THE GOOD NEWS (1): PROVIDED
(I Cor 15:3-4)
March 6, 2016
Read I Cor 1:1-4 – Wives can be tricky. Gotta watch them. One day my wife said, “There’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear.” I said, “What’s that?” She said, “The lawn,” and handed me a rake! Clarity is important whether it’s the lawn – or a critical item of information, right? And there’s nothing God wants us more clear on than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, we live in a day when the gospel has been terribly battered, abused and twisted. I’m sure if we polled this room we’d get nearly as many opinions as there are people as to its content. It’s been equated with being good, practicing religion, a ticket to heaven, the secret to health and wealth, a means of need fulfillment, and a thousand other aberrations – all of them wrong.
So, what is the gospel? Can we even know? One of the most influential voices in the emergent church [McLaren] says, “I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet…. I don’t think the liberals have it right. But I don’t think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy.” That’s incredible, coming from a professed evangelical. Is he right? No. He himself denies the heart of the gospel which leaves him afloat on a sea of uncertainty. It need not be so. The gospel is not hidden. And as Easter approaches, I wanted us to see anew the pure, undiluted, clear gospel as Paul gives it in I Cor 15:1-8.
What is the gospel? The word literally means “good news.” In simplest terms, the gospel is good news. Not just any good news, but the good news! Ultimate good news. But good news implies “bad news” in the background, right? Like the boy who arrived at the principal’s office and heard, “That’s 4 times this week. What do you have to say for yourself?” The boy answered, “I’m glad it’s Friday.” Friday was good news against the backdrop of a failed week.
So the backdrop of God’s good news is the “bad news” of a failed world. Evening news begins, “Good evening,” and then tells you why it isn’t! The gospel starts with, “Bad news. You reside in a world where chaos, terror, murder, perversion, pain and suffering reign. Furthermore, you are lost – pitting your will against the will of your Creator. You are unworthy of Him, with no hope of changing yourself or your world.” That’s straight bad news.
But here’s the good news. Jesus came to fix everything you can’t fix. If you trust in Him, ultimate victory can be yours. There is no better news in the whole world. That is the gospel we want to examine in detail in 3 sermons looking at the good news Provided (3-4), Possessed (1-2) and Proven (5-9).
Note Paul’s intro: 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” “First importance” – Top Priority. Eternally significant. This is imperative. On Christmas Day, 1776, Col. Johann Rall was in charge of British troops at Trenton. A loyalist spy brought an urgent message that Washington was crossing the Delaware River for a surprise attack. But Rall was playing poker and had left word that he was not to be disturbed. The spy finally wrote his message on paper which was delivered to Rall who stuffed it into his pocket – unread. Rall was still playing poker when Washington’s troops completely surprised the British, gaining a much needed 1st major victory for the colonists. We wouldn’t be here today but for Rall’s failure to pay attention to a message of first importance! Well, Paul’s ranks way higher.
And notice he received it. It’s not his opinion. It’s a truth he received. From whom? Almost certainly from the apostles during his first visit to Jerusalem 15 years before. The form of the message suggests that it was a creed or song developed to communicate vital truth in a brief, easy to remember form – the heart of the gospel in three vital parts – Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ arose – all in accordance with the Scriptures. The disciples struggled to know the purpose for His existence. But in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension, as Jesus taught them, they finally got it. His life and death had been planned, prophesied and purposeful. Planned before time began, prophesied hundreds of years in advance and purposed to save a fallen race. Those facts are the heart of the good news. So, how is the gospel provided? 3 elements.
I. Christ Died
Death is good news!? Hitler’s, maybe! But how can death be good news? John Donne didn’t think it was. He knew death’s devastation: Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee. So, how can my eternal destiny be impacted positively by any death, let alone one 2,000 years ago?
