Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"The Gospel We Preach"
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
(Delivered Sunday, July 21, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
I always enjoy the times when we look together at Bible passages that deal with basics. This morning, I'd like to draw your attention to a passage gives us some basic truths of the message we're to proclaim to the world - the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preached and so you believed (1 Cor. 15:1-11).
* * * * * * * * * *
There's a lot of confusion today about "the gospel". And throughout the history of the church, confusion about the gospel has been the cause of a multitude of other problems - both in the church and outside the church. After all, if we aren't clear about the message of the gospel, then we're not going to be clear about our mission as a church. And if we don't understand the gospel that it's our mission to proclaim, then we shouldn't be surprised if we're not making any relevant impact on the world around us. And a failure on our part to understand the gospel can be spiritually dangerous; because if we don't clearly understand the gospel we're to proclaim, we may end up instead proclaiming a message or doing a work that is not of God. What's more, if we're not clear about the message of the gospel, then we can't expect those who hear us to be clear enough on it to believe it. They will end up, instead, placing their trust in something that will not save them.
It is the gospel of Jesus Christ - and that gospel alone - that is declared in the Bible to be "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). The salvation of lost souls, and the hope of the world, is absolutely dependent upon a clear proclamation of the message of the gospel. And since this is the case, it's vital that we clear up any confusion we might have about that message. We must know it well and proclaim it precisely, so that it is accurately believed and that sinners might be fully saved by it.
Let's begin by understanding the word "gospel" itself. It comes from the Anglo-saxon word "godspel"; which means "God-story". It means "the good tidings that come from the telling of God's story." The Greek word used in the New Testament is "euanggelion", which means "the telling forth" of good news or good tidings. This Greek word is the one from which the Latin word "evangelium" is taken; and it's from this Latin word that our English word "evangel" is derived. The "evangel" is the message of the good news of God's grace as told in His story; and an "evangelist" is someone who tells forth and explains this good news to others. In this morning's passage, Paul begins by declaring this "evangel". Literally, he begins by telling his readers, "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the 'eunangelion' which I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand, by which also your are saved (vv. 1-2).
And I call your careful attention to what Paul says in this verse about this "euangelion" - this gospel. We see that it is a gospel that Paul preached; that is, it's a message he didn't keep to himself, but boldly declared as he was commanded to do - a message by which Paul was used of God to turn the world upside-down in his day (Acts 17:6). We also see that it was the gospel that the Corinthian believers received; which reminds us that it was a message that was to be taken around the world and told forth deliberately, so that others might hear it and believe it. It was a gospel on which those in Corinth who heard it stand; that is, it had a lasting impact on them as the sole and permanent foundation of their lives in the present, hopes for the future, and confidence of full acceptance before God. It was a gospel that saved them; that is to say that it was through their faith in this message alone that God rescued them from His wrath for sins and brought them into the favor of His grace and love. And finally, we notice that it was a gospel that they held fast to; and that reminds us that if they - or any other church - abandoned this message, they will have believed in vain. To believe or preach anything else than this saving gospel is to believe and preach "in vain".
All of this, then, conveys to us the importance of the message of the gospel. It teaches us how crucial it is that we understand it accurately and proclaim it completely. It is what Paul declared to his readers "first of all"; that is, "as of first importance" (as it's translated in the New American Standard Bible).
* * * * * * * * * *
I would like you to consider why Paul is affirming all this to his Corinthian readers. You might remember a few weeks ago that we talked about the church that was in the ancient city of Corinth. It had many problems; and Paul wrote his letter in order to deal with these problems. One of the problems that plagued the church in Corinth was that some preachers and teachers, who were having an influence on the Corinthian believers, were denying the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. We see that Paul deals with this problem directly in the rest of this chapter (vv. 12-58). Paul's main purpose in this passage is to correct the error of those who were denying the resurrection and who were, thereby, proclaiming a truncated message of the gospel. He wanted to show that the story of the resurrection was an essential part of the whole gospel message; and to show that when the whole message of the gospel is faithfully declared, it shows itself to be powerful to save and transform those who hear and believe it. This, then, became the occasion for him to "declare" to them "the gospel" that he preached to them - a message that plainly included the story of Jesus' resurrection.
This makes me think of our church family and its mission in this world. God has sovereignly called our church into existence, and has saved and collected the particular group of people together that you see gathered around you. And one of the reasons He did so is so that we might impact the world He has placed us in with the message of His gospel. Each saved man, woman, boy and girl here today has been placed by God in the particular place of influence He wants you to be; and He has entrusted the most powerful message the world has ever heard into your hands. He is calling you to live with holy dependency upon Jesus Christ in every area of your lives, and faithfully declare that message in the particular circle of relationships in which He has placed you.
