Well thank you. It is a real joy and a privilege to be with you this morning. I bring the greetings of the church I serve in west London, IPC Ealing, and we are very grateful to this congregation. Last year your missions committee gave a very generous gift which has enabled us to employ apprentices, employ apprentices, and we’re so grateful for that. And I want to convey our thanks to you as a church family for your partnership in the Gospel and for your generosity. It has done me a world of good being in Jackson for the last few days. I’ve done my waistline great damage so it will be good to go home tomorrow!
I want us to look at 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Corinthians 15. Do turn there in your Bibles. And with your Bibles open before you, let us turn to God in prayer.
Our heavenly Father, we praise and we worship You, the triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - we praise You, our God of love, and we come as Your people before You in this wonderful knowledge that You have loved us with an everlasting love. You never began loving us and You will never stop loving us. And we pray, heavenly Father, that as we open Your Word that Your Holy Spirit will take Your Word and show us something of the beauty and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we will realize the height and the breadth and the depth of Your love. O Father, we need You. We pray that You will bless us now. Open our ears to hear, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Every year in April I buy an academic diary, not because I’m an academic but I like paper diary. I find I can’t work technology very well. I write down absolutely everything in my diary - all my meeting I have. I even have a notebook where I write down the things that I can’t fit in my diary! And I write down pretty much everything. I tell my church staff, “Forget your mobile phone, forget your iPad; get a paper diary and write down your appointments!” So I have an “Amen”? And yet, one of my great problems, if my wife was here this morning, she would say is that I can’t simply forget things - I forget appointments, I forget meetings, I forget important birthday, I forget anniversaries, I forget Valentine’s Day! My biggest issue in life is forgetfulness. I know it’s the source of my problem and that is why I love 1 Corinthians 15 because Paul is writing to a church of believers at Corinth and he is not going to say anything new. And so let’s read God’s holy and inerrant Word - 1 Corinthians 15:
“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, and that 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. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Questions, Issues, and Answers
I would remind you, brothers, he’s not saying anything new. He is telling them things they already knew and perhaps they’ve forgotten. Paul planted this church in 50 A.D. and it’s four years, roughly, later that he wrote this letter. And it’s an interesting fact, isn’t it, it’s a wonderful fact that the New Testament often arises out of the most unexpected circumstances. So you’ve got, for example, these two ladies, these two women in church life, Euodia and Syntyche and they just can’t get along. They’ve fallen out and it’s caused big ripples in the church in Philippi. And what do we have as a result of that falling out? The letter to the Philippians. You have a group of Jewish Christians, they go on a teaching tour around Turkey, and what do we have as a result? We have the letter to the Galatians. And here is the dear old Corinthian church with all their problems and their struggles and all their questions and difficulties. And yet without their problems and their questions and their struggles and their difficulties we would not have 1 Corinthians, these wonderful answers that God provides for us.
I’ll speak to the children this morning - now children, you’re in class and what do you need for a really, really good class? There are probably teachers here; they can tell you. What do you need to have a really, really great class? Let me tell you. Those of you who are lecturers or teachers will know - you need somebody, you know that child, who always puts up his hand and asks the question. That is what you need in every great class because teachers and lecturers, they know more than they’re teaching you; there’s a gap between what they know and what they’re teaching you. And if you want to access that information and that knowledge you’ve got to stick up your hand; you’ve got to ask the question. Well that is what is happening in 1 Corinthians. Look at 1 Corinthians 7 with me; come back there. Right? Come, let’s go. 1 Corinthians chapter 7. It’s always good to hear the rustling of the leaves! 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Notice there’s a marker that the apostle gives you. We must always look for the markers, the repetitions. 1 Corinthians chapter 7. You’ll see Paul use this statement - “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” Chapter 7 - he’s talking about marriage. Go to chapter 8 and verse 1 - “Now concerning food offered to idols.” He’s going to answer that question. If you go to chapter 11 - “Now concerning spiritual gifts” - chapter 12 and verse 1 - “Now concerning spiritual gifts.”
