Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Only the foundation wall remains of the Governor’s judgment seat, but it can still be seen among the ancient ruins of Corinth.  The Judgement Seat or Bema was a raised platform on which a Roman judge would sit as the people brought their cases before him while standing in the forum.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that during Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, the Jewish leaders banned the Apostle from preaching and teaching in their Synagogue.  The leaders brought the charges to the Governor Gallio, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”  Paul stood in front of the Governor’s Judgment Seat with the crowds protesting his appearance and the Roman soldiers prepared to punish and bring order. But when Paul was about to open his mouth and defend himself, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.”  And so Paul was set free.

The archeologist and New Testament scholar Sir William Ramsay regarded Gallio’s ruling as ‘the crowning fact in determining Paul’s line of conduct, because it provided a precedent for other magistrates, and thus guaranteed Paul’s freedom. The mere fact that Gallio refused to take up the case against Paul may reasonably be held to have facilitated the spread of Christianity during the last years of Claudius and the earlier years of his successor.

For Paul, it was a defining personal moment, which mirrored the freedom and forgiveness he had experienced on the Road to Damascus when Jesus removed the scales from his eyes so he could see once again.  Paul described this poignantly in his second epistle to the church in Corinth. He wrote that his ministry was guided by his faithfulness to the gospel and his conviction that all believers  would stand before the judgment seat of the resurrected and living Christ. It was for that reason that Paul was startled to discover that there were church members in Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection.

Jews and Greeks, both historically and philosophically, had very different understandings of death and immortality as well as the possibility of the resurrection.  The traditional Jewish position was that the death was the punishment for sin which dated back to Adam and Eve and original sin. Even though everyone died, it was understood that the language of resurrection mentioned in the Old Testament implied that even if people died, the nation would live on.  But then came the Maccabean rebellion against Syria when Jewish soldiers willingly offered their lives in service for God. Suddenly, Jews in Israel began to accept the belief that their physical bodies would be raised up as individuals.  This was based on Judaism’s fundamental belief that the body and soul were one. The body was created good and blessed by God.  The lead to two great movements with Judaism itself.  There were Pharisee who often believed in the resurrection, and the Sadducees were opposed to the it.  The Sadducees, surprisingly were the leaders of society and the Temple. Greek philosophy, on the other hand, had always accepted the notion that the body and soul were separate and that the soul was already immortal.  But for Greeks, the soul was imprisoned in the mortal body and was distracted from its purpose of contemplating beauty and truth by the needs and desires of the body.

Certain groups within Judaism, began to accept and adapt this Greek understanding – except  for one provision.  They did not believe that the soul was created immortal.  It acquired this essence through wisdom and faith. Those in Corinth who were convinced that they possessed “wisdom” and who disparaged the human body were naturally attracted to the immortality of the soul belief and saw no purpose in the physical resurrection of the body.

Paul needed to confront this false understanding for the sake of the unity of the Church and proclamation of the good news.  The death and resurrection of Jesus was the core of the gospel. If the Corinthians embraced a teaching denying the resurrection, they could not avoid the natural consequences.  They would no longer be Christians.  If there was no resurrection, there would be no living Lord offering the gift of eternal life, they could just as well turn to the Emperor. There would be no wisdom nor gift of the Holy Spirit.  Of all people, they would be the ones most to be pitied.

So Paul invited the Church in Corinth to begin by meditating on the historic confession of the church.

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and he was buried.

He has been raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and he appeared to Peter and the Twelve.

All new converts to the Christian faith professed these beliefs.  They were the foundation for being Christian and united the Christian movement.  They did not simply convey the meaning of Jesus’ death, but also the fact of it.  First of all, they were to be reminded that there were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. It also clearly stated that Jesus died and was buried. The sting of death brought by Adam, however, had been removed by Christ. Death, the wages of sin were no more.  The new Adam, Jesus, rose as the first fruits, and all who believe in him would be raised to new life.  For Paul, to deny Jesus’ death and resurrection was to make a mockery of the very essence of Jesus’ life. But to accept it, to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, was to acknowledge his living presence to forgive, to give life, to restore that which was broken and to build up that which was torn down. That is the promise for everyone who believes in the resurrection.   Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.