Sunday, January 18, 2015

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?  How are we to understand exactly what the Gospel is?  

We can know scriptures, we can memorize verses, and we can tell people about the Bible, but what in essence is the basic message of the full Bible, cover to cover? 

To me, we see a description of two basic issues.  First, we have a problem.  Second, we have a solution to that problem.

Let's dig into this.  How are we as humans to understand this? We are biological life forms dreamt up by the mind of God.  We gain certain pieces of knowledge, but as we grow into adulthood we are fundamentally apposed to God unless taught.

Let's start here: What does the word "Gospel" mean?  

The meaning of the word "Gospel" is "Good news."  So maybe some of the preachers had you thinking it was bad news.  But it's not.  It's very very good news.  

But to understand a solution to a problem, we have to first understand the problem.  What is the problem?  The problem is man's disconnection from God.  Theologians call this the problem of sin.

Man kind went away from God, thousands of years ago, our ancestors did.  They rejected the awesome presence of God, and decided to try to make it on their own.  Now today we live in the wake of that.  

Really it's not hard to see.  There is corruption in every level of business and government and especially banking.  We live in a time of war, disease, and death.  Sometimes we can forget that as Americans though.  We live in a sort of bubble, where we educate ourselves into sheer imbecility, in vain attempts to convince ourselves that "everything is fine and dandy."  But it's not.  Perhaps the most clear witness for the problem of sin and evil, is the fact that the people of the Earth have more than enough to go around as far as food, water, and shelter... Yet people by the hundreds of millions starve to death, live homeless, and have access to no clean water.  

So it's clear there is a problem.  I hope we can all see the problem.  I was debating with a sociology major at the University of Wisconsin, and she just couldn't seem to see the problem.  The UW is a high quality school.  So I surprised.  I confronted her with the facts.  She just kept talking about how we need to reduce the population.  Which isn't actually necessary at all.  There are vast amounts of resources, that are being hoarded by the few, to the death of the many in countries like India, Pakistan, Tanzania, China, and so many others.  It makes me think that Malcom Muggeridge may have been correct when he wrote, “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.”Malcolm Muggeridge, Vintage Muggeridge: Religion and Society

The problem stems back to the very first humans, Adam and Eve.  The problem can be surmised as three separate issues that led to the fall of man.  Unbelief in God, as the first humans trusted instead the tempter, and themselves.  Satan had said, "Did God really say that?"  He called into doubt the truth.  Second, succumbing to pride and temptation to power, when Satan said to them, "You will be like God."  Third, blaming others, and blaming God.  When God asked Adam, "Did you eat from the tree which I told you not to?"  What did Adam say?  He replied, "The woman..."  Dang, the woman.  It's always somebody elses fault isn't it?  When I got in trouble, it was society, it was conditions, it was the corrupt government, it was the bad laws, it was my parents, it was divorce, it was my friends, it was this, it was that.  And by the time it's over, I was just a helpless victim, standing there, and they just did it to me.  But I knew deep down that wasn't true.  The problem starts with me, and my actions, on a daily basis.  Not society.  Not conditions.  Not labor laws.  Not drug laws.  Me, and what I did.  And who I think about before anyone else.. Me.  

What did Adam say after "The woman"?  He said, "who you gave me!"  So, not only is it the woman's fault, it is also God's fault, because God made the woman.  Wow.  Just wow.  How often have I done the exact same thing?  Like Cool Hand Luke in the chapel crying out to God "You're the one who made me this way!"  I have blamed God for my problems, for my sorrows, when it wasn't God.  It was me.  Or it was other people.  But it wasn't God.  

Genesis 3:12 (ESV) The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”    

That is the problem.  Man turned on God.  And that heart of turning from God, has been passed on down the ages to every person born on Earth.  All the way down to me and you.  

