According to the Scriptures Back to all sermons

Date: April 3, 2015

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1–15:5

Tags: gospel, death, atonement, Resurrection, prophecies, Christ

Synopsis: Pastor Cam begins this message by confessing that for many years he misunderstood one of the key phrases in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. It is the phrase “According to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures was Paul referring to? And why does it matter? The answer to that question takes us back to the primary text for this sermon: Isaiah 53 and the many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the events of Good Friday and Easter – including the purpose behind it all.

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For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

These words are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

These words were very familiar to me. I had known them most of my life. In fact, I had even preached from this text on more than one occasion. But a number of years ago, it dawned on me that I had a crucial misunderstanding of one particular phrase in the text. It is the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” or as other translations rendered it, “according to the Scriptures”. If I had paraphrased my understanding of the passage, it would have gone like this: Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. How do we know this? Because it says so in the Bible, in the Scriptures.

And if you had asked me, “What part of the Bible are we talking about?” I would have answered, “Why, the gospels of course: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. After all, those are the parts of the Bible that describe the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.”

It wasn’t until I had been in ministry for quite a number of years that it hit me. Paul wasn’t referring to the gospel accounts at all. Why not? For the simple reason that they weren’t written yet! You see, most scholars agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in about A.D. 55. The earliest dates proposed for the writing of any of the gospels range from A.D. 55 to 65.

So what Scriptures was Paul talking about? Maybe other epistles? No. Only four epistles have dates earlier than 1 Corinthians: James, Galatians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. None of them describe the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

So, what Scriptures was Paul referring to? By the way, this is so important to Paul’s point that he actually repeats the phrase “according to the Scriptures” twice to be sure we don’t miss it. In the context, Paul can only be referring to the Old Testament, and the prophetic Scriptures which foretold the coming of the Messiah. I believe an accurate paraphrase of the passage in 1 Corinthians might read: “Christ died for our sins, just the like the Old Testament Scriptures said he would. That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, just like the prophets prophesied.”

The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is one of the key proofs for the identity of Jesus as Messiah. The use of this line of argument began with Jesus himself.

It started on Easter Sunday, when Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. The risen Lord appeared to these two men “incognito” so to speak. They didn’t know who he was. He asked them what they were discussing. When they told him and confessed to him their confusion at what had happened, this is what he said to them in Luke 24:25-27:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

This insight into the Old Testament Scriptures, and the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled became part of the gospel preaching of the early church. In Acts 8, there is a very interesting story about the evangelist Philip and his divine appointment with a court official from Ethiopia. The Holy Spirit led Philip out into the desert where he met this man being driven along in his chariot. The man was reading from the writings of Isaiah the prophet. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. He replied: “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Then he invited Philip to come and sit in his chariot, and he read this passage of Scripture from Isaiah 53:7-8:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The man then asked Philip: “Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”

I love what comes next: Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. Using the Old Testament Scriptures, starting with Isaiah 53, Philip preached the gospel about Jesus to the Ethiopian.

Scattered throughout the Old Testament Scriptures are numerous prophecies of the coming and the ministry of “the anointed one”, the Messiah, the Christ. The passage that Philip found the Ethiopian reading is one of the richest of those prophetic passages. I want to highlight some of those prophecies. We find at least 8 of them in this single chapter. As I point them out, remember that Isaiah was preaching and writing some 700 years before the birth of Christ. That’s like you and I going back to something written in the 1300’s.

1. The Messiah will be rejected by his own people.

Isaiah 53:3: He was despised and rejected by men;
     a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
     he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final hours, we see this fulfilled in the sneering of the religious leaders. We see the crowd picking up stones to stone him for blasphemy. We hear the mob screaming, “Crucify him!” And we see the mocking crowd standing around the cross.

The very rejection that Jesus experienced at the hands of the Jewish leaders and the majority of the Jewish people was taken by many as evidence that he could not be the Messiah. Yet, just the opposite is true. This rejection was in fact a fulfillment of prophecy demonstrating that he was the Messiah.

2. The Messiah will be violently and unjustly arrested.

Isaiah 53:8 prophecies this way: By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

Or as one translation renders it: In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.

We find this fulfilled in the armed soldiers and mob which followed Judas through the dark streets of Jerusalem. We watch the secret arrest under the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. We observe the long, illegal, night time trials of Jesus and the trumped up charges of the false witnesses. These were all a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

3. The Messiah will be silent under trial.

Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
     yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
     and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
     so he opened not his mouth.

It is an almost universal human trait to defend one’s self, especially against false accusations; to protest, to rail against injustice. Yet Jesus remained silent. Jesus’ refusal to speak out in his own defense, and to counter the charges made against him was foretold 700 years before it happened.

4. The Messiah will be counted as a criminal.

Isaiah 53:12c tells us that “he was numbered with the transgressors.”

This was so literally fulfilled in Luke 23:32-33: Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And what did the passers by see, silhouetted on the hill? One, two, three criminals being executed for their crimes. They had no reason to think differently. They numbered him with the other wrong-doers.

5. The Messiah will die.

Isaiah 53:8c tells us: he was cut off out of the land of the living,

Isaiah 53:12c prophecies it this way: Because he poured out his life to death.

