"THIS IS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST"
Dear Christian friends,
Religious cults often grow because they feast on people who have had a minimal amount of religious training. Often the cults use terms that are familiar but define them differently. Sun Myung Moon, who grew up in the Presbyterian Church, decided to start his own religion. His basic premise was that he came to be the Messiah because Jesus failed. He attracted a lot of minimally trained Christians because he used some Christian vocabulary.
We need to beware of bad vocabulary and bad phrases so we are not miscommunicating God’s truths. For instance, I often hear people say that everyone needs to get saved. Hold everything! Get saved seems to put the burden on the individual when salvation was and is on Jesus.
There are words in the Christian vocabulary we need to get right. “Gospel” is one of them. Gospel is front and center in the first verse of Mark’s book. “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Let’s look at 1) What Gospel means; 2) How it is conveyed to others, and; 3) How it gives comfort.
We believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. That makes it the Word of God. It is no accident that the Bible begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John’s begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God, and the Word was God.” Mark begins, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
The book of Genesis speaks about the perfect beginning that ended in a mess. There was the garden, Adam and Eve, Satan, and some fruit. It ended in banishment, the thorough corruption of the human race and the ruin of God’s creation.
But notice how Mark begins? “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God. When the NIV was revised in 2011, the translators did the verse like this, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Gospel means good news. In Mark where he begins is bad and is good because of Jesus.
What is it about Jesus Christ, the Son of God that is good news? Jesus was the man born in Bethlehem and grew up in a back woods town of Nazareth of Galilee. He was the son of Mary and Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter. Not really a lot of good news there, although Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. Hmmmm.
Let’s look closer. His name was Jesus. It means Savior or deliverer. He is the Christ, not a name but an office he held and holds. It means anointed. Prophets, priests and kings were anointed. The good news is that Jesus is not just one of those but all of those. He was declared to be publicly. At his baptism the Holy Spirit came down and filled him; the Father spoke from heaven, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.”
He is anointed to be our prophet. A prophet spoke for God. He speaks for God because he is God. He speaks to us through the Bible; the Bible is really his book. He preserved parts of it for us for over 3500 years. The most recent parts go back at 2000 years. There is a reason he has preserved it. He speaks to us through it.
This word is powerful. It changes people who get to know the content. It has the power to save because it points out to all who believe who Jesus really is – the Savior of mankind.
As the Anointed One he is our priest. In the Old Testament there were priests. Not just anyone could be a priest. A priest had to be chosen by God. The Father appointed Jesus to be our Great High Priest.
A priest in the Old Testament served only for a time because he was mortal and subject to death. Jesus, our High Priest, has no beginning or ending. He is our priest forever. A priest offered the blood of animals on the altar to sacrifice. Jesus, our High Priest offered himself and his holy and perfect blood on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for all sin. The priest sacrificed only for the people of Israel; Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of everyone. A priest sacrificed over and over again because the sacrifice didn’t really take away sin. Those sacrifices were only a picture of the once for all sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ who is our high priest. Jesus’ sacrifice really does take away sin. The Gospel is all about Jesus, our High Priest.
Jesus the Christ is also a king - or better said - the King. He is not just the king of a spot of land or even a nation, but of all nations - more than that - of all the universe. Angels praise him, and one day everyone will acknowledge that he is Lord of all. The gospel is all about Jesus the Christ, anointed to be our Prophet, Priest and King.
The Gospel is about Jesus, the Son of God. He is human but also divine. There is no one like him. He is one of a kind. As true human he came to live what we couldn’t live – a holy life demanded by the perfect Father. Not once did Jesus sin. Wow! What’s the importance? He was living for us who couldn’t come close to perfect.
But it doesn’t end there. As a human he came to satisfy the righteous wrath of our God. Keith Getty wrote it like this in the popular song In Christ Alone,
In Christ alone who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones he came to save.
Till on the cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ I live.
Jesus paid the wages of sin – death. Humans die, God doesn’t. Jesus was flesh.
But he was more. He is God. As God his life was precious enough to pay the price for all people, of all ages, of all genders, of all nations. As incredible as this might sound, there is no sin that is so big, so awful, so often repeated that Jesus didn’t pay for it. That’s the good news Mark is talking about. That’s the Gospel.
Oh that everyone would know it and treasure it and by faith embrace it. It is nothing but good news.
Unfortunately not everyone feels that way. Have you seen how an atheist group called American Atheists is using a fake "Dear Santa" letter on a billboard campaign the South? They are urging people to skip church this Christmas and stop listening to "fairy tales." In the state of Ohio a billboard campaign published these signs:
Don’t believe in God? Neither do we.”
