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Archive for the ‘I Corinthians’ Category

The following is Part 2 of a 2-part sermon series preached on Sunday morning, February 15, 2009, at Mountain Vista Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona.

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV) – 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, 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 at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

 

Last week we began looking at this passage of Scripture which I believe should be at the heart of the Christian life.  Here the Apostle Paul lays out for us in very explicit terms what should be of first importance to us… and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But how do we strive to make the gospel of first importance to ourselves?

Why is the gospel of first importance?

Let’s begin with some review. 

Notice how the Apostle Paul defines the gospel here in terms of four distinct points:

1)      Christ died for our sins.  The only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, left His heavenly abode and took on humanity, living a sinless life in order to merit the rewards of heaven on behalf of His people. Then He willingly went to the cross and died in our place.  He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sins so that our debt might be paid in full and we might be saved from the judgment of God to come.

2)      Christ was buried.  This is Paul’s way of saying that Jesus was really… truly… dead.  And no one believed He was coming back. That is why they put Him in the ground…

3)      Christ was raised from the dead on the third day.  But God did not leave Christ to decay in the ground.  He was raised victorious over sin and hell and death and the devil, so that we too might one day be raised to newness of life with Him.

4)      Christ was seen by many witnesses.  This is no fairy tale.  This was an honest to God, verifiable fact… and there were hundreds of witnesses who could testify to this.

This is the gospel… the good news… and Paul says this is “of first importance.”  Only one thing can occupy first place in our hearts and lives… and Paul says this should be it.  The gospel should be the most important message to us as Christians.

This is easier said than done.  We live in an age of information overload.  Every time we pass a billboard… or see a commercial… or read a magazine… we encounter messages which are vying for our attention.  We are constantly being bombarded by messages and philosophies and ideas which are competing to first place in our lives.  In the midst of this information overload… how do we keep the gospel of first importance?

Here in verse 1, Paul lays out for us three responses which are demanded of the Christian in response to the gospel:

First… the gospel is a message to be preached (I Cor 15:1.)

There is a lot of discussion these days in evangelicalism regarding whether or not preaching is important in the church. These days I typically refuse to enter the debate but simply point people back to the Word of God.  You don’t have to read the Bible very long before you begin to see the primacy of preaching in the life of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.

Why should we be any different?

Preaching should be central to the life of God’s people and the preaching which we hear should be centered around the gospel. 

Listen to what Paul has to say about preaching back in I Corinthians 2:1-5

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV) – 1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

When Paul first came to Corinth, his primary focus was on preaching.  It is hard to take these verses any other way (i.e. “proclaiming to you the testimony of God”, “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”, and “my speech and my message.”)  But notice carefully what his priorities were.  He wasn’t primarily concerned about eloquence of speech.  No.  His concern… first and foremost… was the content of the message preached.  He “decided to know nothing among (them) except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor 2:2.)  He “decided”… he made a choice… a judgment call (κρίνω)… that the gospel would be at the center of his preaching.  This doesn’t mean that he never talked about anything else.  If you simply read through his two letters to the Corinthians, then you will quickly see that Paul spoke about all kinds of things, such as interpersonal conflict (I Corinthians chapters 1 and 6), marriage (I Corinthians 7), finances (II Corinthians 8) and many other mundane things.  But at the heart of all his preaching was the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Notice that this wasn’t always easy for Paul.  At times he felt weak and fearful.  At times he was literally shaking in his boots (I Cor 2:4., compare Acts 18:1-11.)  But he preached this message anyway.

Can you relate to this?  Do you ever feel weak and afraid in sharing the gospel with others?  Do you ever feel incapable of telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Well… you are in good company, because Paul felt the same way at times.  Yet he was determined to preach the gospel to others and he did so by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit of God to enable him to do this, so that God might receive all the glory and their faith might rest in the power of God, rather than the eloquence of a man.

Does this describe us?  Are we committed to proclaiming the message of the gospel to those around us?  We will… if this message is of first importance to us.  For example… have you ever met that guy who does nothing but talk sports?  He is always spouting the stats of his favorite teams and players, even if no one else wants to hear what he has to say.  Why does he do this?  Because sports are important to him… so that is what occupies first place in his conversation.

