Good morning everyone! It’s really good to be with you this morning. I hope you are doing ok at this time. I’m aware people are in so many different situations at the moment, from feeling exhausted or really worried, to feeling thankful for some paid time off work with the family! So, let’s start by praying that God would speak to each one us – wherever we are, this morning.
Father God, thank you that your word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path – so whatever our path looks like at the moment, please speak to us by your word this morning. Help us to listen. And please guide our way. In Jesus name, Amen
Imagine you’re getting your breakfast tomorrow morning, you stick the kettle on for that essential morning cup of tea, and whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, you have a quick check of the news – and the headline takes your breath away, because it’s so good!
Now what do you think is the best thing that it could possibly say? What good news would solve the problems in our world right now?
Maybe you’re instantly thinking of a successful Newcastle United takeover bid?! And not even by a slightly murky Middle-Eastern sovereign wealth fund!
Or maybe it would be the chancellor Rishi Sunak, suddenly announcing that in an attempt to kick-start the economy and support airlines, after lockdown, everyone in the UK is going to be given a £10,000 holiday allowance! Class! How good would that be?! Let’s all get writing to our MPs…!
But more seriously, what gospel, meaning good news, are we really tempted to think would solve all the world’s problems?
Maybe it’s a coronavirus vaccine and an end to quarantine?
Maybe it’s every child in the world being able to receive a good education? Maybe it’s the gospel of equality and freedom…or the gospel of human progress?
But none of these really add up. For example, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history…and we’re often let down by those in power who have had a good education aren’t we?
Now of course, there’s much that’s good in those things I mentioned. But ultimately, they’ll never solve our problems because they don’t address the root cause, which we’ll come to later. And none of them solve the unspoken problem at the end of life…death.
But the Bible passage we’re looking at today tells us of a gospel that does bring true hope for humanity – for each one of us. A gospel that you can build your life on.
Now if you’re tuning in today and you don’t know much about this gospel – or you’re skeptical about it, firstly, it’s great that you’ve joined us – you’re always welcome, and secondly, stick with me – because surely it’s worth getting properly informed before making your mind up about this gospel? And many have found that it’s not what they thought it was.
And if you’re a Christian, I guess you might be tempted to think, “well I know all this already”. But if this is the only true hope for our world, then we need to be crystal clear on what it is. And many Christians are confused. They might say that the gospel is following Jesus’ commands, or it’s ‘loving God and loving others’. All of which are good things to do, but they’re not the good news, the gospel.
Which is why Paul says to the church in Corinth, chapter 15 verse 1:
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.”
We’re diving into chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians today and over the next Sundays. It was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. And his big concern in this letter is that he wants them to work together for the advancement of the gospel. So, in chapter 15 verse 1, Paul says, let me remind you of what this gospel, this good news, is!
And then he says, verse 3, “I delivered this [i.e. the gospel] to you as of first importance”. He’s saying, “this is the very centre of what we believe, so listen up!”.
So, what is this good news you can build your life on?
Here Paul spells it out, and let me give you 6 Ps which summarise what he says.
The first one is that this good news is…
1. A Person. It’s Jesus Christ.
I wonder if you’ve ever received good news in the post? Maybe it was some exam results or some good medical test results. In that scenario, the postman is just a messenger, bringing the good news.
But if you’re in the desperate situation where a child has gone missing, and then they themselves suddenly turn up on the doorstep – they themselves are the good news. The good news is a person.
And the good news of the gospel is a person. It’s Jesus Christ. He’s not just a messenger, he is the good news! Not only does he come to fix the desperate situation we’re in, but we can also have a relationship with him. In fact, he says that relationship with him is what life is all about.
John Stott, a great Christian leader is right when he says, “the gospel is not preached if Christ is not preached”.
But the gospel is not only Jesus as a person. It’s also what he did.
2. It’s an amazing Plan
It’s a plan of salvation, which was planned all along.
