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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:3 Christ died for our sins

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 7, 2023

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

The three events (died, buried, raised) followed by a string of resurrection appearances are not first, second, third, and so on in importance. They are all of first importance. This fact of the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sins is what is key to our faith in Christianity. There are people who are confused about many doctrines, who become obsessed with the chronology of the end times or caught up in “endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4) and such, but if they understand this thing of first importance, that Christ died for our sins, then they have a place with him forever in heaven.

What does it mean that Christ died for our sins? It is stated many times (Romans 4:25; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2, 4:10). It was illustrated in the actions of the ancient tabernacle. When a man committed a sin, he brought an animal to be sacrificed, killed, to atone for his error. The blood was poured onto the altar or at its base (Leviticus 4:7, 5:9), and the man’s sin would be counted as forgiven: “He will be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:20, 5:10). But those sacrifices had no end. And in truth, they really only pointed ahead to the moment when the Son of God would make the sacrifice of his own body and blood to atone for all sins of all mankind for all time. “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). When Christ was nailed to the cross, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Consider the order of events on that terrible day we call Good Friday. The high priest of Israel (Caiaphas) had unwittingly laid the sins of all mankind on the head of Christ when he said, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). John, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounced God’s judgment on this statement. He said: “He (Caiaphas) did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish people” (John 11:51).

Therefore it was with the sins of mankind imputed to him that he was executed when the priests of the Jews handed him over to the judge and soldiers of Rome. This act echoed the Lord’s own warning about going to trial, for he said: “Settle matters with your adversary who is taking you to court… or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Amen I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26). Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had his blood shed with our sins imputed to him. Therefore when that blood was spilled and when, in the end, he died on the cross, he paid with his own death “to the last penny” for the guilt of all of our sins. With his death, the payment for our sins was at an end.

One of our great theologians, Johann Gerhard, said: “Just as God punished our sins in Christ, which had been laid on and imputed to him as our substitute, so also by raising him from the dead he (that is, the Father) absolved him of our sins which were imputed to him, and therefore he also absolved us in order that the resurrection of Christ might thus be the cause and pledge and counterpart of our own resurrection—because in the resurrection of Christ we were absolved of our sins that they they no longer can condemn us before the judgment seat of God.”

Ezekiel uncovered the paradox of this payment by Christ with the message of God in his great and profound eighteenth chapter. The prophet recounts: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. A righteous man… will surely live, says the Lord” (Ezekiel 18:4,9). But a man, even the son of the righteous man, “sheds blood, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, looks to idols, and does detestable things. He will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:10-13). Christ, however, did no wicked thing at all. The highest human court in Israel declared him to be without guilt of any kind: “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:38, 19:4, 19:6) while the people cried out “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6).

The strange grace of God was to leap into the fallen world, our world, and take the sins of sinners, our sins, onto himself. He died, the innocent for the guilty, to rescue us from the punishment of eternity in hell. So just as a debt one person owes might be paid by another, it is nevertheless paid. It is no longer a debt. So it is with our sins. Our debt was paid by another—the only one who could possibly pay the price. He paid for us all. This is why this is of first importance. Knowing this, we come to trust in Jesus and to love him for it. His payment covers us, and we are set free of the guilt of our sin forever.

“I will praise you forever for what you have done. In your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.” (Psalm 52:9). Let this be one of the songs we sing.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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