Have you ever met that parent or grandparent who just won’t stop talking about their child?  Why do they do this?  Because their child is important to them… therefore they talk about the child constantly.

If the gospel is of first importance to us… then we will talk about it with others… won’t we?  And, surprisingly, when we talk about the gospel constantly, it tends to become more important to us.  We become more and more familiar with the specifics of the gospel and we come to appreciate to a greater degree how good this good news is.

So… if the gospel is of first importance… and if we want the gospel to be of first importance to us… then we will prioritize the preaching of the gospel.  But we won’t stop there. 

The second thing we see back in I Corinthians 15:1 is that the gospel is a message to be received.  The Greek term here… παραλαμβάνω … literally means “to take from” or “to take to oneself”… and it often carries the idea of doing so with some degree of vigor or delight.  That is why the Amplified Bible renders this verb “to welcome” the gospel.  These Christians in Corinth welcomed the gospel.  They embraced it warmly.  They took it to heart and it became “their” gospel.

There is an interesting thing which pops up when you read through the Apostle Paul’s letters and examine how he speaks of the gospel.  Over and over again, he speaks of “my” gospel.  Now “his” gospel was no different than anyone else’s gospel.  It was the same as Peter’s gospel and John’s gospel and James’ gospel.  All Christians trust in the same Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But Paul had taken the gospel to himself.  He owned it.  It was “his” gospel.

Is this how we think this way about the gospel?  Is the gospel your gospel? Is this your good news?

If you are a Christian here today then, objectively, it is “your” good news.  God has saved you by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

But is it your gospel subjectively?  Do we lay hold of the gospel for ourselves?  Do we vigorously welcome the gospel daily? 

There is an old hymn written by Fanny Crosby which captures well the idea of Christians welcoming the gospel to themselves… and it goes something like this…

“Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word.  Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard” (Fanny Crosby, “Tell Me The Story of Jesus.”)

Do you hear the sense of longing for the gospel?  Do you hear the desire to know more and more about Jesus Christ and what He has done for us?  This is the language of receiving the gospel.

Does this describe us?  Are we constantly writing the gospel upon our hearts?

In his first epistle, Peter tells us that angels long to look upon the gospel (I Pet 1:12.)  The angels long to look upon the gospel!  They dwell in the presence of the living and true God and they constantly behold all the glories of heaven… yet they still love to gaze longingly upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.

What about us?  Do we long to look upon Him?  Do we rejoice in the gospel?  Is it “our” gospel?

I would encourage each and every one of us to take this seriously and make it a priority to receive the gospel daily.  We should discipline ourselves to read about the gospel regularly.  For example, pick up a copy of “Living the Cross Centered Life” by C.J. Mahaney or “A Gospel Primer” by Milton Vincent and read through them slowly.  Maybe you might even tackle a slightly more difficult book like “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott or “The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance” by Leon Morris or “In My Place Condemned He Stood” by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever.  Use good books like these to meditate on the gospel and ponder the love and grace of God shown to you in the work of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you might memorize passages of Scripture which reflect upon the gospel.  Begin right here with I Corinthians 15:1-8.  Then progress to passages like Isaiah 53.

Sing gospel-saturated songs to yourself and others (some of us with less than heavenly voices might take care in who we sing the gospel to… but I’m sure you get my point.)

Preach the gospel to yourself daily… and in doing so you will be assured that you are receiving the gospel.

The third thing we see here is that we are to stand upon the gospel.  The idea here is to “stand firmly” upon the gospel and not be moved.

This seems to be where the Corinthians had failed.  They had heard the preaching of Paul and others… and they welcomed the message they had preached.  They had repented of their sin and had begun to trust in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.  But it seems that some among them had begun to waver in the firmness of their commitment to the gospel.  They had begun to drift away from the centrality of the gospel to other things.  Paul is reminding them here that they are to plant their feet firmly upon the gospel and never be moved. 