And so the apostle Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, the first letter, he is moving through and answering the questions that they have asked. Now what is the question that Paul is answering in chapter 15? Can you see that? Look at verse 12 of chapter 15. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” This last issue is probably the most important issue that Paul is going to deal with. Is there any future for the body after the grave? That’s the issue. If the dead are not raised - so look at verse 16; look for the repetition. “If the dead are not raised,” verse 29, in the middle of the verse, “if the dead are not raised,” verse 32, the middle of the verse, “if the dead are not raised.” So Paul is answering that question. It’s not so much an issue of forgetfulness but it is a denial of the resurrection of the body and a denial of the resurrection at the end time. One commentator says, “Their errors have resulted in one of the great theological treasures of the Christian church, namely 1 Corinthians 15. We should give thanks for the questions and the struggles and the difficulties of the Corinthians.”
A Reminder of the Gospel
Now notice what Paul says in verse 1. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel. I want to remind you of the Gospel.” I don’t know what your earliest memory is. Try to think back to that. What is your earliest memory? My earliest memory is of Prince Charles and Lady Diana getting married. That is a terrible thing to have as your earliest memory, isn’t it? This wedding that went on for hours and I was dressed up in a Union Jack outfit wearing a little Union Jack hat! It’s not a turning point, is it? It’s not important. It’s a really momentous event. But do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? Do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? Do you remember where you were when those planes went into the World Trade Center on 9/11? I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was in a shop in south London with a man who didn’t speak English and he was trying to tell me what had happened. It was astonishing. Those are momentous events, aren’t they? They really are. They changed the world.
And the word Paul uses in verse 1 for “gospel” is really that kind of momentous event. He says, “I want to remind you of the momentous news which I have literally “gospeled” to you, which you received and of which you have taken your stand. I’ve received it from God and I’ve passed it on to you. You embraced it, you received it, and you stand on it and that means,” verse 2, “you are saved.” “Now I would remind you brothers of the gospel that I preached to you, which you received and which you stand, by which you are being saved.” You’re being rescued. What are you being rescued from? We are rescued from God. If you are somebody who is outside of Christ today you might think, “I’ve got loads of problems.” Actually your greatest problem is God. You might have many struggles; your greatest problem, though, is God, because God’s eyes are too pure to look on evil. He is holy, holy, holy, and He is holy and just and He must punish sin. But here we are told in the Gospel that God punishes sin in the person of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so this Gospel is momentous news because it tells us how God, in love, rescued us from God Himself.
Paul says his Gospel is received, it is held, and you stand on it and it brings you salvation. But outside of this Gospel, look at the last word of verse 2, there is only vanity. There is only hopelessness. Outside of the Gospel - vanity. Inside the Gospel - salvation. Look at verse 3. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” That should ring echoes, it should ring bells in your mind. Shouldn’t you have déjà vu over that? Haven’t you heard that before? You should nod at this point. You’ve heard that before; where have you heard that before? I won’t ask you to shout out! Where have you heard that before? Just flip back with me, flip back with me to the previous page - chapter 11 verse 23. The ESV clouds it in a way that I don’t think is very helpful because it should read exactly the same. Chapter 11 verse 23 - now you all knew this, didn’t you? “For I have received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” And you’ll see it’s the same language used, isn’t it, from 11:23 to chapter 15 and verse 3. But there’s one difference, isn’t it? Can you spot the difference? He says exactly the same thing but notice one thing he says. He says, “I passed on the gospel to you,” verse 3, “as of first importance.” “I passed on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as number one priority.” You as a congregation, we as Presbyterians, we want a high view of the Lord’s Supper. I love it! Don’t you look forward to it? Don’t you rejoice in the Lord’s Supper?
What hath Christianity to do with Jesus?
We have a high view of the Lord’s Supper, but we need to see in chapter 15 verse 3 that Paul says there is something even more important than the Lord’s Supper. There is something even more important than communion. What is Christianity about? At its heart, what is Christianity about? Sometimes, I don’t know if you play - if you say to somebody, “Are you a Christian?” in church life they get very offended; I don’t know why. If you say to them though, “Would you call yourself a Christian?” for some reason that isn’t so offensive! So occasionally I would ask people in my congregation, “Would you call yourself a Christian?” I said that to a nurse recently and she said to me, “I’m trying. I’m trying.” Now that is very interesting, isn’t it? If you were a Muslim, you would think being a Muslim would have something to do with Mohammad. If you were a Buddhist, you would think that being a Buddhist has something to do with Buddha. If you were a Confucian, you would think being a Confucian has something to do with Confucius. So being a Christian, it’s not something to do with Jesus according to this woman, it’s just my effort. It’s madness, isn’t it? If Christianity is a matter of following Jesus’ example it is a very, very cruel religion because you cannot follow Jesus’ example. Pride causes you and I to invent all sorts of ways, don’t we, doesn’t it, of saving ourselves? We’re trying to save ourselves. But being a Christian, Paul says to the Corinthians, is all about Jesus. It is all about Jesus. It’s everything to do with Him.
