Student Welcome Service - The most important message you will ever hear - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
The most important message that you will ever hear is not found in this book. For £5.99 you can own a copy of the Book of Useless Information. It is an official publication of the Useless Information Society. And if you flick through a copy here are some of the interesting but ultimately trivial facts and figures that you will find. So, for example, in the Famous People section we discover that President William Taft, the 27th President of the United States, admittedly quite a large man, got stuck in his bathtub on his Inauguration Day and had to be pried out by his attendants. Or for those of you who are scientists this book will tell you that Albert Einsteinís last words were in German, but unfortunately since the nurse attending him couldnít speak German we will never know what they were. Or how about the strange things that people do? Did you know that in 1976 a Los Angeles secretary named Jannene Swift married a 50 pound rock. And the ceremony was apparently witnessed by more than 20 people. Now my question is this: What on earth did they think they were doing? You can understand that if Jannene was either stoned or simply wanted a clean slate in life she would have married a rock but, come on, 20 people attending the ceremony, how did they get the day off work for that? Let me assure you that the trivia goes on and on. And you can get your hands on this for the small fee of £5.99.
How do you cope with the information overload that is a feature of 21st century life? Every day we are bombarded with a vast amount of information. Some of it trivial and some of it highly significant. So how do you filter the information to make sure you are not overwhelmed by a heavy weight of irrelevant trivia? Let me give you a free piece of advice: do not buy the Book of Useless Information! Our time is precious and the important data alone that we need to swallow and digest is huge. And so what have most of us done as a consequence? We have developed methods of filtering out the useless information that comes our way. So think about the enormous number of leaflets that come through our letterboxes? What do we do with them? Do we read them all through, carefully making notes, highlighting the key sections and then dispose of them? Of course not! We put them straight in the bin. And why? Because we have learned to spot a useless leaflet almost as soon as it is pushed through the letter box.
So hereís my question as I begin speaking to you tonight: Why should you listen to me? Why should you pay attention and use your brain instead of filtering me out and daydreaming about something else? The answer is found in verses 1-3. So let me read them to you. "Now, brothers, 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."
Now let me tell you what is at stake tonight. Letís be clear about this. The message we have recorded for us in this part of the Bible is not a piece of trivia. Did you see that it is called the gospel in verses 1 and 2? So in verse 1 we read "brothers I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you." And then in verse 2, the man who writes these words says: "by this gospel you are saved." Now the word gospel simply means a message of great importance. So, for example, in the first century AD, when this part of the Bible was written, the word gospel was used to describe the message that announced a great military victory. Gospel meant important news! It meant sit up and pay attention. It meant what you are about to hear really does make a difference to how you live your life today. And so therefore it should come as no surprise to us to read what we do in verse 3. Paul says "for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance." Because what had he received? He had received a gospel, a message of great importance, or more correctly he had received the gospel, nor just a gospel but the gospel, the most important message you will ever hear. So why should you listen to me tonight? Not because I am clever or because I am funny or because I am Scottish or because I am weird but because tonight I want to talk to you about the gospel. I want to talk to you about the greatest message in the world, a message that if you believe it and respond to it can alter your eternal destiny. Did you see that in verse 2? By this gospel you are saved. This is a message concerning eternity. This is a message concerning heaven and hell. The stakes are massive. In fact, they donít get any bigger than this. Here is a message that will provoke a response in us that will decide where we spend our eternal future.
At the end of the 19th century a man called D.L.Moody captured the hearts of thousands of people across the UK as he told them about the message recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. And this is what one non-Christian man said of him: "He talked to me about my soul as though it mattered!" Now I think that is why people listened to him. He talked to me about my soul as though it mattered. Can I say to you tonight, your soul matters! It matters to me where you will spend eternity. You see I do believe in a great separation after death, an irreversible division of humanity. Those who will spend their future with God and those who will spend their future without him, experiencing an eternal form of isolation. And I do believe that the gospel, the message that we are about to hear, is the only way that we can be rescued from a terrible future.
So what is the gospel that can save us? First of all, it is a message about Jesusí death, and we discover that in verse 3. And then, secondly, it is a message about Jesusí resurrection, and we discover that in verse 4.
- A message about Jesus death
- A message about Jesusí resurrection
Have a look a verse 3. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first important: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Here is the first big truth of the message that can save us. The gospel is a message about Jesusí death.
But why do Christians focus so much attention on the death of Jesus? Just look at the symbol that is at the centre of the Christian faith. Not a crib to remind us of his miraculous birth, not a carpenterís bench to remind us of the dignity of manual labour, and not even a boat on the water to remind us of his extensive teaching ministry. But a cross to remind us of his death.
The cross was the ancient equivalent of an eclectic chair or the hang manís noose. It was certainly not a teenage fashion accessory. It was the place of execution for political prisoners in the Roman Empire. The place where others were warned: if you step out of line this is where you will hang. And yet Christians, rather than being embarrassed by the death of Jesus, rather than trying to ignore it and sweep it under the carpet, have said to everyone they possibly can: come and investigate why this death is such good news.
