What is the Gospel? It's a question that is ringing on our streets, in our malls, and especially on our college campuses. Every where we look, we see evidence of lives untouched and unchanged by the life-changing, live-giving message of the Gospel.
More than half of all adults in American cannot name all four gospels. Even fewer can name at least three disciples. These statistics are staggering but not a mountain too hard to climb.
You, dear one, are getting to embark on one of the most defining journeys of your lifetime: college. Not only will you learn information to build a career that will (Lord willing) last a lifetime, your world is about to be shaken to it's core. During your time in college, you will come across people from such diverse backgrounds, countries, beliefs, and walks of life. Those around you will question your faith. Ideas you hear will make you question your own beliefs and whether or not you actually believe those things are true. Please notice that I am not at all saying that these things might happen. They will. The purpose for this series is to get those foundational issues clear so that during those conversations you will lean into the grace and truth of Jesus and walk away more in love with Jesus than ever before.
So, our first foundational concept is the Gospel itself. You might be thinking that the message of the Gospel is pretty cut and dry. John 3:16, right? Absolutely. For us, the message is clear. For those that grew up in a different religion or different walk of life have heard several different (and not all true) things about the Gospel and Jesus.
Here are some common misconceptions about Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, our protagonist and hero in the story:
Jesus is only concerned about the rules and regulations of religion. He only wants to abolish religion.
Jesus never claimed to be God.
Jesus was always Mr. Nice Guy.
Jesus is only to be viewed as a historical figure, like Napoleon or Cesar.
Much like Aesop, Jesus was a good moral teacher.
Jesus makes no demands for how I am to live my life.
If we have a clear understanding of the Gospel, we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, what claims He makes, and what we are called to do because of His life, death, and resurrection.
So what exactly is the Gospel?
One of the most beautiful things about the Gospel and Scripture is that even in Genesis 1:1, the presence, power, grace, and love of Jesus Christ is felt and obvious. That red thread of love, grace, and hard truth carries us all the way through to Revelation 22:21. Every page, every verse, every word, every red letter, every period and comma has the power to change lives because it is filled with the love, power, and presence of Jesus Himself. Each word carries an eternal weight. It is to be taken seriously. The Gospel and our response to it is an issue of life and death. We get this wrong, we get everything wrong.
To understand the full picture of the Gospel, we have to start from the beginning:
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." Genesis 1:1-2
In the very beginning there was nothing but everything. While there was no mass or matter, God was there. Before anything existed God was, just as God is and is to come. His spirit was hovering over the waters and in that moment, however brief or eternal it may have been (we don't know - our minds can't comprehend it), God knew you. God saw you. God loved you. God spoke and the world and everything in it came to be. Oh to have seen it! The only thing within our earthly and finite realm comparable to the moment when creation came into being is a scene from the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew, written by C.S. Lewis. Aslan the lion (who is an allegory for God and Christ), is walking and singing. As he walks, the light and sun follows. As he sings, the grass, the trees, the flowers, and the world comes into being. The way Lewis paints that picture is so marvelous and wonderful. Imagine being there the moment God said, "Let there be light." How much more marvelous and wonderful it must have been. God even said, "It is good." And it was until we showed up.
Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world forever. What God had once called "good" was no longer spotless. Before that moment, we had no need for a Savior. Here is where our crimson red thread begins. Our need for a Savior, only cleansed by the blood of someone or something without blemish, began the moment sin entered our world and changed everything.
From there, the flaws and sin nature guided and corrupted our world. There were only a few that sought after the Lord and longed to dwell with Him. However, they weren't perfect. In order to atone for the sins of the people, the Lord had rules and regulations. The only atonement of sin could be found through the blood shed of animals that were perfect and whole. Time passed, kings came and went, wars began and ceased, the nation of Israel fell from the Lord and made their way back. The more time that passed since creation, the worse things got, the deadlier the sin, the greater the consequences. Our need for a Savior became more desperate and more urgent.
Just when things couldn't get any worse: A baby was born. Fully God and fully man, born of a virgin (just as the prophets foretold), Jesus Christ, Savior of the world was born in Bethlehem, lying in a manger.
From the very moment this child was conceived and even when He was making His way into this world, this world was against Him. After He was born, there was a star above the place where He lay, bringing attention to the tiny stable in Bethlehem with a virgin and her betrothed. The star brought a lot of attention but it only makes sense that when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords presence and warmth is felt on the earth rather the heavenly realms, all of heaven and earth rejoices. There were angels and the shepherds in a field nearby came to see what the angels sang about and where the star led. Far off, the Magi noticed the star and knew the prophecy. They went to King Herod to tell him about the joyous star and their journey to see the baby, the King. This whole king business made Herod nervous and he ordered for all the Israelite boys under the age of three to be killed.
See what I mean? Against him?
An angel awoke Joseph in the middle of the night one night and gave him specific instructions to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Immediately (immediately) Joseph and his family of three was obedient and fled to safety.
Jesus grew into stature and wisdom and knowledge and began His ministry. To go through all the details of His life and ministry would be nearly impossible for one session but I encourage you to read the Gospels for yourself. There is so much to learn and I have so much to learn as well.
He was sinless and perfect, full of grace and truth (John 1). He healed the sick, raised the dead, transformed the lives of the men, women, and children that surrounded Him, and changed the course of human history. The religious leaders of His time hated Him. He challenged their self-indulgent, prideful religious acts and called out their dirtiness and emptiness inside. At the same time, He offered these men life-changing and life-giving hope. Is that what they wanted? No. They wanted a pat on the backs saying, "Well done good and faithful servant." Instead, they were told, "Away from me, for I never knew you." So, they put Him on trial and though He was innocent, He was handed over to the Romans to be killed. He was beaten within an inch of His life, He was mocked. He was spat upon, and those whom He loved turned their backs on Him. As if that wasn't awful enough, they nailed Him to the cross and gambled for His clothes as He hung, dying, for my sins and yours. Every last corrupt thought, every last gossip, every last anything all hung there on the cross.
One of the men Jesus had impacted offered up his burial site for Jesus to be laid. They laid Him in the tomb, rolled a stone in front of it, and left guards standing there to make sure no funny business happened. Three days later, the earth began to shake, the stone began to roll away, and the Christ, Son of the Living God emerged from the tomb, alive! Death, hell, sin, the grave, and Satan had been conquered! Jesus Christ, our sacrificial Lamb, has washed away all of our sin forever! He appeared to hundreds of people after His resurrection and then ascended back to heaven where He is waiting for us.
There are so many more things I could tell you about the life of Jesus and so many other crucial parts to the Gospel that make it so wonderful and so life giving. I wish I had time to tell you each and every story that is presented in the four Gospels and throughout Scripture. Unfortunately, there isn't enough time in the world and there isn't enough space on the internet to tell you all the wonderful things about Jesus and quite honestly, I haven't learned them all.
If you are new to the faith and still a little unsure what the Gospel is, I would recommend that you read the book of John. I spent almost a whole year in it this past year and learned so much about Jesus and His life and ministry.
Now what? Jesus came and was born of a virgin, was crucified, dead, and buried to wash away the guilt of my sins, and on the third day He rose again. What are we supposed to do next? Is there a next step? What does it look like to follow Jesus? These are all questions that people have had since Jesus was walking on this earth and they are valid questions.
Next week, we will talk about what our proper response is to the Gospel and what we are supposed to do in response to it.
This week, I challenge you to be in prayer and ask the Lord if there is an area of your life that you are unwilling to surrender to Christ. Ask God to show you that He is trustworthy and actions you can take this week to learn to trust Him.