Without doubt, the greatest, most diligent laborer in the noble work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ was Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Yet, he was a man who did not seek the fame or honor that is accorded to him today by millions of followers of Christ whom Paul preached.
Paul’s message was simple. Let him explain…
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
His message and mission were considered so important that he put his own comfort, convenience – even his own life – as secondary in order that he might fulfill his ministry.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Act 20:24).
As in this passage, so in the following, he considered the message and his commission to preach it to be matters of grace. God had highly honored him, though he knew he was not worthy, by choosing him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
How could this great responsibility – this huge burden – be considered a gift (grace)? In the fulfilling of this awesome responsibility Paul would, on several occasions, have to flee for his life. He was stoned once, beaten with rods three times, scourged with cords five times, shipwrecked three times and on various other occasions endured insults and injuries.
But he does not dwell on himself except to comment on his unworthiness to have been given the task of preaching Christ to the non-Jewish world. Being aware of the great debt he owed for his salvation, he displays great humility. His former life as a persecutor of Christians was continually before him.
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9).
Paul’s attitude of humility was due to his thankfulness for what Christ had done. He had nothing of which to boast. There was nothing to elevate himself in his own eyes. All he was and all he had was due to what Christ had done.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1Tim 1:15-16).
What he focuses on is what he calls “this grace.” As he uses the term in Eph. 3:8, this was his gift, given by God. What he speaks of here was the responsibility given him to make known “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Such a treasure that had been placed in his hands!
What was this treasure? This message that often brought persecution and hardship to the messenger? This “good news” Paul so delighted in preaching? Let Paul himself tell us what his message was…
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s it. That is the message the apostle preached. Later on in this same epistle he summarized that message as containing three fundamental facts.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The death of Christ was His sacrifice of Himself for our sins. He freely gave His life for us because He counted us as his friends.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18).
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
Paul said that this fact was of “first importance.”
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3).
This is of first importance because of who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, the very Creator of the universe. He is God as much as is the Father. He is God who loves us to the extent that He would even die to redeem us unto Himself. Jesus is the greatest friend the human race has ever had. No wonder Paul thought this fact of the death of Jesus so great that it became the focus of his preaching.
But there were two other facts he preached as well – facts without which the gospel would not be complete.
The second fact is the burial of Christ. The fact of His burial – an event attested to by Roman soldiers – is proof of His death. He was buried only after the Roman soldiers who were charged with hastening death by breaking the legs of the three condemned prisoners who were crucified that day. They found that there was no need to break Jesus’ legs because he was dead already. But to assure that He was dead, one of them pierced His side with his spear. From that wounded side came blood and water. Jesus died. There was no doubt about it.
The third fact the apostle preached was the joyous news of the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. In fact, all the apostles before Paul had preached the same thing.
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32).
“And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33).
Why is the resurrection so important? Why was it a part of the gospel proclamation sounded out by the apostles and by Paul?
First, it proves that Jesus was the Son of God. Paul said that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). Had He not been raised from the grave by the power of the Father, He would have been just another impostor. There have been many “saviors” of the world, if one were to believe their claims. But every one of them is dead and their graves are either forgotten or preserved as elaborate monuments to their falsity. Only Jesus left behind an empty tomb.
Second, it means that He is who He claimed to be. It means that all He claimed to be and all the promises He made are true. He can be relied on to do what He claimed He could do. We can put our faith and hope in Him.
So important is the fact of the resurrection it should be made the focus of the life of every believer. We should live in joyous awareness of this triumphant event. This coming Sunday, April 20, is the day the Christian world celebrates in commemoration of the resurrection of our Savior. It is good that people have called to mind this fundamental truth of the gospel. In fact, our awareness should not be limited to one day of the year, our entire lives should be lived in such awareness and celebration. We should live as resurrection people – in newness of life just as Jesus rose to newness of life. Such a life is a proclamation of the gospel.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.