Many have probably seen the illustration before; on a table sits a glass jar and beside the jar sit rocks of various sizes. Some rocks are large and misshaped, others are small and tiny. At the end of the table is a bucket of sand. The task; somehow make all of the rocks and sand fit into the glass jar. But how? For those that have seen the illustration before the answer is clear. The only way to get everything in the glass jar is to begin with the largest rocks first, then the smaller rocks, and finally the sand. The smaller rocks will fill in the spaces left empty by the bigger rocks and the sand will fill in any cracks that are left. There is no other way. The point of the illustration is clear, you must start with the biggest and most important things first.
This illustration provides a wonderful reminder for Christians, especially when it comes to what we emphasize in church; what is of first importance? Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he handed on what was of first importance:
“For I handed on to you as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3)
It is interesting what Paul declares is of first importance. He could have mentioned understandings of the Trinity or the deity of Jesus. He could have mentioned proper views of atonement or what happens to the bread and the wine in the Eucharist. He could have talked about proper church organization or proper ways to conduct worship. Instead he mentions that what is of first importance is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That monumental event is of first importance, it is the one that we need to agree on and proclaim and unite around. It should be the moment that is talked about over and over again, the talk sounding like a broken record as we continue to remind and declare and rejoice in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. All of history turns on that moment, and it is of first importance.
And if the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is of first importance it naturally means that other things are not. Yet it is sad how much time and energy we spend in churches or as Christians debating and speaking about things that are not of first importance. We speak about church organization and worship roles and singing new or traditional songs. We speak about modesty and purity and who is in and who is out. We speak about the proper roles of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and church attendance. The list goes on and on, matters of theology or church practice that need to be talked about on some level, but not all the time, because they are not of first importance.
Sometimes I wonder if all of the fragmentation of Christianity over the years has been because we have lost sight of what is of first importance. Sometimes I wonder if the reason there is a church on every corner in many cities is because we have spent far too much energy fighting over things that are not of first importance. I wonder if more non-Christians would have a favorable view of Christianity and be more open to a relationship with God if Christians spent more time proclaiming that which is of first importance; the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
I want to call us all back (myself included) to that which is of first importance. I want to challenge us to spend more time talking about Jesus. I want to challenge us to unite around the death, burial, and resurrection, to find unity in this moment and to determine that if we agree on this there is room for fellowship together. I know the other matters are important, and there is a time and place for those discussions. But right now what the world needs is a united message from all of Christianity; the proclamation that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. That is what is of first importance.