Now after a very, very long introduction we’re going to get to the sermon really. And today, on this Lord’s Day, I want us to look at verses 3 and 4 at the four “thats.” So you’re really only going to get half the sermon this morning and you need to come back tonight and that’s a good thing! So don’t watch the TV tonight; come back, alright? So we’re going to look at the four “thats.” Let me show you them. Verse 3 - “That Christ died for our sins.” Verse 4 - “That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” Verse 5 - “That he appeared to Cephas.”
I. That Christ Died
So the first two this morning. Verse 3 - “For I delivered to you as of first importance, the most important thing I did, is I delivered to you what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Notice that he doesn’t say Jesus died. He uses the exalted title, the Christ, the Messiah of God, the anointed King of God, the one who is God in the flesh. He came; He came and He died. The death of Christ is central. Earlier on in 1 Corinthians Paul has said, 1 Corinthians 2, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He died a historically verifiable death, but look at verse 3. He died, and here’s the theological meaning - He died for our sin, for our sin. What a remarkable thing. He had no sin of His own for which to die, “for the wages of sin is death.” Death is the penalty for sin. He had not earned the penalty for sin and yet He dies to pay the penalty for His people. Someone else had earned that penalty by their own sin.
A Sinless Savior...
Now if I said to you this morning, “What is the most audacious claim that the Lord Jesus ever made?” I wonder what you’d say. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me”? Maybe not. But I put it to you that I reckon it’s this one. When Jesus said in the midst of His enemies, when He said in the midst of people who hated Him, “Who of you accuses me of sin?” I think that’s a remarkable thing. I think if you met my elders or you met the people I play tennis with or you talk to my neighbors and I said to them, “Who of you accuses me of sin?” they would have a very, very long list. If you ask my wife, “Who of you accuses Paul Levy of sin?” you’d be there for days on end with her telling. I’ve stayed with Ralph Kelly for four days; Ralph could tell you my sin. “I heard you say…I saw you do…” You could accuse. But the only thing, the only thing that the enemies of Jesus could accuse Him of is, “He eats with tax collectors and sinners.” That’s it. In other words, Jesus had no sin. He loved the Lord His God with all His heart and mind and soul and strength. He loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived under the Law, He obeyed the Law; He’s never cheeky to His parents. He never told a lie. He never told a lie. He never coveted. He was sinless. But He died for sin not His own and so the apostle says it is for our sin. On behalf of the sins we, the people of God, have committed, the death of God’s innocent Son for His undeserving people and it is all of grace. We do not deserve it.
According to the Scriptures
But look at the next word. “According to the Scriptures” - isn’t it? Do you see that? “He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” You see, it was no knee-jerk reaction from God. God didn’t look down at the world and say, “Oh it’s all gone wrong! What am I going to do? Jesus, would You go down, would You sort it out? You haven’t done it at all. The plan has gone wrong! I’ve got to do something about it!” No, this is according to the Scriptures. It’s 700 years before that Isaiah said, “He,” the suffering servant, “took up our infirmities.” Let’s go back even farther than that. Let’s go to the first promise that God ever made. What was the first promise that God ever made? Well you find it in Genesis chapter 2 and here you find the first promise that God ever made and it was going to be a promise that cost Him dearly. In Genesis chapter 2 and verse 17, God, the Creator, speaks to His creature, Adam, and He says, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And that was God’s first promise. And when God made that promise He knew that eventually when He fulfilled that promise, of course Adam would die. But for God it would involve the death of His beloved Son, the last Adam; the death of His own Son as the substitute for the first Adam and all who would come after Him. According to the Scriptures.
