ACD-July  2011

Why the Gospel?

 

by Brian Knowles

I

t is well-understood that the Great Commission of the Church is to preach the Gospel “to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). Why do we need to do this? What’s the point? What is the Gospel anyway - and what effect is it supposed to have on those who hear it? Why is it “good news”? What’s so good about it?

            I know a Bible scholar who claims that he can preach the Gospel in under ten seconds. Here it is: “Christ died, was buried, rose again the third day, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and salvation is available to all who come to God through him.” Did you time it? I’ve heard it done in as little as eight seconds. Suppose you preached that brief message to a pagan who had never heard the name of Christ - what effect would it have? -- Probably very little. While that brief statement may contain the essence of the Gospel, there’s not really enough information in it to which to respond.

            Let’s take this terse statement of the Gospel and break it down into its component parts.

Christ Died

Who was “Christ” and why did he have to die?

            The name “Christ” is the Anglicization of the Greek Christos. That in turn is a translation of the Hebrew Mashiach meaning “anointed” or “an anointed one.” Transliterated into English it is “Messiah.” Christ is therefore not a proper name but a title. He is anointed (chosen, authorized and empowered) by God to play the central role in the divine plan of redemption. Put another way, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, it is who and what he is: God’s Anointed One.

            The Messiah’s given name is “Jesus” - again, an Anglicization of the Greek Iesous. This in turn is translated from the Hebrew Yeshua or Y’hoshua (Joshua). In Galilee, where Jesus was from, it may have been pronounced Yeshu. It means “YHVH Saves.” YHVH is God’s name (Exodus 3:13-15). Since there are no vowels in Hebrew, we have a four-letter name made up of consonants. It’s called “the Tetragrammaton.” It may mean “the one who will be, is, was” - or something close to that. (Incidentally, “Jehovah” is an incorrect pronunciation as there is no “J” sound in Hebrew or Greek.)

            The reason the Anointed One was named “Jesus” (YHVH Saves) is explained in Matthew 1:21, “And she [Mary, Jesus’ mother] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” So Jesus’ name signifies that he is anointed by God to save mankind from its sins. This brings us to the next part of our subject: why did God’s anointed one have to die to save us from our sins?

God, for his own reasons, has decreed that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). The wages of sin is death and all of us have sinned (Romans 6:23; 3:23; I John 1:8, 10; Galatians 3:22). The world in general lives in spiritual darkness presided over by Ha Satan - the Adversary. Every human being has wittingly or unwittingly incurred the death penalty. We were all on God’s “Death Row.” Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes the spiritual condition of all of us, and of the world in general, apart from the Gospel, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is at work in those who are disobedient,” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

            Our original parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed a simple command from God, “…the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die, (Genesis 2:16-17). You know the story: Eve checked out the fruit of the tree, found it appealing, and took a bite of it. Then she offered it to her husband, Adam. He too chomped down on the forbidden fruit and both immediately found themselves on God’s Death Row.

The Role of Ha Satan

The role of the “serpent” (Hebrew nachash = corrupter, poisoner) in this story is both significant and precedent-setting. Here’s the pattern: God instructs (Torah = instruction, teaching); Satan corrupts the teaching and rationalizes sin; man takes the bait and sins; death enters. So the “work of Satan” is to seduce mankind into sinning by corrupting God’s teaching. In this instance, the devil challenged God’s instruction by telling Eve that she would not die if she ate the fruit of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:4). Furthermore, he said that eating it would impart God-like wisdom to her (Genesis 3:5). Her own senses told her that the fruit looked appetizing (verse 6).

            Though God’s teaching was clear, yet negative (what not to do and what would happen if they did it), Satan’s was more appealing to the senses and the intellect - and it was “positive.” They could see apparent benefits to the nachash’s approach. Consequently they were seduced into disobeying God and sinning. Of course they didn’t die in that instant (if they had, there’d be no human race), they simply placed themselves at the head of the line for ultimate termination. They were dead while they yet lived.

            The pattern of this story has been repeated by virtually every human being who has ever lived - except for Yeshua Ha Mashiach. God instructs, Satan corrupts those instructions, Satan seduces or tempts, man takes the bait, and like Adam, sins. Not that everyone sins the same sin Adam sinned. Each of us, yielding to the evil impulse, sins our own sins. This pattern has long been understood by religious Jews.

            “The belief that in every human being there are two urges - the one to evil and the other to goodness - figures prominently in Rabbinic ethics…The character of a person is determined by which of the two impulses is dominant within him. ‘The good impulse controls the righteous,’…The evil impulse controls the wicked…Both impulses control average people,” Everyman’s Talmud by Abraham Cohen, p. 88).