This is good advice for all of us.  We need to be reminded to stand firm upon the gospel.  This message is to remain “of first importance” to us all.  We are not to grow weary of the gospel.  We are not to move on to bigger and better things.  There is nothing bigger and better.  This is the message of first importance… and it is to be the foundation of our lives.

Why is this so?  Paul gives us two very practical reasons in verse 2

First of all, Paul says that it is by the gospel that we are “being saved.”  Notice the present tense of this verb.  They are “being saved”… right now and continuously.

What does Paul mean when he says that they are “being saved”… present tense… by the message of the message of the gospel?  It could mean that it was by the gospel that new converts were being saved in their midst.  But I don’t think that is the best interpretation here.  Paul isn’t talking about new converts here… he is talking about people who have heard the gospel and have received it and are standing firm upon it.

So what does this mean?

Salvation is an all-encompassing term in the Bible.  It is true that there is a sense in which we are saved once-for-all when we come to faith in Jesus Christ.  This is called “justification.”  When we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ, then our sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us… once for all… and we are granted eternal life with God in heaven.  And nothing can take that away from us.

But that is just the beginning of the Christian salvation.  What follows is the process of God molding us into the men and women that He would have us to be.  We call this “sanctification.”  Sanctification is the process by which God works in us… shaping us, changing us, conforming us to the image of Jesus.

I believe this is what Paul is talking about here.  You see… the gospel is not simply the message by which we are saved at the beginning of our Christian life, but it is the means by which God continually conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ.

How is this the case?  Let me suggest a few ways in which the gospel transforms our lives…

First, the gospel provides us with encouragement to live the Christian life.  Yes… we live the Christian life by faith in the future grace which God will provide us day by day throughout eternity, rather than by gratitude.  However, it is hard to deny that when we ponder the greatness of God’s love and grace toward us, how can we not be motivated to live lives which are more committed to Him? (i.e. I Cor 15:58.)

Secondly, the gospel provides us with the paradigm for how we are to live the Christian life.  When Jesus described what it meant to be His disciple, He said we must “deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him” (Lk 9:23.)  What is He doing there?  He is pointing to the gospel which is being lived out by Him at that moment and saying that the pattern of life found in the gospel should shape the lives of all His disciples. 

Paul does the same thing over and over again in his letters.  For example, when Paul wants husbands to know how to treat their wives, he points to the gospel (i.e. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” – Eph 5:25.)  When Paul wants Christians to know how to treat one another, again, he points to the gospel (i.e. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” – Phil 2:5-8.)  When Paul wants Christians to know how to give financially to provide for the needs of others, he points to the gospel (II Cor 8:1-9.)

The gospel should provide the model for how we are to live our lives.

Finally… and probably most importantly… there is something which happens to us when we gaze upon the glory of God in the gospel.  We begin to see God as He truly is… and this knowledge of Him transforms us from the inside out (i.e. II Cor 3:18.)  The old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” captures the sense of this very well…

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in His wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

In the light of His glory and grace.”

The gospel is the means by which God “saves” us… both once-for-all and every day during the Christian life.  And this is to be “of first importance” to us.

A second reason for keeping the gospel of first importance is because, if we don’t hold fast to this message, then there is a danger that we may have believed in vain.

What does it mean to “believe in vain”?  This is referring to an empty belief.  This speaks of a faith which does not save.  This comes in many styles and flavors, but most often it is when people believe with their heads, but not with their hearts.  For example… a person hears the gospel preached and since none of us want to face the judgment of God, they say, “Sure.  That sounds good to me.  I want to be saved.”  But there is no repentance… no turning from sin… and no true and enduring faith in Jesus Christ.  They seem to believe for a while… but as time passes… they let go of the gospel and fall away.  This person’s faith is in vain.  It is not a saving faith.

Jesus describes this for us in Luke 8, where He speaks of a sower going out to sow seed and this seed… which represents the Word of God… falls on differing types of soil… representing the way in which people receive and hold fast to the gospel.  Listen to how Jesus describes these varying responses to the gospel…

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV) – 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

 Some people never receive the gospel message at all.  It is snatched away by the devil and never penetrates into their heart.

