from the dead. But it is that resurrection from the dead that is the basis for our victory over death—over spiritual death; over physical death. And it is the basis for the new life that we have been given in Christ. We can live free from the power of the sin nature in order to glorify Him.

So Resurrection Day is our Magna Carta; it is our Declaration of Freedom from the tyranny of the sin nature that we might live to the glory of God, not as slaves to the sin nature, but as Paul goes on to say in Romans 6, “slaves to righteousness, that we might demonstrate the grace of God in our lives.”

“Father, we are thankful that we have Scripture to inform us of all the different aspects of the work of Christ on the cross: His substitutionary death, the burial which gives great confirmation to the fact that he was truly dead from the crucifixion, and then the resurrection; that He rose from the dead, victorious over death and the grave, providing us victory over death with the foundation for the new life in Jesus Christ, life that no Old Testament saint ever had, the new life that every church age believer is given at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone. In Christ’s name, amen.”