            The impulse to evil is called in Hebrew the yetzer ha ra. The good impulse is the yetzer ha tob. Satan is associated with the former impulse, “’Satan’ is the personification of wickedness. A significant remark is: ‘Satan, the Jetzer Hara and the Angel of Death are all one’ (B.B. 16a). It indicates that the prompting to evil is rather a force within the individual than an influence from without. It also explains why God permits Satan to be active and does not destroy him,” Everyman’s Talmud, p.54.

            The evil impulse within us draws us toward sin - toward fulfilling the illegitimate desires of the flesh and the mind. Satan fans the flames. He pumps the bellows. He performs a number of essential roles in the process of sin, “Satan performs three functions: he seduces men, he accuses them before God, he inflicts the punishment of death (B.B. 16a). He is the seducer par excellence…(ET, p.56).

            We see this pattern of seduction, temptation, sin, accusation and death throughout the Bible and throughout human history. We observe, both in ourselves and others, what incredible lengths we will go to, to rationalize sin - just as Eve did. It is a universal process. Paul wrote, “…as in Adam all die…(I Corinthians 15:22). The penalty of death, which is the result of sin, which our own flesh and mind produces, egged on by Satan, is the human condition. Apart from Christ, we’re all dead in our sins. Paul wrote, “…for all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

            The world (Greek: kosmos), as a system, is spiritually dead. Paul, the Pharisee, often speaks in his letters of the world system as “darkness.” This is a spiritual darkness brought about by spiritual forces and by human sin. He wrote to the Ephesians and Laodiceans, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12). These dark spiritual forces are aligned with the Adversary. They gain their power from the human sin that they encourage. When we sin, we enable unclean spirits to gain advantage in our lives. We open doors of opportunity for them to establish strongholds.

            The apostle John writes, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” (I John 3:8). Jesus defeated the devil in the desert, in Jerusalem and on the “mount of temptation,” (Matthew 4:1-10). Consequently, Jesus is Lord! The devil has no power to thwart anything the Lord does.

            Jesus calls upon us, as subjects of the divine kingdom, to sever all ties with the devil, and pledge our allegiance to God. We are called to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). In Christ, we are reborn at the level of the inner man (John 3:1 ff.; I Peter 1:23); that is, born from above. Instead of serving the flesh and the mind, we now serve the Spirit.

            The metaphor of the new birth upon conversion is not new or unique to the Christian faith. It was known and used in Judaism for centuries. The new life in Christ makes us Kingdom children. Our citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20), from whence we are reborn. As we honor and serve Yeshua, the advancing kingdom is manifested through us.

            Our salvation is sealed in Christ and in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). In the present, we are the vanguard of the advancing kingdom. Study the parable of the mustard seed to understand how something that began so small and insignificant can grow to fill the earth (Matthew 13:31 ff.).

Significance of Christ’s Resurrection

In his Gospel, Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, he explained it, in his parables he illustrated it, and he demonstrated it. All this was pump-priming for the apostles who were commanded to carry the same message out into the world. He instructed them to make disciples - students or learners of the Gospel.

            The period from Yeshua’s resurrection to the time of his return represents a “day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). God looks with favor on those who turn to him in repentance following the preaching of the Gospel. Now is the time when the world ought to be taking full advantage of God’s redemptive offering.

            According to the Gospel, Jesus died, spent “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (the tomb), was resurrected, ascended to heaven, and he now sits at the right hand of God “to make intercession for us.” Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sins, but his resurrection is essential for our salvation. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who are fallen asleep in Christ are lost,” (I Corinthians 15: 14, 17, 18).

            Christ has been resurrected, therefore we can be resurrected: “…Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep [died],” (I Corinthians 15:20). When Jesus returns, all who belong to Christ will be “made alive” and given “imperishable” bodies just like Christ’s resurrection body (I Corinthians 15:42, 48-49). For us, “death will be swallowed up in victory” (v. 54). The natural fear of death will be a thing of the past.

In the Meantime

Before God the Father comes to dwell with men on this earth (Revelation 21), three things must happen: 1). This “day of salvation” must be completed; 2). A time of judgment must come and 3). The time “the restitution of all things” must be entered into. Let’s briefly examine these in order.

The Present Age

As we saw earlier, this is an age in which salvation is available to all who are willing to avail themselves of it. It commenced with the earthly ministry of Jesus.

