Perhaps, this sermon can serve as a point of departure for discussing how we can get back to putting first things first. (I certainly do not hold it out as any great exemplar of the very difficult art of the sermon!)
FIRST THINGS FIRST . . .
OBJECTIVES: To help build Christian foundations, through focusing on “that which is of first importance” and highlighting the priority of Scripture – vs the culture of “fun”/entertainment/boredom (and, of forgetting God).
INTRODUCTION: This week, someone lent me a Time Magazine, and I glanced at the letters section. I was astonished to see how the Anglican Bishop of Nigeria was being lashed as a “bigot” in several angry letters to the Editor; for simply being faithful to the scriptures and calling sin “sin,” instead of “the way my genes made me” or “a right” or some similar convenient, comfortable lie. And, we just had the Easter weekend, where far too much of the focus all over the Caribbean was on having fun with the double public holiday weekend – too often, not even pausing to think about why this weekend is so important that we have a double holy-day. That set me to thinking on how far the World in which we live has moved down the road of forgetting God, his word and first things, even as we want to live by the TV idea: “all-fun, all the time. “
H'mm: are the addition facts and multiplication tables “fun”? Are they important? Would an all-chocolate diet be healthy? (Plainly, a dash of common sense thinking lets us see that “Is it fun?” is not a good way to tell if something is important, or necessary, or right, or in balance!)
So, let's take a closer look . . . at putting first things first:
1] Focus text:
Let's look at what is truly “of first importance”:
1CO 15:1 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. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1CO 15:3 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. 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 . . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Right away, we see the core message of the gospel: Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose as victor over sin, death and the Grave – he is our Lord and Saviour. Also, he was seen, by over 500 witnesses – witnesses who knew what they had seen, and who could not be silenced by threats, courts, rulers, whips, stones, fire, swords, lions and all the most horrible tortures devil-inspired men could dream up. That is why we have a church today, and that is why we have an Easter Weekend. And, since “by this gospel [we] are saved,” it is indeed of first importance – more important than even addition facts, multiplication tables and balanced diets – that each of us repents of his or her sins, surrenders to him, and personally and individually receives him as our Lord and Saviour! [That's why the gospel is preached from this pulpit so often – it is “of first importance.”]
But, there is another part to this passage . . .
2] “According to the Scriptures . . .”
Why did Paul write this twice, in v. 3 and v 4?
Isaiah 53 – written over 700 years before the first Easter weekend ever -- will show us a key part of the reason:
ISA 53:1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? . .. .
ISA 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
ISA 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all . . . .
ISA 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
ISA 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
ISA 53:10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
ISA 53:11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
In other words, over seven hundred years before that first Easter Weekend, God had revealed what would happen to Jesus, in detail: nasty lies, dangerous political games, unjust trials, death, burial, resurrection – and how he would be the one who would bear our sins and carry our sorrows, and through whose stripes we can be healed. This tells us vital things about God our Saviour and the written Word of God – the Holy Bible, things it is easy to forget( things that a lot of people want us to forget):
ISA 43:9 . . . All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of them foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, "It is true."
ISA 43:10 "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD,
"and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
ISA 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.
ISA 43:12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed--
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.
ISA 43:13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?"
In short, when all is said and done, only the True God -- our Lord, Saviour and Creator -- has the power to control and so predict the future. And, he has given testimony of that future ahead of time though his prophets so we may know that we are dealing with the real God – and his real prophets and Scriptures! [BTW, in Matt 24 Jesus foretold just the sort of world situation we now face as a sign of the approaching End of Days, and Paul in Rom 1 analysed how nations that forget God think they are wise even as they become fools and lose control of their passions to the point where they forget even the basic difference between right and wrong; but, DV, that is for another sermon, another day. ]
CONCLUSION: Today, our focus is like a laser beam: first things come first, and God has given us his testimony 700 years ahead of time so we can know the truth for ourselves: Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose as victor over sin, death and the Grave – he is our Lord and Saviour. And, all of this, “according to the scriptures.” So, it is of first importance that we thirst for, pay attention, listen to and heed those scriptures and receive him as Lord and Saviour. For, First Things must come . . .FIRST.
--> Have we “paid attention” to the Gospel and to the Word of God it proclaims – treating it as of First Importance?
--> Or, are we like the hard path in Jesus' parable of the sower [in Luke 8] – the seed could not even get in, and the birds come along and snatch it away . . .?
--> Or, are we shallow – just looking for an emotional lift [but at the first sin of pain we will dry up . . .]?
--> Or, distracted with many things of the world – things that are going to end up at Jack Boy Hill [the local rubbish dump] anyway?
Instead, today, while we hear his voice in his Word and stirring in our hearts – let us even now obey the Gospel and the Scriptures, turning from sin and self to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and to following him as disciples – students. So, now, let us humble ourselves and seek his face in prayer . . . AMEN