Good morning. My name is Brian, and it’s great to be with you this morning as a church family. We’re starting a new series today called Legit and when Pastor Dean told me that, I said, “I don’t know if I’m legit enough to abbreviate that word.” But what I can do is point us to the legit beliefs in the scriptures, the things that we should unite around as Christians, the things that we must hold on to that we can’t not affirm, because there are many false ideas about God and religion today, about reality. False ideas about how we know what’s true, what we should hold to, what we should cling to. And if we’re going to base our lives on something, it needs to be true. I mean if it’s not true, even if it feels good, even if it gives us warm fuzzies, we’re just wasting our time and probably hurting other people.
So how do we know what is true? Where do we go? Hopefully what comes to mind for you is the scriptures. We all have our own opinions, our own intuitions, the things we feel most deeply, but we can’t look inwards to determine what is true, we can’t look inwards to determine the answers to life’s most pressing questions. We must look to something outside of ourselves, something that doesn’t depend on what we think or how we feel. And the fact is God has told us what is true. He has told us what the world is like. And he’s told us that in his word. So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to First Corinthians Chapter 15, First Corinthians Chapter 15. We’ll be starting in verse one. In this letter called First Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church at Corinth, and this is a church that has many problems. Name a problem, they probably have it.
They’re divided over what is right and what is wrong, they’re divided over who they follow and how they even know what is true, and they’re divided over the beliefs they are supposed to hold. It’s a very divided church. And in Chapter 15, so he’s already gone a lot into this letter, but in Chapter 15, he tells them what is of first importance. And that’s what we need to cling to, that’s what we need to hold to and that’s what we’re going to read together this morning. So here’s what Paul says. “Now I make clear to you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.”
“Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. And then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me.” Paul starts out saying that he wants to make clear a gospel, a good news that they have received, that they are standing in and by which they are being saved. And so we see right here that there’s a threefold way of looking at our salvation. Often we as New Testament Christians like to point to the past tense dimension of salvation. “We have been saved. We have received a message,” in the past. And that’s true. But the New Testament conception of salvation is deeper than that, it’s more robust than that, because there’s a present tense dimension. Paul says we are currently standing on this message. If we are not currently standing in and with this message, we show ourselves to have not previously received the message.
But there’s also a future dimension to this. There’s a deliverance yet to come. We are, Paul says, being saved. We await a future final salvation when we will be ultimately transformed into the perfect image of Christ, when we will be glorified, that’s yet to come, that’s in the future. And so we have to receive the message, hold onto the message, persevere by God’s grace, holding to this message until we reach final salvation. Or we show ourselves to have believed in vain. And Paul continues in verse three, “I passed onto you as most important what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” It’s become increasingly popular in some circles, sometimes liberal academic circles, to say that we should not try to convert someone from one religion to another, that that’s inappropriate, that that’s wrong. Yet this wasn’t the view of Jesus who came proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is here. Repent,” in other words, “Change your mind and believe this news.”
It wasn’t the view of the early church that staked their lives on the furtherance of the gospel and converting people, and it wasn’t the view of Paul we see here. Paul says this is a message that he received, in other words, someone tried to convert him, and that he passed on and that they have, past tense, believed. Christianity is essentially an evangelical religion. Now when I say that word, right, 2020 election season, I’ve got to immediately say, “Well, what do we mean by evangelical? Is that a voting block? Am I saying that Christianity is a political religion?” Well it is, but not in the way that most people think today. But this term, “Evangelical,” or, “Evangelize,” has sadly become corrupted in our culture today, because the word Paul uses in verse one here in Chapter 15, when he says he preached the good news to them, that’s where we get our word, “Evangelize.”
He’s saying he evangelized them, he proclaimed the good news to them. Christianity, at its heart, is an evangelical religion. It preaches conversion, and a Christianity that does not say, “I have a message you need to hear and I will share it with you,” is not Christianity. Christianity is not a private belief. It preaches conversion. And interestingly enough, there are some notable atheists today who would say, “If you don’t try to convert me to Christianity, I don’t believe you actually believe what you say you believe,” right? If you actually have a message that takes someone from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and you won’t share it, I don’t think you believe it. And I think sometimes the atheists are more correct on this point than we often live out.
