Easter is a day of celebration. It is a day to rejoice at the victory that was won when Jesus was crucified, died, buried and ultimately resurrected or raised from the dead. This morning’s passage was chosen because it is imperative that each and every one of us here today be reminded of the good news that Easter is meant to celebrate. For some, this good news has been read and spoken and declared in your homes for generations and they can’t remember a time when it was absent. For others, this good news has never been heard before and so today may be your first opportunity to learn of the love of God and the victory that has been won. And to still others, this message has been heard, but it has been forgotten or possibly even rejected. Regardless of which one of these categories you find yourself in today, my hope, God’s hope is that you hear a message of life and hope and redemption this morning that grips your heart and changes your life.
Paul, the author of 1Corinthians, wrote a lengthy letter to fledgling church in Corinth. This is a church that is full of problems, like many churches today. There is division inside the body from those who support one leader and those who support another. There is division in the body over what you can eat or not eat. There is division over sexuality and sexual practice. There are even divisions over head coverings for men and women. On top of all the issues of division, there are lawsuits going on where one member is taking another to court, and there is blatant sin being practiced in full view of the church where one man is sleeping with his father’s wife and no one is saying anything about it. Truly the Corinthian church is in desperate need of cleansing. It is dysfunctional to say the least and it needs a serious reorienting to truth and life.
I mention all this background because each and every one of us can identify with at least some of the sin present in Corinth. Whether we are in a church or not, whether we believe the Christian message or not, each of us lives in a world full of division, lawsuits and tainted sexuality. We have division in our government as political parties compete for most incompetent, we have divisions in our jobs as coworkers scramble to make a name and get the next promotion on the backs of others. There are divisions in our families as husbands and wives abandon their vows and seek their own interests. There are even divisions in our schools as kids gang up on others and bully them for anything from their struggles with academics to not having the right clothes. We live in a world where lawsuits are an ever-present reality, where handshakes must be followed up with contrasts because we expect people to stick it to us. We live in a world where sin is celebrated and purity is denigrated. And our churches are no different – there is just as much backstabbing, posturing, defiance, division, and immorality in the church as there is outside the church. We need a reorienting to truth and life too.
I mention this sad state of affairs, because of the words that Paul writes, “Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel…” (1Cor 15:1). Though Paul had plenty to say all along in his letter about these issues, when it comes down to the end of the letter, what he wants them to remember is the gospel, the good news. They are to remember the good news that is supposed to be the solution to all of these problems, issues and difficulties. But the reality of human sinfulness is that it grows and multiplies and expands like foam insulation in a can that you spray into the void. It grows like that unless it is checked by something, unless it finds a boundary. And that boundary is the gospel.
When we are reminded of the gospel, or hear it for the first time, sin gets its first check, like the studs in a wall that form a boundary to the ever-expanding foam. The good news of Jesus Christ is like those studs. We will get to what that good news is in a moment, so hang in there. But for now, remember that it is the good news that checks the spread of sin. The gospel declares to sin, “You can go no further, you have no rights here any longer.”
If there is any hope for these Corinthians to get along, to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness (1Thes 4:11), to learn to love one another, then their sinful tendencies need to be checked and that means they need to hear the gospel again. Why the gospel? Because “The gospel is the Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (NLT Romans 1:16). The gospel is what saves people; the gospel is what reforms people; the gospel is what changes people. And so as part of his last words, Paul reminds the people that their hope lays not in doing certain things or in refraining from doing certain actions; but it lies in remembering the gospel.
The same is true for our day and age. All the problems facing the world and the nation and the family can be solved when men, women and children remember the gospel, reflecting on what it is, what it means and take it to heart in the way we live. There is not a social or political problem today that the gospel cannot address. The gospel calls people and governments and societies to admit their sin and selfishness and to let that sin and selfishness die with Christ so that they can live in humility, service and love to one another. But for the gospel to be effective, there is more than just preaching that needs to occur. It is not just hearing a message that changes ones life, or culture, government or family; rather it is taking one’s stand with that message and living life in congruence with that message.