This morning's passage is, I believe, God's message to you today, dear church. He wants you to become overwhelmingly confident in His power to work through the gospel He has entrusted to you; and He wants you to boldly go forth and tell it. He wants you to stop being shy about telling the people God has placed around you the good news about Jesus, and to forever get rid of the devil-inspired idea that "it won't do any good". He wants you to be taken up with the bold eagerness and holy confidence that overwhelmed Paul when he said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17).
* * * * * * * * * *
So then; what is it that God wants you to know about this uniquely powerful message of the gospel that has been entrusted to you? - this message that we are all to fully receive, fully believe, and fully proclaim?
First, notice that ...
1. IT IS DIVINE IN ORIGIN (v. 3).
Paul writes, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received ..." Paul didn't write this gospel, nor did he gather it up and form it and shape it from the wisdom of men. He declares plainly that he delivered something to the Corinthians that he himself "received" as a message that has its origin in God.
Many today argue that Paul took the simple ethical teachings of a humble Hebrew preacher named Jesus, mingled it up with his own social and political convictions, and altered it all for his own ends and purposes. Even today, if you visit the typical shopping mall book store, you find a book in the religion section - and often on the bargain table - that makes this claim. It typically bemoans the distortions it says that Paul made to Jesus' simple message of universal love and tolerance; and it tries to reconstruct for the reader what Jesus REALLY believed and taught - before, of course, Paul came along and messed it all up! They argue that it was Paul - this renegade Pharisee - who originated this bigoted and exclusivisitic idea that Jesus is the Son of God and Jewish Messiah, and who gathered a following around the idea that all the people of mankind must place their faith Jesus in order to be accepted by God and forgiven of our sins.
The accusation that the message of the gospel was a creation of Paul isn't anything new, by the way. In fact, it was an accusation that was prevalent even in Paul's day. As you read the New Testament, you can see that he frequently had to defend his claim that the gospel he preached was NOT something that either he or any other man invented. He insisted that the gospel "received" by him was a divine revelation from God. He wrote to the Galatian believers and told them, "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12).
Even the other apostles - those who lived with and walked beside Jesus - affirmed that Paul's gospel was the revealed message from God. Peter wrote that "the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you" (2 Peter 3:15). In fact, Paul clearly submitted the gospel he preached to those who "seemed to be pillars" in the church - that is, the apostles; and yet they added nothing to the message. He said, "... When James, Cephas (that is, Peter) and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Gal. 2:9).
Let's be clear on this, then, from the very start: the gospel of Jesus Christ is NOT a product of the religious genius of man. It is NOT a human system of philosophy or of ethics; nor does it, IN ANY WAY, have its origin in human creativity. It is a revelation from the almighty God. It is "received". And therein lies its power and authority. Therein lies its effectiveness to save those who hear it and believe it. We can proclaim it with confidence and with boldness as a message from God Himself.
* * * * * * * * * *
Second, we see that ...
2. IT IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH SCRIPTURE (vv. 3-4).
Paul wrote, "... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures ..." (vv. 3-4). Twice in these verses, Paul affirms that the message of the gospel is a message which is in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures. The message that Paul preached was not only a message received from God, and therefore not of human origin; but it was also a message foretold clearly in God's word in the holy Scriptures, and therefore not "new".
We note that Paul said "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures". "Christ" is the Greek word for the Messiah; and here Paul affirms that Jesus was not only the promised Messiah that the Jews hoped for, but that this same Messiah "died" for their sins. Jesus was the one who was clearly pictured for us in Psalm 22; who cried out in agony, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Psalm 22:1); and who said, "They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots" (vv. 16-18). Jesus was the one so clearly described for us in Isaiah 53, where it says, "Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes 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" (Isa. 53:4-6).
We also note that Paul said that this same Christ who died and was buried, "rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." Peter quoted Psalm 16, and declared to the Jews that King David spoke these words prophetically of Jesus: "Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Acts 2:26-27). Paul said that the words of Psalm 68:18 were written of Jesus; words that say, "When He ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:8). Peter cites Psalm 110:1 and says, "... David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (Acts 2:34-35).
Paul persistently argued "from the Scriptures", as he sought to prove the message of the gospel about Jesus to those who heard him. The Bible tells us that it was Paul's regular custom to enter into the synagogues of the cities he visited, where he "reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ'" (Acts 17:1-3). He once preached an extended sermon about Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures; and summed up his message in these words: "And we declare to you glad tidings ('euanggelion') - that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus" (Acts 13:32-33).
