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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Don’t be VAR!


"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…" 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

I recently read about someone who’d made a mistake.  His name’s James Tweed.  His job is studying insects.  He was out and about in a remote area of Australia.  He saw something on a leaf.  He thought it was bird poo…  until it started walking!  Then he got really excited.  I mean, I would if I saw walking bird poo!  But his reason was different.  He realised that it was a camouflaged insect.  So well camouflaged that nothing was going to fancy it for breakfast!  And so rare.  It was compared to tens of thousands of specimens from around the world.  Nothing matched.  It was a new one.  James Tweed’s first glance led to a mistake.  When he looked again, he discovered something new.  He was glad he took a second look.


Coming to church can be difficult.  Especially if you aren’t a Christian.  It’s easy to think that Christians have it all sorted.   Even if you’re a believer in Jesus, it’s easy to think that others are more sorted.  Or, to think they’re more grounded than you - less shaky - more unshakeable.  They don’t make mistakes like you.  The truth is everyone makes mistakes.  1 Corinthians shows a whole church group making mistakes.  They’d got things wrong.  They got heaps of stuff wrong!


These people had heard the message about Jesus - the message that Jesus is God’s Son and humankind’s Saviour - or rescuer.  They’d heard this message and joyfully believed it.  They’d started a new way of life in Christ.  But soon, things crept into their new way of thinking, that belonged to their old way of thinking.  They started doing stuff that they shouldn’t.  They started to make mistakes.  They started to behave like… like… well, people.


The Christian life calls for change.  But change is well hard.  That’s not just true for Christians, that’s true for everyone.  Who doesn’t struggle with things like changing eating habits - going on a diet. Or, cutting down on the booze - not giving in to our Strawberry-Mint vape addiction - doing more exercise - getting early nights?!  All things we want to do.  Rarely easy!


The Christian life calls for a different kind of change to that.  But often we find the church likewise struggling.  Mainly because it uses a faulty principle.  When the church does what everyone else does – it tries to change by just trying harder - it will do what everyone else does.  It will struggle big-time!  But time and again in Paul’s letters, he points Christians, not to guts and grit, but grace – God’s grace.  What’s that?  It’s God’s ongoing power for those on the Jesus journey.  His power trumps our weakness.  His help helps!


Let’s say I’ve got a DIY job at home.  I need to make a hole in the wall to fit a screw.  Would I keep tapping the wall with my finger?  Or would I use my drill?  I’d use my drill.  Because it’s got the power.  The wall will defeat my finger.  It won’t defeat my drill.


Paul had achieved loads in the Christian life.  His life had been transformed.  But not by him.  Verse 10 shows this.  Paul says, ‘yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me’.  ‘By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.’  But where does God’s grace come from?  It comes from the main theme of Easter.  It comes from Christ’s rising again.


Because, in Ephesians 1 19-20 (NLT), Paul talks about ‘the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. He says, ‘this is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.’  If you’re a Christian, that’s what’s at your disposal.  After a rough night’s sleep, I can feel defeated by getting breakfast!  But even the sleep of death did not defeat my Jesus.  Yet, all too easily, I try to get by in life depending on me.  When I could, and should, look to him.


Christ’s rising again is what should fuel the Christian life.  Sadly, the church in Corinth was even getting Christ’s rising again wrong.  Paul wants them to be like James Tweed in Australia.  He wants them to take a second look.  And realise their mistake.  They’re losing their grip on something that needs holding tight.  That’s the point he makes in verses 1 & 2.  The good news about Jesus saves you.  But you must hold it ‘firmly’.


What they held, in Christ, was so valuable.  Verse 3 says, ‘of first importance: that Christ died for our sins… that he was buried… that he was raised’ again.  Why is this so valuable?  Because it’s the only way we’ll ever get right with God.  Try to live a better life? – doomed to failure!  But believe that Jesus died for all your life’s shortcoming and failure?  And that he rose again forever, showing that your sin is gone for ever? – that has God’s guarantee of success.  This is what we must grasp and grasp it firmly. 


Let’s say I have a very rare Ming Vase.  I take it to the Antiques Roadshow.  They value it at a million pounds.  I rush home and hold it out to my wife.  I ask, ‘How much dooya reckon it’s worth?’  At which point I trip and drop it!  She says, ‘It’s not worth anything’.  I say, ‘Wrong!  Antiques Roadshow valued it at one mill!’  How would she respond?  She’d say something like, ‘But that was before you let go.  That’s not a million pounds – that’s a million pieces!  Why didn’t you hold it firmly?!!!’


That’s what Paul is saying here about hope in Christ - hold it and hold it firmly.  These Christians were in danger.  And it was their loose grasp of the resurrection that was making everything slide.


