Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Christ in the Center

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  15:1-11    
TITLE:  The danger of forgetting  ‘first things’   : Keeping  Christ in the Center      
Date : 13/11 /2011

The year  is rapidly drawing  to a close. Our bodies and minds  yearn for rest  from the  routines of the year behind us . We  just want  to ‘ chill ‘ , as the young people  say.  Rest and  holidays are important in the scheme of things , but  as with everything good  that God gives us , there are peculiar dangers  attached even to  legitimate   “ rest  and relaxation”  .  We must never  loose our spiritual vigilance !   Peter says : “ Be sober-minded  ; be watchful . Your adversary the  devil prowls  around like a roaring lion  seeking someone to devour…”  ( 1 Peter  5:8) . 
But there is another  matter I want to put before you at the end of this year , and it is a problem  for all of us who  regularly  read the Word and  who participate in regular worship , and who  are busy , committed Christians .  It is the matter of  forgetting the most  foundational  truths , among  the many other important   things that we are called  to  focus  upon . There always is that  danger of being  so busy  even with many good things  that we    forget  the important things – things that belong to the core  of our faith !

The most foundational ,  or  “core   truth”   for us  all  is the gospel .  In all our  good work for God , in all our worship , in our  raising  of   kids  and in our  keeping our marriages  in good shape  , and in  doing our regular jobs  and in our   recreation ,  we can so easily forget   the main thing  - the gospel   that  saves us , and  therefore the gospel  that should move us  in the core of our being ,
·         first , in loving , faithful worship of  our God
·         secondly,  in loving faithful service to   our brothers and sisters
·         thirdly in   loving , faithful  evangelism of   this desperately lost and needy world  around us !  

But it is the gospel  that we must   retain in our hearts at all costs .  In writing to Timothy  the apostle Paul pressed this  fact upon the  conscience of his young son in the faith, who by now was becoming a busy pastor in Ephesus    : “ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David , as preached in my gospel . “ ( 2 Tim  2:8)

You have been with me as we have  worked our way through much of  Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians .  I have shown you time and again  that the greatest problem of this Corinthian church was  that they had  forgotten the  main thingthe gospel – the Lord  Jesus Christ . Whilst they were doing many things  ( and sinning badly against one another in the process)  they had forgotten  what the church  was all about and where it derived  its source of  true life from  . And therefore  Paul the  founding father of the church at  Corinth   had to stop them dead in their tracks  and remind them once  again  of ‘ first things ‘  in   1 Corinthians 15:1-11  
[15:1] Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, [2] and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. [8] Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. [9] For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy 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 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. [11] Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV)

Now  what you read here  is , is   what you have heard so often . And this is  the problem –  we  easily become bored  , we become familiar  with the sacred ,  so that ,  as AW  Tozer  says,  we loose our Oh’s and Ah’s  [1]  . The fact of the matter  is  that it is utterly sinful to loose  this divine  love  with which our hearts were inflamed when we first met the Lord Jesus Christ  as Saviour. The Ephesian church  ( Rev  2:4ff) was told that the absence of her first love for Christ  was  cause for repentance ! 
My brothers and sisters  when we read the inspired Scriptures, there are no imperfections  to be found there . The deep  wisdom  of Scripture  must always cause us to   say with the apostle  Paul  “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  (Romans 11:33 ESV).  We Christians  should watch lest we loose that  oh” from our hearts – particularly when it comes to the gospel .  And this is exactly what we are seeing . All around us  we see Christians  and churches  relaxing their grip on the gospel, fumbling it, and in danger  of letting it drop from their hands altogether , because we have lost the “oh” !

So then , in  the light of the Lord’s supper  being served to us today  , let us remind  ourselves  of what  this text  says as  Paul reminded  the Corinthian Christians concerning that which was of  first importance :

1.      “Now I would remind you, brothers  of the gospel I preached to you “ : This  gospel must continually  be shared  with the world ( as did Paul with the  pagan Corinthians ) and then   again and again by way of  a reminder  . Paul did not stop preaching the gospel just because  people  had become  Christians .

2.      “(The gospel) which you received, in which you stand, [2] and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word. “ .  It is the gospel preached , received  and stood  upon  ( persevered in)  that will save  you  i.e. bring you to heaven . Nothing else ! By not  holding to that gospel   with perseverance means  that  you have not received it  .

