1 Corinthians Pt. 25 – Of First Importance.

1 Corinthians Pt. 25

Reid A Ferguson

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

In 1999, the smash hit movie The Matrix made its debut. What made it so intriguing – beside the very cool special effects – was the way it questioned whether or not you and I know reality.

The premise was that man had progressed so far in creating smart machines, that the machines took over. However, they needed a perpetual power source and they found that human beings could be that power source.

So they kept humans in huge collectives in an unconscious dream state – where in their dreams they had meaningful, productive lives – but in reality they were simply hooked up to machines and their bio-electrical energy was harnessed to keep the machines going.

Neo, the protagonist is awakened to this reality and seeks to bring all humanity out of their dream world and back into the real one.

It’s not a new idea. Some religionists and philosophers have posited something similar throughout the ages. Perhaps your existence and mine is simply an illusion and we are but the dream of some sleeping giant.

You get the picture.

God is vitally interested in helping us live in reality – but not a false reality of our own making, or someone else’s, but in the reality of who we are, how we came to be, why we are here, where all of life is going and why is there pain and suffering?

All thinking people want answers to those questions.

And unless we go back to the Creator of it all, and understand all of life and its meaning from His perspective, we are ultimately living in a false reality of our own making. We live something of an illusion.

I mentioned several weeks ago that popular religion – even Christianity often approaches the Bible and faith in terms of requiring it to be relevant to our lives.

But the Bible isn’t to be approached that way.  The message of the Scripture isn’t a wax nose we can shape and re-shape so as to give us little tips and tricks to hack life.

The revelation of the Bible is to bring us into reality as God knows it. What Francis Schaeffer called “real reality.”

Reality as the One who created life and the universe knows it.

As only the Creator of something can fully know its purposes, since everything exists FOR His purposes – including you and me.

As Colossians 1:16 reads: / For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

So the question is not – how can I make the Bible relevant to me? It is instead: “Am I relevant to God’s plans and purposes?” And the Bible is written to bring us to that. To reveal and bring us back into line with God’s plans and purposes.

So what does God say is of vital importance to know so as to live in His reality?

That is the question our text answers this morning.  So it is vs. 3 reads: 1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV / For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

So let’s start there – in vss. 3-6

What’s so important? 1 Corinthians 15:3–6 ESV / 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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

  1. CHRIST died / It was not just some good man, or sage, or prophet or miracle worker or healer who died. He was THE CHRIST! God’s anointed one. Jesus the Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified and died.

It is absolutely essential we are clear on this. This is both what the Bible teaches, and what the Church has believed and taught from the very beginning.

There is no question that human language is inadequate to completely explain the nature of Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully man – we’re dealing with divine realities. They ought to stretch us some. If they don’t they aren’t divine.

And too, the effects of the Fall on our intellect prevent us from grasping what is called Jesus’ “theanthropic” nature more fully. Yet, this is the testimony of the earliest Believers without question.

In Acts 4, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and John were on trial because they were preaching the resurrection from the dead in Jesus. The Jewish leadership was not happy; it was destroying their power base. Upon the Apostle’s release, they joined their friends and the prayer recorded in that moment is profound: Acts 4:24–28 ESV / And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

They were quoting Psalm 2 and how it pointed to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one. The one who when an angel visited Joseph to tell him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife said: Matthew 1:20–23 ESV / But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

His name would be what? Immanuel – “God with us”. It was the Christ who died. This is of first importance our text says. Christ DIED

Now once again, clarity here is of the utmost importance. Jesus didn’t just suffer. He died. He was crucified by a Roman crucifixion and He literally and truly died. He did this to fulfil God’s prophecies about Him from the Old Testament.

Not only did Christ die…Christ died FOR OUR SINS – Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES

Isaiah 53 spells is out in startling detail more than 700 years before Jesus came: Isaiah 53 ESV / Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 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.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

  1. That He was BURIED

No doubt an allusion to Jesus’ own testimony in Matt. 13 that the great sign of His divine Messiah-ship would be the sign of Jonah the prophet. Jesus said that as Jonah was 3 days and night in the belly of the fish, so He would be 3 days and nights in the grave.

  1. He APPEARED / He overcame death and the grave – rising the 3rd day and appearing to more than 500 over time. This wasn’t some spiritual or metaphorical resurrection – it was literal and physical. Nor was the report of it left to a single individual in a vision or a dream, or even just a small closed circle – hundreds saw Him.

