Remember the Gospel! Every Day! - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Sermon Series: Confused?
Paul began chapter 15 with these words, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel . . .” (vs. 1). And having begun this way I want to pause here and plead with you for just a moment. Upon hearing these words, the temptation for many Christians is going to be to mentally check out. The temptation for some will be to respond by saying, “I don’t need to be reminded of the gospel - I have already placed my faith in Jesus. The gospel is for those who haven’t put their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. But since I have, I guess I’m off the hook this week – I’ll just have to sit patiently for the next several minutes and think about something else.” Not only is that a wrong way of thinking – it is a dangerous way of thinking. Let me ask you a question: Who is Paul writing this letter to? The church at Corinth, right? And who makes up the church? Individuals who have already placed their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. So who is Paul reminding of the Gospel? Believers in Christ! That is because the gospel isn’t some checkbox on a religious to-do list. It’s not something you hear once, respond to, and then move on from. In fact, think about the NT. Who (primarily) is the NT written to? Those who are believers in Christ. And yet the NT authors are always talking about the gospel. Why? Why spend so much time talking about the gospel if it really is something you respond to and move on from? Why spend so much time recalling what individuals have already believed? Why not spend that time and space providing instructions that would be more beneficial for those who have already believed and responded to the message of the gospel? The answer is because the gospel continues to be vitally important to our faith and our life as believers in Jesus.
The beginning of chapter 15 makes it clear that Paul had finished addressing the concerns of misuse and abuse during the public worship times and was now confronting the church at Corinth with a different concern. There was one other area of great significance that the church at Corinth was struggling with and to which Paul needed to bring some clarification - the future resurrection of the dead. So in chapter 15 Paul spent a significant amount of time addressing that issure. We wil not b able to unpack all of what Paul had to say regarding the future resurrection this week (in fact it is probably going to take us an additional two weeks). So this week we are going to concentrate on the first eleven verses of chapter 15 in which Paul made sure the necessary foundation was in place in order to help the church at Corinth have a correct understanding of their future resurrection. Therefore, my goal this week is to do my best to help you understand the significance of the gospel - whether you are already a believer in Christ and have a relationship with Jesus, or if you are a non-believer and aren't fully convinced of its significance.
Typically, I like to teach through a passage in order. However, this week I’m going to do something a little different. In the first two verses Paul tells the church at Corinth that he is going to remind them of the gospel. The gospel was something which they had already believed and responded to, so these first several verses are just that – a reminder. I don’t want to make the assumption this morning though that everyone here understands what Paul means when he talks about the gospel. So this morning we are actually going to begin with verses 3-5 in which Paul explained what the gospel is. Then, having made clear what the gospel is, we will move on to talk about some of other significant points in this passage that are important for our understanding.
First of all “gospel” simply means “good news.” This is what true Christianity is based on and why you and I cannot think of Christianity in the category of religions. Religions are essentially an establishment of rules that one must keep or things one must do in order to earn favor with one’s god. What the Bible teaches is altogether different. The message of the Bible is that there is nothing that we can do – there aren’t enough good works we can do, laws we can keep, or charitable giving that we can participate in – that can earn our forgiveness and bring us into a favorable standing with God. So while that sounds like bad news (and it is), the good news is that God looked upon our helpless and hopeless state and He did for us what we could not do on our own. And that is what Paul reminds the Corinthians of in verses 3-5. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Paul began verse 3 telling the church at Corinth that this was the good news – the gospel - which had been made known to him and which he had in turn made known to them. Then the first thing he said was, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” This is the first part of the good news. From the beginning the language should grab our attention. ‘Christ’ isn’t another name for Jesus, as I think many understand it – it is His title. ‘Christ’ means ‘Messiah’ which is the Hebrew title for the one that God promised to send to rescue humanity. For hundreds of years and many generations the world was waiting for the Messiah [the Christ] to come, and many have failed to recognize Jesus as him. Why? Because many have misunderstood what the Messiah was coming to rescue humanity from.