I donít know if you have ever seen any of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator films. They are classic Arnie - 90% action, 10% script. In the second film, Terminator II: Judgement Day, Schwarzenegger plays a humanoid robot, sent back in time to protect John Connor, a young lad who is destined to grow up and save the world from global destruction. As you can tell itís one of those feel good movies! The problem is, however, that there is another terminator robot whose mission it is to kill the boy and his mum. So throughout the film, Schwarzenegger must display incredible power, speed and accuracy to stop the murderous efforts of this other robot. Until the final scene of the movie when, not surprisingly, there is a head to head battle between the two Terminators, which takes place in a huge steel factory. Now after some amazing special effects, complete with Dolby surround sound, Schwarzenegger emerges triumphant. The bad Terminator is no more and we see him dissolving in a molten pit. Everything looks complete, and so, John Connorís mother, looks from the scaffolding over the pit and sighs, ĎItís over!í "No!" replies Arnie, "Thereís one more chip." Sure enough, the technology that would one day lead to world destruction was a computer chip sitting in his head. And he knows that if the chip fell into the wrong hands it would mean disaster for the human race. There is only one thing to do. He must sacrifice his own life for the benefit of others. And so he grabs hold of a chain attached to a large crane and orders Mrs Connor to lower him into the molten pit. Here is the final scene of the film, with music booming, we see Arnie descending into the pit, giving his life away for the sake of the world.
Giving his life away for the sake of the world. Did you know thatís how Jesus described his own death? Not as an accident or as the tragic death of a young man still in his prime but as part of the purposeful plan to save humanity from the consequences of their behaviour. Or in the words of verse 3, Christ died for our sins. Question: Why did Christ die? Answer: For our sins. Itís that simple! The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. That is, what we deserve (our wages) for how we have lived in Godís world up to this point is death. Both physical and spiritual death. According to the Bible, spiritual death is to be cut off now from knowing the God who made us, to be out of relationship with him, and itís a condition that will continue into eternity unless its sorted out at some point before our physical death arrives.
Our sins have consequences. And yet the good news is that Christ died for our sins. Wonderfully, as the drama reminded us so powerfully, he left the security of heaven, so serious was our condition that the Son of God was sent on a mission to die on a cross, a mission that he volunteered for because of his overwhelming love for the people that hated him Ė for people like you and me! His death was not a tragedy. His death was not without purpose. He died so that you and I could live. Like the terminator, he sacrificed his own life for the benefit of others. And yet unlike the terminator, the problem for the human race that resulted in Jesusí death was not found in him but in them.
According to the Bible, the diagnosis of the human problem is sin. The prognosis of the human condition is death. And the only remedy for the human disaster is the death of Jesus in our place. You see someone must die. The courts of heaven are not corrupt. Justice must be served. The death sentence will be carried out. The only question is this: who will be the dock? Will it be you or has Jesus already served your sentence? The Bible says there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. And yet here is the great news! Blood has been shed. Jesus has died. He has suffered the death penalty in the place of others. He has suffered spiritual separation from God on the cross so that all those who hand over control of their lives to him, who step under the shadow of his cross, never need to face it. So let me ask you: Have you ever handed over control of your life to him? Not, have you ever gone to church or have you ever been baptised or have you ever been confirmed. But have you handed over control of your life to him? Are you someone who is sheltering under the shadow of his cross? He died so that others may live.
So what is the gospel that can save us? First of all, it is a message about Jesusí death.
And we discover this in verse 4. Where Paul tells us the amazing truth that he (Jesus) was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Now let me ask you to use your brain for just a moment. I hope thatís okay. I want you to construct a theory in your head that explains the following four facts of history.
- The empty tomb . How are you going to explain the fact that Jesusí body was missing from his place of burial? It must have been gone. And we know this because otherwise the Jewish authorities would have been round to his tomb in a flash, to gather his body and then to present it as evidence that all this preaching about the resurrection was a complete fabrication. But they didnít! So how do you explain the empty tomb?
- The early preaching . How do you explain the fact that only a few weeks after the death of Jesus his followers were preaching that he was risen from the dead, in the very city that he was crucified in. Were they deluded? Were they liars? And do you think they would die for a lie that they knew was a lie? Because some of them were killed because of what they were preaching. So how do you explain the early preaching?
- The extensive appearances . The fact that Jesus appeared to many people after he had been killed on the cross. So in verse 5 weíre told that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve, and then in verse 6, we read that he appeared to more than 500 hundred of the brothers at the same time, and, notice what he says, that most of them were still living when this letter was written Ė so Paul is effectively saying to the people reading this letter, if you doubt what I am saying go and ask the people who are still alive. Theyíll tell you what they saw. So how is your theory so far? What explanation do you have for the empty tomb, the early preaching and the extensive appearances? And lastly what do you make ofÖ
- The enthusiastic convert. We meet him in verse 9 when he describes himself as the least of all the apostles, as someone who doesnít even consider himself worthy to bear the name apostle. And why? Because he says I persecuted the church of God. This man killed Christians for a living but at some point in his life he experienced a dramatic turnaround that resulted in him travelling the world persuading people to become Christians? So how do you explain his profound transformation?
