First Things First
"I delivered unto you first of all--that Christ died for your sins."
1 Corinthians 15:1-4

The 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is sometimes called the great "resurrection" chapter and itís undoubtedly the high point of this first letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.

The first eleven chapters of First Corinthians deal with the things concerning the flesh and the carnality that occurred in the church there that was dividing the Christians at Corinth. Some of those hurtful things are still present in the churches today.

Then, in Chapter 12, Paul introduced the things the Spirit of God has come to do in your life and in mine. First, there is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the object of which is to exalt and magnify the person of our Lord Jesus. Then there are the gifts of the Spirit which are the basis for all our personal ministry. Every one us has been given a ministry of our own whereby we can see God's power manifested through us individually.

Then, in Chapter 13 and 14, we have the "fruit of the Spirit" where we see how the exercise of our gifts produces that fruit in our lives to the benefit of others. The fruits of the Spirit are all manifestations of love.

The book reaches a high point in chapter 15 where we come to the ultimate truth about the Spirit, which involves the resurrection of the body of the believer after death.

A number of books have been written dealing with the theme "What happens after death?" There are a lot of testimonies given about various experiences of those who, supposedly, have died and then come back to life again. In taking up the resurrection theme in this chapter, Paul brings us face to face with the greatest reality of life, one even more sure than taxes, and that is death.

You may evade paying your taxes, but you are not going to avoid growing old and ultimately dying. A lot of people work hard trying to avoid the evidence of age and decay and try to cover it up but we have to face the fact that there is an inevitable process going on in each one of us starting on the day of our birth.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4. ďMoreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2: By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3: For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:Ē

In these opening verses, Paul faces this ultimate enemy of all mankind with the good news that Jesus has won the victory over death, not only for Himself, but for all who put their faith in Him and His finished work concerning death.

Then, in verse 4, we see how the resurrection of the body is part of the foundation of the Christian faith; in fact, itís an essential part of the good news of the gospel.

These four verses spell out in very simple, forthright language, what the very heart and foundation of our faith is, itís the good news about Jesus. There are two great things here. First, what the gospel does, and then, what the gospel is. Letís look at what the gospel is first because some people donít really understand what it is.

You ask somebody what the gospel is and you may get the answer "Jesus died and rose again" but thatís not all it says here.

There are three elements of what the gospel is listed here. In verse 3, Paul writes, "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.Ē Heís states that this, first and foremost, is fundamental to our understanding of what it was that he also received. In other words, it came first. He also reminds them that it was he who delivered it to them.

Paul also tells us that he got this message from the Lord himself, that Jesus appeared to him and taught him what the gospel was. In Galatians 1:11-12, he says, "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man 12: For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." He didnít learn it from the other apostles. He didnít learn it from any man nor was he taught by any man. The Lord himself delivered it to him, and he passed it on to the Corinthians. They received it, they believed it, they accepted the Jesus Christ he spoke of as their Savior, and had become Christians.

Then, in the remainder of verse 3 and in verse 4, he re-states what it was that he had preached to them: ďhow that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:Ē

The first element of salvation is that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." Doesnít it amaze you that he doesnít mention the good life and works of Jesus?

He passes over the virgin birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the silent years at Nazareth, all the journeying up and down the hillsides of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. He passes over all Christís teaching and His miracles, and comes right down immediately to His death. That must seem pretty strange to the un-saved of this world, to basically ignore all His good life and good works and dwell on His death. But thatís where the gospel begins.

And even here he doesnít simply say, "Christ died." You ask people today what the gospel is, and some of them will say, "Well, Jesus lived a good life and died." Again, that isnít the gospel. Almost everybody believes that Jesus died. Go to any modern presentation of the life of Jesus. Go to the well known Passion Play any summer night in the Black Hills of South Dakota and youíll find that play ends at the death of Jesus. Every humanistic philosophy accepts the fact that Jesus died. But thereís no good news in that. The good news is Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. His death accomplished something for us. It changed us, it delivered us, it set us free from the penalty of our sins.