Many have believed that the Messiah would rescue humanity from governments and political powers, so they have looked for God to send a great military figure that would rescue humanity from evil regimes and bring all of humanity under his peaceful and righteous rule. But humanity’s need for rescue isn’t from political figures or governments – it is from our sin and its consequences in our lives. When God first created the world He made it without flaw or blemish – everything was perfect. And because God wanted His creation to love and worship Him, He gave them the freedom to choose what they would love and follow after. Consider this illustration: when I come home each evening, one of my favorite things is when one or more of my kids comes running over to give me a big hug. Right now it happens every day with our two year old. When I walk in the door it’s like an alarm goes off. She takes off running to me shouting, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” every step of the way. She doesn’t have to do that. It’s not a programmed response or something I force upon her. She chooses to do it, and because she chooses to run to me with great excitement and give me a big hug, I know that she loves me. Now, if there was a way to program her to do that or force her to do that there would be no way for me to know if she really loved me or not. How could I discern if she was doing it because she really loved me and was glad to see me or if she was doing it because she had no other option. So God created man and woman, placed them in a perfect environment made for them by their loving Creator where they had everything they could possibly need (most importantly unbroken fellowship with Himself), and then gave them the freedom to choose what they would love and worship. Everything about creation directed them to love and worship the Creator, but even more than that, knowing and experiencing first-hand the glory and majesty of God directed them to love and worship Him. But rather than loving and worshipping Him, they tried to make themselves like Him, and did the one thing He had prohibited them from doing. At that time sin entered to world, with all of its consequences – the greatest of which was separation from God. God, who was set apart from all other things in His righteousness, could no longer have an intimate relationship with mankind because we had turned away from Him, acted in disobedience, and become stained by sin. While we had been created for an intimate and personal relationship with God, humanity suffered the greatest lost it could ever imagine – we lost our connection to the only thing that could ever satisfy our hearts – God. Now sin and Satan reign in this world and in our hearts, and this (not some political figure or government) is what humanity needs to be rescued from.
So how can humanity be rescued from sin? How can we be reconciled to God? Because God is just, He could not simply excuse our sin – He demanded that the penalty for our sin be paid in full. And what is the penalty for sin? The Bible says it is ‘death.’ “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23). And this is the penalty we all owe because we all are guilty of sin, “. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is no little thing! We live in a world that seems to take sin lightly. Often times we look at our sin in light of others and say things like, “My sin isn’t as bad as his,” or “what I did wasn’t that big of a deal.” We can’t allow ourselves to think lightly of our sin. God doesn’t. In fact, our sin is so offensive to God and God hates our sin so much that He said the just penalty for our sin is death and eternal separation from Him. So here’s where God’s plan for salvation gets amazing! “Christ died . . .” This is hard to believe and has become the sticking point for many in the past. Jesus was the promised Messiah whom God had sent! On several occasions He claimed that He was God. And in the NT there are records of Him performing extraordinary miracles, and teaching with more authority than any other. Additionally, the Bible teaches that He lived a perfect life and was without any sin (which meant that He was not deserving of death). So how could it be that Jesus’ died? And perhaps more importantly, what sense does it make that Jesus, who was God and who was perfect, had to die? And the answer to that is in the next part of the phrase in verse 3, “Christ died for our sins . . .” Jesus’ death was substituionary. In other words, He was dying in our place and on our behalf. Jesus came to rescue humanity by paying in full the penalty that each of us deserved for the sin that we have committed. The promised Messiah died for you the death that you owed! (Let that marinate for just a minute.) God loves you! He wants to rescue you from your sin. But He requires the death penalty we owe to be paid in full. So God sent His own Son, Jesus, who provided a means of rescue, by paying our penalty in full – dying on our behalf.
The Bible also teaches that Jesus’ death was certain. It wasn’t that Jesus just appeared to be dead, he really did die. He spent a part of three days in a tomb as proof. He wasn’t taken to a hospital where He received around the clock medical attention from a team of dedicated doctors and nurses, he was buried in a tomb. Then Paul added the greatest news of all, “. . . He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .” Jesus did not remain dead. In all of human history, no one has ever proven themselves to be more powerful than death. In the past individuals have been restored to life, or brought back from what seems like death, but they all have died again. Once death has wrapped his arms tightly around an individual, no one has ever escaped his grip - except for one. Jesus did! He escaped death’s grip and has never returned. He defeated death – proving Himself to be more powerful. And what’s so great in this particular passage is that this is made even more clear in the grammar Paul used. “He was raised” is written in the perfect tense, which in the Greek expresses a completed action with on-going effects. When Paul wrote, “He was raised,” he was telling the Corinthians that Jesus’ resurrection was a completed action and that it also had on-going effects. In other words, He would always remain “raised.” There will never be another time in which Jesus comes into death’s grasp. This also sets Jesus apart from every other religious leader who has lived in the past. No other religious leader has proven himself or herself more powerful than death. Death has taken hold of those individuals and they all have remained in his grasp. Jesus is the only one who is presently living, and ruling and reigning on His throne.
