Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
One of life’s minor frustrations is over-hearing other people’s phone conversations and trying to work out what is going on:Hi Paul, how are you? Oh no, when did that happen? Oh you poor thing. So where is it now? About 1, you say. Ok, I’ll leave it under the rabbit hutch.
Reading Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians is a bit like listening to one side of a phone conversation. The apostle spends much of his time dealing with problems and answering questions that have been raised by the people at the other end of the line – the Christians in Corinth. Fortunately, when we come to the 15th chapter we are given a pretty clear idea of the problem that Paul was addressing.
V12 – ‘How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’
There’s the problem. Some of the Christians at Corinth were denying, not so much that Jesus rose from the grave, but that everyone else will.
Paul begins his response by going back to first principles. If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. But they knew very well that Christ’s resurrection is a cornerstone of the gospel. If, after all, Christ has not been raised then the whole Christian message comes tumbling down.
So here we have in vv1-11 a summary of the very core and essence of what Paul calls in v1 ‘the gospel’. It was this that he himself had received, and this that he had proclaimed to them. It was this that they had received, and this on which they had taken their stand.
1. The gospel is centred on Jesus Christ
V3f. ‘What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’
If you went to a Buddhist, and asked, ‘how important to you is the life of Gautama Buddha?’ he would reply, ‘we know very little about our founder. What matters most is the teaching’. If you went to a follower of the Hindu faith, and enquired, ‘Is all your faith pinned on the god Krishna?’ the anwer would have to be, ‘We have millions of gods and goddesses. If we could not worship Krishna, then we still have Vishnu, or Shiva, or Rama, and a million others’. If you went to an Islamic Imam, and asked, could Allah had given his revelation through a prophet other than Mohammed, he would answer, ‘Yes. Mohammed was the greatest of the prophets, but the revelation could certainly have been given through another.’
But the Christian faith stands or falls on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ. The great question I would like you to consider this morning is not, What do you think of our church, fine as it is. What do you think of our welcome, warm as I hope it is. What do you think of our music, stirring and inspiring as it is. No: What do you think of Jesus Christ? What do you think of his amazing teaching, his spectacular miracles, his wonderful compassion, his cruel death, his astonishing resurrection? What do you think of his claim to be the way, the truth, and the life? That’s the big question, because the gospel is centred on Jesus Christ. Which brings me to
2. The gospel is rooted in history
Our passage speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection. These things really happened.
It’s interesting the way Paul puts it in v3. ‘Christ died and was buried’. It’s as though he wants to stress that Jesus really died. He didn’t, for example, just faint on the cross. Someone wrote to a Christian magazine.
Our preacher said, on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered
Whip your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Eutychus
Jesus really was dead and buried.
But then see what Paul says, v4: ‘He was raised on the third day.’ And he goes on to give a catalogue of those who could readily testify to that fact: Peter, the twelve disciples, more than 500 people at the same time, James, and finally Paul himself. He really was raised and was seen by many.
One Easter Sunday morning, a preacher stood up in front of his congregation and ate a daffodil. It was a very silly thing to do. He didn’t realise at the time that daffodils are quite poisonous. He realised that about 2 hours later. You might think, ‘I can’t believe that anyone would be so silly as to eat a daffodil. Surely he didn’t do it.’ But when Richard Bewes told the story some 20 years later, he was able to say, ‘You can ask my wife: she saw me do it. In fact, over 300 people saw me do it, most of whom are still alive today, although some have died.’ Paul is writing this letter just 20 or so years after the resurrection. Do you see what he is saying? This thing was not done in a corner. There were many witnesses. ‘Don’t just take my word for it (he says to his readers) – go and ask them if you want to.’
And the resurrection is as credible today, 2,000 years after it happened, as it was then, 20 years after it happened. Some while ago, there was a young British lawyer named Frank Morrison. He had been brought up to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was just a fairy tale. He decided to expose this superstition once and for all and write a book debunking it. As a lawyer, he had all the ability he needed to sift the evidence and come to a logical conclusion. But when he came to examine the facts carefully and honestly, he was forced to change his mind. He did write a book, but it was very different from the one he had intended to write. It is called, ‘Who Moved the Stone?’ In the first chapter he refers to his failed project to disprove the resurrection, and he calls that chapter, ‘The Book that Refused to be Written’.
The Christian message is rooted in history. And because it is rooted in what has happened in space and time, it speaks powerfully of this world, as well as the world to come. It is concerned with the body, as well as the soul. It was in his body that Jesus was crucified and was buried. And it was in his body that he was raised. And this forms the platform for what is the main point of the whole chapter: it is in our bodies that one day we shall raised. Just think of it! But more of that over the next few Sunday mornings.
But I come to my last point.
3. The gospel matters to everyone
Not all historical events make much difference to people’s everyday lives. We have just had the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Did you know that there are a few people around who deny it ever happened? But if it were to turn out to be a conspiracy, how much difference would it make to you and me? If someone could prove that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never made that one small step for man would your life fall apart overnight?
But how different it is with the gospel. Notice how personal all this is. V1-3 ‘I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…’ And so on.
It was Martin Luther who said that the heart of the Christian faith lies in its personal pronouns. Not, ‘God’, but, ‘My God,’ Not, ‘Saviour’, but, ‘My Saviour’.
The death and resurrection of Jesus offers you and me a way of salvation, a way of getting right with God. Christ died for our sins’, v3. A way of dealing with our alienation from and our rebellion against God. But Christ has not only died, he has been raised. And because he is alive, not only sin but death itself have been dealt with for ever. Other religions throw swimming instructions to drowning men and women. The Christian gospel brings a life-saver.‘
This is good news. ‘Euangelion (which we call gospel) is a Greek word, and signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tydings, that makes a man’s heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy.’ William Tyndale (C. 1494-1536)
Well, I hope there are those here this morning who will sing, dance and leap for joy, even though they may have heard this many times before. Paul says in verse 2, ‘hold firmly to it’. There is always a danger of retreating from the gospel, of sidelining it, of shrinking into some vague assertion about the love of God, or some unachievable invitation to live as Jesus did. Don’t be embarrassed by the message of Jesus Christ, his death for our sins and his glorious resurrection. It is good news. Let’s take our stand on it, let’s hold firmly to it, let’s herald it.
And I hope there are those here this morning whose hearts will be glad, even though they may never before really taken this message on board. This is the message that Paul’s readers had received, believed, and taken their stand on. And you can find, as they did, that it changes everything.
‘Jesus has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so.’ (C.S. Lewis)
Do come back next Sunday morning and learn more about this this remarkable section of this remarkable book, the Bible. Do talk to me or to any of a number of people if you would like to know more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Do visit our well-stocked bookstall. Best of all, do talk to God about it – in the quietness of your own home, at the close of this service with a member of the Prayer Ministry team, or right now.
The gospel makes a difference. It is centred on Jesus Christ. It is rooted in history. It matters to everyone.
[Illustration credits: ‘Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam’ – adapted from the oral ministry of D.A. Carson. ‘Daffodil’ – adapted from the oral ministry of Richard Bewes.]