One of our family’s favorite movies, especially when our kids were at home, was “The Princess Bride.” Many of its lines were quoted at home in our daily conversations — and still are, on our family Facebook chat group. Of course one of the most famous lines of the show is where the evil architect, Vezzini, keeps saying, “Inconceivable,” to a series of events, and Inigo Montoya finally says: “You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means”!
Well, there are a lot of words which people use today, and you wonder if they know what they really mean. One of them is the word “gospel.” You hear that word all the time: “gospel music,” “gospel preaching,” “gospel choir”, “gospel singing,” and even “the gospel truth.” But what does “gospel” really mean?
As many of you know, the word “gospel” literally means “good news.” It’s the same in the New Testament: “eu-angellion,” means “good message,” or “good news.” But even understanding that “gospel” means “good news,” many do not really know just what that “good news” IS. Thankfully we had the blessing this last week of reading in our daily Bible readings, this passage in I Corinthians 15 which tells us all about “the gospel.”
Paul begins :1 saying, “Now I make known to you brethren, the GOSPEL …”. Let’s look together at what God tells us in this passage about The Gospel:
I. What IS The Gospel?
Perhaps the most basic question, and a very important one, is just what IS the Gospel, anyway? Paul begins this passage by saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you.” What was the gospel Paul preached?
He tells us in :3-4. He writes: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures …”.
This is the basic message of the Gospel:
— Paul’s gospel begins with “Christ.” “Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah,” the One God promised in the Old Testament who would come to save His people. In the very beginning, after God created the world and mankind, Adam and Eve sinned against God by following their own desires instead of obeying Him. But as soon as they had sinned, God gave the first hint of Someone who was coming to save them: One who would “crush the head” of the serpent who had deceived them. Then these promises of a Coming One continue throughout the Old Testament, We read a few weeks ago where Moses predicted in Deuteronomy that there was coming a prophet like him whom the people would need to listen to. Soon we’ll read in Isaiah how God promised a coming Servant of the Lord who would turn God’s people back to Him, who would be “anointed” with the Spirit of God. “Meshicha” or “Messiah” in Hebrew, “Christ” in Greek, mean “anointed one,” this One God promised in the Old Testament who would come to be our Savior.
— And what did this “Christ” do? It says Christ “died for our sins according to the scriptures.” “According to the scriptures” means that what Christ did was foretold in the Old Testament, as we just saw. Those Old Testament scriptures had prophesied that the Messiah when He came would die for our sins. Isaiah 53:6 foretold: “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquities of us all to fall on Him.” Did you catch that? All of our iniquities, fall upon Him. That is what happened on the cross. Jesus died for our sins.
I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”
Jesus took our place on the cross, dying for our sins and for the sins of the whole world, so that we could be forgiven and be accepted before God when we die.
The other evening, Cheryl & I watched a BBC adaptation of Anne Bronte’s “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” which features the story of a young lady who is long-suffering in her relationship with her worldly, abusive, husband. At one point near the end of the story, the husband, Arthur, is on his death bed, and Helen, the godly wife who had rightly left him to protect herself and her son, came back to minister to him on his death bed. Knowing that he was dying, and terrified by death because of the life he had lived and the sins he had committed, Arthur says to Helen: “I wish to God I could take you with me now. You could plead for me.” I thought, how strikingly sad. This man knew he had sinned; he knew he wasn’t right with God, but he hoped that maybe his godly wife could “plead” on his behalf, and because she was so good, maybe it would do him some good with God.
I thought that was such a striking scene, I went to the book to look it up — and the book was even better than the movie. (You know how the movies always seem to cut whatever they can of Christianity OUT these days) But Anne Bronte’s book actually says that when Arthur asked Helen to plead for him, she responded: ’”No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him … it cost more to redeem their souls – it cost the blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to redeem us from the bondage of the evil one:- let Him plead for you.”
Helen in this story pointed her husband to the Gospel; she pointed him to Jesus: that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”, so now HE will “plead for us” with God. It is just like I John 2:1-2 says: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
THIS is the heart of the gospel: that even though we have sinned, we now have “someone to plead” for our sins — not just your spouse, or the best person you know, but CHRIST Himself, the perfect Messiah who died to pay for your sins and for the sins of the whole world — He will plead for you! That is “good news”! That is the heart of the gospel.
— But as Paul says here, that is not the end of the story. Not only did Christ die for our sins; Verse 4 says “He was buried, and that He was RAISED on the third day according to the scriptures.”
Romans 1:4 says Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” This is a key verse. How do we know, out of all the prophets and teachers and religions of the world, which is the right way to God? Which one did He really send? This passage says God declared Jesus to be His Son by raising Him from the dead. The resurrection was God’s ultimate way of saying, “THIS is My Beloved Son”! God put His “stamp of approval” on Jesus by raising Him from the dead.
