June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 15:1-11: Holding on to the Baton

I’m pretty sure it was the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. 1998. And for once, we actually had a chance to win an ATHLETICS event. It was the mens’ 4×100 m relay.

The RUNNING relays are over in a flash. About 40s. It’s all energy and movement and arms and legs flailing about everywhere. Four runners. Each taking turns to run 100 m. And then passing the baton on to the next runner. A thin tube of aluminium. About the size of a rolled-up sheet of paper.

And that night the gun went off. And each country started sprinting. And Australia was doing pretty well. But then the camera moved off the Aussie runner for a moment. Or perhaps I was watching another country with THEIR baton change. But by the time I realised it. I couldn’t see the Aussies anymore. And the commentator was screaming something about someone dropping the baton.

And I just KNEW it was Australia. And sure enough. Once the race had finished. And Trinidad or someone had won. The camera panned back to the heart-broken Aussie runners. The two guys who’d dropped the baton. Somehow, as one tried to pass it to the other. There was a slip-up. And the baton had dropped to the ground. And in a race where tenths of seconds are crucial, they knew their race was over.

I used to train some SCHOOL relay teams. And the number one message was “Don’t drop the baton! Value it!” You don’t muck around with it. You don’t run with it balanced on your nose. Or toss it idly from hand to hand. Or look through it like a telescope as you run. Or blow through it like a trumpet.

“Value the baton!”

And all the training. All the technique. Was to make sure that the baton was passed on as SMOOTHLY. And EFFICIENTLY. And SAFELY as possible. Because it didn’t matter how fast each INDIVIDUAL was, if the baton was dropped. Or the changes were slow. Then the team couldn’t win.

The BATON was the thing. And the name of the game was to get the baton around the track as fast as possible. Don’t drop the baton. Value it. It’s the most important thing in the race.

And it’s a similar message Paul wants to bring to the Corinthians at the start of ch 15. He’s passed the baton on to them. It’s THE GOSPEL. The good news about Jesus. And how God can forgive their sins because of Jesus’ . He says in v3, that “what he received, he passed on to them”.

And Paul wants to remind them to VALUE the gospel. It’s the only thing that matters. If they drop the gospel. Then they’re running in vain. Wasting their time and their energy.

And Paul makes three points about the gospel. The gospel is the FOUNDATION on which they base their life. It’s something to STAND on.

Secondly, the gospel is FACT. There’s a historical reliability to the events of the Jesus story.

And third, there’s POWER in the gospel. Paul is a living EXAMPLE of how the gospel CHANGES LIVES. And so are the Corinthians.

1. A gospel foundation (1-2)

Let’s look at his first point. The gospel is their FOUNDATION. Look at how Paul starts the chapter. Verse 1.

(1 Cor 15:1 NIV)  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which YOU RECEIVED and ON WHICH YOU HAVE TAKEN YOUR STAND.

This won’t be NEW information. This is just a revision lesson. “Remember what good news I gave/ when I was with you last time?”

But more than just INFORMATION. Paul reminds them that they’ve TAKEN THEIR STAND on it. This message is THE FOUNDATION on which the Corinthians have based their lives.

This message defines WHO THEY ARE. It defines what they’ve left behind. And it tells them where they’re headed.

When everything else in life is uncertain. It’s THIS MESSAGE that gives them the sure, certain hope.

It’s not a confidence based on good works. Or a successful career. Or a fat bank balance. Or even perfect attendance at church. None of that stuff is worth standing on.

Only the gospel can is firm enough for that. It gives the COMFORT of knowing that they’re loved by the Creator of the Universe. The CONFIDENCE to stand up for him despite what others might think. The FAITH to pray to a God you can’t see or hear. But who you believe controls the events of history for his glory, and the good of his people.

That’s stuff that all comes from standing on the truth of the gospel.

The rest of the world is on a long, slippery slope to judgment. But by standing on the gospel, their feet are firm. In other words, they’ve been SAVED because of this message. That’s what Paul says in v2. “By this gospel you are SAVED”. It’s their lifeline. The rescue boat.

When we accept Jesus’death on our behalf. When we recognise our sin. And turn from our self-centredness back to God. Then God brings us from to life. From being under judgment. To being his friends again.

That’s what it means to be SAVED by the good news of the gospel.

But Paul adds a word of caution. You’ve RECEIVED the message in the past. You’ve STOOD FIRM on it in the past. But you’ve got to KEEP doing that. Verse 2.

(1 Cor 15:2 NIV)  By this gospel you are saved, IF YOU HOLD FIRMLY TO THE WORD I PREACHED TO YOU. Otherwise, YOU HAVE BELIEVED IN VAIN.

Just like any rescue. You might start off by grabbing hold of the lifebuoy. And holding on while the lifesaver starts to pull you in.

But then, halfway in, it’s no good to suddenly get y. And think you can swim in by yourself. That it’d be bad for your image to be rescued. So you throw off the lifebuoy. And start dog-paddling in by yourself. And you sink!

