The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 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? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (NASB)
Be it a business contract, a political compromise, a bill, a law, or even the ingredients on the label of the food package “the devil is in the details.” That is not a Bible verse. It’s not even a theological proverb. It’s a description of how reality works. Details are important. When it comes right down to it, they are very often the governing principles of the thing itself.
If you ignore or mess up the details on a construction project and use the wrong materials, you made end up with a building collapse. If a programer doesn’t tend to the details, the end user is going to find the program is more trouble than it’s worth. If a doctor or pharmacist doesn’t pay attention to the details of interactions, the results could be deadly.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the big picture. Big pictures are simple. They give you the overview of what the details are suppose to create. An artists, for example deals in details (the medium, tools, colors, techniques, textures, and so on) in order to create the work of art.
This morning’s Epistle lesson is about the details and the big picture. In fact the Epistle lesson shows us that the details and the big picture are one and the same. “The Gospel is in the details” and “the details are the Gospel.”
St. Paul wrote, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
By chapter 15 St. Paul has been dealing with one problem after another. He dealt with tongue-speaking, the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, the wrong use of the secular court system, the mistreatment of poorer Christians in the congregation, fights over leadership, the place of men and women in worship and the pastoral office, the Law, marriage, divorce, and more. After dealing with all these problems, he goes on to remind these new Christian congregations that the Gospel Truth and God’s Word pre-dates both them and him. He presents himself as simply the vehicle through which God is delivering forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Verse 3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.”
St. Paul understood something that most Christians and Christian church doesn’t understand. He is simply a steward of what Christ had given to Him. In chapter 4 that is exactly how he asks the congregation to think of him. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (4:1-2)
This ought to be the understanding of every congregation and pastor. It is given to us to receive the Word and sacraments as given, to make use of those mysteries as instructed, to distribute the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to the contrite, and pass the Word and sacrament ministry on to the generations that follow us. That is what Christians are suppose to be about in our homes and that is what we are to do in our congregations. I know, not many are doing this today – thus the last part of that verse. “If you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
In addition to all those false doctrines, fights, and problems that had infected the churches in Corinth after Paul’s departure, there rose up in the congregation resurrection “diniers.” Paul presents details; not all the details, but enough of the details to paint the Gospel portrait. Paul preaches the good news of the resurrection. He does so through the publication of the details of Christ’s resurrection. He piles up the facts. He doesn’t call for a blind leap of faith. He give’s Christians reasons that support their faith.
What follows in chapter 15 is accurate, based in reality and witnesses, and detailed. The details of what really happened are “of first importance.” Paul doesn’t say that which is “of first importance” is that they have faith in their fait, so they can better cope with the difficulties of life.
He writes what is “of first importance” is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
The Gospel is all in the details. The history, real events in real time and space, and the doctrines and promises of the Old Testament, and in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth.
When Paul was given to writing, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” the New Testament didn’t exist. Paul is teaching that the elements of the person and work of Christ had been taught and prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures.
When people ask you why doctrine is so important, ask them why colors are so important to the artist painter, or why rock and texture is so important to the sculpture, or the alphabet and grammar to the writer.
Old and New Testament history, real events, divine and human participation, and the doctrines of the Word of God are details that become the most beautiful, comforting, and saving message in all the world–the Gospel. The more and deeper the understanding of the Law and the Gospel, of the details, the greater the comfort, the purer the faith, and the greater the love. In Luke 7:41-43 Jesus said to Peter “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.”
Christ Jesus died for our sins and rose on account of our justification. 1 Corinthians 15 set forth the details that are the Gospel. The Son of God, flesh and blood, history, doctrine, and of the sacrifice for our sins are communicated in the details.
Paul didn’t expect people to simply take him at his word. He directs the Christians in Corinth to witnesses — the Apostles, to the five hundred who saw Jesus, and to James, Jesus’s half-brother who of all people should known Jesus when he saw Him. Paul adds himself to the list of witnesses whom Christ had visited and taught after His resurrection.
The rest of the Epistle lesson goes on to explain what the truth would be if the details of the death and resurrection were untrue. If the resurrection of Christ did not happen, then “faith is worthless, you are still in your sins, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished,” and “we are of all men most to be pitied.”
To depart from the details and the doctrines that had been preached and taught by the Apostles themselves, in the clear language of Scripture, is to depart from the Gospel and make faith nothing more than wishful thinking based on a myth. This is why St. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
It is still the simple details of the case of Jesus Christ and the promises of God that make up the Gospel and in which we trust and confess. It is the simple gift of God. Simple enough for a child to understand and profound enough to fill the most brilliant among us.
Yet, we must admit that we become a bit numb to the simple details of this great mystery and our faith is often rather pitiable. And this pitiable “faith” shows up in slothfulness about church. It shows up in how we treat our neighbors. That’s why Christians and the church have been subcontracting out the care of our neighbor to the government for decades. That’s another reason why the church is dying. It has become unable and/or uninterested in tending to the temporal needs of our neighbor. We pay taxes, let the government do it. And it is and look as the results. What a poor steward it has been!
Our pitiful faith shows itself in every aspect of our lives, in our prayers or lack thereof, in our failure to give an answer for the hope that is within us, our offerings, in our failure to confess the Gospel truth before those who know nothing of it, and in our failure to learn, master, and speak the details that are the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, in the pages of the God’s Word, the details of God’s saving work in history and in the person of Christ God has revealed what He has and is doing for us and for our salvation. Nothing can take this away from us.
Thus, the Apostle Paul also wrote: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now I make known to you, the gospel which I preached to you since my arrival here in January of 1993, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.