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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:1-8
SUBJECT: Of First Importance #1: Died for our Sins
A couple of weeks ago, we began a Friday night study of the Apostles' Creed. Other than the Bible itself, the Creed is the oldest, most beloved, and widely used document in the Church. It doesn't teach everything the Scriptures do, of course, and how could it? The Creed is only 109 words long, while the Bible contains a million words!
What the Apostles' Creed aims to do is to highlight the most important things in the Bible and the beliefs that distinguish Christians from Jews and Pagans of the first centuries AD, as well as Orthodox Christians from heretics in the Church.
This is what I said a couple of weeks ago at our home study, and everyone was with me-I think-except for one man. He had no problem with doctrinal summaries in general, and objected to nothing in this one, but he was worried about what the Apostles' Creed didn't say-especially what it didn't say about the sufferings and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ.Oh, it says that He suffered and died, how He suffered and died, and who made Him suffer and die.
The question it doesn't answer is, Why He suffered and died.
This is what Paul addresses in I Corinthians 15, especially in v.3. He doesn't say everything he could on the subject, of course, but what he says is what matters most. The KJ and NKJ Bibles say-
I delivered to you first of all.
This seems to suggest where Paul started his teaching ministry in Corinth. This may be true, but I don't think it's what the Apostle is saying here. He's not defending his way of doing things, but rather, he's telling us what matters most to him-and what matters most to the Lord. Remember, for all of his genius, Paul is not an original thinker; he's not a creative preacher!
The Gospel he preaches is not his own Gospel (or his own 'take' on the Gospel). He got it directly from Jesus Himself, and he intends to repeat exactly what the Lord told him to say, all the Lord told him to say, and nothing but what the Lord told him to say!
I believe the ESV, RSV, and NIV have got it right in their translation of v.3-
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I received.
Not one word of the Bible is trivial; no part of the Gospel can be dispensed with! But some things are more important than others. Justice, mercy, and faith are more important than tithing anise, mint, and cumin.
And when it comes to the whole Bible, the entire Gospel, nothing matters more than the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only that they occurred (which they certainly did!), but why they occurred and what they mean to us.
Today, next Sunday, and then on Easter, DV, we'll look at the things that matter most, starting with the death of Christ and why He died.
I Corinthians was written c.55 AD. This means the first readers were less than one generation removed from the Crucifixion, and were part of the Roman Empire where it occurred. This is why Paul spends no time 'proving' Jesus died. He didn't need to prove it; it was not done in a corner. Had a skeptic in the church wanted to 'check the facts', he could have easily done it (even without the Internet).
It was a matter of public record; it didn't depend on dreams or visions, a particular interpretation of the Bible, or the fuzzy memories of people a hundred years old!
From the 19th Century up through about 40-50 years ago, many scholars denied the very existence of Jesus, no less His crucifixion; but no historian believes that today. They differ somewhat on the year He died, but that He died--and how--is beyond all dispute.
As People of the Book, we're not amazed that 'the facts' support our belief, or that scholars have finally found what we have always known. Our only wonder is, 'What took them so long?' We don't depend on scholarship, but we welcome its support. Because everybody needs to know that Jesus-
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried.
ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURESJesus' death-Paul goes on to say-was-
According to the Scriptures.
This does not mean that Moses, David, Isaiah, and others 'predicted' it the way a meteorologist predicts tomorrow's weather, but that a Sovereign God planned the death and revealed it to His servants the prophets.
This is how Peter preached His death a few weeks after the fact, and while it is shot through with mystery, it is also true, and the only explanation that gives me any comfort at all, Acts 2:23-
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken with wicked hands, crucified and slain.
As important as these verse are, though, I don't think they're what Paul had in mind when he said that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He wasn't thinking of a verse here, a Psalm there, a chapter somewhere else. He meant the entire Old Testament bore witness to Christ, and in particular, to His suffering and death.