The empty tomb, the early preaching, the extensive appearances and the enthusiastic convert. What is the best explanation for all these facts?
Some people have argued that the followers of Jesus stole the body and then made up a message about his resurrection. So, according to this theory, essentially the disciples were grave robbers and dangerous deceivers. But this theory is a load of nonsense. Who dies for a lie that they know is a lie? Yes, of course, people in strange cults do commit suicide on the basis of lies that they have been told. But the people themselves do not know they are lies. They are under the impression that the things they believe are true. But consider the first followers of Jesus and their message about his resurrection. They could be found in the streets of Jerusalem, not far from his place of execution, and what were they doing? Preaching that he was alive. A message that they knew was either true or false. A message that they were prepared to die for rather than abandon. So, please, letís not believe any nonsense that suggests the disciples stole the body.
But, wait a minute, what if someone else stole the body? I came across a very peculiar explanation recently from a Professor at the University of California. He did not deny the facts of Jesus' honourable burial, he did not deny the facts of the empty tomb, his resurrection appearances, or the early preaching of the disciples. But listen to his explanation of why these events happened. He argues that Jesus must have had an unknown, identical twin brother, who was separated from him at birth, and who showed up in Jerusalem at just the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesusí body, and then showed himself to the disciples, leading them to mistakenly infer that Jesus himself had risen from the dead. Itís absolutely bonkers isnít it? How much faith does it take to believe in a theory like that?
So what is the best explanation for all these facts? Itís there in verse 4. The best explanation is that he was raised from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Or in other words, to put it as simply as I can, Jesus is alive today!
And let me tell you what this means for us. First of all, it gives us an answer for death. No longer does death have to be the great enemy of the human race. No longer does the shadow of its presence need to rob our achievements of all their significance. No longer do we need to fear the inevitability of an appointment that we cannot avoid. Because Jesus is alive! Death has been defeated and the Bible promises that all those who hand over control of their lives to him will be raised from the dead at one point in the future. Do you have an answer for death? Christians do and thatís why in verse 6 Paul can talk about those who have died as if they have merely fallen asleep. Did you see that? How scary is death for the Christian? As frightening as an afternoon nap. So, first of all, the resurrection of Jesus, gives us an answer for death.
But, secondly, it also gives us an answer for life. What is the point of life? Where can I find long-term and meaningful satisfaction in this world? And I donít mean short-term pleasure. I mean long-term joy and contentment. Where can we find these things? Only in one person. His name is Jesus Christ. He is our creator, he is our ruler, he is our King, and because he is alive he is able to offer anyone today a personal relationship with himself. A relationship that can begin now and which will last for all eternity.
So if you are a fresher at this university let me encourage you to make use of the time you have. You have at least three privileged years ahead of you, and who knows, some of you may have more depending on how you score in your exams. But as you start your new adventure at university will you please take the time to consider the destiny of your soul? As I said to you at the beginning your soul matters. The decisions we make in this life do effect what happens to us when we die. The stakes are huge.
So as I finish let me ask you a few personal questions. Do you believe the gospel? Do you believe this message about Jesusí death and resurrection? Do you believe that you are a sinner in great danger? And do you believe that Jesus died for your sins to rescue you from the danger that you face? Are you sheltering under the shadow of the cross? And do you believe that Jesus is alive and wants you to know him as saviour and king? If the answer to those questions is yes then you have reached the point in your life where you must become a Christian. Tonight is the night when you must begin a personal relationship with the risen Jesus. And hereís how you can do it.
Any relationship begins by talking and a relationship with Jesus is no different. It begins when we talk to him. And depending on what you want to say to Jesus tonight I have four prayers for you to choose from.
Here is prayer number 1. It goes like this.
Lord Jesus, I hear tonight that you left the security of heaven to die on the cross for my sins and then rose again to new life. But I feel nothing and I donít care. Iím happy to live my life without you. Amen.
Here is prayer number 2.
Lord Jesus, I hear tonight that you left the security of heaven to die on the cross for my sins and then rose again to new life. I can recall the day when I yielded my life to you and received the forgiveness of my sins and I rejoice in hearing the good news again this evening. Amen.
Here is prayer number 3.
Lord Jesus, I hear tonight that you left the security of heaven to die on the cross for my sins and then rose again to new life. But I donít know what this means. So please help me to discover more in the weeks to come. Amen.
And, lastly, here is prayer number 4. And this is the prayer for you to pray if you want to become a Christian tonight. It goes like this.
Lord Jesus, I hear tonight that you left the security of heaven to die on the cross for my sins and then rose again to new life. I donít understand everything about what you came to do but I do know enough to say that my heart is deeply touched. And so tonight I want to hand over control of my life to you and ask for your forgiveness. Amen.
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