June 3, 2008

The Most Important Message in the World – I Corinthians 15:1-8

Posted in Christian life, Gospel at 11:41 pm by Dan Lowe

We live in an age of information overload.  Everywhere we go… we are bombarded by messages which vie for our attention.  “Eat at Joes!”  “Shop at Quickie-Mart!”  “Vote for ­­­­______ (you fill in the blank.)”  Everywhere we go we are bombarded by messages which vie for our attention.  There is no way that we can remember them all, so we have to make choices.

How do we choose what we will remember?  How do we choose what we will focus on?  Often we choose subjectively.  For example, if baseball is your game, then you will probably know who played this week.  You’ll know won and who lost.  Why?  Because this is important to you.

If you are person who is interested in the weather, then you could probably tell me the 5-day forecast.  Why?  Because this is important to you.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  We tend to focus on that which is most important to us.

So tell me… what is the most important message in all the world?  What must we always remember?  What must we focus on above all else?  We don’t have to guess… God tells us in no uncertain terms in I Corinthians 15:1-8:

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 that Paul is speaking to Christians here, since he calls them “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 that there seems to be a problem here.  They seem to be a little forgetful.  He is writing to remind them… literally “to make known to them” (γνωρίζω) something he had already preached to them.

If we are honest, most of us tend to forget that which we hear proclaimed on Sunday morning.  Often the message we hear goes in one ear and out the other.  We think about it for a moment… we say to ourselves, “Yeah… that makes sense…” then within a day or so… if we are lucky… we have forgotten everything that was said.

In Corinth, it seems that this tendency to forget 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, Paul still calls them “brethren.  They are fellow Christians, but they have just forgotten that which is most important.  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 (pronounced euaggelion.)  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)      Christ died for our sins accordance with the Scriptures.

To understand what Paul is saying here, we must first have to understand what sin is.  That may sound obvious to many of us, but please humor me for a moment, because most of us 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.

We sin in many different ways.  We sin through the things we do wrong.  But sin is more than just the bad things we do; it is also the good things we don’t do.

We are sinners.  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.  He is holy, meaning He is separated from all that is sinful and worldly.  He is morally pure and hates sin.  He is also just, meaning that He always does what is right.  This 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 walked among so that He could 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 “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 this 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.

Jesus Christ suffered the death we deserve for our sin.  He died in our place so that we would not have to suffer the wrath of God for our sin.

That in and of itself is good news… but that is just the beginning…

2)      Christ was buried.

This is Paul’s way of affirming that Jesus was truly dead.  He didn’t just 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.

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

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 this news be for us?  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?  How would 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.

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

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.

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!  This is good news!  This is the best news ever proclaimed on this earth!  Nothing else in all of human history even 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 is 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 share with you an illustration which I heard given by Joshua Harris which describes how easily it is for us to “forget” the importance of the gospel.  Have you ever gone out and bought some artwork to decorate the walls of your home?  Whatever your taste in art, 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 and the old one gets moved to the hallway.  People still see it there once in a while… but it no longer has a place of prominence in your home.

More 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.

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 bank accounts… our hobbies. These things aren’t necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but even though they may be important, 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.

And in verse 1, Paul describes three things that we will do with the gospel if it is of first importance to us.

First… the gospel is to be preached.

Paul preached it to the Corinthians when he first came to this city.  In fact, I Corinthians 2:2 tell us that Paul “determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  Paul was committed to preaching the gospel to those who had never trusted in Jesus Christ so that they might be saved.

But Paul was also committed to preaching the gospel to Christians.  After all, that is what he is doing here.  He is reminding them of the good news of Jesus Christ, because we all have that tendency to bump the gospel out of first place in our lives.

This is something that we should expect of preachers.  They should preach the gospel to us.  We should expect the gospel to be of first importance to them.  Why?  Because we all need to hear it… over and over and over again.  Like the old hymn writer said, we should plead with our preachers to “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.”)

