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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Of First Importance
Text:LD 17 1 Cor. 15:1-28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-09-17
Updated:2020-09-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
09/13/20 p.m.
(Faith URC, Beecher, IL)
“Of First Importance”
1 Corinthians 15:1-28; LD 17
 
All of history is marked by the cross of Calvary. The cross of Calvary – the symbol of Christianity – stands at the center of history. Yet it has often been pointed out that the empty tomb should have a more prominent place than the cross.
 
The cross is crucial for our salvation. On the cross Jesus Christ bore the curse we deserve. On the cross Jesus shed His precious blood to propitiate – to cover – our sins.  Because of His death on the cross, the curtain that separates us from the Most Holy Place – heaven itself in the presence of Almighty God – was torn in two. All, who by God’s grace have true saving faith in Christ alone, are reconciled to the Father through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
 
Yet as necessary as that cross is, without the resurrection the cross would be meaningless. Without the resurrection the account of Calvary would be nothing more than a truly tragic story of an innocent man being crucified. The Apostle Paul notes that several times in 1 Corinthians 15:
 
Verse 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
 
Verse 17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
 
Verse 19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
 
When Michelangelo, the well-known artist, visited famous art galleries in European cities, he was surprised by the number of paintings depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  He asked. “Why are art galleries filled with so many pictures of Christ dying on the cross?  Why do artists dwell on that passing episode, as if that were the last word and the final scene? Jesus’ death on the cross lasted only a few hours, but throughout eternity Jesus is alive, ruling and reigning forever.”
 
Because of His resurrection from the dead, Jesus is indeed alive, ruling and reigning forever. Through the resurrection we see the full meaning of the cross. In fact, we only understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrificial death when we see the cross through the lens of the empty tomb.
 
After all, it is through the resurrection that Jesus enables those who believe in Him to share in his righteousness.  That is the first point that Lord’s Day 17 makes as Question 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?”
 
Answer: “First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He might make us share in the righteousness He obtained for us by His death.”
 
One of the verses cited by the catechism is Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  How does that work out?  How does Jesus being raised to life justify us – allowing us “to share in in the righteousness Christ has obtained for us by His death?”
 
The way it works out is that the resurrection is the stamp of approval by God the Father on all the redeeming work of His Son on your behalf and mine. On the cross Jesus paid a debt beyond the ability of any mathematician – of any theologian – of any one of us – to comprehend. He paid the full penalty for your sin and mine, and the sins of all who by His grace have saving faith in Him.
 
Theologians refer to that as His passive obedience. He could have called legions of angels to deliver Him, as He said to His disciples. But instead He did His Father’s will. He laid down His life to propitiate – to cover – the sins of all who have saving faith in Him alone.
 
Seeking His Father’s will, Jesus passively surrendered Himself to the Roman army, who in turn would hand Him over to be crucified, to shed His blood to cover your sins and mine. The resurrection is the stamp of approval by the Father declaring, “Paid in full.” The debt of sin – so great that none of us could comprehend it – is paid in full!
 
That in itself is a wonderful gift beyond description! But when Jesus rose from the dead, He didn’t just pay the debt of our sin. He didn’t leave your spiritual bank account, or mine, with a zero balance. By His resurrection, God the Father put His stamp of approval on the active obedience of Christ. Christ actively obeyed every law that you and I have broken. Christ actively obeyed with His inner thoughts and motives, not just with external brush strokes. He actively obeyed every jot, every tittle, every minute aspect of the law of God.
 
And by raising Him from the dead, God the Father put His authoritative stamp of approval on that active obedience of Christ which now, in your justification and mine, is credited to our account. You see, not only did Christ pay the debt of sin, but He also imputes to us His perfect record of righteous obedience.
 
Lord’s Day 23 describes that action beautifully, as it answers the question: “How are you right with God?”:
 
The answer:  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though my conscience accuses me
of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them,
and of still being inclined toward all evil,
nevertheless,
without any merit of my own,
out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
and as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.
—if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.
  
