How would you define yourself? By your work, family Income, clothes? Do you define yourself more by what you are not than by what you are? We are not like those people; at least we do not drive that car! We all define ourselves off something. I remember visiting a church once and chatting to someone about what it was like to go there, how it seemed like a good place with lots of going people: In the course of the conversation, I mentioned another good church down the road and said it must be good to have another church nearby that was off the same ilk. Suddenly the lady in whom I was conversing the whole demineralisation changed, as she paused and said to me: “Oh, we are nothing like them; they are a bit too serious about living their faith out.” How would you define yourself? Today, we celebrate the day where we look into the tomb and see that it is empty, the day where we as the people of God declare to the world the victory of the Cross, that emptiness of the tomb; that we may follow a crucified Leader, but we worship a risen king. Today we remember that this is what we are all about.
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 NIV
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 they or I, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
The Continuing Effects of the Gospel (1-2)
“Get them saved!” was one of the early childhood memories I remembering being cried at a youth event I was at. You might have heard people talking about the sinner’s prayer, that as long as people say it! Then they will be okay, and that is another one under the security of the Gospel. However much they intention was there, I always remember thinking to myself – is this all the Good news of Jesus Christ is? A truth that we must hear one time, then consent to; and suddenly we will find ourselves secure in light of eternity and the debt of our sin paid? In a sense, yes. Yet, more fully no!
News affects us, especially significant news: the news of the death of someone in our family will change how we live our life, especially if it was someone that we were close to. You do not just hear of the occurrence, consent to its reality and then live life as you have always lived. No, the news of something like that (if true) changes who we are, how we see the world, and how we interact with the world. Those things affect us because they are true! So if those truths have the power to affect how we live in the world, why is it often presented that the good news of Jesus is somehow only a one-time thing – a prayer to be said, a truth to be known and believed? Paul has come to know the good news of Jesus; not only has he known it, but he has also been sustained by it throughout all the difficulties of his ministry, and it will shape how he lives every day after this point of writing. Here is 1 Corinthians 15; Paul wants this church to grasp the preputial effects of the gospel on their life; that it is a one time moment, yet, it is always the essence of who they are and what they will be. The ESV translates verses one and two more significantly than the NIV:
”Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)
Notice the threefold outworking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They received it once (past), they are standing in it now (present), and they are being saved by it (future continuous). The Gospel of Jesus should be news that changes us and how we interact with the world: It should be news that shapes everything about our today and tomorrow as it works in us. If this is not the case, then perhaps we need to rethink what the gospel is to us and if we’re truly following Jesus Christ. News changes us, especially when it is true – so if we claim to believe in Jesus, to know him as Lord, then there must be evidence in how we live for him since we have believed it and as we move forward. Part of the evidence will be that we ‘hold fast to the word preached to us, meaning when the seasons of life get difficult, our remain and hope remain the same.
Furthermore, the Gospel will continue to have an effect on our lives as we move into tomorrow and the days ahead – it will bear fruit and hope as we wait for the return of the King. Today, let us make sure that when we think about the Good news of Jesus, the empty tomb, we do not limit its working to us to a one-time event. Yes, there will be the moment that we come to faith; but it is that same Gospel that allows us to live for him today, to trust that even in these socially distant times, he is still Lord and we can have hope; and to know that whatever tomorrow brings the good news of Jesus will be greater still.
This is the Gospel (3-4)
What is this good news? Paul sums it up perfectly in verse 3: ‘’ For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Today, as Christians, we look to the empty tomb and know that death is not the end. Thus, Paul reminds this church as he writes that this is all they are about, this truth and only this truth matter. That is why he calls it a matter of first importance; what Christ did and What he did it for. The Gospel’s reality is that: That Christ died a real death, but after three days, he was raised from the dead because he was Lord over death (Event death could not contain him). Then Paul reminds this church of the ‘why’ of the Gospel. Jesus did not come to die, just to then prove that he was Lord over death! No, he came to die that we might live. Christ died as the Passover Lamb, for the sins of the world; except this time, the offering was sufficient. Christ died so that all who might look to him through faith could live. Christ died of the sins of the world so that those who turn to him in faith might know life and life to the full. The good news of Jesus is that he died that death that our sins deserved so that we could receive a life (through faith) that no of us deserved.
This is the message of Easter! This is why we turn to Him, and this is why we trust Jesus above all else – because it was always the plan: ‘according to the scriptures.’ As Paul writes, we are reminded that all of the Scriptures build to the Cross, and then all of the Scriptures build from the Cross because the Cross was always the plan. We trust God and believe in the good news of the Gospel because this was the way that God had always chosen to work. A way that would confront the powers of the world and turn them upside down. A way that reshapes how the world understands notions of power and success. A way that would look nothing like the world, yet, would forever change how the world works. Paul reminds us that the Cross was always the plan, that the empty tomb surprised everyone but God. Thus, today we can have hope in whatever situation because there is always hope when we hope in Jesus. It is the motion of Easter and the Motion of God. Pause for a moment and think of the hopelessness of Good Friday, the defeat that the disciples must have felt as Jesus hung on the cross; then consider the Anxiety of Black Saturday as the disciples considered what they would do next to survive; finally, consider the confusion, and then hope of Easter Sunday as they realised the tomb was Empty and that death was not the end. As hope returned because they had hoped in Jesus. Today, we all face different situations, but let us trust God to work in them, even as He might work in ways we would not, because the Empty tomb reminds us that God is always in control and always has a plan and will wreak his Victory out of Every circumstance.
