The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 27: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; "The Gospel of Christ: A Reminder"
The Corinthian Correspondence • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 49:12
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The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 27; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 "The Gospel: A Reminder" Paul had some unfinished business to conduct with his beloved Corinthians. Though they caused him a LOT of headaches, they were still his spiritual children. He came to Corinth preaching the gospel. Some repented of their sin and believed, and followed Jesus. And a church was established. But over the many weeks we have been studying 1 Corinthians, we have had a ringside seat, as we watched, and listened to Paul deal with their number 1 problem: disunity. Between the time he left Corinth and the writing of this letter, Paul heard some things that must have devastated him. Groups following their favorite spiritual leader, sexual immorality, lawsuits between fellow Christians, spiritual pride, and so much more greatly concerned Paul. And as we know, Paul began his letter reminding them of the gospel he proclaimed to them, when he first got into town in 1 Corinthians 2:2: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Christ crucified. Wait for it . . . finish it Paul! Me thinks you forgot something. What's missing from the gospel picture? Oh! That's right: Christ's resurrection! If you have studied how Paul wrote his letters in any detail, you will notice that sometimes he begins things and then follows sanctified rabbit trails. LONG ones in some places. For example in Romans, Paul begins to talk about the glories of what God gave his people, the Jews in Romans 3:1-2: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. Then in 9:4-5, it's as though Paul picks up where he left off 6 chapters ago: They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. So, it seems to me that Paul does the same thing here in 1 Corinthians, highlighting one part of the gospel-the crucifixion of Christ in the first 2 chapters. Then he goes down a long, sanctified rabbit trail, and completes the circuit, presenting the resurrection of Christ in chapter 15. Paul, I'm convinced needed to deal with the areas of disunity before he finished what should have unified them in the first place-the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we will see throughout this chapter, Paul masterfully sets before them the teaching of the resurrection. It was as if in the first 14 chapters, Paul emphasized that Christians needed to follow Christ in dying to themselves. Then, in chapter 15, they needed to embrace the truth of the resurrection in order to, as we so often say at Grace United, live together in love and unity. Paul lays out in our passage for today, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, that there are two sides of the gospel: the death and the resurrection of Christ. And the Corinthians needed to fully embrace the historical fact that Christ, indeed rose again from the dead. But there were some who were attached to the church in Corinth who denied this truth. And we will see as we go through this chapter, if there is no bodily resurrection from the dead, then we are all in trouble. Let me tell you where we are headed in this passage. In vv.1-2, Paul reminds them of what unifies not only the Christians in Corinth, but every Christian in every church down through the ages: the gospel. This is the foundation upon which salvation is built. In vv.3-7 Paul gives them the facts of the actual, unadulterated gospel: the death, burial, resurrection and appearances of Christ. Then in vv.8-11, we will see how the gospel functioned in Paul's own life. For the gospel, as Paul told the Romans is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the gentile. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: 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. In these verses, Paul reminds his beloved Corinthians of his ministry in their lives. He addresses them as spiritual siblings-siblings because of the gospel. They are in the family, and as the writer to the Hebrews says, Jesus is our elder brother. Amazing thing, isn't it? As great as Jesus is-Kings of kings and Lord of lords, we are spiritually related to him! Chew on that! Don't take that for granted. If you have repented of your sin, and humbled yourself and believe the gospel, you are related to Jesus! And when we get to the next section today, we are going to see just how amazing this truth is! Then Paul reminds them that he preached the gospel to them. Someone had to make the first move! The Lord Jesus sent Paul to them, the Holy Spirit convicted them, and before long, a church was born in Corinth! This was God's doing and Paul was a fellow worker with God in this. Paul opened his mouth and gave them the gospel, but it was the power of the Spirit who convicted the Corinthians and gave them eternal life. But now, notice the implied warning: "you Corinthians received the gospel, you are standing in it, and you are saved if - literally since - you hold fast to the word I preached to you". . . wait for it . . . unless you believed in vain. The warning is clear. Unless you believed in vain. Throughout this letter, Paul makes his point. And his point becomes very sharp in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 11: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Then