First Importance: An Easter Sermon (1 Cor. 15:1-4, 17-28)

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as 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 if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

There is this one word that’s been nagging at me. It keeps “popping up”. Everything I do seems to somehow result in this one word… Remember.

We are habitual “forgettors”. Paul wrote to a church he had helped to plant and disciple. A church he had preached the gospel to. And yet, he writes to remind them of the gospel he already shared. Remember the gospel. Receive the gospel. Take a stand in the gospel. We need to be reminded. Even after receiving and taking a stand, we need to be taught to remember. Remember the gospel. Hear the story again.

The gospel is the Story of Jesus.

We have these 4 books- the Gospel according to Matthew. The Gospel according to Mark… Luke… John. The Gospel is what is contained in those books. We often summarize the gospel something like this: Jesus died on a cross for my sins. Well that covers one chapter in each authors telling of the gospel. What about the rest of the stuff there? That’s gospel too. Matthew 1 is gospel as much as Matthew 27 (I recently listened to this lecture by Tom Wright on that very subject. If you’ve got an hour to kill this is worth a listen).

Mark 1:1 tells us that he is about to tell the gospel. He is going to tell us about Jesus the Messiah. The gospel is Jesus; who he is and what he does. And that’s a story bigger than a single chapter. We need to hear that story. And Easter Sunday is probably the best time to share that incredible story which culminates in Jesus defeating death.

Jesus’ birth/arrival

God is with us. Light and life comes to make God accessible to mankind. God was seen and heard and touched. He pitched his tent among us. That’s good news. The angel who appeared to the shepherd tells his “I bring you good news” (Luke 2:10); I bring the gospel (Greek euangelizomai).

The Kingdom of God is at hand. He’s there, appearing on the horizon. Origen referred to Jesus as autobasileia “himself the kingdom.” God is with us. His Kingdom is here and now. That’s good news, in and of itself. Who Jesus is, is at the very heart of the gospel. We’ll get further into who Jesus is at the end. First, let’s talk about what Jesus has done.


God’s power and Kingdom is present in our world, and it makes stuff happen. In Luke 11:20, after being questioned about the source of his power, Jesus says, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” In Mark Jesus begins his ministry with “the Kingdom has come near” which refers to something just coming into view. Now, it has come upon his audience. The miracles of Jesus unleash the power of the Kingdom into plain view of everyone. God’s reign is here now. Jesus’ miracles tell us of the Kingdom setting the world in order. The work of making all things new and in line with God’s purpose and will is happening right in front of people’s eyes.

Paul tells the Corinthians that God set all things under the feet of Jesus. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. The full authority to change, rearrange, reorient everything is in Jesus and he says, yeah, God is doing these things, these miracles you see. John the Baptist’s disciples are sent to ask Jesus are you the one we’ve been waiting for, and Jesus says, the sick are healed. The blind see. The lame walk. So, yes, God is asserting his reign and will through Jesus.


Jesus is the herald of the arrival of the Kingdom. Who Jesus is and what Jesus does come together in the things he says. What does it mean to be a subject of the Kingdom of God?

Did Jesus preach the gospel? Well yes, because he talked about himself. He tells us what he and the Kingdom are like. Not in ways we would prefer. He uses parables which sometimes make no sense.

The Kingdom is like a man scattering seeds. Some on good soil, some on rocks, some among thorns, some shallow soil.

Uh, Jesus, don’t quit your day job. Stick to carpentry, cuz you clearly know nothing about farming. That’s not how you get a good crop. But Jesus is clear that his teaching is to go out to all. The call is not reserved to this one or that, but send it out. Sometimes it will be fruitful, other times not so much. But Jesus has a lot for us to hear.


Jesus’ work gets him in trouble. He confronts oppression and injustice and hypocrisy. Hypocrites don’t like being exposed. People get mad when you criticize them. People get mad when your teaching threatens to undermine their power and control and worldview.

But Jesus’ death is more than just a reaction of those whom he confronted. It has a purpose beyond the intentions of those doing the killing.

Sin is lifted from us carried to Calvary and nailed to the cross and it dies there. Your sin is dead. Not just all those terrible things you did- all the times you cussed, told a white lie, or the times you punched your sibling when your parents backs were turned- but that thing in us which causes us to reject or forget God’s goodness and our call to be images of the living God. Sinfulness. Jesus says here, let me take that from you, and he let evil, sinful men strike the fatal blow to evil itself.

NT Wright said “and Pilate sends Jesus to his death, and Jesus wins” (in the aforementioned lecture). Jesus, God incarnated, dies. God was dead. Think about that for a second. They took God off a cross and buried him in a tomb.

Some of Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to anoint his body. The burial had been hasty, as Sabbath was coming. The same people who heard Jesus say, “I’m going to die, but I’ll be back” forgot. They just… forgot. Or they believed everything he had said except this part. They expected to anoint a dead body. In John 2, Jesus says he will rebuild the Temple in 3 days. He was referring to himself. But when the resurrection comes, his disciples remember those words. They heard multiple times about his forthcoming death and resurrection, but they did not remember.

