We all struggle to remember things at times. To remember, and not to forget.
It’s why we have Remembrance Day every year. In 1919, every community in Britain resolved that we would never forget what had just happened.
In fact, there are two ways to forget, to fail to remember.
The obvious one is simply not being able to recall something. You can’t remember it. I was hopeless at history, and dropped it as a subject, partly because I struggle to remember historical facts. Ask me to remember Henry VIII’s wives, in order, with the events leading up to their deaths, and I just can’t do it. I can watch someone go through it on TV, and I’m gripped, but then I cannot recall any of it.
But there’s another way we forget. That’s when we know something, we haven’t forgotten it, but we live as if it were not so.
So, let me tell you a purely hypothetical story: I leave the house, knowing we’re short of milk. I’m in a shop that sells milk. I return home, and immediately realise that we still have no milk. Had I forgotten? Well, not in the way that I forget Henry VIII’s wives. But yes. I did forget. I knew full well we had no milk. It’s where the sinking feeling came from the moment I got home. I’d been in a shop, and acted as though the shortage of milk was not there.
We Christians are prone to forget, too. Not unable to recall the truths of our faith. (To my shame, I’d probably get the plagues of Exodus out of order.) But thinking and behaving in ways that don’t fit with what we know full well.
Today’s Bible passage is about possibility we might do that with the resurrection of Jesus. Paul is reminding them of something they already know. Verse 1: “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.”
This is not new. This is not a passage to persuade someone that Jesus really rose from the dead. This is a passage to remind them of something they already know, because they’re living as though it were not so. Next week we’ll find that they’re forgetting that Jesus really is risen. Of course, if you stopped them in the street and asked them if Jesus rose from the dead, they’d immediately say, “Yes!”. Forgetting it in practice. Forgetting it by implication.
We’ll get to that next time. But today is all about how important it is that Jesus rose.
So I’ve got nothing new for you today. Just a reminder of something you already know: Jesus is risen from the dead. But how important that is. We need reminding. Lest we forget.
Why is it serious if you forget that Jesus is risen?
Because you lose three things if you do so.
The Church’s Identity
Number 1: You lose the church’s identity.
That comes in verse 1. “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.”
This is the message that defines us as Christians. The stand we take, as followers of the Lord Jesus, is on this gospel. On this message. On this news. The good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
If a church ceases to believe the message that Jesus is risen, we cease to be a church. At all.
Sure, we can still produce a weekly news sheet that says “Kemsing and Woodlands Churches” at the top. We can have a Facebook page whose address is “Kemsing Church”. But we would cease to be a church. Because the Christian gospel is the foundation stone on which our very identity as a church is based. It’s where we stand.
From time to time I have conversations with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mostly, very pleasant people. Their approach is always that they are Christians, just like I am. We have that in common, just some different emphasis.
So I always try to take the conversation back to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter day. Because they don’t believe Jesus rose, bodily, from the dead. And without that, they are not a Christian church. (Yes, I’m aware there are other fundamental issues too.)
But the moment we let go of Jesus being risen from the dead, we cease to be a Christian church.
We lose the church’s identity.
The Forgiveness of Sins
Number 2: You lose the forgiveness of sins.
Paul reports two big historic facts about Jesus in this passage. Each is backed up by another thing that happened. So, number 1: Christ died for our sins. If you want to know that he really died, the backup fact is that he was buried.
Then number 2: Christ was raised on the third day. If you want to know that he really rose, the backup fact is that he was seen alive by lots of witnesses.
But there’s one more phrase that ties those two facts together. Verse 3: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. Verse 4: “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”
“The Scriptures” here means the Old Testament half of our Bibles, the bit written in the centuries before Jesus lived on earth. The Old Testament promised that a descendent of King David would come, and that he would bring about all of God’s good purposes. This descendent from David is called the Messiah, or the Christ, both of which means “the anointed one”.
But the Old Testament promises some very specific things about this Christ. And Paul picks up on two of them. Firstly, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. How do we know the Messiah would die to pay for his people’s sins? Because the Old Testament tells us so. The language here is picking up Isaiah 53 verse 5 almost exactly: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
We know how to interpret the Messiah’s death, because we have Isaiah 53. It was for our sins. He took the punishment that took our sins away and brought us peace with God.
But the Old Testament also promises something else. Paul then says: “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. How do we know that the Christ will be raised to life on the third day? You got it: The Old Testament tells us so.
People debate exactly where the “third day” bit comes from in the Old Testament. But if you read Peter’s sermons in the book of Acts, it is crystal clear where the Christ being raised to life comes from. We won’t look at them now, but you get it when you put together Psalm 16 and Psalm 110.
So what happened to Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is not a surprise to anyone who knows their Old Testament. He died for our sins, and then he was raised to life.
So if you forget that Jesus is risen, if you let go of that key truth, then you’re saying that the Old Testament is not a reliable guide to what God achieved through the person of Jesus. When you read the Old Testament to find out what God’s Christ will achieve, it’s not reliable. You can’t trust it. Which means you also lose the precious truth that Jesus dealt with our sins. Because that comes from the Old Testament too. We’re still unforgiven, guilty before God. You lose the forgiveness of sins.
