Sunday, April 15, 2018

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

I wonder if you can guess what one of my favourite TV programmes was when I was a boy. It featured someone called Patrick Clifton. Anybody know? Mrs Goggins was in it as well. If that doesn’t help, then what about a line from the theme song; ‘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! With his black and white cat (Jess) he would go around Greendale delivering the post - bringing what he had been given and delivering it to people.

This morning, in our reading, we don’t have Postman Pat, but we do have Postman Paul. Look at verse 3. ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.’ Paul had received something, he had been given it, and then he passed it on - he delivered it, just like Postman Pat does. He brought it to the people in the city of Corinth.

If you’ve posted a letter recently, you’ll know how much a stamp costs. Anyone know? Second class is 58p and first class is 67p. So, for the sake of 9 pence, you have to decide, is it really urgent, or can it take a wee while longer to get there?

Do you see how Paul described his delivery? Was it something that didn’t really matter? No! ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.’ It would need a first class stamp, or even the guaranteed next day signed for delivery service. What could be so important? What is of first importance?

‘That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared...’ (3-5)

You might recognise those lines from the creed we use at the Family Services. And the reason we use it as a creed is because it tells us what Jesus did - he died, he was buried, he was raised, he appeared. This is the very heart of the whole Christian faith, the things that happened that first Easter weekend.

Postman paul tells us that he received this - he didn’t make it up. He was told it, he received it, and then passed it on to the Corinthians. He says that Christ died - that Jesus was crucified. But notice that we’re told why Jesus died. ‘Christ died’ is history, ‘Christ died for our sins’ is the reason, the theology for Jesus’ death. He died ‘for our sins.’

And to help us see how important these statements are, I want to play a quick game of Jenga. Do I have four volunteers? We’re going to take it in turns to move a brick to build up the tower higher and higher... (Play game)... Eventually, the tower falls. When one brick was removed, the whole tower collapsed. That one brick was needed to hold everything else up. And the cross and the resurrection of Jesus is that one brick. It’s the one thing that everything else is built on. If that didn’t happen, then there’d be no Christianity, no church.

But in those verses you might have noticed that there’s one phrase that is repeated. It comes twice in a couple of lines. Can anyone spot it? It says twice: ‘according to the Scriptures.’ It says that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...’

I used to think that this meant that was talking about the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which tell us about the crucifixion and the resurrection. According to the scriptures. But Postman Paul doesn’t mean that! He means that Jesus died and was raised in accordance, matching up with what it says in the Old Testament scriptures. The promises were there beforehand.

It’s like a game of snap - when you see the same thing twice, it’s a match. What the Old Testament said long beforehand, it all happened to Jesus. He died on the cross, and he was raised to life.

Postman Paul says this is of first importance. But how can we be sure that it happened at all? At the start of verse 5 he says: ‘and that he appeared to...’ Jesus appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, then five hundred brothers at the same time, then James (his brother), then all the apostles, then Paul himself. And Paul is the most surprising of all. Paul actually persecuted the church. He hated Christians, and tried to arrest them. Until he met with the risen Jesus for himself. He received God’s grace, his undeserved favour, and became a believer for himself.

Paul gives details of all these eyewitnesses because the people in Corinth could go and ask them what they had seen. They could check out the details, make sure that Postman Paul was indeed telling the truth. All of those different people met Jesus and saw him alive after he had died. We can believe because of what they saw and experienced.

But why is it important for us to know this, and to be sure of all this? Why does Postman Paul want to deliver this to us as of first importance?

We see the reason in verses 1-2. He wants to remind us. We can so easily forget about this, or get caught up on all sorts of other things that aren’t as important. So we need to remember what’s most important of all.

We need to remember the gospel - that just means the good news - the good news that Paul preached, which you received, on which you have taken your stand. Why?

‘By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.’

This good news of Jesus is the way we can be saved - as we hold on tight, we hold firmly to the word about Jesus.

So what about you today? Have you received this first class word from Postman Paul? Can you say that Jesus died for your sins? When you receive it, and believe it, then you are saved. You can know this today!

But if you have received it, you need to make sure that you don’t forget, that you don’t get caught up on other things that aren’t as important. You need this reminder of the first importance things - the base of your whole Christian life - that Christ died, was buried, and was raised.

Sometimes the real postperson can bring letters we’d rather not receive. Bills, summonses and all sorts of things. But Postman Paul brings us good news - that Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day, just as the Scriptures said would happen. We can be sure that Jesus is alive - and over the next few Sunday mornings we’ll see what that means for us as well.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 15th April 2018.

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