But notice the second and third group carefully.  Some falls among the rocks and they “receive it with joy.  But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.  And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Lk 8:13-14.)  Both of these seem to have some type of faith in the gospel preached, but it isn’t a true, saving faith.  It isn’t a faith which endures.  They do not “hold fast” to the gospel, therefore they are not saved and they are not “being saved” (i.e. “their fruit does not mature.”)

It is only the good soil in which the gospel is received and takes root and they hold fast to this good news and the result is that they bring forth fruit.  These people are saved… once-for-all… and they are being saved… little by little… being transformed into the image of Christ and bringing forth much fruit.

What makes the difference between these different soils?  Pure and simple… it is their response to the gospel.

The gospel is of first importance because it is the message by which we are saved… and it is the message by which we are being saved.

Listen again to the words of the Apostle Paul here in I Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) – 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

How should we apply this passage of Scripture to our lives?

If we believe this to be so, then:

1)      We will prioritize the preaching of the gospel.  We will listen intently when it is preached and we will preach it to others. 

2)      We will be constantly receiving the gospel.  We will preach it to ourselves and welcome the gospel into our own hearts and minds.

3)      We will stand firmly upon it… never moving on to anything else… because this gospel… “our” gospel… is the most important message in all the world.

May the gospel be of first importance to us all!!!

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The following is my sermon manuscript preached Sunday morning, February 8, 2008, at Mountain Vista Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona:

What is most important in your life?  What is most important in the life of your family?  What is most important in the life of Mountain Vista Bible Church?

A lot of things are important to us… but only one thing can be “most important.”  Only one thing can occupy first place in our hearts and minds and lives.

What is most important to you?  What do you think about in your free time?  What do you desire above all else?

What is of first importance in your life?

This is not merely an academic question… it is a question with significant practical ramifications.  Our priorities affect our lives in very practical ways:

1)      If sleeping in is more important to you than getting to work on time… then there will be problems at work.

2)      For the students here today… if hanging out with your friends is more important than doing your homework, then you will not excel academically.

3)      If I am selfish and consider myself more important than my wife… my children… and my friends… then my relationships will be shallow and inconsequential at best… if not downright dysfunctional and damaging to others.

Our priorities matter.  And that which is most important to us will affect our lives in the most important ways imaginable.

With this said… what does Scripture say should matter most to us?

What must be of first importance in our lives?

Open your Bibles with me if you will to I Corinthians 15, beginning in verse 1.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV) – 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, 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 at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

 

Notice how Paul begins this unit of teaching.  He says, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…

Who is he talking to here?  He is speaking to fellow believers… to Christians.  We know this because he refers to them as “brothers.”  They were followers of Jesus and Paul knew this because Paul knew them and he knew them well.  Paul had spent 18 months among the Corinthians functioning as their pastor (Acts 18:11.)  During this time, Paul had preached among them… they had received his message… and they had become Christians.

But notice… there seems to be a problem here.  They seem to be a little forgetful.  He is writing to remind (γνωρίζω) them of something which he had already preached to them.

I know that I am a preacher… but you can be honest with me… often we forget what the preacher said within a very short amount of time.  It goes in one ear and out the other.  We think about it for a moment… we say to ourselves, “Yeah… that makes sense…”  Then church ends and we begin thinking about where we are going to lunch.  Then we go home and we take a nap and watch some sports.  Then we begin thinking about everything we have to do this week.  By Monday morning, we are lucky if we can even remember the passage of Scripture from Sunday’s message, much less the main points of the sermon.

The Christians in Corinth were no different than us in this and… unfortunately… their forgetfulness had caused a lot of problems.  They had forgotten… or at least displaced… what was most important in the Christian life.  And this wreaked havoc among these Christians.  In this letter alone, we learn that they were:

          Confused about the death of Christ ( I Cor 1:18-31)

          Divisive (I Cor 1:10-17.)

          They were tolerating horrible sin in their midst (I Cor 5.)

          They couldn’t get along and were suing each other (I Cor 6.)

          They failed to understand God’s plan for marriage (I Cor 7.)

          They were flirting with idolatry and immorality (I Cor 8-10.)

          They were selfish… thinking only of themselves and their own wants and needs (I Cor 9-11.)

