The Restoration of Focus on the Facts of the Gospel
S. Leonard Tyler
First Corinthians is a good book to support the evident need for calling attention to "The Restoration of New Testament Christianity." Christians living in a modem, materialistic and atheistic orientated world must fight to keep their faith securely resting upon Divine Truth. Human wisdom, doctrines and philosophies weigh heavily upon the minds and hearts of Christians. They observe the momentary glory, recognition, pleasure, physical fulfillment and worldly success enjoyed by the unbelievers. They also feel the scornful attitude demonstrated toward believers as ignorant, uneducated, traditionally bound by the old narrow, outdated philosophical beliefs and impossible moral codes of by gone years.
Elders, preachers, teachers and parents are desperately seeking ways and means of holding men and women, especially young Christians (even their own boys and girls) in the "faith once and for all delivered." Many are turning to promotional schemes, experimental demonstrations, feelings and "hallelujah out-bursts" of "I am happy; I love you; I care for you," to hold them to God in true, saving faith. Such efforts appear, at the moment, to be working with "outbursts" of spontaneous singing or clapping of hands at the close of lectures or sermons; enthusiasm is very physical on every hand, but where are the substance and evidence to build and sustain true, saving faith? The religious influence at Corinth was mostly idolatrous and contributed greatly to the licentious conditions characterizing the city. Yet, Paul encourages, keep your faith in Christ.
Paul began his letter by introducing himself as an apostle of the Lord. He addressed them as the church of God at Corinth, sanctified in Christ. They were behind in no gift. Christ is their hope into whose fellowship God had called them. He charged them to speak the same thing, to be of the same mind and judgment. He- then used the next four chapters to contrast the Wisdom and Power of God with the wisdom and power of man, the spiritual over the natural or fleshly. His next ten chapters deal with problems reported to him. Chapter fifteen gives Paul's last arguments to establish and sustain their hope of the resurrection, immortality, and eternal life. He reaches the climax and presents his final and essential facts upon which the whole of the gospel message depends: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's Son and our Savior.
The Facts Of The Gospel
Paul proceeds to affirm three basic and essential facts of the gospel. He is not contending that these are the only facts contained in the gospel or the only essential facts for the complete message; all inspired truth is the word of God which produces and maintains saving faith (Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 10:17). Notwithstanding, these basic facts were forcefully preached and gave sufficient evidence to produce faith in their hearts and move them to obey (Heb. 11:1, 6; Jn. 20:30-3 1; 1 Jn. 5:4-5). The facts give reason enough to be essential and, upon acceptance, produce and sustain true, saving faith (Heb. 4:2; 10:39). Any person believing these facts (Christ's death, burial and resurrection), has every reason to accept Jesus in absolute confidence of his own resurrection and immortality, even eternal life.
The Gospel Paul Preached
The gospel Paul preached has as its final and basic supporting evidence the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Corinthians received it, stood in it; and would be saved by it, Paul said, "If you keep in memory what I preached unto you." The simple story of Christ's death, burial and resurrection moved them to believe and obey Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Acts 18:8). Paul said, you stand in the same faith to live and by keeping your lives within the bounds of the faith, you will be saved eternally. The only questionable conditions are on man's part, not the Lord's. "If you keep in memory (if you hold fast, ASV) what I preached unto you." Man has a responsibility. He must keep in mind the gospel and follow its directions. Doctrine is essential in believing (faith comes by hearing God's word, Rom. 10:17), standing in it (living, walking by faith, 2 Cor. 5:7), and "by which also ye are saved" (being steadfast in the faith, 1 Cor. 15:58; Rom. 1:5; 1 Tim. 4:16). 1 Peter 1:9 expresses it, "receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your soul." This must be held in mind for the practice of godliness is an essential part of the gospel message (Tit. 2:11-12). This leaves man without excuse, no reason for not understanding, believing sufficiently to accept the resurrected Lord. He insures (stands for) your-hope of the resurrection, immortality and eternal life (Jn. 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 11:25).