But if you don’t accept the gift of Christ’s righteousness with  a believing heart, all the wonderful benefits of Christ’s resurrection – offered through the gift of saving faith in Him – then you will be no different from the man who was in the great wedding banquet but did not have the proper clothes.  Do you remember that parable in Matthew 22?
 
Perhaps you remember how the king commanded that he be thrown out of the wedding banquet because he did not have the wedding garment – the proper clothes. In fact, in Matthew 22:13 we read: “The king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
          
Some have said that seems extreme. “Just because the man didn’t have wedding clothes, he is thrown out? Condemned to hell? That’s extreme,” they say.
 
However, it was the custom in biblical times that the Bridegroom provided a robe for his guests.  To attend in your own clothes – your own robe – was a way of saying: “I don’t need your wedding clothes. I have my own, and my own robe is good enough. But thank you, anyway.”
 
In the context of the parable it is equivalent of saying, “I don’t need to share in Your righteous, Lord.  I don’t need Your robe of righteousness.  I don’t need the imputation of Your passive and active obedience. I have righteous robes of my own.”
 
No wonder 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 4 tells us that the resurrection is of first importance. Without the resurrection we do not share in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection we are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Without the resurrection there can be no wedding feast of the Lamb.
 
But to experience the benefits – the blessings – of Christ’s resurrection you have to believe, with true saving faith, in Christ alone for your justification – your salvation. Only then can you “share in the righteousness He obtained for us by His death.”
 
The catechism goes on to teach that not only does our justification – our salvation – depend on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but so does our sanctification, that is, our spiritual growth as Christians.  The catechism says: “Second, by His power we too are already now resurrected to a new life.”
 
One of the clearest teachings of the Bible is that to be saved we must be born again, literally, “born from above.”  Once we are truly born again, then we must live a life that is different from the old sinful way of life. A noticeable change must be evident, for in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17 “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 
 
Consider the change in Saul of Tarsus. As Saul of Tarsus we find him persecuting the church, giving his approval to the stoning of Stephen, using all his influence to work against the spread of Christianity. As he admitted in verse 9, “I am the least of all the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” 
 
But after he was given birth from above, after he was “born again” through the experience on the road to Damascus, we find not “Saul of Tarsus”, but “the Apostle Paul”, now using all of his influence to spread the gospel, to witness to those who were persecuting Christians, planting and building churches.
   
Most of us don’t have those amazing “on the road to Damascus” conversions. Most of us were brought up in Christian families and, like Timothy, have “known Christ from infancy” (2 Tim. 3:15). But that doesn’t mean that our lives shouldn’t be radically changed and remarkably different than those who don’t know Christ.
 
The catechism cites Romans 6:5-7: If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
 
This doesn’t mean that sin will no longer have its influence on us. In this life we will always struggle with sin. Our sanctification is only complete after our physical death, for in the words of Galatians 5:17, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
 
But through the resurrection of Jesus we who believe in Him receive a new master. Instead of sin being our master, Jesus becomes our Master, our Savior and our Lord. Instead of a master who seeks our destruction, as sin and Satan always do, we have a Master who, in love, gives Himself for us, forgiving us our sins, providing what we need, preparing an eternal home so that we can live with Him in perfect harmony and love forever!
 
And, because of that relationship, our conduct must change. Colossians 3:1-4 describes the life which we are to live as new creations in Christ: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
 
And that leads to the third blessing that the catechism speaks of when it speaks of Jesus’ resurrection: “Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.”
 
Central to the Christian faith is our belief in the resurrection of the body. We believe that our bodies, if we die before Jesus returns, will be resurrected from the dead and joined with our souls  as surely as Jesus was resurrected from the dead. 
                 
Benjamin Franklin had this inscription carved on his gravestone: “The body of  Benjamin Franklin, Printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding lies here... Yet the work itself shall not be lost, for it will appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.”
 
