************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 9, 2012
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
"Of First Importance"
I The Essence of Christianity
A What is the essence of Christianity? What is central to your faith? What must you believe in order to be called a Christian? Using the words of our text, what is of "first importance"? Or, to put it another way, what must you believe in order to be saved and to participate in the Lord's Supper this evening (cf verses 1 & 2)?
Many attempts have been made since the time of the early church to answer these and similar questions:
-The moralist sees a system of morals at the heart of Christianity.
-The dogmatist sees true and correct doctrine at Christianity's center.
-The pietist finds the essence of Christianity in being born again, in having a living and personal relationship with God, in leading a life of prayer and Bible study.
-Monastic movements and groups like the Amish and the Hutterites say what is of the first importance is a rejection of the world and the things of the world.
-Liberation theology sees social-revolutionary programs as being central to Christianity.
-Reformed Kuyperians see the Kingdom of God as being the core of Christianity.
-The Mission minded say that evangelism, missions, witnessing, and outreach lies at the nucleus of the Christian faith.
-Some cults and sects put all the emphasis on eschatology, on the return of Christ.
B There are so many competing claims. So what is the essence of Christianity? What is central to your faith? What must you believe in order to be called a Christian? What must you believe in order to be saved and to participate in the Lord's Supper?
This evening's Scripture reading tells us what is of the first importance. It tells us that at the heart of the Christian faith lies a set of historical facts: that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day, and that He appeared to witnesses. At the center of the Christian faith lies the great facts of redemption – facts that we remember and celebrate at the Lord's Table. In other words – and this sounds so simple and so easy – at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ, His cross, His grave. Christ, and Christ alone, is of first importance.
C Now, if Christianity were a set of moral truths, the apostles would have been moralists. If Christianity consisted of deep spiritual truths, the apostles would have been spiritual gurus sitting lotus fashion on some mountain top. If Christianity were a set of intellectual truths, the apostles would have been sages, and we should all become biblical scholars. If Christianity was chiefly concerned with the end times, the apostles would have been prophets, and we would spend all our time on Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Revelation.
However, the apostles were none of these. Rather, they were men who entered into the arena of the world with their testimony to certain facts. Along this line, do you remember the qualification to replace Judas as an apostle? The early church looked for someone who was with Christ since the beginning; they looked for someone who was a witness to Christ's ministry, all the way from His baptism by John to His death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:21-22). They wanted someone who could testify to the essence of Christianity. They wanted someone who could say:
"I touched Him. I heard Him. I saw Him crucified. I saw Him die. I saw His grave. I saw Him alive after He died. With my own eyes I saw Him."The apostles were men who saw all this, eye-witnesses who preached Christ crucified and Christ resurrected.
D It is true that Christianity has many things to offer – a system of truth, a demand for love, a new view of man and his world, unequaled spiritual experiences, a call to radical discipleship, and the list could go on and on. And indeed, none of these can be neglected and all of these should play a role in both our thinking and our practice. Yet, the center, the heart, the essence of the Christian faith comes down to the great facts of redemption: Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and rose again, and appeared to many witnesses.
II The Great Facts of Redemption
A The first great fact of redemption concerns Christ's death. Paul says, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."
Topic: SatanThat answers any charge that Satan – or anyone else for that matter – can make against a Christian.
Subtopic: Ambition of
Martin Luther had a dream in which he stood on the day of judgment before God Himself--and Satan was there to accuse him. When Satan opened his books full of accusations, he pointed to transgression after transgression of which Luther was guilty. As the proceedings went on, Luther's heart sank in despair. Then he remembered the cross of Jesus--and turning upon Satan, he said, "There is one entry which you have not made in your books, Satan."
"What is that?" retorted the Devil.
And Luther answered, "It is this--that Christ died for my sins."
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Paul has many scripture passages in mind. The Scriptures I want to highlight is the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:
(Isa 53:4-6) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (6) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Notice, of first importance is not only that Christ died but that He died for our sins. Of first importance to our faith, then, is the fact that we are sinners who deserve hell. But Jesus took our place.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a sinner who – except for the death of Christ – would be and should be in hell? People don't like to hear that today. They want to be told how good we humans are. Along this line, consider what we hear at most funerals today – especially at the funeral of a celebrity like Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and so on. We hear endless commentary about their goodness. But did you notice we don't hear one word about faith in Jesus Who died for their sins? We don't hear one word about how they – as a sinner – was headed for hell unless Jesus died for their sins?
"Christ died for our sins." That is of first importance. That is the first great fact of redemption that we celebrate in the Lord's Supper this evening.
B The second great fact of redemption is tied in with the first: it concerns Christ's burial. Though it doesn't us the phrase, this, too, is "according to the Scriptures":
(Isa 53:9) He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.The burial emphasizes the finality and reality of Christ's death. It further emphasizes the wondrous miracle of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Imagine that: someone who really died, someone who was buried, was later seen alive. What an awesome, wondrous miracle!
C The third great fact of redemption concerns Christ's resurrection. Paul says, "he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." In the Greek, the word "raised" indicates that Christ was raised by the wonder-working power of God and that He continues to live right now.
Again, the Scriptures Paul is thinking of is the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:
(Isa 53:10-11) ... and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (11) After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ...
D Notice the repetition of the phrase "according to the Scriptures." Telling us what? Telling us this is part of God's plan. It has been foreordained by God. From eternity this has been planned by God: that Christ died, that Christ was buried, that Christ arose. All of this is part of God's eternal plan to save His chosen people.
E The fourth great fact of redemption is tied in with the third: it concerns Christ's post-resurrection appearances. His appearance to Peter we read about in the Gospels (Lk 24:34; Mk 16:7) as does His appearances to the Twelve (Lk 24:33ff; Mt 28:16ff). Only Paul mentions Jesus' appearance to the 500 and to James. Finally, as Paul makes a point of emphasizing, Christ appeared to him too.
Why is this impressive list of witnesses to the resurrected Christ included as one of the four great facts of redemption? Paul wants to emphasize the reality of Christ's resurrection. The church can point not only to the empty grave and burial wrappings, but also to the testimony of witnesses who have seen the resurrected Christ.
F There is something more to say about Paul's impressive list of witnesses. This list shows us that all the leaders of the early Christian church were in total agreement as to the essentials of the Christian faith. All the leaders of the early Christian church were in total agreement as to the essence of Christianity. Yes, they disagreed on other matters: the place of Jewish practices, for instance, and the ministry to the Gentiles. But about the essentials there was complete and total agreement: that Christ died, that He was buried, that He rose again, and that He was seen by many witnesses.
What is the essence of Christianity? What is central to your faith? What must you believe in order to be called a Christian? Using the words of our text, what is of first importance? What must you believe in order to be saved and to celebrate the Lord's Supper? It all comes down to one word: Christ. We must know and believe Christ crucified and Christ resurrected. We must know and believe and take our stand on Christ Who died for our sins, was buried, was raised again on the third day, and was seen by many witnesses.
You may not live out your faith, yet you can still be a Christian – albeit, a poor one. You may not hold to infant baptism, yet you can still be a Christian – although we would disagree with you. You may not believe in election and reprobation and may emphasize the free will at the expense of divine sovereignty, yet you can still be a Christian – though again there would be disagreement between you and me. However, if you were to deny any of the basic facts we have looked at this evening, you can no longer be called Christian and salvation would not be yours and you should not be taking the Lord's Supper.
If you are a Christian, then your faith, your beliefs, your salvation, must all be centered on Christ, for Christ is the essence, the heart, of Christianity.
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