Today we turn the page to a brand new chapter in our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that there are some things in God’s Word which are nonessentials, that is, they have nothing to do with matters of redemption and salvation. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, but they are not essential in regards to salvation and redemption. Here, in 1 Corinthians 15, we will take a look at the most essential of the essentials: “Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He was raised on the third day.” 1 Corinthians 15 is the most detailed declaration for the validity of Jesus’ resurrection and its implications found in all of God’s Word. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and then we will see what we can learn. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them– yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 NIV)

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the most singular consequential event in all of human history. It is the most essential of the essentials of the Christian faith. Paul says as much, just a few verses later in this chapter, when he writes, 

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17 NIV)

Yet, in Paul’s day, and in every generation since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, people have doubted, or worse, they’ve outright called the resurrection of Jesus an absurdity. In the face of such doubt, Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

A study was released by the Barna Group back in August of 2020. The study found that 52% of those who describe themselves as Christian believe in a “works oriented” means to God’s acceptance. If you do “good” then God will accept you, you will be redeemed and counted as righteous.  Barna writes,

More shocking, huge proportions of people associated with churches whose official doctrine says eternal salvation comes only from embracing Jesus Christ as savior believe that a person can qualify for Heaven by being or doing good. That includes close to half of all adults associated with Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and evangelical (41%) churches. A much larger share of Catholics (70%) embrace that point of view. (American World View Inventory 2020: https://tinyurl.com/yc5m37wr)

I read the study this past week and I’ve come to the conclusion that one of two things is happening in the Church. First, it is possible that those churches who have included in their doctrinal statements that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone have abandoned their doctrinal statement. At one time they believed and taught this truth, but as time passed they turned their attention elsewhere. No doubt that happens. There is a second possibility and that is that what is being taught is not being heard. Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Everyone heard Jesus, but few were willing to listen and learn. You can sit in a church Sunday after Sunday, listen to the lesson being taught, and still walk out of the gathering unchanged, believing what you want to believe regardless of whether it is biblical or not. The belief that if we will do good then we are good, good enough even for God to fling wide the gates of Heaven and welcome us in is so widespread, even by those who say they are followers of Jesus, but the belief can’t be found anywhere in God’s Word. In Romans 3:12 we learn that “there is no one who does good, not even one.” Just a few verses later, in Romans 3:23, we read, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Good is not good enough or Jesus would have never come to give His life for our redemption. 

Paul begins this chapter by reminding those in Corinth that he is their brother in Christ. He also wants to remind them of the gospel he preached to them. Take a look at verses 1-2 with me.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 NIV)

The word “gospel” is the word “??????????” (euaggelion) in the Greek New Testament. Literally it means, “good news.” The word appears 76 times in the New Testament, but 60 of those occurrences are from Paul’s pen. The good news of Jesus’ saving work is Paul’s favorite topic. We can understand why if we read Romans 1:1-4, where he introduces himself to the brothers and sisters in Rome. Read it with me.

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4 NIV)

Paul was “set apart” for the gospel, “the gospel God promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…” It is also the gospel which the brothers and sisters in Corinth received and on which they have taken their stand. 

In verse 2, Paul reminds them that it is also the gospel by which they, as well as you and I, are saved. What Paul writes next has been the source of lots of discussion. Paul writes, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Some have taken this to mean that we can “lose” our salvation if we don’t straighten up and do right. John MacArthur wrote,

It is only by God’s power that we are saved and only by His power that we are kept saved. Our salvation is kept by Christ’s holding us fast, not primarily by our holding Him fast. Our holding onto Him is evidence that He is holding onto us. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 399) 

If Paul doesn’t mean that we can “lose” our salvation then what does he mean? That’s a great question! I think we can gain great insight from the parable of the Sower. In the parable, found in Matthew 13, if you will remember, there were four types of soil. In the first one, the seed that fell on the path, birds came and ate the seed before anything ever happened. There were three remaining types of soil; that which was “rocky ground,” that which was overrun by thorns, and the last which yielded an abundant harvest. Jesus said the seed which fell on rocky ground began to sprout, but then trouble came… Read along with me.

20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21 NIV)

The third soil was overrun with thorns which represent the worries of life and the enticements of life that choke out the word. Jesus said,

22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 NIV)

Things looked good initially, but over the course of time the troubles of life and the better deals, the more fun, exciting opportunities came along and Jesus was quickly abandoned. These are folks who were never redeemed, never saved to begin with. Leon Morris believes that what Paul is reminding the brothers and sisters in Corinth is this: simply confessing a belief in Jesus without considering the cost, considering what the commitment implies and what it demands, is not really trusting in Christ. That is a belief that is groundless and empty and not saving faith. 

Let’s move on and take a look at verses 3-4 where Paul talks about the content of the gospel. Read it with me.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV) 

This is the heart of the gospel my friends. Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. David Garland writes,

The resurrection is the keystone that integrates the incarnation and Christ’s atoning death. If it is removed, the whole gospel will collapse. If there is no resurrection of the dead, humans remain under the tyranny of sin and death, and their bouts of doubt and despair are fully justified. (Garland, David. 1 Corinthians. pg. 683) 

Even though this chapter is primarily about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, I want to take a minute to talk about the implications of Jesus’ death since so many wonder, “What does Jesus’ dying on a cross have to do with me?” I can well remember thinking the same thing when people would tell me that Jesus died for me. God’s Word teaches us that Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the groundwork was laid for the people so that when the Messiah came and died, they would understand His sacrificial death as being for them, His life for their sin. Let me explain.

