The Most Important Thing
Topic: Evangelism Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1–15:8
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15 (In the NT just three books after the fourth gospel)
What do you think is the most important thing in life? If you had to list the most important things in life – what would you put at the top of that list? And then let me ask one more question…how can you know that what is most important to you is really the most important thing? How can any of us be sure that we aren’t missing what’s really most important?
Eastern Airlines flight 401 was making a routine descent into Miami International Airport on the evening of December 29, 1972 when the pilots noticed that a light indicating their landing gear was deployed was not lit up. For the next four minutes both pilots focused their attention on trying to figure out if the problem was that the landing gear hadn’t lowered or if the landing gear had lowered and the problem was simply a defective light bulb. They opened a hatch in the cockpit called the “hell hole” which allowed them to look to see whether the nose landing gear was actually down or up. Unfortunately, while the two pilots were focused on the landing gear and the light bulb, the plane began to descend slowly, and because it was night and they were over the Florida everglades, no one knew that they were descending until seconds before they crashed. 103 people were killed in the crash, including the three members of the flight deck crew.
The final investigation of the accident ended its report with this verdict: “Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew's attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed."
In other words, these pilots got so distracted by a malfunctioning light bulb that they neglected the most important thing – fly the plane – with tragic results.
A voice in the cockpit
The book of 1 Corinthians is really a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church in the Greek city of Corinth and it’s clear from the letter that this is a group of believers who have gotten off track because they’ve focused their attention of less important things and have neglected the most important thing. So Paul writes to remind them of the most important thing – like a voice in the cockpit warning them – and us – not to lose sight of what’s most important.
Let's read 1 Cor. 15: 1-8. Verse 3 tells us what Paul would put first on his list of what’s most important (read again):
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”.
This is what the Bible says should top the list. Every list. Every time. Every person. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. But why would that be important? Why would that be the most important thing to you? I want to share three reasons why this of first importance to every one of us here this morning:
1. The gospel is the most important thing because it answers our most important problem
If I were to ask you, “what is the most important problem in your life?” I’d probably get a lot of answers. For some it might be financial, for others it might be health-related, for others it might be an interpersonal conflict and for others, it’s how you see yourself: you hate who you are and dream about being someone better, smarter, more successful, better looking, than you are. Or it might be something different than any of these things. And these are real problems and when they are in our lives they feel like they are the biggest problems we face and if they would just go away, we’d be fine.
And honestly, this is why the Bible can seem so irrelevant to so many people. Paul seems to miss our real problems by a mile as he lists Christ dying for our sin and being raised as being of first importance. That doesn’t pay the bills. That doesn’t change my prognosis from “cancerous” to “benign”. That doesn’t heal my relationship with my son who hasn’t spoken to me in years, that doesn’t help me to stop hating who I am. Sorry Paul, what you say is most important doesn’t even make the top ten on my list of what’s “important”.
The most important sound
But what if the reason that what God’s word says is most important to us doesn’t seem most important to us is because we’re focused on the wrong things?
When investigators listened to the recordings of the last minutes in the cockpit of flight 401, there was a lot of noise they had to pick through to get to the most important noise. The hatch was open so there was a loud sound of rushing wind – but that wasn’t the most important noise. There was a lot of talk between the three pilots, but that wasn’t the most important noise. The most important noise was a quiet click – barely audible on the tape. None of the pilots heard it at all. And yet it was the click that signaled the beginning of the end for them: as the captain moved out of his seat to look down the hatch, his leg hit the throttle lever just enough to disengage the auto pilot. He never knew it. It was the most important thing, but they were so focused on other things it wasn’t in their thoughts at all.
The Bible doesn’t deny all the other problems we face in life or say that they are unimportant. In fact, God’s word gives incredible wisdom and help for us to deal with those problems. But the Bible tells us that our greatest problem is something called sin and that it’s a problem with our heart. A lot of people don’t like to use the word sin today, but basically it’s a word that explains the downward trajectory of our hearts – our heart’s auto-pilot setting away from God and toward the dark swamps of thoughts and actions that dishonor and disobey God.
This isn’t a description of the most wicked people in the world, the Bible says this is the state of every man, woman, and child ever born: we are born in sin, which means we are born in rebellion against God and unable to love or obey Him. We can be religious – like the Pharisees were when Jesus came to earth, but like the Pharisees, it’s religion we love, not God – and there’s a big difference.
It’s our most devastating problem because one day we must all stand before God and answer for our lives and face His judgment. The Bible tells us that God is real, judgment is real, and eternity is real and that those who die in their sin will face hell, which is eternal separation from God. The Bible warns us of this, but sadly many people ignore the warnings until, like the pilots in flight 401, it’s too late for them to do anything about it.
