BELEIVING IS SEEING
An Easter sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 4, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
He [i.e. Jesus] appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all…he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8
“Seeing is believing.” That is a common saying with which we are all familiar. A quick Google search will reveal that “seeing is believing” is a proverb that dates at least back to the days of ancient Greece. The earliest instance of it being in print in English is 1609, when it shows up in a collection of writings by a British minister.
Everyone knows what the proverb means. It means that a person can know something to be true once they are able to see the facts of the case for themselves. Once you have seen something for yourself, then it can be believed. We are told that we can only trust those things which conform to the parameters which science lays out. These are things which can be apprehended with our five senses. And we are told if it cannot be scientifically proven, then it cannot be true.
That much is true. Hearsay or rumor cannot be trusted. Although, truth be told, in these days of photoshopping, seeing isn’t really always believing either, is it? One’s eyes can be easily led astray…or deceived…in a lot of ways with the technology we now have at hand…
While “seeing is believing” may be something that is true of the natural world around us, just the opposite can be true in the realm of the Spirit. In the supernatural life of the Spirit, often the truth is that you have to believe in order to see…
In today’s passage from 1 Corinthians 15, we have the first discussion of the Easter story. Scholars tell us that 1 Corinthians was probably the first of the New Testament books actually written. It even predates the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection by about twenty years. The Apostle Paul describes the central parts of the gospel message and presents those as truths. These truths include the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul writes about these things and stresses that they are non-negotiable for the Christian faith. They are central to the Christian message. Indeed, in verse three, he characterizes them as being “of first importance.” And what are these vitally important facts? He lists them as “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” It is upon the truth of these statements that the Christian faith either stands …or falls…
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For the next few minutes, I want to focus our attention on the next few verses in 1 Corinthians
- In verses five through eight, a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are listed. Paul
mentions these appearances of our Lord as proof that Jesus really did come alive again—that he was
indeed risen, just as he said he would.
Paul starts off by mentioning that the Risen Christ had been seen by Cephas. “Cephas” is just
another name for Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Luke 24 tells us that Peter, after
hearing the report of the women who said that the tomb was empty, ran to the tomb to check it out for
himself. When he got here, he noticed that the burial cloth was lying there by itself. Then he went into
the tomb, and after a while, he left, shaking his head and wondering what had happened. (Verse 12)
And then we are told later on in that chapter, that the Lord appeared to Peter sometime afterward on
that same day. (Verse 34)
Then Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to “The Twelve.” This is a designation for the group of
Jesus’ original disciples. John 20 recounts the story of how the disciples were cowering in fear in an
upper room behind locked doors on that first Easter evening. As they were gathered together, Jesus
appeared in their midst amid much rejoicing. At that time, Thomas was not with them. But the Lord
would appear to the disciples one week later in the same very same house. And this time, Thomas was
present. Jesus showed Thomas the wounds in his hands and side. And Thomas believed… (Verses 27-28)
Next, Paul mentions that Jesus appeared sometime later to “more than five hundred brothers
and sisters at one time.” We know nothing else about this encounter. It is nowhere else mentioned in
the New Testament. Scholars have suggested that perhaps this occurred in Galilee since Jesus told his
disciples to meet him there, but no one really knows for sure.
The heart really aches to know more about this encounter with the Risen Christ. What was it
like? Was Christ’s appearance something similar to the way that he appeared to Paul in Acts 9 on the
Damascus Road? Who all was there among these five hundred believers? Were any of the other
followers of Jesus mentioned in the gospels present? What did Jesus say to them? What did he talk
about? I would love to know more about this event, wouldn’t you? But the sad truth is that we do not
know anything else. The text simply does not tell us…
After that, Paul writes that the Risen Christ appeared to James some time later. This James is not
the one who was one of the twelve disciples—the brother of John, the so-called “Sons of Thunder.” This
James is the half-brother of Jesus. We know that James became a leader of the early church in
Jerusalem and is traditionally the author of the New Testament book that bears his name.
Next Paul writes that Jesus appeared “to all the apostles.” The word “apostle” is often used to
refer to the twelve disciples, but the word apostle really means “one who is sent” or “an ambassador.”
What Paul seems to be referring to is that the Risen Christ appeared to those who were sent—that is to
those who were speaking for Christ—perhaps missionaries like himself. Who would these people be?
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Again, the text is not specific. Did he mean Apollos, a dynamic preacher of the gospel from Alexandria?
Did he include Aquila and Priscilla, who instructed him and were early teachers of the faith and
companions of Paul on his missionary journeys? Again, we do not know. The text does not tell us…
And finally, Paul wrote that he himself had met the Resurrected Lord. The story is told in Acts 9.
Paul—or “Saul,” as he was known then—was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus with the authority
to arrest the followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem to be tried as heretics and
blasphemers. On the way, he was struck down by a flash of light and he audibly heard the voice of the
Lord Jesus speaking to him. From that encounter, he became one who was changed form one who
persecuted the church to one who became one of the Christian faith’s greatest interpreters and a
missionary to the Gentiles.
As we have spent these few minutes recounting the appearances of the Risen Christ, there is
one thing that sticks out. One thing that is common to all of them. One thing that is a distinguishing
mark of these appearances. It is something that has often been overlooked. Jesus showed himself after
death only to those who loved him. In order to truly see, you have to believe…
After he rose from the dead, notice that Jesus did not appear in Pilate’s palace. Empire politics
would give him no welcome. At his trial, Pilate had asked Jesus if he was indeed a king. Jesus answered
him that, yes, he was a king, but that his kingdom was not of this world. Jesus was a king, but not in any
way that everyday politics understands. Jesus controlled no wealth. He had no army to back him up. His
reign was not predicated on making others forcefully submit to his rule. No—he was a different kind of
king with different values and a different basis of power—the power of God’s love. Pilate neither
understood that—nor believed it. So there was no reason for the resurrected Christ to show up in the
halls of power or in Pilate’s palace…and so he didn’t…
After he rose from the dead, Jesus also did not appear in the court of the High Priest. Churchly
pride gave him no room. Jesus called out their religious observances as being a sham. The chief priests
had accused him of blasphemy—of speaking against Moses and the religious traditions of his people.
Nothing could have been further from the truth, and yet the respectable religious leaders of his day
would have nothing to do with him. The irony of the situation could not be any more profound. The
people who were supposed to be the most in tune with what God was doing in the world and among his
people—the most religious people— were caught flat-footed by Jesus. He exposed their hypocrisy for
what it was. Consequently, they sent him off to die. So there was no reason for the resurrected Christ to
present himself at the High Priest’s court or at the courtyard of the Temple either…and so he didn’t…
After he rose from the dead, Jesus did not show himself in the marketplace or in the board
rooms of commerce. For those for whom the pursuit of money and “the good life” is the goal of life and
living, he could find no one to offer the proper reverence. Jesus was very clear that he would not put up
with any competition for loyalty. He taught that no one can serve two masters. He will love one and
hate the other, or he will hate the one and love the other. He made it crystal clear when he stated that
you cannot serve both God and material possessions. He went on to say that, if God takes care of the
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lilies of the field and the birds of the air, how much more will he care for his children? He said seek first
the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. That was the most important thing. And then these other
things will be given to you as well. So no—there was no reason for the resurrected Christ to show
himself in the marketplaces or the boardrooms of business…and he so didn’t…
When the resurrected Christ appeared in the New Testament, it was only to those who loved
him. The unbelieving would not be able to see him when he appeared. And so it is today. If you would
see and experience the Risen Christ for yourself, it can only be done with the believing eyes of faith. In 2
Corinthians 4:18, the Apostle Paul writes this spiritual truth: “We look not at what can be seen, but at
what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” It is just
as true today in the 21st Century as it was when those words were first written. That is because, in the
realm of the Spirit, believing is seeing. And once there is believing, then you can see the Risen Christ in
our world in ways that you would not have imagined otherwise. He is still in our world and in the lives of
those who love him, working in ways both great and small in order that the Kingdom of God may soon
come on earth as it is in heaven.
If you want to see and experience the Risen Christ in your life, the question is very simply, “Do
you love him?” Are you ready to follow him at some risk? If you are, then you will know the quickening
of his Spirit. You will know the transformation of your life into something else than you would have
imagined. The truth of the matter is that Christ will find us, and that he will find us in a way that is
beyond death—and into his glorious new life that he offers. Jesus said, “I have come that you might
have life and have it more abundantly.” That is the promise of new life. That is the promise of Easter
To God alone be the glory! Amen.