There is no way we can realize the great significance of His death in the heart and eyes of God, The Father, and yet, that is the good news. As Peter puts it in I Peter 2:24. ďWho his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.Ē

And, in whe words of Isaiah, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed," Isaiah 53:5.

The good news is, God did something for us there on the cross that we couldnít do for ourselves. Just think about the cross and Jesus dying there in our place. God was preparing to treat us in an entirely different way than we deserved to be treated.

We would be treated on the basis of the death of His Son on our behalf. That is good news! He paid God for our failure, our rebellion, our sinful lives there on the cross. God has always demanded a blood sacrifice for sin and Jesus shed the only blood that could take care of all our sin so that it no longer would be held against us. Our account with God was settled by His death and through that we have freedom from the penalty of sin and the sure hope of heaven for eternity.

Life without faith in Christís atoning death is really hopeless. This philosophy that God will judge you on whether the good deeds in your life outweigh the bad is not only unbiblical but itís illogical. How could a just and holy God ever accept any kind of evil at all? You still did some bad, even if you did do more good than bad. He demands holiness and holiness is perfection and nothing less. He Himself is perfect, and He says to us over and over again, "Be ye perfect for I am perfect." What are we going to do with a guilty past in the light of that? The only answer is the good news that God has already dealt with our sinful past through the cross and freely offers us total forgiveness for our sins.

The second element of the gospel, according to Paul, is ďthat Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;Ē all of which was predicted, anticipated and fulfilled in the cross -- and He was also "buried."

Why does Paul include the burial of Jesus? Wasnít it enough that Jesus died and rose again? That alone would be good news. It may well be that the reason His burial is recorded is that when his disciples came and took the body of Jesus down from the cross, they were in the physical presence of death and they had to accept the fact that He really was dead.

It must have been very hard for them to accept the fact that He died. Whatís the first thing you say when you hear that someone just died? If you are like me, itís ďOh, no!Ē

They didnít want to believe it when He told them that He was going to the cross to die. They just shut their minds to it. When it actually happened they went away stunned and not believing what they saw, unwilling to believe that all their hopes and dreams had come crashing down. They even said, in Luke 24:21. ďBut we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel:Ē But somewhere along the line they faced up to it and took his body down from the tree and put him in the tomb of a believer named Joseph of Arimathea.

They bound His body tightly in grave clothes, but they wrapped His head in a separate cloth. (By the way, that answers the claims of the so-called "Shroud of Turin." According to the Scriptures, His grave clothes were two pieces; one was wrapped around the head and the other around the body.) They placed Him in a tomb and He lay there for three days and three nights. They themselves had performed the burial service and it marked the acceptance of the disciples that Jesus was truly dead.

But the third element is, ďthat he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:Ē Thatís another fulfilled prediction. Scripture prophesied that He would die; but it was also prophesied that He would rise again from the dead on the third day. He fulfilled all prophecy. He didnít just come back to the life He had before, He was resurrected. He came back to a life He had never lived before, a real, glorified life, and yet in the resurrection, Jesus arose with the wounds still in His body that the disciples could touch and feel and see for themselves. Thatís the story of the gospel -- three basic facts-- He was crucified, He was buried, and He rose again.

These arenít doctrines or philosophies, theyíre not manís ideas of what God should be like. Theyíre facts that occurred in history that canít be evaded. These facts have changed the history of the world. Our faith rests on these facts that canít be taken away from us.

That is the way Paul presented the gospel to the Corinthians. But there is another level of meaning implied here of what the gospel does. All through the Scriptures you read that, not only did this happen to Jesus, the death, burial and resurrection, but in some way it is expected to happen to us. That is part of the gospel too. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are a picture of what is going to happen to us when we become Christians. Itís a pattern of how God is going to work with us. Something within us has to die when we become Christians. We read in the scriptures that we have "put off the old man" (Colossians 3:9) because it is "dead with Christ," (Colossians 2:20).

This selfish insistence on running my own life and making my own decisions is what has to go. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me," (Luke 9:23).

