Easter is a time of rejoicing and celebration. Churches are full and families travel to be together. We often wear our best clothes and have big family gatherings. It is a time of celebration, but I’m afraid that we miss the best part of the celebration.
This morning we look at the first verses of 1 Corinthians 15. This chapter is one of the most popular Easter texts in churches because it is a bold proclamation of the reality and the importance of the real, literal, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul argues in this chapter that the resurrection of Jesus really matters.
This morning we aren’t going to focus on the reasons for believing the facts of the resurrection I hope you know those arguments and if you don’t I hope you will check out our sermon archive online or read many of the good books on the subject. According to Paul, the resurrection is the key to our faith.
This morning we are going to look at just the first couple of verses and I am going to zero in on just one word in those verses.
Now, brothers, 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.
There is a word that is repeated in both of these verses. It is the Word “gospel” The word “gospel” comes from a Greek word that means “to tell the good news”. This morning we look at the fact that the message of Christ, His death, and His resurrection, is “Good News”.
In Tim Keller’s Book, KING’S CROSS (an excellent book that reflects on the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark), Keller made an observation that gave me an “Ah-Ha” moment. He wrote,
The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, “This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.” But the gospel says, “This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.” (Keller, KING’S CROSS Kindle 327)
Think about it! Every other belief system gives us rules and guidelines of what we must do to be acceptable to the God of the Universe. There is no peace in these belief systems because there is always more to do. There is always the fear that you have not done enough or are going to mess up and miss out on God’s Kingdom. These faiths may inspire but they do not set us free.
The message of Christianity has to do with what GOD has already done for us in Jesus Christ. It is a message about His actions (not ours). It is about Him drawing us to Himself rather than us trying to find Him. It is an announcement rather than a prescription.
Even as Christians we can miss this fact. We come out of church or Bible Study and feel like we have to “try harder” or “do more” to be accepted by God. Too many believers walk around as if they are carrying the burden of sin on their shoulders. We are like sick people desperately trying every home remedy in the hope that we might find the right combination.
According to the Bible, we should be people who are singing and dancing! We have been made well by an act of God! Darkness has been transformed by light. Burden has been replaced by freedom. Obligation has been replaced by delight.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that when we turn to Christ we have no responsibility for obedience. We do. Becoming a follower of Christ means to become a follower of Christ and do what He tells us to do. We serve Him however, not to earn His favor but to show our love in response to His favor!
Think about it like a relationship. In the early days of a dating relationship a person tries to win the heart of another. You labor to get someone’s attention, to earn their trust, and hopefully to light a flame of love in their heart. We are on our best behavior and work hard to hide our faults.
Once you are married things change. You no longer have to try to earn love because the one you love has graciously given themselves to you. Does that mean you stop working at the relationship? No! You love the person and you want to honor them and cherish them. You may actually work harder . . . but your motivation is different. You now work out of the joy of love rather than fear of rejection.
So it is with the believer, we serve the Lord from within a relationship rather than being on the outside trying to get in.
What Is The Good News?
Listen to the Good News as described by Paul,
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 Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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. (3-8)
Notice the contents of the Good News.
- Christ died as our substitute as a payment for our sin
- In doing so He did what God promised He would do
- He was buried (in other words He really died)
- He was actually, literally, bodily, and REALLY raised on the third day!
- He appeared to large groups who saw and verified His resurrection.
Basically, the good news is a set of historical facts. Jesus lived, died, and rose from the grave. The facts are important but it’s what the facts mean that makes it Good News. The work of Christ has made it possible for us to be freed from our rebellion against God so that we might enter into a love relationship with God.
Why Is This Good News?
If we thought about it we could come up with a pretty lengthy list of why the message of Jesus Christ is good news. But let’s stick with Scripture. If we listen to what Paul says in the rest of this chapter we come up with some pretty good reasons why the gospel is good news.
First, it tells us that this life is not all there is. In verse 12-13 Paul writes,
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Paul is saying the good news of Jesus is that there is life beyond the grave. As we get older and see our bodies wearing out we don’t have to feel that we are standing at the edge of a steep cliff that leads to nothingness. Death is not non-existence! There is life beyond the grave!
When we stand in front of a freshly dug grave and mourn the loss of someone dear to us, we don’t have to despair. The grave is not the end of the story! Those who have put their trust in this Jesus; who have embraced Him as the Savior and Leader of their life; will live even though they die!
Practically, the Bible tells us that those who have been treated unfairly in this life; those who feel that they missed out on blessings or were shamefully treated, or falsely accused; the message is simple: the story is not over. There is a life beyond this one where justice will be done; wrongs will be righted; vindication will take place. You don’t have to resign yourself to the fact that “life is not fair!” It’s not “fair” on this side of the grave . . . but that’s not the end of the story! This chapter may not have ended well but . . . it is only the first chapter! Many glorious and wonderful things await us. The plot lines of this life will one day make sense.
Some talk about eternal life and Heaven as if it is wishful thinking. They make it sound like such thoughts are just a coping mechanism. The message of the gospel is clear: the reason you long for something more is because there IS something more. The reason we talk about reunions in Heaven is because there IS a reunion coming for those who believe! The resurrection of Jesus verifies these truths.
Second, the Resurrection underscores the good news that our sin, our failures, and our weaknesses have been removed from our record before God! Look at verses 17-18,
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
Anyone can tell us that they are giving their life as a payment for sin. When Jesus came back from the dead He showed that His promise was authentic! Because Christ has been raised we know that those who put their trust in Him . . . no matter what they have done . . .are forgiven and made new.
