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Of First Importance

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Easter 2019

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Job 19:23–27 ESV
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Job 19:
Job 19:23–27 ESV
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Job 19:23
Prayer
Prayer
Introduction
Easter has long been one of (if not the) most important Christian holidays. I want to spend some time exploring why that is good and right. Why we should, as Christians, celebrate Easter. But to be clear, when I’m talking about celebrating Easter, I don’t mean giant egg-laying rabbits or egg hunts or baskets filled with candy or new outfits for the Spring – not that there is anything wrong with those things in and of themselves. What I’m talking about is celebrating the Resurrection. There is a reason Easter is an important Christian holiday.
Scripture
Our passage this morning is . If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word. We do this to show appreciation to God for His Word and in recognition that these are the most important Words we can hear today. I know that the passage is a little longer than normal, so please bear with me. says,
1 Corinthians 15:3–19 ESV
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. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 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. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
“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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 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.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Thank you, you may be seated.
Sermon
In this passage of Scripture, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. A church that he spent over a year and a half at. He knows the people he’s writing to and he loves the people he is writing to. What Paul is doing, at least in the first part of the passage is reminding them of the truth that he had taught them.
And this is not just any random tidbit of information. Paul says that this is of first importance. That of all the things that He taught while he was with them, this was central. It was core truth. And, to add to that, Paul is clear that this isn’t merely what he had taught, but he was passing on the truth he had received.
I won’t spend much time on this, but many scholars agree that what Paul recites here in verses 3-7 is an early Christian creed. Possibly the earliest Christian creed dating to within just a few years after Christ’s death. All that to say, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the basic, earliest, primary, most essential truths that Christianity has always held.
So, let’s unpack what those truths are. There are two main points each supported by a secondary point. The first point is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and the supporting point is that He was buried.
What would the Corinthians have understood by that statement? They would have recognized and remembered that Christ had come as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrificial system. They would have thought about things like the sacrifices of the Passover lamb and remembered that the sin they bore – their own guilt was placed on Christ. But even that truth needs some background context. The mention of sin and guilt assumes that we know what that means. It assumes the previous understanding that there is a holy God. That God is pure, and we are not. It assumes the understanding that as states, God hates all workers of iniquity. All of us and everyone we know and love are workers of iniquity. We are sinners to our very core. We are not merely offensive to God because of the things we do, but because of the nature we have. Out of our sinful nature flows sinful acts.
That might not sound like what we tend to think about God, but the cross makes no sense otherwise. God cannot pour out his wrath and anger on Jesus at Calvary if God is just a giant teddy bear who doesn’t have wrath and anger. Nor is there any need for us to be saved from our sinfulness if God doesn’t actually care about our sinfulness. But God does care about our sin. He hates it, and so we need to be saved from our sin – we need to be saved from His wrath.
That brings us back to this idea of Christ dying for our sins. Christ died for us. Just as the Passover lamb had the sins of Israel symbolically placed on it and was sacrificed – bore the death penalty to atone for the people’s sin. So, Christ bore the sins of His people and atoned for their sin. That is, He bore the punishment due to us and reconciled a sinful people to a Holy God. As says,
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God placed the sins of imperfect people onto the perfect Lamb so that we would be reconciled to Him.
But this is Easter Sunday, and so our focus is not primarily on the cross, but on the resurrection. So, the second main point that Paul made was that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. That point is supplemented with the fact that He appeared to many who then became witnesses of these facts.
Again, I want to reiterate that from the earliest of times, the church has, at its core, proclaimed these two truths: Christ died for our sins and was buried, and He was raised on the third day and appeared to many. We’ve already looked at why the cross – the death of Christ is so important, but why is the resurrection so significant? Why do we celebrate Easter?
Because without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless. I know that is a bold statement but bear with me as I explain. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. We would never have heard the name of Jesus. He would’ve been forgotten to time just like the hundreds of other people who died on the Roman cross. The resurrection shows that Christ was in fact who He said He was. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. To be one with God. If that was false, if Christ was lying about that, He would have been a blasphemer and insurrectionist and would have deserved the cross He received. The resurrection affirms the cross. What I mean is that God raising up Jesus shows that what Jesus said about Himself and what He said about God was true. It shows that Jesus was who He said He was. It also shows that God accepted Christ as the sacrificial payment due to our sins. That is no small point.
Without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sin. Verse 17 in our passage says that very thing,
1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
1 Cor.
The resurrection is not just about our future hope of taking part in Christ’s resurrection. If we are in Christ, we will one day be raised like Him and that is exciting and something we should hold on to in hope, but it also has real significance now – in our day to day lives.
