Over the last few decades, in America, the gospel has been twisted and distorted by all kinds of false teaching. Most of these false gospels have to do with our self-esteem or our comfort. There is the false gospel of Robert Schuller:
“What does it mean to be saved? It means to be permanently lifted from sin (psychological self-abuse) and shame to self-esteem and its God glorifying human need-meeting, constructive, and creative consequences…To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image—from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust.” (Schuller, R. Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 99).
Then there is the Joel Osteen gospel:
“He said, ‘Because I live, you shall live also.’ He wasn’t just talking about breathing. He was talking about living an abundant life. Not a barely-getting-by life. Not a life filled with lack and mediocrity. No, because of the price He paid, we have a right to live in total victory. Not partial victory where we have a good family and good health—but we constantly struggle in our finances. That’s not total victory…He has paid the price so that we may be totally free…Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self-esteem…” (Osteen, j. Sermon entitled, Living in Total Victory)
Then there is the prosperity gospel which promises health and wealth if you believe—and if you don’t have health and wealth, then your faith just isn’t strong enough. More recently we have been exposed to the Purpose-Driven gospel, which is nothing more than a gospel of “good works.” That meeting physical needs is the number one goal of the church, and is more important than the gospel.
Thing is, the apostle Paul said some harsh words about those who preach false gospels. Galatians 1:8 (John Darby Translation)—But if even we or an angel out of heaven announce as glad tidings to you anything besides what we have announced as glad tidings to you, let him be accursed. So what is the “true gospel?” The true gospel is this, 1st Corinthians 15:1-5—Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. That is the gospel. That is the “good news.” That even though we are born sinners, that we were cut off from God because of our sins, Christ died to pay for those sins, so that anyone who believes—and keeps on believing—will have eternal life. He didn’t die to rescue our self-esteem, He didn’t die to open up some Heavenly ATM. He died because we were wretched sinners headed for Hell. Period. Paragraph.
But not only did He die—He rose again! Matthew 28:6—But the angel answered and said to the women, “I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. But He is not here, for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Now, lest anyone try and tell you that the disciples stole His body from the tomb and sent it away somewhere, we have several eyewitness accounts. 1st Corinthians 15:5-8—He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
QUESTION: Who were the first human beings to see the risen Christ? Even before the women who came to anoint Him, the Roman soldiers were the first to glimpse our risen Lord. Now, Roman soldiers were a very meticulous lot. They were always on guard to do their duty at all times. And if it meant guarding a hole in a rock and keeping a bunch of Jewish fishermen from stealing their teacher’s body, they did it under pain of death. They weren’t about to die for a bunch of pitiful old Jewish guys. So it’s a pretty safe bet that when they told the chief priests what they saw they meant what they said. Matthew 28:11-15—Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. They saw the angel come down. They saw the stone get rolled away. They saw Jesus walk out of that tomb. Can you imagine—“What kind of man is this Jesus? He’s no man! He is some kind of god!! We didn’t sign up for this!” When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed…; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. That last line is especially important. Matthew wrote his gospel somewhere between 20-30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, so this story was still going around. And just to show you how long a good fish story can last, a man named Justin Martyr, one of the most prolific writers in the first couple centuries of the church, wrote in the year 170 AD, most Jews still believed the story.
In his most famous writing, entitled Dialogue with Trypho, he says this—140 years after the resurrection:
“Christ said…that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead . . . yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but…you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but His disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where He was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that He has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 108).
Yeah, a bunch of poor, uneducated Jewish fishermen convinced a group of about 60 professional Roman soldiers to risk their lives and let them take their rabbi’s body. This claim that Christ really did not rise from the grave was going around in Corinth, and had convinced some of the Christians there that Christ did not rise. 1st Corinthians 15:12-19—Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. The story was going around that there is no resurrection of the dead. This was one of the major differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees—in fact most Jews—believed in a resurrection, the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:8). And the point Paul is making here is this: if there is no resurrection, then Christ is still dead. His body is still rotting in a tomb. And we’re following a liar. 1st Corinthians 15:14-15—And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.
If Christ is still dead, then what they believe about the Scriptures is false, because, as he said back in verse 4, Christ rose from the grave according to what? 1st Corinthians 15:4–…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures… So if we’re saying that Christ rose from the grave according to the Scriptures, yet the dead do not rise, then we are false teachers by saying that something happened that doesn’t happen. 1st Corinthians 15:16-19—For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. In other words, we’re a bunch of losers.