The testimony begins with the character of God. Moses, once a prince in Egypt, had become a shepherd in the wilderness. One day, while keeping an eye on his father's flock, he saw a bush burning but not consumed. When he turned to have a closer look, God spoke to him, and after telling him who He is and what He was going to do, He told Moses to do something-
Take off the shoes you are wearing,
For the ground you are standing on is Holy Ground.
Five minutes before, the ground was no holier than any other place, but something had set it aside from other ground. It was the Presence of God, and not one of the dirty, stinking, immoral gods of Egypt, but the One True God, the God too holy to be approached by sinners.
This sets up the dilemma. God is holy; sinners are unholy. But God wants to visit us and to have our fellowship and to be our God and we His people.
The rest of the Bible is about how He got what He wanted.
First, He freed Israel from the slavery and pollution of Egypt. As long as they were there, they were not free to serve God and they couldn't rid the land of its idols. So they had to get out. God got them out! By parting the Red Sea, leading His people across it on dry land, and then bringing the waters down on Pharaoh's army! The people were not free to serve God! Or were they?
Not quite. Because serving God means doing what He wants you to do and not doing what He doesn't want you to do. His will has a specific content. He gave it to Israel at Mount Sinai, where He carved it in stone and handed it down on two tablets. Now, knowing God's will, they're free to do it, right?
Wrong! No one can keep God's Law; the best men do many bad things and leave much good undone. Thus, to stay in God's good graces, they've got to be forgiven and cleansed. This takes us to the Tabernacle and the Sacrificial System. Clean and spotless animals were sacrificed in the place of unclean and spotted sinners! The sinners were also washed in various ways, and came away with clean bodies.
The problem is: clean bodies are not enough! We need clean hearts! This takes us to the prophets, who were never satisfied with outward obedience and ritual purity! They weren't against the Law and its prescribed washings, but they felt the need for a new fountain to be opened, one for the uncleanness we all have on the inside.
They promised that what we need, God will some day provide, by making a New Covenant with His people, a Covenant that not only commands clean hearts, but also gives them to us.
This is where the Old Testament ends: God has made a promise and His people are proving every day that if He doesn't keep it, we're hopeless. But He has never failed to make good on His Word, and He'll make good on this one too!
CHRIST DIED FOR US
That is just what He did when He sent Jesus to the cross in our place. Paul didn't say, 'Christ died', but that He died for us. This means He died to reconcile us to God.
God has something against us, and no, it is not a grudge (as though He's a petty man, nursing old wrongs). It is a criminal charge. We are guilty, and if God wants to remain holy, He cannot be okay with that! He has to pass judgment on our sin and mete out the punishment we deserve. Of course, if He does this, His desire for our fellowship must be given up. Because our sins are so many and so bad that we can never pay them off in full. No, we can't.
But Jesus can. You see, in addition to be a sinless man, He is also God. And God is big enough to take the sins of the world upon Himself and bear their penalty in full! This is what Jesus did on the cross. He suffered, in effect, an eternity of Hell for us. This means: the justice of God is satisfied. It has no more claim on us, no matter what' we've done, or will do-
Jesus paid it all.
Friendship is a two-way street. No matter how loving one man is, if the other doesn't love him, there can be no fellowship. Thus, to have fellowship with God, we have to be changed. Jesus did this on the cross too.
By dying in our place, He took away our guilt and our fear, and these go a long way toward making us the kind of people who will enjoy God's company. His death also gave Him the right to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts, and, with Him there, our fellowship with God is secure for time and eternity.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. These are the things that mattered most to Paul, that matter the most to Jesus, and that ought to matter most to us. Do they? Or have other things crept into the place only the Gospel deserves?
Some of the things are sinful: the love of money, sexual lust, pride, envy, the club we belong to and exclude others from. These shameful things can become too important to us. And so can things less shameful, good things, even, when they're kept in their place. Family, politics, the culture wars, secondary doctrines. If it's wrong to live for money, it's also wrong to live for the Republican Party! If lusting for women is wrong; so is lusting to be pretty or handsome or thin or smart or cool or whatever you're lusting for!
What matters most is the Gospel. What Paul gloried in we should glory in, and that's the Cross. God give us the vision to do so, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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