3.      This gospel  which  Paul received  ( Acts 9)  is of first importance : “For I delivered to you as of  first importance what I also received” . It was the  preaching of the gospel  that was Paul’s primary work ( 1 Cor 9:16  : “ Woe  to me if I do not preach the gospel “ ) , and we must never criticize our preachers for bringing before us  the gospel  too often ! One man I know  , came from a Christian family , claimed to be a Christian  ,  went to seminary , became a pastor , dropped out  and wandered around the wilderness for many,  many years , and eventually heard the gospel  in this  congregation and was converted, and now lives to the glory of God  !  

4.      Lest we forget  : The   content  of the gospel  is  not only a message , but  it proceeds  from  a  person : The Lord  Jesus Christ  !  Paul’s gospel message was this  : Christ died for our sins.. was buried… was raised… and appeared  ( 15:3-9) . So when you think  about the gospel  you must  understand  and treasure up these   4 things  in your heart :
·         Christ died for your sins ! If  He had not done that , you would  not inherit eternal life ( heaven) , but  you would  inherit eternal  condemnation ( hell) . The  words that Jesus  spoke on this  are very clear .  There is no middle road  .  I am the Way , the Truth  and the Life . No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn  14:6)

·         Christ was  buried ! Your  sin really killed Him !  He was dead . The thing that He had feared most in life had come true .  He was forsaken by His Father (Matt 27:46)  with whom He had to this point  enjoyed fullest  , loveliest fellowship! At this  time   He bore ,  to the  fullest extent ,  the  terrible and righteous wrath of the Father ,  and all this   out of love  for His sheep – the  people  that the Father had given Him  from before the foundation of the world ( Jn 17 :6, 9 ). We will never  know  the agony of the grave  for Christ   , but this is what Jesus did for you , dear believer – never loose the “Oh!  ” on that !

·         Christ was raised ! Thank God that  He raised Christ  from the dead , after He had fully satisfied (propitiated)  the wrath of God .  The following  thoughts are important  in relation to the resurrection :
(i)                 God was faithful to His eternal plan . Thank God that  He was raised on the third day in accordance  with the Scriptures ( i.e. the OT Scriptures). He is trustworthy , and the same God who sent Christ , and gave Him up as a sin offering , and  raised Him from the dead , shall  send  Him again  from heaven  to  subdue all things and to judge the living and the dead.
(ii)               Christ lives !  A dead Saviour  is no Saviour – that is the point that Paul makes in 1 Cor 15: 12 -19 . We  worship and  serve  a living  King and we can’t wait to see Him , and  even  though we have not seen Him we love Him ! (1 Peter 1:8)
(iii)             We shall live !  Christ’s resurrection from the dead by the power of God is  our hope of the resurrection also  ( see 1 Cor 15:20-27 )

·         Christ appeared !  Thank God that there were many witnesses  to His resurrection appearances.  Four  times in this passage Paul says : “Then He appeared…” . Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact  . The Jewish historian  Josephus , who did not claim to be a Christians  wrote : “ Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross , those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day  , as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.[2]  This helps us greatly  , for we know  that Jesus  is not a myth or a fable . He is a real person , and if what He  said  was true , then  He is  not only  a man , but He is  God . Therefore our worship today is right and meaningful and  also necessary.

5.      This gospel changed Paul’s life completely !  “ But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (v.10)  This is actually a bit of an understatement . The power of God in  Paul  was amazingly manifest , and yet Paul  receives this  knowledge not in boasting , but in humility , because   he knows that the gospel  is not his  invention – it has been given to Him , and he worked hard  with it , and  today we are witnesses to the  power of  God’s word through  Paul .
So , in the light of all this ,  we must  make sure that we never loose the sense of wonder  of the gospel . And when the vision grows dim within you , plead with God to restore  it to you . This is no minor thing . It is a major  matter . Your life , your joy , your meaning in life depends on   the gospel ,  which is Jesus Christ in you , the hope of glory ( Col 1:27)  . Amen

[1] AW  Tozer : Born after Midnight ,  p.85
[2] "Jewish Antiquities", by Flavius Josephus. Book 18, Chapter 3, paragraphs 1-5.

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