he gives a grocery list of sins and says, And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Notice that Paul did not say here: you never believed in the first place. He said, "you believed in vain." In other words, if you believed in vain, you believed for nothing-your belief in the gospel did nothing in your life. It's as if Paul is saying, "listen up! You can say what you want. But if the gospel does not affect your life, you have believed in vain." In Matthew 7, the Lord Jesus said he will tell many on the Day of Judgment: "depart from me for I never knew you." Who will be those the Lord will say these tragic words to? It will be to those who say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Cast out demons? Did many mighty works in your name?" But he will tell many on that day, those who called him Lord in this life, "Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Literally, you who practice lawlessness. We can be religious. We can believe Jesus to be Lord and king. But when we live our lives practicing lawlessness-and John defines lawlessness as sin-that is a tell-tale sign that those who live this way will hear "depart from me." Now, don't mishear me. I'm not saying, we need to be perfect. I'm talking about intentionality. A person who really has repented from their sins and believed the gospel of Christ practices righteousness. We seek the kingdom of God. The Lord has put it into our hearts to practice his ways, however imperfectly. But what does it mean to practice righteousness? Consider athletics. Or music. Or anything that requires a person to hone a skill. What do they do? Practice. They are intentional. Why? So they can get better! Now, consider an athlete or musician wanna be. They talk about it. But they never put on the tennis shoes or pick up the guitar. They can talk all day long about how they are athletes or musicians. But are they? How they prioritize their lives to include the way they choose to spend their time tells us all we need to know. That's the major difference between a true follower of Jesus and one who isn't. The short answer is that a saved person will be a practitioner of righteousness-because the Spirit of God has changed his or her heart. That's why a Christ follower takes in the Scripture. Prays. Fellowships with other believers. Worships together. All for the purpose of practicing righteousness. But a disciple wanna be doesn't practice righteousness. He or she will talk a good line. But there is no evidence he or she is practicing righteousness. Horrifically, this person will hear "depart from me" when we all stand before the Lord. Don't be a wanna be disciple. Be a true Christian. Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of the foundation of their salvation. It's the gospel. Now, let's look at the facts of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: 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. Straight forward facts. Christ died. Christ was buried. Christ rose again. Christ appeared to people on this side of the grave. To many they are mere facts. But let's look carefully. First, notice how Paul referred to the one who died and rose again. Christ. That does not mean nearly to us as much as it did to Paul. I'm convinced that in part because we are not Jewish. See, "Christ" is another word for Messiah. Every deeply committed Jew longed for and longs for Messiah. In Messiah everything converges. All the promises of God. All glory and honor and power go to the Messiah. In one body of Jewish literature called the Talmud, it states that the world was created for him and that all the prophets prophesied of his days. Now, who was Paul in his B.C. days? A member of the Jewish ruling council. It was his passion and his job to make sure that his people believed the right things and lived the right way to make way for the Messiah. Then along comes this imposter named Jesus. There was a lot of talk about him. The Jewish leaders were glad to see him crucified. And though Scripture does not say it, I would not be surprised that Saul-his original name-was among those who called out "crucify him." Saul was there when Stephen was stoned for being a witness for Christ. He watched over the coats of those who participated in his martyrdom. Saul had a deep passion to do away with the deceiver, Jesus of Nazareth. Until Jesus, the Christ met him on the road heading for Damascus. Though Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest the followers of the way, Jesus arrested him. Changed him for eternity. Saul learned quick, fast and in a hurry that the Messiah he was waiting for, preparing to serve when he arrived, was the one who knocked him to the ground. Paul was converted. He never looked back. And for the rest of his days, he served the Messiah. The Christ. And so when Paul articulated the gospel and proclaimed it was the Messiah who died, that was profoundly personal for Paul. The one who was to rule the world, died. And why did he die? He died for our sins. According to the Scriptures. He was buried, which means that he died. He was really dead. That is what we do with dead people. He was raised by the power of God on the 3rd day after he died, again in accordance with the Scriptures. Two of the three facts regarding the gospel: Christ died and rose again according to the Scriptures. It was predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures that Messiah-Christ would experience this. And Jesus, who is the Christ, this very one is who died and rose again. I think of what Isaiah wrote, for example in the 53rd chapter of his book. Listen to just a few of the words of the prophet in his prediction of the Messiah-of Christ. 