The Gospel and Our Salvation

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – 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.

1 Corinthians 15:1-5, RSV

This is the first in a series of messages entitled “Life in the Light of the Gospel.” I’m thrilled to be presenting them. They will all be taken from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he deals with a number of vexing problems, sticky moral issues and questions of faith. The apostle seeks to approach all of these by appealing to the central realities of the Christian gospel. He tries to see all of life in that light. Today I want to think with you about the theme that’s fundamental to all these studies. It’s the question: What is the gospel? And why is it so piercingly relevant to everything in our situation? Listen to these words from Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15:

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – 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.

When Christians hear the word “gospel” they often think of the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are often called “the four gospels.” That isn’t exactly accurate, though, because all four deal with the same gospel. Each is the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Well, what we have just read from 1 Corinthians 15 could well be described as “the gospel according to Paul.”

But that, too, can be misunderstood. When we speak of the gospel according to this or that apostle, the idea might be conveyed that these are this man’s opinions about the gospel. Each would have stoutly denied that. Paul insisted on a number of occasions that the gospel was not really his at all. It was God’s gospel. Paul didn’t manufacture it or dream it up. It was delivered to him. He testified all his life long that the gospel which he preached had been committed to him and entrusted to him by the risen Christ. He as a preacher of the gospel was simply passing on what he had received.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance to the apostle of this gospel. It was the dynamic center of everything he ever preached or wrote. It was the core of his theology and the fountain of his ethical outlook. The gospel was the basis for his entire life work. He tried to see everything in the light of it and do everything for the sake of it. For this he toiled and suffered. For this he was ready at any time even to die. What to the apostle Paul was this priceless gospel?

TWO GREAT EVENTS

First, the gospel consisted of certain historical events. It had to do with particular happenings in space and time. It centered in the career and experiences of one human being, one historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. The events were basically two: Jesus died and He was raised on the third day. His burial and His appearing to His followers are also mentioned but they simply highlight the two central events. The fact that He was buried attests that He truly died. The fact that He was seen by His followers after His resurrection points to the reality of that great event. Everything in the gospel centers around this: Jesus died and rose again.

One of these seems quite ordinary, doesn’t it. Jesus died. “What’s remarkable about that?” asks someone. “Everyone dies.” But strangely, the death of Jesus plays a role in history like no other dying. I have a huge book in my library that chronicles 100 of the greatest events in human history. Do you know that one of those, according to these writers (not particularly religious people), was the crucifixion of Jesus?

The other event was not at all ordinary. It was extra-ordinary in the most profound sense. It was a one-of-a-kind event – nothing like it before or since in human history: resurrection! But both of these happenings are datable in history, localized in time, attested by witnesses. Each is backed up by impressive evidence. The gospel thus is primarily an announcement of things that have happened.

And I might add, a joyful announcement. It’s the kind of good news that’s too big to keep to one’s self, the kind you could shout to your neighbors across the street. Something like this: “Have you heard? The war’s over. The boys are coming home!” Or, “The baby’s born. Mother and daughter are doing fine.” Or again, “The tumor is benign. He’s going to be all right.” The gospel is a supremely gladdening word about wonderful events. That’s what they signalize in Russia on Easter day. One believer says to another, “The Lord is risen!” And the happy, excited answer comes back, “He is risen indeed!”

ACCORDING TO PLAN

But another vital phrase in Paul’s description of the gospel puts these events into a certain framework. Paul writes that Jesus Christ died and rose “according to the scriptures.” In other words, these were not isolated, random events. They were the outworking of a divine plan, the goal and fulfillment of what had been revealed in the Old Testament.

That’s what the apostle means when he says that the gospel is God’s gospel. The Almighty has always had these things in mind. He has decided in advance to bring them about. They happen according to His loving design.

How did the apostles know that these events took place according to the Scriptures? They learned that, principally, from Jesus Himself. During His public ministry, He had referred repeatedly to the way in which the Scriptures were being fulfilled in His life and experience. Then, after His resurrection, He went through the Old Testament with them, explaining how various things in the law and the prophets and the psalms had now been realized in His death and resurrection.

