Have you ever tried to tell someone a story only to become aware that the story needs a context. You may say something like, “Wait, before I tell you, let me tell you what happened before that…” In a moment of self-awareness you realize that in order for them to understand what you are saying you need to give them some background, a survey of the events that lead to that moment you wish to emphasize. Have you done this?
Paul is doing something like that with the believers at Corinth. One of the many issues that he is forced to address is misinformation surrounding the resurrection. The Christians in Corinth were getting fuzzy on Jesus’ resurrection. And in order to understand the future resurrection of those in Christ, they – and we – have to make sure we know about this resurrection. But the resurrection is only one part of the gospel story. So, Paul has to has to back up a little:
“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…” (1 Cor 15:1–5 ESV).
Several things must be noted (two today, more later):
1. “Christ died…”
The gospel, the one Paul preached and delivered to the Corinthians, concerns itself first and foremost with the death of Jesus. Most people, Christian or otherwise, generally understand that Jesus had an unforgettable death and that it accomplished something. Jesus’ death is “the primary tenet of the Christian faith.”1 But many perhaps don’t grasp exactly what he died for.
2. “Christ died for our sins…”
Theories about what exactly was accomplished in Jesus’ death abound. Many of those concepts are compatible. But the one purpose or reason that stands out, indeed it cannot be denied, is that Jesus died for our sins.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6, 8 ESV).
Some, according to 1 Peter 2, take Christ’s death as an example for us to “follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Jesus suffered and he died to show us the extent we should go to serve him, so they argue. This may indeed be an implication of our relationship with Christ. But even in this passage it is our sins, our failings, our indiscretions, and our offenses that are in view:
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24 ESV).
This matter is essential. Understanding that Christ died for my sins, in my place, is the first word of “first importance” in the gospel. Missing this misses everything. “There is no true proclamation of the gospel which does not explain, in New Testament terms, the link between human sin and the death of Christ. Indeed, there is no gospel at all unless the death of Christ can be seen to deal with sin once and for all.”2
[to be continued…]
1 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 723.
2 David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians (The Bible Speaks Today; ed. John R. W. Stott; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 260, (emphasis mine).