Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
In 1965 the epic religious movie The Greatest Story Ever Told was released, retelling the story of Jesus Christ from His humble birth and His teachings through the crucifixion and resurrection. The media and critics at the time gave it excellent reviews and some even raved about the brilliant and inspiring, Bible-based production. Times have changed; but the gospel has not.
The gospel, aka the “good news,” is the greatest gift God has given the church, because its message is about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the greatest treasure God has given the world. Like the apostle Paul, we are to deliver to others what we also received, because people’s salvation depends on it. No one would keep the best news in the universe to themselves – would they?
As committed Christians, our priority in this life must be to consistently believe, live, and deliver to others the message about Jesus Christ and the truth about His life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension. For those who have believed and have confessed Jesus as Lord, our ticket is punched and our place in God’s presence is reserved for eternity! Our faith is in Him and our hope is in heaven.
Every person alive today and who has ever lived will stand on one side of eternity or the other. The universe revolves around the most pivotal event in the history of the world: The resurrection of Jesus Christ; the eternal Son, one with the Father and the Spirit, and the exact representation of God’s nature.
Jesus willingly left His glory and the presence of the Father to be conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin’s womb and born into our atmosphere on earth as both God and man. He lived a sinless life in obedience to the laws of God. He was baptized, preached repentance, and taught God’s Word to the people.
Jesus suffered God’s wrath on the cross and died in our place. He offered Himself as an acceptable sacrifice for mankind’s sins. He was buried in a guarded tomb and raised from the dead on the third day, just as He promised. He appeared to his disciples and many others – eye witnesses – over a period of forty days, and in their presence He ascended to the heavens. Knowing Jesus is alive and interceding for us at the Father’s right hand, we can declare, “He lives!”
An empty tomb shouts the glaring evidence and glorious truth of the resurrection. Nothing compares to this, the most famous historical event in the world’s existence and the greatest news ever told mankind. We can use many methods to reach the lost, but only one message is magnificent and powerful enough to save. In order to share the gospel most effectively, we must first understand and believe the message ourselves.
The gospel is not some formula or a simple “sinner’s prayer.” It encompasses the entire Bible as its framework with plenty of background setting the stage. Its truth can transform our lives and its power can save the worst of sinners.
With the increasing attacks on free speech and religious expression in America today, do you see how important it is for us to be able to preach the gospel? This basic freedom is affected by politics, laws, and government. Enemies of Christianity will not relent in their agenda to squelch the mention of sins they endorse, but when push comes to shove, we must obey God rather than man. Speak the truth and leave the results to Him.
Since we have received and accepted the gospel, we must reject the world because the two are in opposition to each other. This can present a problem for many of us. If we love Jesus, we will obey Him (John 14:15), but if we love the world, we will end up following anything else except Him. Because this temporary earth is passing away and we are faced with an eternity that will not wait, the choice should be clear.
THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
Getting caught up in living for today causes us to lose our eternal perspective. Because of this, frequent reminders are necessary for us to refocus our lives and priorities. Jesus never told believers to make as much money as possible, have fun, take vacations, relax, and eventually retire. His message was to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), trusting the Father for everything we need in this life. Then He said “go.”
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Where does Jesus get such authority? It bears repeating Jesus Christ overcame death and the grave and is seated at the right hand of the Father. His tomb is famous for what it does not contain. Even the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus acknowledged His tomb was empty when they made up lies to try and conceal the resurrection.
Some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day (Matthew 28:11-15).
Isn’t it interesting in their attempted cover-up, the religious leaders testified to the empty tomb? The story gets even more bizarre, because their lie included instructing the soldiers to say they were asleep instead of guarding the tomb of Jesus. This was not some small conspiracy, because in those days a Roman soldier caught sleeping on duty would have been executed.
Moreover, all other gods or religious leaders who have lived on the earth have burial sites or memorials where their bones remain. We can easily understand how some of their followers hate Jesus, because He is the only true, living God; other gods people worship are false, dead gods.