That’s why the gospel is such good news and of first importance! Christ died for our sins… On the cross Jesus took our sins and paid the full price for our rebellion against God. For every man, woman, and child who trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior, the good news is that we are forgiven and reconciled back to God.
In John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in the Bible, Jesus said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus died to save us from the eternal consequences of our sinful auto-pilot hearts. That’s why Paul says it’s by this gospel we are being saved and that it’s of first importance.
2. The gospel is the most important thing because it is the greatest demonstration of God’s love
Jesus said the reason God gave His Son to save us was that He so loved the world. Paul writes in another letter that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Deep inside of us, we know that loving relationships are the most important things in life. If our home is on fire, we don’t grab the flat screen TV first hoping there’s time to go back in for our kids. When we come to the end of our lives, we don’t want to be surrounded by stuff, we want to be surrounded by our loved ones. Unfortunately, once again it is so easy for us to focus on relatively unimportant things in our daily life, like making a lot of money or having a lot of things or getting that promotion at work, and sometimes we can do that at the expense of those closest to us.
The Bible tells us that it’s right to think that loving others around us is really, really important. But if we have loving family and friends at the top of the list, the Bible says we’ve got it just a little bit wrong: loving others is the second greatest commandment, loving God is the greatest commandment.
We were created to worship and know and love God. That is #1 in our inner wiring and the fact that that may not even register on our list – the fact that there are people who say that God is irrelevant to their lives shows just how much sin has set our auto-pilot for the swamps.
But when Jesus the Son of God walked this earth, people who were really lost and far from God like cheats and liars and thieves and prostitutes found themselves wanting to be around Jesus, found themselves loving him, and what surprised them most, found that he loved them. God so loved the world He gave His only Son. It was love that motivated God to send His Son. It was love that motivated Jesus to come. As someone once said, it was love, not nails, that held Jesus to the cross. The One who created us, the God who created the universe, the Center of all existence, the source of all goodness and justice and wisdom and love and truth loves you and loves me. Even with our flaws and sin and rebellion against Him, He still loves us, and the cross demonstrates that because it was out of love Jesus died and God allowed His Son to be murdered.
Loving God first and knowing God’s love is the most important love in our lives actually puts everything else in right order and helps us to love others better. Jesus told us we can call God our Father because He loves us and wants us to be His children and be with Him forever. Doesn’t matter how old you are, we never outgrow our need for the love of God, and the cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for you because it cost God so much more than you can ever know. Will you receive that love or reject that love? That’s the choice.
3. The gospel is the most important thing because it gives us the most important hope
Comedian and actor Woody Allen made this observation:
More than any other time in history, mankind faces a cross-roads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
Is that true? Are those really the only choices we have – utter hopelessness or total extinction? Paul tells us of a hope that is of first importance:
1 Cor. 15:3-4 (ESV) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
Contained in this passage, and in the Gospel, is a hope that cannot be destroyed. He was raised on the third day…Jesus died but he rose again! We sang about it earlier – Jesus isn’t dead, he’s alive!
Our hearts beat about 100K times a day. Someday, one of those heartbeats is gonna be your last. And one of them will be mine. Might be 40 years from now. Might be 40 minutes from now. We don’t know. But we know it will come – and one second after your last heartbeat the Bible says each of us will either stand in a Christless eternity with no hope, or we will stand in the presence of Christ forever. Jesus Himself said He said: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
His resurrection was the first of many- everyone who believes in him will be resurrected too. That is the most important hope – and it’s based on the promise of Jesus Christ.
What do you do with this?
So as we close, if you’re not a Christian now, what do you do with this? The Bible says you have a choice, and it’s the most important choice you’ll ever make in your life. You can ignore what the Bible says is the most important thing. You can walk out of here and forget you ever heard it. But we’ve been praying for you, that you would choose to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You can’t earn salvation, but the Bible says God gives it as a free gift to all who put their faith in Christ. God is calling you to repent and believe in Christ. To repent means to turn from our sin – to not live for sin anymore –to live for God. To believe means to place all our trust and confidence in what He did on the cross. You can pray and ask Jesus to come into your life and forgive you your sins, and save you. It will be the most important prayer you ever pray.
I’m going to ask the band to come and lead in a song we sang earlier, Jesus Paid It All, and then I’m going to close by praying a prayer. If you aren’t a Christian, but sense God moving in your heart and you want Jesus Christ to be your Savior, I’m going to ask that you pray it along with me quietly in your heart.