Have you ever received some Good News that was both unexpected and amazing? Last week, on Thursday, my family celebrated the one year anniversary of some Good News that was amazing to us. Four days prior, as most of you know, Logan nearly drowned while swimming with some friends. His heart had stopped and there was a very real likelihood of brain damage. He spent the next four days in an unconscious or semi-conscious condition. But on the morning of July 25, when Susan and I went to visit Logan in the hospital, he was fully conscious and sitting up in bed. He couldn’t speak because he had a breathing tube down his throat, but when we gave him a pen and a piece of a paper, he began writing and his first words were, “What happened to me?” And my family and I are still living in amazement over that Good News from God.
But amazing as that Good News is for us, God has some even greater Good News for each and every one of you. In 1 Peter1:12 we hear that the Good News of the Gospel is so amazing that “Even angels long to look into these things.” Even the angels are amazed by the Gospel! And the Gospel has the power to change your life forever! So let’s take a closer look at the Gospel.
The Gospel begins with God, who he is and what he does. So let’s reflect for a few moments on God and his characteristics.
The Bible tells us that God is holy, all-powerful and beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Now you might say to me that you don’t believe in a God who is like that. The God you believe in created the world and all that it in it, but he no longer relates to or intervenes in the world. What happens in the world from creation forward is all up to us.
If that is the case for you, then you would be a Deist instead of a Christian. And, if that is what you believe, then I invite you to think about this question: If it is really all up to us, then how will you deal with the gap between personal and universal morality? Perhaps you would answer, “But there is no universal morality.” And I would reply, “You own life is indicating that there is.” If you put a tape recorder around your neck and just recorded the words you said whenever you made a pronouncement about right or wrong, at the end of your life you would realize two things. First, your recordings would add up to a comprehensive code of morality that you believe should apply to all people. So you do believe that there is a universal code of morality. And second, if your life was measured against your own standard of morality, and you were honest with yourself, you would admit that you, like all the rest of us human beings, have not measured up to that universal standard of morality.
Even our media points to a universal sense of right and wrong. The cover story of the July 22, 2013 issue of Maclean’s magazine was about the terrible disaster in Lac Magentic, where 47 people were killed on July 6 when railcars containing crude oil derailed and exploded in flames. The headline on the front cover describes the disaster as “Unforgivable.” How can Maclean’s describe the disaster “unforgivable” without alluding to a universal standard of right and wrong that applies to everyone? So, as a deist, how do you deal with the gap between your personal morality and the universal standard of morality? How will you ever know if you have done enough to meet that universal standard?
The Bible also tells us that God is loving and merciful. Perhaps now I am getting close to describing the God that you believe in. The God you believe in, you may tell me, is loving and gracious, but he is not a judge. You believe that God does not really judge anybody or anything.
If that is what you believe, then I ask you to think about this question, “How can the God you believe in be a loving God and not make a determination between good and evil? How can a loving God allow the ones he loves to be harmed and not judge it to be wrong?”
If we use our human reason to think through our ideas about God the result is a God that looks a lot like the God that the Bible describes. The God that the Bible describes is holy, all-powerful and beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Because of God’s holiness, sin cannot exist in his presence. On our own, we have about as much of a chance standing before God as does a sheet of tissue paper does on the surface of the sun. The God that the Bible describes is also loving, merciful and full of grace. And so God has stepped into our world in order to save us from all the times we have failed to meet the universal standard for morality. God is like a firefighter who enters a burning building and then carries out the lone occupant of the building just before the building collapses. We were facing condemnation for our sin with no possible way of saving ourselves when Jesus paid the penalty for all of our sins so that we can be brought into the holy presence of God and experience his joy over us as his much-loved children.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change lives. So what is clear definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul describes the Gospel in this way: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sinsaccording to the Scriptures 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). J. D. Greear, in his book “Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary,” writes “The gospel is not just supposed to be our ticket into heaven; it is to be an entirely new basis for how we relate to God, ourselves, and others. It is to be the source from which everything else flows.”
