Tim Challies has a great new post on how to be an effective listener to the Sermon that your pastor preaches each Sunday. Be sure to read it and apply the very appropriate advice!
Yesterday morning I preached my first official sermon at my new church, Tunkhannock Baptist Church. We began what would become a six month series focusing on “Laying a Solid Foundation.” This first message focused on the bedrock of that foundation, the Gospel.
First Things First: The Gospel
My sister and brother-in-law are in the process of building a house. Well, that’s only partly true. They bought an old cottage on the lake for a sweet deal. The problem was, it was in horrific shape. So, they set about remodeling it and adding onto the existing structure. Little did they know that in the end they would rebuild practically the whole structure, but that is not the point. The cottage, like so many of it’s time, did not have a concrete foundation. It sat simply on pillars and concrete pads. That was sufficient for a small cottage, but for a large home they wanted, they would have to put in a foundation. They had someone come and lift the house up and put it on beams while they had a poured concrete foundation put in. What would have happened if they had built the house before they put in the foundation? The house would have toppled over or collapsed as the original foundation could not have supported the weight.
We here at Tunkhannock Baptist Church are in a similar situation. When a new pastor comes on board with a church there can be a lot of very normal issues that come up. The new pastor won’t do all the same things the old pastor did. They won’t preach the same, talk the same, act the same. This should not matter all the time but sometimes it does. Sometime, we as pastors walk into a new ministry and just begin full force without taking time to understand and evaluate the life of the church. There can be a failure to lay a solid foundation for the ministry. This is what we do not want to do here. So, for the first six months of my time here with you we want to focus on the foundation of the faith and the ministry. And the first thing to focus on when we are talking about foundations is the Gospel.
The primary foundational focus of Paul’s ministry was always the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 reminds us of Paul’s primary message to the churches in which he served. If this was the primary message of Paul, the Gospel, or the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, then it too should be the primary focus of our message here at Tunkhannock Baptist Church. So, as we look at “Laying a Solid Foundation” here in our new partnership as pastor and church, we need to look at the very foundation of the foundation. First things first. We need to talk about the Gospel.
There is not one clearer portion of Scripture on the Gospel than 1 Corinthians 15:1–11. In this passage Paul reminds us the content of the message that he presented to the church at Corinth, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection. Without the death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, Christianity is a lie. The foundation of our faith is this Gospel truth: The verifiable death and resurrection of Christ in the Gospel is the foundation of our faith, and the power of God unto salvation.
Paul has just concluded an extended section regarding divisions over corporate worship in chapters 12–14 in response to questions that we’re asked of him in a letter from the Corinthian church. Now, in 15:1–11, Paul is actually responding to an issue in the church that does not arise until v. 12, namely, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12). The issue was there were those in the church that denied a bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul’s answer is that, of course there is because Christ was raised therefore we have hope in our own resurrection. If Christ had not been raised then there was no point to Paul’s preaching or to Christianity at all. Without the resurrection, the foundation of the gospel, there is no hope and therefore Christianity is a lie. Paul then in 15:1–11 explains how indeed the foundation of the Gospel, the death and the resurrection of Christ, is indeed true, verifiable, and is powerful to save!
1. The Gospel is the Foundation and Maintainer of Faith (vv. 1–2)
The first two verses of chapter 15 serve as an introduction to Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of Christ.
Paul needed to remind the Corinthian believers of what he had originally preached to them. The main thrust of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the Gospel. The Gospel, or “good news” is simply the message of the death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ which provides atonement (the payment for sin), forgiveness, and promise of eternal life. Paul made it the main point of his mission as apostle to the Gentiles to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. This is the good news of Christianity.
Paul is curious how the Corinthian believers could believe that there was no bodily resurrection. The very foundational cornerstone message that they had heard and believed upon was the message of the Gospel that Paul had preached; namely that Jesus Christ had truly been raised from the dead in bodily form. This is what he had preached to them, and on no other basis was salvation possible. He calls them brothers, acknowledging they are saved individuals, but even saved individuals can be swayed by untruth. In the early church, Jews and Christians believed in the resurrection of the body, whereas the popular Greek perspective was that there was no bodily resurrection since matter was evil. The Corinthian believers were being affected by the teachings of the world. The same kind of teachings we are facing today. That the deeds done in the flesh are not important as we will transcend to a higher place at death and shed this body of flesh. Instead, the Bible teaches us that our bodies are good and made in the image of God and will be resurrected and redeemed. But, the Corinthians had forgotten what Paul had first preached to them. The thing in which they stood, and by which they were being saved was the message of the Gospel. It was on the basis of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection that they had faith.
