1 Corinthians 15:1–11 (NIV)
15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
What have you, or will you, hand on to the next generation? Have you made your will to ensure that who you want to receive the silver teapot you inherited from your parents will be given to the appropriate heir when you die?
We hand on what we’ve received and believe to be the most important of our ideas, thoughts and possessions to a new generation of people.
Some things we hand on while we’re still alive, as we teach children and give them values and moral guidelines we believe are appropriate. Other things, like our wealth and possessions we hand on when we no longer have a need for them.
St Paul speaks of handing on what he’d received as long as he had life in him. His point of reference for handing on is Christ - Jesus Christ. The man who is God. St Paul wants the Corinthian Christians, and ourselves, to know, believe trust and live in Jesus Christ.
Paul is a realist in that he knows that not all who read or hear his words have reached the full understanding of the implications of Jesus’ life for their lives. They may have heard of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But Paul believes it’s of the utmost importance that they, and we, hear again the story of salvation.
St Paul repeats the facts of the Christian faith. He repeats what has already been heard because he wants us to be quite sure about what we believe. And, like the learning of the times tables by heart, so to it’s more important to know the story of Jesus by heart - so the message is in our hearts and not just our heads.
St Paul addresses us as “brothers”, a term which is inclusive of male and female, inclusive of those who are weak in the faith and those who are strong, inclusive of all those who are Baptised into the family of God and those seeking Baptism. St Paul’s message is that we have a gift, the forgiveness of sins, and a task – to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ.
The gift is our salvation through Jesus Christ which is ours now and will be fully realised on the last day when Christ returns. The task is the Christians first priority - to share the gift as St Paul did.
We believers are saved and we’re to hold fast to the promise as a drowning person holds fast to the life raft. And while we’re holding fast we’re to invite others to let Jesus hold them up and keep them from drowning.
We’re to cling to Jesus because our faith in and trust in the Saviour is never futile. Just as the life raft is crucial to the survivor of the sunken ship so Christ is crucial to us who are floundering in the sea of selfishness, temptation and idolatry.
Our faith is futile only if the death and resurrection of Jesus never happened. But we have the historical witnesses as St Paul mentions. So we know that the death and resurrection of Jesus did really and truly happen.
Almost two millennia after St Paul wrote our text Lee Strobel, formally an atheist and investigative journalist, tried to disprove the resurrection and God’s Holy Spirit convicted him of the truth of the Gospel. The story of His spiritual journey is told in the recent film The Case For Christ.
More recently J. Warner Wallace, also a former atheist and homicide detective specialising in cold cases wrote Cold Case Christianity following his own investigation into the claims of the Gospel which proved the truth of the Gospel accounts of Jesus life, death and resurrection.
We are reminded again this Easter that in Christ we who were dead have been raised with Him and so now our confession of faith is of first importance as St Paul writes for us:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, …
This confession of St Paul is basic to our belief. The focus and centre of the Gospel is not what Jesus said but what He did for us. Christ died for our sins – this is the Gospel.
Jesus’ death wasn’t a tragic quirk of fate. It wasn’t an unfortunate miscarriage of justice. Nor was it a sad end to a successful life and ministry. Jesus’ death was for our transgression - that is our sin or rebellion against God. His death was necessary and it cost God dearly.
Jesus was raised according to the plan of God as was foretold by the Old Testament messengers - the prophets. Jesus saw and understood His death and resurrection as the fulfilment of God’s Divine plan.
We can now understand the Old Testament in the light of Jesus death. For example Psalm 118:22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; This would have made little sense before Jesus. But now we know that Jesus was rejected and He is the first to be raised to new life and He is the foundation of our faith.
The entire Old Testament points us to Jesus as the gaol of God’s saving plan. The fact that Jesus was raised on the third day is witnessed to by four separate recorded Gospel accounts. The eyewitness accounts of Jesus death and resurrection can’t be refuted or denied as both Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace (amongst many others) have proven.
The unique events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the history of the world have continuing significance for us today and for the future.
We note that St Paul writes only of what God has done. When we study the Bible we note that all of the great creeds and statements of faith are about what God has done in, with and through people in history. The Bible could be described as a Chronicle of what God has done in the history of the world.
The confession of Christ is always confession of the mighty works of God. When confirmees stand before a congregation to confess their faith they confess what God has done for them in their lives through the gift of Baptism where God personally connected with them and made them His own children. It’s all what God has done and is doing.
When we say together the Apostles or Nicene Creed we confess as a congregation and remind each other of what God has done for us and all people. We repeat historical facts and their implications for our eternal life and for the world.
St Paul doesn’t quote proof texts when he writes about what God has done. He does recall the Scriptures by implication, as the reference that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. This refers back to Jonah being spat out of the belly of the fish after having been entombed there for three days and three nights just as Jesus was dead for a period of three days.
The Old Testament Scriptures are used to remind us that Christ’s resurrection belongs to God’s plan and comes from His wisdom.
The reference to the third day tells us that Jesus was raised in the framework of history - the truth of which is testified to in the experience of the many witnesses.
God revealed the resurrected Jesus to eye witnesses. He reveals Jesus to us in the confession of St Paul - even though many may not approve of the story we can’t argue against historical fact. The evidence is overwhelming. Jesus was seen alive three days after He had been dead and buried.
When we have the opportunity to confess Christ we don’t stand alone in our confession.
When we’re at a BBQ and sharing what’s important in our lives, hopefully we will, with St Paul, share as of first importance the faith we share with the eye witnesses and with billions of believers - past, present and future.
The task we spoke of earlier means that when someone asks us, “What’s the most important thing in your life?” we answer with St Paul and show the questioner Jesus.
All too often we avoid the opportunity to confess Jesus and answer such a question with the details and wellbeing of our husband, wife, children, parents or possessions.
You know how it goes: “What’s the most important thing in your life?”
You might answer, “Awe, I reckon it’id have t’ be me family.”
We should answer, “The fact that God sent His own Son, Jesus to suffer and die for me.”
We deny Christ as first and foremost if we have any other answer to this question.
It’s a good thing that God forgives us when we demonstrate a lack of faith and trust. I’m not saying that our families aren’t important, but to properly love and appreciate ones’ family we must first love and trust the Lord Jesus otherwise we make our family an idol which keeps us from true faith in Jesus.
The first commandment says: “I am the Lord Your God. Do not have any god except me.” This means, “We should honour, love and trust God more than anything else.”
So what are you going to hand on as of first importance? What will you share when you’re asked “What’s most important to you?”
What will you pass on to your descendants, neighbours, family and friends? Is your will only about what can be broken or lost, stolen or burnt? Does your last “will” begin with a testimony?
Your last statement of faith may be the first words of your will. You can include in your will a confession of what you believe is of the most importance and will to your families and friends faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.