THE GOSPEL: JESUS' DEATH
Let’s see what Paul declared as being “of first importance” (the question we left with yesterday).
The first thing Paul says that happened in the gospel is that Jesus Christ died. When Paul wants to lay out the core truths of the good news of Christianity, he begins with the death of Jesus.
I think there’s two reasons Paul starts here, with the death of Christ. First, very narrowly, it sets up the argument he’s going to make in this chapter. His whole purpose in 1 Corinthians 15 is to argue for the resurrection of the dead, starting with Jesus. So in order to establish resurrection, you have to establish death. That’s the narrow reason. But more broadly and more basically, Paul calls Christ’s death the foundation of the good news. He starts with Christ’s death because where else would he start?
You can see this in the phrase he uses in conjunction with the basic statement, “Christ died.” He says that Christ died “for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” So what does that mean?
When Paul says “the Scriptures,” he means the Old Testament. So to say that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures is to say that the Old Testament speaks of the death of an anointed King (that’s what the word “Christ” means) to atone for the sins of his people. And of course, the Old Testament does teach of this kind of death. We can see hints of it all over, but perhaps the culminating passage, and the one that Paul may have been thinking about specifically here, is Isaiah 53. Read verses 5 and 6.
The Scriptures point forward to the death of a King on behalf of his people to secure their salvation. When Jesus Christ hung on that cross, he was doing so as a sacrifice, for the sins of his people. God the Father was handing down his judicial death sentence, the death sentence that every single person who has ever lived deserved. Jesus was absorbing that death sentence in himself, so that we would not have to.
Is it any wonder that Paul says his message of good news starts with Jesus’ death? The horror of the death of Jesus is also the only hope you have in the face of the terrifying and just judgment of the God of the universe. You are a sinner, and God has every right to punish you eternally for your refusal to bend the knee before his rightful authority. Your only hope is to flee to the good news that Paul preached and that faithful Christians have preached for 2000 years since: Jesus Christ died for our sins. Because God punished Jesus on the cross, he will not punish all those who belong to Jesus.