“Of First Importance”
1 Corinthians 15.3-4; 12-20
This is one of the biggest days on the calendar for the Christian. It is a day that we celebrate a supernatural event. There was a man named Jesus who was killed, buried, and came back to life! Why is this so important today? What bearing does it have? And why do people flock to worship services on this day second only in popularity to Christmas? If you have a Bible with you, please turn to 1 Corinthians 15. I hope to show why this event is important, is true, and needs to be cherished by all. READ vv. 1-19.
Let’s set this all up by beginning in verses 1 and 2. What the Apostle Paul is doing in this section of his letter is trying to correct a misunderstanding regarding the resurrection of Christians – those who have placed their faith in Jesus for salvation. He reminds them of the gospel, or good news, that he personally shared with them. The Corinthian church embraced the message that Paul preached to them. In verses 3 and 4, he elaborates on what that message is. In fact, listen to the emphasis that he brings to it. He writes, “I delivered to you as of first importance that 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…” Then he goes on and lists the witnesses to the risen Jesus.
When Paul indicates that what he declared to the church is “of first importance,” you have to pay attention right. Apart from Jesus, the apostle is the most prominent character in the New Testament. He wrote nearly half of it! Paul is drawing the readers and hearers to this very important truth. He points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you joined us on Friday, you recall that we dwelt primarily on the importance of the death of Jesus on the cross. To make sure we are all up to speed on this, let’s recap. We were in Romans 5, where Paul paints a rather bleak picture of the person who has not trusted in Jesus. He identifies such a one as morally weak and powerless, ungodly, a sinner, and ultimately an enemy of God. We reinforced this by looking briefly in Ephesians 2 where we understand our nature to be spiritually dead and children of wrath – opposed to God.
And then in both of these passages we note two of our favourite words. What are they?? “But God.” God intervened in the events of the cross. In Romans we saw that while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were enemies (NOT pretty good people)… But God! But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ… died… for us! At the right time Christ… died… for the ungodly. While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, Jesus.
Because God is a perfectly just God, he has to expect punishment for sins. And he took the punishment on himself! He took our place on the cross, where we deserved to be. If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross! It is only through the cross of Jesus Christ where sinful people can be reconciled to a holy God. Can you see why Paul would say that this is “of first importance??”
But what about the resurrection? Why would Paul include this here? If the death of Jesus was powerful and effective for the payment for sins, why is it so important that Jesus did not remain in the grave? It is my hope to show you that this morning.
I will address several points by finishing the sentence, “If Christ has not been raised…” The first point is, “If Christ has not been raised, You Are Still in Your Sins.” In verse 17, Paul says that your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. So it would seem that the punishment had to be made on the cross of Jesus but also the resurrection is important as well. When Jesus cried from the cross, it is finished!, sin was punished. But the resurrection is so closely associated that the events cannot be disconnected.
Romans 4:24–25 says “24 …It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. The death and resurrection of Jesus seem to complete the transaction. Justification is a term that refers to the fact that there is no more condemnation of sin to the believer in Jesus. They are acquitted in a court, so to speak. In this case, the Judge actually pays for the crimes of the guilty defendant! Amazing!
Perhaps this is one of the things that the author to the Hebrews alludes to in 7:25 “25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. So the resurrection is crucial to complete the action for our justification of sin and our salvation.
“If Christ has not been raised, Your Faith is Vain and Futile.” We see this in verses 14 and 17 of 1 Corinthians 15. If we follow the argument logically, if Christ has not been raised and we are still in our sins, what are we believing in? That we were “oh so close??” We almost made it! We almost had hope for the forgiveness of sins!
I think that this has to do primarily with the object of our faith. Jesus is recorded on numerous occasions to prophesy the events to come. He repeatedly told his disciples that he would be the one to be handed over and crucified and buried and raised to life. If these things don’t occur, then Jesus is not who he said he was. And he is a liar. Jesus said he was the resurrection and the life. Either he again is a liar or incapable of his claims. Our faith would not be directed to the perfect and sinless Son of God. He said that he would raise others up on the last day. He can’t do that from the grave!
“If Christ has not been raised, Our Message is Wrong and Misleading.” If Christ has not been raised, then you should no longer listen to the words coming from my mouth. If Jesus remains in the grave, then when I tell you that Jesus paid the price for your sins on the cross, I would be lying to you and misleading you. Paul says in verses 14 and 15, “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…”
Paul and the others were missionaries throughout much of the known world. Here they had gone to Corinth in modern day Greece and declared the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. If these events were not true, the misrepresent God. If Jesus Christ is still in the grave, then I have committed my life to declaring falsehood.