But let’s look at this message that Paul proclaimed in that he received. Paul says, “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” It’s easy to gloss over that phrase and keep going because it probably, if you’ve been in church for any length of time, sounds like familiar religious jargon or verbiage. Even a three-year-old can say, “Christ died for my sins,” and we move on. But this is not a truth we move on from. This is not just the truth that you received in the past and then move on to weightier things or more practical things. No, this is a truth that by clinging to it and persevering in it, you will reach final salvation. You never move on from this truth. It’s the truth we see every other truth through. And so I want us to spend some time today on this phrase, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture.”
Now this is a gospel summary. This is not everything that’s essential to the Christian faith, this is not everything there is to the gospel. It’s a summary. But each one of the words in this summary are themselves a summary. And so I want us to look at these individual words and the rich biblical doctrines they embody. So who is Christ? Christ died for our sins. Well, who is Christ? Christ is the word for Messiah, God’s anointed savior of his people. We see elsewhere in the New Testament that the Messiah is Jesus. He was truly God, truly man. And Paul goes on to say that the Christ died for our sins, and so this probably raises some questions. What kind of man can die for sins? What kind of man could die for someone else’s sins? Well only a perfect man, only the God man who was perfectly righteous without his own sins could die for someone else’s sins.
So as we look at the essentials today, here’s another one. The belief in Jesus as the Messiah, who is truly God, truly man, who was perfectly righteous. Any other view of Jesus isn’t just wrong or unchristian, it ultimately leaves someone in their sins. And don’t be mistaken, there are many people today who would say they believe in Jesus and they will not be saved, because the Jesus they believe in is not the true Jesus or what they are trusting that Jesus to do is not something he promised he would do. It’s essentially important that we believe in the right Jesus trusting him to do the right things, lest we believe in vain. So Paul says, “Christ died for our sins.” What’s this, “Our sins concept,” right? So in order to understand why Christ died, we actually have to understand the, “Our sins,” part of this verse.
Well, Jesus died on behalf of sinful people. This is also essential. Mankind, since Genesis 3, is sinful and corrupt. God created us, we see in Genesis 1 and 2, to love him, to obey him, to glorify him, and yet our first parents Adam and Eve rebelled. And because of their sin, we have an inherited guilt before God, we have an inherited sin nature. We are pointed towards sin. It’s not just that we sin and then become sinners, we’re actually sinners and that is why we sin. We act according to our nature, and we can’t just blame Adam and Eve that we’ve inherited their guilt. No, we’re all too good at sinning all on our own and accruing our own guilt before God. And this is the fundamental problem of every person. Many people today want to say that mankind is basically good. We’re good at heart and the evils in society or the way people become bad is because of systems, it’s because of groups, it’s because of systemic factors or society or structures. But there are issues with this.
I mean just on the face of it, how do you get enough good people together? And then it becomes bad, right? Is good, plus good, plus good, bad? So I don’t think that makes sense. You don’t get enough goodness together and somehow you end up with a concentration of evil. But more importantly, the Scriptures on every page, either explicitly or implicitly, teach that every single person is sinful and a rebel before God. That’s not how we feel about ourselves because we often think far too highly of ourselves, but that’s what the Scriptures say. Here’s just a sampling of the biblical language the Bible uses for mankind, apart from Christ. “We are children of wrath, we are sons of disobedience, we are slaves of sin, we are dead in sin, we have hearts of stone. There’s not one who does good, and our throats are open graves.” That’s not how we think about ourselves. That’s not how our non-Christian neighbors think about themselves.
But the scriptures give us an accurate diagnosis. Much like the person who feels great and goes in for their yearly physical or checkup, and the doctor says, “I actually have some really bad news. I think we found cancer and you have four months to live.” The person might say, “Well, I feel great. That can’t be true.” We need an expert opinion to tell us who we are, what we are, and that’s what God through the Scriptures does. And the understanding of the universal sinfulness of every single person is an essential part of the gospel. We can’t just disregard this because we don’t like it, because the gospel is good news. You only need good news if there’s bad news. And in fact, the good news only seems good if you understand there to have been bad news. And the good news of God’s grace shines most brilliantly, most clearly against the backdrop of the realistic, accurate sinful condition of every single person.