Even Jesus Himself, in His resurrected body, preached about Himself to some of His disciples; saying, "'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Acts 24:25-27). On a later occasion, He declared to His disciples, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Acts 24:44).
Let's also be clear then on this. The gospel we preach isn't something "new". It's certainly "new" in the sense that it is newly revealed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostles and the Scriptures they wrote; but it isn't something "new" in the sense of it being a new innovation or new change in God's program. The gospel is the telling forth of the good news of God's redeeming program - a program decreed from before the world began, and fulfilled perfectly in the Person of Jesus Christ. It's the one gospel for all time - the gospel told forth long ago in the Holy Scriptures, brought to pass through Jesus, and proclaimed to the world by the prophets and the apostles - the gospel concerning "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow", and "which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things which angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:10-12). We can proclaim this gospel confidently and boldly as God's singular message from of old!
* * * * * * * * * *
Third, I'd like you to notice that ...
3. IT IS THE STORY OF A PERSON (vv. 3-4).
This is, perhaps, the most important fact about the gospel we preach - and the fact that we must be most careful to guard from being misunderstood. The gospel we declare is NOT, as we have said, merely about a philosophy; nor is it about an idea; nor is it about a system of ethics. It certainly includes those things; but it's not primarily about those things. The gospel we declare is, above all else, the story of a wonderful Person; the Son of God who became a man and died a shameful death on the cross for us; a Person who was raised from the dead to prove to us God's satisfaction with His sacrifice for us. We do not preach the good news about Christianity; we preach the good news about Christ!
Paul speaks, in three respects, of the gospel as the good news about this wonderful Person. First, He says that "Christ died for our sins" (v. 3). The message of the gospel is the telling forth of the story of the eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, who became a man; who was born of a virgin, born into this world without sin. It's the story of how He lived a sinless life in the midst of men; who was eventually crucified, taking our sins on His own Person and dying in our place (2 Cor. 5:21).
Paul also says, "... and that He was buried." This is to emphasize that Jesus truly died and truly tasted death on our behalf. Jesus Himself said, "For 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" (Matthew 12:40). He was "humbled" for us in that He "... first descended to the lower parts of the earth ..." (Eph. 4:9). "He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things" (v. 10). Where did His spirit go during the time of the burial of His body? What did He do during those three grim days? There's a lot of speculations we could make about such things; but we can affirm this much for sure: He willingly and fully tasted the humiliation of real, physical death for everyone (Heb. 2:9)!
Paul finally asserts, "... that He rose again on the third day. This emphasizes to us that His death satisfied God's demands for our sins. The Bible says this of the righteousness that pleases God: "It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (Rom. 4:24-25). His resurrection points Him out to the world as the Savior, because He is "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4; see also Acts 17:31). His resurrection is also the prototype of what will happen to us who place our trust in Him; "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection" (Rom. 6:5).
Many Bible scholars and historians speak of something called "the kerygma" - that is, the basic content of the proclamation of the apostles and the early church. The famous New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd wrote a book many years ago titled, "The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development". In it, he compared the gospel presentations that are found in various places in the Scripture, and found that these presentations boiled down to certain basic affirmations about Christ - who He is and what He did for us. I believe that this "kerygma" - this basic content of gospel preaching - is declared for us in 1 Timothy 3:16: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels (that is, messengers - the apostles), preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory."
If we would preach a message that we can have absolute confidence in - one that we can be assured God Himself will stand behind - then let us present the Person of Jesus Christ to the world. Let's tell people of how He was crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification. Let's call people to believe what the Bible says about Him; and to repent from sin and be baptized in His name. Then, we'll be preaching the gospel that Paul preached.
* * * * * * * * * *
Fourth, I'd like you to notice that ...
4. IT IS HISTORICALLY RELIABLE (vv. 5-8).
The claims of the gospel are fantastic. But they are also credible. We must stress that the gospel is the report of an historic event. A literal event in actual time/space history is the basis of our saving faith. Jesus really did physically die on a real cross of wood; and He was literally buried in a tomb of real rock; and He was literally raised physically alive from death in the same body in which He was crucified - only now glorified.
