Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – Epistle

by Crossings

The Living Tradition of The Cross
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Analysis by Steven C. Kuhl

1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sister, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you-unless you believe in vain.

3 For I handed to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them-though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.


DIAGNOSIS: The Dead Tradition of the Living

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – The “Appearance” of Resurrection
Fundamental to Christian faith is the belief in the resurrection of the dead. That’s what the Corinthians were taught and that what’s we are taught. That is the “tradition” (from the Latin “to hand on”) that Paul and all of scripture has handed on to us. The problem, in athletic terms, is that the Corinthians were dropping the “hand off.” They began to think that resurrection meant forgetting the cross. They thought that the proof of their resurrection faith was rooted in the outward “appearance” of superiority, power, and giftedness–being cool in the eyes of others. That way of thinking, however, led to the “loveless” divisions that occupy much of Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians. Some–those deemed the less gifted, less intelligent, the seemly–were seen by the superlative Corinthians as “unfit” to qualify among the resurrected. Indeed, Paul himself was judged as one who was “unfit to be an apostle” (v. 9) and herald of the message of the resurrection of the dead. He just didn’t look the part, or so they thought.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Believing in Vain
No matter how impressive the “appearance” of resurrection may have been to others, to rely on it spelled real danger for the Corinthians’ (as it does now for us). The Corinthians did not simply bumble in their attempt to revise the great tradition of the resurrection. As mentioned before, they actually failed to “hand off” the tradition of the resurrection that Paul had handed to them. And to fail to pass on the tradition of the cross with the resurrection is to be left “empty handed” or, as Paul calls it, to “believe in vain” (v. 2). Empty faith is a faith with no real object, no real foundation or basis for hope. To believe, as the Corinthians did, in the “appearance” of resurrection, was to be faithless with regard to the “good news” (v. 1)–the full tradition of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Dead in Our Sin (Despite Appearances)
To trust in the “appearance” of resurrection, to believe in vain, to be left empty handed with regard to the tradition of the cross and resurrection, is to be left as we are: dead in our sins despite all appearances. That is the hopeless, not the grace-filled, side of the “I am as I am” (v. 10) of which Paul speaks. To trust in appearances is the dead tradition of the faithless. It means being hopelessly beyond the salvation, resurrection, and dying to sin and rising to Christ that characterize the living tradition of the Crucified.

PROGNOSIS: The Living Tradition of the Crucified

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – The Living Tradition of the Crucified One
For people who are dead in their sins, it serves no purpose to hand on the resurrection without also “handing on” to them (v. 3) or reminding them anew (v. 1) of the good news of Jesus Christ–giving them the tradition of his death-and-resurrection. The good news is the living tradition of the Crucified One. The proof and basis of our resurrection does not rest in our outward appearance of resurrected glory, as the Corinthians thought. Rather, it rests in Christ, the Word; our resurrection depends on receiving the proclamation, the tradition, the handing on of the promise that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance to the scripture” (vv. 3-4). Christ’s death-and-resurrection is the means by which sinners are saved (v. 2). Indeed, the crucifixion of Jesus (his hard work to overcome sin) is so important to the logic of the resurrection of Jesus (that same work accomplished) that Jesus made resurrection appearances: to Cephas, the twelve, an assembly of 500 brothers and sister, James, the apostles, and last of all to Paul. The living tradition of the cross is as necessary as a heart transplant is for a dying cardiac patient. No surgery, no new life. One cannot bypass the process, the tradition, the “hand-off,” of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Step 5: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Solution) – Believing in Jesus is Being Saved.
The living tradition of the cross is as necessary as a heart transplant is for a dying cardiac patient. Every heart transplant candidate would love to be given convincing evidence of success before undergoing such radical surgery. But unless the patient actually risks the surgery, that patient cannot be assured of a strong, vigorous heart and the new life it promises. What is more, it would be foolish for such a patient to try to simulate the new life of a successful transplant patient without surgery, because despite immediate appearances, the fool would soon drop dead–permanently. The same is true for us with the living tradition of cross. There is no resurrection without the cross. Therefore we must subject ourselves to the cross of Christ. As subjects of the cross, we receive the proclamation (v. 1), we accept the hand-off–which is what Paul means by faith. Faith means believing that we must die to sin and rise anew with Christ. Faith is taking what Christ has done and accepting that it is for us. The living tradition of the cross is not vain or empty. It is tested, tried, and true.

Step 6: Final Diagnosis (External Solution) – The Hard Work of the Resurrected
This side of Christ’s resurrection, Paul reminds us, we are still undergoing the work of the cross. That is, we are still “being saved” (v. 2), we continue “dying with Christ to sin” and rising to something new. (Here the analogy of a recovering cancer patient who continues to undergo chemotherapy might be more appropriate.) And yet, something of the completed work of the resurrection is already appearing in us, though it still very much has the appearance of the cross. Paul calls it the “grace” whereby he is what he is (v. 10). That resurrection reality appears in him in the form of the “hard work,” literally, the cross-bearing, that Paul is now willing and able to do for his Corinthians–all so that they may believe. The cross and resurrection are inseparable. By the grace of God in them, believers now have the appearance of Christ, the crucified and risen one, in the world. Christ has not stopped appearing since the Ascension. But now he appears in the body of the church (1 Cor. 12), through believers like Paul, you, and me, who witness to the living tradition of the cross in our daily life. The new life is not focused, then, on the mere appearance of power, superiority, or giftedness; it is focused on service and love (1 Cor. 13). The resurrection cannot appear in this life apart from the cross. It never has. Indeed, even today, the cross and resurrection are so closely connected in the life of the believer that the resurrection appears as nothing other than the living tradition of the cross in the life of those who believe.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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