So we don’t actually present the gospel or make it more palatable if we decrease how much we talk about sin, we actually corrupt it. An essential part of the gospel is that mankind cannot save himself. He is wholly dependent on God’s grace because of our sins. So we’ve looked at Christ, we’ve talked about our sins, but what does it mean for the Christ to die for our sins? We’ve established mankind as sinful, but what’s this death about? Well foundationally, and firstly, it’s a historical claim. Christianity at its core involves historical claims. Jesus died physically. He died on a cross by crucifixion. Christianity is a historical religion. It’s based on events that happened in time and space in the past, events that don’t just depend on how I feel or what I think. And often today, the world wants to put religious claims in a separate category, such that it can be true for you and not for me. You find what works for you. You find your truth, live your truth it said.
But history is not that kind of thing, is it? I mean consider, let’s say FSU just played a game and thoroughly trouts to the other team, okay? And you’re talking with your neighbor and they say, “Well they didn’t win to me. It’s not true for me that they won.” You’re probably going to look at them a little funny. You might think, “Oh, they must be a Gator fan. What’s up with that? How can you say it’s not true for you that the team won?” It doesn’t depend on what you think, it doesn’t depend on how you feel, it’s a fact of history. Everyone has external access to evaluate who won the game because it’s historical, and Christianity is the same type of thing. The gospel is grounded in the facts of history, that Jesus died and that he rose is a historical claim. It can be true, it can be false, but what it cannot be is just true for someone and not for someone else. So the gospel is at least history, but there’s another ditch that sometimes we fall into.
The gospel is not only history. It doesn’t only contain historical facts, because Paul says that Christ died for our sins. So that Jesus died is a fact of history, that Jesus died for our sins we can only know because the Scriptures tell us. That doesn’t make it less true, but it does tell us that what Christ intended to accomplish is essentially important. I mean a lot of people die. Everyone dies. So it matters why this man died. Did the Christ just die like every other man? No, because he wasn’t every other man. What he intended to do with his death is of essential importance for us and Jesus dying for our sins speaks to the substitutionary death of Jesus. He was our substitute. He was our go between. He substituted himself between God’s wrath and us. He took the punishment we deserved on himself. Our guilt was credited to him. And because of that, God’s people get credited with Jesus’s righteousness. We had a debt we could not pay and Jesus substituted himself to pay for it, to atone for it.
And this truth is described in numerous ways all throughout the Scriptures. Here’s just a sampling. From Second Corinthians, “He made the one,” that would be God made the one, “Who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we would become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us.” There’s substitution. “Because it is written, cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Romans 5, “For while we were still helpless at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” Christ in the place of the ungodly, Christ dying for our sins. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. He was delivered up for our transgressions and he was raised for our justification.” Isaiah 53, “He was pierced because of our rebellion, he was crushed because of our iniquities.” Our sins. “Punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds.” Or as the old hymn says, “In our place condemned he stood.”
Substitution. The center of the gospel is the substitutionary death of Jesus. He died in our place, taking our sins and crediting us with his righteousness. Now, it’s become increasingly popular to hear this described in all crazy ways, where God is somehow some maniac who kills his own son and is blood thirsty and hates his own son. And so if you’ve heard this, there are a couple ways we could respond because this isn’t true. The first would be to ask where, apart from the Scriptures, do you get this standard of right and wrong by which you judge God? If God does not exist, there is no moral lawgiver. If there’s no moral lawgiver, there’s no moral law, which means there’s nothing to break, which means there’s nothing wrong, which means there’s nothing right. So all we’re left with is opinions. Can’t really judge someone else because they do something that just violates your opinion, can you?
