Topic:Of First Importance
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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…
1 Corinthians 15:3-4
There are three elements of the gospel. First, Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. Isn’t it amazing that he does not mention a word about the whole life of Jesus? That is rather startling, but that is where the gospel begins. He does not even say, “Christ died.” Ask people today what the gospel is and this is often what they will say, “Well, Jesus lived and died.” No, that is not the gospel. Everyone believes that Jesus died. Go to any of the modern presentations of the life of Jesus and you will find they all end at the death of Jesus. But there is no good news in that. The good news is Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . The scriptures tell us that his death accomplished something for us. It changed us, it delivered us, it set us free. That death had great significance in the mind and heart and eyes of God, and that is the good news. As Peter puts it in his words, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” (1 Peter 2:24 RSV). Or, to use the words of Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5 KJV).
The second element of the gospel is that Jesus not only “died for our sins according to the scriptures” but he was also “buried.” Why does Paul include the burial of Jesus? Is it not enough that Jesus died and rose again? The reason for it is that when his disciples came and took the body of Jesus down from the cross, it marked their acceptance of the fact of his death. Did you ever realize how hard it was for them to accept the fact that he died? They did not want to believe it when he himself told them that was what he was going to do. When it happened they went away stunned and unbelieving. But somewhere along the line some realist among them faced up to it and said, “We have got to go get his body, and bury him.” Joseph of Arimathea came forward and offered a tomb, and with loving hands they took his body down from the tree. They wrapped it in grave clothes, bound it tightly. They embalmed him with spices, and then they placed him in a tomb where he lay for three days and three nights. There is no question that the disciples believed that he was dead. They could never have entertained any idea that he had merely fainted on the cross, or entered into a coma, for they themselves had performed the burial service. That is why Paul adds that here. It marked the acceptance of the disciples that Jesus was truly dead.
But the third element is, “he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Again, he fulfilled the predictions. It was anticipated that he would die; it was equally anticipated that he would rise again from the dead. On the third day, to the amazement of the disciples, he fulfilled all predictions. He was not merely resuscitated (that is, coming back to the life he had before), he was resurrected. That means he came back to a life he had never lived before, a real life, a glorified life, a different life, and yet in the amazing mystery of the resurrection, the same Jesus with the wounds in his body that they could touch and feel and see for themselves.
That is the story of the gospel — three basic facts. These are not doctrines; these are not philosophies; these are not ideas that men have had about what God should be like. These are simple, hard-nosed facts that occurred in history that cannot be eliminated or evaded. There they are. These facts have changed the history of the world. Our faith does not rest upon mere philosophy but upon facts that have occurred and cannot be taken away from us.
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Heavenly Father, thank you for the marvel, the wonder of the gospel. Help me to understand that this is to be the center of my life, the most basic thing about me is my faith in this good news.
Have we grasped the importance of the three elements of the gospel which are essential to our faith? Do we see them as actual historic facts which give total authenticity to our life and our witness?