Paul wants these Corinthians to recall not only the message of the gospel, but also to stand upon it, to hold fast to it. We are to build our life upon the gospel. That is what it means to stand on something. Allow it to be your firm foundation, the thing that supports you. The Gospel is to be the grounding upon which all of life is built if one is to overcome sin, selfishness, and division. One must grip it firmly, like a child holding onto a sucker. Just try and get that piece of candy out of their hands, you are not likely to succeed. In the same way, Paul is urging these people to grab onto the gospel so tightly that it can’t be pried from their life. Make it an integral part of the way you live and breath, speak and act; because if you don’t, then there is no hope for the defeat of sin in your life. If you don’t there will be no boundary to sin and its deceitful desires and its mastery over your life and its goal to make you its slave.
If the gospel isn’t your foundation, your candy sucker flavoring your life and nourishing your soul then the life of dysfunction characterizing the Corinthians will be your life, ad infinitum. But it doesn’t have to be. That is why Paul is urging these people to remember the gospel, recall it to mind, make it the active ground of your being.
So why is the gospel so powerful? Why is Paul telling them not to forget it? The gospel is so powerful because it is built upon the life of one man, Jesus Christ. The good news for all creation is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to many people” (1Cor 15:3b-5a). According to Paul, there are four amazing things that Christ did. They are his death, burial, resurrection and appearing to people.
Let’s look at each of these and why it is special. The Scriptures declare, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Sin is powerful; it grips people and refuses to let them go. Its power resides in the lie. Like all lies, once you tell one and once you believe one, it is hard to not tell another or to not believe another. And the lie that sin tells a person is this: “A little bit of this won’t really hurt you. If you do it, you will be successful, liked, respected, rich.” And once that lie is told, and once we believe it, we are doomed. Sin tells people, “If you can just do enough good, if your good deeds outnumber your bad deeds, then God will accept you.” But that too is a lie. God hates sin. He can’t stand it. In fact, he hated it so much that he laid out innumerable sacrifices for the Jewish people to offer in order to stave off his wrath.
Humanity has a problem, we believe the lie of sin and so, in the words of the psalmist, “We flatter ourselves to much to detect or hate our sin.” (For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good (Psalms 36:2–3).) And so even something as simple as the 10 commandments, which were meant to declare to us how many ways we violate God’s law, we come to actually believe we are capable of fulfilling. We think we don’t commit adultery when in fact we lust. We think we are not murderers when in fact we hate others. We think we aren’t thieves, and yet we steal from those in need every day that we indulge our appetites while countless people are starving. These are but three examples showing how we are unable to live a life perfectly in harmony with all God desires of every moment of every day.
That is what Paul means when he writes, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man” (Rom. 8:3). Christ’s death was the remedy for our sin. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1Pet. 3:18). The Old Testament had declared that sin must be met with sacrifice. “‘Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands — …[he is guilty]. When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty he must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat…and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin’” (Leviticus 4:2, 5-6). And if it was an intentional sin like adultery or murder or idolatry and the like, then the sacrifice required was one’s own life.
Jesus Christ died as the sacrifice for all sin. He died “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, O God.’”” (Hebrews 10:4–7). And so in his death, he broke the power of sin by not only being the sacrifice for sin, but also by literally becoming sin.
We are told in the Word of God, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21). And it is important that we remember that Christ literally became sin so that we understand the good news of His burial. When Christ died on the cross, he died as a sacrifice for sin, but he also died as the very embodiment of sin and therefore when that sin was laid in the grave. It was covered and sealed, never to be raised again. Sin had run its course.
So, when Jesus died as sin, not just a little sin, but literally as the full embodiment of sin, its power and control over humanity was broken. It had nothing else it could do. Sin and death had claimed its greatest victim, the Son of God, divinity itself was defeated, or so it thought. The burial of Christ wasn’t just to prove he was dead. The burial of Jesus declared to all creation that sin and death were now locked away. God had died and with God died the power of sin. God literally wrapped the power of sin into his being and he became a sepulcher to hold it forever more. He deposited it into the earth so that it could never rise again.
