2019 01 13 am Of First Importance 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

How are things going with your New Year’s Resolutions?  Apparently, the most common NYR’s have to do with things like diet and fitness.  However, one study reported that by tomorrow, January 14, which is just 2 weeks after New Year’s Day, 23% of those who made a NYR to quit alcohol will have given up and had a drink.  And by the 1st Feb, just one month after NYD, 24% of those who made a NYR about going to the gym will have thrown in the towel.  In fact, on average, 80% of all NYR’s fail by the second week of February.


Now I don’t know if you make NYR’s or not, but there will be times when all of us make a decision to change something or to do it better or more or less than we have in the past.  And these decisions can be about physical things like what we eat or drink or spend money on, but they can also be about spiritual things like Bible reading or prayer or family worship.  And decisions like these will flow out of what we think is important.


Well, with the beginning of a New Year, it makes sense for us to think about what the Bible calls important.  And you will see in v3 that the Apostle Paul is talking in these verses about something that is “of first importance.”  When Paul arrived at Corinth, what he talks about in these verses is the first thing he preached about; this was what theCorinthians needed to hear and think about before anything else.  So if it was deemed of first importance by the Apostle Paul, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then we do well to give these words our attention at the beginning of a New Year.


So our theme this morning is back to basics at the beginning of 2019.  When things get a little complex or confused, we often talk about getting back to basics; we want to clear away all the clutter and think about what was important and clear and simple when we started.  So we will get back to basics as we look at vv3-8 and the Bible’s Basic Story.  And then we will consider the implications of this as we look at vv1-3 and the Believer’s basic response.


  1. So first of all, the Bible’s Basic Story.


  1. The Bible is full of dates and locations and names and events from history. It tells us that this event happened and these people went to this place, etc.  But we have often noted that the chief purpose of the Bible is not just to record history but to proclaim His (Jesus’)-Story.  Every date and location and name and event in the Bible is ultimately a part of the story of Jesus Christ.
    1. We have seen this in our Gospel of John sermon series. John tells us about seven great miracle signs performed by Jesus and seven major speeches of Jesus, which were witnessed by 1000’s of people at the time.  But John also says that he recorded these historical events “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”   So the events recorded in John’s Gospel are a part of the story of Jesus Christ.
    2. And we have another example of this in the verses before us today. In ch. 7 of this book, Paul says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.”  The Corinthian believers had written to Paul about a number of matters.  And if you look down at v12, He asks the Corinthians, “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?”  So clearly, one of the matters they had written to him about was the resurrection.
      1. So to refute the idea that there is no resurrection, Paul provides a history lesson in vv3-8.
        • He tells us in v3 that “Jesus died.” This is an historical fact. The Bible and secular historians of the time are unanimous in their agreement that there was a man called Jesus who was nailed to a cross around AD. 30, just outside Jerusalem.  His family saw this and their eyewitness reports are included in the Gospels.  At least some of the disciples saw this and their eyewitness reports are included in the Gospels.  Roman soldiers saw this.  Jewish historians who utterly reject Jesus as the Messiah have written about the death of Jesus.  And the details we are told in the Gospels about His legs not needing to be broken and the blood and water that flowed from the spear wound in His side prove beyond doubt that Jesus died on the cross.
        • And in v4 Paul tells us that Jesus “was buried.” This too is another historical fact. Jesus was not just left unconscious on the cross and later revived; no, His dead body was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimithea.  And the tomb was sealed and guarded by soldiers who were posted there by the orders of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Jesus’ dead body was buried.
        • And also in v4, Paul tells us that Jesus “was raised on the third day.” This too is an historical fact. Paul tells us that Cephas or Peter saw the resurrected Jesus, then all the disciples saw Him, then more than 500 people saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes, then James saw Him, then all the Apostles saw Him again, and then Paul saw Him.  And note what Paul says in relation to these 500 in v6, “Most of whom are still alive.”  Paul was so sure about Jesus’ resurrection that he was encouraging the Corinthians to go to these brothers and ask them about this themselves.
        • Now, there are many other evidences for the resurrection. We don’t have time to consider them all today. The main point is that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, by historical standards, is overwhelming – Jesus rose from the dead.
        • But you know and I know that not everyone believes that Jesus rose from the dead. But this is not because of a lack of evidence.
          • It is the same, for example, with the Jewish Holocaust of WWII. The evidence for the holocaust is overwhelming but there are still those who deny that it happened. And typically this is because of religious or political ideas they hold to.
          • And similarly, it is not the lack of evidence that leads people to refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it is because they do not believe that people can rise from the dead or they believe that the Bible is just a human book with made up stories.


