Lay Reader = Philippians 2:1-11
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We are starting a new series looking at the Gospel. The word that we translate as “gospel” in the New Testament is “euangelion.” If you listen closely, maybe you hear the word “angel” in “euangelion.” An angel is a messenger, and this part of the word means “message” or “news.” The first part of the word “eu,” means “good” in Greek. So “euangelion” literally means “good news” or “good message.” That’s also where we get the English word “evangelism.” So the Gospel is the good news or good message about Jesus. And when we tell someone else about that good news, it’s evangelism.
Great. So what’s the good news about Jesus? Many of the letters in the New Testament were written to hash out the details of the good news about Jesus. For the first few hundred years, Christians had to gather on occasion to settle debates about the Gospel.
Was Jesus human? Was Jesus God? Was Jesus both? Did Jesus really die, or was he really good at holding his breath? Did Jesus really rise again? Are Christians supposed to be Jewish, or are we something related but new?
Have you heard the Randy Newman song, “Heaven Is My Home”? Is that true? Are we just passing through this world but our ultimate home is heaven? What is heaven? What does it mean for us to “live” in heaven? Do we have bodies, or just spirits? Does gravity exist in heaven? If heaven is my home, am I just passing time down here on earth or do my decisions in life matter?
These are just some of the many questions we have to answer when we think about the Gospel. And my contention is that the answers to these Gospel questions aren’t mere curiosities. The answers to these Gospel questions can change our outlook on our struggles. The answers to these Gospel questions can change how we seek purpose and meaning in life. The answers to these Gospel questions can change how we live because they change why we live.
The answers to these Gospel questions determine our perspective, our vantage point for life.
Our son has been trying to figure out geography. He knows that Colorado, Michigan, and Texas are all places where his family live. But from his perspective we get on an airplane, fly in the air, and land in a totally new place. He was confused about how these places are connected. He asked me if they’re all on the earth. So I dug through my dusty box of electronics and found a set of virtual reality goggles. I fired up a virtual reality model of the Earth, zoomed out to space, handed him the goggles, and told him to look down while wearing the goggles. “Dada! It’s the earth!” Viewing from space, he could see Colorado and Michigan and Texas, and where they are in relation to each other. He could see all the land between them. That new vantage point, that new perspective helps him understand this world we live in. The Gospel gives us that new vantage point, that new perspective to understand this world we live in, too. The Gospel helps us see how our knowledge, our hearts, our souls, our decisions, our motivations are all connected as part of a bigger picture.
In our text today, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. In the chapter before our text today, the churchgoers are competing with each other to see who’s the most important. Everyone was trying to be the most impressive, the most important. The smart person felt smugly superior. The emotional person felt they had more authentic passion for Christ. The person who received guidance from the Holy Spirit felt others didn’t have their holy insight.
Paul writes in this chapter that they need a new perspective, a new vantage point. They need to refocus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their hearts, souls, minds, and lives. Maybe we need to return to the Gospel as well.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Event or Process
It was and still is the only time this has ever happened to me. I received an email from a company offering me money…and it was actually TRUE! I ignored the first two attempts, because the success rate on money offers from emails is infinitesimally small. But something seemed plausible this time, so I looked into it on the third attempt. A couple years prior I had left computer programming to be come a pastor, and this email claimed that my last employer still owed me some money. It wasn’t thousands of dollars, but it was hundreds. I contacted my employer, found out it was true, and sure enough I got the money. What a pleasant surprise! That was good news! That was a good day!
Another good day was August 11, 2007. I was up in Michigan by a lake. Some of my best friends were there. My family was there. I was in a suit. Becca was in a white dress. It was our wedding day! That was a good news day, too!
Both of those days were good news days, but with some key distinctions. The biggest difference between those two good news days? Getting some extra money was a nice day, but it has literally zero impact on my life today. Even if it had been thousands instead of hundreds of dollars, it was a one-time event. My wedding day, though, very much affects my life every single day. That good news started on a particular day, but it’s still active and in-process today.
In our text today, the Corinthian churchgoers thought the good news about Jesus Christ, the Gospel, the “euangelion,” was a one-time event. It was good news. Great news, even. But it was a one-and-done bit of good news.
Have you ever heard about the most important comma? There’s a comma that contains more value than any other comma in history. Any idea which comma that is? It’s in the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary <COMMA> suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” Everything Jesus did between his birth and his death is represented by one comma in the Apostle’s Creed. Every teaching. Every healing. Every life transformed. Every Old Testament commandment given a new interpretation. Everything you’ve ever heard about Jesus outside of Christmas and Easter – one comma.
So how important is that comma? Is Jesus just about a miraculous birth, a death on our behalf, and a saving resurrection? Or did the rest of his life matter, too?
And in the same way, do our lives matter? When we are baptized, something good happens. The details are a little fuzzy, but it’s spiritually good. When we die, we are promised that something good awaits us. The details are a little fuzzy, but it’s eternally good for people who believe in Jesus. What about the space between? Does the Good News of Jesus apply to our lives between those moments? Do our lives matter between those two moments? Is the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus a one-time event like that unexpected money, or an ongoing process like a marriage?
Paul thought that the comma was very important. He thought his own comma was very important, too. The Gospel of Jesus Christ led him to travel around the Mediterranean telling people about Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus Christ led him to keep at it even when he was imprisoned or beaten or thrown out of towns. If the Gospel were just about being saved in baptism and receiving an eternal reward in death, none of that would have made sense. But if the Gospel is like a marriage that changes how we see the world, how we live in the world, then that makes all the sense in the world.
Is the Gospel like a picture of a good memory – oh that’s nice? Or is the Gospel like the googles that let my son see the world from space – a whole new perspective on the world?