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 stricken for the transgression of my people. . . . 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-does this not speak here of resurrection? . . . 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. This is Isaiah's prediction of Messiah's-of Christ's death and resurrection. But what about his burial for 3 days? The Lord himself predicted this. Remember when the Pharisees demanded that Jesus give them a sign to prove who he was? Here's what he said in Matthew 12:39-40: No sign will be given . . . except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. There's a lot we can say about the unfaithful, even racist prophet, Jonah. But the Lord Jesus actually used his rebellion as an object lesson to paint a picture for Jesus' opponents about his own burial! What grace! What mercy! The death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the heart of the gospel. But notice what Paul says about his appearances. Paul recounts no less than 6 separate scenarios where Jesus appeared to his people. Notice how Christ did not appear to the entire world-just his people. Peter. The rest of the apostles. James, Christ's own half-brother. Five hundred believers at one time-and at the time Paul wrote this letter, most of them were still vertical. It's as if to say, "Resurrection deniers! If you don't believe that Christ was raised from the dead, go talk to these brothers. Ask for their story. They will tell you. It's only been about 20 years ago! And then, as Paul describes himself as one untimely born, literally stillborn, Christ appeared to him as well. There's a LOT we can say about these appearances. But let me just say this. The emphasis Paul placed on the gospel was simply this: Christ died-and his death was reinforced by including in the story of his burial. That's one half of the emphasis. The other half of the emphasis was Jesus rose again-and his appearances solidified his resurrection. These are the facts of the gospel. And Paul gave his life living out his conviction that the Christ was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. And it is this gospel that was supposed to unify the Corinthians. But they apparently forgot this. It only took a few years for the Corinthian believers to seemingly have turned their back on Christ. Again, Christ-THE Messiah the very one they were to all look to as their object of worship and leadership but they began to quarrel among themselves about who was the best man to follow. The Messiah died for their sins and was buried and rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. But how often did Paul call them out for their sin? Paul actually had to chide them, and very directly tell them to stop being proud of their sinful progressivism and kick the man out of their fellowship who had an incestual relationship with his step mother. Paul had to instruct them that those who practice unrighteousness would not inherit the kingdom of God. The Corinthians were filled with pride in the corporate worship setting. If they worshiped Christ, it probably was not accepted, for God killed some of them because some of them actually prevented their spiritual siblings from partaking in the Lord's Supper. In short, in these verses Paul implored them: "y'all get back to the gospel of Christ. He alone can produce unity and love among you." But lest we get to thinking and feeling that we are not doing as poorly as the Corinthians, we need to evaluate our own lives. Perhaps even this fellowship. I am convinced that the church of Christ in the 21st Century has believed a gospel with little power. Oh, we present the gospel accurately as far as some of the content goes. But it has lost its power. And because we have believed a less than powerful gospel, many of us have little spiritual strength. Let me ask as soberly as I can: If things were to change tomorrow, and we were no longer allowed to meet together on Sundays for worship what would we do? Let's say, what if Gov. Northam adopted the same policy as Gov. Newsome in California and carried it even farther, where none of us could meet for worship? Where we could not even meet for Bible Study? Let's say what if FB Live was not an option either because speaking the truth of this gospel would be considered hate speech? And speaking of hate speech, what if we are not allowed to tell others about Jesus in our own private circles of friends and family? That there would be snitch lines open so that people could report hate speech anonymously? And what if these policies were to become permanent? How would you fare? How would I fare? Would we have the strength to weather this storm? Would we dare defy the government and continue to serve the Lord in the face of fines and jailtime? We are not far away from this. We've already heard from big city mayors who have threatened to permanently close church buildings and even raze them to the ground. So, persecution is not coming to our shores. My brothers and sisters it is already here. But what is it about the gospel-the divine power that gives us salvation-that has been weakened? How is it that people can believe the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and still have no power to live a life of vigorous godliness? To demonstrate spiritual strength in the face of