  1. So there we have Paul’s history lesson: By the common standards of historical evidence, Jesus died and was buried and rose again. But now we need to consider His-Story from these verses; we need to see why Jesus died and was buried and rose again.  And Paul explains the WHY in two ways:
    • The first is with a phrase he repeats at the end of vv3&4, “according to the Scriptures.” Jesus had to die and be buried and rise again because this had been prophesied in the OT.
      • In Luke 24, we read about when Jesus appeared to His disciples after He had risen from the dead. They were terrified! But He said to them, I told you that all this had to happen to fulfill the OT.  “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.’”
        • And Jesus would have done this by pointing to the story of Jonah, for example. I am sure you boys and girls know the story of Jonah!  He is swallowed by a whale and he is inside the whale for three days and then vomited up onto dry land.  Well, in Matthew 12:40, Jesus says to the Jewish leaders, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  The story of Jonah prepares us for Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection.
        • And all of the OT does this in some way.  (David Murray’s book – ‘Jesus on Every Page’)
        • So Jesus died and was buried and rose again to fulfill the OT. And this proves to us that the Bible is God’s Word and it is trustworthy.
      • But Paul also explains WHY Jesus died and was buried and rose again with three small words in v3. Can you see what they are? They are “for our sins.”
        • You see, there are many deaths recorded in the Bible. There are also other resurrection stories in the Bible, like the two boys brought back to life by Elijah and Elisha, and the resurrection of Lazarus. But only Jesus “died for our sins.”
        • And these words are critical because they explain the great problem that Jesus came to solve. And tht problem is summarized in a verse you have heard me quote many times – Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God is perfect.  And the only standard which is acceptable to Him is perfect obedience.  If you could stand before Him on Judgment Day and say, ‘God, I have kept all your commandments, perfectly,’ He would say, ‘Welcome to eternal life in heaven.’  But “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all guilty of breaking God’s commandments and not keeping them perfectly.  This might be in obvious and visible ways, like adultery or murder or stealing, but it can also be in less obvious ways like irritation or unthankfulness or not being content.  In these ways and others,  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
        • And Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Our sin means we deserve death and an eternity in hell.
        • But a few moments ago I told you about Jesus’ meeting with the disciples and how He explained to them that it was written that He must die and rise again. But He went on to say, “And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.” What we need is the forgiveness of our sins!  And Jesus came to offer to the Father a sacrifice for our sins.  He took all our sins upon Himself and paid the death price that sin demands.
        • And then He rose from the dead. And His resurrection demonstrated that the Father was satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice; the debt had been paid.
        • And in the same way that Jesus took our sins to Himself, we can receive His perfection or righteousness if we believe that what He did in dying and rising, He did for me/for you.


  1. So this is the Bible’s Basic Story. “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  And this leads us nicely into the Believer’s Basic response, which we see in vv1-3.


  1. Before we come to that, however, let us note that if the Bible’s Basic Story is that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins, then the most important task of the church is to preach that good news. Everything Paul talks about in vv3-8 is the gospel he preached to the Corinthians; it is what he “delivered to [them] as of first importance.”  He didn’t come with marriage tips or addiction advice or parenting suggestions.  He didn’t come to heal them of their diseases or help them with weight loss.  What he did was preach the good news that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.  And he didn’t just do this the first Sunday and then get onto all those other things.  Back in 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul says to these believers, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  At the center of all of Paul’s sermons and Bible studies and counseling sessions was the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    1. And it should be so at ARC also. Before anything else, ARC should exist to preach the good news that Jesus Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.
    2. You may have heard before about the minister who had been invited to preach at another church. And when he entered the pulpit he saw these words carved into the pulpit surface: “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
    3. So please pray for me. Pray for all who preach from this pulpit.  Pray that at the center of every sermon, regardless of whatever passage we are in or whatever topic we might be discussing, is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    4. But let us also rejoice that we are able to be a part of the training of Brett Cooper. If the preaching of the gospel is of first importance, then what an incredible privilege we have to be part of training a man for the ministry.  And let us pray that the Lord might call other men from ARC and elsewhere to preach what is of first importance!