You might as well have sunk back out to sea. You’ve just wasted everyone’s time. And you’ve grabbed the lifebuoy in vain.

Or back to our athletics picture. It’s no good taking the baton from Paul. And then starting to run. But then mucking around with it. Playing the trumpet. Or tossing it from hand to hand. Or using it as a telescope.

“If you drop it”, Paul says, “You’ve run in vain. Wasted your energy.” Don’t let go of the gospel.

And we need to make sure none of US do the same. Look around you. It’s a fair bet that in ten years time some of the people sitting here/ won’t be attending church anymore. They’ll have given up on God.

It won’t be an overnight thing. They don’t suddenly STOP BELIEVING. They’ll just … gradually … drift away. Other things will crowd in. The “immediate” overtaking the “important”. Work, family, mortgage. And before they know it, it’s been three months.

But when they go back to church, noone says hello. Everyone’s too busy. Or they haven’t even been missed. So they get upset. And don’t come back FOR A YEAR.

But then when they DO come back. They don’t recognise anyone anymore. People have moved. Or new people have joined. And so they don’t bother coming again.

And God just seems to get more and more distant. Prayer seems pointless. The Bible seems no more important than “Who Weekly”, and nowhere near as interesting.

People who haven’t held firmly to the word that was preached to them.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Don’t let people slip away. Don’t assume someone else is looking out for them. Don’t sell yourself the excuse that you won’t ring/ because they’ll think you’re preaching, or checking up on them.

Holding firmly to the gospel is MUCH TOO IMPORTANT to settle for excuses like that!

2. The gospel facts (3-8)

a) a trustworthy message

So what IS IT the Corinthians have to hold on to? What are the gospel FACTS?

Well, they’re facts to do with JESUS. Look at v3.

(1 Cor 15:3-5 NIV)  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 Peter, and then to the Twelve.

What are the two big events?. The two crucial facts. That Christ died for our sins. And he was raised.

If it wasn’t for these two facts. The Corinthians. And us, and every other Christian since/ would be lost without a hope.

If Christ DIDN’T die for our sins, there would be no BASIS for God the Father to forgive us. And we’d be just as guilty before him as ever.

And if Christ WASN’T raised. Then we’d have NO REASON to hope that there was anything for us beyond the grave.

Believing these two facts are what it means to TAKE YOUR STAND on the gospel. To hold firmly to the word that was preached. Is that what YOU’RE doing?

And Paul’s concern is to emphasise that these facts. This message. Is RELIABLE and TRUSTWORTHY. And he does that in three ways. Gives three reasons to take your stand on these facts.

The MESSAGE of Christ’s and resurrection is trustworthy/ because the MESSENGER is trustworthy. The PLAN is trustworthy. And the WITNESSES are trustworthy.

To start with. Paul’s a trustworthy messenger. Verse 3.

(1 Cor 15:3 NIV)  For what I received I passed on to you

He got the baton. And he passed it on. He didn’t drop it. Or fumble. Or trip. Same message. No changes. No additions.

With Paul there was no loss of information, or clarity. No fuzziness, or confused logic. It was clear communication.

Like digital technology. IT’S an example of clear communication. Compact discs. There’s no hiss or buzz or distortion.

I’m recording my old records onto CD. And sometimes they turn out really well. Because digital recording reproduces exactly what’s there. But sometimes the old record has a few scratches in it. And that comes through on the CD as well.

Paul communicated the gospel CLEARLY. What he had received, he passed on. And that’s the first reason the gospel facts are trustworthy.

What about reasons 2 and 3? Look at the structure of v3-4. Each of the main facts are mentioned. And then two pieces of SUPPORTING INFORMATION are given.

First, Christ died for our sins. And then two pieces of SUPPORT for that fact. According to the Scriptures. And he was buried.

And then the second fact. He was RAISED. And once more. Two pieces of support for THAT fact. According to the Scriptures. And he appeared.

The gospel facts are trustworthy because they were part of a TRUSTWORTHY PLAN. Both of these events were ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. They were part of GOD’S PLAN. He knew exactly what was going to happen. They weren’t the result of the Pharisees schemes. Or the Romans’ law and order policy. Or even Judas’ greed.

It wasn’t some PLAN B, when things didn’t quite work out they way God thought. It all happened according to the Scriptures.

And Paul’s third point. His is a trustworthy message. Because of trustworthy WITNESSES.

Firstly, witnesses to his . Christ died. And then he was BURIED. You don’t bury someone unless he’s . The Romans were EXPERTS at . There’s no way they’d let someone who was just UNCONSCIOUS be buried. The Romans were reliable witnesses.

And the PHARISEES. You can bet THEY made sure Jesus’ body was in the tomb! Matthew’s gospel tells us that they checked that Pilate put some extra guards in front of the tomb to stop the disciples stealing the body. The Jewish leaders were reliable witnesses.