EYE WITNESSES AND DARING DISCIPLES
Hundreds of people witnessed, testified to, or wrote about the fact Jesus Christ was born, lived, and performed supernatural miracles. They knew He was sinless but was crucified; He was buried but literally rose to life again after three days and nights in a guarded and sealed tomb. No one has ever proven Christ wrong. Why would His disciples and countless martyrs through history endure torture or die for their faith if they knew it was a lie?
Do we have that type of commitment to the gospel? We have the exact same message the early church had. In fact, we have an entire Bible they did not have! But we have the same God, same Holy Spirit, and same central message of love and truth. The disciples did not have all the resources and technology we have today, and yet the early church grew in numbers day by day even in the midst of threats and persecution.
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20
When the disciples stood up to threats of the political and religious leaders, they were blessed. They immediately went back to their friends, and do you know what they did? They all prayed for more boldness! (How often do you and I pray for confidence to speak God’s Word?)
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence. Acts 4:29
As a result, the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent during Pentecost came back on the scene to fill, empower, and strengthen them. Their prayers were answered because verse 31 says they then spoke the word of God with boldness. How exciting in those early times of the church when thousands of believers were added to their numbers on a daily basis. Luke added a few more details about their success.
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33
These were the same men who days earlier cowered in a locked room as the body of Jesus lay in a tomb. These were men who lived with Jesus and were part of His ministry for three years. These were rough, ordinary, uneducated men who astonished the high-ranking religious leaders of Jerusalem by their faith, knowledge, and proclamation of Scripture to the point of causing the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law take note that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
Imagine being out in public passionately discussing God’s Word and overhearing someone say you must have been spending time with Jesus. What a compliment! When we invest quality time with our Lord and Savior, our character, faith, and lives will reflect His influence.
The power and truth of the gospel kept driving the disciples; it should drive us as well.
When countless Christians in America, even in the face of opposition like the early disciples, say “we cannot keep silent” and pray for boldness to share His Word in the midst of hostility, God will answer by empowering us to do His work and by covering us with the grace we need.
Being one with the eternal God, Jesus created all things, including us (Genesis 1:26-27), and by His word, all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End (Revelation 21:6). All this and more gives him the honor, respect, and right to declare: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).
No greater power, authority, or standard exists; Jesus is Lord. We cannot make Him Lord; God the Father has already done so. Jesus is not a part-time God; He is sovereign, not merely a friendly assistant in our lives. If God is your co-pilot, hit the eject button on your pilot seat and stop trying to navigate your own life! If you call him “Lord,” allow Him to be your pilot.
Shouldn’t we surrender every area of our existence to Him who knows all, sees all, and yet loves us unconditionally? He is Lord, Redeemer, Savior, and King of all Kings, Jesus Christ, who:
Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11
Please understand regardless of whether or not you have placed your trust in Jesus and bowed before Him acknowledging His majesty, a day is coming in which every human being will bow down before Him and confess this truth – Jesus is Lord. This epic event will glorify God.
Who is this Jesus we preach? He is the author and perfecter of our faith who once told His disciples, I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me (John 10:17-18). Jesus voluntarily endured hours of brutality and horrific torture ending in a public execution and took His seat at the right hand of God the Father’s throne (Hebrews 12:2). Time is in His hands, history belongs to Him, and even our calendar is based on the birth of Jesus Christ. Nations have risen and fallen because of Him.
In his outstanding book The Gospel’s Power and Message, author and preacher Paul Washer said the gospel is the great need of our day. He emphasized what we have lost and what we must regain is “a passion for knowing the gospel and an equal passion for making the gospel known.”
We are Christians because we find our identity, life, and purpose in Christ. We are evangelical because we believe the gospel and esteem it as the great central truth of God’s revelation to men. It is not a foreword, a byword, or an afterthought; it is not merely the introductory class to Christianity; it is the entire course of study. It is the story of our lives, the unfathomable riches we seek to explore, and the message we live to proclaim. For this reason, we are most Christian and most evangelical when the gospel of Jesus Christ is our one hope, our one boast, and our one magnificent obsession.