...to save a Sinful People
Think of the Passover lamb in Exodus - the lamb by which the firstborn were redeemed. It looks forward to the Lord Jesus, doesn’t it? “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The sins - “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” - the death of God’s innocent Son for His undeserving people. And this, Paul says, is from God and is momentous news. “That is my first priority,” says the apostle. Being a Christian is not about being spiritual; being a Christian is not about being moral. Being a Christian is not about being good; being a Christian is not about believing in God. It is about knowing that Christ died for our sin, according to the Scriptures, and that is what we preach. A minister that I know is facing a lot of opposition in church and I asked him, “What don’t they like about you?” and he said, “They accuse me of preaching Easter sermons at Christmas.” Isn’t that great because that is what Christmas is exactly about - it is about the Lord Jesus, the infant child, the baby who came in order to give His life for our sin. “For you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
II. That He Was Buried
Now the second “that” is in verse 4, isn’t it. Verse 4 - “That he was buried.” The certainty of His death is the foundation of His resurrection. Without His real death, His resurrection is a fantasy. There’s no play-acting. This is not a pseudo-death; it is a real death. Jesus Christ did not faint, Jesus Christ did not pass out; He really died. He died so much that they buried Him. And the second “that” of verse 4 underlines the integrity of the first “that” in verse 3. The Apostles Creed puts it like this. “He was crucified, dead,” and so dead, “He was buried.” And we know, don’t we, that His death is unique. We must die inevitably, but Jesus chose the moment at which He would die. He chose the words by which he would die because He was voluntarily dying for sin, sin which was not His own. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and He was buried.
The Christian faith is all about: Jesus
Now let me say three things in application. The first thing is this - the Christian faith is all about Jesus. That is hardly rocket science, is it? You don’t need the brains of the archbishop to work that out. The Christian faith is all about Jesus. You’re probably thinking, “Why on earth have we gotten this guy to come all the way over from London and tell us that” which you already know? But I want to say this - I don’t know Jackson at all but I think this - it is very fashionable to talk about God, however you imagine Him to be. Isn’t it? God-talk is still fashionable. But let us be clear that according to the Bible Jesus is God and anything you imagined about God that is not consistent with the person and the words and the works of Jesus is wrong. Jesus is God. He’s God in the flesh. And the Christian faith is not about you. And the Christian faith is not about me; it’s about Him. It’s about what He has done. I love the briefest, shortest definition of the Christian Gospel. It’s the one you find in Galatians 1 where the apostle Paul says, “We went about preaching Him” - to preach Him! To preach Jesus is to preach the Gospel.
I grew up in south Wales; you might have guessed that by my accent. I grew up in south Wales in a godly home but in a church environment that had very, very little time for the Church of England, in fact, no time for the Church of England. And so they never celebrated the liturgical calendar at all. In fact, if they could see what I’m dressed in today they’d probably put me under church discipline! But anyway, anyway, I came to the church where I serve here now in England eleven years ago and they are a little bit fonder of the church calendar than where I grew up. I was twenty-six years old. I don’t know what I’m doing now but I even knew less what I was doing then. And I’d start to pray with the elders before the service and one of my elders said, “I hope we’ve got something on the Holy Spirit. It’s Pentecost Sunday.” At that point I broke into a panic. I didn’t even know really what Pentecost Sunday was and I thumbed through my notes thinking, “Please let there be something on the Holy Spirit.” And there were, I hit one or two passing references. But then I realized my sermon was all about Jesus and that is what Pentecost is all about because the first sermon on Pentecost Sunday in Acts chapter 2 is all about Jesus. And when the apostle Paul finds the disciples with John the Baptist who have never heard of the Holy Spirit, what does he teach them? Does he teach them about the Holy Spirit? No, he teaches them about Jesus. The Christian faith is all about Jesus.
When Hudson Taylor, that great missionary, when Hudson Taylor had a young Christian missionary from Scotland who was about to go home from China for his first period of furlough in Scotland, Hudson Taylor called the man in and he said, “Now when you get back to Scotland your great temptation will be to tell them about China. Don’t tell them about China. Tell them about Jesus and Jesus will look after China.” This is the great truth. “Aside from rest and happiness, I yearned for them not me, but while I passed my Savior by looking for rest and happiness, His love laid hold on me. Now none but Christ can satisfy, none other name for me. There’s life and love and lasting joy, Lord Jesus found in me.” God cannot give you happiness and peace apart from Himself. It does not exist. It is not there. There is no such thing. Happiness and peace and rest are only found in Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is all about Jesus. Christ died, Christ was buried.