persecution that is sure to come, perhaps to our doors soon? I'm convinced that the gospel we have come to embrace is a gospel with little power because of a couple small tweaks. Tweaks that may seem to not be tweaks at all on the surface, but they have done a lot of damage. What are the tweaks? Simply encapsulated this way: "Jesus loved me so much that he died for me." Let that sink in. This is the gospel that many of us believe. But how does that compare to what Paul proclaimed? What was his understanding of Messiah? He was the King for whom the world was created. The Messiah died for our sins. He rose again. He appeared to only a few. A bit different than our way of understanding the gospel. Our way of understanding the gospel is not wrong. But as I heard it put one day. It's incomplete. When we think of Jesus on the cross, how often do we think he was a victim of the religious establishment and got caught up in the political intrigue of the day? Jesus was nothing but loving and kind. And he was arrested, tried, convicted. And the flagellum and the crown of thorns were applied. He was stripped bare and nails were driven into his hands and feet. The spear pierced his side. When Messiah was on the cross, he was in full control of his mind, enduring all the hellishness there, suffering and feeling every pang for you and me. How many of us take pity and even feel sorry for him? We see this in horror in our mind's eyes. We recoil from all this. How can one man endure such pain and suffering? And we call that love. John 3:16: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." We think and feel about all that Jesus went through-dying for me. For me! I must be something special. I think of a recent song, the lyrics go like this: I don't need my name in lights I'm famous in my Father's eyes Make no mistake He knows my name I'm not living for applause I'm already so adored It's all His stage He knows my name. You may have noticed that I misquoted John 3:16 a moment ago. But what does this verse really say? The word "so" does not mean quantity as in so much. This truth Messiah told has very little to do with how much God loves us. It has everything to do with how he loves us. This is literally what John 3:16 says: For God loved the world like this: he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Why make such a big deal out of this pastor? Simply but profoundly, we have a very shallow view of sin and a small view of who God really is. God loves us. Absolutely. Perfectly. But just as perfectly. Just as absolutely, God is holy. He is pure beyond pure. Perfect beyond perfect. Perfectly all knowing. He knows depth of our own hearts and sin. And beyond. There's no way we can scratch the surface of the depth of offense God feels for our sin. And God, being perfect, never gets used to our sin. Every time we sin it offends him. Our sin is so heinous, it requires a blood sacrifice. The Jews knew this. So much blood. And when they offered the sacrifice back in the day, the one who offered the sacrifice placed his hands on the head of the animal. Then he took the knife and killed the animal. The priests then applied the blood to the altar and burned up the sacrifice in the correct way. But now. Christ has become our sacrifice for sins. All of them. It took Christ's hideous death to pay for our sins. That is the depth of how abhorrent sin is to God. The death that we deserve to die for our sins was paid for by Christ. The Messiah. My sins were laid on Jesus. He was not a victim of the religious establishment. He volunteered to be the sacrifice. He was perfectly willing to do this. Jesus said in John 10:17-18: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. The bottom line here is: how we need to somehow see our sin as God sees it. To the degree that we can see our sin as he does, is the degree that we can truly appreciate what Jesus did for us. So the choice is ours. We can either continue to view the gospel as "Jesus loves me so much that he died for me," or we can see the gospel as Paul saw it, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." These are the facts of the gospel. Now let's take a look at how the gospel functioned in Paul's own life in vv.9-11. 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. Simply put, Paul never got over the wonder of the grace of God as found in Christ. The Messiah. The Jewish Messiah. The Messiah who died for his sins and rose again and appeared to people. I mentioned a few minutes back that Paul was passionate about stomping out this sect called the Nazarenes. The Way. And when Christ knocked him to the ground on that day he traveled on the Damascus road, I can imagine his world caving in. All the anger and rage directed toward the Christians was sadly misplaced. He was persecuting the Messiah! Now what? Every ounce of energy he threw into persecuting the Christians was wrong. Ever been there? Well, some things we never forget. When we encounter true life altering events, they are never far from our minds. And to the very end of his life, Paul continued to refer to himself as a scoundrel. In one of the last letters he would ever write, Paul let Timothy, his PIT-his Pastor in Training, in on a little secret: 1 Timothy 1:15: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Back to 1 Corinthians 15. The grace of God overwhelmed him. Completely captivated him. And Paul was never the same. Paul spent the rest of his life, as it were making up for lost time. Depending on the grace of God, Paul worked. Hard. Hear again what Paul said about himself in v.