Bethel Baptist Church
The word "gospel" sounds appropriately religious, something you’d expect moral people to talk about. But it is a surprising word, for it didn’t begin as spiritual jargon. It simply meant “good news,” like your waiter telling you dessert is on the house or your doctor saying your blood tests came back clean. What’s surprising about this good news, however, is that it begins by telling everyone—spiritual and secular, moralist and materialist—very bad news about ourselves. And we’ll never understand how good the good news is until we’ve heard the bad news.
The Bible never argues for God’s existence; it simply assumes him. “In the beginning,” the book opens, “God” (Genesis 1.1). Everything he has made testifies to his reality. From the majestic heights of the Himalayan Mountains to the yawning depths of the Grand Canyon, from the distant galaxies that we are just now discovering to the intricate code stored in our DNA, the universe displays the glory of God (Psalm 19.1). And it’s not just the material world. Consider those things that you cannot see, like love or friendship or justice or time or music or beauty. Where did they come from? Personal qualities like joy and sorrow derive from a person, and creative attributes like artistry and design testify to a creator. That person, that creator, is God.
This God created all there is, and he created humans to govern the universe under him (Genesis 1.26). We were the capstone of his creative work, the only ones that bore his image. And so he gave us the gift of human companionship so that together we might reflect his glory by caring for his good creation and especially for one another (Genesis 2.18). But one need not look far to see that we have missed the mark. We don’t rule anything very well. Our relationships are broken and our government is gridlocked. Our work is meaningless and our environment is polluted. We use one another to get ahead and abuse those who get in our way. The powerful are rewarded with more power, and the marginalized are pushed further away. Care for God’s creation? Especially for one another? In every possible way we have missed our destiny. There’s a word in the Bible for that: it’s called sin (1 John 3.4). And it’s very bad news.
Early on we all realize that the world is broken, but at some point we realize, like the comic-strip character Pogo, that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” In other words, we don’t enter the world pristine only to be corrupted by everything around us. We enter a broken world, bringing our own brokenness with us. So what do we do? Our instincts tell us to make it up, reverse course, atone for our mistakes. We’re right to assume that our sin deserves punishment and demands atonement. But we’re wrong to think that we can do it ourselves. We end up just like Adam and Eve, nervously sewing fig leaves together to cover our nakedness, to hide who we truly are (Genesis 3.7). But can such things really make up for what we’ve done wrong? If we apologize after an angry outburst, does it erase the things we said? If a doctor settles a malpractice suit, does it undo the months and years of damage inflicted?
And it’s not just the horizontal, human-to-human restitution that falls short. How do we make it up to God for disobeying his word and corrupting his world? Shall we give money to charity? Read the Bible every day? Serve in an AIDS colony? Keep the sacraments? Become a pastor? Deny ourselves pleasure? Go to church every Sunday? When will it ever be enough to atone for what we’ve done? God’s answer: never. “The wages of sin,” he says, “is death” (Romans 6.23). And since we’ve transgressed an eternal God, the punishment deserved must itself be eternal. No wonder God calls our righteous deeds “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64.6). We simply cannot do enough. It would take hell to make up for what we’ve done. No matter how outwardly moral we might appear, God says that none of us is righteous, “not even one” (Romans 3.10). But…
...But there is One who lived the righteous life we have failed to live. His name is Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who from all eternity enjoyed perfect communion with and delight in the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1.1). At creation he was there, standing alongside his Father as a master craftsman (Proverbs 8.30). Nothing that was made was made without him (John 1.3). And yet this great One impoverished himself on behalf of the spiritually poor (2 Corinthians 8.9). He left the splendor of heaven to become a baby, taking on our humanity so that he might sympathize fully with us (Hebrews 4.15) and live the life we have failed to live (Romans 5.18–19).
And then he died. Not just any kind of death, but death by execution (Philippians 2.8). He was treated as a criminal, even though he was the only One who had never broken the law—human or divine. And it wasn’t just that people condemned him to die; the Bible solemnly states that it was the will of the Lord to crush him (Isaiah 53.10). How could this be? Why would the Father pour out his fury on Jesus? And why would Jesus accept this bitter cup? Because this is the only way that guilty people like us could be forgiven. Our sin had filled God’s great cup of wrath, judgment for eternity. But he poured it out of Christ so there would be nothing left for us (Romans 3.21–26).
But he did not stay dead. On that first Easter morning Jesus rose from the dead, emerged from the grave, and was declared to be the Lord over all (Romans 1.4). You see, he died for sin, yes, but not for his own sin. He died for the sin of broken people like you and me. And when God raised him from the dead, it was the incontrovertible proof that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the One who would reverse the curse on humanity, the Lord of heaven and earth (Isaiah 53.11–12). That’s why there is no tombstone in Israel that marks Jesus’ grave. He is unlike anyone who has ever lived, for he lived entirely under the will and word of God. And he died in a way unlike anyone else, for he died as the completely innocent One on behalf of the guilty. And he is the only One who rose from the dead, never to die again.
And So Shall We
Through Jesus’ resurrection, the promise of new life is open to people like us (John 3.3). As Christians we are not more righteous, more moral, more perfect than anyone else. In fact, we admit that it was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. That’s how bad we are. But here’s the good news: Jesus lived the life we have failed to live, so we are no longer clothed in our filthy rags but in the righteous robes that Jesus earned. Jesus died on our behalf, so we no longer fear that God will pour out his anger on us. Jesus absorbed it all. And since Jesus was raised to new life, so too shall we. This life is not all there is. One day all things will be made new, and we shall worship God forever.
And So Can You
This promise of the gospel is for sinners like you. God calls you to turn from your way, whether it is characterized by extreme sin, extreme morality, or something in between. Admit your brokenness and run to Jesus. You will find that, though you are far more sinful that you dare admit, in Jesus you are far more loved than you ever dreamed possible.