From verse 12 onwards, Paul tackles this issue of that day – the rising again of the dead.  Their hope in Christ was turning into a pitiful hope.  They were undermining Christ Jesus.  They were undermining their own futures.  Paul is determined to stop them.  They need to listen to his review of their thinking.


Those who follow football have recently got used to stopping and waiting for reviews to be carried out.  You may have heard of ‘VAR’.  V.A.R.  It stands for ‘Video Assistant Referee’. What happens?  Well, let’s say I go to a football match.  The scores are level with seconds left.  Then the ball is crossed into the opposition’s box.  Our centre forward heads the ball firmly into the back of the net.’  Suddenly, we’re all jumping up and down in celebration.  I don’t know the guy next to me.  But he’s hugging me like I’m his BFF.  It’s a famous victory… except it isn’t.  The big screen is now showing those dreaded letters – V.A.R.  A review is pending!


We stop and wait.  Then we hear the second-to-worse thing a football fan can hear.  ‘Offside – goal disallowed.’  Then we hear the worse thing.  The opposition fans are now making the most of our victory-turned-to-misery experience.  They’re pointing at us and singing – ‘Sit down. Shut up!’


It’s kinda like Paul does here.  He’s carrying out a review of the church in Corinth.  They need to sit down and listen to his conclusion.  What is Paul’s conclusion?  It’s kinda like this – their hope looks vain - empty.  They’ve lost their victory.  Why?  It’s because of VAR.  Not because of Video Assistant Referee.  But because they were V.A.R - Vague About Resurrection.


What is it to be vague?  Vague means to not clearly grasp or understand something.  But there’s hope.  Paul holds out hope.  Christ’s rising again offers ongoing hope.  When we make mistakes as believers, we need to take another look.  What at?  At the cross.  At Jesus rising from the dead.  Offering us hope today and always and forever.  In life, we’ll need to rise again, and again and again.  Never losing sight.  Never losing hold, of what the rising again of Jesus means in full for us.


In our Bibles, there is a follow up letter, from Paul to this church in Corinth.  It shows that they were glad of his review.  We should be too.  It can be difficult when our lives are reviewed by others.  Especially when mistakes are identified.  But if a solution is put forward, we can benefit.  Criticism, on its own, is useless.  But constructive criticism can be so useful.  Never identify a mistake if you cannot help with a solution.  The Bible identifies our biggest mistake.  But it also reveals the solution. 


Towards the end of this chapter, Paul talks about our great error – our sin against God.  He mentions the consequence of it, which is ‘death’.  And he gives the reason why it is so.  In verse 56 he says, ‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law’.  What does he mean by ‘the law’?  Well, let’s return to football to explain. 


In football you aren’t allowed to be in an offside position.  When a player is called offside, it means that they have strayed beyond the point where they’re allowed to be.  How do we know what that point is?  We look at the laws of the game – that’s where it’s defined.  We read the rule book, and we understand.


It's the same with the game of life.  It’s governed by God’s law.  He has a rule book for our living.  Problem is - that rule book tells us that every one of us is ‘offside’ (see Romans 3 9-12).  Because of sin, we’ve all strayed beyond the point we’re allowed to.  We need to get onside with God again.  That’s the solution.  But we can’t do it ourselves.  It’s beyond us.  We can only do it by believing in Christ.  Sin is a huge problem.  Jesus is the great solution.  Listen to verses 56 & 57 in full – ‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’


How so?  Well, Jesus lived the life that we could not.  He always stayed onside.  He never crossed the line that God’s rule book set.  We couldn’t do that.  But ‘thanks be to God’ – Jesus could, and Jesus did.  He then died for sin on the cross.  He suffered the punishment for our offside way of life.  He then gave us his onside way of life in full.  As if it was our own.  To prove all this? - God raised him from the dead.


Our breaking of God’s life-rules is what makes our sin so wrong.  But God’s own Son makes us right!  It’s the Bible’s solution to our great problem.  Such a great solution that we should never let go.  As believers, our grip on Christ can slip.  But Easter – with its rising again theme – can serve to help us.  We need to rise and again ‘hold firmly’.


Hold firmly – ‘stand firm’.  That’s what the final verse of this chapter says – ‘stand firm’.  ‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’  What does that mean?  It means that, in Christ, nothing you do for the Lord will ever prove useless (see NLT).  What a promise!  What a hope to grasp this Easter – ‘dear brothers and sisters.’


But what if all this excludes you?  What if you’re not a Christian, or not sure if you’re a Christian.  You feel VAR – vague about the resurrection - not sure if Christ’s rising again can really include you.  Well, the message of 1 Corinthians 15, is for you too.  Whatever your past mistakes – take another look.  You’ll be glad that you did!  Look and live.  Take hold of Christ.  Believe that the risen Jesus is your Jesus.  Because God’s word says this – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16 31).


Life’s brokenness - and our failure to do what’s right - can move us to tears. But God, in his Son, can move us to himself.


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