Throughout modern history, major archeological finds have either confirmed or complimented the accuracy and historic reliability of the Bible – both the Old and New Testaments. In order to confidently explain the gospel, we must believe Scripture is infallible, perfect, and God-breathed. If our delivery of the message lacks clarity or conviction, it can affect the results.
DELIVERING THE GOSPEL: MANY METHODS, ONE MESSAGE
Leading lukewarm believers back to Jesus Christ is important. Their sins must be forgiven in order for them to turn and share the gospel. Sadly, millions of people-pleasing, world-loving, professing Christians need to be warned about their lackadaisical lives and mockery of the Holy Spirit.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:29
Perhaps saving professing Christians already within the church might be more difficult than saving those outside the church because helping someone who doesn’t think they are sick is hard. We do not like being convicted by the Holy Spirit, corrected by others, or confronted about sin or spiritual apathy in our lives.
If we are disobedient to God, how in good conscience can we preach the gospel of repentance to others? Talk about an internal contradiction. I have seen pride rear its ugly head in my own life as well as in various church and ministry leaders. God hates pride and some say it is a huge problem today in the church. If we are not willing to take a prescription to get healthy, why should others take it?
In order to cure a disease, a good doctor will first diagnose the problem, identify what it is, what caused it, and then tell the patient what needs to be done. This includes an explanation of how to treat the disease. A doctor doesn’t hate his patients simply because he told them the truth.
What’s my point? We can (and should) talk much about the love of God, but we are doing the gospel and those who hear us a disservice if we do not also talk about sin and the wrath of God.
There are many symptoms of the disease (sin), but God has provided a cure (Jesus Christ) for the cause and has given us a written prescription (the Bible) to follow. The Great Physician is always on call, so let us speak about the only remedy and keep referring people to Him!
SIN AND THE LAW: A CRUCIAL PART OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
I believe it’s just as important to consider the bad news in order to value the good. If Jesus truly saved us, should we not understand exactly what He saved us from, so we can fully appreciate that into which we are saved? He redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), and we are saved from the wrath of God and eternal punishment for our sins. We are no longer condemned because we are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1).
Sin separates us from the presence of God. When we sin, our communion and fellowship with the Lord is broken. If we do not repent from our sins, God will not forgive us, but once we do turn to Him and repent, our relationship is restored. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and God uses our feelings of guilt to warn us about violating His law. God’s holiness and perfection require punishment for all sin. Before we repented and turned to God, we were held responsible. Before Christ and without Him, we were guilty as charged and eternally condemned.
Writing to Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul emphasized the fact we are all under sin:
There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. Romans 3:10-12
Through Jesus’ death on the cross, God has forgiven our sins presently, and we have His word that we are eternally saved. We are covered: past, present, and future! Our trust must be in God who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us (2 Corinthians 1:10).
We have a bright hope and heavenly destination! How could we not tell others we will be God’s people and He will dwell among us? We will forever be saved from every form of sin, trial, and tragedy because the first things will have passed away, and the Lord will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3-4).
You may have heard the concept that we have been saved by God from God, but why did we need to be saved from God? Was He that angry? God hates sin; sin separates mankind from Him. He gave man His law to show how sinful we are and how far we are away from a perfect God. The penalty for breaking God’s requirements is spiritual death. Obviously, no one could keep all the commandments or obey God’s laws, so He instituted a system of sacrifices on behalf of the people to appease His wrath. Animals were sacrificed in order to pay the penalty owed due to sin.
No wonder we needed a Savior! Charles H. Spurgeon once stated:
My hope is not because I am not a sinner, but because I am a sinner for whom Christ died. My trust is not that I am holy, but that, being unholy, Christ died for me. My rest is, here, not in what I am, or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is and must be, – in what Christ did, and is still doing as He stands before yonder throne of glory.
