Easter, “The Good News of Easter”
Pastor Gary Wong, April 4, 2021
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
How do you share good news with someone? Would you call or text him on your cell phone? Would you post it on the internet? When I was growing up, long before there was any of these high-tech forms of communication, people actually talked to each other. When we had good news to share, we wanted to tell everyone in person. When you’re face to face, you can share all of the details and the joy that the good news brings. Face to face meetings, however, aren’t always possible. Then what? In my day, we would send a letter. That’s right. We would actually take pen in hand, put our thoughts down on paper, and then send it off in the mail. Then we’d wait for a letter to come from the person with whom we shared our good news. All of that takes time; but that’s not always a bad thing. Letters force us to choose our words carefully because we want the person on the other end to understand what we’re saying. Whether we are sending or receiving a letter filled with good news, the message fills our hearts with joy. Today, we praise God for the greatest news of all. In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul shares the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead. On this joyous Easter morn, let’s hold the good news of Jesus’ resurrection firmly in our hearts and let’s share it with those who do not know that Jesus is their Savior.
First Corinthians is one of Paul’s lengthier letters, and Chapter Fifteen is the longest chapter of the apostle’s epistle. Yet, we shouldn’t be surprised by its length when we consider its subject matter. This chapter focuses on Jesus’ resurrection. How important is it that Jesus rose from the dead? That miracle is the very foundation of the Christian faith. We put all of our hope for this life and the next in the fact that Jesus, who once was dead, is now alive. Paul puts it this way: “If Christ had not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Fortunately, we have the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection recorded in the Gospels that assure us that Jesus did rise victoriously from the grave. Jesus’ resurrection is the reason we are here today.
Paul begins this chapter by reminding the Corinthians of the gospel—the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus—that he had preached to them. It was by the Holy Spirit working through the gospel that they were saved. Saved from what? The gospel tells us how Jesus has saved us from the consequences of sin. Why did Paul think that it was necessary to remind the Corinthians of the gospel he had shared with them? Apparently, a number of them were having doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Paul wanted to bolster their wavering faith. He wanted to them to hold fast to the resurrection; otherwise, their faith would be in vain.
So how did Paul encourage the Corinthians to stand firm on the foundation of the gospel? Like the master teacher he was, Paul went back to the basics. Paul’s first point was that “Christ died for our sins” (15:3). This simple statement—even little children at Sunday School will say very matter-of-factly, “Jesus died on the cross to take away my sins”—is anything but simple. This fact is so obvious that we sometimes take it for granted. We might be tempted to think that what Jesus did isn’t that big of a deal. What we sometimes forget is that we were once under a curse. Because we were born sinners and commit countless sins, we deserve God’s wrath and punishment. Friends—you and I deserve to die and suffer in hell for all eternity. You know it. I know it. The Bible tells us, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Eke. 18:4).
The Bible also tells us that we could do nothing to avoid God’s just judgment against sin. The only one who could is God. Fortunately, God did it by sending his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus saved us from death and an eternity of suffering in hell in two ways. First, Jesus lived the perfect life that God demands of every human being. Though he was tempted by the devil, Jesus never sinned. Then, as Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Even though Jesus was completely innocent, Jesus willingly exchanged his holiness for our unholy thoughts, words, and actions. He then took all of our sins to the cross where he paid for them with his holy, precious blood. The result of Jesus’ Great Exchange is that we are now right with God. We don’t have to be afraid that God will punish us because he has already punished his Son. Rather, we know that God has forgiven us for Jesus’ sake and that we have eternal life through faith in him. All of those blessings are summarized in Paul’s simple statement, “Christ died for our sins.”
Paul’s second point is “[Jesus] was buried.” Here is another fact that seems so obvious that we might wonder why Paul bothers to mentions it. After all, what normally happens when someone dies? The body is buried. The fact that Jesus’ body was buried proves that he died. Yet, please understand that Jesus’ death is absolutely essential to God’s plan of salvation. Isaiah had prophesied that Jesus would be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” and that he would be “assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death” (Isa. 53:5, 9). If Jesus’ body had not been laid in a tomb, we would rightfully doubt whether Jesus had actually died for our sins.
Yet, we don’t have to be disheartened by the fact that Jesus died and was buried because of Paul’s third point. “[Jesus] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Paul probably pointed the Corinthians to the scriptures that had prophesied that God would not let his “Holy One see decay” (Ps. 16:10) and that “after the suffering of his soul, [Jesus] would see the light of life” (Isa. 53:11). What a glorious sight that must have been on that first Easter Sunday! Through eyes of faith, we see the dawn’s early light shining on the empty tomb even as the light of God’s Son was beaming on all who saw him that day. Jesus’ resurrection appearances turned his disciples’ gloom into joy. Paul tells us that Jesus first appeared to Peter and then to the other apostles. Jesus also appeared to his half-brother, James. And lastly, he appeared to Paul when he was on the road to Damascus after Jesus had ascended into heaven.
Now, these post resurrection appearances certainly proved beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was alive. And as I noted, everyone who saw Jesus was filled with joy. But there was another reason that Jesus appeared to so many after Easter. Jesus wanted to fire up his disciples because he had work for them to do. What was that work? The work of Jesus’ disciples—which includes you and me—is to spread the gospel. Recall Paul’s words: “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (15:3). In other words, Paul didn’t just hear the gospel, believe its message, and then say, “Well, that’s nice” and then keep it a secret; Paul shared the good news. He told as many people as he could about Jesus. That’s because he was eternally grateful for what Jesus had done for him. Before his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was undoubtedly every Christian’s worst nightmare. Yet, even though Paul had been blinded by his hatred of Jesus, Jesus opened his eyes and his heart so that he could see and know Jesus as his Savior.
Because he had persecuted the church, Paul knew that he deserved to die. Yet, Paul knew that he wasn’t going to spend eternity in hell. Rather, Paul knew that he had been saved by grace, God’s undeserved love for sinners. Not only was he saved by the gospel, Jesus had given Paul the privilege of proclaiming the gospel as an apostle. That too, was a gift of God’s grace. So, out of gratitude for what Jesus had done for him, Paul worked, and worked and worked to share the gospel. Paul said that he worked harder than all of the others. Now that sounds like bragging; but it wasn’t. Paul was actually giving all glory to God. It was the grace of God working in him that motivated and empowered Paul to share the good news.
Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus. He then passed it on to us through his inspired letters that God has preserved in the Bible. That’s how God’s kingdom grows. One generation tells the next the good news of Christ crucified and risen. You and I have received the best news of all—that Christ has died for our sins and that Jesus has risen from the grave to give us eternal life. The question, then, is how are you going to share the good news of Easter? It doesn’t really matter whether you post it on Facebook, text, e-mail, or call; what matters is that we treasure the gospel in our hearts and share it with those who don’t know that Jesus is their Savior. Let’s give all glory to God with our lips, hands, feet, and hearts for the good news of Easter. The Lord is risen; he is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
“I Know that My Redeemer Lives” (CW 152)
Text: Samuel Medley, 1738-99, abr.
I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives my ever-living Head!
He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save.
He lives all glorious in the sky;
He lives exalted there on high.
He lives to bless me with his love;
He lives to plead for me above.
He lives my hungry soul to feed;
He lives to help in time of need.
He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives;
I know that my Redeemer lives!