When something has to die, it hurts. We donít like it. It threatens our ego, it undermines our self-confidence, yet it keeps happening. You donít like it, I donít like it; but that is part of Christianity -- something has to die. Then when it dies it has to be buried. We have to accept the fact that when that thing within us dies, it has to remain dead. We have to bury it, not keep trying to bring it back to life in some subtle way. Part of the gospel is that we are to bury that which is dead. Romans 6:6 "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."

Put it away, let it go and donít try to hang onto it, because if we do, the ďold manĒ who is supposed to be dead will inevitably make a surprising recovery. If he does, weíll no longer know the joy of living for Christ. Itís a painful experience but God, in His grace, will welcome us back into fellowship when we reject the ways of the ďold man.Ē

Paul says the whole reason for putting off the ďold manĒ is that we might come into newness of life and experience it in our daily life, but he adds a condition here in verse 2, [as it reads in the NAS.] ďif you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.Ē Itís possible to believe in vain. Your faith in Christ can be of such a superficial nature that you accept all the words of the gospel as a kind of insurance policy against going to hell but you donít let it change anything in you. That is what Paul called "believing in vain." And it happens all around us. Matthew 7:22-23: ďMany will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23: And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Ē

The test of true faith, of course, is that it canít quit. It can fail at times, temporarily, but it really canít quit. There are two things here that the gospel does for us. First, it makes us stand. (verse 1). Notice he says, "the gospel, which you received, by which you stand." We have a foundation; a place to handle life from; we have security we can resort to at any time.

If you believe that God has forgiven your sins for Christ's sake, and you believe that God loves you and has accepted you as His child and that He is working in you by the power of His resurrected life to enable you to live as you ought to and to give you power to say "No" when you need to say "No," you have a place to stand that can handle anything that comes. That is what Paul said these Corinthians had. God loves you and no pressure or problem, no matter what kind of force it is, can stand against you. That is one of the first things the gospel does.

In the face of an uncertain future the gospel gives us a sense of certainty. In those wonderful words from Colossians 1:16, we see there is One who is above all principalities and powers all rulers and authorities and He is in charge of all human events.

When you fail, go to the Lord and youíll find forgiveness and healing for your heart. That is the gospel -- the fact that God loves you despite all your failure and all your weakness. King David knew all about this haven of rest. In the 23rd Psalm, he said, ďHe restores my soul.Ē

The gospel does even more. In verse 2 it says "by which you are saved." This includes the past, the present, and the future, not just by which you "were" saved.

There are three tenses of salvation simply because there are three parts of our human nature. There is the spirit, which is the essential "you." That is who we really are. We are all spirits here. Our spirits live in various, multi-colored, multi-shaped bodies. Some are nice looking, some are a little bit loose and flabby, but we live in these bodies. Who we are is the spirit, but we canít see that. When we accept Christ as your Savior, our spirit is immediately and permanently regenerated; itís indwelt by the Holy Spirit; itís made alive in Christ Jesus so that the believer and Christ are one Spirit. This is salvation past; that is the past tense, ďby which you were saved.Ē

Then there is salvation for the future. This is the theme of this great resurrection chapter. God is not going to throw this body away. If you burn it up and scatter it to the winds, God can gather it together. He has a purpose for your body. Heís going to redeem it, and restore it, and make it useful for all eternity. That is salvation to come.

What about our soul, about your life, about how you are living from day to day. Weíre "being" saved according to how much we are resting on God at work in us, and allowing ourselves to be the instrument of His grace. He tells us to walk ďin the newness of life.Ē What we do can be eternally profitable, not just profitable for this present time, but eternally. You can use your money for eternal profit, you can use your time for eternal profit, you can lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth. By the way you use your hours and days, you can determine what is going to be good and bad at the judgment seat of Christ, when "every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad," 2 Corinthians 5:10.

The gospel gives us an immovable foundation and a place of healing and a way to redeem our present existence so that it has eternal meaning even while we live here on earth from day to day. Itís wonderful that God has prepared this solid rock for us to stand on!

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. He rose again from the dead according to the Scripture, and gave us proof that we, too, might die to our sins, bury them, and to rise again to experience a freshness and newness of life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Donít neglect or reject so great a salvation and be left behind when our Lord comes for His own.