At the heart of our message, the gospel, Paul says, is the fact that Christ died according to the Scriptures. Messiah died, just like the prophets foretold. No wonder Jesus could say to the men on the road to Emmaus:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

The death of the Messiah was the one great prophecy that the Jews just could not assimilate. They couldn’t reconcile the prophecies of suffering and death with the prophecies of glory and sovereignty. But both were written down by the prophets. The Christ must die.

This is still a controversial point in this part of the world, is it not? Yet the Scriptures foretold it! And the actual facts of history confirm it. Jesus, the Messiah, died an actual, physical death.

6. The Messiah will be pierced.

Isaiah 53:5a: But he was pierced for our transgressions.

He was pierced first by the nails, as the thud of the heavy hammers drove the nails through living flesh. And then the thrust of the Roman soldier’s spear was used to ensure and confirm his actual death. All of this was clearly foretold by the prophet.

7. In spite of dying a criminal’s death, the Messiah will be buried with the rich.

Isaiah 53:9a: And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death…

Or as the NIV translates it: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death.

The normal practice with victims of crucifixion was simply to discard the body as a piece of refuse, to throw it out with the city’s garbage or into a mass grave. This was what might have been expected. Yet, following his death, one of his wealthy followers by the name of Joseph from Arimathea, came and requested his body and then laid him in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Down to the very details of his burial, the prophet foretold the story.

Of course, the story doesn’t end with the burial, does it? As Paul continues in I Corinthians 15:4: that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day and then he adds these words again: in accordance with the Scriptures,

This too was foretold in the Old Testament writings, in fact, right here in our passage in Isaiah 53, among other places.

8. The Messiah will rise from the dead.

Isaiah 53:11: Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

Or as the NIV translates it: After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.

Here the glorious truth of Easter shines out of this Old Testament passage. It is the greatest, most incredible prophecy of all. And on Easter, this prophecy was fulfilled. The earth moved, the stone was rolled back from the mouth of the tomb. Jesus opened his eyes. He got up. He walked out of the tomb, alive! Just as the prophets foretold, Jesus rose from the dead. “After his suffering, he will see the light of life.”

Eight specific prophecies were made in this single chapter, written over 700 years before. But let’s step back a moment to ask, “What is the point of it all? Is this simply a remarkable testimony to the sovereignty and omniscience of God and his ability to foretell the future? Is it only the power of God that is on display? Or is there more going on here?

Well, here’s another remarkable thing. Not only did the prophets foretell the details. They also announced the purpose of it all.

Remember Paul’s words: He didn’t just say: Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures. He also includes the purpose: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

This too was clearly stated in the writings of Isaiah, in fact in this very chapter, Isaiah 53:

Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;

Isaiah 53:12: Yet he bore the sin of many.

You can’t say it any more clearly than that: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (just like the prophets said he would).

I Corinthians 15:1-2: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved,

Which gospel is that? The one foretold in the Scriptures; the Old Testament Scriptures. It is the gospel that Jesus shared with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is the gospel that Philip shared with the Ethiopian in his chariot. It is the gospel found in the book of Isaiah.

If I were to ask you, “Where can you find the “gospel in a nutshell”, contained in a single verse?” where would you take me? Many of us would go quickly to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And with good reason. But the gospel in a nutshell had been around for over 700 years before John wrote those words. It is right here in Isaiah 53:6.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
     we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
     the iniquity of us all.

This is the gospel in its simplest form, contained in two points. Our need: we are sinners. We are like sheep who have gone astray. We are lost. God’s provision: Christ died for our sins; the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

This is the gospel Paul was talking about; foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures and fulfilled in the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter as recorded by the eyewitness accounts contained in the New Testament Scriptures.

And the implications are incredible. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 again: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved,

My challenge to you this morning is simple. Have you been saved by receiving this gospel? Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ? Do you believe that he died for your sins? Do you believe he rose from the dead? Have you received this gospel and taken your stand on it?

If not, wouldn’t this Good Friday/Easter season be a good time to make that decision?

I love the way the story of the Philip and the Ethiopian ends. As Philip shared the good news of Jesus with him from the Old Testament Scriptures, something very profound happened in the man’s heart. He believed! He received the gospel. And as they drove along, they passed a body of water – maybe a stream, maybe small pond. He said, “Stop the chariot! I want to be baptized.” And right there, he took his stand on the gospel. The Ethiopian man was saved that day. The book of Acts says he “went on his way rejoicing.”

 Discussion Questions

  1. Pastor Cam began the message by confessing that for many years he misunderstood the phrase “according to the Scriptures” in 1 Corinthians 15:4. How did recognizing the date for Paul’s writing this epistle change his understanding of the phrase? How does this affect our understanding of the passage?
  2. Read Isaiah 53 together. Identify the prophecies in this passage that were fulfilled by Jesus in the events of Holy Week? Why are these prophecies (and their fulfillment) important evidences for Jesus’ identity as the Messiah?
  3. Why do you think the Jews missed these prophecies (remember, even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand them until after the fact)?
  4. The prophecies not only included details of the death and resurrection of the Christ, but also its purpose (1 Corinthians 15:3). Identify and discuss the references to the atonement and Christ’s “death for sin” in Isaiah 53.
  5. How might you use Isaiah 53 to share the gospel with someone?