Benjamin Franklin was a Deist; he was not a Reformed theologian by any stretch of the imagination. But his tombstone inscription is accurate in that it lines up with what the Apostle writes later in this chapter. In verses 42-44 he writes words about our bodily resurrection, words that you are probably familiar with. They are read at many grave side services, giving great comfort to those of us who have saving faith in the resurrected Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:
 
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
 
And what he means by the spiritual body, incidentally, is that our resurrected bodies – these self-same bodies – gloriously and perfectly resurrected – will live in complete harmony with the Holy Spirit. No longer will there be a conflict and a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The “spiritual body”, it has been noted, could be spelled with a capitol “S”.
 
One of the Scriptures that the catechism references concerning our resurrection is from Philippians 3:20-21. It is one of my favorite passages. It is one couplet of the many verses that we had to memorize in seminary as proof texts from Louis Berkhof’s massive Systematic Theology. 
 
At the time, in the early 80’s I didn’t always appreciate those Friday morning quizzes on Bible memory.  Was it really necessary to have Bible memory quizzes when we had studied the Bible in Greek and in Hebrew? Yet looking back over the decades, what was the most useful and beneficial course at seminary? It was the memorization of God’s holy and infallible Word of Life. And I commend the faithful practice of Bible memory to each one of you. The more you memorize and meditate on God’s Word, the more you will be blessed with spiritual riches and an ever closer walk with the Lord.
   
Back in the early1980’s, when I was in seminary, our nation had plenty of problems, even though Ronald Reagan was president. But in the last couple of decades we have seen our nation slip further and further from the Lord.  We have seen where evil is called good and what is good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). We have witnessed unprecedented corruption in many public places, apostasy in churches, violence in the streets.  Those who are older remember better times and pray for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
 
But these verses from Philippians 3:20-21, cited by the catechism, bring great comfort to every believer who has ever lived in any political climate of corruption. And that corruption encompasses every nation – usually to a great degree. It certainly applied to Rome, to Thessalonica, to Colossae and the other churches to which Paul wrote. 
 
And in the letter to the church at Philippi which the catechism references, the Apostle writes, in Philippians 3:20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”
 
Those verses remind us that although our earthly citizenship is in a nation so deep in debt (26 trillion dollars), we are also citizens of heaven, where the streets are described as being paved with gold. 
 
Those verses from Philippians 3:20-21 remind us that through faith in our risen Savior, even though we live in a nation that has so much political corruption, ineptitude and animosity, we are yet also citizens of heaven, where the only perfect King, the King over all kings, will rule in eternal splendor throughout all eternity.
 
And those verses assure us that although our bodies are weak and frail, and will be – unless the Lord returns first – buried in the ground, they will yet be raised and bear a likeness to the glorious body of Jesus Christ!
 
If you truly believe in Him, then because He is your Risen Savior, you can echo those victorious words of 1 Corinthians 15: 55: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting.”
 
You can exclaim with Job, in Job 19:25-27: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!
 
You can declare with Paul, The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
_______
 
How important is the resurrection? It is, as verse 3 and 4 states, of first importance. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, we are justified as we share in the righteousness He has obtained for us by His death.
 
Because of His resurrection we are in the process of being sanctified.
 
And throughout all eternity we will be glorified, having the privilege of reigning with Jesus Christ over the new heavens and new earth, with our bodies bearing a likeness to the glorious body of our Risen Savior and Lord! 
 
May your focus and mine, not be swayed by doubts, not be distracted by the things of the world, but always be focused and anchored on our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.
 
 
                                          - bulletin outline -
 
 
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… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
 
                                     “Of First Importance”
                            1 Corinthians 15:1-28; Lord’s Day 17
 
I. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is “of first importance” (3-4) because His
    resurrection is inseparably linked to:
      1) Our justification (14, 17; Romans 4:25) as we are credited with
           His righteousness, “which He obtained for us by His death”
 
 
 
 
 
      2) Our sanctification as we are “resurrected to a new life” (2 Cor. 5:17)
 
 
   
 
 
      3) Our glorification as “Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our
          glorious resurrection” (12-23; Philippians 3:20-21)
 
 
 
 
 
II. To know and experience the blessings of the resurrection we must focus in saving
     faith on Christ alone (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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