It's fashionable today to deny the resurrection. It's usually done by some unbelieving preachers scholars in this way: "It's true and proper to preach a resurrection. Jesus truly did die and was truly "raised from the dead". But though He literally died, He wasn't literally raised; because - as we all know - literal resurrection from literal death is a physical impossibility. That would be a miracle! Instead, the "good news" of the gospel is that Jesus has risen from the dead "in our hearts". He lives on in our hearts as an ongoing inspiration to live for God. He is "raised again" in us each time we follow His simple teaching and love for our fellow man." This sounds very spiritual and religious to a lot of unbelieving people. But it's not the gospel God has called us to declare to them; because it is, in the end, a denial of the literal, historic resurrection of Jesus as an essential part of the story.
The simple fact is that, if Jesus only rose from the dead in some vague "spiritual" sense, then He did not rise from the dead at all. If He didn't rise, then He's still dead - no less so than any other man who died. And as Paul clearly asserts later in this chapter of 1 Corinthians, "... If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (vv. 17-19). A full tomb means an empty faith.
In answer to this, Paul presents to us a veritable parade of eyewitnesses to the literal resurrection of Jesus. He proves to us that the gospel is historically reliable. Many of these witnesses willingly laid down their lives for their confident insistence that Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead.
Paul says, first, that "He was seen by Cephas" (v. 5) - that is, to the very same Peter who had earlier denied Him. Then, he says that Jesus was seen "by the twelve" - that is, by the remaining disciples (minus Judas) who were gathered in hiding from the authorities behind locked doors. Then, Paul says that, "After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep" (v. 6) - that is, some of these eyewitnesses had died, but some were still living at the time of Paul's writing; and if the reader of his letter wanted to, the could go and talk to them personally about it. Then, Paul says, "After that He was seen by James" (v. 7) - that is, Jesus' own half-brother who had formerly disbelieved Him but was now the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. "Then by all the apostles" (v. 7) - perhaps speaking of an individual appearance to them during the forty days that proceeded His ascension (Acts 1:3). And then, finally, Paul says, "Last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (v. 8). Here, he speaks of Jesus' appearance to Him on the road to Damascus, as described for us in Acts 9.
Let's remember, then, that the message we proclaim isn't in the category of myth or legend. We're not calling people to put their faith in a fable. We're calling them to believe an eyewitness report of a factual event from reliable reporters - a message that is completely credible to any honest, impartial investigator who sincerely seeks the truth. Let's boldly proclaim all of the gospel of Jesus with absolute confidence in it's historic reliability.
* * * * * * * * * *
Finally, let's notice that ...
5. IT IS LIFE-CHANGING IN ITS POWER (vv. 9-11).
Paul points to himself in this. He tells the story of how his own encounter with the risen Lord Jesus transformed him. He says, "Then, last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (vv. 8-11). One of the most remarkable displays of the power of the gospel is the conversion of Paul. There is no other way to explain his life except that the gospel is radically life-transforming in its power toward whoever believes it.
Paul tells us his story in his first letter to Timothy. He wrote,
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
Paul was an apostle "born out of time" - an apostle who did not have the privilege of walking with Jesus in His earthly ministry, as did the others; an apostle who received his calling after the Lord had already been raised; an apostle who came late to his apostolic ministry. But he was also an apostle who felt very unworthy because he was a former persecutor of the church and murderer of Christians. But he who had been the church's greatest antagonist had, nevertheless, been transformed into its greatest protagonist; and this transformation he attributed to the grace of God. He presents himself to us - the greatest of all missionaries who was once the chief of all sinners - as proof of the unlimited power of the gospel to transform lives.
Our message, then, is not only the declaration of history in an objective sense. It's also the declaration of a personal experience. We not only proclaim what Jesus did in history; but we also proclaim what Jesus has done for us personally. Think of what a powerful thing this two-pronged declaration is! If we proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead in history, but could not point to any life that He had changed personally today, then who should believe us? On the other hand, if we declared that our lives have been dramatically changed by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but could not validate that relationship by pointing to His historic resurrection from the dead, then again who should believe us? But as it is, we can say both - that He literally rose from the dead, and literally lives today to transform the lives of whoever will trust in Him!
Ours is both a historically reliable and personally experiential message!
* * * * * * * * * *
This, then, is the gospel we preach, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. You and I have been entrusted with a message from God Himself - foretold in His Scriptures, and confirmed by reliable eyewitnesses - that declares the good news of the the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that will mightily transform whoever hears it, believes it, and places their trust in it.
May God help each one of us, then, to proclaim this message of the gospel faithfully in the sphere in which God has placed us - and may we do so with the greatest possible boldness and confidence!
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2002 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights Reserved
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436