A good foundation is important if you want to be successful in life. A builder needs to build on a solid foundation or the building will not last. A person who writes computer software has to work hard to get the “bugs” out of their software before they can hope to make any sales. An athlete needs to have good fundamentals before they can excel. A musician needs to know their scales. Healthy people need a foundation of love and strong values.
In a similar way the Christian faith must be built on a firm foundation. This foundation on which we build is called “the gospel”. Churches that are not built on the firm foundation of the gospel message are not really Christian, no matter what the name of the church says.
This Easter Sunday I want to examine the foundation of faith and life. This morning I ask that question, “What is it that a true believer believes? What is the gospel message?” It seems elementary and hopefully very familiar to you. But on this Easter Sunday I want to inspect our foundation. I want to be sure that we have the basics correct so we can go on to build from there.
To discover what true believers believe we need to let God inform us. In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul tells us clearly what elements of the gospel are of “first importance.”
3 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.
CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
Notice in this simple phrase the Apostle Paul affirms several things.
The Reality of Sin. I get the feeling that today people read the words about sin and rebellion and quickly dismiss the notion as something from the “days of old” when people were more “primitive”.
What arrogance! Do we really assume that because we have gone forward in time we have necessarily advanced as a civilization? We have fancier gadgets and our lifestyles are more affluent, but have we really advanced? Think about it.
- We can make bigger bombs and know more efficient ways to kill greater amounts of people.
- Political Debate and statesmanship has given way to the politics of sound-bites
- Pornography can now be piped right into our homes
- Character has been replaced by ruthless determination to let nothing stop our quest for success . . . not even the needs of those around us.
- A man’s word has been replaced by stacks of legal documents
- Moral purity has given way to “whatever feels good”
Between 1960 and 1996 population increased by 41 percent, violent crime increased by 560 percent. Surely there is a great disparity in figures now. Crimes are more heinous (consider all the attacks on children) and criminal activity is beginning earlier and earlier.
Have we really advanced? Is it possible that our resistance to the notion of sin is really just another indication of our refusal to accept responsibility for our actions? Each of us has to admit that we fail to live up to the standards we set for ourselves, let alone the standard set for us by God. Sin is not just a problem for “the other guy” it’s an addiction we all share.
The gospel message starts by recognizing our problem. We are sinful people. God has standards and we ignore them. God tells us the right way to live and we refuse to bow to His authority in our lives.
The Need for a Savior. Christ DIED for our sins. Paul was affirming the deadly nature of sin. Sin is so serious, that Christ had to die to pay for it. What we trifle with, God calls treason! What we dismiss as a moral lapse, God calls rebellion. We are so deeply in debt because of sin that we will never be able to get out on our own.
This is another concept people seem to have trouble grasping. Many religious people around us believe they can in essence “save themselves”. They believe if they do the right things most of the time then they will be granted eternal life.
Many people actually think that one good act cancels out one bad act. That’s like saying one turned in homework assignment cancels out a homework assignment that is not turned in. It’s an absurd idea. When you turn in your homework you are doing what is required, there is no extra credit for doing the right thing. When we do something good we are only doing what we should be doing — the good deed cancels out nothing.
This leads us to a desperate situation. God demands holiness. Sin makes holiness impossible. We need help. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death”. Our sin gets us a death sentence. Our rebellion keeps us from Heaven. We are in trouble. We need help.
Christ is Our Savior. Christ died for OUR sins. He was our substitute. He took our place. His life was given as a ransom for our lives. His death was purposeful and intentional. As the Son of God His life was of sufficient value that it could be given as payment for all who would believe.
Jesus died for the sin we have committed, the sin we commit, and the sin that will commit. Jesus was not giving us a “free pass” to continue sinning; He was giving us a way to start over. Jesus died on the cross to show us that God has not given up on us. He died so that we had the chance to be children of God rather than children of the Devil.
This Was according to the Scriptures. The New Testament argues that the entire Old Testament was pointed to Jesus. The sacrificial system pointed to the need for a substitute, a Savior. The law made us aware of our sin so that we would embrace a Savior. The prophets pointed to one who would be a suffering servant. Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us his own way, but that Lord has laid on him the iniquity (sin) of us all, so that we might be right with God.”
The gospel message is not something new and novel. Sending Christ into the world was not God’s “backup plan”. This is the plan God has from the beginning of the world. The long-awaited Messiah was Jesus.
HE WAS BURIED
This seems obvious. However, it is a significant fact. Today we are always talking about near-death experiences. You have certainly heard people say, “I died on the operating table three times!” It is important that we understand that Jesus did not have a near death experience. He did not pass out. He was not in a coma. He was dead and He was buried.
It’s also important to see that it was Christ who was buried. Some people teach that God’s Son merely “borrowed” this earthly body. They say Jesus took over the body at the baptism of Jesus and left the body before Jesus died. This is not what the Bible teaches. It teaches that the Son of God was born in a humble manner and was killed in a horrible way. The Son of God was buried not some rent-a-body.
HE HAS RISEN
Obviously, this is the truth we affirm and celebrate today. The Son of God who died willingly for our sin and was buried in a tomb—came back to life!
Three-year-old, Nicole, was as anxious for Easter to come. Nicole had picked out a new dress and Mom had given her a new white bonnet. As she and her dad stopped at a store to buy a new pair of shoes to go with her outfit, she said, “I can’t wait for Easter, Daddy!” He asked her, “Do you know what Easter means, honey?” She replied, “Yes.” “Well, what does Easter mean?” In her own sweet three-year-old self, with arms raised, a smile on her face, and at the top of her voice she said, “Surprise!!!” What better word could sum up the meaning of Easter! Surprise death! Surprise sin! Surprise mourning disciples! Surprise modern man, He’s alive!