And so Paul can preach in Acts 26:22–23 ESV / To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

This, our text says – is of FIRST importance. If you want to know what God is all about, what life is all about – you must come to grips with the person and work of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:3–5 ESV / 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.

1 Corinthians 15:11 ESV / Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

This is the Gospel. Leave any element out, and you destroy the Gospel. Jesus’ divinity. His real death. His death as substitutionary for our sins. And His literal, physical resurrection.

And by the same token – if you add anything else to it, you destroy the Gospel. Good works. Personal goodness or righteousness. Religion or religiosity. Supposed spirituality.

These are the very bedrock both of Christianity, and the real-reality of God’s universe.

But that begs the question…

Why is it so important?

And for this, we need to go back to the start of the 1st 2 vss.

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV / 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.

Note 4 elements in the text:

1 – Receiving the Gospel is cosmically REDEFINING / As much as it might sound it – this is NOT hyperbole. Salvation begins with the receiving of the facts we’ve just unpacked – as the truth – and absolutely necessary.

The Greek word used here for receive implies far more than just acknowledging a fact like – sometimes it snows in winter. It is used in Matt. 1 for Joseph taking Mary as his wife. It changes everything. It is now a part of you. It fundamentally informs and impacts the whole of life.

And so as one would imagine, speaking to Christians in this letter, Paul reminds them they didn’t just look at the 4 things we just rehearsed as mere religious dogma – they took in the facts of the Gospel as an entirely new worldview.

God had come into the world as Jesus Christ. This God had walked and lived among them. They ate with Him, talked with Him, were taught by Him and as their Creator God brought them into HIS World! And in receiving the Gospel this way, they have entered into an eternally life re-defining relationship with the Living God.

Scripture uses terms like born again, adopted into the family of God and betrothed to Christ as His Bride. We are vested with an entirely new identity in Him as one with Him.

Colossians 1:13 ESV / He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

A new citizenship and – 1 John 3:2 ESV / Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

A new familial relationship. Sonship!

We bear an entirely new and cosmically important identity in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV / 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.

2 – Receiving the Gospel is utterly FOUNDATIONAL  / This Gospel is now the foundation of your lives. You give yourselves to it.

In a Church like theirs which was rife with politics, infighting and competition for spiritual status and self-promotion – this would have had particular import: You all stand on exactly the same foundation and no other.

And one who abandons this foundation as holding supreme importance – that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again the 3rd day according to the Scriptures – and that His resurrection was attested to by hundreds of eye-witnesses, the majority of whom were still alive – IS NO CHRISTIAN.

These elements are non-negotiable. They are the things in which we stand as Christians – as Believers.

While it is not in our sights this morning, the rest if the chapter goes on to establish that if you remove only the doctrine of the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead – you no longer stand in the Gospel.

You are no longer to be considered a Christian.

“Not only have the Corinthians received this truth, they now ‘stand’ in it. The announcement that Jesus rose from the dead has become the foundation of their lives: Christ lives for them and they, ostensibly, for him.” Peter Naylor, A Study Commentary on 1 Corinthians, EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England; Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2004), 416.

This is what it means to stand in the Gospel: Christ lives for us, and we ostensibly live for Him.

You begin to catch something of why Paul calls these things of first importance don’t you?

Because the Gospel is all about how God in Jesus Christ was reconciling lost and rebellious sinners to Himself so that we might be joined with Him for all eternity – it rightly eclipses everything else in life.

This is of more than immediate importance, or important to my wants, desires, ambitions, etc. – it speaks to the whole of life now in light of the coming eternal state.

There are lots of things each of us deal with from day to day that all have their relative importance. But none of them – NONE OF THEM carry the full weight of eternity as the Gospel does. And none of them can stabilize us in the upheavals of life’s trials, triumphs, tragedies and temptations as can the Gospel.

And as Paul is calling these first readers back from the mayhem that so preoccupied them in the disheveled mess that Church was in to reconsider things of transcendent importance – this is not one whit less a need for us in our day when every newspaper, television news cast, podcast and conversation tries to claim its latest story is really the most important thing we need to be occupied with in that moment.

Disasters, wars, plagues, geo-political upheavals, economic highs and lows, health-care, elections, and a million other things will come and go as long as human history continues prior to Christ’s return – but the Gospel has eternal ramifications which infinitely outstrip them all.

And so we had better be about it.

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV / 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.

3 – Receiving the Gospel is TOTALLY TRANSFORMATIVE

2 things catch the attention here don’t they?