Unless you have believed "in vain": first, unless the faith you hold is false. Paul affirms that no such thing can be possible, in the face of these facts. However, false teachers were among them and aroused some to question the genuineness of their faith. Any diversion from the preached word leads to a vain faith and inactivity deadens faith. James said, "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (Jas. 2:17,20).
If any departs from the teaching of Jesus and turns aside to the doctrines, commandments and philosophies of men faith becomes vain (Heb. 3:12; Matt. 15:9). How great is our responsibility to restore our focus on the facts of the gospel? Just as great as the value of the soul and its worth is more than all the world (Matt. 16:26). "Be thou faithful unto death. . . . Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12).
Paul Stirs Up Their Pure Minds
"I delivered unto you," he reminds them of what he preached when he first came among them, the gospel, the glad tidings. He says, "First of all." Most commentators, apply this to the order of importance only. Notwithstanding, it seems, that both as to order of importance and order of time could well be the implication. He "first of all," preached these facts when he first came among and they were moved by them to believe in Jesus. He declared the importance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, in proving that He was indeed the Son of God, raised from the dead and stood as the surety of their own resurrection. For said he, "If Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). "But now is Christ risen from the dead" (v. 20). Therefore, the resurrection is assured and our preaching is faith building unto eternal life. Now, how say some of you, "There is no resurrection!" He definitely preached that Jesus died, was buried, and arose from the dead. Jesus is alive. He preached the resurrection first in order of time to build faith because it is first in order of importance. Jesus is the Son of God and declares a wonderful and powerful truth, when he tells Mary and Martha, "I am the resurrection, and the life" (Jn. 11:25). Who can doubt it?
Paul continues, "That which I also received," is not from man but heaven (1 Cor. 2:1-5, 10-13; 11:23). This message is divine, God's truth, and will set one free. What power! What faith! What firmness of confidence! What absolute trust in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life in Jesus, our Lord and Master. Upon the acceptance of these facts, there is no room for doubt. The only logical response is, "Lord, I believe."
Therefore, arise and obey Him for He is both Lord and Christ, the Savior of all. "If God be for us, who can be against us." Jesus is risen. He is alive and speaks for His Father (Heb. 1:1-2). Hear the Father's own words, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matt. 17:5; 2 Pet. 1:17).
A reaffirmation of these facts will build faith, sustain faith and arouse within us a strong determination to live better, do more and teach others with full confidence. God will give the increase and bless.
Paul's Affirmation Of The Three Basic Facts
Fact One: "How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." "According to the scriptures" means as it was revealed to him. This was not just a death. It was a vicarious death planned in the mind of God, "For our sins."
Christ died is a Divine pronouncement (Matt. 27-28; Mk. 15-16; Luke 23-24; Jn. 19-20), "according to the scriptures." If and when one reads all four of the gospel accounts of Jesus death, he certainly will be impressed with the shameful, humiliating even dehumanizing, ignominious manner in which He was treated. Then add the crucifixion with all its suffering, the piercing of His side, blood and water coming forth; the centurion's expression, "Truly this man was the Son of God." Also at Pilate's request, another centurion was called and testified to the fact that Jesus was dead. Pilate, upon this information, gave Jesus' body to Joseph of Arimathaea for burial. He was sure that Jesus was dead. How could anybody read these accounts with the credibility and doubt for one moment that Jesus died a real and historical death. (Please reread the accounts.)
Why Did Jesus Die?
There is no human reason to be given. It could be and only be a manifestation of Divine love and Wisdom of God. Therefore to answer our question, we suggest some biblical reasons for Christ coming to earth, living, suffering and dying.
1. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." That tells the whole motivating story (Jn. 3:16-18).
2. Christ gave Himself willingly, voluntarily and vicariously that sinful man might have forgiveness and live eternally in heaven (Jn. 10:18; Matt. 20:28).
