Have you ever wondered what was most important to Christianity? How it all hangs together? What it is all about? Perhaps to you Christianity is merely a set of moral codes. Do this, don’t do this; wear this, don’t wear this; say this, don’t say this, and on and on it goes. There are many churches that seem to only know this much about Christianity – and frankly, that is depressing. Paul, however, points to something deeper. You might be thinking that Christianity is merely about a political party or agenda. And while what we believe is going to have an impact in how we vote this comes nowhere close to what is central to our faith. To some of you Christianity might be all about itself and if this is what you think then I can forgive you because there are a lot of churches, church leaders and Christians that give this impression. But they are wrong. Perhaps you don’t care enough to even ask the question. To you Christianity is a little old and outdated like a palm-pilot in an iPad world, or like snail-mail in the age of twitter. It just doesn’t work anymore. But what Paul points to as the pinnacle and priority of the Christian faith and experience is far deeper than mere moralism or politics, far greater than a church or its leaders, and something so infinitely central that will it never reach an expiration date. What Paul declares as central for all Christians, at all times, in all places is the gospel.
Paul tells the Corinthian church that when he preached to them he preached the gospel “first of all”. What does he mean by that? He obviously doesn’t only mean that he preached the gospel first when he got there to Corinth, though he obviously did. He means that when he preached the gospel to them he preached that the gospel had first place. The gospel is presented as the apex and not the ascent of Christianity. It is the priority of our faith and not the afterthought. It is essential to everything we believe and not merely incidental. The gospel is not merely important to Christianity it is of “first importance” to all that Christianity is and does and thinks and feels. And it is this way because Paul “received” it as of first importance. Who did Paul receive it from? Well we know it wasn’t any of the church leaders because Paul tells us so in Galatians 1:11-12 when he says “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. So, Paul delivers the Gospel as the pinnacle and priority of our faith because he received it that way from Christ.”
But was the gospel central to Christ in his life?
John Stott has said “the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself.” In Luke 2:41-50 we have the record of the time when Christ stayed in Jerusalem to talk to the leaders in the temple. When his parents express amazement that he did not follow them Jesus asks them “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” From a young age Jesus displays a single-mindedness to do his Father’s work.
This single-mindedness erupts forth as Jesus anticipates his death. Each time he does so he displays his determination in going forward with his mission. Whether we are looking at one of the synoptic gospels (Mark 10: 32-24) or the gospel according to John (Christ’s “hour”) we are confronted with Jesus’ determination to go to the cross. Indeed, we are told in Ephesians 1 that this cross-ward direction was the plan of the Father and the Son from before the foundations of the world.
All throughout the gospels Christ is seen to be on a mission headed straight for the cross. “This was the perspective of Jesus on his death. Despite the great importance of his teaching, his example, and his works of compassion and power, none of these was central to his mission. What dominated [the mind of Jesus] was not the living but the giving of his life. This final self-sacrifice was his “hour” for which he had come into the world.”
And if the gospel was central for Christ, it ought to be central for all of us.