1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series B)
“Of First Importance”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 1, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is from the Epistle reading for the Resurrection of Our Lord, recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:
1Now I want you to know, brothers, the Gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, because of which you are standing, 2and through which you are also being saved. [I want you to know] in what terms I preached the Gospel to you, if you are holding fast to it—unless you believed in vain. 3For I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for taking away our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that He was buried, and that He has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8And last of all, as though one untimely born, He appeared also to me.
What is important to you? Think for a moment about what would be the top 5 most important aspects of your life. According to one Gallop poll I found, those surveyed ranked as extremely or very important the following: #5 your money; #4 your friends; #3 your work; #2 your health; and #1 your family. Notice what didn’t make the top 5? Your faith or religion. It was #6 with only 65% of responders saying it was extremely or very important. Even work beat out the Lord!
A poll like this certainly says something about our culture. But what does it say about us Christians? In your top 5, where did you rank your Christian faith? I’m guessing that there’s a good chance it wasn’t number 1. Family is extremely important. Health, work, friends, and money are very important. But none of them are of “first importance.” That place should be held only by God.
The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is really your god. “Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. . . . So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he has great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God. This truth reappears when you notice how arrogant, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent they are when the possessions no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore, . . . to “have a god” is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts” (Large Catechism). In other words, what is of “first importance” in your life, God and His Gospel of grace and mercy in Jesus or something or someone else?
According to the reports Paul had received about the Corinthian Christians, some of them had failed to grasp the implications of the Gospel for the Christian’s hope. Contemporary issues crowded out the Gospel of life and forgiveness in Jesus. The same happens to us today so that we often turn away from the one true God and His Word as a matter of first importance. We fail to hold on to what God has done for us and has given to us by His grace. The truths and application of the Gospel for us can become neglected as we stray from the true fear, love, and trust in the God who took on flesh in order to bear our sin of idolatry, and all our sins, who suffered hell and death because of our sins, and who purchased by His sacrifice forgiveness and eternal life for all people.
So Paul writes to the Corinthian church, wanting to make known to them “in what terms” he had preached the Gospel to them. Pastorally, he was concerned, “Are you holding fast to that Gospel? Are you retaining that Gospel? Surely you didn’t receive it in vain, did you?” We must ask ourselves the same kinds of questions as we look at the things of “first importance.” We have also received the Gospel Word. Because of the power of that Gospel Word, we are standing in the Christian faith. The Gospel Word saves us from all sins, from death, and from the might of the devil because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). Are you and I holding fast to that Gospel? Is it and can it truly be of first importance to us who believe?
By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the answer is YES! Like Paul, as your pastor in Christ, I want you to know the Gospel that I preached to you, which you also received, because of which you are standing, and through which you are also being saved. Week after week, by the grace of God, I pass on to you as of first importance that which I also received. It is as true on Easter day as it is in the middle of February or the end of July. Christ died for the taking away of sins. He was buried. He has been raised. This Gospel, dear saints, is the matter of first importance for us as Christians despite of the claims of culture and self to the contrary.
Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, died for the taking away our sins according to the Scriptures. Isaiah 53, which we heard on Good Friday, announced, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; . . . All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:4-12 ESV). Without the powerful death of Jesus on the cross as full payment, the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, we would still be in our sins and under the wrath and condemnation of God the Father. But the fact of the matter is, as of first importance, Christ died for the taking away of our sins. Forgiveness has been won for you. “With his wounds we are healed.”
Jesus’ burial also reminds us of the reality of His death for us. Jesus breathed His last. He experienced the separation of soul and body in death. We confess this Scriptural truth in the Creeds, “He was crucified, died, and was buried.” The very Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth died on the cross for the taking away of our sins. His corpse was laid to rest in a rock-hewn tomb. And this Jesus has been raised in body and soul from the dead. So by His death, Jesus destroyed death. By His burial and rest in the tomb, Jesus has made holy the graves of His Christians. And by His resurrection, Jesus has brought life and immortality to light (LSB Agenda: Committal).
That’s why we are here this morning, celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That’s why we gather here each Sunday, the first day of the week, to remember and celebrate His rising again from death. It’s a matter of first importance. It ought not to be neglected in favor of other so-called “priorities” on a Sunday morning. For this is the place where we gather as Christians once a week to hear the Gospel Word of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Together as the family of God in Christ, we gather around the Word to hear the eye-witness accounts of those who saw and touched the Risen Christ who “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV). This is the place where we also gather at the Lord’s Table to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Here at the altar, the Risen Christ comes to us with His true Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. In the eating and drinking of this sacred meal with faith in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” Christ delivers to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation that His sacrifice on the cross purchased and won for us.
The hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the receiving of His Body and Blood in the Supper are truly the matters of first importance for us as Christians. As we are compelled by the Word to rethink the things that are extremely or most important to us, it is our prayer and the fervent desire of our faith that our trust in the one, true God and in His Gospel be at the very top. That is, after all, God’s desire for each one of us in Christ. And it is a desire that God fulfills in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the very Gospel He gives in Word and Sacrament.
By the gracious mercy of God in Christ who died, was buried, and is risen again “for us and for our salvation,” you and I are made the people of God in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized into His death and resurrection so that we become those who are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made known in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10). The Gospel that we hear and receive in Word and Sacrament, which delivers to us forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, is of first importance to us by the grace and mercy of God. Therefore, we will fear, love, and trust in God above all things, standing with faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ through which we are being saved. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 359.