From Genesis to Malachi the problem of sin is described in great detail.  The Old Testament is our total guide to the problem of sin.  We see the history of the Earth, of God's interactions with man after the fall.  He helps man, he encourages man, he pursues man as they run off in chase of many schemes.  The laws passed down to Moses and the Israelites helps man understand the problem even more clearly.  The laws of the OT helped man understand that there are standards.  There are reasons why God should be obeyed.  Because if all of these laws were followed to the letter by all people, there would be no war, no starvation, and no sorrow.  But the law informed man of another problem: Even when someone wants to sincerely live a good life, they seem to trip up and not be able to follow it perfectly.

I can understand why.  There is a lot of mind pollution in the world.  I was watching television recently and on average about every 10 seconds as I clicked through channels I would see a female scantly clothed, whether on a commercial or fitness program or sitcom.  Or I would see food painted up to look very scrumptious indeed.  Or car advertisements.  Or reality shows where people buy extravagant houses or are told to do ridiculous things for large cash rewards.  In summary, a lot of depraved weirdness on that screen.  The point is theres a lot of temptation.  

So man falls, man receives the law, man cannot seem to follow the law.  That is the problem.

Now we come to the solution.  And my goodness, is it a beautiful solution.  It is a majestic solution.  It is a wondrous solution.  It is a deep and meaningful solution.  It is the solution of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.   

God comes in human form to deal with the problem himself.  He offers himself as the way in which humans can be made right.  God gives himself as the bridge to righteousness.  God comes as Jesus Christ, teaches the truth, but more so, he is the truth in human form.  He lives the truth, and Jesus does not just teach the way, he is the way.  His righteousness is the gift.  This completes our passage into right relationship with God.  Christianity could be called "the way."  In the book of Acts it's often called "the way."  Because it's not necessarily about reading the Bible, it's not necessarily about loving or helping others, it's about personally believing in and receiving Christ as a graft onto my soul, a transfusion of righteousness to defeat the nature of sin within me.  It is surgery, to change me from wickedness to righteousness.  

God recognizes the problem more than people or society or the "experts."  The problem is not around us, the problem is within us, and that is why the Christian message is the truth.  It's a painful message at times, because I must admit that I am part of the problem and that I must change.  But I don't have to drag myself up by my own bootstraps.  Jesus Christ lifts me up.  I don't come to Jesus perfect, I come to Jesus humbly admitting that I'm the problem, me, and that I need his help to be part of the solution.

Now today, I, we, you and I get to be part of the solution.  We get to help, instead of hurt the world.  We get to love instead of take.  We get to give instead of always receiving.  This is the way.  It ain't easy to hear, that's why so many people refuse it.  Why?  Because of the same three problems from Genesis chapter 3.  One, Unbelief, "There is no god."  "The Bible is full of errors."  "Christians are hypocrites."  "Well I've never met Jesus."  And on and on.  Two, pride.  "I don't need God."  "I'm just fine."  "I'm not perfect, but I'm certainly not as bad as.. *insert person or people group."  "I don't need God to be moral."  And three, blaming God and others.  "Look what my parents did to me."  "God made me this way."  "Society did this to me."  "If I wasn't raised in poverty, I would've been something special."   "It's all my ex-wife's fault." And on and on and on.  That's why everyone isn't Christian.  And God treasures us, and our individual rights and freedom to choose so much that he won't force eternal joy on us.  We can always choose sin, depravity, and death.  But we don't have to.  

Many can see the problem, and the solution.  They humble themselves.  They believe upon the evidence and the word of the Bible.  They meet Jesus.  They trust in him despite everything the world shouts.  They blame no one, and take responsibility for their situation and their actions, past, present, and future.  They don't try to do it alone though, they rely on Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide the way and change them internally.  

That person is the Christian who has received the Gospel, the good news, that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  The Gospel very simply, is the message that Jesus Christ can help someone like me, a sinner, to reconnect to God today, and expect an eternal life with God after death in the future, past the veil of the shadow of death. 

What is the Gospel?  Justification for a person, from all their misdeeds, and rebirth into the family of God by The Way, Jesus Christ, or in Hebrew he is called: Yeshua.  

God bless you, amen.