Back to Basics (I Corinthians 15:1-4)
Topic: I Corinthians Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1–15:4
Back to Basics
I Corinthians 15:1-4
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
November 6th, 2016
I. Reverse the Curse
This past Wednesday night, sports history was made. The 108-year championship drought of the Chicago Cubs came to an end as they won game seven against the Cleveland Indians. If you know anything about the Cubs losing streak, then you probably know something about what's referred to as “The Curse of the Billy Goat”. Here's the story behind that legend...
As the story goes, in 1934 a baby goat that had fallen off a truck at Chicago’s stockyards wandered into a nearby tavern owned by Greek immigrant Williams Sianis. The goat became a constant companion of Sianis, who considered the animal his lucky charm and named his business “The Billy Goat Tavern.” "He took it to different sporting events, it was his pet," said John Sianis, who is Williams Sianis’ great nephew and a bartender at the original Billy Goat Tavern. In 1945, when the Chicago Cubs last played in a World Series, the older Sianis bought two game tickets, one for himself and one for his goat. "Because it was raining the goat smelled extra bad...they would not allow the goat in the ballpark" the younger Sianis explained. Williams Sianis "…was so insulted and hurt he proclaimed the Cubs would never win the World Series again,"...At first, nobody paid any attention to the tavern owner with the goat, but after so many years of struggling baseball seasons, fans started to believe the curse had actually taken hold...On Oct. 6, which is the 71st anniversary of the day the curse was made, the Billy Goat Tavern threw a “Reverse the Curse” party for fans which included a live goat. “Whatever it takes!” shouted diehard Cubs fan David Bonn. "We have definitely reversed the curse" John Sianis assured [fans]. (Foxnews.com)
Whatever you want to think about the Cubs turnaround, I think there is a helpful idea we can grab hold of here. I would argue this very Gathering, that our time together this morning is the ultimate “Reverse the Curse” party. While Cubs fan can delight in their victory and argue about their goat legend, we have something far better. We have the true story of a Lamb who truly did 'reverse the curse'. And it's that story Paul is emphasizing in our main verses for this morning. Look with me at I Corinthians 15.
II. The Passage: “The Gospel I Preached to You” (15:1-4)
Let's listen once again to the verses we began with this morning, I Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul writes this to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth...
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...
You may or may not know that in this letter Paul is answering different questions the Corinthians have sent to him, or addressing issues that have been reported to him about what's happening with this church.
Now, here in chapter 15, Paul is again addressing a concern in regard to false teaching that has crept into the church. While we could delve into the specifics of that wrong thinking, I'd rather look at the way Paul tackles this error. He begins with, as we see in verse 1, he begins with the “gospel”. As we've talked about before, the word gospel simply means “good news”. It can be used in a generic sense to refer to any good news (Luke 2:10...And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.)
But in most cases, Christians used this word to refer to very specific good news, THE Good News. And that's how Paul uses it here. So if we look at these verses, I think we see two aspects here. First we learn about the significance of this Good News, and second, we discover, or are reminded of, the specifics of this Good News. And as we'll see, understanding the significance of the gospel actually prepares us for receiving the specifics of the gospel.
1. The Significance of This News (vs. 1-3a)
So first of all, what do I mean when I talk about the significance of this Good News? Well, just look at the way Paul talks about the gospel here in verses 1-3a.
First, this is the message Paul (v. 1) “preached”. He wasn't casually acquainted or mildly interested in this message. It was THE message he trumpeted regularly; a message he proclaimed, for which he suffered, all over the Roman Empire. I'd say that's significant.
Second, this is the message Paul (v. 3) “received” from Jesus himself. Paul clarifies this in Galatians 1:11, 12. He clearly states...
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12) I'd say that's significant.
Third, this is the message (v. 1) “in which you stand”. The gospel has brought about and defines the spiritual standing of the Corinthians. Their position before God, what upholds them, the eternal life they enjoy is a result of this Good News. I'd say that's significant.
Fourth, this is the message (v. 2) “by which you are being saved”. The trajectory of these Christians, their spiritual destiny, their hope for a future of life and peace and joy and rest in the presence of God, and not condemnation and suffering apart from God, all of it is directly tied to this message; to this Good News. I'd say that's significant.
So the message Paul lived to declare, the message the living Jesus gave, the message by which the Corinthians lived, and the message through which they would live forever with God. I'd say this new is significant. Wouldn't you?
And of course Paul would as well. That's why, in verse 3, he reminds them explicitly of the gospel's incomparable significance. This was the message he “delivered to [them] as of first importance”. Paul is saying, “This is it. This is first. Numero uno. This is the main thing. This is at the top of the list.”
Now, hearing all that, being reminded of the gospel's astounding significance, if you knew nothing about the content, the specifics of this good news, wouldn't you be eager to hear? Someone in Corinth might have said, “Well since you put it that way Paul, I suppose I better listen carefully to your reminder.”
2. The Specifics of This News (vs. 3b, 4)
And that reminder is exactly what we find in verses 3 and 4. Paul expresses it clearly and simply. He writes:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: [here it is] that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...
