Everyone likes to hear good news. The safe arrival of a loved one, the birth of a child, the end of a war – are all the type of news we love to hear. On the other hand no one wants to receive bad news. The death or illness of a friend or family member, the loss of a job, or the declaration of war – ‘ill news is an ill guest’, for no one wants to hear bad news. As the Wicked Witch of the West sang in the musical ‘The Wiz’, ‘Don’t you bring me no bad news.’
But the same news is not always received in the same way by all people. The end of a long war is good news to the victor but devastating news to the vanquished.
And so it was with the birth of a king in days gone by. A herald would be sent from town to town proclaiming the news that an heir to the throne had been born. Such news was often met with a mixture of both anticipation and dread. No one knew if the child would grow up to be a just and benevolent king or if he would become a horrible tyrant who would exact heavy taxes and rule with neither justice nor concern for his people.
Two thousand years ago the world received just such news. A King had been born, come of age, and was now ready to take the throne of His kingdom. To announce this God sent forth a herald to proclaim His coming and to prepare the people to receive Him. This herald was John the Baptist, a prophet from the desert. Dressed like a wild man he loudly proclaimed for all to hear that a new Kingdom was coming, the Kingdom of Heaven; and a new King would appear – one who had come to bring both peace and a sword, both unity and division. John called his proclamation of this new King and His Kingdom the Good News and this good news is what we call today the Gospel.
Gospel means God-spell which is the old English for God’s Story. God’s Story is one of Good News. In the Bible it is the Greek word evangelion from which we get our words evangelical and evangelist. The Gospel is the proclamation that a King has been sent from God and He has come to bring to pass the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This is not a kingdom of castles and walls nor even a kingdom that people can see coming. It is rather a kingdom that starts almost invisibly, small and within the heart but it will eventually grow to encompass the whole world.
God proclaims in the Gospel that He has determined to do something brand new, something never before seen nor heard. He is going to take a people who are dead and bring them back to life.
To understand what this means we need to see ourselves as God sees us and it is not a pretty sight. You see to God we are all dead. We are like the living dead of horror movies. We walk and talk and move around just as if we were alive but spiritually, inside, in the part of us that matters most, we are dead.
We see hints of this all of the time. We curse one another in traffic. We fight and hit each other with wicked fists. We gossip and wish evil upon one another. We hate and in turn are hated. We invent ways to do evil. Some of us have more than we need and refuse to share while others of us refuse discipline and work and lust for the labor of others. We look upon one another as objects to either use or abuse as we alternately desire or scorn our fellow man. We secretly believe we are not so bad which is just another way of saying that we think we are righteous. We may not be as wicked as we could be but we are as wicked as we feel we can safely get away with.
God tells us in His Word that we are utterly lost. He says that our eyes are blind, our hearts are made of stone, our minds are darkened, our thoughts depraved, and our desire is only to do wickedness continually. This may seem harsh to our modern ears but that is because, along with everything else, we are also deaf. He tells us that the world has been pulled over our eyes, that we are enslaved by a great power and don’t even know it. We are deaf, dumb and blind – tied up and tightly bound by bands of steel, rotting away in a deep, dark dungeon while we believe we are walking around in the bright sunlight of day.
Into this nearly hopeless situation of evil and depravity God has given us Good News. In the Gospel we have the declaration of God that in His Son He has sent a King to overthrow the kingdoms of this world, to release the captives and to set free a people long enslaved to sin, death and the devil (Isa 42:7).
He will do this by creating a whole new person. He will take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. He will make the blind eyes to see and the deaf ears to hear. In short God is going to slay the old dead man who is walking around like a zombie and raise up a whole new living being. We will be made brand new and as it says in His word it is a birth from above, it is quite literally being born again (I Pe 1:23; Jn 3:3).
But we also know that the same news isn’t always received in the same way by everyone. Many people like the world and their lives just the way they are. To them the Gospel sounds like bad news from an unwelcome guest. To others it sounds like nonsense and foolishness. At the worst it not only sounds bad it smells bad too. It has the very odor and stench of death all about it (II Cor 2:15-16). It strikes fear into the hearts of those who are perishing for it reminds them of the wrath of God to come.
Others recognize that the world is not all it could be but question if it is really as bad as all that. These are the people the world generally recognize as ‘good’. They do not murder or cheat or steal. They are faithful to their wives, play by the rules, pay their taxes and give to the United Way. They take their kids to little league, volunteer in their communities, vote in the elections and recycle their newspapers. You would be happy to have them as neighbors. If anyone could stand before God with clean hands and a clean conscience it would be these good folks. God may be angry with the wicked but surely not with those who live righteous lives.
This is a reasonable objection and has been a hard thing for people to understand since the beginning of the world. The Gospel may be well and good for the wicked, they need God’s help, but the righteous should be recognized and applauded. After all isn’t that what God wants – good people who do the right things and live righteous lives? What more could God require of us?
In Jesus’ day there was a whole group of men who were considered righteous because they kept the whole Law of Moses in perfect detail. They did not murder, steal, commit adultery or break any part of the Sabbath. They ate no unclean foods. If they gathered a handful of herbs from their garden they were meticulous to give a tithe of it to the Lord. They gave long, flowing prayers in the market place, sat in the front row of the synagogue and everyone knew and admired them for their spotless lives. That is everyone except Jesus.
Just imagine living your entire life into old age having perfected the practice of the Law, knowing that you have earned the respect of God and the admiration of man. When along comes this person Jesus who heals the sick, casts out demons, restores sight to the blind, raises the dead and demonstrates in every way that he is a man sent from God. All of the people are clamoring after him and so you too desperately seek him out, wanting his approval. But when you meet him and talk to him he does not seem to be particularly impressed with your righteousness. What are you to do? Admit you were wrong about yourself all of your life? Become a disciple? Get rid of Him?
