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 15:3–4)
For two millennia now, these great truths have united the greatest movement in history, the world religion called “Christianity,” spanning the globe in every geopolitical state, dedicated to the single most celebrated personage in history and around the world: Jesus of Nazareth.
Christians of all stripes, in every nation, in the near and distant past, and still today, confess that Jesus Christ died and was buried, and that on the third day God raised him from the dead.
In changing and conflicted times, these unchanging truths have held, and not just by a thread. They have borne abundant fruit and multipled, advancing to new peoples, new lands, new continents, overcoming the severest obstacles and opposition. In fact, for many, these truths become even stronger and more solid, and even more precious, in the most difficult of times and seasons. In peacetime and at war, in times of prosperity and seeming desperation, in disorientation and confusion, Christians have clung to these truths for life.
He Died for Our Sins
First, we believe that “Christ died for our sins.” He died — indeed, he was killed. He did not die of natural causes or by accident, but his life was ended violently by execution. In envy, the Jewish leaders delivered him up, and the Roman governor, though he suspected him innocent, had him crucified.
But his death, on its own, as a bare fact of history, is no reason for faith and worship — unless his death was, as we believe, “for our sins.” He was innocent, yet chose to offer himself for the sins of his people. The death he died, we believe, was not for his sins (he had none), but for ours. And we believe his death was effective in covering our sins before a holy God, because this was “in accordance with the Scriptures,” not positive spin concocted after the tragic death of a beloved religious leader, but the long-promised and prophesied rescue from God himself — just as he said it would happen.
He Was Buried
So too we believe that “he was buried.” When he died, his human soul was separated from his human body, and for three days — Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Sunday morning — his dead human body lay lifeless in the tomb.
For Christians, his burial is not insignificant. Paul mentions it here in his confession, and we have confessed it in our creeds ever since. Jesus’s burial testifies to the fact that he was indeed dead; it was not a near-death experience from which he recovered. He did not swoon and then rally; he died and rose from the dead. His burial, and God’s patient three-day wait to raise him, stands as witness to the reality of his death, and the power of what came next.
He Was Raised
We believe, that glory of glories, “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” God intervened, and acted, to raise up his righteous one from among the dead, restoring him to human life — to the very body in which he died, now transformed into the humanity of the coming age.
Jesus not only died for our sins, but he was raised, and is alive today. And without his life, there is no salvation. For us to live, we must be joined, by faith, to the one who died for us and then conquered death, the one who now still lives. Salvation for us comes only in union with a crucified and living Christ.
How We Stand
We believe a day is coming when the risen Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Yet for now, we wait — and we live in these most basic, beautiful, and profound truths. This gospel — that Jesus died for our sins, and was buried, and was raised — is not just where we take our stand, by profession, but it is how we stand each day. We don’t just believe this gospel but we live by and in this gospel.
Just before Paul rehearses these great gospel details in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, he reminds us that this gospel holds power for us, not just in the past, but for the present, and the future. This is the gospel “which you received” in the past, “in which you stand” now in the present of the Christians life, “and by which you are being saved” as we “hold fast to the word” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2). We build our lives on, and consciously live in, the precious truths that we believe.