1 Corinthians 15:3-5
March 10, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 19:05 in the audio file.
Or, Reminders of God’s Central Work in Christ
Important things are things that are valuable for some reason, according to some standard. Important things are also things of consequence, that is, the effect of important things are significant. Gold is important because of what it can buy. Education is important because of what trained people can do. The gospel is important because it is at the center of everything God has done and is doing and will do.
There is no greater consequence maker than the death and resurrection of Christ. That’s not to say that the death and resurrection are the only things that are important, but apart from Christ’s death and resurrection the importance of everything else in the world is at best limited and most of it is vain.
The Corinthians were drifting from the message of the gospel and at the beginning of chapter 15 Paul states his aim to remind them about it. He preached it, they believed it and were being saved by it. In verses 3-5 he summarizes the message on the way to arguing in light of it from verse 12 through the end of the chapter.
The gospel can be stated in a sentence. In Greek the one sentence starts in verse 3 and ends in verse 8; in most English translations we get a break between verses 5-6. It doesn’t require a multitude of words to communicate it; this edition of the gospel is quite condensed. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t even know it could be presented so precisely (actually, they might have read 1 Corinthians). As I already said, the bulk of Paul’s burden begins in verse 12. Verses 1-11 are the reminders, the common ground, they aren’t the arguments. We could cover them quickly and get to dealing with the drifters.
Because, we’re not the drifters, right? We know this stuff. We know the basics of the gospel message. And I think that is probably true of most of us, and I think it’s also true that most of us still have much to realize regarding what we have in the gospel. Even in Paul’s brief summary there are a lot of unstated but indispensable truths behind some of the words.
The message, the gospel, the good news, reminds us of God’s central work in Christ. And when I say central, I mean the center of the most important things, the things of greatest consequence in time and eternity, in the meaning of life and death, and in God’s revelation.
We could boil verses 3-5 down to one subject with two verbs and one crucial prepositional phrase: Christ died for our sins and was raised. Who is Christ? How did He die? What does sin mean? And how was Christ raised? The answers to these questions are the reason we meet together for worship every week. The answers to these questions, along with the other truths in the verses, are the fundamentals of the faith. This is the message that defines us, the message in which we stand, the message from which we will not drift.
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 15:3-5)
They received (verse 1) and believed (verse 2) what he preached (verse 1) and delivered. The message of the gospel is transmitted from one man to the next, from generation to generation, as the defining story. Paul learned it in Arabia, taught by God’s Spirit (Galatians 1:15-17), but this message had a defined shape from all the apostles. He faithfully delivered what I also received.
Paul delivered it as of first importance, not first chronologically as if it was part one in a series, but first consequentially, with no message that could (and will) do more.
The what he received could be understood as including four things. Four main verbs with similar phrasing following as the content: 1) that Christ died, 2) that also He was buried, 3) that also He was raised, and 4) that also He appeared. Against my better grammar nerd, I think an argument could be made that two of the four (equally constructed) phrases are primary and two of the four reinforce the first two. That understanding also has a grammatical clue, namely, a repeated prepositional phrase.
Consider two main points of the gospel: Christ died and Christ was raised.
We can barely go past the first two words without being challenged. Christ died. It would be one thing if Paul said that “Jesus died.” Men die all time. But this was the Christ who died (actually who was put to death), the Messiah. In Luke 23:2-3 the term Christ is compared with the “King,” and in verse 35 Christ is God’s Chosen One.” The Christ was the hope from Genesis 3 who would crush the serpent’s head, let alone deliver and lead His people in victory. This Christ died.
Though false charges were made against Him, He did not die for His own guilt, He died for our sins. This requires us to know what sin is. As we teach our kids, sin is disobedience to anything God has told us, whether we do what He prohibits or we fail to do what He urges. The wages of sin is death, spiritual and physical and eternal. We are all sinners, we are all guilty, we all deserve death.
Men know that they are guilty, and many scapegoats and blood sacrifices and attempts to pay for sin have been tried. But they cannot satisfy God’s righteousness nor can they cleans man’s conscience. Only the Son of God can be the substitute for sinners. “You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
While many who knew (and know) the Old Testament might be surprised that the Christ would die, it is written there that the Christ would. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Paul doesn’t quote a specific text, but he certainly taught those texts to the Corinthians previously. Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, these all tell of the coming of a suffering servant. Isaiah 53 in particular refers to one who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and be “crushed for our iniquities” (verse 5). “He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people” (verse 9).
