- What is the Gospel?
- God is Holy
- God is Love
- God’s Plan
- Jesus: the unexpected Savior
- Jesus: the divine King
- The Final Plan
- Contemptible Glory
- The Answer to Sin
- The Resurrection
- What will you do?
What is the Gospel?
You may have heard the term “Gospel.” The word itself just means “good news.” That is the perfect term for what Jesus offers! The good news of Jesus is in direct response to the bad news, so let’s start there. The bad news is the gut feeling you have about sin, evil, wrongdoing, and self worthlessness. It’s true. This isn’t at all a popular message, even among many church-folk. Jesus made it very clear that our chosen path (our life without Him) leads to death. We chose to do away with God’s holiness and God’s rules, and the logical and necessary consequence is losing the blessing of life itself. Yes, all sin deserves death. Not because of some ridiculous rule-set made by snobbish church clergy, but due to God’s perfect nature.
God is Holy
God is Perfectly Holy. His holiness has absolutely no evil or trace of badness. John said well: “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness, not even one bit” (1 John 1:5). This holiness and righteousness brings life. When God first made the universe and life, he started with ‘light’ (to signify the intent of holiness) and concluded by calling “all things good” (Genesis 1:31). To honor the very life we have, we must adhere to that Holy and Righteous intent. But we can all self-witness that we are not perfectly holy or righteous. Who can honestly claim perfection with no trace of evil? No one can, save God Himself. So that leaves us with a problem: our own choice to deviate from God’s Holiness also relinquishes the life and blessings He offered so freely.
God is Love
God is Love. God’s Holiness and Righteousness gives Him every right to pull the blessing of life at any time He wishes, but especially when we reject His intent. Thankfully, God is not only just, He is loving and merciful. He doesn’t want to see us die or suffer. He wants us to thrive and live in His presence (the best place imaginable). He has chosen not to instantly wipe us off the face of the earth but to give us each an appropriate amount of time and opportunity to turn things around.
God provided a plan. We can plan to walk away from our sins all we want; we can’t escape. Sin is a hard master. It is actually impossible to escape its grasp on our own. Again, we can self-witness this in our own attempts to ‘quit’ our temptations. We keep going back. God knows this. He contemplated and implemented a perfect plan to permanently save us from the pull of sin and its deathly consequences. This plan was something we would never have come up with. It defied our expectations so much, that it even confounded the greatest and most cunning enemy (Satan himself). This plan involved thousands of years of preparations, using an abstract Semite family to bring in a savior.
Jesus: the unexpected Savior
When we idolize and mythologize heroes, we make them grand, shiny, and full of impressive feats. They are bold, conniving, and build a powerful following. But Jesus defied all expectations. He was a Jew (at a time when the Jews had a rough spiritual and economic situation). He was a carpenter (not a royal or warrior). He lived as a normal human being for 30 years, making extra sure to not draw undue attention to himself. When he did start publicly teaching and collecting followers, his message stood out as unique. He defied the contemporary religious Jewish leadership by helping people on their sacred non-work day (Sabbath). He chastised the leadership for hoarding wealth and refusing to extend mercy to the underprivileged (widows, orphans, poor) and the ‘unclean’ (sinners and diseased persons). He demanded that his followers humble themselves by serving and forgiving their enemies and friends alike. He denounced the religious ‘class’ system and lead by examples of service. Multiple times He rejected a throne and crown offered by the Jews.
Jesus: the Divine King
Part of God’s preparations for saving us included prophecies about a King. God would inaugurate a king who would have complete authority over all nations. His rule would be eternal, and the kingdom would never fall. The Jews anticipated this king with the term “Messiah” or “Christ” (lit. ‘anointed one’). Of all the kinds of kings the Jews had anticipated, none of them even dreamed that the man would actually be God. That’s ludicrous, sacrilegious, blasphemous! But that’s exactly what Jesus claimed he was! What’s more, he backed up his claims with miracles of healing to the blind, the lame, the diseased, and even the dead. The leaders of that day hated him because he defied all their expectations and called them out on their own hypocrisy. But they never could deny the miracles. They just resolved to cover them up.