There it is. There it is. The gospel! Now is this the entirety of the gospel? No. But it's the very center of this Good News. If and when Christianity drifts from this, it ceases to be genuine Christianity. If any person drifts from this, they call their faith into question. This is of “first importance”.
Every other critical, central, core teaching is connected to this. Who was it that died and was raised? He had to be fully man and fully God. Can anything be added to what Christ did? No, redemption is by faith alone. Do you see? “This is it. This is first. Numero uno. This is the main thing. This is at the top of the list.”
Now notice there are two parts to the specifics Paul describes in these verses. First, there is what we could call an historical affirmation. Second, there is what we might call, a scriptural affirmation.
The historical affirmation is clear: Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, died, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day. These are historical events. They really happened. Our faith is not tied to some pie in the sky fairy tale or wild pseudo-history. It happened in Judea, under the Roman Empire, in the time of the governor, Pontius Pilate. In verses 5-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the historicity of these events. He writes this about the resurrection of Jesus...
...he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (I Corinthians 15:5-8)
But as I mentioned, there's also a scriptural affirmation. Two times Paul highlights the fact that these historical events took place “in accordance with the Scriptures”. What does that mean? It means the OT spoke hundreds of years before about what was to come, about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It means these are not simply events from the pages of history. These were events from the pages of God's plan; the plan He determined and foretold long before it happened. Again, these are not peripheral, negotiable issues. They represent the perfect culmination of God's rescue mission to “reverse the curse” that fell upon us at the beginning, in the Garden.
The key phrase is a spiritual explanation of the historical event. In it's verse 3: Christ died...for our sins. You could see Jesus dying on that Roman cross. What you couldn't see is what we grasp with eyes of faith. He was dying for our sins. The just penalty of our disobedience, stretching all the way back to that first disobedience in the Garden, that penalty was paid for by Jesus.
How significant is it? It's the message in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. A baseball curse supposedly broken is trivial compared to the reality of God's victory over sin, suffering, and death. I'd say that's significant.
III. Don't You Remember
But with all that in mind, look again at the opening words of this foundational passage...Now I would remind you.
Why does Paul begin that way. Because they were forgetting. They were prone to forget. This first handful of weddings I ever officiated, there was always a point, fairly deep into the service, where I noticed something strange: everyone was standing up. Do you know why? Because I forgot to seat them after the giving of the bride! And that kept happening. For some reason I was prone to forget.
The same thing was happening with the Corinthians and the gospel. This is why Paul had to go back to basics. Or maybe we could say more specifically, they were forgetting how the gospel, this Good News, was “of first importance” in everything; how it, yes punctuated their past, but also how it influenced both their present and their future.
You see, they were accepting from false teachers an idea that was nonsense in light of the gospel. If they were holding “fast to the word [Paul] preached”, they couldn't also be holding onto these strange teachings about the resurrection (that's the topic Paul goes on to confront in the remainder of chapter 15).
So what does this mean for us? It means, in the same, we constantly need to go back to basics; daily!...to be constantly reminded of that which [we] received, in which [we] stand, and by which [we] are being saved. For we also forget; we are prone to forget. Can you relate?
Listen to what Milton Vincent says about the gospel in his excellent book, A Gospel Primer:
God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness. The wise believer learns this truth early and becomes proficient in extracting available benefits from the gospel each day. We extract these benefits by being absorbed in the gospel, speaking it to ourselves when necessary, and by daring to reckon it true in all we do.
So we taken into account the opening words of our passage...Now I would remind you. But even more importantly, we need to “hold fast” to that phrase from verse 3...of first importance.
Be honest with yourself as you ask this question: “What was of first importance to me this morning, when I woke up to a new day?” It should be. The Cubs AND the Indians didn't both get first place. There is only one first place. Everything else comes after that. This is why you must preach the gospel to yourself every day. What does that mean. Listen to how writer Jerry Bridges defines it:
To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace)
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge your weakness; utter inability to save yourself.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge you stand only by God's grace.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge, apart from that grace, you stand condemned.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge all you can do is trust Jesus did it all.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge all your sins, all your wrongs, all your failures, past, present, and future have been covered by Jesus' death. He paid the ransom!
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge you have peace with God.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge you are loved to a depth you could not imagine.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge God's acceptance is all that really matters.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge you don't have to live in guilt, that the sins that tempt you even now are the reason Jesus suffered and died, that because of the gospel you have power to die to the old self and put on the new self, that you don't have to be afraid of death, because you will be raised as He was raised.
It is to wake up each day and acknowledge, to embrace, you do not belong to yourself, for you have been bought with a price: the shed blood of Christ. You are wonderfully His and nothing, no one can take that away from you.
What would your day be like if those gospel-centered, gospel-rooted, those gospel-informed truths were “of first importance” in your heart and mind? How do they speak to the fear, the anxiety, the regret, the bitterness, the desires, the anger, the confusion, the pride we all battle with, on a daily basis?
It begins with receiving this Good News as true and true for you. And then, we live each day in light of the fact, it is reality in which we stand. Finally, we look to the future with hope, because we know it is gospel by which we are being saved. Let's thank God for such an incomparable gift; such an incomparable Savior. And let's ask Him to help us keep this Good News where it should be in our hearts and minds... “of first importance”.