Friday, April 02, 2010

The Gospel

What is the gospel. The first answer is "good news." The second would be "what's described in I Corinthians 15:1 and following." Those are the standard answers, but I'm not sure how far we go with them. The gospel is much more, and I think we spend most of our lives trying to understand it. It's not just for conversion.

There is in the Bible more than one gospel, but there is one permanent one, for us. John had a gospel of the coming kingdom, Jesus sent the 70 of the disciples out to preach the gospel of the present king, and I Corinthians tells us the complete gospel. Do we always get the whole picture when we say we know what it is?

1. the gospel is the means by which we are saved.
2. the gospel is what we stand on
3. the gospel first is based on who Christ is. Notice Paul says "Christ," not Jesus, indicating the anointed one's identity. If Jesus is not the Christ, then he is really just another executed Jew. That's a shocking statement, but the same people who get all upset over Jesus on the cross don't often understand the centrality of his identity.
4. Second, the gospel is based on that fact that Christ died according to the Scriptures. That should make us stop. The New Testament had not been written when Paul said, "according to the scriptures" so he had to mean the Old Testament. The Christian is now sent back to the law, the prophets, and the psalms to figure that one out--a wonderful journey to those who are willing to risk it. Your mind will expand greatly when you do.
There is a lot to be said about "Christ died" according to the scriptures. I think the Old Testament and Jesus' own words indicate that it was to be public (John 3:14), fitting for a criminal (Is. 53), with the Gentiles involved, bloody, and indisputable (as only the Romans could do).
We can spend a lot of time talking about the physical suffering of the cross, and some people need that because they are desensitized and dull and indifferent. But that is not in the New Testament. Everyone knew about a crucifixion. What matters is what the cross means. I would send one to John Piper for that. He has a wonderful little book, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, that will explain it quite well. .

5. Third, the gospel is based on the fact that Jesus was buried. We usually skip over that. Of course he was buried! we would say. But it's an important reference to Is. 53, "And they made his grave with the wicked, but with the rich at his death." The burial means he was good and dead, again, indisputable. Only that will make the resurrection a real resurrection.

Paul and all the apostles knew that what they were claiming about the resurrection was crazy by all human standards, so they are careful to not act as if the resurrection were a secret, an esoteric thing. And that comes next.

6. The gospel is based (and it's all a package--nothing can be removed) on the historical fact of the resurrection. And there's something here I never noticed before. It's almost as if the gospel is also based on the eyewitness account. Now, I know that's not true--the gospel is about Jesus--but Paul doesn't stop. ". . . and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day (not three days later, by the way), according to the Scriptures (again, where is that in the Old Testament?) and that He was seen by Peter , then by the twelve,....." Being seen by eyewitnesses is part of the package, some how--a needed verification. Faith is faith, but Biblical faith is not a shot in the dark. If God is going to ask us to believe the impossible, He helps us out with 500 eyewitnesses.

Interestingly, when Peter preaches at Pentecost in Acts 2, he speaks at length on the resurrection and it is the climax of the sermon. No one disputes it (as they do on Mars Hill); they knew what had just happened; the facts were known about the executed rabbi who came back from the dead.

The gospel has power. It has cultural power, something Charles Colson writes about in the Breakpoint editorial yesterday. It changed the West from a pagan world view to a modern one, from a world of darkness and gods who needed appeasing and human sacrifice to a world governed by a benevolent lord who took care of the appeasing Himself, in a marvelous collision of love and holiness.

The gospel has power for us personally, but in that case we have to believe it. It frees from sin, but most of us don't let it do that. We prefer to stay in bondage, calling the bondage a habit or obsession or condition or mental state.

The gospel has power in society, one person at a time, one family at a time. I am not much of a one for connecting the gospel's power with social reform. It's there, but indirect.

It's Friday night, but Sunday is coming.

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