Some say we should get rid of the law, but we know the Law is good if it is used properly. Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners (1 Timothy 1:8-11). Jesus came to earth not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law as the final sacrifice for sin, once and for all people, establishing a new covenant or “testament” in his blood through the cross.
Thanks to Jesus, believers have right standing before God because Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). God’s love for us cannot be fully understood if we tell others about Christ’s death on the cross without explaining sin. Being naturally prideful, we must be shown the impossibility of being good enough, and our wretchedness compared to His holiness, so we can appreciate the grace of God and the free gift of salvation that we do not deserve!
Having the understanding Jesus died in our place as a substitute and His death was a propitiation (satisfying God’s law) for the sins of the world, we can not only appreciate God’s love, but we can preach the gospel with even more gratitude. The theology of atonement is also important here. Atonement is the doctrine of reconciling God and mankind, which was accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He truly bridges the gap between a holy, righteous God and filthy, sinful man. This is all part of the good news.
What happens when we sin after we have trusted in Jesus and have been forgiven? If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). It’s all covered. The finite debt has been paid by an infinite God once and for all. “All” means all! He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not only for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
Jesus Christ became the payment that satisfied the debt of sin. Though we are commanded to resist the enemy and turn from sin, Jesus the righteous, stands between us and the Father as our Advocate. We just have to believe.
Missionary, pastor, and writer Andrew Murray once said:
In Romans 6:23 the Bible states, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. You would think people would be flocking to receive this gift, but men love darkness and hate the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).
In addition, the gospel seems to have lost its appeal. It is not because the meaning has diminished, but most likely because some have altered the message to fit the tolerant times in which we live. God’s love and grace may seem like a more compassionate message to emphasize. When the truth about sin, the reality of hell, and the severity of God’s judgment are not fully proclaimed, however, people fail to address their greatest need – salvation. They naturally continue to pursue temporary, trivial things because their lives have been built around what is seen rather than what is eternal.
Author and evangelist, Ray Comfort, often preaches about God being a fair and just Judge who equally sentences everyone who has broken the law. He shares examples from a trial such as when a criminal stands guilty before the court. It would be a mistake to first speak to a lawbreaker about the judge’s compassion. Better for a criminal to see the disappointment and frown of the judge, so he might comprehend the seriousness of his crime and find a place of true sorrow and grief for what he has done. It is then that the mercy of the judge should be revealed, not sooner.
REPENT, AND THEN BE SAVED!
This brings us back to repentance, one of the most important messages to share with both unbelievers and back-slidden Christians. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul acknowledged his first letter was stern and had caused the church some sorrow, but he said he rejoiced in the fact they were grieved to the point they responded to God! Paul did not regret communicating the truth so strongly. Why? It produced the intended result; Christians who needed to hear and receive the message turned back to God.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
When Jesus began His ministry on earth after being baptized, His preaching always included repentance (Matthew 4:17). True repentance includes a desire to change because of the remorse one feels for sinning against God.
If the whole gospel is not preached, we may be doing folks a disservice by telling them to raise their hand and repeat a formulaic prayer and “be saved.” Getting people to respond is a start, yes, but how do we know if they are sincere and sorrowful over their sin or just reacting to the emotion of the moment? We sometimes mistakenly offer the greatest treasure on earth to those who have little concept of what it is worth. I wonder if we take salvation too lightly (Philippians 2:12).
Only God knows for sure if people were truly saved in the first place, but it seems probable some did not fully grasp what it meant to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, particularly in the spiritually anemic culture we have in America today. Also, how effective was the follow-up with those new Christian converts? Discipleship is one of the most important and most neglected works the church is responsible for doing. How effectively is the church following up with new believers today? Making strong disciples of Christ is hard work, but it is not an optional commandment from the Lord.
The early Christian churches were instructed to search their hearts and examine their own faith. Most of these believers were not brand new converts; they had already been in the church for a time. This same instruction applies to us today.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5
If you have a desire for evangelism or for a successful preaching ministry, be encouraged and reminded Jesus Christ didn’t care about numbers. He cared about individual hearts. Conviction of sin must occur at some point for authentic conversion.
