Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 Raised - According to the Scriptures

I wonder if you can guess what one of my favourite children’s TV programmes was? Mrs Goggins featured in it, as did Patrick Clifton. If those names are too obscure, perhaps a line from the song will help. ‘Maybe, you can never be sure, there’ll be knock, ring... letters through your door.’ You’ve guessed it by now - I loved to watch Postman Pat. He and his black and white cat Jess would go around Greendale delivering the post - bringing what he had been given, and delivering it to the people.

In our reading today, we get the idea of Postman Paul. Look at verse 3. ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.’ Paul had received something, he had been given something, and now he has passed it on. He delivered it - just like Postman Pat. He brought it to the people in the city of Corinth.

If you’ve posted a letter recently, you’ll have realised that the price of a stamp has gone up again, on the 29th March. So when you have a letter to post, and you come to the Post Office counter, you have a choice to make - is it really urgent to justify 64 pence for first class, or will it do second class at 55 pence? Did you see how Paul described his delivery? Was it something that didn’t really matter, something that could take its time? Not at all - ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received...’ Of first importance - it would need a first class stamp, or maybe even the guaranteed next day signed for delivery service. And what was so important? What was of first importance?

‘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, and that he appeared...’ (3-5)

If you come along to the Family service, you’ll recognise this as one of the creeds we use regularly. And the reason we use it is because Paul says it is of first importance, this little summary of what Jesus did - he died, he was buried, he was raised, and he appeared. If you’re looking for a summary of what Christianity is all about, then this is it. This is the very heart of the Christian faith - historical truth about what happened that first Easter weekend.

Postman Paul tells us that he received this - he didn’t make it up, he was told this, and passed it on, delivered it to the Corinthians. He makes clear that Christ died - that Jesus was crucified, and really died. But notice that it isn’t just a historical explanation, it’s also a theological explanation. ‘Christ died’ - that’s history. ‘Christ died for our sins’ - that’s theology. This is why Jesus died - for our sins. He died to take the punishment we deserved. He died the death we deserved. But there’s more. ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.’

In a wee while we’ll say the Apostles’ Creed, which follows the same pattern - died, buried, raised. But it’s the Nicene Creed which we say at Holy Communion which uses the full phrases from this passage - in accordance with the Scriptures. But as I was growing up, and the BCP/APB said Jesus died and was raised ‘according to the Scriptures’ I always thought that meant, as we find in the gospels - we know this because according to the Scriptures of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But Postman Paul says that Jesus died ‘in accordance with the Scriptures.’

Jesus died in the way the Scriptures (the Old Testament) said he would. And Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. The promises were there beforehand. The story was already told. Psalm 16 is just one example - ‘You will not abandon my soul to Sheol (the place of the dead), or let your holy one see corruption.’

The Scriptures had already set out the blueprint, the plan of what Jesus would do. Postman Paul says that he did it all, and this is of first importance. But maybe you’re not so sure. You put up with Easter Sunday each year while on the inside you’re thinking, but dead men don’t rise. Was this how the disciples coped with the death of Jesus, by focusing on how he lived on in their thoughts and memories? Did they just make up the story that he was alive? Isn’t it just a fairy tale? Has Paul been led up the garden path by someone telling him tall tales?

But included within the first importance is also the last bit - died, buried, raised, and appeared. So who did he appear to? Cephas - that’s Peter, the one who denied knowing him on the Thursday night (and the one specifically mentioned in Mark 16:7); the twelve; more than five hundred brothers at one time; James, all the apostles, and finally... me, (Paul).

All these eyewitnesses testify to the fact that they saw the risen Jesus, met with him, ate with him, some even touched him. Jesus really was raised to new life. His closest friends, then a huge group of people - so it couldn’t be a hallucination (they’re always individual), and most of them could be interviewed, or asked what they saw. And the last two individuals names on that list were probably the best witnesses. James, the brother of the Lord - just think, what would it take for you to become sure that your brother was really God? (Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ family had tried to take him home, stop his ministry etc - but now James believes, convinced by the resurrection). And Paul - Paul who was persecuting the church, who hated Jesus and the Christians, yet God’s grace worked in his life, he met the risen Jesus, and his life was turned around, now a witness to the resurrection, an apostle, and a new mission.

Now you might be thinking - we know all this! Why have we spent this morning thinking about something we already know? Well, over these next few weeks we’re thinking about what the resurrection of Jesus means for us. But before we get to that, we need to see what Paul says is of first importance. We can’t enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ resurrection without making sure that Jesus really did rise.

You see, as Postman Paul brought this special delivery, this first importance first class post, as he preached this message, the Corinthians believed. They accepted the testimony, they believed that Jesus really did die, and that he really did rise. But more than that, they believed in Jesus - that he died for their (our) sins. Have you done that? Have you heard the testimony and believed in Jesus? Have you received this first importance delivery? Perhaps today could be the day the post arrives, you receive it for yourself. Make this the most important thing you know.

But maybe you’re already a Christian. And you’re thinking, but I know all this! Surely I can move beyond the cross and the resurrection now? But Postman Paul says we can never move beyond this. He was writing to Christians, and he needed to remind them of it. Reminded of - the gospel, the good news of what Jesus has done.

And we’re in the same boat. We too easily forget. We too quickly try to please God by our own efforts, or trying to pay back God for what Jesus has done. Paul seeks to remind us - so that we are in that chain of verses 1-2. The gospel preached, ‘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 - unless you believed in vain.’

If you have received this gospel, this good news, whether today, or fifty years ago - stand in it (don’t move away, don’t potter about, stand firm on the only solid rock), because it is our only hope of salvation, our only way of having our sins forgiven; as we hold fast to the word. Don’t let it go. Don’t drop it for anything else.

The gospel doesn’t start with us. It’s something that we receive; something that’s delivered to us. And even if Postman Pat brings some post we would rather not open, Postman Paul brings us good news, great news - that Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day - all in accordance with the Scriptures - and he appeared to witnesses, who saw, and passed on the message. We can be sure that Jesus is alive, he has been raised - and as we’ll see in coming weeks - we too will be raised with him. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th April 2016.

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