What is the Gospel? #3: Jesus

INTRO:

As we seek to summarise the gospel, we now arrive at the core of the gospel, by looking at points 3, 4 and 5. Each point deserves its separate post, so this blog is about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return!

Just a reminder, the seven-fold summary of the gospel is:

1: the announcement of good news concerning the glory of God in King Jesus

2: bringing to conclusion the story of Israel in his

3: life, death, resurrection, & return (which)

4: brings victory over sin, Satan and death, (which)

5: brings salvation by grace to all who 

6: repent and believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, 

7: following Him unashamedly with hope through suffering and life.

So what is the gospel? It is the story of Christ’s:

3…LIFE, DEATH, RESURRECTION, & RETURN

Jesus’ Life

From birth to ascension Jesus lived a sinless life on earth, the only human ever to do so. His entire life is good news because he is good at his very core, which expresses itself in a life of abundant goodness!

When we think of Jesus’ life it is hard not to start with the incarnation. As John puts it ‘the Word became flesh’.[1] God became man. And this is good news.

We see this in Luke’s Gospel account when the angel announces to the shepherds, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’.[2]

This is good news because ‘a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ is born. He is Saviour from birth, not just in death. We will see what it means to be Saviour in point 5, but notice how Jesus says this good news is the fulfilment of prophecy (Luke 4:18-21), is about the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; Matthew 4:23), and is accompanied by Jesus’ actions (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35).

This latter point highlights Jesus’ compassion and love for his people. We see this again and again in the gospels. Jesus is full of compassion for sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36) and shows itself in miracles of nature (Matthew 8:23-27), miracles of healing (Matthew 14:14) and miracles of feeding (Matthew 15:32-38).

We see this again in Jesus’ teaching. Around 47.5% of all four gospels is made up of Jesus talking.[3] This highlights that the gospel of Jesus isn’t just about what Jesus does, but also about what Jesus says. And what he preaches, teaches and prays shows us he is devoted to God’s mission and morals – to God’s gospel. His ministry is a glimpse into his sinless life. A life devoted to doing the will of his Father (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:42). This is God with us, coming to save us.[4]

Jesus’ Death

More could be said about Jesus’ life, but we need to move on to what Paul calls matters of ‘first importance’ (1 Cor 15:3). In reminding the Corinthian church of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1) he says ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Cor 15:3). All four accounts of the one gospel spend a disproportionate amount of time on the week leading to Jesus’ death.

Jesus himself says he has to die (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:45). He came to die. But what is so important about his death? Paul tells us it wasn’t just that he died, but that he died ‘for our sins’. Jesus’ death was a sacrifice. He is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’! (John 1:29). That terminology reminds us of the Passover in Exodus 12 where the blood of the lamb meant the Angel of Death passed over the household of God’s people in Egypt.

The word that best describes the reality of Jesus’ death is atonement, which casts our minds back to Leviticus 16 and the ‘Day of Atonement’.[5] The language of atonement evokes various different images. Keller helpfully puts it like this.

In the atonement we see:

‘1: The language of the battlefield. Christ fought against the powers of sin and death for us. He defeated the powers of evil for us.

2: The language of the marketplace. Christ paid the ransom price, the purchase price, to buy us out of our indebtedness. He frees us from enslavement.

3: The language of exile. Christ was exiled and cast out of the community so we who deserve to be banished could be brought in. He brings us home.

4: The language of the temple. Christ is the sacrifice that purifies us and makes us acceptable to draw near to the holy God. He makes us clean and beautiful.

5: The language of the law court. Christ stands before the judge and takes the punishment we deserve. He removes our guilt and makes us righteous’.[6]

At the centre of atonement language – Jesus’ atoning death – is the fact that he is our substitute. He takes our place to fight against sin and death. He takes our place to pay our ransom. He takes our place to be forsaken by God – exiled. He takes our place to be our sacrifice. He takes our place to take our punishment.

It is at the cross we see Jesus dying for our sins. It is at the cross we see the love of God clearly demonstrated.[7] Without the cross there is no gospel. It is of ‘first importance’. So with Paul, let’s boast about it! (Gal 6:14).

Jesus’ Resurrection

The cross isn’t good news without the resurrection. Otherwise, Jesus is just another failed Messiah.[8] In Paul’s gospel this is the second matter of ‘first importance’. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:4-5 ‘that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve’.

All four gospels tells us that Jesus is risen! Jesus himself predicts his resurrection (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:34). Although Mark’s Gospel doesn’t recount a resurrection appearance, the other three do.[9] Jesus appears in different locations to different people, to individuals and to groups. Nearly every gospel sermon in Acts mentions the resurrection. In fact, the gospel preaching of Acts highlights the resurrection more than the cross!

We will see later that resurrection is about victory. But complementing this victory, the resurrection also brings peace (John 20:21) and ensures our justification (Romans 4:25). His resurrection means Christ has ascended and is now reigning as King in heaven, sitting on his throne (Rev 5). His resurrection means he will come and judge the world of their sin (Acts 17:31).

But perhaps most importantly, the resurrection is the beginning of new creation. This is an integral part of the good news. Paul, as he’s reminding the Corinthians of the gospel, tells us that Jesus’ resurrection is ‘the firstfruits’ of the new creation (1 Cor 15:20).[10]

We will glimpse this again when it comes to our salvation. But let’s not miss the cosmic scale of this new creation. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 shows us that because Christ has been raised, we will be raised. And when we are raised, our bodies will be imperishable, glorious, and eternal (1 Cor 15:42-49).  And all this will happen when Christ returns.

Jesus’ Return

Jesus’ return will bring judgement on all those ‘who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus’ (2 Thess. 1:8; cf. Romans 2:16; 1 Peter 4:17). But it will also bring salvation. Jesus himself talks about this twin reality shortly before his death (Matthew 24-25).

Because Jesus’ return will be discussed in other sections below, we won’t repeat things now. Only know that the gospel of hope (Col 1:23) is not just about the past, or even our present salvation, but about the future. About Christ’s victorious return.

It is this emphasis on victory that we will consider next…


[1] John 1:14

[2] Luke 2:10-12

[3] I got this from a lecture I heard from Peter J. Williams.

[4] Matthew 1:21-23

[5] This is the one day of the year the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. At the same time a goat is taken outside the camp into the wilderness. By this the sins of the people of God are forgiven because atonement has been made.

[6] Tim Keller, Centre Church, (Zondervan, 2012), p. 130.

[7] Romans 5:8; John 3:16; 1 John 4:10. It seems scandalous to relegate the love of God to one line, or even a footnote. Obviously, emphasising the love of God is important when preaching the gospel, but I think it sits most clearly in reference to the cross. God’s love is cross-shaped.

[8] There were various failed ‘Messiah’ movements in the years before and after Jesus. They all have this thing in common – the movement died when the failed ‘messiah’ was crushed by the Romans.

[9] I take it that Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8.

[10] We see this emphasis with Paul, when he writes in a letter passionately defending the gospel, that what counts is the ‘new creation’ (Gal 6:15).

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