We don’t know exactly which Scripture passages He expounded to them in this way, but we can be sure what some of them were. One of those about His death was surely the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. There we read of a Suffering Servant of the Lord who would be despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. In His terrible sufferings, He would bear the griefs of His people and carry their sorrows. More, He would be wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. He would be cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of His people. This great passage was referred to on a number of occasions both by Jesus and by His apostles.

For the resurrection, one of the key Old Testament passages was certainly Psalm 118. It is quoted several times in the New Testament writing. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The long history of God’s ancient people had led up to these events. Prophets and sages had spoken of them. Generations of suffering believers had longed to see their day. For all the centuries of human history, God had been preparing the world for Good Friday and Easter morning, and now the hour had come. Jesus had died and been raised again – according to the Scriptures.

FOR OUR BENEFIT

But I imagine that many people could hear all this and not be particularly excited about it. “So these things happen. So God planned them. So what?” In other words, some hearers don’t see any particular relevance of these things to their own lives. They can’t see how Jesus’ dying and rising again long ago makes any difference for them today. Now for one more phrase of enormous significance in Paul’s presentation of the gospel. It’s not only that Jesus died and was raised the third day. It’s not only that these happened according to the age-old purpose of God in the Scriptures. The heart of the gospel emerges in the affirmation that He did this for us. Listen again: “I delivered to you,” says Paul, “as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins.” That, friend, is what makes these events to be good news. That’s what gospel means, you see: good tidings, a glad, joy-bringing message. All of this happened for our benefit, for our blessing, for our sakes.

Let’s say you’re at a graduation service and a number of awards are being announced. You listen with mild interest as the reading goes on, but perhaps your mind wanders a bit. Then suddenly you hear your daughter’s name. A coveted award is being given to her. Suddenly, you’re all ears. You’re not simply interested at this recital of awards: you are overjoyed. What had been a vital concern only to others is now a source of wonderful excitement to you. You’ve heard an announcement that has touched your home and your heart with great joy.

The Christian gospel means comparatively little until we know that it is meant for us. Indiscriminate communications which show no personal interest in us, we discard impatiently, don’t we. How many letters that come to your house addressed “occupant” do you take the time to read? But if it’s addressed to you personally and shows a knowledge of your situation, and more than that, if it conveys to you an unspeakable gift, then you receive it eagerly.

SAVING POWER

The gospel is good news not only because it announces a great benefit and tells us that it’s meant for us, but also because it brings to us the very reality of which it speaks. Paul is reminding the Corinthians in this passage that he has preached the gospel to them in the past and that they have received it. They have welcomed it as true. They have internalized it as God’s message. They have trusted in this Christ who died for them and rose again. Now it is the gospel in which they stand, and best of all, it is the gospel by which they are saved.

Believing this good news, trusting in the living Lord who is at the center of it, they have experienced what it is to be forgiven. They have begun to know release from the enslaving power of evil. They have been given a strong hope and a joy that keeps springing up even in the midst of pain. God has breathed His own life-giving Spirit into their hearts. They have, right now, eternal life. They are both by adoption and new birth, the beloved children of God. They are rescued from all the tragic consequences of their sin. God is restoring in them His own glorious image. Through the gospel they have been saved. They are being saved. Finally, when Christ returns, that saving work of God in their lives will be brought to completion.

That’s why the apostle Paul wrote in another place that he was not ashamed of the gospel. He made no apologies about preaching it and urging it upon people. He would have done anything in the world to see that it reached everyone. Why? Because the gospel is not a theory or an opinion; but a power. It’s a power that brings salvation to all who believe it. Wherever anyone in the world will hear this gospel that Christ died for us and rose again, will accept it with a believing heart, will trust in this risen, reigning One, there the greatest of all miracles happens. That person is freely, totally, forever accepted by God. That person is quickened again to a life that will never die. That person becomes a part of God’s glorious new creation and will one day be made completely like Jesus Christ.

That’s why I tell you, in the Lord’s name, that according to the age old purpose of God, Jesus Christ has died for your sins and been raised again. I tell you that so that you, believing in Him, may be forever saved. May it be so! God bless you.