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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Good News is Christ, Raised (1 Corinthians 15.1-19)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 24, 2015
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used

Song of Praise: "See What a Morning" (Getty/Townend)
The Word in Music: "Jesus, Messiah" (Choir) (Tomlin, arr. Lloyd Larson)
Hymn of Response: "Because He Lives" (RESURRECTION)
Offering of Testimony: "What Good News Have You Seen and Heard?"

Hymn of Sending: "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (MANNA)
Choral Benediction: "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" (Lutkin)
Hymn of Sending: Rick Bean, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

During the month of May we have been looking at why the message about Jesus Christ is called “Gospel” – or Good News. We’ve looked at the content of the Good News: Jesus offers help, healing, and salvation (rescue) to those who trust Him. Last week, prompted by a vision the Apostle Paul had to take the message to the Macedonians of Northern Greece, we looked at the scope of the message: it is not just for a few or for insiders, but it is for all who will hear. It is specifically extended to outsiders and to all the nations or people of the world. Truly, God loves the world He made!

This week we are looking even more closely at the person behind the content and the scope: Jesus, himself. In 1 Corinthians, Paul (he of the vision) is writing to one of the early Christian communities in the Greek city of Corinth – kind of a New York/Las Vegas kind of city. And Paul roots the Good News – help, healing, salvation, and for the Greeks – not only in Jesus, but in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul will even go so far as to say that without that resurrection, it’s all a waste of time… there is no good news. So clearly, this resurrection (also known as Easter) matters significantly to the Christian faith!

Of First Importance (vv. 3-7)

One of the things that makes this such a wonderful passage of scripture is that we get one of the earliest “creeds” of the Christian faith. Want to know what is important to the Christian faith? Paul names it here; it is “of first importance.” It was taught to him and he is sharing it – “the gospel (or Good News) which I preached to you” (v. 1) – with the believers in Corinth. It’s basically the events of Easter weekend; let’s look at it:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (v. 3)

Of first importance: Christ died for our sins. Just as this is a foundational part of the “Good News,” this is why we call “Good Friday” good! That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified is one of the most authenticated events of history, both in Christian and in secular literature. But it’s the rest of Paul’s description that constitutes the important part. Jesus didn’t die as a failed leader of a Jewish rebellion. He didn’t die because he was a threat to the established religious leadership. He died FOR OUR SINS. How that works is a whole sermon (or three) in itself, but scripture gives us several handles on understanding it. And Paul reminds us that his death for our sins was “according to the Scriptures.”

In those scriptures we are told that human sin is our persistent turning from God, with all the implications and consequences of that; but Jesus is God’s persistent coming to us, which has its own implications and consequences. Here are three words to help you remember the importance of Jesus’ death.

Jesus was a SUBSTITUTE: he took our place – necessary, scripture says because “there is no one good, not even one” (Romans 3:10ff; Psalm 53:1-3); indeed, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only did Jesus take our place in his death, he does it still; when God looks at one who trusts in Christ, he doesn’t see you (good thing, since we are STILL a mess!); he sees Jesus standing in your stead.

Jesus was a SACRIFICE: he paid the price. This is perhaps the hardest part to grasp. Couldn’t God just waive the consequence of sin? Again, that’s a looong discussion. The simplest way I know to describe what is at stake there is to say it’s the difference between being hurt and saying “no big deal” and saying “I forgive you.” One pretends the hurt isn’t real; the other acknowledges it fully. That’s what God did through the cross. Jesus demonstrated just how big a deal sin and separation from God is; but also said (even literally!), “Father, forgive them.” There’s lots more to unpack there, but I think that difference gets at the bottom line of why the sacrifice was necessary. True forgiveness costs something, but also heals.

Jesus was a VICTOR; he clinched the win. Where death and evil seemingly had claimed victory over humanity, Jesus claimed victory. Scripture says of the event, “Grave, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55) The picture is of an unlikely champion overcoming what appeared to be an overwhelming opponent: perhaps even like David and Goliath! And Jesus victory on the cross was like D-Day at Normandy, the decisive turning point marking the coming end of the war.

He was buried and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (v. 4)

Paul goes on in his description of what is of first importance to the Good News in naming Jesus burial and resurrection, two more events of Easter weekend. And again, he notes that this was “according to the Scriptures.” Why is it important that Jesus was buried? It is part of his full humanity. We spent some time on that this spring, noting how Jesus was not only fully God, but fully human, identifying with us in suffering, temptation, and trial, while being fully obedient and sinless. Death was not excluded from the human experience; he not only lived as one of us, but experienced death itself. That’s another reason to say, “Grave, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” Neither could hold him when God raised him.