Paul gives 2 profound answers. First, Christ died “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Clue # 1. Christ’s death was part of a premeditated plan of God that He prophesied hundreds of years beforehand. So it must have a divine purpose. The assassination of Pres Kennedy was a senseless, tragic accident of history. The assassination of Julius Caesar, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln – all surprises to the victims and meaningless intrusions of small, insignificant nobodies into the course of history. Not the death of Jesus Christ. His death was planned, prophesied, purposeful and submitted to by Him with full knowledge of what was going on and why. Because it had been prophesied.
Listen: Psa 22: 14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15) my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16) For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17) I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18) they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Written in 1,000 BC – at least 400 years before crucifixion was invented. And only divine revelation can explain the precision of David’s description of Jesus’ death – a death planned and prophesied years in advance. God was in charge of every minute detail.
But that still doesn’t explain why Christ’s death is good news. How is it good? Paul’s got that covered as well. Look again: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” We’ve seen the plan and the prophecy, but now we see the purpose. He died “for our sins.” That’s the phrase that gives His death meaning. It was a substitutionary death. Like a soldier falling on a live grenade to save his buddies, His death has meaning beyond himself. It was for our sins. Our who? Our anyone who believes in Him.
Our world doesn’t buy that. In Nov, 1993 at a “Reimagining God” conf, Prof Delores S. Williams of Union Theological Seminary said, “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dropping and weird stuff.” I doubt that God appreciated that effort to reimagine Him. He doesn’t need to be reimagined, just believed!
Take Jesus’ payment for sin out of the Bible like that, and you simply have no Bible left. Substitutionary sacrifice is everywhere -- in Eden when God kills the first animals to cover Adam and Eve. It extends to Gen 22 where God provides a lamb to take Isaac’s place as the sacrifice God was requiring of Abe. It continues to all the lambs sacrificed to prevent the death of the firstborn Israelites during the Exodus. Moses’ sacrificial system was always teaching, sin means sacrifice. Sin means sacrifice, and either you pay, or the substitute God provides. That’s how Jesus understood his own life. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ died. Meaningless tragedy? No – purposeful, redemptive act for fallen humanity. Fail to grasp this and you’ve stuck God’s most critical message to you into your pocket unheeded.
Under Oliver Cromwell a soldier got the death penalty for desertion -- execution to occur at the ringing of curfew. The man was betrothed to a beautiful young woman who pled with Cromwell for his life, but to no avail. An example was needed. That night the sexton rang the bell, but no sound came. The young woman had climbed the tower, wrapped herself around the clapper and absorbed the repeated attempts to ring the bell. Battered and bruised she was hauled before Cromwell. When he saw what she had done, he was moved with compassion to commute the sentence. A poet described the incident: “At his feet she told her story, showed her hands all bruised and torn, And her sweet young face still haggard with the anguish it had worn, Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light. “Go, your lover lives,” said Cromwell; / “Curfew will not ring tonight.” Nor will the curfew of God’s judgment ever ring for we who believe, because God’s judgment has already fallen on Him who died. Christ died!
II. Christ Was Buried
The importance of this phrase is not apparent to us. Burial is assumed. So why is it included in this little creed? Why not just Christ died and Christ rose? Wouldn’t that suffice? Well, there are 2 reasons burial is critical. First, the burial was also “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Isa 53:9: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.” A grave was prophesied, and a burial there must be or God has missed on prophecy and the whole of His revelation comes down – like pulling one block out of the bottom of the carefully constructed pile. Prophecy cannot fail.
But hidden in this prophecy is the 2nd reason burial is critical. Note He was “with a rich man in his death” – a reference to the generosity of Joseph of Arimathea in providing a tomb for our Lord. That’s important. The Romans typically denied burial to executed convicts – routinely leaving their bodies to rot on their cross. The Jews hated this practice and, if they could get a body, usually buried it in a common field – potter’s field in the Hinnom Valley – Jesus’ probable fate as a convicted blasphemer – if the Romans released Him.
