WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GOSPEL?
What happened in the gospel? Jesus died for our sins, Jesus was buried, Jesus rose again, and there were witnesses. We turn, then, to our other question, much more briefly: what happened to the gospel?
If you read what Paul writes at both the beginning and end of this section, you can see that it's clear that the gospel did take root in the Corinthians' hearts. They did believe it, they did accept it, and it was bearing real fruit in their midst. Which makes it all the more remarkable that they could then hold any contradictory beliefs about the nature of the resurrection.
There’s an important lesson for us to learn in this. If you’re wrong on the historicity of the Christian faith, it doesn’t matter what you build on top of it. If you’ve missed what’s of first importance, do you really expect credit for nailing what’s of twelfth importance? All of our moral uprightness, compassion for the downtrodden, social activism, or being on the right side of history or politics will not matter if it's based on some hypothetical Jesus who never lived, never died, and never rose again.
All of our religious piety, devotional life, and earnestness will not matter if it was directed toward a Christ in our imagination. All of our well-argued doctrinal positions, our clear and consistent thinking, and our robust intellectual framework will come crashing down before a terrifying rider on a white horse who judges in righteousness and makes war with the sharp two-edged sword of his word—if you only ever studied that king but never bowed down to him.
By all means, love, serve, pray, worship, learn, and teach, but don’t do those things for a fuzzy conception in your own mind of a Jesus divorced from history. Do them because you have heard the gospel, you have encountered the real Jesus in the pages of the Bible, and because that real Jesus who walked the earth was buried in it, and he will one day rule it forever as your real and historical Lord and King.
Before you can truly reckon with the claims of Jesus on your life, you must be sure you’re reckoning with the real Jesus, and not just a culturally-acceptable hypothetical. The stakes are too high. This is of first importance. We’re not talking about a school assignment where we just have to make sure we spell someone’s name right. We’re talking about a claim that a man got up from the dead. And because that man got up from the dead, some day, so will you and I.