How can we be so sure of Jesus’ resurrection? Paul made sure to address that question as well. The answer is ‘eyewitnesses.’ Often times people will refuse to accept the good news of Jesus because they say it can’t be proven scientifically. The problem is ‘history’ can never be proven scientifically and isn’t held to the same criteria. To prove something scientifically it has to be observable, testable, and repeatable. We can prove that water becomes ice at a certain temperature because we can take water, place it in an environment in which the temperature is less than zero degrees Celsius, observe that it freezes, and we can do it over and over and over again. But ‘history’ isn’t held to the same criteria. Fore example, we believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States because of eyewitnesses who gave accounts and have passed them down from one generation to the next. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus can’t be proven scientifically, but the eyewitness evidence that we have is incredibly strong. Paul says that after Jesus’ death, He appeared to Peter and to the other disciples. In verse 6 he goes on to say that Jesus also appeared to more than 500 people at one time, as well as to Paul, himself. At the time, most of these individuals were still alive (so it seems that Paul may have been suggesting that if they did not believe his account then they could go and ask another). Further evidence for Jesus’ resurrection lies in the absence of any credible rebuttal. Consider the context: the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus’ death hated him. He was challenging them, rebuking them, and teaching that He was the Messiah. They wanted Him dead and went to great lengths to have Him crucified. Rome also wanted Jesus dead. People who were supposed to be loyal to the emperor were pledging their allegiance to Jesus and following after Him. If Jesus were to continue to grow in power and influence they believed He might one day be able to challenge the entire Roman Empire. So both the Jews and the Romans gained from having Jesus dead. If Jesus were dead then the Jews could say, “You see, He wasn’t really the Messiah.” If Jesus were dead then the Romans no longer had to worry that He might challenge their power and authority. But a resurrected Jesus would only add to their troubles. If Jesus had risen then the Jews had all the more reason to believe that He was indeed God’s Son and the promised Messiah. The Jewish people would be even more likely to believe in and follow Him. If Jesus had risen then the Romans had far more to worry about then they had originally believed. A man who possessed the power to rise from the dead would certainly be able to establish a massive following which might attempt to overthrow Rome. So if Jesus’ resurrection was only a rumor, why would either of these groups have allowed it to persist? If there were rumors that Jesus had come back to life, but the reality was that He was still dead, then all the Jews or the Romans would have had to do was to take people to His tomb and say, “No! He’s not alive. See for yourself.” But neither group was able to do that. Furthermore, history also tells us that all of Jesus’ disciples died a martyr’s death or were persecuted in extraordinary degrees. Just before He died though His disciples had all deserted him in fear. So how do you explain such a turnaround in the lives of these men? What causes men to go from fearful cowards prior to Jesus’ death to men of extraordinary courage who were willing to suffer and die because they were proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, if in fact He had not really been raised? You can’t explain that. The historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is incredibly strong.
Jesus’ resurrection is essential to the plan of salvation because of the substitutionary nature of God’s plan. On one hand Jesus took our sin upon Himself and died the death that we deserved. But for a true exchange to take place Jesus had to offer us something in return. Ephesians 2:1 says that we were dead in our trespasses and sin. And what is it that dead people need? The answer is ‘life.’ By rising from the dead, Jesus proved that He was able to offer us new life in exchange for our sin. And once again there is nothing that we do to earn this new life – Jesus simply offers it to us in exchange for our sin.
This is the good news! This is the gospel! Christianity isn’t a religion by which we earn God’s forgiveness and favor by keeping certain laws and doing certain good deeds. Christianity is news that God has done for us what we could not do. He rescued us from our sin! He sent His one and only Son to be our substitute. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and paid the penalty we deserved to satisfy God’s requirement for sin. Then in exchange He offers to us His life and righteousness. All God calls us to do is turn from our sin and believe that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on our behalf is the only means for our forgiveness and salvation. When we do, God looks at us (even though we are still sinners) He hears Jesus say, “I’ve made an exchange with him/her. I’ve paid his/her penalty in full and I’ve credited to him/her my life of perfect righteousness.” Nothing about this is a demand to 'do' - rather it is a proclamation that it has already been 'done.'
