Today’s post is by a guest writer, Zeke Nelson.
One of the things that have helped me live-out my Christian faith is by reading the Bible (if you are having an issue with getting through the bible, I have a post on that as well). As I was reading the bible on an everyday basis, the story it contained about Jesus Christ, became more and more my own story. That might not make any sense at the moment, but it will later on.
I believe that understanding the gospel as a Christian, accepting, and embracing it, is what makes the difference in following the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe it is the key to get past the issues that keep us from becoming devoted Christians, and the key for a none believer to find their way to Christ.
Today’s post is written by Zeke, because I believe that he can explain it much better than I can. The gospel is such a crucial thing in the Christian belief, that I didn’t want to mess it up. I have met a lot of believers who claim to be Christians without having any idea about what the gospel is. The danger of claiming to be a Christ-follower, without understanding the gospel, or without making an effort to understand the gospel is that we end up with a god who is more like a genie in the bottle.
My prayer is that you may read this with an open mind and receiving heart. The gospel is a story that has changed the lives of so many people around the world, and still does till today. And don’t be afraid to read it a couple of times, I had to read it more than once as well.
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is a story. The gospel is an announcement. The gospel is a person.
This is not the only way to explain and summarize the gospel, but it is a helpful place to start. I will explain each of the three points and show the significance of this good news to us as we go.
The gospel is a story
It is the story of the Bible, which is the story of Jesus. And it can become our story. The book of Acts tells about a time when a man named Philip was led by the Spirit of God to approach a man from Ethiopia traveling in a chariot. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading from the prophet Isaiah. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” He was reading from Isaiah 53, a well-known passage about the “Suffering Servant.” We are told that “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:26-40).
That particular passage of Scripture happens to speak quite clearly about Christ if it is explained, as the Ethiopian wished. The passage also happens to apply with particular power to this man. “Who can speak of his descendants?” the passage asks. This man, as a eunuch, would have no descendants himself. He heard Philip tell the story of Jesus and immediately asked to be baptized, making the story his own. The suffering servant with no descendants became the Eunuch’s Savior.
This passage was an especially good starting place for telling the good news about Jesus, but Philip could have started with any passage of Scripture because the Scripture tells a single, overarching story. The law, the prophets, the history, the poetry and prayers, all the individual lives, and individual stories exist within and makeup one sprawling story. Philip could have started telling “the good news about Jesus” from any passage in the Bible.
My local church during college was founded by a missionary. He returned once to preach. I don’t know if I have ever been so locked-into a sermon. “Wherever you cut the Bible,” he said, “it bleeds mission.” He meant that there is a unity in the Bible. It tells one story, the mission of God in the world. That is the story that Philip told the seeker from Ethiopia.
Our own lives take the shape of a story. We have an individual story, which takes place within the story of a family, the story of a nation, the story of the world. Our stories have a beginning, middle, and end. But imagine being put on the stage to perform a play, but no character and no script are assigned to you. We are left to discover our identity in this great drama. We have to improvise our lines. Here you are on the earth, but what is your part to play? What is your character? What are your lines? What is the plot?
Knowing the big story gives a place to our little stories. When we know the story of God, then we begin to understand the storyline of our lives. The effect is electrifying. First is that we are absolutely humbled. We are not the kings and queens we thought we were. In fact, we have lost the plot, missed our lines, pushed other characters off the stage. But the second part is this: God actually intended that we would-be kings and queens all along – we are meant to reign with him – and he has not given up on that purpose. We’ll come back to that after looking at the second piece of the gospel, which is an announcement.
The Gospel is an Announcement
Just before the section about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is another well-known verse: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7). The passage envisions a messenger coming with an eagerly awaited announcement. As nations at war await news of victory, so the people of God awaited this announcement: “Your God reigns.” To put it slightly differently, the messenger announced: “God is king.” There are many human and spiritual entities aspiring for the highest throne. Thankfully, it will be denied them, because all of them would be dictators and tyrants. God alone is king.
The preaching and teaching of Jesus were focused on the kingdom of God. Many of his parables illustrated some aspect of God’s kingdom. He called his followers to seek the kingdom of God, to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. Every kingdom has its king. Isaiah stated that God is king. The followers of Jesus agreed, but they included Jesus in their monotheistic faith. The one God includes Jesus, who is the world’s true king.