Second half of verse 3, what is this gospel? Paul says it is:
"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."
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
But notice first that Paul keeps stressing that it’s ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’. He’s saying that this gospel was written about hundreds of years beforehand in the Scriptures, in what is our Old Testament.
Jesus death and resurrection weren’t just an accident, they were planned all along by God himself. For example, we read Isaiah 53 earlier in the service, which so clearly points to what Jesus would do. And there’s irrefutable evidence that that passage was written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. And there are many other passages too.
So, if this was planned all along, then what sort of a plan is this? It’s a rescue plan. Verse 2, Paul says, this is the gospel “by which you are being saved”.
You see, we have a problem which we can’t solve. And we need a rescue. The problem is there in verse 3 – Paul says, Christ died for… for what? For our sins.
Sin is the great problem facing humanity. It’s not war, or lack of education, or poverty, or illness. The root problem is sin.
Sin is not just doing bad things. It’s turning our backs on the God who made us and who loves us. It’s a personal offense against God himself. He’s the source of all life. He sustains us. We’re made in his image. And yet we decide that we want to be in charge and we tell him to shove off.
We’ve got 2 children under the age of 3, who are a great blessing, but at the moment we’re in the midst of potty training, and it is hard work! A particular low point this week was Ezra doing a poo on the floor, and then before we managed to clear it up, our dog Maisie ate it…! It was grim.
But on a more serious note, we give so much for our children, because we love them so much, and it would be an awful thing, if after all that, when they were older, they just ran away and rejected us. And it’s even worse doing that with God himself.
And because God is just, he can’t ignore sin and sweep it under the carpet. In fact, we wouldn’t want a God who just ignored all the wrong in the world. We rightly get angry at the wrong in the world, don’t we? And so does God. But all of us are implicated. None of us are without sin. And so, God will bring justice. God will show his just anger against sin.
That’s the bad news. That’s the problem we face that is bigger than any other problem, and that is at the root of all our other problems.
But here’s the good news, the rescue plan. In another letter, Paul writes,
“Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath” 1 Thessalonians 1:10
Jesus is the rescue plan. Even though God is the offended party, he himself provided a rescue plan. Because he’s not only a God of justice, he’s a God of love.
And he loves us so much, that he gave us his son Jesus. And Jesus died for our sins, verse 3. He died the death that we should have died, in our place. And then he rose again to prove that he had rescued us. So that we do not need to fear the coming wrath. So, we don’t need to be enemies of God, but instead can enjoy eternal life.
That is the amazing rescue plan which solves the biggest problem facing humanity! It’s the good news every one of us needs to hear.
You see, this gospel is incredibly...
3. Powerful (to save even the worst of sinners)
If this is all sounding a bit abstract, well Paul makes it personal by telling us the amazing story about the power of the gospel in his life. Take a look at verse 9. Paul says,
"For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
In another letter, Paul says that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Paul knew he had done nothing to deserve this rescue. He had been someone who thought he was really holy and better than others – someone who didn’t need a rescue. And yet he was going around persecuting the church, because he thought they were wrong and dangerous.
But God, by his grace, opened Paul’s eyes, to understand the good news of Jesus. And it radically changed him - Paul tells us that he worked harder than any of the apostles for God’s glory. But we see he’s understood the gospel, because he reminds us that it wasn’t him, but God’s amazing grace at work in him which enabled that change and that hard work.
Paul’s story shows us that this gospel is powerful to save even the worst of sinners and to transform them.
And millions of people have found that to be true since then. One of the most famous people being John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace after being a slave trader, who then helped to abolish the slave trade. He wrote,
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
The gospel that was powerful in Paul’s day, was powerful in John Newton’s day, and it’s powerful today.
And if you’re not trusting Jesus right now, it’s great that you’re watching, but as an aside, let me say, this good news isn’t just an interesting headline.