But more than that, these claims about a father murdering his son or cosmic child abuse are a distortion of the essential doctrine of substitutionary atonement, because Jesus came willingly. No one forced him to go to the cross. He came out of love for his father and love for his people. He even says in his earthly ministry, “No one takes my life. I lay it down of my own accord.” Did the sacrificial death of Jesus please his father? Yes. Did it please Jesus, the son, to offer it? Yes. The three persons of God were united in their intention to save sinful people. And it shouldn’t surprise us, right? That the three persons of the one God were perfectly in harmony with their plan of redemption. The father gives up people to the son, the son atones for those people, and the spirit raises those same people to newness of life. Anything else imputes disorder and confusion into God. No, God, including the son, was perfectly aligned, perfectly going to the cross out of love.
He didn’t die as a helpless victim and he didn’t die only as a moral example, he died for our sins to bring us to God. I suppose that gospel or Christianity without the substitutionary death of Jesus for our sins might be more palatable. It might be easier to explain so many gospel distortions. But it ultimately leaves people in their sins and under God’s wrath. Jesus is either savior or judge, but what you do with him determines what he is to you. So Christ died for our sins. Those five words and their depth could be plumbed for a lifetime. And in fact, that is the calling of the Christian life to never move beyond that truth, but to extend and expand and understand everything else in light of it.
But Paul also continues. “He died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now the burial of Jesus shows that he was dead. You might think that doesn’t seem controversial. But it actually has been historically. There are some Muslims today, for example, who don’t think Jesus died on the cross. So it’s really important for us to say, “He died and was buried.” There are other distortions and heresies throughout history that have said, “Well, Jesus wasn’t actually a man. It just looked like that.” So it’s really important to say that Jesus died. He was crucified, stabbed in the side and placed dead in a tomb. He was physically dead. The physical death is important because Paul goes on to say he was raised to life, physically raised to life. And once again, this is a historical claim.
And Paul’s going to give us evidence of this. Hundreds of witnesses. Jesus’s resurrection fulfilled old Testament promises, it vindicated and demonstrated his triumph over sin and death. It’s so essential that Paul will say in verse 17 of this chapter, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless. You’re dead in your sins.” It doesn’t matter how much conviction you have, it doesn’t matter what your faith is, if Christ hasn’t been raised, it’s all a waste of time and we’re probably hurting each other. We should be pitied. The literal historical bodily resurrection of Jesus is how we know that Christ died for our sins. And Jesus’ earthly ministry, a paralyzed person is brought to him, a person who can’t walk, and Jesus tells them, “Your sins are forgiven.” And a lot of people get upset. “This is blasphemy, what kind of man can forgive sins?”
But one could also ask, “How do you know?” How do we know his sins have been forgiven? We can’t see them, there’s not a balance sheet, they’re not physical, so how do you know? And Jesus actually addresses this. He says, “So that you will know that I have the power to forgive sins, stand up, take your mat and go home.” The physical miracle showed the spiritual reality of the forgiveness of sins. And in the same way, Jesus’ death paid for our sins, but his resurrection shows us that’s exactly what he did. I’m going to trust the guy who foretold his death and resurrection, and then died and rose. I’m going to trust him on every single thing he speaks to. And Paul explains the significance of this in Romans, saying that, “He was raised for our justification, raised so that we could be declared righteous.” If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, and we are to be pitied and Christianity is a waste of time.
But the Scriptures give us evidence of this claim of the resurrection. And hopefully, this is a corrective to the popular idea today that faith is wishing, or faith is blind, or it’s a leap, or you’ve probably heard other examples. Faith is what you do when you don’t know. Well, that’s not biblical faith. Biblical faith is active trust and what you have good reason to believe is true. Biblical faith is active trust in what you have good reason to believe is true. We see this here. Paul makes a claim, he points to the evidence. He points to the witnesses. So we have faith in Jesus because we have good reason to believe the gospel and that faith itself, the Scriptures would tell us, is also a gift. And Paul says that Jesus, “Appeared to Cephas,” that’s Peter, “And then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of them are still alive.” Paul’s saying, “I know these people, so I know who’s alive and who’s not.” “But many have fallen asleep.”