          They had perverted the Lord’s Supper through their selfishness (I Cor 11.)

          They were abusing spiritual gifts (I Cor 12-14)

          Their worship services were a mess… they were anything but worship… (I Cor 14.)

Despite all this… despite all their weakness and confusion and sin… Paul still calls them “brethren”… they are fellow Christians… they have just forgotten that which is most important. 

There are consequences for having the wrong the priorities.  When our priorities get out of whack… it affects our lives.  We see that here.  These Corinthian Christians had lost sight of what is most important.  And all kinds of problems followed.  So here we see Paul reminding them of what is of first importance.

What is he reminding them of?  The gospel.

The Greek word translated “gospel” is εαγγέλιον.  It is made up of two word: ε, meaning “good” and γγελος, meaning “messenger.”  Literally… the term refers to a “good message” or “good news.”

What is this good news that Paul is reminding them of?

Skip forward if you will to verse 3 and Paul details it for us in 4 distinct points:

1)      First of all… Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

Don’t read over this statement too quickly.  This is rich in meaning.  Here we see Paul talking about Christ… about the death of Christ… and about our sins.

Let’s begin analyzing this statement with the truly uncomfortable part.  Let’s start with our sin.  To understand what Paul is saying here… we first have to understand what sin is.  That may sound obvious to those of us who are here today… but please humor me for a moment, because so many of us today have a somewhat skewed view of what sin is.  We live in the midst of a culture which has pretty much jettisoned the idea of sin.  We are constantly taught to feel good about ourselves… to think of ourselves as relatively good.  “I’m okay… you’re okay.”  But that isn’t what the Bible teaches.  The Bible teaches that each and every person is a sinner.  That is true of me… and it is true of you.

What is sin?

Pure and simple… sin is failing to live up to God’s standard.  And we do this in several different ways… most notably through the things we do and don’t do.  For example…

          Have you ever told a lie?  Even a little one?  We are commanded not to bear false witness (Ex 20:16)… to lie… even a little white lie is sin.

          The 7th commandment is “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14.)  But Jesus took it one step further.  He said if you look upon another person with lust in your heart… you are guilty of adultery (Matt 5:28.)

But sin is more than just the bad things we do… it is also the good things we don’t do…)

          We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matt 22:37.)  This is not an option.  This is not a suggestion given to really holy Christians in our midst.  This is “the great and foremost commandment” (Matt 22:38.)  Has anyone ever succeeded in doing that?  How often do we put things before God?  The Bible calls this idolatry… and it is a sin.

          We are commanded to love others as much as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39.)  Have you ever had a selfish moment?  A moment when you thought about yourself first and foremost?  I have.  I do so often.  How about you?

Without exception…each and every one of us are sinful.  Every one of us.  The Bible doesn’t teach that “I’m okay, you’re okay.”  No!  The Bible teaches us that “I am not okay and you aren’t either.”

We are all sinners… and that means we are all in trouble, because God is a holy and just God.  That means He is separated from all that is sinful and worldly.  He is morally pure and hates sin… and He always does what is right… which means that He must punish sin.  What is this punishment?  Death (Rom 6:23.)  Physical death… and spiritual death… being separated from God for all eternity in hell.

The message which Paul is reminding us of here is “good news.”  It is good news that despite our sin… God has made a way for our sin to be forgiven through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Chris is the only begotten Son of God… very God of very God… who took on human flesh and lived a sinless life among us… meriting the rewards of heaven on behalf of His people… then He willingly went to the cross to die for our sins.  He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sin, so that our sin could be forgiven forever.

Notice that Paul says this wasn’t an accident… it was all part of God’s plan… because it was “in accordance with the Scriptures.”

There are a lot of people out there today who are trying to say that Jesus’ death was the result of a mistake on His part.  This is the position taken by the Jesus Seminar and other liberal theologians.  We saw this proclaimed in a popular way just a couple of years ago in the book and movie “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown… which claimed that Jesus was nothing more than a radical, counter-cultural rabbi… who died for his social and political agenda.

