[!] ... by which you are being saved [3]

    1Cor 15: 1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[1] died for our[2a] sins[2b] in accordance with the Scriptures[3], 4that he was buried[4], that he was raised on the third day[5] in accordance with the Scriptures[6](ESV, emph. Added)
I roughly apologize for posting twice on Friday last week, but I was on a roll (I felt) and wanted to get through the whole tamale of [2a] and [2b] so that I could get on to [3] -- because there's a very keen thing to think about in this part of Paul's short definition of the Gospel.

All that preaching about dying for sin is swell, isn't it? For the believer, gosh it's like having a Coke and a pack of skittles -- it can get you fired up in a minute and keep you going all day. For the non-believer or the "seeker" (which is the nice way some people say "unbeliever"), it may be somewhat old-hat from the perspective that here's another fundie doing his Billy Graham impression. And if that non-believer doesn't feel guilty or somehow impuned, who can blame him, really? It's a lecture from a somewhat-annoying maven who is telling this person not only is he so stupid that he doesn't know he's bad but that he is also too stupid to understand how good he can really have it.

There's also the case of the nominal Christian who is reading this stuff and is getting offended because there's all this judging going on (we get letters …) -- and who is centuri0n, really, to judge anybody? First of all, this is between God and the individual (they say) so to wag a finger at someone about whether they think Christ died for their sin -- or whether they have any sins -- is intrusive and hateful. Second of all, centuri0n is just a jerk with a guilty conscience because he admits he's sinful and he just wants to think that everyone is just as bad (or worse, since they don't recognize their sins) as he is. And last, centuri0n said "bullshit", so he was sinning in trying to accuse other people of sinning because of his foul mouth.

Now how and why would I bring these things up in trying to underscore the value and meaning of Paul's proclamation that an intrinsic part of the Gospel is the phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures"? It is because these objections are exactly the same kinds of objections that Paul himself faced while preaching the Gospel. Paul is just a zealous Jew who is preaching a new philosophy (Acts 17:18); Paul is no longer a Jew because he has abandoned the Jewish law (Rom 3:5-8); Paul is exalting himself by trodding on others, and making himself feel better by running others down (2Cor 10); Paul's got an ill temper (Acts 15:38-39), he's a lawbreaker (Acts 16:19-24) and has a foul mouth (OK – I can’t find where they said that about Paul, so I’ll take that one under advisement; chalk that one up to a university education as an atheist).

But the answer that Paul says which quiets all these objections is this: Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures. Today this rebuttal has been watered down by some of the more loud voices in "evangelidom" to "that's not my opinion: this is what the Bible teaches!" This summary version seems always to miss two important facts about what Paul was teaching:

(1) Paul never preached sin without preaching the clear redemption of sinners -- that is, Paul never presented sin as unanswered and hopeless except for those who would never repent. Even in the most bleak moments in Paul's letters where he says some men are handed over to sin, it is only to underscore that they are rightly condemned as we all would be if not for the work of Christ. Even in describing the unrepentant, Paul points back to the work of Christ as the only hope in this world.

(2) Paul did not hide behind Scripture but stood on its high ground to bring people to God; when Paul says something is "in accordance with the Scripture", he is talking about the supremacy of God in these things which is revealed by God's ability to tell us ahead of time what His plan was through promises and prophecies and then in seeing them come to pass.

This second point calls out for some unpacking, I think, because there are some things there we might overlook. If what Christ has done is "in accordance with the Scripture", there is some definition of Scripture which must be a necessary part of the Gospel – in the same way that the definition of “Christ” is a necessary part of the Gospel. I think a very vivid place where this is demonstrated is here:
    13That same day {This is the day of Christ's resurrection} two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. 14They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. 15In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. 16But they were not able to recognize who he was.

    17He asked, "What's this you're discussing so intently as you walk along?"

    They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. 18Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened during the last few days?"

    19He said, "What has happened?"

    They said, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. 20Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. 21And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. 22But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb 23and couldn't find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. 24Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn't see Jesus."

    25Then he said to them, "So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? 26Don't you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?" 27Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.
    (MSG, Lk 24:13-27, note added)
Now before anyone takes me apart for using the Message for my example, we don't need any hair-splitting exegetical nuance to see what happened on the road to Emmaus -- and this passage reads good. What happens here is that Jesus tells these fellows that the Gospel is laid out by Moses and the prophets already. The KJV renders v. 26-27 "'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."

What is significant here is that Jesus, on the day of the resurrection, is saying that the Good News was there in the Jewish Scriptures, waiting for Him to come and fulfill it. God laid out the plan ahead of time -- not just as a plan, but as a revelation of His plan. God was talking about this for thousands of years in human time to actual humans in order to prepare the way for this event.

For those of you with a skeptical bent, this speaks to the heart of skepticism. What happens on the day of the resurrection is this: not only does a man who has been dead for 3 days walk out of the tomb healthy enough to walk out of the tomb and 7 miles down the road to Emmaus, but He appears as a completely healthy person. And in that fact -- that is, that the resurrection was a real act of miraculous scope -- is also the matter that this completely healthy person understands and can demonstrate from ancient writings that this is what was supposed to happen beginning with what God said as told to Moses.

There is simply no other religion on Earth which makes this claim. Sure: there are plenty of religious writings that boast an ancient heritage -- no question about that. But there is no set of religious writings which took thousands of years to compile that tell a single story hung on the hope of a future event in which the future event in question comes to pass, thus demonstrating the reliability of the text.

And when Paul says that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, Paul is saying exactly this. Scripture was written to reveal this truth, to spell it out propositionally; Christ is Himself the Word, the true revelation which Scripture was pointing to.

Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture. Think about that a little while you're enjoying your weekend.
Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |