1 Corinthians 15 and Jesus Illiteracy

Scripture is tied up in our personal experiences. What I mean is that I can read specific texts and remember the situation surrounding the first time the Holy Spirit taught me from that text in a cognizant way. In this way, I can’t help but associate with how God has grown me as I reflect while I return to continue to be pruned, nurtured and grown. The first time I started study 1 Corinthians 15 a few years back I had just finished some intensive personal study in the Synoptic Gospels and was lamenting how “we” (meaning God’s church in America) have become Jesus illiterate.

Basically Jesus illiteracy means that we are clueless on some very basic aspects of our Christian walk. The words in Hebrews 5:12-14 are a good summation “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” We struggle with concepts like justification, sanctification and glorification – which are way too important and liberating for us to be putting these things on the shelf. Since we don’t use these words in our everyday dialogue we act as if we really can’t come to a foundational understanding of what they mean or their implications. Very scary.

It is an extension of the condemnation Paul shares with Timothy concerning those who refuse to major on the vitals of the Christian faith, and then chase fruitless studies that have no real impact on a Christian’s faith. 1 Timothy 1:6-7 “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”

Let’s try a little test. What makes Christianity different from other religions? Answer: Jesus – right? What about Jesus? After mumbling something about his dying for our sins you would also answer the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection. What exactly is so special about the resurrection? Answer: – gotta, not yet. Are you stumped? Would you like to say the answer is on the tip of your tongue, but its just not there. If this is you then, sadly, you have succumbed to Jesus illiteracy.

Here is what Jesus illiteracy has to do with 1 Corinthians 15 and why it is my favorite Easter passage. As Christians we should be about having a great Kingdom impact. But we don’t know how to do this because, in part, we have become Jesus illiterate. Unfortunately there seems to be a trend that wants us to consider a variety of routes to present the gospel while being intent on not dealing with what the Gospel is – Scripturally. In war, you have to make some decisions. Generals do all kinds of calculating. They will determine how many lives are worth losing in order to maintain a position or gain a position. For example, the allies clearly believed that Omaha Beach was worth the cost in WWII even though they lost 2,200 men. We have failed to calculate the cost and instead of where we should be standing – even to death, we are falling back and surrendering precious ground. The reality is that the foundation of Christianity rises and falls with the resurrection of Jesus.

Why is the resurrection important?
1. Because it is the foundation of Christian teaching. 1 Corinthians 15:17 “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
2. Because we must have confidence in it if we are to be saved. Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;”
3. Because the possibility of the resurrection has always been viewed with skepticism, both in Jesus’ day and our own.
4. The apostles’ preaching of the resurrection, their willingness to suffer and die for it and the rise of the church due to it are historical facts that no serious historian denies – regardless of worldview. Even though we have become used to hearing and reading that Jesus was raised from the dead we fail to recognize what an outrageous claim it is. We owe it to ourselves to recognize the resurrection for what it is and to reevaluate its meaning in our lives.

And this is why I find 1 Corinthians 15 so redeeming, especially at Easter. Finally, please note that over the years I have accrued the help of many godly scholars as I have dug deep into this text and have not always been faithful in referencing them in my notes. Anything redeeming in my dialogue is certainly not original with me. This note applies to the entire discussion on 1 Corinthians 15.

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