First Things First – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
I’m from Indiana, and anyone who knows me knows that I love basketball. I grew up playing and watching basketball. I would even read books about basketball and study coaching techniques. One time, I caught a bit of one of Coach Bobby Knight’s practices on TV. He was reprimanding a player for watching the opponent on defense. I thought the player was in the right, you should always know who you are supposed to guarding so that they don’t score. But Bobby Knight said something profound. He said, “A player doesn’t score points, the ball scores the points.” Think about that: the other team doesn’t get any points if one of their players goes through the hoop. They get two points, though, if the ball goes through the hoop. So you should always know where the ball is at all times. That’s really what it boils down to, right? You could know the best defensive schemes, you could have the best plays memorized, but if you don’t score more points than the other team, then you will lose.
Bobby Knight was one the best coaches of all time. He won by teaching fundamentals and by reminding his players what was important: scoring. In many ways, the Apostle Paul is also a coach for the churches that he planted in the first century. So, when Paul, the Coach, says something is of “first importance” then we should listen carefully because it’s important. And this church had a lot of problems, which is why Paul was writing to them.
Please turn to 1 Corinthians 15 in your Bibles or on your apps. It’s on p. 815 in the blue pew bible under the chair in front of you.
Theologian, J. B. Phillips calls this chapter that we are looking at today, “the most important chapter in the Bible.” Why? It’s important because it is the gospel. It is the good news for salvation. It gives credence to the resurrection of Jesus and hope for the future resurrection of the saints. And the big idea here is that the gospel is true and that the gospel is powerful to change lives.
A. It starts in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
Paul does a good thing here and he starts with a reminder. Everyone needs reminders. Maybe you have a system for getting organized this New Year. It might involve special lists and organizers. I am constantly on the search for the perfect “to-do” system but I always fall back to the trusty yellow post-it notes. But I am very forgetful. Christians tend to be forgetful.
One of the benefits of good, theologically sound music is to help us remember Biblical truths. A line from a song (How deep the father’s love for us) that tends to stick with me is “Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart. His wounds have paid my ransom.”
Paul says, “I want to remind you of the gospel.” We hear the word “gospel” a lot so we need to be clear about the definition. The English word “gospel” in our Bibles is the Greek word evangelion. The noun of this word originally referred to a message of victory. For example, if the king of a city learned about an army that was marching toward them with the intent of attacking them, he would send out his army to meet them on the battlefield. And if he were able to turn back the invaders saving the city from destruction, he would send a messenger back to the city with the good news of victory. The messenger would run into the city and announce victory. The message was called the evangelion or the gospel.
This word came to be used for any joyous news. Jesus and his followers used this word to refer to the good news of salvation that is made possible by the work of Christ. I used to like a quote from St. Francis of Assissi that said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” While this sounds nice, it’s not accurate because the gospel is the words. It’s not something you do but something you believe. It is the good news of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.
Paul had preached this good news to the people of Corinth. He had already been to Corinth and planted the seeds of the church and then he left. The church was established, but it was going through some major problems. So, he has to remind them of the good news:
1. They had previously received this good news. So, we know this wasn’t new news.
2. They had taken a stand on this good news.
3. They were saved because of this good news.
-To be saved means to be delivered or to be rescued. You can’t be delivered unless you are trapped and you can be rescued unless you are lost. What are we saved from then? Sin and the death that comes with it. The people of Corinth knew sin. This city was located in a strategic location in the Roman Empire. It was on a trade route so it was an important city for commerce but it also became known for its moral corruption. In fact, “Corinthianize,” meant to live in debauchery. But after Paul preached there many people were saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by faith and not by works. That means that baptism didn’t save you, but you are saved by faith and you demonstrated that through the symbol of being baptized.
Unfortunately, some people claimed to be saved but Paul said that they believed in vain because there was no purpose. There was no life change. The gospel really meant nothing to these people. They didn’t get the big idea: The gospel is true and the gospel is powerful to change lives.
B. Paul continues in verses 3-5: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
First of all, Paul didn’t make this up. This isn’t the gospel of Paul. This is true. This is fact. Paul says he received and he passed it on. He didn’t change or alter it at all. Most scholars think this is one of the earliest Christian Creeds in existence based upon the wording. And the reason why Paul would have taught it first is because of how foundational and how revolutionary it was, and because it was factual. This belief is what separates Christians from those that aren’t Christians. If you don’t believe these three things then you are not a Christian.
1. Christ died for our sins.
-When the John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by he yelled out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
-1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
2. He was buried.
-Jesus completely dead. As we know from Miracle Max in the movie A Princess Bride, there is a difference between mostly dead and all dead. He said that mostly dead is partially dead, but all dead… well there is only one thing you can do…go through his clothes and look for loose change.
-Friends, Jesus was all dead, he was buried. He didn’t pass out on the cross like some skeptics will have you believe. He died and he was buried in a tomb.
3. He was raised on the third day.
-God the Father raised Jesus back to life conquering sin and death.
– Romans 4:25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
-This was so important that later on in this chapter Paul says that if Christ wasn’t raised then our faith is useless because we are still dead in our sins.