At Squamish Baptist Church, we have been using our 9:00 Sunday School hour to better understand our message and we have been trying to be more faithful to tell people about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. If Jesus is in the grave, we might as well shut things down and go home. For we are only leading people astray if we are calling people to give their lives over to a dead Savior.
“If Christ has not been raised, This Life is all There Is!” Verses 18 and 19 say that, “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.” This means that there is no hope for an eternity in heaven if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Isn’t that one of the greatest things we look forward to? We greatly anticipate a time when we will be in the presence of Jesus our Savior. There will be perfect love and harmony and health and fellowship with Jesus and other believers. But this time and place do not exist if Jesus remains in the tomb.
And Christians are the most of all to be pitied. The believer in Jesus Christ has counted his life as nothing for the sake of knowing and following him. The words from Paul earlier in this letter tell us what he has signed up for. He writes in chapter 4, “1 Corinthians 4:9–13 “9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
In 2 Timothy 3.12, Paul says that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. There is a great cost to becoming a Christian. We have given up worldly pleasures for godliness. We have committed to serve Christ and one another. We have signed up for a life of suffering and sacrifice. Paul’s life is a good example as he was ridiculed, beaten, shipwrecked for the sake of Christ. His life and ours are wasted if Jesus remains in the grave.
If this were true, we should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. If there is no Savior to live for then we should live for ourselves. If there is no eternity, why wouldn’t we just indulge the flesh and live lives of self-absorption? Wouldn’t this be the logical conclusion if Jesus has not been raised?
If we remain helpless in our sins and believe in a lying and powerless Savior… if there is no hope after this life, why would we give ourselves over to great sacrifice and suffering? Why would anyone tell their neighbors about this Jesus at the expense of ridicule and persecution? Why would anyone become a pastor when there are more lucrative opportunities to be had? Why would I or anyone else be so determined with this message? Look at verse 20.
But in fact… Christ has been raised from the dead!! It’s all true! Look back at verses 5-8. Paul records these witnesses. “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.” Acts 1:3 “3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
They saw him alive! And they had no choice but to declare this. Acts 2:22–24 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
Christ has been raised, and the believer no longer remains in their sins! He died and was raised so that we could be justified. Because Jesus lives, he is able to save to the uttermost those who call on his name.
Christ has been raised and your faith is NOT vain and futile! Jesus is who he claimed to be. He fulfilled the prophecies of rising from the dead. He is the resurrection and the life. He has the power over life and death. Listen to Romans 1:1–4 “1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,”
Christ has been raised, and our message is right and leads people to the truth of Jesus Christ! We won’t be canceling any Sunday School classes on the gospel or worship services because we believe the truth of what Scripture says. We will continue to declare the good news of Jesus Christ while we still have our breath. Alas, we have no choice. 2 Corinthians 4:13–14 “13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
Christ has been raised, and this life is not the end. God has promised eternal life to the one who has believed in the resurrected Lord! 1 Peter 1:3–6 “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Well, I could continue with Scripture after Scripture that mention the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Are you here and still skeptical? Take the time to prayerfully consider the insert in your bulletin.
J. I. Packer puts it like this: “Can we be sure it happened? The evidence is solid. The tomb was empty, and nobody could produce the body. For more than a month after, the disciples kept meeting Jesus alive, always unexpectedly, usually in groups (from two to 500). Hallucinations don’t happen this way!
The disciples, for their part, were sure that the risen Christ was no fancy, and tirelessly proclaimed his rising in face of ridicule, persecution, and even death—a most effective way of scotching the malicious rumor that they stole Jesus’ body (cf. Matthew 28:11–15).
The corporate experience of the Christian church over nineteen centuries chimes in with the belief that Jesus rose, for the risen Lord truly “walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way,” and communion with him belongs to the basic Christian awareness of reality.
No sense can be made of any of this evidence save by supposing that Jesus really rose.”
This Easter weekend forces a decision. If you have not surrendered your life to the risen Lord, you DO remain in sin. You are not justified and remain an enemy of God. Non-decision is decision against him because the default position is that all are born in sin and in need of this Savior.
Jesus is alive and on the throne in heaven. And we know that he is coming back to finish what he started. He will call his children home and judge the world of its sin. Now is the time to consider the claims and your relationship to him. Please see me or someone else before you leave. Romans 10:9–10 “9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
For the believer in Jesus Christ, I pray that this will be an opportunity for us to ponder these great truths all over and realize that we possess the greatest news in all history. We serve a risen Savior who has taken away our sin, reconciled us to God the Father and will return to bring us home. Let’s pray.
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.