“1.6 million Ohioans know myths when they see them. Do you?
Then they post pictures of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, earthquakes and storms, along with Jesus, Santa, and Satan. Hey, Jesus ain’t no myth. Jesus’ forgiveness is no myth. The Gospel is no myth.
Mark also tells us how the good news is conveyed. Mark writes, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “ “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” When you examine these verses closely, five different people have a share in the words of this verse.
1) There is Mark who penned these words by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He mentions Isaiah from whose prophecy Mark quotes.
2) Mark also mentions Isaiah and quotes him.
3) If you look even closer, not only does he quote Isaiah he quotes Malachi. He just doesn’t mention it.
4) He quotes Isaiah and Malachi who point to John the Baptist as the messenger and the voice in the desert.
5) They are all pointing to Jesus.
My point is that God uses people to get Jesus to the hearts of humanity.
We don’t know a lot about the life of Malachi. John the Baptist was a model for us all, but he was a sinner like we all are. We do know that when God called Isaiah to be a prophet God was calling a sinner to do his work. Isaiah pointed out his own shortcomings. Woe to me!” he cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah knew he had a potty mouth, but God forgave and cleaned him up so that his mouth would be a witness for the Lord.
A lot of people think that pastors are the only ones that should convey the Word of God to others. Some even say, “Yeah, Pastor, that’s your job. That’s why we pay you the big bucks.” Hold everything. Look around. Look at your life. Look at how God used you. Maybe you gave the encouragement to your spouse, your children, or your fellow church member to get connected with Jesus. When we get on the other side of this life, we will fully see and experience how great that will be. The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is conveyed by God’s people, people like you to share the Word. Think about next weekend!
The Gospel is a message of comfort. There is nothing more important. Let’s focus on John the Baptist. He was an interesting and different kind of a man. His clothes didn’t make him a fashion plate. His diet didn’t make him the galloping gourmet. His life was Spartan-like. He had no fancy office or a Benz for his parking spot. His church was no grand cathedral on a multi-million dollar campus. The wilderness was his church; the rocky cliffs were his pulpit and the Jordan River was his baptismal fount. What he preached was what was important, not what the people saw.
What did he say? I know you all know that I am conservative with the Bible and other things in my life. This week I saw that Hillary Clinton spoke at Georgetown University. Her speech was on foreign policy. The title was “Security and Inclusive Leadership.” A lot of news agencies took note of a very sparse crowd that was present. The balcony reserved for students was pretty empty. My understanding is that she makes $300,000 a speech. (Let me figure this out…60 sermons a year times… I could retire.) From photos that I saw they should have taken about $100,000 of that fee and said there was going to be free beer and pizza after the speech. Or for some Kim Kardashian could have lip synced the speech and might have drawn more. Security and Inclusive Leadership didn’t ring the bell of many of the students.
Lots of people came to see John the Baptist in the wilderness. What got them to come? He spoke about something that really hit home. He addressed the common problem that afflicts everyone - sin and doubt and guilt and uncertainty. He spoke about the needed relationship that all have with God. He addressed the problems that are inside of everyone: self-righteousness and selfishness, self-centeredness and worldliness. What about the problems we create when we hurt other people or anger them by saying the wrong things? What’s going to happen when we die?
God used John the Baptist to address these questions and these problems. God used John the Baptist to point people to the solution.
John’s purpose was to fill in the valleys of despair and level the mountains of pride. He was to take away all the obstacles so lead people to Jesus who lifts us up and fills in, who cleanses are forgives. .
John baptized. Listen to the promises of baptism. Those promises are exactly what all need and have through baptism. Sins are washed away and hearts are cleansed. Baptism saves. Baptism promises the Holy Spirit who connects to God. All who are been baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ. In baptism three is unification with the body of Christ, his church. Through baptism the Spirit brings about the spiritual phenomena of being born again. Comforting isn’t it?
There are the promises of Baptism but also the message. “And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." John was special but nowhere as special as Jesus who was coming after him. John’s work was limited to Israel. John’s work was temporary. Jesus’ work is for the world for all time. Jesus was the great Baptizer who would pour out his Spirit upon his followers to give faith but also supply the church with the gifts needed to do the Lord’s work.
In the final analysis, the message of John was: Good things are coming; the message of Jesus is: Good things are here. Good news like pardon and peace that surpasses all understanding but very real and given to each of us personally. That’s the good news. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So we begin where we started.