Monday, April 9, 2012

The Most Important Thing - I Cor. 15:1-11

FBCRB 4/8/12

“The Most Important Thing”  I Cor. 15:1-11

Feb. 27, 1991, at the height of Desert Storm, Ruth Dillow received a very sad message from the Pentagon. It stated that her son, Clayton Carpenter, Private 1st Class, had stepped on a mine in Kuwait & was dead.

Ruth Dillow later wrote, "I can’t begin to describe my grief & shock. It was almost more than I could bear. For 3 days I wept. For 3 days I expressed anger & loss. For 3 days people tried to comfort me, to no avail because the loss was too great."

But 3 days after she received that message, the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, "Mom, it’s me. I’m alive." Ruth Dillow said, "I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I recognized his voice, & he really was alive." The message was all a mistake!

She said, "I laughed, I cried, I felt like turning cartwheels, because my son whom I had thought was dead, was really alive. I’m sure none of you can even begin to understand how I felt."

Perhaps not, but some who walked the pages of the N.T. would have understood how she felt because they experienced the same emotions themselves. One day they watched their best friend & teacher being nailed to a cross. They witnessed His pain as He cried out, "I thirst!" & "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

They listened as finally He bowed His head & said, "It is finished!" & "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." They watched as His body was taken from the cross & buried. All their hopes & dreams were buried with Him.

Friday & all day Saturday they mourned, until finally, on "the first day of the week, early in the morning," the scripture says, some women made their way along the path that led to His tomb, wondering who would roll away the stone for them.

But when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away. And an angel there told them, "You’re looking in the wrong place. You’re looking for Jesus among the dead. He is not dead. He is alive. He is risen, even as He said!"

"He is risen!" That is what we celebrate this morning. When all the evidence is in we’re convinced that Jesus is alive. He is risen from the dead, & what a difference His resurrection has made!

Now, I have to warn you this morning that we have a situation here.  This is a potentially dangerous passage that we are going to be reading this morning because we are going to be reading about the most important thing in the world.  No kidding.  No president has ever declared a more life-changing message.  No great statesman has ever been quoted saying anything deeper or more profound than what we are about to read and I am here to warn you that it may cause problems. 

This passage has the potential to cause problems to anyone with a weak heart because it very well could excite you.  It could easily cause your heart to race and your palms to sweat.  Also, I have to warn you that I am already excited about it and if you were to accidentally say “Amen” or “Preach that!” or even “thank you, Lord” that I could just go off the deep end and if I go off the deep end then there is the possibility that I could preach 5 minutes over my allotted time.

We sure don’t want that.  We sure don’t want anyone’s life to be changed here this morning or that may put us late for the Easter buffet.  And while I don’t want any eternal decisions to be made today, I have to warn you that I fully expect it to happen today and right here.  How could lives not be changed by reading I Corinthians 15:1-11?  It has been called many times the most important passage in the whole Bible.  That’s pretty big talk, I know, but even Paul himself says that what he is writing is the most important thing.

This morning I would like for you to turn there and read silently as I read out loud the powerful words of God inspired by the Holy Spirit, talking about Jesus and written by the apostle Paul.

I Corinthians 15:1-11

Just this week I have heard of some interesting ways that churches have planned to celebrate Easter.  One church is having Batman and Robin show up in costume.  Another church in this area is going to be in 3-D with 3-D glasses provided.  Another church here in Texas is adding a tattoo parlor to its facilities.  For us, we might have a visit by Nicodemus and Mary Magdelene but I think we should focus on the Good News, the Gospel that Paul is telling the church at Corinth because I am pretty sure that is the most important thing.

It’s the most important thing because everything else in this book and ultimately in our lives as Christians hinges on the Gospel.  We have been looking recently at the passage in Ephesians 6 that says we are in a spiritual battle and we are to put on the armor of God and the very first thing we are to put on is the belt of truth.  Well, this is the very thread that holds that belt together.  If this is not absolute truth then everything unravels and our belt of truth falls and everything else we have been taught falls as well because it rests on the belt of truth.

So, if the most important thing in the world isn’t truth then as Paul also said in verse 19 we are to be pitied more than all men.  I have said many times that everybody wants to know the truth.  Nobody wants to go through life living a lie on purpose.  Nobody wants to waste their life chasing after the wind with nothing to show for it at the end of time.

And since I want to know the truth and I want you to know the truth let’s look at 5 brief pieces of evidence that prove this Gospel, this Good News is, indeed, truth.