Without the resurrection, Jesus is just another man who died for a cause. He would be well meaning in his intentions but not the Savior we need. The surprise of Easter is that Jesus was more than a great man . . . He was God reaching out to us.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that the resurrection was not just a doctrine someone dreamt up for a new religion. The Resurrection was attested by hundreds of eyewitnesses. At the time when Paul was wrote the witnesses were still alive. The story could easily be verified.
Jesus physically rose from the dead. There is a great deal of fascination at present on using mediums (they aren’t called that) to contact dead relatives. This brings everyone comfort because it “shows” that their loved one is still alive beyond the grave. This is not the kind of “resurrection” Jesus had. Jesus came back and was seen by people. They talked to him, they spent time with him, and they talked to Him not through a medium but face to face!
Paul tells us that if Christ has not been raised then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.
WE HAVE HOPE
The result of this gospel message is that we have hope. These are the facts of the gospel. These are the truths that make up the Christian faith. What are we to do with these truths?
Recognize that Grace is Offered. First we need to understand that God offers us eternal life through the forgiveness that is ours because of Christ’s work on our behalf. We don’t deserve this grace, but it is available to us. God offers us a way out . . . or way in to His Kingdom. The offer is open to anyone. No matter what sin stands in your past, you can have eternal life through Jesus Christ. You can be forgiven.
Grace Must be Received. In order to receive this gift, the Bible tells us we receive it by faith. In other words we must put all our confidence and trust in Christ and His work for us. Faith is not just belief; it is action. Faith is more than knowing facts; it is actually resting in Christ.
The best illustration I know to drive home this distinction is one I use often. If there are three frogs sitting on a log and two decide to jump in, how many are left? The answer? Three. Deciding to jump and actually jumping are two different things.
The Gospel calls us to believe the truth, or to jump. We must acknowledge the importance of the truth and then to live on the basis the truth.
True Grace Will Be Applied. Once we put our trust in Jesus we not only have eternal life in the future, we have new life now. Of course you’ve heard the great story about the little girl who went to see the Dr. The Dr. listened to the little girls heart and said, “I hear something in there. Is Barney in your heart?” The little girl said, “No, Barney’s on my underwear, Jesus is in my heart!”
The true believer is a person who is changed. That doesn’t mean we don’t still sin. It doesn’t mean we are perfect. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like us or that all our personality quirks are going to be erased. It does mean that we are changing. We are beginning to have new appetites. Instead of always hungering for the things of the world, we begin to hunger more for the things of God. Instead of pursuing our best interest (or what we think is our best interest) we pursue the way of the Lord. We do this because we are convinced of the Lord’s love for us. We know that His way is best. We know that His ways are perfect. When we build on this foundation of the gospel we are given a new reason to live, love, and hope.
I would be remiss this morning unless I asked an important question: What About You? Are you building on the solid foundation?
- Have you admitted the sin in your own life and your own helplessness in terms of your ability to get to heaven?
- Have you believed that Jesus is the one and only Savior, God become man who died to pay for your sin and who rose to give you eternal life? Have you decided that Christ alone is the Savior?
- Have you “jumped”? Have you confessed your sin and received the gift of life that God offers?
If you have never received Christ personally as your Lord and Savior may I lead you in a prayer? If this prayer expresses the intention of your heart, pray it to God along with me.
Father, I admit my sin before you. I take responsibility for my own rebellion. I know that I deserve Hell. I acknowledge that Jesus was God in human form. I acknowledge that He died for my sin, was buried, and was raised as the only way of forgiveness and eternal life. Today I receive the gift of forgiveness and new life that you offer. Today I no longer rely on my feeble efforts. Today I rest in your grace. Thank you for your love. Place your Spirit in me and help me to live my life for your glory. Amen.
There is one more thing, for those who have trusted Christ, it is important that we not get distracted in the work God has called us to do. As we reach out to a lost and weary world, it is important that we not forget the foundational truths of the faith. When we talk to people about the Christian faith it is easy to get off on all kinds of “side roads”. It is important that we make the “main thing” the main thing. It is essential that we make the foundational truths the foundation of our witness. It is easy to get off on discussions of,
- Church membership
- The miracles of the Bible
- Creation vs. Evolution
- The second coming of Christ
- The experience of the gifts or ministries of God’s Spirit
- Predestination and Free Will
These are secondary issues. They are interesting discussions that probe the truth of Scripture, but they are not the foundation of our faith.
I remember a day in high school. I was in the auditorium for a study hall and it was a day I felt pretty bold as a believer. I had this pocket size Bible (it was large enough that I felt that I was taking a stand for Christ, but small enough so no one knew I was taking a stand for Christ.) On this particular day I didn’t have anyone sitting around me (I thought), so I took out my Bible and started to read.
A guy from behind me said, “What you reading?” I admitted I was reading the Bible. He asked why? I said something like, “Because there is some good stuff in here”. (Not a bad start). Then he started talking about the fact that he had a hard time with the Bible because of Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale and so many other “unbelievable” stories”.
This is where I made my mistake. I began to talk to him about science and evidence and became distracted from the main message of the gospel. We had an interesting discussion but I never “got around” to pointing my classmate to the way of eternal life. I argued for the faith instead of introducing Him to Jesus.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to answer the questions of the world. But we must do so always with the realization that our discussion and debate must ultimately lead not to winning an argument, or revealing how intelligent we are; it must lead to the opportunity to share the main message of the gospel: Jesus died for our sin according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised from the dead. This is the message of the gospel. This is what must be believed and embraced if we are to have eternal life. This is the message of Easter.