The first part of verse 4 shows another part of the gospel message of first importance, that he was buried. The buried part is a second event but it verifies the first act. He died, but how dead? Buried dead. He didn’t faint, He wasn’t in a coma, He wasn’t a computer generated image. He was pronounced dead (by a number of soldiers) and prepared for burial (by a number of witnesses). Those who buried him were sad. The disciples scattered and were upset because their Hope was dead.
But of course that is not the end of the message.
The good news is that he was raised on the third day. Those who were familiar with Christ’s ministry knew that He raised Lazarus from the dead, but the mood of this verb is passive, meaning that someone raised Him. God raised Him, the Father (Acts 10:40; Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 10:9) and the Spirit (Romans 8:11) are said to have done that work. And Jesus told His disciples that the Son of Man would be three days buried like Jonah was three days whale-bellied (Matthew 12:40).
The Father and Spirit also predicted that the raising would take place, since He was raised according to the Scriptures. It’s one thing that all this happened, it’s another thing for it to have been predicted, explained, and recorded beforehand. The death and the resurrection of the Messiah were foretold by God; Jesus was delivered up and crucified “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). There were many eyewitnesses, but the testimony of the Scriptures is first in authority.
Verse 5 begins a series with the fourth main verb, a verb that is repeated in verse 6, verse 7, and verse 8. He was raised and then he appeared. Like being buried showed how dead He was, so appearing showed how alive He was. We will pick up with this verb next Lord’s Day as Paul presents a number of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, many of whom were still alive in the Corinthians’ day who could have contradicted Paul’s message, but didn’t.
The resurrection of the Christ was corroborated by many witnesses, and corroborated by God’s Word.
The message of the death and resurrection is the message of God’s central work in Christ.
The message is central to time and eternity. I don’t mean this in a precise mathematical way, as if we could count the days pre-cross and post-empty tomb and have an equal amount. But in the book of Revelation we’re told about the “book of life of the Lamb who was slain” but the names were “written before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Whatever dimension of existence God inhabits, a “before” and an “after” of the death and resurrection exists. Before Genesis 1 He looked forward to the work of the Son, and we will never forget to look back at that work in the future; Christ’s work purchased that future.
The message is central to God’s revelation. This is true, again not by page count of Testaments, but the gospel is the middle part of the Bible. We know that the Four Gospels are the gospel, but the first 39 books of the Old Testament want us to get to the gospel.
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31–33)
The story is in a book, and you have this book!
More than in printed copies, the message is the center of God’s telling us who He is. The atonement is the center of our understanding of God’s righteousness and His anger toward sin; no greater revelation of holiness and justice could be made. The atonement is also the center of our understanding of God’s grace, of the power of God’s love in willing sacrifice for the guilty. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was not looking forward to His cup to drink, and yet, wasn’t drinking that cup not the single greatest display of God’s character?
The resurrection is also revelatory, not merely of God’s power over death, but of God’s acceptance of the atonement. God is patient, and three days is not much to Him, but are we that far off to imagine the Father’s eagerness to show off His resurrection nature and show off what sort of resurrection work He would do in the gospel for all His people?
The message is central to our worship. We do not read or quote or sing these verses every Sunday, but Sunday doesn’t make sense without The Message. If Christ isn’t risen, then we are still in our sins and there is no way out of death or guilt and no way to be reconciled to God or each other that lasts. The fact that we meet depends on the message, and the progression of our liturgy likewise depends on the liturgy. We have sinned, we look to Christ in the gospel, we commune with Him because of being raised with Him.
This message is the dividing center between heaven and hell. It is the center of God’s work in the spiritual world and in worldly kingdoms. You have received this message; hold it fast.
Maybe you have a hard time remembering all of these good things associated with the good news. Isn’t that one of the reasons that reminders are good?
The message of the gospel is not a mantra, but it is meat and wine for your soul. The gospel is a lamp to your way and fire for your warmth. It is news to be printed on the front page with the boldest font in your heart every day. It is your forgiveness and your freedom from sin. It is center of your life, the center of God’s work, and will be the center of your blessings without end.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3–5, ESV)