The Most Important Thing
Topic: 1 Corinthians Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1–15:11
The Most Important Thing
1 Cor. 15:1-11
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 the light indicating that their landing gear had properly deployed was not lit up. For the next four minutes both pilots and their flight crew focused all their attention on trying to figure out if the problem was just a defective light bulb or if the landing gear really hadn't deployed. What no one in the cockpit noticed was that the autopilot had accidentally been disconnected and the plane was descending very gradually. Because they had a hatch open in the cockpit to try and get a visual on whether the front landing gear was deployed there was a lot of noise in the cockpit and they didn't hear the warning chimes notifying them that the plane was descending. And because it was night time and they were circling over the Everglades, there were no ground lights to visually warn them that they were losing altitude. The plane flew into the ground at 227 mph killing 103 people.
The final investigation of the accident determined that the accident had been caused by the malfunction of a $12 light bulb and 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." It was a case of death by distraction. The pilots allowed a lesser thing to distract them from the most important thing: flying the plane.
Warning in the cockpit
We've been in the book of 1 Corinthians for 8 months now and it's been 8 months of problem after problem, issue after issue in this church. I can't think of a chapter or a single message that didn't address some major problem that the Corinthians were dealing with. They really were a really messed up church!
But now as Paul begins to bring this letter in for a landing, he comes to what is not only the most important problem, but ultimately is the root issue behind every other issue: the church in Corinth was getting its eyes off the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were a church consumed with divisions and lawsuits and tongues and sexual immorality and getting drunk over communion, and they couldn't see that they were losing altitude and were in danger of death by distraction. In the same way that the warning chime tried to alert the pilots that they needed to figure out where they were and navigate the plane, Paul reminds the Corinthian church - and us this morning - that it is the gospel that is central to the church, it is the gospel that is to guide the church and it is the gospel that is to direct our lives. Only the gospel provides us a spiritual navigational chart to help us accurately see where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. Paul opens this chapter by pointing them back to the gospel as their navigational chart:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, (and here comes the navigation) which you received (where you've been), in which you stand (where you are), and by which you are being saved (where you're going)…vs 1
The gospel of Jesus Christ changes the entire trajectory of our lives, past, present, and future, but there is a warning chime in verse 2: if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.. The church must not veer from the gospel, lose sight of the gospel, or relax our grip on the gospel. Many things are important, but only one thing is most important. Let's read verse 3 together.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance (most important!) 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…”.
Nothing is more important than this: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Why does Paul keep saying in accordance with the Scriptures? Because these truths are not only testified to by the apostles and other eye witnesses, but also by the testimony of hundreds of years of Scripture saying that this is what must happen and that the coming of the Messiah would be the climax of God's redemptive plan. Centuries of God's word declare that this is the most important thing in all of human history - don't ever lose sight of it! This morning let's look at three reasons why the gospel is the most important thing in all of human history. Just a heads up, I'm going to spend more time this morning on the first point, so don't be alarmed that it's a longer point, because the other two points won't be as long.
1. The gospel is the most important thing because it answers our biggest problem
If someone were to ask you, “what's the biggest problem you're facing in your life right now?” there'd probably be a lot of answers in this room. Maybe for some it'd be financial problems. You just can't seem to see your way out of the financial mess you're in. Too many bills, too little money. For others it might be health issues. And for still others, it's a relational problem that comes to mind. Your problem has a face and a name. Relational conflicts can weigh on the heart and mind to the point that it hangs over everything else like a shadow. What's the biggest problem you're facing right now? There are many possible things that can come to mind, and these are real problems with real repercussions in our life, but the Bible tells us that none of these things are our biggest problem, not by a long shot.
And honestly, this is why the Bible can seem so out of touch 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's not going to pay the bills. That's not going to change my prognosis from “cancerous” to “benign”. That's not going to heal my relationship with that son or daughter who hasn’t spoken to me in years. That's not going to fill the loneliness that fills my heart and seems to define my life. That's not going to help me stop disliking myself and accept who God made me to be. Sorry Paul, what you say is most important doesn’t even make my top ten on my list of what’s “important”.
Our biggest problem isn't necessarily our loudest problem
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? What if the biggest problem in our lives isn't necessarily the loudest problem in our lives?
When investigators listened to the recordings of the last minutes in the cockpit of flight 401, they had to pick through a lot of noise to get to the most important sound. The pilots had opened the cockpit hatch so there was a loud sound of rushing wind, but it wasn’t the most important noise. There was a lot of talk between the pilots and flight crew, but that wasn’t the most important noise. To the investigators, the most important noise was a very quiet click – barely audible on the tape. None of the pilots heard it. Just a quiet click, but it was that click that meant the beginning of the end for the plane. As the captain moved out of his seat to look down the hatch, his leg hit the throttle lever just enough to -click!- disengage the auto pilot. Just a quiet click, but the consequences were devastating. Sometimes the biggest problem isn't the loudest problem.
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 us incredible help to deal with those problems. But according to the Scriptures our greatest problem isn't something happening to us, but something happening in us. That something is called sin - a word that describes and explains the downward trajectory of our hearts. The Bible says that our hearts are on auto-pilot away from God and toward the dark swamps of sin.
This isn’t just true about the really evil people in the world, 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.
It’s our most devastating problem because it's the most impossible problem for us to solve and it's the problem with the longest and most terrible consequences. The Bible compares our lives to a vapor, because relatively speaking they are so short. From our very first day on earth we are all inevitably and unrelentingly moving toward our last day on earth, and then the Bible says we must all stand before God, answer for our lives, and face His judgment. I think a lot of people think that God kinda grades on a curve. He takes the averages of everyone and as long as you're somewhere in the middle - maybe not the best person who ever lived, but definitely not the worst person - then you're ok. Others have this concept that God weighs our good works and bad works, and if our good works outweigh our bad works, then we make it into heaven.