This is No Myth (5-8)
The Good News of Easter is not some Abstract Philosophical truth that gives us an abstract hope for the Future. It is a truth grounded in the reality of our world! Paul writes to remind us about the reality of the Good news of Jesus – that it was grounded in our History. Like a good Lawyer, Paul lists several Eye Witness testimonies between verses 5-7. Jesus appeared to Peter, then the twelve disciples, then he appeared to over 500 people at once. He also appeared to James and all the apostles. Why does this matter? In the same way that he died a real death, he was also raised again to Life’s fullness. His defeating of death was not spiritual; it was literal. Thus, we can have hope. Easter’s good news is not a myth; it was a real event that occurred once and continued out working today.
As we think about the eye witness testimony, let us remind ourselves that this good news is ground in our world because it is good news for our world. Jesus died and rose again and then appeared to people because he wanted people to know about it. Consider the mention of James (The Brother of Jesus). Nowhere else is this mentioned in the Bible, yet, Paul mentions it here! James, who did not believe him (John 7:5 ‘For even his own brothers did not believe in him.’), yet would go on to serve the Church because he had seen the risen saviour. The Tomb was Empty, and all who saw the risen Christ believed were transformed and then lived for him. Today, let us remind ourselves of the realness of the good news and then let us renew in ourselves and in our living the hope of the good news.
The Effects of the Gospel (9-11)
Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances occurred over forty days, then when he had ascended, no one thought they would see him again. Yet, he was not finished with the world, and there would be one person who would again meet the risen Saviour. That person was Paul. Here at the end of our passages, Paul acknowledges his status as an Apostle (when compared with the twelve) because of how we used to live: as one who persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. Why did he do such things? Because he thought he was serving God, and he thought that these followers of Jesus Christ were a threat to the way of God in the world. Thus, he sought the destruction of the people who carried the message until the message appeared to him. Paul meets the risen saviour (verse 8), and in meeting the risen saviour, he came to believe the very Gospel he was trying to stop. As we think of him, we are reminded that simple the Good news of Jesus affects the world because it affects people. The Gospel has an effect! Thus, here in these final three verses, Paul highlights the effect of the Gospel and the wonder of Gods grace by pointing out his change: I used to persecution, and now I serve! Paul uses his Sinfulness and old life not as a stick to beat himself but as a moment to bring Glory to God because, in it, we see the Grace of God.
Paul meet the risen saviour on the road to Damascus, and from that moment, he was changed. He chose to live his life for Jesus because he knew there was nothing else worth living for. He became aware of his own sinfulness and need of saving, yet, more beautifully, he encountered the Grace of God. Grace did not bring him to rest, slow down and put his feet up because God would do the work. No, Paul believed the Gospel and encountered the Grace of God and then lived to make it known! Paul writes: ‘his grace to me was not without effect.’ because this is the reality of the good news of Jesus. It changes people, and it affects the world. Paul moved from one who persecuted the church to one who would help build her eternal foundations. The Good news of Jesus, the truth of the empty tomb, was true then but affects us now. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, a people of Easter and yet there is no real evidence in how we live or how we see the world, then we must consider what it is we believed. The Gospel has an effect on us to affect the world to bring Glory to God and build his Kingdom. Hence Paul closes this section by pointing out that he was not proud or arrogant; no, he reminding this church about the effects of Grace on him and the effects it should have on them by reminding them that the Apostles all agreed on the message of the Resurrection; and that it was this message brought about their original step of faith.
Conclusion: This is who we are
“This is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” Paul concludes this section of Scripture by referencing back to what opened it, the message of the Resurrection. Thus, this is where we conclude! Today we celebrate the empty tomb, the reminder that Death is not the end and that there is always hope when we hope in Jesus. Today, we are the people who know the Cross’s victory, validated by the emptiness of the tomb. Today, let us know who we are and then let us live it out! News affects us, it shapes how we see the world after we hear it, and it will shape how we interact with the world. The Gospel is good because it deals with someone we could never deal with – our sin. Yet, the Gospel is also news because it is too good to remain untold and unshared. As the people of God, we are those who look to the hope of the empty tomb and know the reality of that hope each day.
Yet, we are not those who just wait aimlessly: The Gospel is only news if people share it: consider Paul, he who persecuted the church for defeating it, then after meeting Jesus he who would journey across the world to tell people about the Risen King, he who would write letters to make Him Known. Paul believed the good news, then shared the good news. All the apostles did, and some two thousand years later, we are those who had received the Good news because those before we counted it good enough to share it. Today, and every day afterwards, let us be like Paul: let’s make sure we have first taken that good step of faith; then let us use what God has given us to make know the hope of Christ as we declare the emptiness of the tomb. The world has been shaken more than ever, all that we once trusted in seems weak and insecure, yet for the Christian, our hope has never changed because our hope is in Jesus. Today and in the days ahead, let us make know the Hope of God as we live lives of Worship to go where ever he has placed us. Let us declare that Christ died for Sinners (because it was always the plan), that this is no Myth (because it is ground in History), and that it will affect us today and give us hope for tomorrow (because the Gospel has an effect). We are a people who serve a Risen saviour; this is who we are; now, let us join in sharing the good news of Jesus so that all may have hope because they hope in him.