In order that we might better understand the Gospel so that it may have its full impact on our lives, Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel by looking at a series of word pictures that are used to describe various aspects of the Gospel. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What this means is that Jesus, the Son of God, who was both fully human and fully divine, and who did not sin at all and therefore did not deserve to suffer any penalty for sin, he took upon himself all of our sin and suffered the penalty for all of that sin on the cross. And he in turn gave us all of his righteousness, purity and holiness. It is called the Great Exchange. So because of Jesus we can now enter into the presence of a holy God.
(Second word Picture) The next word picture takes place in a law court. 1 John 2:1 tells us, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” This verse is inviting us to imagine that we are in the ultimate court of law where God the Father is presiding as judge, Jesus is our lawyer and we are on trial for our sins. Usually when we imagine the Gospel in this way, we think of Jesus pleading for mercy from his Father and the Father finally relenting and agreeing to let us go. But there is a problem with thinking about the Gospel in this way because we know that we sin every day. So we imagine that Jesus has to go back before his Father every day and plead for mercy on our behalf and at some point, we imagine to ourselves, the Father is going to get tired of this never-ending parade and give us what we deserve, so we need to pull up our socks and deal with our own sin ourselves. But then we fall right back into what is the natural religion of all human beings and that is works righteousness.
You see, when Jesus goes before his Father, he is not pleading for mercy. He has a strong case for your innocence which he presents to his Father. And the case is this: because Jesus paid your penalty for all of your sin, God’s justice demands that you be set free. The blood of Jesus Christ is the proof of your innocence. It is a one-time event that sets you free forever. This is the here and now aspect of the Gospel. But there is also a future aspect to the Gospel and to study that we turn to our third word picture which is an inheritance.
We read in 1 Peter 1:3-4, 3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” Most of us already know what an inheritance is: It is something of value that belongs to someone else and the owner has indicated in their will that we are to receive that thing of value when they die. In this passage from 1 Peter, the word inheritance is used in the future sense, that is, we have not yet received the inheritance. But, you could say, the one making the bequest has already given us a copy of the will and we have read it, so we know that the inheritance is coming, but we have not yet received it.
There are three things that we know about a future inheritance. First, it is a gift. We did not earn or deserve the inheritance in any way. Second, the value of the gift is based on someone else’s work, not our own. And third, someone has to die for us to receive the gift.
The Great Exchange where Jesus takes our condemnation and sin and gives us his purity and holiness is something that we have right now. The Declaration of Innocence that Jesus wins for us by making his case for divine justice before his Father in a law court is something that we have right now. But there is a future inheritance that is to come with the Gospel and that future inheritance consists of two things: First, public vindication and, second, the resurrection.
What do I mean by public vindication? I mean this: In our culture today, it is not socially acceptable to be an authentic Bible-believing Christian. We are seen as old-fashioned, out of touch, bigoted, hypocritical, narrow-minded, ignorant, uneducated and harmful to society. It is not cool to be a Christian. In many other parts of the world there is a greater price to pay for being a Christian. You can lose your job, you can be cut off from your family, you can be tortured or even be killed just for being a Christian.
One day, Jesus will come back to this earth in a way that everyone will see him. Revelation 20:11-15 describes it this way:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence,and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small,standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
The final judgment described here will not be judgment for those who are in Christ. It will be public vindication. On that last day, it will be revealed for everyone in the world to see that, in spite of the pain and suffering that we experience in the here and now because we are Christians, trusting in Jesus was the right thing to do.
The second part of our future inheritance is the resurrection. We have these beautiful words from Revelation chapter 21, 21
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The great hope of the Christian faith lies in the future promised to us by Jesus. One day our tired, old bodies will be fully restored to life and vitality. One day all the brokenness in our hearts and in all of creation will be healed. One day we will see our loved ones who died in Christ and they will be more beautiful and more glorious than they have ever been before. One day, we will see the beautiful face of Jesus, and we will live with him forever in the new heaven and earth. As Peter writes,
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuinenessof your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:4b-9)
My encouragement to each and every one of you is to feed on the Gospel each and every day. Dwell upon both the present and future aspects of this amazing gift from Jesus. Live in his love and forgiveness and he will transform your life.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley, BC, on July 28, 2013.)
 J. D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2011), 9.