3. He died to redeem fallen man and pay the ransom price for all (Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Tit. 2:14-15). Regardless of whether the texts have reference to the Jews or Gentiles, His death was essential for man's redemption in Christ (Eph. 1:7-12; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:22).
4. He died to fulfill Old Testament prophecy and establish a new covenant or dispensation (Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14; Luke 24:46; Acts 2:16; Gal. 3:19,24). There are many New Testament texts confirming the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Luke 24:44-49; Jn. 6:44-45; 12:32-34; Acts 13:20). Christ's death was no accident, no humanly planned scheme to kill a human being. He died a vicarious death, "for our sins."
5. Sin and death gave reason for Christ's death to save man (2 Tim. 1: 10). Death was the last enemy to be conquered and required Christ's dying for us (1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Cor. 15:56). He tasted death for all and freed us from the bondage of death (Heb. 2:9-10, 14-18; 4:14-16).
6. Christ died to become our high priest which necessitated the change of law (Heb. 7:12, 17, 24-28). He offered Himself as the sacrifice once for all and "sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb. 10: 10- 14). Thus, we through the "obedience of faith" can become "a royal priesthood" under Jesus Christ, our high priest (1 Pet. 2:5-10).
7. Jesus died to reconcile man to God (Eph. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:17-19). If one is saved, he must be reconciled unto God in Christ. There is no other way (Col. 1:20-29). This can be accomplished through faith, repentance, confession and baptism (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:4; 1 Pet. 3:21-22).
8. Christ's death was designed in the eternal mind of God for man's salvation (Jn. 3:16-17; Gal. 1:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:24): "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). Thus, every reference in Holy Writ regarding Christ's death ultimately leads to man's redemption. His death is essential to establish the resurrection and gives firm assurance of immortality, eternal life (1 Cor. 15:12-20,47-58). If Christ did not die, He was not raised from the dead, there was no resurrection. But He died and our next fact confirms it.
Fact Two: "He was buried" (1 Cor. 15:4). Why make so much to do about the burial of Jesus' body? There is not one miraculous thing characterized within the whole burial scene. It was foretold, notwithstanding; the burial was humanly expedited with no Divine intervention. There were some strange phenomenal occurrences but no miraculous manifestations at the burial.
The burial is here recorded as one of the basic, essential facts of the gospel. It is also recorded by all four gospel writers. Divine wisdom elevated this fact, the burial of Jesus' body, to such importance that it is repeatedly recorded. The place it holds in the Divine record should mean something to us.
There are two every fundamental reasons for recording the burial of Christ's body: (1) To sustain the fact that Jesus actually died, "He gave up the ghost." He is dead and buried. (2) To confirm the absolute essentiality of the resurrection. He is dead and buried. There is no doubt about it. His own disciples went back to fishing. Thus, we need not wonder as to why they did not recognize Him walking along together and talking. They accepted the fact - He is dead and buried. He is no longer with us.
Great phenomenal preparations were made to secure the safety of Jesus' tomb. Pilate told them, "Make it as sure as you can." Why was this done and recorded? One reason, it answers beforehand most of the critics' reasons for denying the resurrection. The grave clothes, the sealed stone door and the Roman guard to watch the tomb so no unlawful activities could interfere, substantiate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. Let us notice:
(1) The Swoon Theory. This theory affirms that Jesus was in an unconscious condition, but not actually dead. He revived and walked out of the tomb. Impossible? He could not have loosed the grave clothes, broken the seal and removed the huge stone door and walked out among the Roman guards and strolled aimlessly away unnoticed.
(2) The Thief Theory. (a) His disciples would steal His body or (b) His enemies might steal it. No man could have entered through the Roman guard and broken the seal, removed the stone door, taken up the body, placing the grave clothes neatly in the tomb and walked nonchalantly away with Jesus' body.