As Christians, we put our hope in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if He did not rise from the grave, then we will not rise. And if that’s the case, then the only hope that Christ gives us is in this life. What good is that? If we are going to die, and after we die—nothing—then why should we live any differently than the heathens? In fact, he says down in 1st Corinthians 15:32—If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
1st Corinthians 15:20-24—But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. Firstfruits. In the Old Testament, the Israelites, if they were planting 10 acres, what they would do was they would plant 1 acre. Then about a couple weeks later they would plant the other 9 acres. The first acre they planted would come up first, and this was dedicated to the service of God. This one acre was a kind of guarantee for the rest of the harvest. And what was this ‘guarantee’ called? Firstfruits.
Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our own resurrection. Not only that, but this is also a fulfillment of a feast that was part of the OT Law. Leviticus 23:9-11—And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’” This was called ‘The Feast of Firstfruits.’ Watch this: 1st Corinthians 5:7—Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. The Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated the first Sunday after the first Sabbath after the Passover. Dwell on that for a second. He was crucified on—probably—Thursday. Probably not Friday, it was more likely on Thursday. Passover on Friday. Sabbath on Saturday. What feast would take place on Sunday? Feast of Firstfruits. When the sheaf would be waved before the LORD, and the sacrifice would be acceptable to Him on our behalf.
Now, check this out. Matthew 27:51-53—Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
And this: Luke 24:1—Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
Just how early in the morning was this?
Matthew 28:1—Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Mark 16:1—Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
John 20:1—Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
When was the Jewish Sabbath? Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday. When did the Jewish Sabbath end? Saturday evening. So, after the Sabbath, on Sunday morning, before sunrise—it had to be before sunrise, so that it would be three days and three nights; if the sun had come up it would have been four days—that Sunday morning, our High Priest, Jesus Christ, presented the sacrifice to the Father, and it was accepted by the Father on our behalf. And it was a sign to us that we too will be raised. Hallelujah, what a Savior! But all that Old Testament stuff is so boring!
Now, was He the first man to ever be raised from the dead? No. Elijah raised the son of the Shunnamite woman; Jesus Himself raised at least three people from the dead. But what was the difference between Jesus and the others? The others died—Christ didn’t! He rose from the grave, never to die again.
Now, Paul was really good at anticipating arguments from those who would doubt him. For example, in Romans 6:14 he says For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. And he immediately answers the question before it can be asked. Romans 6:15—What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey? And he does the same thing in 1st Corinthians 15:35-38—But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. This is almost a parallel of Jesus’ own words in John 12:24—“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”
We can’t say for sure exactly what our body will look like, but we do know one thing for sure—it’ll be a whole lot better than the one we’ve got. Paul says that in 1st Corinthians 15:42-43—So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. We are born with these filthy, vile bodies of flesh. We will be raised with a body that I don’t think we could even imagine in these feeble vessels we walk around in. But I think if we could see the body God has prepared for us, we’d start pleading with God to take us out of this body and “Please! Please! Please give me that new one!!” Listen to the Geneva Bible translation notes:
“He makes three manner of qualities of the bodies being raised: first, incorruption, that is, because they will be sound and altogether of a nature that can not be corrupt. Second, glory, because they will be adorned with beauty and honour. Third, power, because they will continue everlasting, without food, drink, and all other helps, without which this frail life cannot keep itself from corruption.”
However, these Corinthians had probably become quite discouraged, thinking there was not a resurrection, so why bother? Why not just go on living like the heathens they were? I mean, if we’re just gonna die when it’s all said and done, who cares? But Paul sums this whole thing up in 1st Corinthians 15:54-58—So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. In other words, whatever we do in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—anything we do to spread His fame, His name and His glory—will not go unnoticed by God.
Listen to what Christ tells us in Revelation 22:12—“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” And in fact, that is exactly what Paul would tell the Corinthians in his second letter to them, 2nd Corinthians 5:9-10—Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Our salvation is not what is being judged at this ‘judgment seat.’ What is being judged is our works, whether they were done in Christ Jesus, or in our own flesh. And we will receive the reward we are due. Because Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable to the Father on our behalf. And because of that, when we stand before that Judgment Seat of Christ, we will receive rewards that are far more precious than the wood, hay and straw that we collect in this life.
Jesus Christ is Lord.