The Bible says that God has one standard by which He judges everyone and that standard is absolute and total perfection. Anything less will face His judgment, and that judgment will be more terrible than anything we can imagine. On top of that, God's judgment is eternal. Once we crash, there's no second chances. Hell is real, and it's forever.
Here's why we need Paul's warning: it's so easy for us to ignore what the Bible says is a certain reality. God's judgment is inevitable and eternal and yet even saying that, our hearts - my heart - can feel like that is far less important than whatever challenges I'm facing today are. One of the deceptive things about problems is that they often don't register until it's too late to do anything about it. The pilots were blissfully unaware of their danger until ten seconds before they died. The pilot's last words were, "hey, what's happening here?" See, having a massive heart attack isn't a problem…until it is. Having the doctor say, "it's cancer" isn't a problem…until it is. Facing God on judgment day and facing an eternity of separation from God in hell isn't a problem…until it is.
I met with someone recently who doesn't have long to live, who will shortly be leaving this world and facing eternity and when I asked him what he would say if God were to ask him why he should be allowed to enter heaven, he answered very honestly that he wouldn't have anything to say because he didn't deserve to enter heaven. That's true of all of us. None of us deserve heaven. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23.
And that’s why the gospel is of first importance and such great good news! Christ died for our sins…
Jesus lived in perfect obedience to God and he did deserve heaven, but on the cross, he willingly took our sin upon himself as if he deserved hell and died for us, so that those who put their faith in him can be forgiven of our sins and given the righteousness of Christ as if it were our own righteousness. This isn't anything we could do or earn for ourselves, but God gives it to us as a gift when we believe in Christ. Christ died for our sins. I had the privilege of sharing this good news with the very ill man I mentioned and was able to pray with him.
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 for us
At the center of the gospel is the greatest love story. In John 3:16 Jesus says that 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. Rom 5:8. The Apostle John writes See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1
When God created us He wired us to be in a loving relationship with our Creator. That is more deeply imbedded in us than the desire for food or air. Sin tries to suppress it and substitutes other things for it, but deep within that's what we were made for and nothing less than that could ever satisfy our souls.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 when he said, It is written, man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The need for food is strong, but our need for God is stronger. Life can never be boiled down to the stuff that keeps us alive. We need more! We need God!
When Jesus says we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, we can tend to think he's just talking about what God tells us to do, as if the Bible was just a large "to do" list from God.
Communication is a significant part of love and God is a communicating God. "Every word that comes from the mouth of God" is the vast tapestry of rich and varied communication that God has given us in His word. It includes His commandments, which really are guardrails meant to keep us from going over the cliff. But it's not limited to His commandments. It includes His promises. His encouragement. His expressions of forgiveness. One of the powerful ways that love expresses itself is through self-disclosure. When a man and woman are in love they want to share about themselves with each other - the closer they get the more they disclose their dreams, hopes, fears, secrets. God discloses who He is, what He's like, what He thinks, what He loves and what He hates, what He wants. He speaks truth to us even when we don't want to hear it. Every word that comes from the mouth of God draws us into loving relationship with God - which is what we were created for.
But nowhere does God more forcefully demonstrate His love for this tired old world than at Calvary. We've been saying for the last several weeks that love isn't a feeling, it's an action word. God gave His Son to be murdered for our sins - to save us He sacrificed His Son. But this wasn't something God the Father forced on His Son - Jesus gave his life willingly. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
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. It was love, not nails, that held Jesus to the cross.
The cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for you and me because it cost God so much more than we can ever know. The gospel is the most important thing because it is God's greatest demonstration of His love for us.
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? Our hearts beat about 100K times a day. We take it for granted that our heart will beat, but someday, one of those heartbeats is gonna be our last. Might be 40 years from now. Might be 40 minutes from now. We don’t know. But we know it will come. But then what? We have all gone to funerals, and the physical body is buried and that seems to be the end of the line.
And if death is the end of the line, then any hope we have has an expiration date on it. Our hope will die with us. If that's true, then even the path of utter hopelessness will end with extinction. Like the bumper sticker says (I'm sanitizing it a little): bad stuff happens, and then you die.
The gospel tells us there is a third path - a path of utter hopefulness called resurrection! 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…
This is a hope that cannot be destroyed by death. He was raised on the third day…Jesus died but he rose again! He died, but he lives, never to die again! The resurrection of Christ was at the center of Paul's message and the driving motivation in his ministry because it was the resurrected Christ that appeared to him when he was on his way to kill Christians, and called him into his service. You can't unthread the resurrection from Christianity and still have Christianity and that's what some in the Corinthian church are trying to do - we'll talk more about that next week.
But this morning let's remember that God has given us an incredible, indestructible hope called resurrection. Death and the grave couldn't hold Jesus down. Jesus didn't cut a bargain with death, he overcame the power of death. He destroyed the power of death! And he promises that everyone who believes in him will also be resurrected on the last day. It is the most important hope! (Call band up)
Do you have that hope firmly rooted in your heart? Are you confident that death isn't the end of the line, but that there will be a glorious resurrection and the dead will live again?! Are you trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
I'm going to pray a prayer - if you have never asked Jesus to be your Savior I invite you to pray it quietly with me. Life doesn't have to end in utter hopelessness and death. There is a third path - resurrection, and God promises it to everyone who believes in His Son Jesus.