Other lawful restrictions help answer the false claims for rejecting the resurrection. There were four death penalties announced against such: (1) Breaking the seal; (2) Allowing it to be broken; (3) Removing the body from the sepulcher; and (4) Sleeping on duty of the soldiers. Now who could/can in the face of all these established facts still hold to any theory rejecting the resurrection! There can be but one firmly established fact - Jesus was raised miraculously from the grave. That is our next point. Let us examine it.
Fact Three: "That he arose again the third day, according to the scriptures." This affirms the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, "according to the scriptures." No one can believe the Scriptures without believing that Jesus arose from the dead and no one can doubt the resurrection without rejecting the Scriptures. It is a biblical fact - Jesus Christ arose from the dead.
Paul hangs every tenet of faith, preaching and hope contained in the gospel and offered in Christ upon these three basic facts: the death, burial and resurrection. He said, "If there is no resurrection . . . Christ is not risen, our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain; we are false witnesses, the dead raise not, ye are yet in your sins, those fallen asleep in Christ are perished, if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." Then he declares, "But Christ is risen from the dead. . . . By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:12-21).
After Jesus' resurrection, He was forty days among them and appeared at least on eleven different occasions: (1) To Mary Magdalene (Mk. 16:9; Jn. 20:11-18); (2) To the other women (Matt. 28:9); (3) To Peter (Luke 24:34); (4) To the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-15); (5) To the ten men in the upper room (Jn. 20:19-24); (6) The next first day of the week, He appeared again with Thomas present (Jn. 20:26-29); (7) To more than five hundred at one time (1 Cor. 15:6). (8) To James (1 Cor. 15:7); (9) To Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two others (Jn. 21:2); (10) To those on the mount of Olives, on which occasion He was taken up from them (Acts 1:6-12); and last of all (11), He appeared unto Paul (Acts 9:1-19; 22:121; 26:1-23; 1 Cor. 15:8). These appearances during the forty days forevermore refute the so-called "Hallucination Theory" that Jesus' disciples wanted Him raised so much that they just imagined, dreamed or saw Him in a vision. This is incredible. Talk about the figment of somebody's imagination, this is it! Too many intelligent people saw Him alive, believed and followed Him even unto death. Honesty demands that one accepts Jesus, if he believes these facts. They need to be preached around the world.
Luke introduces the book of Acts with the strongest affirmation that Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God, when "he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). This evidence established faith in Jesus and moved the believers to obey Him as Lord and Savior (Acts 2:41-42).
Peter, in the first sermon ever preached under the great commission, declared "Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death." He reminded them that David spoke of Jesus whom God would raise up to sit upon His throne, "He seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of Christ." Then he declared, "This same Jesus hath God raised up whereof we all are witnesses. . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Those who received the word believed and were baptized and continued in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:22-42). The facts of the gospel will convince people that Jesus is the risen Lord and move them to obey Him (Luke 6:46; Heb. 5:9; 11:1).
Paul wrote concerning the Ephesians' inheritance and hope and tells them when and where God accomplished it, "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places. . . . And gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:19-23). This is "when Christ ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. 4:8). Therefore Christ is sitting and reigning upon the throne of His glory today. And "he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Then God judges "the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained and hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
We must focus interest on these facts today for this was the purpose God raised up His Son Jesus, "sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26). Peter and John were arrested because they "preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" and gave Him as the power and name by which they restored the lame man's health (Acts 4:2,10).
The great and moving eleventh chapter of Hebrews was written, I believe, to encourage faithfulness to the Lord. He lists some heroes of faith of bygone years as witnesses to us that it pays to be true to the Lord in any circumstance, condition, situation, society or world in which we live. Then he turns, as it were, and says to all Christians, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
We rest our case for the restoration of focus on the facts of the gospel upon the death, burial and resurrection of the ascended and reigning Christ. These are essential facts, unmoveable piers, upon which our faith rests and our hope in Christ is stayed. May we believe, live and teach them "to the saving of our soul."
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 326-327, 354-355