These are the core beliefs of Christianity. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about the author/atheist named Christopher Hitchens who passed away recently. He wrote a book called ‘God is Not Great.’ An Episcopalian minister was interviewing him a few years ago in Portland, Oregon. The minister said, “I’m a liberal Christian so I don’t believe all parts of the Bible.” Hitchens responded by saying, “If you don’t believe that Christ died for sins and rose from the grave, then you can’t call yourself a Christian.” This atheist knew more about the gospel than this so-called Christian.
These beliefs are what separated true believers in Corinth from those that weren’t serious. I know this because Corinth was a Greek city about 30 miles west of Athens. And Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. If you remember Acts 17 when Paul first preached at Athens some people laughed and mocked him for his beliefs. The Greek philosophers believed the human body was a prison and they were trying to escape from it, they didn’t want to be resurrected with a new body.
The fact that Paul spends so much time in 1 Corinthians 15 addressing this issue shows that some in the church had became confused or stopped placing emphasis on this in their presentation of the gospel. Maybe they were worried about what society thought about their beliefs so they stopped preaching Christ’s resurrection. Maybe they thought they could be more effective if they just kept quiet. Some church in America, like in Corinth, have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to sin.
Paul corrects them with what is “most important.” It’s interesting that when Paul preaches the gospel, this is what he preaches. He didn’t mention Jesus’ teaching, even though it was profound and memorable. He didn’t talk about Jesus’ example, which was Godly and serving. He didn’t talk about miracles or healing. He said this is the gospel: Christ died, he was buried, and he was raised. This is important because the gospel is true and the gospel is powerful.
C. I am going to end by giving 3 reasons how we know that this gospel we’ve been talking about is true and powerful.
1. It happened according to the scriptures.
Paul mentioned it twice already. He doesn’t say exactly where, but we know that all of Scripture points to Jesus. It’s prophesied in Isaiah 53, but Jesus also mentions how Scripture speaks of him in Luke 24:44-47, “He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
2. It can be verified by eyewitnesses.
-He appeared to Peter.
-Then he appeared to the group of disciples, known generically as The Twelve.
-He then appeared to 500. The significance is that they all saw him so you know they weren’t hypnotized. And that many were still alive so the story could be corroborated. If anyone had any doubts then they could just go ask those people.
-He appeared to James. This was Jesus’ brother. Think about that. Usually the only way you can get your little brother to do anything for you is threaten them with physically violence. Remember that at the beginning of his ministry Jesus’ brothers wanted him to shut up and stop preaching because he was embarrassing the family, and now they worship Him as the risen Lord and King.
-Jesus appeared to the apostles.
-Last of all, to Saul.
We see it through scripture; we see is through Christ’s appearances, but the most important reason why we know that the gospel is true and that it is powerful…
3. Lives were changed. Read verses 7-11.
-Paul’s life was changed. In these last few verses, we get a glimpse into the heart of Paul the Apostle. I don’t think Paul was just feigning humbleness, I think he is being genuine. He compares himself to the other guys and says, “you heard and you believed.” I’m more like a spiritual miscarriage because I didn’t accept the gospel at first.
-He calls himself the least of the apostles. He didn’t even think the he deserved to be called an apostle. In another letter (1 Timothy 1:13-14) he calls himself “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
-Paul says, “I persecuted the church of God.” Paul knew he was forgiven, but is it even possible to forget something like that…breathing out murderous threats against the people of God? Do you remember what Jesus said to him in Acts 22 on the road? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus said that Paul was persecuting him, not the church. Realizing that he was completely forgiven Paul must have been overwhelmed with God’s grace and the power of the gospel.
So whether you heard it from them or you heard it from me, you know that it’s true. You’ve got the head knowledge, now apply it to your lives.
In conclusion, let me remind you,
The gospel is true.
The gospel is powerful. It has the power to save. We saw that in verse 2, they were saved because of the gospel.
It’s why in Romans 1:16 Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
If you don’t know Jesus personally, I invite you to accept Him as Lord and Savior tonight. Don’t wait another day.
The gospel has the power to change lives. It’s changed Paul’s life and it changed my life. I believe the gospel has the power to change your life.
I want to close with a story of when this knowledge became real in my life. In my old neighborhood of Chicago there were a lot of problems: high school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, drugs. But during one season in particular we saw a rise in gangs and gang violence on the streets. I worked with high school kids at a Christian youth center, so I was called to meet with other community and religious leaders. There were people from the local boys and girls clubs and some pastors from the area. We were discussing problems that we saw and solutions to those problems. People had different ideas, but then a local youth pastor spoke up and said something that I will never forget. He said, “What we have here is not a gang problem or a violence problem. We have a spiritual problem.” Friends, that spiritual problem is called sin, and the remedy, the power for change is the gospel. We do not have a Meth problem in our community, we don’t have a pornography problem in our churches, and we don’t have marriage problems. We have sin problems.
The gospel is true and that the gospel is powerful to change lives.
Christ died for sin.
2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”