What is the Gospel? (Part 1)

I wanted to post some notes from my Sunday studies with our youth group. The study we began a few weeks ago is centered on the meaning of the word "gospel." (Yes, a topical study, please don't throw any sharp stones!)

The study is divided into four parts:
1. What is the Gospel?
2. Why did Jesus have to be the Gospel?
3. Why does the world reject the Gospel?
4. How should we live in light of the Gospel?
This is a study I taught at a retreat at another church, and I divided the parts there to accommodate more of a lecture style of teaching (i.e., "preaching," if you prefer). With my youth, however, I wanted to take things slower - hence, it took us a couple of weeks to finish part one. Because I am posting all of part one today, this post will be longer than the ones to follow.

What does "Gospel" mean?
Simply put, it is an old English word meaning “good news.” In fact, we might as well say “I believe the Good News.” This is not just any “good news;” it is the Good News to the world! It is a message of God’s glory, and that His glory may be enjoyed by us.

What the Gospel is NOT:

  • It is not about having the easy life. In fact, people who trust the Gospel may face trouble as a result. Some of your friends might not like you anymore.

  • It is not a self-help message. It is not about getting straight “A’s” or high marks at school. It is not about keeping your room clean or being organized.

  • It is not a promise that you are going to heaven. This is closer to the truth, but that is only one part of it. Just because there is Good News and you say you believe it does not mean you will escape Hell (more on this later).

  • It is not mean God does not care about your sins anymore. He is a loving Father, and as such, He is concerned about the choices you make in life.

  • God is the Gospel
    The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
    --John Piper, God is the Gospel, Crossway Books, p. 15

    Ask yourself: if you don’t enjoy Christ here, why do you want to go to Heaven? Hell is hot, I suppose that is a good reason, but wouldn’t you just be bored and miserable in Heaven? Perhaps, if you really want to be in Heaven, you should learn to take pleasure in the Heavenly Father.

    Church can be boring at times, and the Bible can be difficult to understand in places. Taking pleasure doesn't mean you smile and pretend you are enjoying yourself. “A long list of hard-to-pronounce Bible names? Oh JOY!” However, you must begin to understand why there is delight in reading God’s Word and meeting Him there. Begin to learn the joys of going to church and meeting God in other believers. Begin to desire the presence of God in your everyday life. It takes time, and can only be done through repentance, prayer, and a seeking of God’s spirit in your life.

    If I’ve already lost you – don’t worry. This is just an introduction.

    A Starting Point:
    God’s Word – If we want to meet God, why not start with the message He left for all who desire Him? It is helpful to keep the theme of the Bible in mind as we study: “God created everything for His glory and made people to help Him rule that creation.

  • God created everything for His glory...: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1), and the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). He made everything through Christ, "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). Simply consider the glory of God in Psalm 96.

  • ... and made people to help Him rule that creation: “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion … over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'” (Gn 1:26). Adam and Eve messed this up, however, and Christ had to take over as the new "Adam": "For if many died through one man’s trespass [Adam’s sin], much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:15). Jesus was born uniquely (of a virgin), as was Adam (of the dust). This is to show a new lineage available in Christ - because of Him, we can be "born again" into a better family!

  • God created everything for His glory and made people to help Him rule that creation.
    Have you ever noticed that there is light before there is a sun? In verse 3 of Genesis 1, God said “Let there be light” (on day 1), and in verse 16 God finally gets to making the sun and moon (on day 4). Guess what! The Bible ends the same way it begins! “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5). We see the glory of God at both the beginning and end of the Bible.

    All was ideal – we call it paradise. I mean, God meets with Adam and Eve in the garden! Animals and people were vegetarian (ate plants) according to Genesis 1:30. Presumably, they could have lived forever like this. There was work in the garden (2:5; 1:28), but it was not hard work like so many endured throughout the ages. (It is possible for work to be pleasant!)

    Yet, there was once God came and Adam and Eve fled (Gn 3:8). Of course, they had eaten of the tree, and God placed them permanently out of the Garden (v. 24). Yet, God’s grace is still evident: Though they sinned, God sought them out (v. 9) and made clothes for them (v. 21). He still spoke to people through prophets (like Abel and Enoch).

    Nonetheless, the effects of the Fall would be lasting. Sin is in every child of Adam and Eve (we’ll talk about this more as we go). Evidence of this is ample in the Bible. People get so corrupt at one point that God had to flood the earth. Still, the children of the survivors (Noah's descendants) rebel and build a tower in defiance. It does not seem long before people begin worshiping false gods.

    Moving Forward in History...
    Even in this, God is merciful and builds a people out of Abraham. God guides Issac and Jacob, and brings His people out of Egyptian slavery when they are almost ready to be a nation. It is after this grand exodus that God is ready to create a system that will make a way for the restoration of the world.

    With the children of Israel in the wilderness, God gives Moses the Law and instructs, “let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). It has been at least 2,500 years since Eden, and we can only imagine the heart of Moses when he hears these words. It is exciting… and a little scary…

    Indeed, once the tabernacle in the desert is complete, the Glory of God filled the tabernacle so powerfully that even Moses was not able to enter, though he met with God previously (Ex 40:34-35).

    FF >> About 500 Years...
    David’s reign as king has ended, and his son Solomon is on the throne of Israel. David desired to build a temple for God, so he saved for the project and Solomon built the temple. Guess what happened when the temple was complete and dedicated to God!

    Idols in the Presence of the Glory?
    However, soon Israel began to disobey God. Many even began to go after other gods! Israel split in two – a Northern kingdom and a Southern kingdom. Roughly 400 years later, God shows Ezekiel a sight that is sickening (Ezekiel 8) -- idolatry in the temple! At every point, we weep to see the things being done, but God keeps saying “you will see still greater abominations.”

    On September 17, 592 B. C (Eze. 10-11),
    Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city” (11:22-23).

    "Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem" by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
    "Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem" by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
    According What did the people do when the glory departed? No one cried “Stop!” or “Come back!” No, in fact, it was business as usual for the next 6 years. No one seems to notice or care that the Lord’s Glory has left.

    586 BC, six years later, Jerusalem falls and the temple, destroyed.

    Eventually, the Jews do make their way back from Babylon and begin to rebuild. (This is part of God's grace, as well, as He promised He would bring them back home before they were taken.) However, this time, the elderly, godly Jews wept. The new, rebuilt temple is not nearly as large or beautiful as the old one was. Moreover, when it is consecrated, the glory never reappears. God does not return to this temple.

    God continued to speak through prophets for a short time, but will soon stop. For the next 400 years, God does not speak through a prophet, and His glory is absent for nearly 500 years. Though the Jews continue to see the grace of God in other ways, particularly by finding comfort in prophetic portions of Scripture during these silent years, God does not show Himself in the same way He did so often in the past.

    Remember that Word?
    After centuries of not seeing the Glory of God and not hearing Him through the prophets, sheperds are gaurding their flocks by night. Yes, those shepherds. They are interrupted by the familiar angel of Luke 2:
    "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
    GOOD NEWS! And it is not just to the Jews, but to all people! You and me! The Glory has reappeared on earth!! And this time, it is in a unique way that each of you can partake in!

    Jesus is the Gospel, Jesus is the Good News. Thus, we are not surprised to read:

  • And he (Jesus) went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” (Matt 4:23).

  • Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news” (Lk 4:18)

  • The good news is that He has come. In Him dwells the fullness of God, and He will bring together all things in Himself (Col 1:19-20).

    Do you know Him?
    Do you seek His Glory?

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