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. Now, what is wrong with this picture, Grace United? I see a glaring discrepancy here. Of all people, Paul should know better-than to work hard. I mean, even in this verse, Paul said that he worked harder than any of them-as in any of his fellow workers in the gospel. Do you see a problem here? If Paul were right here in person I think we would chide him! "Paul, you received the grace of God! And you are working hard. And it seems like you are boasting about it! You said you worked harder than anybody else! Paul, are you trying to add works to grace? Paul! Are you trying to somehow get saved by your works now?" Isn't this what we in the church so often tell ourselves now? How many people do you know seem to display this attitude or actually say that we had better not work hard for the Lord, lest we add works to grace? Can you see how grace energizes true servants of God? Rather than being afraid that they are going to somehow be guilty of adding works to salvation, it's like they have discovered true freedom now. They are free from sin. How? Because Messiah died for them. They are energized with the power that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. See, when you love someone, you want to please them. This was Jesus' experience, did you know that? Christ was willing to take on your hell and mine to show the world something. Right before Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them these things in John 14:28-30: You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. Did you catch that, my friends? Jesus wanted to show his love for his Father. He was ready to do battle with the enemy, locked in mortal combat. Jesus knew it would cost him his physical life. But he went there as a demonstration of his love for his Father. He did not hold back. Notice how he said, "Rise, let us go from here." "Come on, men. Watch me die for the sins of the world. I do this out of love for the Father." Paul never got over the wonder of the grace of Christ, the Messiah. And that is the exact reason why he worked the way he did. He was not adding to grace. Not remotely! His work was the grace of God flowing through him. But whether Paul worked, or his partners in ministry, Paul told the Corinthians, "whether it was they or me, we preached, and you believed." My brothers and sisters, what can we say in light of these things? First of all, it is the gospel of the Messiah which has unified and will continue to unify the church. How so? Simply this. Christ died for our sins. Christ died for all of us. That makes us what? All sinners. That is the negative side of the equation. The positive side is that makes us all equal. None of us are no better or worse than anybody else. Since all of us are equal, let's not waste our time trying to outdo one another proving that we are better than others. Rather, let's spend our time appreciating one another as fellow image bearers of God. For us at Grace United, this reminds me of part of our mission statement. We are to care for people, regardless of whether someone is in the family of God or not. Second, we are all in need of the gospel. Since we are all sinners, we all need Christ. All of us need to come to the place where we see the wickedness of our own ways. Where, from the depth of our being we say, "Lord Jesus Christ. I am in dire need of your forgiveness. You are the Lord. I bow at your feet. I receive the forgiveness of sins you offer. You said from the cross, "It is finished! Paid in full. Those were my sins you paid for. I am truly grateful for the price you paid for my sins." Third, it is now a Son question, not a sin question. It was Christ on the cross. He paid for our sins. The question of sin has been taken care of. I don't have to worry about what God will do with my sin. The issue before me is what am I going to do with the Son. Since I can't pay for my sin, I will respond to the Savior by expressing my gratitude. Or reject him and remain lost in my sin. To express my gratitude, there are 2 questions that can guide us. The first question is the first one Paul had when he was knocked to the ground on his way to Damascus as he met the Messiah. Paul asked him, "Lord, who are you?" We can use this question every day when we pray, when we open up the Scripture and read and meditate on it, let's ask that question: "Lord, who are you?" It is fascinating to know that the Lord directly answered his question. He said, "I am Jesus." If we ask the Lord, "Who are you," he will tell us! The second question that can guide us is the second question Paul asked when he was on his face, now blinded by the light streaming from the Lord's face, "Lord what would you have me to do?" When Paul asked the Lord this question, he answered Paul right away, "Go into the city and it will be told you what you must do." We don't have to rely on our impressions, or feelings or seeking a mystical experience. We have the word of God! The Apostle Peter wrote these words in his second 2 Peter 1:3-4: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. In other words, we can be sure that if we want to do the Lord's will-all we have to do is open his word and give him our undivided attention! Hear again the gospel of our Lord: 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. To God be the glory, great things he has done. Let's show him our gratitude by loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.