The resurrection shows us that the guilt of our sin was laid on Christ. It shows us that sin can and was defeated. We no longer are forced to slog along in the futility of our sinful thinking and actions. We no longer are bound to sin because those chains have been broken.
It is through the power of the resurrection that there is power over sin. The power of the resurrection is the power of regeneration. Dead hearts brought to life. It is by that power that there is victory over anger and addiction. Power over gossip and slander. Over hatred and thievery. Over lust and deceit. The resurrection matters today because without it, we are all still dead in our sins and there is no hope to escape them or the punishment they deserve. If there is no resurrection, then we are of all people most to be pitied.
Now, you might have heard me say that it is only by the power of the resurrection that sin can be conquered, but you may be thinking, “I know people who are not Christians who have overcome addiction or this issue or that issue. They did it without the resurrection. What gives?”
This is what gives: You are confusing the ability of a person to reform their ways with what happens in conversion. In conversion, a sinner who is dead in their trespasses and sins is born again. They are raised to walk in newness of life. They are given new desires because they are given a new nature. Acting right is not Christianity, it is simply moralism. Acting right doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t get to the sinful nature that we are guilty of which we talked about earlier. The problem is not merely the individual sins we commit. The problem is the sinful nature that the sinful acts flow from.
To borrow an analogy from John Owen, it does no good to mend a hole in the wall when the whole house is on fire. First save the house, then worry about the hole in the wall. Likewise, it is futile to try to stop this sin or that one if the core of your heart is dead and rotten. If you have not experienced the power of the resurrection.
In talking about killing and defeating sin, John Owen says that “It is the work of believers, and believers only. To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead, as are all unbelievers (even the best of them), sin is alive, and will live.”
You see? The resurrection matters here and now because it gives life. Without the resurrection, there is only death and judgment. But with the resurrection – because of the resurrection, we can be alive to God. We can conquer sin because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” This is why we celebrate Easter. We celebrate the day that gives us life.
Conclusion
In conclusion, I want to make a few points of application. This conclusion may be a little longer than normal, so don’t get too excited about leaving just yet. These points of application are very important though, so don’t zone out either.
First of all, fellow believers, we should be very careful about how we talk about sin to unbelievers. Often times our mouths and our pulpits have proclaimed little more than moralistic teachings. Moralism – acting right – doesn’t save because there is no life in it. We should follow Paul’s example here and proclaim of first importance what we received – That Christ was crucified for our sins and was raised three days later. It is the Gospel that is the power of God to salvation, not good behavior.
If you are not a believer, but you’ve been told by Christians about how you need to stop this sin or that sin, I want you to know that you were told incorrectly. I know they told you that because they love you and see the destructiveness of sin in your life and want what is best for you. There is absolutely a place for fixing the hole in the wall, but your first order of business is to put out the fire. To quote Owen again, “You set yourself against a particular sin, but do not consider that you are nothing but sin.”
Brothers and sisters, fellow believers, because of the resurrection, we can conquer sin because Christ has already conquered sin and death. Let us celebrate that and embrace it and be excited about it. Let us live in light of the power of the resurrection. Let us live new lives.
Now I want to address everyone at once. Believers and unbelievers alike. If you find that you do not and never have had power over sin, that might be telling you something. Even if you grew up in church and live a “moral” life, that doesn’t mean you are a Christian any more than the Pharisees were Christians. As Jesus told Nicodemus, you must be born again.
Or maybe you haven’t lived a moral life. You know that you haven’t conquered sin in your life, but you are banking on that one time you walked down the aisle, or that time at Vacation Bible School where you asked Jesus into your heart or that one time you felt really bad about that one sin and promised God never to do it again, but you know deep down inside that you do not have new life. You realize that you are in bondage to sin, that it controls you from the heart all the way to the actions.
If any of that is true of you, please repent of your sin – not just your individual sins, but of your very nature. Forsake it and trust in Christ who died to save sinners and was raised three days later. There is no sin or sinner too great that Jesus is not a greater savior. Look a Paul an undeserving persecutor of the church and murderer. Because of the perfect sacrificial saving work of Christ, you can live. Repent and believe Christ.
We are about to move into a time of worship through response. We believe that any time we hear the Word of God, we respond either in worship or in rebellion. Please respond in worship. I will be on the front row worshipping with you. If you need to talk with someone or want someone to pray with, I’d be delighted to do that. Just come on to the front and get me. The front is also always opened if you would like to pray up here. I will be around after service also if you would like to talk then.
Let’s Pray
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