The first evidence or testimony that Paul provides is the testimony of the church to which he is writing in Corinth.  In verse 1, Paul addresses them as “brothers” which is to call them fellow-Christians with him.  He says to them that the Gospel he is preaching is the Gospel by which they are known, much like our church is known for holding the Gospel to be truth.  Paul says they have received it from him and now they have taken their stand with it.

The city of Corinth was known even in the pagan world for its moral corruption.  In classical Greek, to behave “like a Corinthian” meant you were involved in sins unlike most others.  Paul warns them against such things in chapter 6 where he talks about the sexually immoral, the homosexuals, idolaters, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers and the like.

But the church was different.  They were now known for taking up and holding on to the truth of the Gospel and, again like our church, they had seen God work and had seen Him prove Himself faithful over and over again.

The next evidence or testimony that Paul provides in verse 3 is the testimony of the scriptures.  The Old Testament clearly predicted Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and Paul says here that what he delivered to them was of first importance, the most important thing and that he didn’t make it up but delivered it to them as he received it.  In the days after Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road he learned a lot quickly including to what those passages were referring in Genesis 22:8, Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Hosea 6:2. 

Over and over again, either directly or indirectly, literally or in figures of speech, the OT foretold of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Paul even says again in verse 4 that this is the testimony of the scriptures.

After the testimony of the scriptures, we have the testimony of the eyewitnesses.  Verses 5, 6 and 7 tell of the people who actually saw Jesus in bodily form after His resurrection.  It is interesting that the first one listed is Peter.  Why do you think Jesus revealed Himself to Peter first?  Only a few days after Peter denied and abandoned Jesus, Jesus comes back and shows Himself to Peter, not because Peter deserved it but to show God’s grace.

I have an idea that if God could show us one thing about ourselves it would be that we are a people of pride and that if He could show us one thing about Himself it would be that He is a God of grace.

So, of these eyewitnesses, we have the witnesses of quality in the 11 remaining apostles and then we see the witnesses of quantity in verse 6 where it says He was seen by over 500 people.  Paul says that most of those 500 people are still living as of the time he wrote this as if to say, “Go ask ‘em for yourself!”  Paul knew that in those days that with the witness of just 2 people you could be found guilty or innocent of a crime.  We have seen even lately in the news how important the witness of just one or two people can be.

Then in verse 8 Paul breaks out the testimony of a special eyewitness.  It was Jesus who appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road some years later than He appeared to all of the others and so Paul uses his own testimony as a witness for the resurrection.  The definition of an apostle includes one who had seen Jesus with his own eyes and Paul never doubted his apostleship but he also never ceased to be amazed that, of all persons, Christ would have called him to that high office.

Paul knew all of his sins were forgiven and he was not plagued by feelings of guilt over what he had done against God’s people but he couldn’t forget all that which he had been forgiven.  Paul hadn’t forgotten who he had been but he recognized it was God’s grace that made him who he now was and that is what he is saying in verses 9 and 10.

Paul and I both conclude our messages with verse 11 where he calls on the testimony of the common message.  By “common message” I mean the same message that the disciples were saying and the 500 were testifying to and the church; they were all saying the same thing.  Paul says whether it was them (the disciples, 500) or Paul himself, they all preached and taught and testified to the same Good News, the same Gospel.

In fact, the very first time the Gospel was ever preached it was Peter who stood up on the day of Pentecost and told the crowd around him in Acts chapter 2 the Good News.  It says that Peter stood up and with a loud voice declared that it was you evil men who crucified Jesus and He died on the cross but God raised him from the dead on the 3rd day and provided our way into Heaven and into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Peter, who just days before denied and abandoned Jesus, was preaching one of the most powerful and life-changing sermons ever preached, bringing 3000 people into the Kingdom that day.  Peter, like Paul, used the Old Testament as proof of his testimony as well as what he had seen with his own eyes.  Peter, like Paul, told them how Jesus died, was buried and resurrected and that the people should repent and be baptized.  He ended by saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

And so I stand here this morning and like millions of others before me, I tell you to save yourselves from this corrupt generation.  Today is the day of salvation!  We are not given the promise of another breath.  Are you waiting for more proof?  Is it not enough to have the testimony of the church, the scriptures, eyewitnesses and a common message proclaimed by millions of people?

It’s the message of millions of people who have heard the Good News and made the decision to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.  And it’s my message to you today.

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