On Pentecost, Peter tells the crowd, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him ” (Acts 2:24). There was no way Jesus was going to stay where they laid him.


Why are you seeking the living among the dead? You actually thought he’d be here? Of course he’s not here. Are you stupid? He is risen. Just like he said he would be. He is not here. He lives. He has been raised.

The wages of sin is death. If Jesus stays in the tomb, he is a victim of sin. He is collateral damage. He got destroyed for our sin. Sin would therefore win.

Daniel Montgomery tweeted this past week, “The cross would be a hopeless story if it weren’t punctuated by the empty tomb” That’s why Paul says “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:17-19).

But then, Paul rebuts “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” In the resurrection the penalty for sin has been undone. Sin has not defeated Christ, but vice versa. And so Jesus’ story, which would have been tragic, becomes Good News. Thus, we have gospel in the midst of death. “He was crucified according the Scriptures, was buried, and he was raised on the third day” The three verbs here need to be made note of. Crucified is an aorist. Buried is an aorist. But raised is in perfect tense, which “speaks to a given (often complex) state of affairs.” (Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, London: Sheffield Academic, 39-40). He died, and now he is in a risen state. He was raised and now is risen.


All this happened “according the Scriptures.” The Easter events are part of an ongoing and unfolding story. Jesus is incarnated into a story which was already happening. And he fulfills, completes and brings meaning to that story- the story of God and his covenant people. Jesus is the fulfillment not in the sense that he did this or that thing which was predicted, but in a much grander sense. He is everything Israel was supposed to be; a holy, perfect, obedient, set apart people, who would bless all nations and be a light to the gentiles. Jesus fulfills the functions of Israel- prophet, priest, king. This wrestling with God comes to a head in Jesus who throws a monkey wrench into Israel’s nationalistic ambitions, and says no, it’s about being my people, serving my interests, to bring about redemption and reconciliation of all things to God.

Over and over we see in the 4 tellings of the gospel that Jesus is fulfilling Israel’s story and Israel’s hope. For example, see Luke 4:17-21:

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,to set at liberty those who are oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

He brings this whole thing wherein God is seeking to spread his reign out from Israel to all people to its fulfillment. God in Christ has made all reconciliation and restoration of the image of God possible. He has opened up eternity and the God with man and man with God relationship to any and all who will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9). God has made this Jesus Lord and Christ, and placed all things under him, that God may be all in all.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Acts 2:36

Jesus is Lord and Christ. He now reigns at the right hand of God the Father, advocating for us. He reigns, and his presence remains here through the Holy Spirit who points us back to him. The Holy Spirit tells us the Jesus story, that we might remember him.

And he reigns until the time when the final enemy, death, is once and for all destroyed. Death’s mortal wound has been dealt, and although death is falling, and his end is near, we wait for that moment when sin and death and evil are once and for all crushed, destroyed, tossed out of existence and we will forever be his people and he will forever be our God.

The poet John Donne wrote (Death Be Not Proud):

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;…

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

He is not here, he is risen.


Jesus Christ came to us, died on the cross for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and on the third day he told death where to go and he walked out of the tomb, smashing the head of sin and death, and his people saw him, talked with him ate with him, touched him, and when offered martyrdom or denial of the confession, they said “go ahead, do your worst. We know what God can do with dead men.”

Suddenly all the stuff we fight about seems ridiculous. If we miss this gospel we fail. If we miss this gospel, a balanced budget, a beautiful home, being nicely dressed people, having well behaved kids etc. etc. does no good. It’s all vanity in comparison.

Paul tells us that he wants to know Christ his Lord, and the power of his resurrection, and everything else is refuse (Phil. 3). Paul calls everything skubala (a rather crude word for refuse or trash, a coming together of the words for dog and throw- that which is thrown to the dogs because it’s not worthy of human consumption) compared to knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection, and sharing in his suffering and death that we too may experience his resurrection.

Yeah it may all sound nuts. We probably sound crazy to everyone around us. But God is outrageous. He’s nuts. And we’re made in his image.

So when you’re trying to sort through what really matters, and how much value to place on anything, remember what is of first importance; that Christ died on the cross in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, and on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures. So don’t go looking for Jesus among the dead. He’s not there. He has been raised. He is alive. Hallelujah. He is alive. Remember that.

Resources used:

Ladd, George Eldon. The Gospel of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.

McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011 and McKnight’s lecture, “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?” which I shared via youtube here.

Morris, Leon. 1 Corinthians (TNTC). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003, as well as Wright’s aforementioned lecture.

One Comment on “First Importance: An Easter Sermon (1 Cor. 15:1-4, 17-28)

  1. King Jesus Gospel as a resource, eh? Yeah… I’ve been finding that as applicable in a LOT of ways lately…

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