Some of you are going to say, “Hey! That’s not right. Somebody should pay for what those people did!” The message of Easter is simple: someone did pay and His name is Jesus.
Imagine! Every rebellious act; every foolish act; every hurtful act . . . forgiven. Every failure, every time we ignored God, every time we let others (including ourselves) down . . . forgiven. Do you find this hard to imagine? Of course we do! It is such a wonderful thought that it seems impossible.
If you are like me, if someone told you that you could go back and relive one moment of your life and undo a mistake made or a hurt caused, I would find it difficult to pick a time. Not because there aren’t things I wish I could undo . . . it’s because there are so many of them!
The good news of the gospel is that because of Christ, you and I can stand before the Holy Judge of all the Universe (the verdict that matters) and have nothing on our rap sheet! We will be accepted by God as if we had followed Him perfectly in our lives! This will happen not because we have worked so hard. . .it will be because God in His incredible mercy has provided for our salvation through Jesus. It’s a gift. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. But God extends it anyway.
A person who has battled cancer longs to hear these words: the cancer is gone! Those are incredible words. However there are words that are more wonderful to hear: “Your sin is gone; it has been forgiven.” It is possible because of Christ.
Third, the Gospel is good news because it assures us that the sacrifices of this life are worth making. Listen to these words in 29-32)
29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Let’s take a brief detour. Verse 29 is the verse to which Mormons turn to justify their practice of baptism for the dead. Paul is not advocating or even condoning baptism of the dead.
Paul recognized that that some people were being baptized for the dead (this practice did not originate with the Mormons). These were not genuine believers. Notice that Paul didn’t say, “Why do YOU baptize people for the dead?” Instead he refers to “those” or “they”. Paul is not condoning the practice; he is arguing that even this non-Christian practice from people outside the church, shows that people have an innate belief in life beyond the grave.
If Paul was writing today he might have said, “Why do you light a candle for someone who is dead if this life is all there is?” Or, “In quiet private moments why do you sometimes talk to someone who has died as if they are still here?” Or, “Why do you say that you are working to make your parents proud, if they have already died?” Paul is not saying that any of these things are noble or good. He is just saying: Why are you making all this effort to keep in touch with or help those who have died, if there is nothing beyond this life? And if there IS life beyond the grave (and there is) then why not receive the One who makes that life possible?
Now, let’s get back to the assertion about the sacrifices of life. Why risk your life to proclaim the gospel? Why live more simply so you can be generous to others? Why listen to a friend late into the night? Why bail someone out of jail when there is a good chance you will not get your money back? Why coach the neighborhood kids in baseball when none of them seem to appreciate the effort? Why visit someone who is sick and dying in the hospital? Why bother with these things? We do them because we serve a risen Savior! We live sacrificially because we know someday we and others will stand before God. We want to show others the good news of the gospel and we want to live in such a way that when we stand before the Lord He will be pleased with the way we have honored Him.
Sacrifice is noble and wise because this life is not all there is. While we live in the body we are serving the Lord of life and no sacrifice is foolish. It is not a waste of time to live obediently; it is not foolish to sacrifice to help others; it is not a mistake to give up our comfort and even our life for the cause of Christ. Why? Because this is not all there is!
So here is the question for you this Easter: Does Easter make you want to try harder and live better so that you can earn God’s favor (a frustrating endeavor) or does it lead you to rejoice at the good news that we have been forgiven, accepted, and given new life through Jesus Christ? Does Easter bring you good advice or good news?
Think about the difference between the two. A faith that presents good advice is like a nation heading off to war. There will be battles, fatalities, and deep wounds. The strategy may change many times and some days you will make progress and some days you won’t. You may win, lose or end in a draw. You won’t know until the war ends.
There are lots of good advice strategies. Some believe in self-discovery. They think of themselves as progressive and open-minded and consider Christians to be narrow minded bigots. They believe each person should determine their own truth (unless of course your truth happens to disagree with their truth!).
Others believe in education. They believe the answer to every question is to learn more stuff. If the spiritual life cannot be boiled down to a fact sheet or proved by some experiment in the lab they dismiss it as untrue.
Still others dismiss the whole thing and say the goal in life is simple: have a good time. They don’t even consider issues of eternity because they believe such issues are irrelevant to daily living.
Most of these people know little joy in their life. Their laughter is shallow, their peace is fragile, their hope ebbs and flows like a wave. They face death either with fear or resignation.
The Good News of the Gospel is different. It’s not like going off to war, it is like a ticker-tape parade for troops that have come home after a victory. The battle is won. The turmoil is over. Uncertainty is replaced with gratitude. Anxiety is replaced by peace, life and joy. Fractured families are restored. The gloom of uncertainty is replaced by the sunshine of freedom’s victory.
The good news of the gospel is an announcement of new beginnings, healing, life beyond the grave, and a relationship with God right now that is real, deep, and unequaled by anything else the world has to offer.
Please, hear the good news of Easter! This is the real reason for our celebration. If you have never embraced this good news I invite you to do so today. Do so not because you find it comforting to believe in life beyond the grave . . . embrace Christ because the resurrection is true! Open your arms and your heart to this Jesus. Turn to Him for forgiveness and new life. Dare to believe that God is willing to forgive you and make you new. If you will do so, the good news of Easter will set you free to rejoice, worship, and follow Him into a life more wonderful than words can describe and far far better than we could ever deserve..
Please don’t leave here today like a student who has been given a heavy homework assignment. Instead, leave here like a Father who has just been blessed with a new baby! Leave here with your heart full; you senses alive; your joy overflowing; and with a deep desire to share the good news, the great news, with anyone who will listen.