But imagine claiming resurrection of a body buried in a common field! How could you ever be sure?! Joseph’s gracious act had far more significance than he could have imagined when he claimed Jesus’ body. He provided a gravesite that was well-marked, clearly established, openly public and eventually certifiably empty! God planned it, Joseph executed it, and as a result, the resurrection of Jesus was clearly established. But the burial was key. Without it, resurrection would have been impossible to establish. Christ was buried.
III. Christ Was Raised
This is the whole ballgame! It’s great that Christ died for our sins and was buried, but if He was not resurrected, He’s just one more religious guru with nothing to offer but a few platitudes and a bit of inspiration. Instead, Jesus offers victory over man’s greatest enemies – sin, Satan and death. He defeated them all. The resurrection proves it.
Some early believers struggled with this. Who’s ever seen someone come back from the grave? And, Greek philosophy was dualistic. It taught the universe is composed of two equal and opposite forces – good and evil. Spirit is good, material is evil; man’s soul is good, but his body is evil. So, some Gentile believers supposed the resurrection referred only to the spirit of Christ.
But Paul is adamant. The resurrection was physical. He was buried (physical). He was raised – “on the third day”. Important because in those days it was considered that after 2 days death was definite. Burial and resurrection on the third day clearly infer the physical reality of the resurrection.
And again, it is “in accordance with the Scriptures” – like Psa 16:9-10: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh (physical) also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption (physical).” This isn’t Greek philosophy; this is divine reality! Paul’s saying, “There’s an empty tomb outside Jerusalem, and your whole faith rests on that spiritual and physical fact. Jesus is alive.”
I Cor 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Not only is Christ raised, but because He is, you will be too. No news ever compared to this. No wonder it is of first importance. Everything rides on this. Even the grammar illustrates. Christ died and was buried. – past tense. He was “raised” – perfect tense = past action with continuing results. Died once. Buried once. Lives forever!
This was the crowning message of the apostles. The climax to Peter’s great sermon was Acts 2:23: “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.” “You crucified; God raised. You said, ‘Guilty.’ God said, ‘Not guilty.’ You gave a verdict; God dramatically overturned it. He undid the whole rotten mess. But His blood is on your hands.” No wonder 3,000 came to faith in Christ in one day. They were driven to repentance by the empty grave that lay just outside town.
So resurrection was at the heart of all the apostolic sermons. Acts 3:15: “whom God raised from the dead.” Acts 4:10: “whom God raised from the dead.” Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus.” Acts 10:40: “ but God raised him on the third day.” Acts 13:30: “But God raised him from the dead.” Get the message? There is no Christianity without a resurrected Christ. But there is a living Christ. The impossible happened. The tomb is empty. Jesus lives, and the way to the Father goes straight thru Him alone.
Conc – Before the 1934 baseball season, crazy Dizzy Dean predicted that the Cardinals would win the pennant and he and brother Paul would win 45 games between them. Accused of bragging, Diz replied, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” And he did, winning 30 while Paul won 19 (total 49) and the Cardinals won the pennant. Muhammad Ali used the same line when he predicting the round when he’d knock out an opponent. “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
The story of the gospel is God can do it. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Lu 1:37). A virgin birth, a perfect life, and an atoning death and burial -- all to save a condemned human race that had no hope without Him. Then, a resurrection to seal the deal. Years ago, a friend went off to school at UCLA. Within the first year, he came back questioning everything he’d ever been taught and asking what he thought was the ultimate question: “You think you’re right. But the Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Mormons all equally think they are right, too. What makes your faith any better?”
I’ll tell you what separates Christianity from any other religion? Two things – It all happened “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Fulfilled prophecy. What God predicts, God delivers, in space and time. And secondly, the resurrection. Buddha’s dead. Muhammad is dead. Joseph Smith is dead. Zoroaster is dead. But Jesus is alive and well. That news is just as good now as on the day it was first announced. So don’t take this gospel of first importance and stick it in your pocket unheeded like Col Rall. God’s provided good news. Now it’s over to us what we do with it. Let’s pray.