And so the resurrection is of first importance as well. We’ve also spent time on that – on Easter and since then. Resurrection wasn’t just beating death, though it was that. Resurrection is also FOR US; since Christ is our substitute and sacrifice and victor, he brings us along with him through all of that and into the new life of resurrection. Hold on to that; we’ll return and end there this morning!

He appeared to Cephas… to the twelve… to more than 500… to the Apostles… and to me (vv. 5-7)

Finally, and still of first importance, Jesus appeared after his death and resurrection. Paul lists so many, important because they are eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Over five hundred, alive at the time Paul writes to Corinth, who can testify to this first-order content of the Good News. The risen Jesus wasn’t a vision to one, retold and enlarged. The risen Jesus wasn’t a hallucination or hoax of the disciples. Jesus appeared to multiple people – men and women – in various locations, interacting physically and materially over meals and conversation and physical contact. How many witnesses does it take today to verify a story as true? Two or three? Is independent verification important? What about consistency of story? Paul pointed to some 600 or so to say, “Check it out; test the story; interview the witnesses.” This is all of first importance because of what it means, but also because it is TRUE.

By the Grace of God (vv. 8-10)

If that is a first-order summary of “the news” about Jesus, here’s what makes it so GOOD for Paul: it is full of God’s grace, an unexpected and undeserved gift experienced personally in one man’s life.

You can hear it in verse 8. Paul is recounting all those to whom Jesus appeared and he gets to himself: “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Paul wasn’t one of the disciples who followed Jesus. He was a Pharisee! Remember them? They did not like Jesus one bit. And Paul was even worse, because he “persecuted the church of God.” (v. 9) He sought out and had at least one of the early Christians killed. For that reason he says of himself in v. 9, “I am… not fit to be called an apostle.”

But Christ did appear to him. And here is the heart of the GOODNESS of God in his life: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…” (v. 10). It’s the same thing we talked about last week. The Good News is GOOD because it is for all who will hear, even outsiders, outlaws, sinners, and failures like Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, Peter, and… Paul. Paul gets it because he has experienced God’s grace personally. In his mind, if anyone did not deserve God’s mercy and grace, it was him. No wonder the substitution, sacrifice, and victory of Jesus was so personal and important. No wonder the resurrection and appearances were so good; Paul experienced it, lovingly and mercifully, when he least expected it. And he wants you to know.

Christ, Raised (vv. 16-19)

All that leads Paul finally to say, in verses 16-19, that if there is no resurrection (of Christ or us), then “your faith is worthless” and “we are… to be pitied.” (v. 17, 19) Why would he say that? He explains in v. 17… if Christ was not raised, then we are still in our sins. There has been no substitute, sacrifice, or victory. He goes on to say, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are… most to be pitied.” (v. 19) Really, Paul?

That raises a question that was already running through my head. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love neighbor. How come THAT is not “of first importance?” Are Paul and Jesus at odds with each other, as some scholars claim? Here’s what I think is going on. Jesus was asked about action and (primarily) about this life. What are we to DO – what is the greatest commandment. And even then, our actions towards others (neighbor) was grounded first in our love for God (worship).

Paul is talking about the news about Jesus. I don’t think Paul would have any argument with the greatest commandment. In his letter to the Romans (and elsewhere), Paul echoes that the commandments are summed up in love of neighbor, concluding that “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (13:9-10) But Paul also realizes how imperfectly we keep it. He knows firsthand the limits of law-keeping without the hope of God’s grace. Remember, he lived that life as diligently as any person could until Christ appeared to him. And Paul doesn’t do away with action and love of neighbor; he just realizes the futility of it without the great action (and most perfect love of God and neighbor) of Jesus, crucified, dead, and raised.

I hope that is not news to you here. Paul isn’t arguing for faith without works. He’s describing why the news about Jesus is GOOD and life-giving (and works-producing). The young disciple, John, will later write, “We love because God first loved us.” Paul has experienced that first hand and he wants you to know just how GOOD that news is! And he finds the source of that Good News in these things: Jesus died, was buried, was raised, and has appeared to the unlikeliest sorts of folks, even you and me. And that changes everything! Amen.

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