The Jews were commanded by God to set aside one day a year as “the day of atonement” (Leviticus 16:29-30, 23:27-28). On that day, the only day of the year when the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies within the temple, he would sacrifice an innocent animal, a goat, for the atonement of the sins of the people. Leviticus 17:11 tells us,

11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. (Leviticus 17:11 NIV)

In Hebrews 9, after we are walked through what happened in the temple by the priests, we are told that “there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.” The author of Hebrews goes on to tell us,

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26 NIV)

All that happened in the days of the temple, before the death of Jesus, was to prepare the people for the day when the true Sacrifice that would take away the sins of God’s people would appear. The atoning death of Jesus is taught throughout the New Testament. In Romans 5:6 we are told that “Christ died for the ungodly.” In Ephesians 5:2 we are encouraged to walk in the way of love, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In Titus 2:14 we are told that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” And in the opening verses of Galatians 1 we read,

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5 NIV)

The New Testament is filled with reminders that Jesus died in the place of sinners who were unredeemed, unreconciled, and at enmity with God. It saddens me beyond description that there are so many today, even many who fill churches on Sunday morning, who are convinced that if they will only be good surely God will take notice and they will finally have peace with God. Paul could not be more clear about how we find peace with God, and it is most certainly not with our good works. Read along with me beginning in Romans 4:25. 

25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 4:25-5:2 NIV)

We only have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. I want to point out something else about Jesus’ death that Paul states in verse 3 and that is, His death “was according to the Scriptures.” Now remember, the only Scriptures Jesus had was the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. The New Testament had not even begun to be written when Jesus died and was raised to life on the third day. So, Paul is saying that Jesus’ death was according to what was written, what was prophesied, in the Old Testament. This was not an original idea of Paul. In the very first sermon preached after Jesus’ resurrection, we find the same idea coming from Peter at Pentecost, the birth of the Church. Turn to Acts 2:22-24 with me.

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:22-24 NIV)

Jesus was handed over to His accusers and crucified by “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” Where in the Old Testament can we find information about Jesus’ death? This is especially interesting given the fact that Jesus hadn’t been born at the conclusion of the writing of the Old Testament. Well, I’m so glad you asked. Isaiah 53 is a description of “the Suffering Servant.” The Jews see Israel as the suffering servant, but let me read to you a portion of Isaiah 53 and see if you see it as a prophecy of Jesus’ death. Let’s begin in verse 4.

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)

This prophecy was written 700 years before Jesus was born. It is clear as a bell who Isaiah was talking about and it wasn’t a nation, it was an individual. The only individual who fits this description of bearing our suffering, pierced for our transgressions, and able to bring us peace through His punishment is Jesus. 

Paul also says, in verse 4, that Jesus was raised on the third day “according to the Scriptures.” There is a Scripture in Hosea 6:1-2, which says,

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. (Hosea 6:1-2 NIV)

There are other Scriptures which Bible teachers have used to show that Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied long before it took place. Jesus, Peter, and Paul quoted or referred to several Old Testament verses like Genesis 22:8; 14; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 22; and Isaiah 53 to speak about Jesus’ resurrection. 

There is a story about Jesus, after His resurrection, meeting two men who were walking on the road to Emmaus. Both men were dejected because they had really believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but now He was dead. The women had told Jesus’ followers that He was alive, but like us, they knew that dead people don’t come back to life. When Jesus met them on the road they didn’t recognize Him and He asked them why they were so down? They told Jesus the story of what had happened. Then, in Luke 24:25-27, Jesus said,

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)

They still didn’t recognize Jesus, but when they got to their village they asked the stranger to stay with them for the evening since it was getting late in the day. They prepared a meal and then, at the table, something happened that would change those two men forever. Turn to Luke 24:30-32 with me.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32 NIV)

Jesus opened their eyes and they could see. He opened their hearts and they believed. Their hearts were burning within them. There are many today who are preoccupied with death and the afterlife. Most fear death, they avoid every instance of being confronted with their own death, but there’s no escaping it my friend–we are all going to die. I want to encourage you this morning to get your eyes off of your death and fix them on the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German believer who gave his life for the cause of Christ because he would not bow his knee to Adolf Hitler, wrote these words.

The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is ‘from outside ourselves.’ I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. Only those who allow themselves to be found in Jesus Christ–in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection–are with God and God with them. (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. pg. 62)

I don’t know your situation this morning. I don’t know whether you are a follower of Jesus or not. I don’t know what has a hold of your mind and won’t let go. I don’t know what keeps you up at night tossing and turning. I don’t know if someone has convinced you or if you have convinced yourself that if you can only be good, better than those around you, then you will finally find peace with God. This I do know: There is no peace, there is no salvation, there is no forgiveness for our sins outside of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. There is no hope beyond the grave apart from Jesus’ resurrection. This is the matter of first importance and I don’t want you to leave here this morning until you have made the decision to become a follower of Jesus, to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation that God is making available to you right now. Won’t you invite Jesus in?

Mike Hays

February 13, 2022 

“…Of First Importance”
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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