“And then he appeared to James, then to the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time,” he appeared to Paul also. So many witnesses, hundreds of witnesses. The case should be open and closed. But let’s just focus on one. Let’s focus on James. James was the half brother of Jesus. He was the natural born child of Mary and Joseph. And James, like the rest of his family, didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah during Jesus’s earthly ministry. He didn’t believe his brother was God. I mean that’s a pretty tall expectation, right, on you as a brother. In fact, James, like the rest of his family, thought Jesus was kind of crazy. He wanted him to go away quietly. However, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, James is in the upper room, we see in Acts, with the rest of the Christians, the God followers, the Jesus followers. And James goes on to be the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. He believed his brother was the Messiah. He believed his brother was God who died for our sins.
Now you might think, “Well that’s convenient, right? Just wait until your crazy brother dies and capitalize on the situation by gaining power and prestige.” That’s a really good story, except it makes no sense because it doesn’t fit the evidence, because James was martyred for his faith. He was martyred for his trust in the brother he once believed was crazy, but then came to confess as God and savior. What could account for such a change? That’s a huge swing, a huge shift. What could have changed his mind? Well it’s what Paul says here. “Jesus appeared to James.” Many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, but no one dies for something they know to be a lie. And James, the half brother of Jesus, was in the best position to know if his brother had actually risen from the dead. He was in the best position to know if it’s the same guy and if he had actually died. And you know what? James dies for that claim. The resurrection was so essential that James changed his life and gave his life defending it.
Now you may have noticed, we skipped a phrase as we walk through this passage, because Paul said that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. And contrary to what many want to say, the New Testament firmly rests on the Old Testament. It assumes the Old Testament and on pretty much every page ties back to it or quotes it. Now where in the Old Testament do you find that the Messiah would die and rise on the third day? There might be some passages that make some illusions, but Paul’s main point here is the entire Old Testament pointed to this. The way the Old Testament was written was about this. And that’s exactly what Jesus says in Luke 24 before he ascends to heaven. He says, “In this way, the Scriptures are written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise on the third day.”
We see in the Old Testament, this pattern of God’s deliverance coming often on the third day, we see the pattern of God’s salvation coming through the judgment of sin, for the good of his people and for his own glory. The Old Testament, as a whole and in its parts, pointed to and was fulfilled by Jesus. But if we zoom out from that specific point, we see that the Scriptures themselves are essential too. They’re part of our legit beliefs. There are many essentials we haven’t looked at today, but the Scriptures tell us about all of them. They’re sufficient to equip us to live exactly as God wants us to live. The world is often confused why Christians take such a hard stand on some moral issues, and I can’t speak for everyone, and there are certainly some bad reasons people take right stands. But largely speaking throughout history, the reasons Christians have gone to the mat, so to say, on moral issues is because the scriptures speak to moral issues.
To disagree on many moral issues like sexual ethics is not just a disagreement between people, it’s not just a disagreement about an action. It involves a rejection of God’s word and God’s word is essential. Christians must essentially be people of the Scriptures. In order for the Scriptures to tell us that Christ died for our sins, they must also be allowed to tell us what our sins are. And if we trust the scriptures to tell us how to be saved from God’s wrath, we must trust the scriptures to tell us how to live in holiness. A faith that supposedly trusts in Jesus but rejects what he says is a faith that will not save. Or as Paul says in verse one, where we started today, “It’s a faith that is believed in vain.”
So church, be encouraged. Christ is not still buried. Christ died for our sins. He was raised for our justification. The Scriptures, they are what we cling to. They tell us what is true about ourselves, about God and about the solutions to the problems in the world. And the example of James shows us just a powerful illustration of the power of the message of the gospel that the spirit uses. And if you haven’t trusted in that gospel, if you haven’t, as Paul said, received that message and trusted in the person it’s about, we would love to talk with you about that today after the service. Don’t leave here without talking to someone who can explain to you who Christ is and how he died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
But if you have received that message, hold fast to it. It’s the message by which we are being saved and we should pass it on as a first importance.
One thought on “Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – The Most Important Message that You Never Move Past”
Excellent, Brian! I sure have missed your podcasts! I have been following you for only a few years and missed your earlier podcasts. I don’t know what’s all involved in this, but would it be possible for you to start over with the first podcast and then run through them all again? I know I would enjoy that!