  1. But in terms of the believer’s basic response to the preaching of the Bible’s basic story, we see that outlined in vv1-3:
    1. We should, first of all, receive the gospel. In v1, Paul says that he preached the gospel and the Corinthians received it.  In v3, he tells us that he himself had received the gospel.  And he also explains what receiving the gospel means at the end of v2 where he uses the word “believed.”  And these two words are used interchangeably throughout the NT – the right response to the preaching of the gospel is to receive/believe it.
      1. And what this means is summarized in Q/A 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism where we are told that true faith is knowing about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, being convinced that it is true, and being assured that what Jesus did on the cross, He did for me/you, personally. It’s not enough just to know that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins or even to know and believe that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins, you must know and believe and be assured that He died for the forgiveness of your sins.  That is what receiving the gospel means.
      2. So, the question this text is asking you is, Have you received the gospel? There is no more important question as 2019 begins: Have you believed that Jesus died and was buried and rose again for the forgiveness of your sins?  I hope you have. And if you have not, I pray that you will today.


  1. But Paul doesn’t only talking about a one off act of receiving/believing, does he. He also talks in v1 about standing in the gospel, and in v2 about being saved and the need to hold fast to the word he preached.  And these terms are all about continuous or ongoing activity.  In fact, at the end of v2, we see that it is possible to not hold fast to the word that was preached and so to “believe in vain.”  In other words, it is possible to profess faith one day and later to reject Christ and His word.
    1. And Paul gives us two examples of this in 1 Timothy 1:18. He talks there about two men who did not hold onto faith.  He says, “Some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander.”
    2. Now, just to be clear, this is not to say that true believers can fall away from Christ. There are many Bible verses we could look at that teach us that God causes all true believers to persevere to the end.  One example is John 6 where Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out … And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  Those God has chosen to salvation, He brings to faith in Christ and causes to persevere in faith until they enter heaven.
    3. And neither are these words of Paul saying that we are saved by our efforts or by our holding fast to the word preached. We are saved by Christ and His work alone, which we receive by faith alone.
    4. What Paul is talking about here is people like those Corinthians who had once said that they believed what Paul taught about Christ, but who now believed that there was no resurrection from the dead. To be saved, you must believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  I quoted from Romans 10:9 earlier: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  So those who now denied the resurrection had not held fast to the word Paul preached.  They denied the gospel.  They were in unbelief.
    5. The true believer is the one who believes the truth about who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do their whole life long. This is the person who stands in the gospel; who is being saved by holding fast to the word preached.
      • I have illustrated this before in this way: Here is the moment we put our trust in Christ and here is the moment we enter heaven. What Paul is saying is that there is only one pathway between these two points – the pathway of holding fast to the word preached.


  1. Brothers and sisters, young people, and boys and girls, the words from John 6 that I quoted a moment ago, about the promise of Jesus to bring all of God’s chosen ones to heaven, are wonderfully comforting. But we also find many words of warning in the Bible that are written to professing believers.  Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
    • We must never think that because we once professed faith in Christ, we are safe. We must never think that we can live as we please because all our sins are forgiven in Christ. We must learn from the example of these Corinthians, and Hymenaeus and Alexander, and never think that we could not fall into apostasy and error.
    • Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin is deceitful. It tricks us into wrong thinking about ourselves or Christ or others or the church or the world.  And it does this best when we spend little time in worship or Bible study or fellowship with other believers.  We need, daily, to exhort others and be exhorted by them so that we may remain in the truth.
  2. So the other question this text is asking you today is Are you standing in the gospel? Are you holding fast to the word preached?   Are you exhorting and being exhorted every day?
    • And please don’t think that this sermon is just calling on you to make a NYR about reading the Bible more or coming to the afternoon service or joining a Bible study. I certainly hope you will do all those things. But what this sermon is about is Jesus Christ who died and rose again for the forgiveness of your sins.  The antidote to falling away is not a decision to pray more often or read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, it is to love Christ.  It is to want to experience Christ and fellowship with Christ and feast on Christ; to know Him as your Saviour and Lord in a deeper and richer way; to be so full of His love for you, as seen in what He did for you on the cross, that your love for Him and thankfulness to Him leads you to prayer and Bible reading and participation in worship and Bible study and fellowship.


The Bible’s Basic Story is that Jesus Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins.   The Believer’s Basic Response is to receive Christ and to hold fast to Christ.  May the Spirit of Christ help us to exhort one another every day that we may all hold fast to Christ in 2019.  Amen.



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