He challenges the Corinthian believers to hold fast to this truth. Holding fast to the truth of Christ and His death and resurrection would prove that they truly were children of God. As they say in Britain, “the proof is in the pudding.” What is there in reality reveals the truth. If the Corinthians deny this core foundational truth of the resurrection of the dead, then they will prove that they never had true faith to begin with. They will have “believed in vain” as Paul has said. The proof, is in the pudding. One commentator writes,
The resurrection is the keystone that integrates the incarnation and Christ’s atoning death. If it is removed, the whole gospel will collapse. If there is no resurrection of the dead, humans remain under the tyranny of sin and death, and their bouts of doubt and despair are fully justified” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, p. 683).
The Gospel is the foundation and maintainer of our faith. This message is of untold importance. Christ’s death and resurrection, as Charles Wesley reminds us, is our power and the proof of our own resurrection. “Soar we now where Christ has led. Following our exalted Head. Made like Him, like Him we rise. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies” (Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”)
2. The Gospel is the Death and Resurrection of Christ (vv. 3–4)
Paul goes on to talk directly about the reality and the proof of the Gospel. The Gospel was of prime importance. It was the message of Paul’s preaching and the message upon which the Corinthians first believed. But, if they doubted the resurrection of the body, then there must not have been a resurrection of Christ’s body, and therefore there is no foundation of our faith and Christianity is a lie. Paul therefore ably explains what the Gospel is.
This message of Paul was delivered as of “first importance.” This is the very foundational core of the Christian faith. Without the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no Christian faith. Because this is such an important part of the faith, it has often been denied and disparaged throughout Church history. Many even so-called “liberal theologians” think the resurrection was myth and not that important to the true point of Christianity. But Paul says this is of first importance. This is what we believe in order to be saved. We mentioned before here that the Gospel is that 1) God is the sovereign creator and righteous judge, 2) man who was created in the image of God rebelled and therefore is destined for hell, 3) that in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, we have hope for salvation through His death and resurrection, and 4) that all men must respond by turning from their sins and embracing Christ Jesus as Lord. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no hope for salvation. There is no freedom from the guilt and penalty of sin. Only through Christ is salvation possible. That is why this is of first importance. Paul received the content of the Gospel message and proclaimed it wherever he went.
He explains that this message of the Gospel, was that Christ died for our sins. Christ died to redeem men from their sins. Christ died to purchase men and women for God. Christ died to provide an intimate relationship between Father and children that had been marred by sin and the curse. And not only do you have to take Paul’s word for it. He tells us that his death is in accordance with the Scriptures. The Old Testament was full of prophecies of the death of the Messiah. One need only to study the “Suffering Servant” passages in Isaiah 53:3–12 to know this. The Scriptures announced that the Messiah would come and suffer and die.
But, that was not the end of the story. Christ would beat death and would be resurrected. He would be buried, and raised on the third day. This was also proclaimed in the Scriptures. Not only in the passage from Isaiah 53 but also from Hosea 6:2 and from Jonah 1:17 Both the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ were predicted in the Scriptures. This was not something outside of God’s plan. God had planned from the beginning of time to send His Son to die for men and to beat death through the resurrection so men could have hope in their salvation and in their own resurrection.
Now Paul knows that the society that he lives in would deny the bodily resurrection. Miracles just don’t happen. They defy the laws of physics don’t they? How can something that is dead come back to life? Even in our modern medical sciences can we only “revive” someone after a brief amount of time otherwise there would be neurological damage. But, what about after 3 days? How could someone come back to life after three days? Paul’s day was no different than ours. We are natural cynics and need proof of things. We cannot take things on faith. Even today the core problem people have with Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, Paul does what makes the most sense, he offers proof; evidence of the resurrection of Christ!