The Final Plan
The leaders resolved to kill Jesus. They feared his popularity might bring the Romans down on them. They feared they themselves would loose their status. But they couldn’t easily assassinate him. That would incriminate themselves. So they hatched a plan to have Jesus killed by the Romans for conspiracy against the Roman Empire. Only then could they be politically ‘innocent’ of his death. The wild thing is: this wasn’t really their plan. It was God’s own plan from the beginning. God knew that our lives had been forfeit by our own sin. And the only way to satisfy perfect Justice is to pay life for life. But it doesn’t work to swap out human life for human life (and certainly sacrifices of animals don’t work long term). God’s plan all along was to come, Himself, and offer His own life as sacrifice to buy our life back. So He sent Jesus: His divine Son. Since temporary sin sacrifices used lambs for the common lay-man, Jesus is sometimes called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). This is God’s plan to save us.
In order to really understand the frame of mind in Jesus’ day, we need to understand a few things about the ultimate Roman torture. The Romans reserved crucifixion for only the most heinous of crimes against the Empire. It was usually for insurrection. It was a death penalty so awful that Roman citizens were exempt. It wasn’t talked about in proper conversation. It was both physical and psychological torture. The recipient was often beaten and bloodied prior, just short of death. Then they were publicly lead to their cross. The crosses were prominently featured in order to insure max shame. The recipient was attached to the cross with nails through the feet and hands/forearms. They were stripped naked and spat on. The death was not slow; sometimes it took days before the recipient suffocated from the weight of their own body. If time was of the essence, their legs might be crushed. Sometimes they might be lit on fire. The whole time, insults and degradation where heaped up. This was what everyone in the first century knew about. So we should be shocked when Jesus himself voluntarily spoke about this death as his own chosen end. It’s not that Jesus was killed this way against his will. He knew about it long in advance (from before the world was created).
The Answer to Sin
This kind of shame is a symbol for our own sin. Crucifixion was a perfect mirror of the kind of guilt and punishment we incur upon ourselves by rejecting God’s goodness to any degree. What makes the gospel of Jesus so remarkable, so unthinkable, and so powerful, is that God in the flesh volunteered to take this punishment for us. More than that: He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself in that moment. Through that death, the sacrifice and atonement for sins was made. God is Just, and sin must be dealt with. He dealt with it by putting His own beloved Son on the cross. The offer of grace is made to all. But will all accept it? Jesus anticipated that some would reject the Gospel entirely, others would accept it initially but turn away, others would make a solid attempt at accepting grace but are too distracted with the things of this temporary life (Matthew 13:3-23). So while the answer to Sin is indeed available to all who seek, your own salvation will be determined by how you accept His terms (John 12:44-50).
The final piece of the puzzle is Life. All the way at the start, we said that sin abdicates the blessing of life itself. God told man “In the day you eat of it you will die.” Death takes two forms: physical and spiritual. All humans die. This was not by original design, but because of sin at the beginning (Genesis 3-4). Our bodies die after a period of wear or by circumstances. But our souls die when we operate by sin. The answer to sin includes the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood to atone for our evils. But we are still dead. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a core tenet of Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15). By it he proves his power over both sin and its consequences. His body rose to live again. This serves as a downpayment or foreshadowing of his power to raise our souls from our sin. It also gives us hope that our bodies too can be raised and be renewed in an eternal form. The apostle Peter preaches about the “Restoration of all things” (Acts 3). This blessing includes eternal life in a renewed heavens and earth. It includes a life free from sin and wickedness. All of this is made possible by the resurrection.
What Will You Do?
Now, this isn’t the end of the gospel story: it’s only the beginning! The question is: “How are you going to respond?”. The apostle Paul urged readers “Do not let the grace of God be in vane!” (2 Corinthians 6:1) There is a whole-bodied commitment which this grace expects in return (Romans 12:1-2). Each of us has work to stay busy in. There is a lifetime of gratitude we owe. We owe love and respect back to Jesus and all of His children. All of this is really nothing in return for what God has already done for us. If it is even imaginable to you, the blessing of the gospel gets even better! We haven’t even mentioned eternity with God in the new heavens and new earth in which only righteousness dwells. In that place there will be no more death, pain, sorrow, tears, or evils.