During the French Revolution, somebody said to Talleyrand, bishop of Autun: "The Christian religionĖwhat is it? It would be easy to start a religion like that." "Oh, yes," Talleyrand replied, "One would only have to get crucified and rise again the third day."
The gospel or "good news" is the message that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3b-4). It is the gospel which was announced by an angel of the Lord as recorded in Luke 2:10-11: "And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord". It is the same gospel which was promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. In Romans 1:1-2, Paul wrote that he was "separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures." This gospel is described as "the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1), "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph. 1:13), and "the everlasting gospel" (Rev. 14:6). It is the gospel which Paul preached, and it is the gospel which I preach. It is a powerful gospel, a predicted gospel, and a proven gospel.
This same gospel is the hope of our worldóthe only hope of our world. It is Godís message of "good news" to a desperately needy world. May it have the same effect on us that it had upon those who heard Paul preach it.
I. A POWERFUL GOSPEL ( I COR. 15:1-2)
Paulís first epistle to the Corinthians does not primarily deal with doctrine, but this chapter is an exception to the rule. The simple message of the cross had been preached to the Corinthians. Their serious errors in both doctrine and actual practice was Paulís major concern as he sought to correct them. He was greatly concerned as to whether or not they had actually received the gospel. The apostle reminded them of the content of the gospel that he had preached to them. He also reminded them of their reception of it.
A. A Reminder From Paul (I Cor. 15:1a)
He reminded them of the gospel that he had preached unto them.
The term translated declare literally means, "to make known." The idea here may be, "I want you to understand" or "I remind you."
The reminder carries a tone of gentle rebuke. The idea is that it should not have been necessary for Paul to "declare" or make known a message with which these Christians were already acquainted. The gospel of Jesus Christ is such a great message that we should retain it carefully and heed it diligently. The truth is that we need to be reminded often of the very basics of the gospel. This is true because we handle it so carelessly Thus Paul gently rebuked his readers because they needed to be reminded of what he had preached to them.
The word gospel means "good news" or "a joyful announcement." Paul had preached to them the "good news" of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The verb translated preached literally means "to bring or announce good news."
The word "evangelize" is a transliteration of this term.
B. Their Reception of the Gospel (15:1b-2)
"Which also ye have received" (v.1b) reminded them that they had embraced Paulís messageĖthe gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Received" was the regular word used to describe the receiving of a tradition handed down by a teacher.
Paul passed the gospel on to the Corinthians and they embraced it for what it was. They took it to heart and acted upon it.
"Wherein ye stand" (v.1b) points to their standing in Christ as a result of their having received the gospel.
The tense of "ye stand" points to an action taken in the past the results of which continue until the present.
They had taken their stand on the validity of the gospel and they continued to stand firm until the present time.
The phrase by "which also ye are saved" (v.2a) points out that they were saved by receiving, or believing, and acting on this gospel.
The present tense of the verb indicates a continuous action.
It is the progressive character of salvation which is spoken of here. Literally the thought is that the Corinthian believers were being saved by the gospel which they had received. Salvation begins when a person first believes on or receives Christ as Lord and Saviour. Salvation progresses in our lives, however, as we grow in our knowledge of and fellowship with Christ.
"If ye keep in memory what I preached unto you" indicates that their being saved was conditional on their holding firmly to the Word which had been preached.
"If ye keep in memory" is literally "if you hold fast." Remember that we are talking about the progressive aspect of salvation here. Continuing in the Christian life is proof that salvation has really occurred. Failure to continue betrays an inadequate faith.
The Greek construction (First Class Conditional Sentence) expresses the assurance that these readers would hold firm or fast in their faith. There is no doubt expressed in the statement.
"Unless ye have believed in vain" points out that the Christian faith is vitally connected to the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Denial of the resurrection would demonstrate that their faith had not been genuine.
Notice the sequence of the historical events marked by the verbs in verses one and two.
Paul wrote, "I preachedˇye receivedˇye standˇye are saved."
His readers accepted the message, were standing in it with a firm foothold, and thus they were in the way of salvation.
People receive the message of Christ, believe on Him for salvation, stand firmly in Him and progress in the Christian life.
II. A PREDICTED GOSPEL (I COR. 15:3-4)
The gospel Paul preached to the Corinthians did not originate with him. It was the gospel he had received from God and passed on to them. It was a gospel, the essentials of which had been predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. Here Paul reveals the source and the substance of that gospel which he preached to them. And may I remind you that I preach the same gospel to you?
A. The Source Of This Gospel (15:3a)
Paul delivered to them the gospel he himself had been given by God.
