Ministry Matters: The Gospel - Part 4

Knowing the basic Christian message (the gospel or good news) is key to being a Christian, being a church and sharing the message as Jesus taught us, which means it's a good place to start when considering the life and ministry of the church.

In an earlier article I've suggested this brief outline of the gospel:

  1. God – our loving creator, who we are accountable to.
  2. Us – we have sinned against our creator and face judgement.
  3. Jesus – God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross taking the punishment for our sins.
  4. Us – we need to trust in Jesus and his death for us to be saved.

So far we have, in a sense, seen the bad news. We are all accountable to our creator God and because we are all sinners we justly face judgement and hell (follow the links for those articles). This bad news is the vital prelude to the good news, which came in Jesus and which we turn to now.

1. The King Has Come

The gospels present Jesus as God's king bringing in God's kingdom. The Israelites were waiting for the eternal king and kingdom that God promised to David in 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah picked that up in chapter 9 verses 6-7 of his prophecy. As Jesus started his ministry, we read:

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15 NIV)

Jesus is bringing in God's kingdom, i.e. his rule over all the earth. In fact his title, Christ (or Messiah) along with his great power and teaching are demonstrating that he is the king bringing in the kingdom.

Now this is good news. God is beginning to explicitly put the world under his rule again – as it was in Eden. A new creation is coming where all will be made right again. However, our concern might be that there is no place for sinners like us in this kingdom and new creation. Thus far, all we have seen about ourselves would suggest that we will be judged and excluded.

2. He is a Servant King

That is not God's way though. God the Father sent God the Son not just as the King, but also as the Servant. Again this picture has an Old Testament background, especially in some of the later chapters of Isaiah where we read of God's Servant:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)

As we read it, we immediately think of the cross, where Jesus died in the place of his people, taking God's just punishment for their sins, so that they could have peace with God. Jesus and the New Testament writers describe Jesus' death in the same way, sometimes picking up on the language we find in Isaiah. For example Peter writes:

"He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25 NIV)

(See also Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:18).

Books have been filled about Jesus' death and it is the focal point of the New Testament, but at it's heart is Jesus as the substitute (the one who was in the place of his people) who took the punishment that the sins of his people deserved, which means that they don't have to face that punishment.

This is the good news of the message of Jesus – he has brought about a way back to God for his people by dealing with sin and God's judgement against it in his death.

Jesus is, therefore, the Servant King, an image deeply ingrained by the crown of thorns thrust on his head before his crucifixion and the notice Pilate put on the cross: “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:17, 26).

3. He is a Risen King

Of course, if Jesus had just died, then that good news would neither have been very persuasive or very hopeful. Jesus did not remain dead, however, and the resurrection, which is testified to in all the gospels and powerfully in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us two important things about this good news.

Firstly, the resurrection shows God's seal of approval that Jesus' death for sins was effective. So Paul writes:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (Philippians 2:8-9 NIV)

By exalting Jesus in his resurrection and ascension God affirms and approves Jesus' death for us. The resurrection persuades us that Jesus death for us was effective (see also Romans 4:25).

Secondly, the resurrection gives hope for the future – the hope of the eternal life that we were created for, but that was lost in Eden. 1 Corinthians 15 is particularly eloquent on this theme, for example:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22 NIV)

Now this is amazing good news, not only has sin, judgement and hell been dealt with, but now eternal, resurrection life in the kingdom of heaven is on offer. That leaves us with one final question: How do I have my sins forgiven and receive eternal life? In other words, how do I receive this wonderful good news? That will be the subject of next month's article.

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