THE ONE, TRUE GOSPEL
The focus for this lesson is 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, but I encourage you to read the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15. This is a wonderful chapter spelling out the Gospel from its beginning to its end in eternity.
Why do we need a church? Can't we pray at home? That is a trick question. The answer depends on who you are. If you are a child of God in His kingdom of grace then the answer is that you can pray anywhere, any time, always welcome at your Father's throne. If you are outside the kingdom of grace then the answer is that you can't really pray anywhere, not even in church. The Pharisee in the Gospel was outside the kingdom of grace, and he could not even pray in church. Without faith in Jesus Christ you do not know how to pray.
So faith is important, right? Yes, and it comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we want to establish for everyone what that Gospel is, for there are many claims abounding as to the presence of the Gospel, but there is only one, true Gospel. St. Paul spells it out for us at the beginning of I Corinthians 15.
First the Gospel presents us with facts. These facts occurred in the middle of human history. Jesus died, He was buried, He rose again, and people saw Him alive after He had risen. These are facts that lie at the base of the Gospel. But they are not the whole story. St. Paul has some very important things to add. He adds for our sins. Christ died for our sins. Part of the Gospel is to tell us why Jesus died. We were sinners who deserved punishment, but Jesus lived a perfect life, deserved all that is good, yet died to make atonement for us. The wages of sin is death, which the sinless Christ accepted for us. By rising again He certified His claim to make atonement for us all. Since He did not deserve death, He must have died for somebody else. St. Paul says that we were the ones He died for.
Second, Paul says that these things happened according to the Scriptures. Part of the Gospel is to tell us that all this was part of a great divine plan that goes back to the foundation of the world. This was no spur of the moment adventure for Jesus. He committed Himself to death the moment He placed the cherub with the flaming sword before the Tree of Life. All that happened in salvation history - the election of Israel, the Law, the Prophets, the ever-diminishing Righteous Remnant - was preparation for the main event, the Incarnation of the Son of God. Eventually the Righteous Remnant was One Man, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. That Man was God Incarnate, but thoroughly incarnate, subject to temptation, pain, and death. The cross of Jesus is the pivotal point in all history. All of the Passovers of the Old Covenant were fulfilled when the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world. Good triumphed over evil, and life over death, when the Son of David slew the Philistine of evil, when the crucified Savior was quickened and brought forth from the abode of death. And as the Scriptures present us with the beginning of all things, they also point us to the end, so that the Gospel has some unfulfilled parts which we might consider future facts, the return of Jesus, Judgment Day, and eternal life.
Notice that our role in all this is not very flattering. None of us could approach God in our natural condition. Paul uses several verbs, "receive," "hold fast," "stand." These are passive activities. The Corinthians received what Paul had first received and then passed on. They could stand, but were not exhorted to run. Holding something firmly does not involve any initiative, and tends to make one resistant to change. As Paul himself once was changed by Holy Baptism from an enemy of the cross to an apostle, so none of us could take any initiative in our salvation. Like Paul, we are all runts of the litter. But God changes us by His grace into His children and heirs, and as in Paul's case so in ours, His grace is not in vain.
Notice this change comes to us from the outside. There is nothing in any of us that could begin it or complete it. The Pharisee in the Gospel lost out because he was completely self-sufficient. The tax collector, on the other hand, confessed his sins, sought forgiveness from a gracious God, and went home justified believing the promises that abound throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The Pharisee did not ask for mercy, so he did not receive it.
Here we have the Foundation of the Church, Jesus the Cornerstone, and the apostolic witness to Him as the ground floor. So Paul recites for us the list of those who could testify that the crucified Jesus was alive. Paul is rather humble about his own role in the process, calling himself the runt, the abnormally born. Jesus did not reserve the apostolic offices for those who were thought righteous by the world. There was no special merit in Paul, or any of the others. So there is no special merit or righteousness in those who are called to the preaching office today. The Lord calls whom He will, and gives us the words of eternal life. Furthermore, there is a built-in folly to our Gospel that condemns all the wisdom of the world. Worldly wisdom tells us that sincerity, perseverance, and respectability can make one a child of God. The tax collector had none of those things. Before God we do not get what we pay for. We get what Jesus paid for. What we don't get is what we have every right to. Let us thank God we don't get that.
This Gospel had the power to forgive Paul's sins, to give Him the Holy Spirit, to nourish and sustain him in troublesome times, to keep him focused on God's business, to help him overcome his weaknesses, and to make him bold and confident. No matter how much God has to push us, He does it out of love. So believe what He tells you, the one, true Gospel of Jesus who died for your sins, who rose according to the Scriptures, who was seen by all those witnesses, into whose name you were baptized, who makes you like Himself, a child of God. The glory be His. AMEN.
~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross