What is the gospel?
1. Confusing or clear?
Sometimes efforts at communication end up very confusing don’t they. Have you ever read a sign or a message and thought – I have no idea what they are talking about?
ILLN – like the boy playing on the grass slope at a 5-star resort, oblivious to the signs all around him saying ‘please stay off the bank’. And after the third time of his father yelling at him to get off the bank, the boy asked his father quite innocently ‘what’s a bank?’ Or the sign on the park that said ‘please refrain from treading on the area of verdant herbaceous growth’. Why not just say ‘keep off the grass’.
If we want to communicate we need to be clear and not confusing. Like the road signs I saw last night driving home from the city. One said ‘keep to the left’; the other said ‘don’t hog the right lane’. Pretty clear.
When it comes to Christianity, sometimes the message seems very confusing, and lots of things seem to get in the way. So many people and groups claiming to be Christian, and yet their messages seem confusing. Go to church, no you don’t have to go to church; care for the poor, no that’s not most important; engage in holy wars, no war is not the way; live a good and moral and upright life, no how we live doesn’t matter. If I was to ask you what Christianity is all about what would you say, what gets in the way for you, what seems unclear?
We need to somehow cut away all the extras and understand what Christianity is about clearly.
Thankfully the Bible helps us. In the Bible God speaks to us. And he wants us to understand what he says. Today as we look at 1 Cor 15 it is one of the clearest passages about the basic truths of Christianity, Paul takes us back to the essence of Christianity – and we need to hear it clearly. Let’s pray God will help us.
- Clear Christianity!
I don’t know about you but sometimes I have those so-called senior moments – you know, when you forget things. But there are some things in life you should never forget if at all possible – if you’re married then your anniversary or your spouse’s birthday are some of them. In 1 Cor 15 Paul reminds the Christians in this city called Corinth of another thing never to forget – and that is the gospel which he had passed on to them.
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. We use it in church circles as a shorthand way of talking about the Christian message. And Paul is saying this gospel, this message of Christianity is good news. I wonder if you think it is good news? If the Christian message you have heard is good news?
Well let’s see what Paul says is at the heart of Christianity, and see why it is good news for us.
Paul says this good news, this gospel, has 3 key elements. And you can’t just believe 1 or 2 of them. It’s all or nothing. Take away any one element and it ceases to be good news.
So let’s look quickly at these 3 key parts of the Christian message. Let me put them as clearly as I can upfront and then speak to them one by one. If you hear nothing else today then listen to these 3 points, because this is as Paul says in v3 of first importance, here is the crux of Christianity.
- Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
- He was buried
- He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
That is the essence of the Christian message. Let me repeat it again in case you didn’t hear it clearly. REPEAT
So let’s unpack each of these 3 points and see why it is good news for us.
Paul’s first point is that the Christ died, you can see it there in v3. Who was this Christ? The Christ was the king God had promised over hundreds of years to send to his people to rule over them. The Bible in the New Testament says the Christ, this king, has come – it is Jesus. Christ is not his surname, like Mr J Christ. Christ is his title. Jesus is God’s promised king. A king who God promised would reign forever.
But the shock of the Bible is that this Christ, this king Jesus, died. He was nailed to a rough wooden cross, and there he died. It sounds awful and it was, hardly seems like good news does it. The Romans killed many people in the same way. Why is this death good news? It has to do with the reason why he died.
Paul says he died - for our sins.
Here’s another word which may be unclear. So let’s try and see quickly what it means. Way back in the beginning, at the start of the Bible, God created man and woman to enjoy a perfect relationship with God and one another forever. Chapter 2 of the book of Genesis closes with Adam and Eve in this perfect relationship with God, with one another and with the rest of creation.
But now think of what was read to us from Genesis 3. Adam and Eve decided to disobey God; they deliberately did what he told them not to. This wasn’t some mix-up in communication – God had been very clear back in 2:17 ‘you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ Pretty clear isn’t it – don’t eat the fruit of this tree.
But they did.
And that was the beginning of human sin in the world. What does sin mean? Sin is where we disobey God, we disregard God or ignore God and do what we think is best. Have you ever done that? If you’re honest you have. I have, you have, we all have.
Adam and Eve did. And the consequences were exactly as God said, for he never lies, Adam and Eve would die. It took some time. But they died. They died physically. And they died spiritually – they lost that perfect relationship they had with God. They were cast out of Eden, out of the presence of God. And there humanity stays.
We bear those consequences. Ever been to a funeral? We die don’t we? We die because sin is still in us and in the world. We cannot be friends with God, we cannot have a perfect relationship with God, because our sin gets in the way. We need someone to help us.
And as God’s story progresses in the Bible, it is the story of a search for someone to help us. Someone who can deal with the problem of our sin. Would it be Adam and eve’s sons, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon? The list went on and on, but no suitable helper came. All those men had to deal with their own sins, so couldn’t help us with ours.
