Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — 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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV
After having spent three entire chapters dealing with the issues surrounding the use of spiritual gifts, Paul now shifts his attention to what he refers to as “of first importance.” the Corinthians had lost sight of the overwhelming significance of their salvation made possible by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In other words, they had allowed the gospel and its life-changing message take a back seat to what they believed to be the spiritual significance of the gifts. So Paul reminds them of the gospel he preached to them. It is the gospel message they had received and, by doing so, allows them to stand as justified before God as His adopted. And it is that same gospel,that is making possible their daily salvation – their transformation into Christ-likeness. The spiritual gifts do not accomplish any of this for them. It is the gospel and the gospel alone that redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and that guarantees our future glorification – our salvation made complete. And just to make sure they understand what he means by the gospel, Paul provides them with a summary statement that contains all the key elements that give the gospel its significance.
Jesus died – the death of Jesus is central to the gospel message. It was necessary that Jesus die in order that the penalty for our sins be paid and God be satisfied. Otherwise, we would still be guilty and under condemnation for our sins against God. But Jesus did die – in our place. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the death we deserved.
according to the Scripture – Jesus’ death was not happenstance or just a run of bad luck. It wasn’t the result of the Jewish leadership and their behind-the-scenes plotting against Jesus. It wasn’t even the result of Pilate’s orders or the Roman government’s power. It was preordained by God. The Old Testament prophets spoke of His death hundreds of years before it took place. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV
Jesus was sent by God to die. The penalty for mankind’s sins against God was death. And God, because He is just, required that the penalty be paid – in full. But out of His mercy, He provided a substitute, His own Son, to satisfy the just and holy requirement for a sinless sacrifice, because as the author Hebrews writes, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).
he was buried – Jesus’ death was real. He did not swoon or pass out. He was not put in the grave barely alive only to later revive and escape. He was buried because He was dead and the Romans were convinced of His death. It was His burial that paved the way for His resurrection. The rolling of the stone across the opening to His tomb and then sealed by the Roman guards convinced the disciples that their Messiah was dead and their hopes for a new kingdom were gone. They went into mourning and hiding. And the words of the two disciples whom Jesus encountered along the road after His resurrection reveal just how dejected they were.
Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.– Luke 24:19-21 ESV
he was raised on the third day – Jesus was not a martyr. He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who died, but who was raised back to life through the power of the Spirit of God. He was restored to new life and walked from the tomb in His resurrected body, living proof that He had accomplished what He had come to do and had satisfied the just demands of His Father in heaven. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV). And he follows that up with the good news that “n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV). It is His resurrection that assures us of our future hope of eternal life and glorification of these earthly bodies. The apostle John assures us, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV).
in accordance with the Scriptures – Once again, the Scriptures predicted Christ’s death, but also His resurrection. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:10-11 ESV
He was crushed, but He was also resurrected and restored. His days were prolonged. And as a result of His death and resurrection, many have been accounted as righteous.
and that he appeared – Jesus was seen by more than 500 people during the days after His resurrection. His appearances to His disciples renewed them hopes and revived their commitment to follow Him. He gave them their marching orders, commissioning them to carry on His work and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, calling him from a life marked by persecution of the church to a new mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s work and words were given to Him by the resurrected Christ. And he had been faithful to do what Christ had called him to do.
Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and appeared. That is the heart of the gospel message. And when anyone accepts the reality of those facts, placing his or her faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, they experience salvation. They are born again. They are given new life in Christ. Their sins are forgiven. They receive a new nature. They become a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. They stand before God as righteous, not because of anything they have done or accomplished, but because of the blood of Christ.