Paul boldly preached Jesus. He preached that Jesus died. He preached that He rose. But no matter how boldly Paul preached it, no matter how sincerely he held his convictions, no matter how well he could argue and defend his feelings on the matter, how could you know what he was saying was true? Just because someone is passionate about something doesn’t make it true. And just because they can pull on your heart strings so that you can feel their conviction, their passion, their energy doesn’t make them right.
This isn’t a popular idea today. Today we tend to believe someone based on how sincere, heartfelt, and bold they are. If someone’s sincere, how can it not be true! Or so we think. But when Paul preached Jesus, he didn’t just let his own power and authority be the basis for people’s faith. It wasn’t based on how charismatic he was, how influential, how convincing. Quite the opposite. Paul boldly says to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3–4 NKJV)
Paul points outside of himself. He doesn’t just point his Corinthian readers but you and me to. He points us to what the Scriptures have to say. The Old Testament prophets and kings actually heard God’s promises about Jesus: that He would suffer and die but then rise on the third day. Calvary and Easter promised—heard and written down. Paul then proclaimed it, wrote it down for the Corinthians. He points them first and foremost to the Word. It’s Sola Scripture for Paul: “that Christ died, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:5) And so we confess it this way in the Nicene Creed.
Paul keeps pointing outside of himself. He points to the eyewitnesses! “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 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. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” (1 Cor 15:5–7 NKJV) Paul wants the faith that the Corinthians have to built upon the good foundation of the Prophets and the Apostles. They were eyewitnesses and earwitness of what our God, Jesus Christ, has done to reconcile us to God, our heavenly Father.
It didn’t matter how sincere Paul was. It didn’t matter how sincerely the Corinthians believed. It didn’t matter what they felt at all! It’s not about the strength of the conviction, nor the emotion it gives or creates. It’s about what happened. The sincerity of emotion gives way to the surety of the empty tomb and the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. People saw Him! Peter did. The twelve did. But it wan’t just Jesus’ close friends: “over five hundred brethren at once” saw Him. And Paul is basically saying, “If you don’t believe me, go ask them. Some are still alive.” James and all Jesus’ followers saw Him alive. Finally, Paul gets around to himself: “Last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (1 Cor 15:8 NKJV) He was a persecutor of the Church, he hated Christians, he persecuted Jesus Himself, but the Lord Jesus brings Paul from death to life and makes him an apostle to preach and teach the very message that Paul is writing to the Corinthians.
The Corinthian eyes and ears are pointed to what was written. Paul also points our eyes and ears to the faithful and true witnesses. It’s not only just what the prophets wrote, but what Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote just about the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. It’s also what Paul writes! That’s where our faith is grounded: Scripture alone. It’s not about how much we believe, nor about how Jesus’ death and resurrection make us feel. Our Easter Joy doesn’t come from those places at all. Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone we know and believe that Jesus lives. He lives this very moment. We have the testimony. The prophets were earwitnesses and eyewitnesses to the promises of what Jesus would do. The apostles—even Paul!—were also earwitnesses and eyewitnesses. They saw and heard, but they also wrote down what they saw and heard.
Our Easter joy is founded upon their testimony. It’s the only sure thing. Our feelings and convictions are strong one day, weak the next. How we feel about someone or something can and often times does change. But Scripture doesn’t change. The witness of the prophets, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul stand firm. Sola Scriptura means Easter joy! How can it not? From there alone, for all our lives, is the knowledge and confidence that Jesus Christ lives, that He is risen indeed! Alleluia!