But one day it happened – the helper was born. He lived on earth about 20 centuries ago. He was Jesus. Jesus was perfect. He never sinned. Never swore at someone, never committed road rage or donkey rage or foot rage, never took God’s name in vain, never abused his parents. He always loved, always cared, always honoured, always spoke the truth. He never sinned.
Yet he died. Strange isn’t it – we die because we sin. Jesus died but never sinned. So why did he die? Paul tells us it was for our sins. He took our sins on himself, and so he took the punishment for our sins. And that means we don’t have to. And friends that is good news. It’s great news.
ILLN – It works a little like this. Imagine you steal someone’s wallet which has a great deal of money in it. You get caught and there you are standing before the judge. And the judge hears and sees all the evidence and then he hands down his verdict – guilty. The fine is $10,000. But before you can pay, the judge comes down from the bench, goes over to the court registrar and pays over a cheque from his own account for $10,000. How much do you now have to pay? Nothing. You are free to go.
That is what happens when Jesus died on the cross. We deserved death for our sins. The evidence is clear and unmistakable. And the judge, in this case God, has given his verdict – guilty. Death is the sentence. But God has come down to earth in the person of Jesus, and takes the punishment for us.
Jesus died for our sins. And it was no accident. Paul says this was according to the Scriptures, according to the Bible. It was part of God’s plan all along. That this coming king will die for the sins of others.
Friends, the first key element of the Christian message is this. Jesus died. He died for my sins. He died for your sins. (for these babies) He died for the sins of the whole world – for all people in any time in any place. And if we really understand what that means it is indeed good news.
Now if I say someone died it is pretty clear what I mean isn’t it? They have ceased to be, they have no life, they are keput.
Sadly some people get confused by this word – they think Paul must mean that he just fainted on the cross. Paul wants us to understand Jesus really did die. The proof is in the second key element in the Christian message, there it is at the start of v4, the Christ, Jesus, was buried. He really was dead. The Romans knew how to kill people. The Roman soldier proved Jesus was dead, and confirmed it. Someone took his body off the cross, people wrapped him in burial clothes, someone put it in a tomb, others saw where. Jesus didn’t faint on the cross and somehow recover later. He was dead and he was buried.
Dead and buried. But now comes the really exciting part. The third key element in the Christian message. There it is at the end of v4 - Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Jesus died. He was buried. And he was raised – conquering death, never to die again, alive forever. And the proof of this extraordinary claim? Vv5-8 – he appeared to over 500 people. There were lots of witnesses as Paul was writing this letter who had seen Jesus physically alive, after he had risen from the dead.
The Bible tells us elsewhere that the resurrection of Jesus is God’s vindication of the claims of Jesus. So in Acts 2:36 Peter says ‘God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ’. Or in Acts 17:31 Paul says to the people of Athens God ‘has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus the Chirst. If he is still dead he cannot help us, and we need someone else. God says he is alive. I believe Jesus is alive today. Do you?
What are the effects of Jesus’ resurrection?
Our sins have been dealt with – God says in effect that he accepts Jesus’ payment
We will rise again after physical death and inherit God’s kingdom – Jesus’ resurrection is God’s guarantee to us that it will happen.
And life can now have meaning and significance and purpose because death doesn’t rob us of everything.
- Live it/tell it!
We’ve seen this morning that the Christian message, the gospel, has 3 key elements. Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Jesus was buried. Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Do you believe these 3 things? Not just one of them or two of them, but all of them? Paul asks in v1 have you received these 3 truths? Have you taken your stand on them – are they now fundamental to the way you live? If so you are saved Paul says in v2. Saved from God’s anger and wrath at your sin. And that is great news.
And that is the clear word of God himself. A God who died for us, and rose again from the dead, and invites each one of us into a living relationship with him, right now, the sort of relationship we were all made for. Not just with our sins dealt with, but now able to live life with God to the full – a life of meaning and purpose, of knowing Jesus, of being transformed by him to become like him, as he works powerfully in our lives.
But this good news is not to be kept hidden. That would be tragic and unloving. It is to be lived out and told out. For those of us who are Christians the call of God is to tell others. Would you know what to say? If not then do work it out. Prepare for telling others. 2wtl, etc. Mission – we will be telling people this good news. I want you this year to be doing 3 things which all start with P - Pray, prepare, participate!
But you won’t do it if you are not persuaded that this gospel is good news, if you’re not convinced that people do need to hear it, if you don’t believe that God does work in people’s lives as they hear this gospel – that will be the thrust of our preaching over the coming weeks.
In the meantime will you ask yourself this week – do I believe these 3 elements? Does it show in my life? If not – what is getting in my way, and what will I do about it? For it is not yet too late to change. And if I have believed how am I living it out and telling it out? LET’S PRAY