Hogwash!  The death of Jesus Christ… the only begotten Son of God was the will of God… and we know that because it was foretold in Scripture.  700 years before the death of Jesus Christ… the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words…

Isaiah 53:5-6 (ESV) – 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Everyone of us has sinned… and every one of us continues to sin.  WE deserve to be crushed by a holy God for our sins.  But Jesus is our Substitute.  He suffered for us.  He was cursed for us.  When He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46)… He bore the separation from God which we deserve for our sins. He died so that we might live. 

That in and of itself is good news… but that is just the beginning.  The second point is that…

2)      Christ was buried.

This is Paul’s way of affirming that Jesus was truly dead.  There are those today who claim that Jesus didn’t truly die, but that He merely swooned… or passed out… from the pain of His suffering.  They say that He simply lost consciousness and people simply thought He was dead.  But Paul will have none of this.  Jesus didn’t simply pass out and come to later and heal from His wounds.  He was dead… and everyone knew it.  And no one expected Him to come back.  That is why they planted Him in the ground.

But miraculously… gloriously…

3)      He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

This is Paul’s third point.  He was raised from the dead.  And this was no afterthought on the part of God.  His resurrection was predicted by Jesus Himself on numerous occasions prior to His death… not to mention the fact that in passages like Psalm 16:10 it was foretold 1,000 years ahead of time.

This is important, because if Jesus died and stayed dead… what good would that be for us?  Look at verse 17, for a moment… “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Cor 15:17.)

How can we know that God was satisfied by the sacrifice of Jesus?  We know this because God vindicated His only begotten Son by powerfully raising Him from the dead… victorious over sin and death and hell forever and ever.

If God didn’t raise His only begotten Son from the dead… who perfectly fulfilled God’s plan of salvation for sinners like us… then how could we ever expect God to raise us from the dead and grant us eternal life?  Paul will go on here in I Corinthians 15 to say that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of those who will be raised from the dead (I Cor 15:23.)  In other words… His resurrection is the first part of a great harvest of those who have died.  He was raised first… so that His people could be raised to eternal life at His return.

Christ died for our sins and was buried… but He didn’t stay dead.  He was raised victorious from the grave.

People today will often say, “Sure… you say Jesus rose from the dead.  But do you have any proof?”  Paul says, “Yes!  We do!”  Which leads to the fourth point…

4)      Christ appeared to many witnesses.

Peter… the apostles… James… Paul… not to mention 500 other Christians… many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter.  This is particularly important.  Paul is saying that many of those people were still alive when he was writing this letter.  He is saying, “If you don’t believe me that Jesus rose from the dead, then go ask Peter.  Or James.  Or one of the apostles.  Ask any one of the more than 500 plus eye witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection.”

This is huge.  I spent nearly 10 years working in the criminal justice system and in that time I testified in more court cases than I care to remember.  If I could bring in 10 eyewitnesses to substantiate my case, then I could be pretty darn sure that the Court would rule in our favor.  Can you imagine bringing more than 500 eyewitnesses before the Court?  This is irrefutable evidence.

Paul’s point is that this good news is no fairy tale.  It is real.  And there were witnesses… hundreds of witnesses who could verify this message.

This is the gospel.  And this is the best news ever proclaimed on this earth.  Nothing else in all of human history comes close.  There is no better news than the fact that we can have our sins forgiven and be granted eternal life with God through Jesus Christ.  This message alone is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16.)

Paul was reminding the Corinthians of this.  Had they completely forgotten this?  No… a Christian can never fully forget this message and still be a Christian.

But we can allow this message to lose its prominence in our lives.  It can fade from center stage and be relegated to the edges of our life.

Let me see if I can explain this with an illustration for which I am indebted to Bible teacher Joshua Harris…Have you ever gone out and bought some artwork to decorate the walls of your home?  I’m not much of an interior decorator myself… my idea of buy art is to go to Wal-Mart and find something to fill that blank space on the wall.  You know… something classy… like a picture of dogs playing cards?  Maybe you prefer Van Gogh or Thomas Kincaide?  Whatever your taste in art… see if you can follow me here.  You go out and buy a painting.  And it is beautiful.  And you love to look at it.  You are so proud of it.  So what do you do with it?  You stick it front and center on your mantle.  Right smack dab in the focal point of your living room.  And there it hangs for all the world to admire.