3. The Gospel is a Verifiable Reality (vv. 5–10)
To prove to a culture that is naturally cynical of anything supernatural, Paul proves that Christ rose from the dead through eye-witness testimony.
i. The Resurrection was Verified by Eyewitnesses (vv. 5–7)
First, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that Jesus appeared to Peter, the chief of the apostles, after he rose from the dead. This is revealed to us in Luke 24:12. Peter and John were the first two men who followed Jesus to make it to the empty tomb. But it was not just a few people who saw the resurrected Christ. Jesus then appeared to the twelve. The apostles, including Matthias, Judas’ replacement, saw the resurrected Christ. We are told this in Acts 1:21–23.
But anyone could see through this. Of course the close associates of Jesus would lie that they had seen Him after his burial. You cannot trust those people as eye-witnesses. So Paul gives more proof. Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles, he appeared to 500 brothers at one time! And to add insult to injury, he tells the Corinthian believers that many of these believers are still alive! So, Paul says, “Don’t believe me? Ask them yourselves!” It’s hard to argue with 500 eye-witnesses!
Not only did He appear to His close associates and His followers, He appeared to his brother James, who was a leader in the Jerusalem church. We know Jesus’ family did not always believe in Jesus as the Messiah. They thought He was crazy at times! But His own family had seen Him now. And they believed! He appeared to all of the apostles which is larger than the “twelve” at this point and would include James and Paul himself. Christ appeared to hundreds of people after He had been buried. If this was not proof enough, the one who had first communicated the Gospel to the people at Corinth had also seen the resurrected Christ.
ii. The Resurrection was Verified by Paul (vv. 8–10)
Christ appeared to the “last” of the apostles, Paul Himself. Paul considered Himself unusual, and the least of all the apostles because He had not been with Christ before He died, nor did he see him in the same way the others did after the resurrection. He saw Him in the vision on the road to Damascus. This was Paul’s huge conversion experience where he turned from persecutor of the church to great apostle of the church and missionary to the Gentiles.
If they would not believe the testimony of Peter, the other apostles, and the early followers of Christ, then surely they would believe the eye-witness testimony of Paul himself? He was the first one to bring the Gospel to the people. They believed the message of Christ and Him crucified. Now, they had to believe that Paul had not lied but told the truth about the resurrection of Christ. And he could tell the truth about this because Christ Himself had appeared to Him after the resurrection and commissioned Paul as an apostle.
Through the grace of God, Paul says, he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. His grace was not in vain to Him because Paul had believed on Christ and in His death and resurrection and he was holding fast to this truth. Therefore, he had not believed in vain. On the contrary, his belief in Christ did not make him passive. No, Paul was zealous for Christ and for His church. It prompted hard work on Paul’s behalf. He had zealously persecuted the church and now through the grace of God had trusted in Christ’s death as payment for his sins, and in His resurrection as the hope of his salvation. Therefore Paul worked hard for Christ. And the Corinthians are the fruit of Paul’s hard work. Although Paul quickly acknowledges it is all of the grace of God and not a result of his hard work.
The resurrection of Christ, that bizarre reality to both ancient Gentiles and modern man truly did happen. It was prophesized in the Old Testament and it was verified by those in the early church. Eye-witness testimony of over 500 people does not lie. Truly, Christ was raised from the dead on the third day and now reigns at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ, the God-man, paid the penalty for our sins and rose from the dead as the hope of our eternal salvation. There is no sweeter message than this in all creation. This is the message of the Gospel. This is the good news. This is the foundation of our faith. This is what makes us Christians. This is what saturates all we do as Christians and all we do as a church. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
4. The Gospel is What Makes Men Believe (v. 11)
Paul says to us, the ultimate testimony of the truth of the resurrection, is that it is the foundation of any and every preacher of the Gospel. Whether it is the preaching of Paul, or the preaching of the apostles or others, they preached Christ crucified and resurrected. And on the basis of this message the Corinthians believed and were saved. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational truth on which we must believe to be saved. John MacArthur writes,
Without exception, the preaching and teaching in the early church centered on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Wherever Christ was preached and by whomever He was preached, His resurrection was the pivotal message that was proclaimed (MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 406).
