In Which We Receive the Gospel, And Are Saved By It
Our series so far — indeed, the first half of human history — is but a prelude to the coming of Jesus Christ. In Christ we have the word of God made flesh, the perfect revelation of God’s character, a tangible representative of the Trinity, and a reminder of what we were created to be.
The term “gospel” simply means “good news.” Right away, even before we know what the gospel is, we know that:
- Paul preached it
- The Corinthians welcomed it
- Their church was established on it
And furthermore, it is the basis of their salvation:
So what must they remember?
The gospel they must remember is the one they received from Paul, who himself received it — that Christ:
- Died for our sins
- Was buried
- Rose again
That’s it. Just three simple statements — but oh, the implications!
The first thing to note is that Christ died “for our sins.” This is known as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the fact that in some crucial yet mysterious way Christ’s death substituted for our sins, similar to sacrifices on the Jewish day of atonement. Whatever else Christ’s life and death accomplished, they first and foremost restored to us the relationship with God that was broken by the fall, by taking away the penalty for our sins.
The fact that Jesus was buried might seem a minor point except for what happened afterwards: He rose again! Christ’s resurrection placed His death (and life) in a whole new light, validating His claim to be divine: the Son of God, worthy of worship and able to forgive sins.
On these twin pillars — Christ’s death and resurrection — hang all of orthodox Christianity. Without them, Christianity is nothing more than sentimental platitudes (and a cruel hoax). With them, we finally have sure knowledge of the Deity who created our universe.
The resurrection is such a crucial fact that Paul goes out of his way to enumerate the witnesses:
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
We know skip down to verse 20, to explore the implications of that resurrection further:
But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept.
The firstfruits were a cause for celebration in every agrarian society. They represent the beginning of the harvest after a long summer of plowing and planting, and an end to the reliance on last year’s leftovers. Among Jews, the firstfruits were also offered to God as an expression of gratitude.
Paul taps into that potent imagery, as well as the parallels with Adam:
For since by man [came] death, by man [came] also the resurrection of the dead.
Here we can see the promise of eternal life for those who are in Christ, reversing the death that Adam brought on humanity. Christ is the first to be raised from the dead — but far from the last:
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
Here we see a connection between Christ’s resurrection and His second coming:
As Western evangelicals, we have a tendency to focus on Christ as our “personal savior“. While that is an important truth, it is far from the whole truth. Here, Paul makes it clear that our individual salvation is actually part of a much larger story: Christ (re)establishing the Father’s Kingdom on earth, over and above all earthly powers and authorities:
Christ is on a mission to establish dominion over everyone — and everything — that has rebelled against God’s created order. That is the fulness of the gospel. Our deliverance from death is just a part of that — though a noteworthy part:
The last enemy [that] shall be destroyed [is] death.
Lest we get the wrong idea, Paul clarifies that Jesus is not part of that created order being submitted:
This alludes to the fact that Jesus is fully God, and thus doesn’t need to be redeemed along with the rest of humanity. Yet even though He has divine authority, Jesus still chooses to submit to the Father:
This is one of the many paradoxes of Jesus: that in His divine nature He is a full member of the Godhead, yet in His role as Son and representative member of humanity He is submitted to the Father. We can try our best to explain Him, but ultimately all human understanding falls short of the transcendent Reality which is Jesus Himself.
That is, Jesus is the source of our spiritual life much as Adam was the source of our natural life. How?
As [is] the earthy, such [are] they also that are earthy: and as [is] the heavenly, such [are] they also that are heavenly.
Put another way, Adam — our ancestors, or any human — could only give us earthly life, since they themselves are part of the earth. But Christ not only came from heaven, He is the Lord of heaven, and thus has the ability and authority to remake us in His image:
This, then, is the ultimate reason Jesus came: to manifest God the Father through His life, death, and resurrection, that we — and all creation — might someday bear the image of Christ.
- Share when and how you first “received” the gospel.
- What do you consider the most compelling evidence for the resurrection? (see “Explore More“)
- How would you define “eternal life”?
- Do you think of Jesus as your “personal savior”? Why or why not?
- What kind of life have you inherited from your earthly parents? What kind of life are you inheriting from your heavenly Father?
- Repentance: Where does Christ need to further establish His reign in your life?
- Action: How can you better manifest Christ’s image in the earth?
- Worship: What does Christ’s death and resurrection reveal about the depths of God’s character: e.g., His justice, love, and wisdom?
- How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb?
- Substitutionary Sacrifice for Sin
- Going All In: “The Third Day He Rose from the Dead” – Dr. Ray Pritchard
- Evidence for the Resurrection
- The Deity of Christ
- Philippians 2:5-8 The Humanity of Christ
For Next Week