1 Corinthians 15:3-4
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;…
I. THE FACTS OF PAUL'S GOSPEL. "First of all... I delivered" these things. And the "first" not only points to the order of time, but to the order of importance.
1. The system unfolded in the New Testament is a simple record of historical fact. It becomes a philosophy and a religions system; but it is first of all a story of something that took place in the world. If that be so, let preachers never forget that their business is to insist upon the truth of these fundamental facts. They must evolve all the deep meanings which are wrapped up in the facts; but they will not be faithful to their Lord unless there be the unfaltering proclamation — "first of all," etc.
2. This character of the gospel makes short work of a great deal that calls itself "liberal Christianity." We are told that it is quite possible to be a very good Christian, and reject the supernatural. It may be so, but I cannot understand how, if the fundamental character of Christian teaching be the proclamation of certain facts, a man who does not believe those facts has the right to call himself a Christian.
3. There is an explanation which turns the facts into a gospel.
(1) Mark how "that Christ died," not Jesus. Christ is the name of an office, into which is condensed a whole system of truth, declaring that it is He who is the Apex, the Seal, and the ultimate Word of all Divine revelation.
(2) "He died for our sins." Now, if the apostle had only said "He died for us," that might conceivably have meant that, in a multitude of different ways of example, etc., His death was of use to mankind. But when he says "He died for our sins," that expression has no meaning, unless it means that He died as the expiation for men's sins.
(3) "He died and rose... according to the Scriptures," fulfilling the Divine purposes revealed from of old. These three things turn the narrative into a gospel, and without all three, the death of Christ is nothing to us, any more than the death of thousands of saintly men has been. Do you think that these twelve fishermen would ever have shaken the world if they bad gone out with the story of the Cross unless they had carried along with it the commentary? And do you suppose that the type of Christianity which slurs over the explanation, and so does not know what to do with the facts, will ever do much in the world, or will ever touch men? Let us liberalise our Christianity by all means, but do not let us evaporate it.
II. WHAT ESTABLISHES THE FACTS.
1. This Epistle is one of the four letters of Paul which nobody disputes, and was written before the Gospels, probably within twenty-five years of the Crucifixion.
(1) And what do we find alleged by it as the state of things at its date? That the belief in the Resurrection of Christ was universally taught in and accepted by all the Christian communities. And if that be so, there is not, between the moment when Paul penned these words and the day of Pentecost, a single chink in the history where you can insert such a tremendous innovation as the full-fledged belief in a resurrection coming in as something new.
(2) Unless the belief that Christ had risen originated at the time of His death, there would never have been a Church at all. Take the nave out of the wheel and what becomes of the spokes? A dead Christ could never have been the basis of a living Church.
2. The contemporaneousness of the evidence is sufficiently established. What about its good faith? Anybody that knows an honest man when he sees him, anybody that has the least ear for the tone of sincerity and the accent of conviction, must say they may have been fanatics, but one thing is clear, they were not false witnesses for God.
3. What, then, about their competency? Their simplicity; their ignorance; their slowness to believe; their surprise when the fact first dawned upon them, all tend to make us certain that there was no hysterical turning of a wish into a fact, on the part of these men. Fancy five hundred people all at once smitten with the same mistake, imagining that they saw what they did not see!
4. "He was buried." Why does Paul introduce that amongst his facts? Because, if the grave was there, why did not the rulers put an end to the heresy by saying, "Let us go and see if the body is there"? If His body was not in the grave, what had become of it? If His friends stole it away, then they were deceivers of the worst type. If His enemies took it away, for which they had no motive, why did they not produce it and say, "There is an answer to your nonsense"?
III. WHAT THE FACTS ESTABLISH.
1. Christ has risen from the dead; and that opens a door wide enough to admit all the rest of the gospel miracles.
2. The resurrection casts back a light upon the Cross, and we understand that His death is the life of the world, and that "by His stripes we are healed."
3. But, further, remember how He claimed to be the Son of God; how He demanded absolute obedience, trust, and love — and consider the resurrection as bearing on the reception or rejection of these tremendous claims. We are brought sharp up to this alternative — Christ rose from the dead, and was declared by the resurrection to be the Son of God with power; or Christ has not risen from the dead — and what then? Then He was either deceiver or deceived, and in either case has no right to my reverence and love.
4. The resurrection of Christ teaches us that life has nothing to do with organisation but exists apart from the body; that a man may pass from death and be unaltered in the substance of his being: and that the earthly house of our tabernacle may be fashioned like unto the glorious house in which He dwells now at the right hand of God. There is no other absolute proof of immortality but the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;