But this isn’t something we should only expect of preachers.  The Greek word translated “preach” here is εαγγελίζω (pronounced euaggelizo) and it is not the typical word for preaching.  It doesn’t mean to get up in front of people and stand behind a pulpit and speak to a seated, quiet audience.  It simply means “to announce good news” and over and over again in Scripture it is used to describe Christians sharing the message of the gospel with others (i.e. Acts 11:20.)

Is this something we do? 

Do we talk about the gospel with those we come into contact with in life?

We tend to talk about the things which matter most to us.

Have you ever met that guy who does nothing but talk sports?  Why?  Because sports is important to him, therefore his favorite team’s stats are his favorite subject.

Have you ever met that parent or grandparent who just won’t stop talking about their child?  Why do they do that?  Because that 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?

The second thing we see here is that the gospel is something to be received.

The Greek term here (παραλαμβάνω (pronounced paralambano)) literally means “to take from” or “to take to oneself.”

Over and over again in his writings, the Apostle Paul speaks of “my” gospel.  His gospel was no different than the other apostles.  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.

The fact that Jesus lived and died and rose again for us doesn’t automatically save us.  This is free gift which is offered to us, but we must receive this gift.  And we receive this gift through repentance and faith.

Repentance is recognizing our sin and turning away from it to God for salvation.

Faith is putting all of our hope in Jesus Christ to save us for eternity. 

Have you repented of your sin?  Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone to save you from God’s wrath in the day of judgment?  Then this is “your” good news.  God has saved you by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The third thing we see is that we are to stand upon the gospel. 

The idea here is to “stand firmly” upon the gospel and not be moved.

We can have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ, if we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus and remain steadfast in trusting in Him.  This begins the process of God transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.  This is what Paul means here when he says that by the gospel we are “being saved.”  Notice the present tense of this verb.  They are “being saved”… right now and continuously. 

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… 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 life.  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, and conforming us to the image of Jesus. 

Paul tells us here that the gospel not only saves us at the beginning of our Christian life, but it is the means by which God continually conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ.

Let me give you a couple examples of this:

1)      If you proclaim the gospel to yourself often…if you are constantly receiving it to yourself… making it your own… and standing firm upon it… than the gospel will affect the way you worship God.  You will be constantly reminded of the great and gracious God who saved you and that will lead you into praise and worship.

2)      The gospel reminds us that we are sinners… deserving of death and hell… and it is only by the gift of God that we can be saved.  What better way to put to death our self-righteousness and pride then to preach the gospel to ourselves and take it to heart and stand firmly upon it.

The gospel is the means by which God “saves” us… both once-for-all… and every day during the Christian life.  But notice that there is a condition attached to this. 

This is only true “if you hold fast to the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

What does it mean to “believe in vain”?

This is referring to an empty belief.  This comes in many styles and flavors, but most often it is when people believe with their heads, but not with their hearts.  It is giving intellectual assent to the gospel, but never committing oneself to Jesus.  We see this when people believe that Jesus was a real person… that He lived and died… maybe even that He was the Son of God.  They may believe the facts, but they don’t receive the message to themselves.  They aren’t trusting in the message.

Those who are “being saved” hold fast to the gospel.  They cling to Jesus like a life preserver in the midst of a stormy sea… knowing that nothing but Him can save them.

There are a lot of messages which are scrambling for first place in our lives and many of them are not bad or wrong.  Some of them are important.  But there can only be one thing that is of first importance in our lives and it must be the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are you a Christian?  Have you repented of your sin?  Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone to save you?  If not, then I urge you to call upon God today.  Admit your sin and plead with God for forgiveness.  Trust in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again to save you for all eternity.

If you are a Christian, then I urge you to take this seriously.  Strive to make the gospel of first importance in your life.  Never grow weary of the gospel.  Never grow weary of the message by which are saved and by which you are saved for all eternity.

Preach it to yourself every day.

Preach it to others every day.

Meditate on it.

Hold fast to it… for it is the most important message in all the world.

 

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