Now let's go back and look at verses 1-2. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” Having established what the Gospel is, there are some important things worth noting in the first two verses. First, be sure to notice also how the good news of the gospel was transmitted. Paul said that he wanted to remind the church of Corinth of the gospel that he preached and which they received. Paul proclaimed the good news of salvation through Jesus not by speaking in tongues, but by proclaiming the good news with intelligible words that the Corinthians could understand. And the response of many of the Corinthians who heard the gospel through intelligible words preached by Paul was that they believed it and received it. This is consistent with what Paul wrote in the last chapter, in 14:21-25. Paul had warned the Corinthians that tongues was not the means by which God had designed the gospel to be understood. The use of tongues would not result in believers in Christ because people could not understand what was being proclaimed when tongues were being spoken. On the other hand, Paul said that if a non-believer heard the gospel proclaimed through intelligible words that his heart would be convicted, he would be called to give an account, the secrets of his heart would be exposed and he would fall on his face in belief and worship. In verse 1 of chapter 15, Paul said that was exactly how it worked when he came to Corinth – he preached the gospel (using language they could understand) and they believed and received the gospel.
Second, be sure to notice the significance of the gospel throughout all of one's life. Some of the Corinthians who heard the gospel had responded in belief. This was a response to the gospel that had already taken place at some time in the past. But the end of verse 1 and verse 2 demonstrate that the gospel has both present and future implications as well. Not only was the gospel something that in the past they had received, Paul reminded the church at Corinth that it was presently that “in which you stand.” What did that mean? It meant that their present standing as reconciled with God still had everything to do with Jesus’ substitutionary life, death, and resurrection on their behalf. Salvation wasn’t first granted with their repentance and belief but then daily maintained through their right living. To believe that would be to believe that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection wasn’t fully sufficient for their salvation – it would be Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection plus their good works; or Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection plus their moral behavior; or Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection plus their charitable giving. That wasn’t the case! Because of their belief in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection alone for their salvation they daily experienced forgiveness of their sin; because of their belief in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection alone they daily experienced reconciliation with Him; and because of their belief in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection alone they were experiencing new life from Christ. Their present standing as forgiven, reconciled children of God who were in possession of new life had nothing to do with their moral behavior, works, or achievements – but everything to do with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on their behalf.
We sang this earlier in our time of praise and worship this morning when we sang Matt Papa’s song, Jesus in my Place. His lyrics talk about our present day circumstances: “On my worst of days, what can wash away my sin?” What is it? What are you relying on when you have those bad days when if feels like you just continue to sin over and over and over again? Are you counting on the good works you are going to do on the next day to outweigh the bad ones you’ve done today? I hope not! The answer we sang earlier is, “Jesus in my place!” His life, death, and resurrection on my behalf is what washes away our sin on those days. But his lyrics also talk about our good days: “On my best of days, what can wash away my pride? When my greatest deeds fail to make me clean . . .” You and I have had good days, right? We have days when we love greatly, give generously, and serve humbly. But what are we counting on in those days for our right standing with God? Is it all of those good things we have done? No – because those good things (even the great things we do) can’t erase the sin we’ve committed in the past and make us clean. So the answer for the hope that we have to be presently reconciled with God, even on our good days, is “Jesus in my place!” Guys, we can’t look at the gospel as something we simply believe in, check off, and then move on from. Our daily lives have to be lived in the reality of the gospel and what Jesus has accomplished for us! We have to live our lives centered in this truth.
In verse 2 we see the gospel’s future implications. While belief in Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection on one’s behalf immediately grants forgiveness for all of one’s sin (past, present, and future); while it grants immediate reconciliation with God; and while it grants immediate assurance of eternal life with God; it does not remove individuals from a sinful world and the temptations of sin. So Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that that gospel was also that “by which you are being saved.” Next week we are going to see that through Adam (the first man created) and his sin, death came to all of creation. But by God’s design, new life and complete restoration was going to come through Jesus. Jesus has already come once to pay the penalty for sin and to begin the work of restoration in us. And the Bible also teaches that Jesus is going to come again and that when He does it will be to fully complete the work of restoration. Having conquered sin and death and paid the penalty for sin in full, Jesus is going to restore us to what God had originally intended. No longer will we wrestle with sin, no longer will our bodies face decay and death – instead we will find an existence where sin and its effects are no longer reigning in us and when we will no longer be physically separated from God. But those things have not taken place yet – so for now we are still in a state in which we God is making us more and more like His Son and in which we are continuing to be saved.