But time passes.  And your affection for the painting fades.  It isn’t that you don’t like it anymore… you just get tired of looking at it.

So you go out and buy a new painting… say cats playing chess or something… and the old one gets moved to the hallway.  People still see it there in your home when they go to the bathroom, right?  But it is not center stage anymore…

Time passes and you eventually move it even farther from the center of your house.  You hang it back to your bedroom… where no one ever sees it but you and your spouse.  Then eventually… it ends up in the basement… wrapped in paper so it won’t get ruined… but rarely to seen again.

If we aren’t careful… this can happen to the gospel in our lives.  It isn’t that we have completely forgotten it. It isn’t that we don’t like it anymore… but as time passes… we are all in danger of allowing other things to take center stage in our hearts and minds and lives.

Paul tells us here that the gospel is “of first importance.”  It must occupy first place.  It must set center-stage on the mantle of our hearts and lives.

Think about this for a moment.  Only one thing can occupy first place in our lives.   Only one thing can sit on the mantle at a time.

What occupies first place in your life?

For many of us it is our families… our jobs… our things. These things aren’t necessarily sinful in and of themselves… but as important as they are… they are not to be first place in our lives.

What occupies first place in your life?

What do you think about more than anything else?

Paul tells us here that the gospel of Jesus Christ… the good news that God has loved us and sent His Son to save us from our sin… this is to be of first importance to us.  This message should occupy first place in our thinking… first place in our conversation… first place in our affections.  If we are Christians… then the gospel should be more important to us than anything else.

Are you a Christian here today?

To be a Christian means that you have heard the message of this message of the gospel and you believe it.  You must recognize that you are a sinner and that you need to be saved from God’s judgment… and you must respond to this message with repentance and faith. To repent means to turn away from our sin and trust in Jesus Christ… who died for our sins… who was buried… and who rose again… so that we might be saved.

If you are not trusting in Jesus to save you from your sins… then I would urge you to do so today.  Don’t put it off.  This is the good news.  You can be saved through the work of Jesus Christ.  Cry to God in prayer right where you sit.  Confess your sin and plead with Him to save you… not because you deserve it… none of us do… but because of what Jesus has done for you.

Maybe you are a Christian here today.  Then I would ask you… is the gospel of first importance to you?  If it isn’t… then what should we do?  Our response should be the same as the unbeliever… repentance and faith.  We must acknowledge before that we have fallen short of His expectations.  We confess our sins to Him, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn 1:9)… because Jesus has already died for all our sins.

Repent and trust in the forgiveness found in Jesus… then we begin to strive for this.  How do we do this?  We will look at this in greater detail next week, but for our purposes today, I would offer three suggestions to you grounded in what Paul is doing right here (i.e. “reminding” them of the gospel – v. 1)…

1)      Be reminded of the gospel by others.

Never get bored of hearing the gospel preached.  Listen intently as your pastors and teachers and parents and friends remind you of the gospel. Take it in… and don’t forget.  Be reminded of the gospel by others.

2)      Remind yourself of the gospel.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day.  Never let a day go by when you do not remember the good news of Jesus Christ.  Look yourself in the mirror every day while you are shaving or putting on your makeup and say… “I am a sinful person.  I have sinned against a holy God.  But God in His grace sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins, who was buried, and who rose again the third day so that I might be forgiven for my sins and saved to eternal life.”  Remind yourself of the gospel.

3)      Remind others of the gospel.

Who can you share this message with today?  Don’t limit your answer to simply unbelievers.  By all means, share the gospel with those who are still apart from Christ… but don’t stop there.  Remind your spouses… your children… your parents… your friends… your pastors and teachers.  Never cease talking about the gospel.  Place the gospel center stage on your heart and your lips and your life where it will be seen and heard and experienced by all… and I would be willing to bet that the gospel will be more important to you than it is today.

What is most important to you and me?

I pray that the good news that Jesus died for sins… that He was buried and rose again the third day… will be of first importance to us all.

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