Paul will spell this out explicitly in the passage we get to next week. To peek ahead just a little, here’s verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, you faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
We were trying to find out the bus times to get home from Tonbridge after school. The Arriva Buses website didn’t have the actual times for the 531. “Sorry, the timetable for this services is not available”. But happily, I found another website that gathers bus times from all over the web and puts it in one place. bustimes.org. But don’t write it down. You don’t want to go there, and I’ll tell you why.
Every day, the bus came about 8 minutes early. Once you’ve learnt that, it’s fine – you get to the bus stop 8 minutes early and all is well. But then Arriva fixed their website and we found out why it was always 8 minutes early. bustimes.org had the wrong time. Their timetable was out. Funnily enough, if I need to look up any other bus time, I don’t use that website. If it’s wrong about the 531, I can’t trust it for the number 2 either.
Paul is using the same logic here. You consult the Bible, much like you might consult a bus timetable. It tells you that Jesus died so you can be forgiven. It tells you that Jesus rose on the third day. If it was mistaken about Jesus rising from the dead, then the Bible, the timetable, cannot be trusted. It goes in the bin. And you lose the message that Jesus died for your sins.
Let go of Jesus rising from the dead, you lose the forgiveness of sins.
The story of your life
What do you lose if you let go of Jesus rising from the dead? The church’s identity. The forgiveness of sins. And number 3: You lose the story of your life. The story of your life.
I enjoy reading fiction. I don’t get as much time to read as I would like, but it’s fascinating to get caught up in someone else’s story. Part of the appeal of fiction is that it’s not your story. It’s a moment of escapism. A story you can relate to, because it’s like your world to varying degrees. But not actually your story. Someone else’s.
When you read the Bible, it’s not like that. In particular, when you read of Jesus rising from the dead, it’s not like that.
Because this is your story.
That’s what Paul shows the Corinthians. They’re in the story. And if you’re a Christian, so are you.
There were 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead before he returned to heaven. The New Testament gives us at least a dozen occasions when Jesus appeared alive during that time. Paul records several in verses 5 to 7: Cephas, the Twelve, 500 at the same time, James, all the apostles.
But he doesn’t stop there. After Jesus returned to heaven, Paul doesn’t shout “cut”; he leaves the cameras running. Jesus was seen alive one last time. This one was different. It was after Jesus returned to heaven. But it was just as real.
Paul, who wrote this, used to go by the name of Saul. He hated Christians with a vengeance, and was rounding them up to be arrested and even killed. One such trip took him to the city of Damascus, and on the way there he was stopped by a dazzling bright light. A voice identified this as the risen Jesus, in all his glorified splendour. From that moment on, Saul was a changed man. He changed his name to Paul, and went about trying to persuade other people to follow Jesus.
How did Paul change from being a persecutor to being a Christian himself? He says, verse 10: The grace of God. It was all God’s doing.
And as Paul worked and worked and worked to tell other about Jesus, what was really going on? Answer, second half of verse 10: The grace of God. This was all God’s doing, too.
God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, but God hadn’t finished. Raising Jesus was just step 1. He wanted people to follow the Jesus he’d just raised to life. He wanted the Corinthians to be Christians. So the risen Jesus met with Paul on the road to Damascus, and changed his life totally. And God worked in Paul as Paul preached, to bring the Corinthians to faith in Jesus.
The story of the resurrection is not someone else’s story. Not for the Corinthians. They’re in the story. And so are we if we’re Christians. God didn’t raise Jesus just as a great story we can teach our children. He raised Jesus because he wants us to know this Jesus. To love this Jesus. To follow this Jesus.
And what Paul will go on to show is that the story still isn’t finished. The last chapter still hasn’t been told, but more on that next time.
For today the point is that if we let go of Jesus being raised from the dead, we’re not just killing off the best story the world has ever heard. We’re actually killing off the story we live in.
If you’re a Christian, you are part of a wonderful story in which God himself enters our world and kills off death by dying himself. The day will come when sickness, suffering and death will be no more. This isn’t some fairy tale from a parallel universe. This is the real world, and it’s the world you’re living in.
But if Jesus did not rise from the dead, that whole story, that whole world, disappears in a puff of smoke.
Let go of Jesus rising from the dead, you lose the story of your life.
1 Corinthians 15 is all about the fact that it’s easy for us to forget the resurrection of Jesus.
Not to forget it ever happened. But to forget it in practice. To hold beliefs that imply Jesus did not rise.
And so the first place to start is to be absolutely clear that Jesus really did rise. And this really does matter.
If you’re not yet a Christian, this I the one thing that matters. If Jesus rose from the dead, he cannot be an irrelevance. So please look at the evidence for what happened on the first Easter Day.
For those of us who are Christians, Jesus rising from the dead is more important than possibly we realise. If it didn’t happen, we lose the church’s identity, we lose forgiveness of sin ,we lose the story of our lives.
So although it’s familiar ground, it does us good to remind ourselves of the gospel. The gospel we heard. The gospel we received. The gospel that will save us, provided we hold onto it. Christ was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
And being reminded, we resolve: We will hold firmly to this good news. We won’t forget it. We won’t do anything that amounts to forgetting. Instead, we’ll live out the good news that Jesus not only rose; he is risen.