The Christian faith is all about: the substitutionary element of what Jesus did at the cross
Secondly, it is all about, the Christian faith is all about the substitutionary element of what Jesus did at the cross. It is all about the substitutionary element of what Jesus did on the cross. It is about that transaction. There’s a girl in our congregation who went into a jeweler and she wanted a chain with a cross on it and the jeweler said, “Do you want a normal cross or do you want one with a little man on it?” Isn’t that astonishing? “The little man.” He had no idea at all of the death of God’s Son. The one with the little man on it - the glory of the cross is what God’s justice requires; God’s love provides. We do not earn His death; we receive it, we trust it, we believe it. It’s like collapsing into a hammock or a stretcher. It’s like when you go into a hotel room and there are those giant beds and you stand at the bottom of the bed and you just allow yourself to fall backwards. That is all faith means. It is grace, it is undeserved, and it is through faith. So let me ask you this Lord’s Day, is that where your confidence lies? Is that where your hope is, in life and in death? That He died for my sin, that He was buried for my sin?
Don’t you know this already?: Gospel Reminders
And the third and final application is this. Don’t you know this already? Don’t you know this already? I’ve been at the church I serve for eleven years and very often I think they know what I’m going to say before I say it! And I’m not telling you anything new this morning, am I? So why do you think that you need to remember? Well because I know my own heart and I know that all my problems in life spring from when I forget these truths. I don’t know you but I suspect your heart is very similar to mine, that all your problems spring from when you forget these truths. That’s why you come to church, isn’t it? To hear the Gospel. The greatest four words that any minister ever says are, “Let us worship God” because at church it is the place of the reality, this reality. It’s the place in which you hear what God says. Now my biggest problem is that I forget them, I forget these truths. And Paul says, “I want to remind you that when I feel so guilty, the Gospel reminds me my past has been dealt with, that when I fear the future, the Gospel reminds me that there is glory to come, that when I feel so inferior to other people, the Gospel reminds me I am a child of God. When I’m jealous of someone else, the Gospel reminds me that I’m a complete man. When I hate myself, the Gospel reminds me that I am God’s child and I’m made in His image. When I feel so insecure, the Gospel reminds me that God’s love is unconditional. And when I feel so insignificant, the Gospel reminds me that I am a member of God’s family and I’ve been adopted. And when I feel purposelessness, the Gospel reminds me I am living for God’s glory. And when I feel lonely, the Gospel reminds me that I am part of an enormous family and it starts right here, right now in the church. That when I feel self-righteous, the Gospel reminds us that it is only His righteousness that will stand on that great day. And when I doubt, I come back to the facts of His death and His burial and His resurrection. And when I’m filled with pride I need to remember what He has done is what matters. And when I’m self-centered I need to remember that it’s because of what the Gospel has done that I am His servant.”
Do you think you need those reminders? I need those reminders. I need the Gospel preached to me. I need the Gospel read to me. I need the Gospel sent to me. He died for my sin, I am set free from my guilt, the debt has been paid, I’ve been adopted into His family. Jim Packer in Knowing God - if you’ve not read Knowing God shame on you! Go the bookstore; it’s there. Ralph will buy you a copy! Jim Packer says in Knowing God he says this, “Keep saying this to yourself every day: ‘I am a child of God. God is my Father. Heaven is my home. Every day is one day nearer heaven. My Savior is my brother and every Christian is my brother and sister too.’” I’m a child of God. God is my Father. Heaven is my home. Every day is one day nearer heaven. My Savior is my brother and every Christian is my brother and sister too. He paid a debt He didn’t owe. We owed a debt we could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sin away and now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing Grace,” - Christ Jesus paid the debt I could not pay. This is Biblical. This is true. This is authentic. This is apostolic Christianity. It is what you have. It is what you believe. It is what you have received. It is what you trust. It is what we rely upon. It is what we depend upon. It is where we stand. It is orthodox Christianity. And Paul says at the end of verse 2, “by this Gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to this word I preach to you, otherwise you believed in vain.” Christ died for our sin according to the Scriptures. Christ is buried. Hallelujah. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we worship You. We worship You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that before the foundation of the world You chose a people for Yourself, for Your glory. We thank You for the plan of redemption that You are our covenant God. We thank You that beginning there right in Genesis that promise that if you eat of the fruit of the tree you will die, thank You, Jesus, that You the Beloved Son our Savior, You came and You died for us and You died for our sin according to the Scriptures and You were buried. Father, we thank You that by His resurrection from the dead we know that He lives and that transaction has been exacted by You. We stand in perfect relationship with You because of what Christ has done. And we thank You, Holy Spirit, that You have opened our eyes so that we can see these truths - that it’s not by being good; it is by Christ’s perfection that we can be right with You. And so heavenly Father we want to confess to You this morning that we love You and we want to thank You from the depth of our being. In the name of our Lord Jesus, amen.
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