The Gospel message, the message of Christ’s death and resurrection is what has the power to save. All of our methods, our programs, our procedures… none of these things can ever bring men and women to salvation. The thing that brings people to salvation is the simple message of Christ. The simple message that Jesus Christ, the God-man, came to earth for the purpose of redeeming men for God. He came and died to be our atonement. He stood in our place and died on our behalf. On that basis we were saved. We were justified by God; declared righteous. And on the basis of Christ’s resurrection we can defeat death and sin. We have hope that our salvation is secure for all eternity. We have the promise of eternal life in Christ. This is the message of salvation. This is the power of God. Salvation is in a man; Christ Jesus our Lord.
As a church we must place first things first. And as we look at setting a firm foundation for Tunkhannock Baptist Church, we must look at the first thing. The core foundational truth of Biblical Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel. The good news of Christianity is that God loved His creation so much He purposed to send His only Son to become man. And as infinite and finite joined together, there was hope for mankind. The God-man would do what no other man could do. He could die for the sins of a people who could not pay for their own sins. In His death he atoned for those sins. He provided forgiveness of sins. And by defeating death and being raised again on the third day He provided hope for eternal life for all of His children. This is the grand message of Christianity. This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. Hope for salvation through faith in the God-man. There is nothing I can do to redeem myself. It takes an outside force. It takes God’s making me alive again through the new birth, through belief in Jesus Christ.
Everything Paul said and did was Gospel saturated. He preached the Gospel at every opportunity; at every turn. The very message upon which the Corinthians believed was this Gospel message that Paul had preached. It was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that flowed from Paul’s lips. This too should be our focus.
Any church that departs from making Christ preeminent in their midst has fallen away from their first love in the words of Revelation 2:4. Everything we are, everything we do in the life of the church is all about Christ. Most of our churches today make everything about us. Most of our songs are about us and what we are doing for Christ. Much is made of us while little is made of Christ. When was the last time we sat down and said, “…we do this at our church because we love Christ?” When was the last time we evaluated what we did as a church for the purpose of making much of Christ and the Gospel? When we talk about the Great Commission do we do evangelism and discipleship for Christ? Do we make much of Christ in our teaching? Do we make much of Christ in our communication of the Gospel to people? Too often churches talk more about how “God can fix your marriage” or how “God has a wonderful plan for your life” instead of talking about Christ and how Christ is the only hope for salvation. How often do we talk about Christ as the only truth, the only way, the only life? How often do we talk about Christ as the foundation of our faith? How often do we talk about Christ in general? Does the Gospel drip from your lips as it does from the apostle Paul?
As we come together as church and pastor we need to set the agenda. We need to plot a course. And what we need to do is go about making sure our foundation is secure before we can build upon it. If we go about building on top of a shaky foundation, the whole structure will collapse. For the first six months of our ministry together, we are going to be like a home inspector. We are going to check out the structure of this church we call Tunkhannock Baptist Church and make sure before we build any more, that the foundation is secure. The foundation of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ and the work of Him on the cross and His resurrection. Is that the main thrust of everything we do here? Over the next few months we are going to look at other foundational truths like who is God, who is man, what is sin, what is salvation, what is a church, and so on. Let’s be prepared to study the Scriptures together so we can come together and check out our church to make sure we are standing on a firm foundation. The bedrock of that foundation is the Gospel.
Are you here this morning without standing on the firm foundation of Christ Jesus? Are you trying it “your way” when it comes to salvation? Are you seeking to be “good enough” to get in? The reality is, you all have sinned. And one sin separates us for eternity from an infinite and loving God. Our penalty for sinning against an infinite God is eternity in hell. Nothing you can do can save you from that destiny. You have no hope. The scales of your life will always tip toward death and damnation rather than life. Your only hope is faith in Jesus Christ.
If you are trusting in anything but Jesus Christ for salvation, admit to God that you are a sinner and deserving of death. Admit you cannot save your self. Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ truly is both fully God and fully man and that through his death and resurrection you can have hope for eternal life. Your sins can be forgiven and you can be empowered to pursue a godly life of following Christ. Believe upon Christ and you will be saved. Please, if you are trusting in anything but Christ, come and talk to me and I will seek to show you from the Scriptures how you can have eternal life.
Believers, we are a body of Christ united together through His death and resurrection. Let us in our ministry together make much of Him and little of ourselves. Let us lay a solid foundation together in Christ Jesus our Lord.