The gospel message provides a hard center for our lives, but we must make sure that we do not understand this as an isolated hard center. We want the gospel to be a taproot to the entire tree, and not an isolated boulder in a field of scattered boulders. The litmus test is whether you can find yourself moving from a conversation about anything to the gospel without changing the subject.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
Summary of the Text
The gospel is something which can be declared, preached, and (clearly) summarized (v. 1). It is also something which can be received, and the person who receives it can take a stand in it (v. 1). This message is capable of saving those who remember it, not counting those who believed it in vanity (v. 2). Paul delivered to them what he himself had received, which is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v. 3). He was buried and raised to life, also in accordance with the Scripture (v. 4). This resurrection was witnessed—first by Peter, and then the twelve (v. 5). After that were 500 people, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this (v. 6), then James and all the apostles (v. 7). Finally He was seen by Paul (v. 8).
The Scriptures use the word gospel to describe this center. But it is a center that is connected to absolutely everything else. We can see this in other, broader uses of the word gospel. For example the four gospels are called gospels (e.g. The Gospel According to Matthew), and while they contain the facts that Paul points to in our text, they also contain much more. For example, the fact that Jesus went to Capernaum is part of the gospel (Matt. 8:5). Or take the fact that God preached the gospel to Abraham by telling him that through him all the nations would be blessed (Gal. 3:8). Or again, then author of Hebrews says that the law of Moses, given to the Israelites, was gospel (Heb. 4:2). Jesus arrived in Israel, preaching the gospel, but He clearly was not presenting the gospel the same way that we would (Matt. 4:23).
No False Choice
So in Scripture, the word gospel is as narrow as the cross, and is as wide as the world. We must be faithful to both uses. Liberals abandon the center—Christ crucified for sinners—and want to put some kind of happy face over the whole world. Sectarian conservatives guard the center fiercely, making sure that it remains disconnected from everything else. Seeing it as connected might bring the gospel into contact with sinful stuff, and we wouldn’t want to get our gospel dirty. But we have forgotten the power of the cross. When Jesus touched lepers, the healing went out . . . the leprosy did not contaminate Him.
A Fatal Error
One of the first steps in disconnecting the gospel from the world is the step of disconnecting “gospel” verses in the Bible from other kinds of verses (as we imagine them). For example, it is a very easy mistake to try to divide the Bible up into law verses and gospel verses, as though God had divided the Bible up, with happy faces next to some verses and frowny faces next to the remainder.
No. To the unregenerate, the whole thing is law. To the regenerate, the whole thing is gospel. What is more “law” than the Ten Commandments, but what does the preamble declare? God is the one who brought them out of the house of bondage (Ex. 20:2). And what is more “gospel” than the message of the cross—and it is the stench of death to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:16). The divide runs, not through the Bible, or through the world, but through every human heart.
Reconciling All Things
God’s purposes in the gospel are cosmic. Christ shed His blood on the cross, and why? So that He might reconcile all things to Himself, whether those things are in Heaven or on earth (Col. 1:20). Now that means that everything is related to Him.
But we do not “connect the dots” by reading big, fat books of theology. They are not tied together with abstraction string—they are all coherent because of the blood of Jesus. So we begin this glorious process by being reconciled ourselves, by receiving forgiveness for our wicked works (v. 21). And as we saw just a few verses before this, Christ is the one in whom all things are integrated (Col. 1:18). He is arche—the foundational beginning, the cornerstone, the axle.
He is therefore the center toward whom all the edges run. He is the sovereign Lord over all. He is the bedrock underneath all things. He is the root. He is the Head over all things. We noted a moment ago that everything is related to Him, and related in Him. But take a moment to reflect—what does that include? That includes carpentry, novel writing, weather reporting, roly poly bugs, lawn mowing, cake baking, leaf raking, software writing, star gazing, doctrine parsing, child teaching, and everything else that men might do. And since He is the one in whom all these things tie together, why can we not detect His presence in these things—a gospel presence—and live in the awareness of that presence as we deal with those who do not believe.