4. It’s Personal. It demands a personal response.
When another apostle, Peter, explained the gospel to a crowd in the book of Acts, we’re told that the people were cut to the heart, and they say to Peter, “what should we do?”. And Peter replies, "repent and believe". The way to respond is to confess our sins to God, and to put our trust in Jesus.
But maybe you’re skeptical about all this. You might be thinking, did Jesus really die and rise from the dead? And Paul wants to say to us in this passage, this gospel is…
5. Persuasive. It’s historical fact.
Paul writes that the risen Jesus, verse 5,
appeared to Cephas (Aramaic for Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
People weren’t mugs back then. They too struggled to believe that someone rose from the dead. But Paul says it was witnessed! It’s reliable.
This letter was written just over 20 years after Jesus died (most scholars think 53/54 AD). And so many of those who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection were alive.
Say I told you that Newcastle United thumped Man United 5-0 about 20 years ago - you might be amazed! You might be incredulous! But there are plenty of people who watched Newcastle do just that on the 26th October 1996.
And likewise, we might think it impossible that anyone rose from the dead. But Paul is saying that there were plenty of people who witnessed him alive, and who could reassure the Corinthians that this was not a fantasy cooked up by Jesus’ friends to put a happy ending onto his life. No! This actually happened.
This gospel is persuasive. It’s fact. He is telling the Corinthian church (and now us) to examine the evidence properly and be confident in it.
And this gospel isn’t just Paul’s message - he tells us in verse 3 that it was handed down to him. He received it, and he’s now passing it on, as of first importance. He says, verse 1, that it’s in the gospel that we stand. It’s in the gospel that we are being saved – if we believe it and hold fast to it.
You see, the gospel is
6. Permanent. We never move on from it. It’s good news to build your life on.
My final ‘P’. We never move on from it. It’s the only thing that truly saves. It’s good news to build your life on. And far more than any other solution to human problems, like those we talked about at the start, it gives true hope.
I was listening to a podcast the other day with Nicky Gumbel, a well-known pastor in London. He said that growing up, and at the start of university he was an atheist. He even wrote an essay disproving God. But when he finally sat down and read the New Testament, it came alive to him, and he said “this is what life’s all about. This is the hope we’re all looking for.”
For those of us who are already putting our trust in this good news. Let’s never forget that this is the hope every person needs!
You see, are we tempted to slip into thinking that what people most need right now is a coronavirus vaccine and an end to the quarantine? Or are we praying that this time would bring people to understand the far greater hope that is in Jesus?
By all means, lets pray for an end to the virus, but do we recognize that there is a far greater problem out there?
So, let’s be praying. Let’s be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. Let’s be inviting friends to watch these online services or inviting them to take part in our upcoming online Christianity Explored course. It’s been great to hear stories from people about friends or family who have tuned in. Or maybe, if you’ve got more time than usual, you could read the Bible with someone over Zoom?
And even in lockdown, let’s continue to be thankful like Paul, and like John Newton, for God’s amazing grace in our lives. And let’s ‘hold fast’ to the gospel, as Paul urges the Corinthians, like you might hold fast to a rope that has been lowered down to rescue you. The Bible says that we hold fast together as a church, so let’s make sure we keep meeting together, even if it’s ‘virtually’. And let’s be thinking about how we can encourage those who might be struggling to hold fast. Maybe it’s sending someone a Bible verse, or giving them a call – just to check how they’re doing and praying with them
Paul says, as you received the gospel, pass it on. Hold fast to it. Preach it. Proclaim it. Because this is the best news we could ever hear. It’s our beautiful, fantastic hope. It’s the hope for the world.
Now I would remind you, brothers [and sisters] 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
We thank you so much for the gospel – for Jesus. Thank for the amazing grace you have shown us – that you showed to Paul back then, and you show to us today.
Please help us to hold fast to the gospel at this uncertain time. Please help us to rejoice in it. Please help us to proclaim it, as the only true hope for the world.
For your glory,