1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 12-14 (NKJV)
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time…12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalism to expose the massive chasm that separates these competing religious beliefs. In his day liberalism was just beginning its infiltration of American mainline churches. Machen warned that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. As one proof of his thesis, Machen noted that in liberalism Jesus’ resurrection is historically unimportant; what truly matters is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that Jesus lives on in each of our hearts. In other words, for liberalism experience not history is foundational.
As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to Christianity. Christiantiy is not merely a system of dogmas or teachings, but a declaration of events that have theological and experiential significance. Christ died and rose again – that is history. Jesus did not swoon or get spirited away or exchange places with someone else. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as governor of the Roman Empire in Judea. After three days, He rose from the dead and was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, all the apostles, and, finally, Paul himself. The Gospel is rooted in history, rooted in reality.
So why did Christ die and rise again? The answer to that question is theological. He died, Paul says, for our sins (15:3); He died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. Then He rose from the dead to conquer death and free us from fear, to transform our experience. Our experience, therefore, depends upon history. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus in history, Paul tells us, “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (15:14). In other words, in Christianity, history not experience is foundational.
In our broader culture, however, theological liberalism has won the day. Hence, we are constantly barraged by the claim that religion is primarily subjective, primarily a matter of personal experience. Religions are simply various ways of meeting the subjective needs of their followers; each religion is merely a record of the private, personal experiences of its adherents; hence, no religion is objectively true or false, just different. There are different strokes for different folks. Experience not history is foundational.
Christianity rejects this exaltation of subjectivity, of experience, over objectivity, over history. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just the record of private religious experiences; it is a public declaration: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; He is God’s Anointed One.
So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, of something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity, of our personal experience; reminded that we must approach God through Jesus who died and rose again for our sins, died and rose again to reconcile us to God, let us kneel and confess our sins to God. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.