Easter Message: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Introduction

Many of us have attended many Good Friday and Easter services in our lives. Many of us have therefore repeatedly heard the message of the cross and of Christ’s resurrection. Yes, we have heard the message of the death of Jesus of Nazareth and the resurrection of the Christ of God. The question is what impact has these services and messages had on our lives and conduct? Did these services and messages add value to each one’s Christian life or were they all in vain? God forbid, because all these were meant to inform, nourish, awaken, lead us to repentance and give us assurance of salvation through the death and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. This is what the Apostle Paul is saying in our selected and read passage. Our focus is however on verses 3 and 4.

He says:

1 Moreover, Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; 4 and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

The Apostle Paul gives here, a concise but precise summary of the gospel namely that:

  • Christ died for our sins

  • He was buried, and that

  • He rose again on the third day.

These are the three fundamental statements about the gospel of salvation the Apostle Paul makes in this passage with reference to Christ’s part in our salvation:

He died for our sins or us

Christ’s death is on our behalf on account of our sin and misery. Why did Christ have to die for humanity whilst he himself was perfect? The gravity of our sin and misery demanded serious reparation which humankind was (and still is) incapable of providing. Since the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve, human nature became so corrupted that human beings became “wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q and A 8). Human sinfulness is described in terms that display its true depth from which humankind, even in his or her desperate attempts will not be able to lift him or herself up. This has been described as total depravity. Humankind was indeed in a state of non posse non peccare (no possibility not to sin). This is so, as it is said in the Heidelberg Catechism Answer 62: “... our best works in this life are all imperfect, and defiled with sin.” God’s intervention was the only viable solution to human misery and this could only emerge from God’s immeasurable mercy. However, even though God is merciful and would like to forgive and save humankind, God is also just and his justice requires that sin be punished severely to its (God’s justice) satisfaction.

It is for this very reason that the suffering Servant of God had to take the load upon himself. This is clearly stated in Isaiah 53. We learn in this chapter that the iniquities of all of us were laid upon the Messiah. Yes, Christ died not for perfect people but for all lost and directionless people: as we read in Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his or [her] own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The atonement that was needed had indeed to be serious or heavily pricy to give satisfaction to God’s justice and to liberate and save humanity from sin and subsequent judgment. Many modern day “messiahs” would rather give way than risk any loss, injury and death on behalf of their followers. They identify with them only in times of happiness.

But as for Christ, he identified with sinners, i.e. he accepted to be among them during their darkest hour and not only to be with them but importantly, to carry and take over their deserved punishment. This is clearly articulated by the use of three prepositions used with the verb died, namely with us, instead of us and for us.

He died with us would refer to his identification with sinful humanity. Christ accepted, not only lowly human status but sinful and defiled human nature though he was himself sinless. He did not consider his divinity more important than his sacrificial responsibility. He therefore humbled himself accepting the nature of a servant and being obedient unto undeserved death on the cross (Phil 2:6-11 paraphrased). Here we see Christ identifying himself with sinners and dying their death.

Christ died instead of us, i.e. in our place. He took our wages of sin which is death. He took the punishment that was duly ours. He became that sin instead of us. 2 Cor 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  

The Apostle Paul in his statement: Christ died for us, meant that we can and should appropriate the liberating and saving consequences of his propitiatory death and resurrection. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said in Mark 10:45 that he had come to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He gave his life as payment for our release from the bondage of sin and its consequences.  

Through Christ’s death God gives us a second chance; an opportunity to reconnect to him through faith. It is regrettable that there, are as Paul points out those who hear this gospel but do not believe and therefore remain unsaved and on the way to destruction. These are the people of whom Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is messed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  

He was buried

The second basic statement in Paul’s summary of the gospel is that he was buried. The fact of his burial points to the fact that Jesus’ death represents a historical event. It occurred in time and space. As one who had identified himself with humanity, his burial is in compliance with the culture of the time. The act of burial, as a public occurrence is testimony that Jesus’ death was an undeniable reality. What was abnormal with this burial was that unlike those of many people, it was temporary. People saw Jesus’ body placed in the grave with the hope that like everyone else he was put to everlasting rest. That was not to be. It was seen with the body of Christ inside on the burial day but on the third day it was found empty.

He rose again on the third day

This is the Apostle Paul’s third fundamental statement regarding the gospel. He rose again on the third day. In other translations say “he was raised from death” which evinces that it is the work of God. God was the one responsible for the raising of Jesus from death. The tense used in the Greek text indicates that the resurrection took place in the past but with effects in the present. He rose from death and is henceforth the risen Lord. The profit or benefit to us, of Jesus’ resurrection is summed well in the Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 45, Q. What doth the resurrection of Christ profit us? A. First; by His resurrection He hath overcome death; that He might make us partakers of that righteousness which He had purchased for us by His death. Secondly, we are also, by His power, raised up to a new life. And lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.

This is the service he had come to accomplish as he said in Mark 10:45: that he had come to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He gave his life as payment for our release from the bondage of sin and its consequences.  

Liberation and salvation ensure us perfect peace in our relationship with God and with other people. Do you want to be partakers of this everlasting peace? Just imagine the extent of excitement when prisoners are released! Imagine yourself as an acquitted prisoner and being declared a free man or woman. What excitement! Do you remember the excitement that gripped the South African populace on 11 February 1990 when former President Nelson Mandela was released from prison?

Does the death of Christ provide you with such excitement? If so, why is that the case? I believe we all need to experience such excitement as a result of Christ’s death with us, instead of us and for us. This is so because the benefit of his death is immense. Listen to Q and A 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. “What further benefit do we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?”

A. “That, by virtue thereof, our old man (sic) is crucified, dead and buried with Him; that so the corrupt inclinations of the flesh may no more reign in us; but that we may offer ourselves unto Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” We are freed from slavery brought upon us by the evil one. Our relationship with God is in Christ’s death and resurrection renewed and we are reinstated as sons and daughters of the Almighty God. We therefore joyously jump and shout “free at last”! We are free for God! Hallelujah!

REV. PROF MATSOBANE JACOB MANALA