The Gospel Is At Hand
I went and looked at every time the word “gospel” appears in the Bible, and a couple of them are from Jesus. So what did Jesus say about his own Gospel – his own good news? When Jesus refers to the gospel, it’s when he’s traveling around, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand, and healing diseases and afflictions. That’s the context for Jesus talking about the gospel.
This is powerful, and it answers some questions for me.
Is God far away or nearby? Well, Jesus walked among us, and he traveled around to be near people. God is with us – very nearby. That’s good news. God doesn’t just care about humanity in general, he cares about you individually.
Do our lives matter, or are we just treading water while we wait to get to heaven? Well, Jesus healed people. He didn’t say just bide your time, don’t worry it’ll all be better later. He healed them. God doesn’t heal everyone, but God cares about our lives and our situations right now. Our lives matter right now.
Does Jesus’ Good News affect us now, or just when we die? Well, the kingdom of Heaven is “at hand,” Jesus said. Not just in heaven. At hand. Right here. Right now.
The Gospel of Jesus isn’t about a “get out of hell free” card. The Gospel of Jesus is about finding as much heaven on earth as we can. AND we have the eternal promises, too. We have both.
Where do you want to experience some heaven on earth?
And where might God want you to make some heaven on earth?
Paul gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of the Gospel in this text. This is the bullet point summary of the good news that applies to our lives today AND secures our eternal future, too. These are the things Paul says are of “first importance.”
The first thing on the list, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Let’s imagine that you are in prison for a crime you absolutely committed. But after a couple of years in prison, the governor grants you a pardon and you are free to go. And your first, natural response is to say, “Thank you Governor, but I still feel guilty about my crime, so I’m going to stay in prison for a while longer.” Anyone here going to do that? No way! Or what if you’re pulled over for speeding and the police officer says they’re just going to give you a warning this time. Are you going to say, “No thank you. I was really speeding and I deserve a full citation?” No way!
If Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, then we are free! We don’t have to be imprisoned by our guilt every time do something wrong. When you feel persistently, inescapably guilty about a sin, you aren’t making God happy. God released you. God forgave you. You’re free from prison. Go live a better life. Keep trying to do better, but you’re free. That’s good news!
The next important thing on Paul’s list: “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” It’s good news for us that Jesus was buried and raised because it means God has entered into and overcome death.
During the Civil War, the North had a draft – did you know that? Each Congressional district had a quota of troops to deliver by any means necessary. Sometimes people volunteered – and received a nice little bonus from the government. But that wasn’t always enough. So some districts supplemented their volunteers with a draft. But if you were a person of means, you could either pay someone to take your place or pay the government to leave you alone and find someone else.
So let’s imagine a conversation between two Northern families after the Civil War. They’re sharing their experiences with each other. One family is wealthy and the other is middle class. The wealthy family says, “We were so fortunate. We had just sold our vacation home in Vermont, so when uncle Jim was drafted we had the cash to pay off the government and save him. It was such a blessing.”
The middle class family has a moment of silence and then replies, “We pooled our resources, but we still didn’t have enough to buy out Uncle Thomas when he was drafted. He died at Gettysburg. But that’s nice that you were able to save your uncle. I wish we could’ve done the same.”
In that story, we are the middle class family. No matter what we do, we can’t avoid death. We can’t buy our way out. We can’t resurrect ourselves. God is rich and powerful. God is eternal. God can avoid death. But he didn’t. If Jesus faked his death, then Jesus was just powerful enough to avoid death – that’s nice for him, but it doesn’t mean squat for us because we can’t do that. But if Jesus was both God and human – if Jesus really died – then that means God volunteered to go to the one place we can’t escape – death. That means Jesus is one of us. That means that Jesus’ story isn’t one of unattainable power. That means Jesus’ story affects our story, too.
So when Jesus rose again from death, that became our good news, too. Paul writes later in this chapter, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” We can’t avoid death. But death isn’t the last word. Jesus is the last word. He could have bought his way out of it, but he didn’t. He entered it and overcame it. And since he was one of us, who really died, was really buried, and then was really resurrected, that changes our perspective on death, too.
You don’t have to be afraid of death. It’s going to happen. But you don’t have to be defined by it. You don’t have to be afraid of it. It’s just the next chapter, not the end of the story.
Finally, Paul writes about all the appearances of Jesus. Over five hundred people. And each one’s a little different. Paul had to be struck blind to finally hear the call of Jesus on his life. Each appearance of Jesus was a little different. And that’s good news because it means each of us has a purpose. Paul calls himself an “apostle.” This is another Greek word that literally means, “one who is sent.”
Each person is sent with a different specific purpose, but each person is sent. Some people are literally sent like Paul – missionaries. Some people are sent to volunteer – maybe with the youth or the children or with adult classes. Some people are sent to serve – tutoring the Whiz Kids, filling backpacks with school supplies, table hosts and cooks at the Community Dinner. Some people are sent to lead teams and committees and ministries.
You are sent with a specific purpose. Do you know what it is? If not, spend this week in prayer. Ask God to show were you’re being sent. Be warned, however, that it’s usually not what you would expect. You’ll probably be surprised.
Sisters and brothers, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is like a marriage that affects us every single day. It’s not just a baptism and waiting to reach heaven. Not just a “get out of hell free” card. It’s an every day thing.
And Paul says we should remember the things that are of first importance.
Jesus died for your sins – you’re free, so don’t stay in prison.
Jesus was one of us who really died and really overcame death – don’t let your fear of death drive your life.
And Jesus appeared to over five hundred people and sent them in very specific ways – you have a purpose that is unique to you.
Now that you know or have been reminded of these things of first importance, what will the Gospel do in your life? Amen.