Jesus clarified the Law in His sermon on the mount. He said the Law is not just an outward standard of righteousness it is even more concerned with the thoughts of your heart. You may never have killed another man but have you ever murdered someone in your heart? You’ve always been faithful to your wife but have you ever lusted for a women you saw on the street or at work? Have you ever been disrespectful to your husband or secretly wished he made more money? Have you ever despised your brother and called him a fool? Have you ever uttered a curse or disrespected your parents? Have you forgiven everyone for everything? Do you love your enemies? Have you ever been fearful and stopped trusting God to direct the future? Do you want things you really have no need of? Is your treasure on earth or in heaven? Do you love God with your entire heart, might, mind and strength?
One time a rich, young ruler came before Jesus, dropped to his knees and addressed Jesus with the utmost respect saying, ‘Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Instead of being flattered Jesus offered a stunning rebuke, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.’ This was a stunning reply.
But to answer his question Jesus then told the young man to keep the commandments. Brash and full of assurance in his own righteousness the young man asked, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus listed the decalogue. Not to be deterred the young man confidently replied that he had kept them all, even since he was a young boy.
Jesus then looked at him with love, already knowing the answer, and told him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and to follow Him. When the young ruler went away dejected Jesus then added this amazing reply, ‘How hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’
When the disciples heard this even they were greatly astonished saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus answered them with the Gospel: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Many people even today still miss His point. If for whatever reason we are trusting in anything other than God and His grace we will miss the Kingdom of Heaven. The two most deceitful things we can trust in are money and our own self righteousness. The only sure sign of God’s favor is a contrite heart and a broken spirit. These, O God, you will not despise. (Psa 51:17).
Jesus did not disparage the Law nor did He want people to ignore the Law. The Law is a revelation of the righteousness of God and is spiritual. But when you pervert the Law and separate it from faith it only works death. When Jesus warned that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, He was not saying we need to try harder, He was saying that we need to stop trying all together. The righteousness of heaven simply cannot be attained by human effort.
Dead men cannot will themselves to live. Like the ghost pirates who eat but are always starving and drink but still thirst – we long for righteousness and peace in our souls but cannot find it. We say a special mantra over and over again, we obey a list of commands, we meditate and fast and pray but still hunger and thirst for righteousness. When Jesus pointedly told the rich young ruler that there is none good but God He was stating a hard fact – you who have kept the commandments from your youth are just as lost, maybe even more so than the murderer, thief and harlot. They at least know they are dead and without hope, the rest of us often don’t.
This is the great divide created by the Christ. This is why He is both a stone of stumbling and the chief cornerstone of salvation. All the world is looking for justification – and not just the religious.
Entertainers hold benefits and rallies and concerts to justify their extravagant lives. The super rich give their fortunes to foundations when they die. Criminals and terrorists build schools and hospitals. Religious fanatics blow themselves up to guarantee heaven while others crawl on their hands and knees until they bleed. We know we are guilty we just don’t know that we’re dead. In our hearts we know the perfect righteous standard of God but we dare not admit it. To do so would be to admit our need for a savior and that is something the self righteous will never do.
But every so often the eyes of the blind are opened. One of the living dead sees himself in a mirror and is appalled. That mirror is the Law. He sees himself as he really is and lets out a cry of despair, ‘God have mercy upon me a sinner.’ That cry echos through the halls of heaven. The angels descend and scatter the forces of darkness. The Holy Spirit comes down and regenerates that dead man’s soul and spirit. The Lord Jesus appears and washes him clean and puts on him a beautiful, white robe and standing before him says to God, ‘Father I present to you one of your own.’ And the Father answers, ‘Yes, he is mine.’
This is where the Gospel really becomes the good news. For in the Gospel we have a righteousness from God, a righteousness of faith. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom 1:15-17).
What this means is that we believe God and accept all of the news He has for us in the Gospel, both good and bad. The bad news is that we are evil and dead in our sins. We have absolutely no hope of Eternal Life without a savior. The good news is that in Jesus the very righteousness of God has come down to earth, dwelt among us, lived a sinless life, died in our place on the cross, rose from the grave for our justification and ever lives to intercede for us with God the Father.
So let’s ask the rich, young ruler’s question again. What must I do to be saved?
- Agree with God about your sin.
- Repent and ask for God’s forgiveness.
- Believe the Good News – everything in the Bible about Jesus.
- Call upon Jesus to save you.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to come and live in you.
- Find a bible believing church and submit to water baptism.
- Thank God for His righteousness and for raising you from the dead.
- Pray every day for God to make you more and more like Jesus.
- Be happy. You now have eternal life as a gift from God.
- What God has given can never be taken away (Rom 11:29).
‘The gospel is the proclamation and demonstration of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus Christ to a world enslaved by sin. Redemption is personal as men and women respond to the claims of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.’ Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary
Psa 14:3 – ‘All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.’
Isa 64:6 – ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.’
Jer 8:8,10b,11 – ‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.’
Jer 9:23-24 – ‘This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.’
Jer 17:9-10 – ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Jer 23:5-6 – “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.”
Jer 29:11-14a – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.’
Jer 31:31-34 -“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jer 32:27 – ‘I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’
Jer 32:38-41 – ‘They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.’
Jer 33:15-16 – ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’
I Cor 15:1-11 – Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Rom 10:8-18 – But what does it say? “The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
Psa 19:1-4a – ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’
Rom 1:18-20 – ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’
Rom 4:17-25 – ‘As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’
Eph 2:1-5 – ‘And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
1 Pe 5: 6 – ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your cares upon Him; for He careth for you.’
Luk 15:24,32 – ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Lord Buckbeak, Christmas 2005, for a prison church