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came like fire upon those gathered. The apostle Peter explained the startling fact that everyone at the festival heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their native languages. It was the pouring out of God’s Spirit, he said. But Peter quickly moved on to explain the background and the significance of this poured-out Spirit. He focused on Jesus, who was crucified but raised from death. He concluded his sermon, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
Peter announces the good news: Jesus is Messiah and Lord. The apostle Paul agrees that Jesus is Lord. Messiah meant the anointed king, the savior. Lord meant king or emperor. Jesus is all of those. Kanye West got it right: Christ Is King.
What does this mean for us? In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul reminds his readers, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Notice that the announcement refers to the story of the Scriptures. And notice the implication for us: he died for our sins. Included in the announcement that Christ is king are the concepts of atonement, justification by faith, sanctification, being renewed in the image of God. And we cannot leave out the resurrection, which ensures our own sharing in the eternal life and love of God in a new creation.
By the way, this definition of the gospel as a story, announcement, and person excludes two common false gospels, which are not good news at all. The first says to follow the rules, which is legalism. The second says follow your heart, which is license. Both of these are destructive. I have seen people first try one, burn out, and try the other. Sometimes people bounce back and forth multiple times before coming to rest on the solid ground of the gospel announcement: the grace of God. Grace is deeper, more threatening, but far more thrillingly life-giving than follow the rules or follow your heart. Instead, follow Christ. He does expect our obedience, but he gives us the strength. He also reshapes our hearts to want the right things. Already I am trying to squeeze in too much. This is intended to be a summary of the gospel.
The way Jesus was revealed as king is worthy of wonder. Here we touchback on the fact the gospel is a story. The long story of the world is focused in the story of the people of Israel, who were expecting the Messiah to come and bring salvation, making things right in the world. When the Messiah did come, he surprised even his followers by stating that his mission was to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. By suffering and dying, Jesus shows that God is a God of love. The kingship of Jesus is characterized by love. In the depths of human weakness, Jesus reveals the power of God. He dies for our sins and death is defeated. This story, this history, becomes the announcement, “Jesus is Lord.” Those who believe in and follow Christ share in his victory, his life, his love. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 8:1). No condemnation! What good news for a depressed, anxious, fearful world!
The announcement refers to the story, and the story leads to the announcement. So perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to say that the gospel is an announcement within a story. Or we could simply say that the gospel is a person, which implies both the story and the announcement.
The Gospel is a Person
A story, an announcement, and the included concepts like atonement and justification – they are wonderful news, but they can remain like printed words on a page – interesting information – if we don’t come to know the living person who embodies them. The longing of the apostle Paul was not to live his story better, to be his “best self,” as people say, or even to be justified. His desire was to “know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). That desire to know Jesus the Messiah naturally included gaining righteousness that came not from himself but from Christ, just as it also included the expectation of sharing in Christ’s resurrection. The point, though, is that Paul did not long for concepts, he longed for Christ himself. The good news is the person of Jesus himself. What Christians long for and look forward to is being with Christ.
As we began to see in the sections on story and announcement, God is Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father sent the Son, who gave his life for us, then poured out the Spirit from his exalted throne in heaven. The Bible tells us over and over that God loves the world. We are even told that God is love. This statement about the essence of God can be true because God exists as a Trinity. There is a relationship of love between the Father and Son. The Father is invisible and in some sense unknowable. The Son, who became a human being, reveals the Father to us.
God is king. What is this king like? God wrote himself into the story: the person of Jesus Christ entered the creation as a human being. Jesus shows us a God who loves with such an intensity that he is willing to suffer and die. Jesus shows us a God who conquers death and wins our hearts, our faith, our allegiance.
The gospel is Jesus Christ himself. Our longing and desire are for him. “Come Lord Jesus” are the concluding words of the Bible’s final book. Until the time when our longing is fulfilled and we see the king face to face, we have work to do. The gospel of Matthew concludes with Jesus saying, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” He is king! In his authority Jesus sends out his apostles and his church, saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”
For more from Zeke Nelson, you can go to www.explorationandcontemplation.com