  1. What is meant here by “saved”?
  2. Why does Paul use it in a continuing sense rather than as a finished fact? After all, don’t Christians talk about having BEEN saved? That we ARE saved as a present reality?

We need to be reminded about what the Bible means when it talks about salvation. This “saved” & “salvation” language is used in various places in Scripture.

Most of you are all too familiar with way salvation is spoken of in 3 tenses in the Bible.

Christ HAS saved us – Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

He IS saving us – 2 Cor. 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

He WILL save us – 1 Peter 1:5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Or as it is commonly put: In justification He has saved us from the PENALTY of sin the moment we believed. In His continual indwelling work by the Spirit He is saving us from the remaining POWER of sin within us, and in His return He will at last save us from the very PRESENCE of sin.

It is in this 2nd sense that Paul is speaking in our text. His point both to them and to us is: Genuine Christians, authentic Believers have received the Gospel, stand upon it as the foundation of life and continue to trust in it in their day-to-day battle against indwelling sin until Christ returns.

Men and women, regardless of their profession of faith – who are not at war with their own sin – are not Christians by Biblical definition.

And when we fail, when we sin, which we do all the time – we know there is only one place to go with our guilt and our shame – back to the Cross.

Back to resting in the finished, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary on our behalf.

We have NO OTHER HOPE to stand before God than Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us, put on our account by faith – even as the Father imputed our guilt to Him there.

Which then brings us to Paul’s final point in this passage 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV / 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.

4 – Remaining in the Gospel is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY

As J.C. Ryle, that stalwart of the 19th century wrote: “People ought to be continually warned not to make a Christ of the Church, or of the ministry, or of forms of worship, or of baptism, or of the Lord’s Supper.”

No one grows up beyond or out of the Gospel and the need for its saving truth. So Paul warns here, we absolutely must hold fast to the Gospel itself and nothing else. And it is so easy to cave to cultural pressures and to give up on essentials as though they are matters of mere opinion – when our eternal destiny rests upon the truth – not our opinions.

Ryle went on to say: “I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing Church of the [this] century is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by sceptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians now-a-days seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with colour-blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound. If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error. Popery or Protestantism, an atonement or no atonement, a personal Holy [Spirit] no Holy [Spirit], future punishment or no future punishment, High Church or Low Church or Broad Church, Trinitarianism, Arianism, or Unitarianism, nothing comes amiss to them: they can swallow all, if they cannot digest it! Carried away by a fancied liberality and charity, they seem to think everybody is right and nobody is wrong, every clergyman is sound and none are unsound, everybody is going to be saved and nobody going to be lost. Their religion is made up of negatives; and the only positive thing about them is, that they dislike distinctness, and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very naughty and very wrong!

These people live in a kind of mist or fog. They see nothing clearly, and do not know what they believe. They have not made up their minds about any great point in the Gospel, and seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. For their lives they could not tell you what they think is truth about justification, or regeneration, or sanctification, or the Lord’s Supper, or baptism, or faith, or conversion, or inspiration, or the future state. They are eaten up with a morbid dread of CONTROVERSY and an ignorant dislike of PARTY SPIRIT; and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases. The only point you can make out is that they admire earnestness and cleverness and charity, and cannot believe that any clever, earnest, charitable man can ever be in the wrong! And so they live on undecided; and too often undecided they drift down to the grave, without comfort in their religion, and, I am afraid, often without hope.[] this boneless, nerveless, jelly-fish condition of soul is not difficult to find.” J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 416–418.

As Jesus’ brother would write in Jude 3 ESV / Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Beloved, we have to hold fast to the Gospel and its basic elements or no matter what we call it – in the final analysis it is not Christianity. And it is not saving.

Is it not then particularly important to revisit this all as we come to the Lord’s Table today?

We do not come to celebrate a ritual. Rituals haves no power to change us by themselves.

We don’t do it to be accepted by God and approved.

We come to remember Jesus in His saving work even as He called us to.

To re-establish our hearts and minds in the Gospel.

We come as those who hold no other hope with God other than that Jesus, God incarnate died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

His body and blood typified for us in these elements.

That He was buried.

That He was raised again on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scriptures.

And that He appeared to Peter, then to the 12, and then to hundreds more who serve as eye-witnesses.

And so we trust then in all of His promises and His finished work until He returns – building our lives around these 4 cornerstones.

We do this today in the reality the rest of the World knows nothing about.

We do it as citizens of His Kingdom, adopted sons and daughters into His family, awaiting the final hour when in His return He will bring all of His promises to pass.

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