Verses 8-11 conclude the portion of the text that we are examining this week. Paul wrote, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” So that there was no confusion about whom this grace was available to Paul concluded this brief reminder of the gospel by reminding the church of Corinth how the grace of God through the gospel had transformed his life. It probably wasn’t much of a surprise that Jesus would appoint the group of eleven men who had hung out with him and spent the three years of his ministry with him to serve as apostles. Just think about their resume from the three years prior to their appointment as apostles: “Experience: spent the last three years as Jesus’ mentee being disciple by the Son of God, Himself. Have learned the significance of the Scriptures from the very author of the Scriptures and have beheld the very power of God on occasions too numerous to count. Have personally seen the Son of God dead on a cross, buried in a tomb, and ALIVE again! Objective: to make salvation through my Savior and friend, Jesus, known to all.” With that background and those experiences it just made sense for these eleven to be appointed as apostles. But Paul’s resume looked entirely different: “Experience: spent the last several years persecuting the church and those who profess to be followers of Jesus. Have arrested individuals, separated individuals from their families, and physically tortured and killed individuals for their faith in Jesus. Past objective: to hunt down believers in Christ and silence them until the name of Jesus is entirely forgotten. Present objective: to make salvation through Jesus known to all.” Who would believe that one with such past experience and objectives would presently know Jesus’ salvation and would want to make it known to others? That kind of transformation just doesn’t seem real. And yet Paul said that while his former persecution of the church made him the least of the apostles, the grace of God of God had still made salvation available to him and had still radically transformed his life.
Some of you today may have a background and a testimony that doesn’t look like and sound like someone that God would use. Perhaps this week you would say, “I completely understand why God would use some individuals to make the gospel known - they have grown up in families that taught them to love Jesus; they have learned about Jesus in church from before the time they could walk or talk; and they have been discipled by a great pastor or teacher. Of course God would call them to proclaim the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus to others. But my background isn’t like that! I have spent most of my life running from God; chasing my own desires; and not even interested in spiritual things or a relationship with Jesus. Sure, I’ve come to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord now, but He could never use anyone like me to make that gospel known to others.” Few, if any of us, will ever have a testimony that appears worse than Paul’s, and yet God used the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus to radically transform His life. The gospel is hope for everyone – regardless of their past! On our own we were all without hope! So each of us, regardless of our past or present, must respond by believing that Jesus died in our place and that His death, burial, and resurrection is the only thing that can save us. Then we must daily remind ourselves of that good news! Daily reminding ourselves of the gospel reminds us of the severity of our sin. When you think about the death that Jesus died on your behalf – the gruesomeness and severity - you cannot help but realize how offensive your sin was (and is) to God and what each of us, individually, was deserving of. When you think about the death of Jesus and remember that He died on your behalf, you cannot help but be humbled. There was nothing you could bring to the table to appease God or to earn His forgiveness and favor. (If there had been, Jesus’ death on your behalf would not have been necessary.) So Jesus stepped in and did for us what we could not do. He lived a life of perfection which we could not do. He died a death which satisfied God’s requirement for forgiveness – the shedding of blood from a perfect sacrifice. He rose again – proving Himself more powerful than even death – a feat which no other person throughout the course of human history has ever been able to accomplish.
When you think about the substitution of Jesus in your place you cannot help but see the mercy of God – keeping from us what we are deserving of. When you think about the substitution of Jesus in your place you cannot help but see the grace of God – granting to us forgiveness, life, and hope – none of which we deserved. And when you think about the substitution of Jesus in your place you cannot help but encounter the love of God! The gospel is good news all about the love of God – “For God so loved the world [i.e. this is the way in which God loved the world], that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “. . . But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved . . .” (Ephesians 2:4-5). When you think about Jesus on the cross you have to realize that it is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for you that He could show – He gave His perfect, only Son in your place. That is the extent to which God has gone to show you that He loves you.
Our lives have to be grounded in this good news. This is good news that you don’t respond to once and move on from. This is good news that you hope in and center your life on everyday!
Connection Point Questions for Discussion:
1. Think about something you learned to do once in the past, but have not thought about or practiced for a long time? (Think about things like pre-calculus, golf, or a second language) How proficient in that thing are you now? If you are not as proficient or skilled in that area as you once used to be, why do you think that is? Do you think believers in Christ might struggle to live out the implications of the gospel in their lives if they are not in the habit of daily remembering and reflecting on the gospel?
2. How would daily remembering and reflecting on the gospel impact: (a) the way we love God; (b) the way we love others; (c) the way we forgive; (d) the way we extend mercy and grace; (e) our humility; (f) our attitude toward sin; (g) your urgency to share that good news with others?
3. Think about the people who crossed your path today, starting from the time you woke up. Who have you crossed paths with or interacted with today (or will cross paths with or interact with tomorrow) who you are not certain if he or she is a believer in Christ? What is it that God has called us to share with them? What is the next step you need to take in order to share the good news of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus with that person?
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