            At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Galilean town in which he’d grown up. In his sermon, he cited the book of Isaiah to explain his Messianic mission. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news [the Gospel] to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

            This is a description of the “day of salvation” of which we spoke earlier. Jesus set the pace for this redemptive time. He “went about doing good.” He preached the good news of the inbreaking Kingdom, he healed the sick, he delivered people from demons and he performed miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. He taught his disciples to follow his example and to “make disciples” of their own who would follow suit. He said they would do even greater works than he did to advance the cause of the Kingdom (John 14:12).

            The original Jewish apostles, carrying the Gospel as Jesus taught it, went out into the world to spread the good news of God’s redemptive plan and of his advancing kingdom. Those who felt the call of the Gospel “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [may mean the Lord’s supper] and to prayer,” (Acts 2:42).

            Eventually congregations were formed. They were based on the synagogue model. They sprouted up all over Judea and the Roman Empire. [In those days, the whole Roman Empire totaled only about 50 million people. I heard recently that half the people who have ever lived are alive today!] What we now call “The Church” was born.

            So long as the original Jewish leadership of the church was alive and functioning, a certain uniformity of teaching and practice was maintained (as per Acts 2:42 and Acts 15). Once the Greek and Latin leaders gained ascendency, and the Jewish leadership died out, toxic influences began to seep into the Body. Platonism, the allegorical method of exegesis, Gnosticism and outright paganism began to dilute apostolic truth. The church began to take on strange and foreign traits. The metamorphosis was incremental. As early as Jude’s time it was necessary to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints,” (Jude 3).

            Today’s eclectic ecclesiastical monstrosity would scarcely be recognizable to the first Jewish apostles. As I have written elsewhere, the Church, mutated creature that it is, needs a new reformation to return it to the original body of beliefs and practices. The Church has been paganized and Hellenized, politicized and commercialized. In America, it has become a giant marketing machine that has largely lost its moral authority and its spiritual power.

            The Lord, who is the Head of the Church, has allowed his followers free agency. To a large extent, we have misused it by making bad choices. In the twenty centuries since Jesus offered his original teachings and example, Christians have created a confusing body of beliefs, doctrines, creeds, denominations and liturgies. A newly minted Christian is faced with the daunting task of sorting this out in an effort to “find the truth.” Most quickly settle for an accessible denomination that seems to meet their needs or appears authoritative.

            Within this uncertain cacophony of conflicting sounds, there are occasional notes of truth. When we identify one, we must cling to it and internalize it (I Thessalonians 5:21). The original faith of the apostolic church has not been lost. It may be found in Scripture, but Scripture is subject to misinterpretation. To “rightly divide the word of truth” be must know what we are doing. We should pick our teachers carefully. Ideally they should be able to “work with” the original languages of Scripture: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Furthermore, they should understand the history and nature of the Second Temple period. It was in this milieu that Jesus’ movement was formed. As a form of Judaism, it was known as “the sect of the Nazarene” (Acts 24:5) o r simply “The Way.”

            Acts 15 is a key to understanding what the Jewish apostles taught about the relationship of gentile converts to Torah. These subjects are all covered in other articles.

Appropriate Response to the Gospel

What did Jesus expect the preaching of the Gospel to produce in its hearers? This question is answered by the apostle Peter who had preached the Gospel to thousands of Jews in Jerusalem around 31 AD. His impassioned presentation elicited the response, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

            Peter’s answer was explicit: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,’” (Acts 2:38). On a somewhat later occasion, Peter embellishes his instruction: “Repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out…” (Acts 3:19).

            The misery of the human condition is largely the result of sin. Sin is a failure to live up to divine standards - the word for sin (hamartia) literally means “to miss the mark.” Throughout history, God has communicated his torah (instruction or direction) to mankind. He has sent judges and prophets to express his will. He sent Jesus himself and later Jesus’ apostles. Some have responded positively to the good news. Others have turned on those who have carried God’s message. Jesus has many martyrs. He will have more as the world turns against the Jewish  and Christian faiths.

            Time is closing in on the Church and on the world. The spirit of anti-Christ seems to be in the air. Many are speaking of this as a “post-Christian” era. Political leftists, professional atheists, militant Islamists, and even some of the pagan religions of Africa, India and Asia are openly attacking Christians and Jews with impunity. Windows of opportunity to preach the Gospel are closing. No one is running to the defense of the evangelizing Church. The murder of Christians seldom makes the papers.

            If you are reading the Gospel for the first time through this article, I encourage you to seek out a Christian minister in your local area and get counseled for baptism. The Holy Spirit is imparted through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:18).

Editor's Note:

Anyone desiring water baptism may contact the Association for Christian Development and we will assist in finding someone suitable to perform this important sacrament. Email us at acd@Godward.org.