UNFRIENDLY witnesses are even more reliable than FRIENDLY ones. They’ve got no ulterior motives. Both the soldiers and the Pharisees were in NO DOUBT that Jesus died.

But there’s some FRIENDLY witnesses too. Look how Paul goes on. Verse 5.

(1 Cor 15:4-8 NIV)  (After he was raised) {5} he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. {6} After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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.

A whole range of witnesses. Individuals. Groups. People they knew. People they RESPECTED. People they DIDN’T know, but who they could STILL CHECK UP ON.

And by appearing to 500 at once, there was no way Jesus could just be wishful thinking. Or the result of grief-stricken hysteria. 500 people couldn’t be bribed. Or fooled.

It was a trustworthy group of witnesses.

And finally, Paul includes HIMSELF in this group. Verse 7 “And last of all, he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

A personal recommendation is the best sort. I’d much rather use a tradesman who’s recommended by ONE PERSON I KNOW/ than ten people I DON’T.

How much do YOU personally recommend Jesus to others? Does he work FOR YOU? If people can’t see that he makes a difference in YOUR LIFE, they’re not going to believe what a preacher says, or a book. WHO YOU ARE speaks much loader than WHAT YOU SAY.

In this day and age, people aren’t so much interested in whether something is TRUE. But whether it WORKS. Does Christianity, and following Jesus, WORK for you? Can your friends see your JOY? Your HOPE? Your LOVE?

A personal witness is trustworthy.

3. Gospel power (9-11)

And Paul goes on to DESCRIBE his personal witness. How Jesus has made a DIFFERENCE in HIS life.

Even though he had just as much right to call himself an apostle as the 12, he didn’t deserve it. Look at v9.

(1 Cor 15:9 NIV)  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.

But then he goes on to describe WHAT CHANGED. And HOW. Verse 10.

(1 Cor 15:10 NIV)  But BY THE GRACE OF GOD I am what I am.

God chose him. Completely undeserved. Despite all the TROUBLE he’d brought to the church. All the persercution. All the arrests. And punishments. God had a NEW TASK. God’s gift to him was to be AN APOSTLE rather than A PERSECUTOR. A church-BUILDER. Rather than a church-DESTROYER.

What a personal witness THAT must have been! Listen to how Luke describes it in Acts 9. After Paul had been converted.

(Acts 9:18-23 NIV)  Immediately, something like scales fell from Paul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, {19} and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Paul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. {20} At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. {21} All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” {22} Yet Paul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. {23} After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,

A changed life is a powerful witness to the facts of the gospel.

And God’s grace didn’t just stop when Paul was converted. It KEPT PRODUCING. Listen to how Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15. The second half of verse 10.

(1 Cor 15:10 NIV)  … his grace to me was not without effect. (or it didn’t prove to be in vain)

God CONTINUED to change Paul. And use him. Why, the CORINTHIANS THEMSELVES were evidence of that work of grace in Paul.

But this was a partnership. Paul clarifies how this partnership works. It wasn’t a matter of Paul sitting back and putting his feet up. Even though the gospel was powerful and effective. Paul still worked harder than anyone. But it was still the grace of God that produced fruit. Verse 10 again.

(1 Cor 15:10 NIV)  …No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

It’s a wonderful balance. And it’s something we can learn from. Things are struggling along here at Western Blacktown. Let’s be honest. We’re not seeing much growth. We’re struggling to make ends meet.

And when things are like that, we can make two mistakes. We can either rely TOO MUCH on our own efforts. And work ourselves into the ground. Trying to build things up ourselves.

But that’s like trying to lift yourself up by your own shoelaces. It’s forgetting that it’s THE GOSPEL that changes people. Not me. Not you. It’s only GOD, by his GRACE, who draws people to himself.

And so instead of working ourselves into the ground, we should be DROPPING to the ground – IN PRAYER. Praying that God will change people’s attitudes.

How much are you PRAYING for the work of this church? That’s the litmus test for where you see the power coming from to build the church. Prayer recognises that it’s God who does the work of building his church.

The other mistake is to leave things TOO MUCH in God’s hands. “It’s all God’s work. It doesn’t matter if I help out or not”. But God achieves his powerful purposes WHEN WE WORK HARDER than the rest.

Let’s do both. Let’s commit ourselves to PRAYING and TRUSTING. Because God’s grace IS powerful. It DOES change people. Paul’s a witness to that. And so are YOU and I.

And let’s commit ourselves to working HARD. What will YOU do for God NEXT YEAR?

We’re just starting to plan for next year. Will you help with Kid’s Church? Or Youth Group? Or Young s? Or Home Groups? Or Creche? Or Church Camp? Or Kid’s Club? Or our outreach activities? Or teaching Scripture? Or letter-boxing? Or encouraging others to stand firm. And not give things away.

Perhaps there are even things that we’re NOT DOING, that you’d like to give a go! Talk to me!

The gospel IS POWERFUL. But it’s only powerful HERE, if we work hard.

The facts of the gospel are trustworthy. Stand firm in them. And encourage each other to stand firm.

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