The word rendered "delivered" is the verbal equivalent of the noun meaning "traditions."
He had simply preached to them what he had received from the Lord.
"First of all" points out that Paul considered it a priority to pass on what he had received from the Lord. It was a matter of utmost importance to him.
In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul made four assertions concerning the gospel he preached.
First, he wrote that it was "not after [according to] man." In other words, it is not the product of manís inventiveness and genius. It is a creation of the mind of God.
Second, Paul wrote that he did not receive it "of man." This is the same verb for "received" that we have seen already. It is the usual one for receiving a tradition handed down by others. Paul used this verb here to affirm that his knowledge of the gospel did not come through ordinary channels of human tradition.
Third, the apostle wrote that he was not "taught it." Human instruction was not the method by which he obtained his gospel.
Finally, Paul wrote that the gospel came to him "by the revelation of Jesus Christ." The word "revelation" means "an uncovering, an unveiling, a disclosing." In the New Testament, it is always used of a disclosure of religious truth previously unknown. Jesus Christ had been revealed to Paul in such a way that the revelation carried with it the substance of the gospel.
B. The Substance Of The Gospel (15:3b-4)
Paul gave the substance of the gospel in a three-fold statement.
First he wrote: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." The death of Christ is set forth as a historical fact. He "died for our sins" or "on account of" or "in order to deal with" our sins. This death was "according to the scriptures." The New Testament constantly affirms the prediction of Christís atoning death in the Old Testament scriptures.
Second, he wrote: "and he was buried." The tense of the verb "buried" tells a story, i.e. preaches a message. It sets forth an event which was true at one time, but is no longer a fact.
a. Third, the apostle wrote: "and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." The tense of this verb finishes the story. It speaks of a past event with results continuing to the present. He rose and He is still risen. "He stands risen" is a good translation of this verb. His resurrection occurred on the third day and was according to the ScripturesĖthe Old Testament.
III. A PROVEN GOSPEL (I COR. 15:5-11)
The gospel which Paul preached did not originate with him. He received it from the Lord and passed it on to them. The gospel which he preached was a powerful gospel and a predicted gospel. It was also a proven gospel. It was proven by supporting witnesses and the saved Corinthians.
A. The Source Of This Gospel (15:3a)
The credibility of the gospel is dependent upon the credibility of the resurrection.
Christís resurrection was attested by many witnesses.
The list of witnesses begins with "Cephas" (Peter), the first of the apostles to see the risen Lord, and ends with Paul, the "least" and the last of the apostles.
The list of witnesses which are presented in these verses are only representative and not exhaustive, and it is intended to show how well founded the message of the resurrection is.
In addition to Peter and Paul, the list includes "the twelve" (a sort of an official title for the group of apostles), the "more than five hundred" to whom the Lord appeared at one time ("at once"), most of whom were still alive when the first epistle to the Corinthians was written, "James" (probably the Lordís brother), and "all the apostles" again.
Paul saw the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Though he saw the Lord "last of all" (v. 8), his witness is on the same level as the others. Paulís description of himself as "one born out of due time" (v. 8b) or "one abnormally born" has been explained in various ways. Some have thought that it was intended to point to his violent and unnatural entrance into the circle of believers. Others have suggested that the Greek term, which literally means "miscarriage," was a term of contempt that Paulís enemies had hurled at him, i.e. "this so-called abortion of an apostle." Paulís description of himself may simply reflect his sense of unworthiness to be a disciple. Verse 9 and 10, a somewhat parenthetical statement expressing Paulís deep humility, lend support to this view. Paul recognized his unworthiness to be an apostle because of his past actions. He also recognized that Godís grace in calling him qualified him to be an apostle of Christ. Through Godís grace Paul had labored faithfully as an apostle. He labored "more abundantly" than any of the others, but only by Godís grace was it so.
B. Saved Corinthians (15:11)
The gospel, which included and specified the resurrection, was preached by all the apostles.
Paul had preached it to the Corinthians who had believed it and were saved as a result of their believing.
To deny the resurrection, as some of the Corinthians were doing, was to deny the teaching of the apostles and to deny the gospel of Christ.
Apart from believing in the resurrection of Christ, there is no salvation. In First Corinthians 15:13, 14, 17 we read, "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vainˇAnd if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins."
We who have received the gospel have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel. Paul considered the preaching of the gospel to be a priority (I Cor. 15:3a), and so should we. We are commissioned by Christ (Mark 16:15) to proclaim the gospel to every nation.
We have a gospel to proclaim. It is a powerful gospel, a predicted gospel, and a proven gospel. It is indeed "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).
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