Reverend David Wilkerson (1931-2011) was the founder of Teen Challenge, Times Square Church in New York City, and author of The Cross and the Switchblade. He was well-known for his direct preaching style and his heart for believers to remain committed to obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ. Wilkerson stated:
I believe the church has even taken the feeling out of conviction [of sin]. Think about it – you hardly ever see tears on the cheeks of those who are being saved anymore. Of course, I know tears don’t save anyone, but God made us all human, with very real feelings. And any hell-bound sinner who has been moved upon by the Holy Spirit naturally feels a profound sorrow over the ways he has grieved the Lord.
Yes, following Jesus carries a cost, but the rewards are plentiful. The challenge is to explain the gospel as clearly and thoroughly as possible. Our salvation was paid for in Jesus’ blood. How costly the sacrifice made by Christ!
THE LAMB OF GOD TAKES AWAY OUR SINS
In Old Testament times, the high priests would enter the Holy of Holies according to Levitical law and offer animal sacrifices on behalf of the people. God required the shedding of blood in order to be cleansed from sin and forgiven. A year-old lamb or goat without blemish was a temporary substitute, dying in place of the sinner, but these sacrifices stopped when Jesus offered Himself, the perfect Son of God, as the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
Thank God for His great mercy. The priest’s duty was to obey the law and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jesus finished the work God sent Him to do by living a sinless life in obedience to the Father and laying down that life. No further blood sacrifices are needed. We now have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (Hebrews 4:14). The priests in those days had to frequently offer sacrifices for the people, which foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. Hebrews 7:26-27
Three years before the Lord went to the cross to give His life for us, John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Jesus overcame the world, sin, death, and the grave. At the end of John chapter three, John explains that God has given all things, including power and authority, to the Son He loves, Jesus.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. John 3:36
We must believe and obey, not just believe and walk away. When people hear the gospel message leading to repentance, the result should be faith followed by obedience. You can tell how much a person truly loves Jesus by observing his life (fruit).
Regeneration must occur if our faith is to be authentic. Jesus spoke of spiritual rebirth when He told one of Israel’s teachers, Nicodemus, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This, of course, might seem silly to unbelievers. Regardless, this message is true and we must share with others.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
COMPELLED TO SPEAK
Are we willing to preach this gospel in an increasingly rebellious culture and risk being called intolerant, narrow-minded, or worse? Are we willing to be criticized and misunderstood for delivering the truth Jesus commanded us to speak? Do we love others enough to live what we believe, expose the darkness of sin, and when necessary, confront wayward Christians?
“Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words.” This quote, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is memorable but faulty. Doing good works is not wrong, but I believe the idea portrayed in the quote misrepresents the gospel. It suggests we should let our actions do the talking and in an extreme case, speak (“if necessary”). Other religions teach good works as well. What if someone we knew for years died before we told them the reason we live? I know it can be difficult and uncomfortable to share our faith, but we have nothing to lose; the unbeliever has everything to lose.
Finally, the doctrine of the returning King, Jesus Christ, is part of the gospel, because those who believe are saved from the coming judgment. Right before the apostle Paul charged believers to preach the word at all times, he warned them that when the resurrected Christ returns, He will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1-2). This should give us a sense of urgency.
Again, God’s foreordained solution (Acts 2:23) was to send His only Son, Jesus, to give His life as a ransom for us. By believing, confessing Jesus is Lord, and repenting of our sins, we are saved and have everlasting life with God. May we not muddy up the message that we are saved by grace through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8).
If the Bible is true, then this is why you and I live: To make sure the greatest story ever is told!
Let’s represent Christ well and be faithful to Him who called us. Our aim must be to glorify His name as long as we have breath, a heartbeat, and a voice. If you and I don’t tell others the good news about salvation through Jesus Christ alone – who will?
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