That is the teaching of Romans 6 about being baptized into Christ’s death and being buried with him so that the sinful nature is laid to rest once and for all. It is because of Christ’s burial that our desire to sin or not to love God or neighbor should be checked and thrown as far away from us as possible. The Corinthians simply needed to reflect on the death and burial of Christ in order to see how far their actions deviated from the reality of the good news. Division, strife, sin and all such things only rightfully belong in the grave where Christ laid them. So put off these evil deeds. Cast them back to the grave where they belong. But instead of simply casting them away and taking nothing else up, the story goes on.
The third amazing thing that Christ did was to rise. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Peter grounded the resurrection in Psalm 16:8-11 as he preached his first sermon at Pentecost. Listen to his words: “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay”” (Acts 2:24–27).
When Jesus died, he was the sacrifice for sin and he became sin. When he was buried, he deposited all that sin in the grave, giving it a permanent resting place from which it could never escape. But when he was raised, the power of life was at work, a life that was indestructible: A life that would ring through the ages like a bell chiming or a gong ringing. When Paul described the death and burial or Christ he used static verbs. He used verb tenses that meant the event happened in the past and is completed. But when he describes the resurrection, he changes his verb tense to the perfect. That means Jesus’ resurrection happened in the past, but it continues to have consequences that ring through history. His resurrection is the cosmic bell chiming of the reign of life. His resurrection is the power that sets us free: free to pursue godliness, righteousness and holiness. His resurrection is the event that makes it possible for us to live unto God and love our brothers and sisters. His resurrection means the Corinthians no longer need to just stop being foolish in their actions towards others, but they can start being life giving, humble and servant oriented.
The resurrection means there is a new way of living that can now become available to each and every person who stakes their claim upon the good news that their sin has been removed, their old life has been buried and they have been given a new life, empowered by the very Spirit of God that brought Christ back from the dead. And that is why it is so important that Christ not only died, was buried and raised, but also that he appeared to many people.
When we look at the list of people Jesus appeared to we realize that there truly is good news for each and every one of us. If he was willing to save these people, then he can definitely save us. Jesus didn’t just appear to the twelve. He appeared first to one of the twelve who denied him. Peter had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Luke 22:54-62). Peter had been faithless, but Christ remained faithful, faithful to him charge to redeem men and women from their sin. But Jesus also appeared to James, his brother. A man who had grown up in the same house as Jesus and yet had never understood who Jesus truly was. James had gone to claim Jesus as a crazy man with his family, ready to lock him away under house arrest (Mark 3:20-21). James, though stubborn and hard headed for many years, was given the joy of the good news when his savior appeared to him face to face.
And then there was Paul, a man who had traveled the region persecuting the church of God (Acts 9). He wasn’t just a man who was stubborn or afraid, like James and Peter. He was a man who had rejected the faith entirely. He was an enemy of the people of God, doing everything in his power to destroy the church. He stood by and watched as Stephen was stoned, the first martyr of the church. He made it his personal mission to seek out and destroy the disciples of Jesus. Yet even for these sins, the Lord Jesus had died, been buried and raised.
So why did Paul want the Corinthians to remember the gospel, to hold it fast, to relish it like a sucker, to stand firm upon it like a solid rock, to recall its reverberations through history like a bell? He knew that when men and women reflect upon the death or Christ, they will begin to recognize all the sin in their life for which Christ died. He knew that when people reflect upon what the burial of Christ means, they would realize that their sin must be laid in the grave, for it is unbecoming of Christ’s body. He knew that the resurrection made a new life possible and that God’s people are empowered to live differently. Sin must no longer rule in our bodies; rather the life of God characterized by love and good deeds is to be our way of living. In short, Paul wanted them to remember all of this, because he knew that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom 1:16).
TRANSITION TO COMMUNION
 Though that was important, the Pharisees and chief priests were really worried that someone might steal his body and claim he had risen, so they asked Pilate to place a guard at the tomb and to have it sealed. Both of these requests were granted (Mt 27:63-65).