And as Paul says here, this didn’t happen in secret: Jesus appeared to Peter, and James, and to all the Apostles, to Paul himself on the road to Damascus — and he says “He appeared to more than 500 people at one time.” This was a massive public appearance, which could have been contradicted by living witnesses when this book was written, if it were not so. And history tells us that these people went to their graves, after every kind of torture, testifying that they had seen Jesus Christ alive. And their testimony as they died was so strong that many of their Roman captors came to Christ as well. As Paul would say later in Acts, “this didn’t happen in a corner.” The resurrection of Jesus was well-testified, and is a cornerstone of the gospel. Christ died for our sins — and proved the power of it, by rising from the dead.
THAT is the gospel. But it doesn’t really end there …
II. Receiving The Gospel
:1-2 “which also you received … by which also you are saved …”
The Bible makes it very clear here that the gospel is not just a “fact of history” but something that you need to respond to and receive personally.
Verse 3 says “Christ died for OUR SINS.” It was our sin against God that brought about the necessity for the Gospel. We rebelled against God and did what He commanded us not to do. That is what sin is. And the Bible says we have ALL sinned. “All have sinned,” Romans 3:23 says, “and fall short of the glory of God.” God made us to know His glory, as we saw a couple of weeks ago; but we sinned and cut ourselves off from that glory. But now in the gospel, “Christ died for our sins” so that we could be forgiven. But just knowing the fact of what Jesus did on the cross does not save you. You have to respond to the gospel. Paul describes the response of the Corinthians here. He says “which also you RECEIVED.”
So you have to personally “receive” the gospel into your own life. This is where a lot of people make the mistake. They think because they have heard verses like John 3:16 all their life, that all they have to do is “just believe” that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross, and they will be saved.
But the Bible makes it clear that that is not the case. James 2 says “the demons also believe and shudder.” The demons know very well and believe who Jesus is. But that doesn’t save them, and it is not going to save YOU either!
To respond to the Gospel you have to do more than just say: “I believe it.”
You DO have to believe it — but to really “believe” in Jesus like John 3:16 talks about means you believe why He came: that it was because of YOUR SIN. And you admit that your sin has been wrong, and you’ve been going the wrong direction. And yes, you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that He rose again, but it also means that like the Corinthians you RECEIVE Him as YOUR own personal Lord & Savior. John 1:13 says “as many as RECEIVED HIM, to THEM He gave the right to become the children of God …”. There has to be that personal receiving of Jesus; that personal response.
In that story I mentioned, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” the day after Helen has that gospel conversation with her husband Arthur on his death bed, he is just about to pass away, and he whispers: “Pray for me Helen!” And she tells him, “I do pray for you; every hour and every minute. But you have to pray for yourself!”
And what Helen told Arthur that day is true for each of us today too. There comes a time when “you have to pray for yourself.” You have to admit your sin against God, and believe in your heart that Jesus died on the cross for you and lives to save you — and you have to PRAY FOR YOURSELF and ask Him to save you! If you will ask Him, He will save you. But as we said last week, you have to make this personal. YOU have to admit YOUR sin and rebellion against God, and ask Him to save in order for that to happen.
Some of you here today have people in your life who are just like Helen: you have got people who are praying for you every day, every hour, virtually every minute. But pray as they might, they can’t save you. YOU HAVE TO PRAY FOR YOURSELF. Respond to the gospel. Pray for yourself — right now if you never have — and Jesus will save you. It is that simple. That is why it is called “the gospel” — it is good news, because anyone can be saved who will respond to it personally like that.
III. Sharing The Genuine Gospel
Paul said, “THIS is the gospel which I preached to you.” Paul was very clear about the gospel, because he knew how important the gospel was.
Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Paul knew that in the genuine gospel of Jesus, there is “salvation”: forgiveness of sin, a right relationship with God, a home in heaven with God in glory forever!
But he also knew that it is ONLY in the genuine gospel message where that salvation is to be found. That is why he so strongly condemned in Galatians those who were preaching what he called, “a different gospel, which is really not another …” but a distortion of the gospel of Christ. He goes on to say in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Now that may sound so harsh, but it makes sense when you realize that Paul knew that only the genuine gospel of Jesus will save, and that false gospels will only lead people to an eternity separated from God and glory forever! So he says we’ve GOT to get the gospel message right! We need to make sure that the message which we are sharing is the Biblical gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.”
Now just like in Paul’s day, there are plenty of “other gospels” out there today:
I read this week of one so-called “gospel preacher” who said that the gospel is that “God wants to show you favor … enlarge your vision and get rid of those negative mindsets that hold you back.” Well that sounds good to a lot of people — and in fact thousands of people are attracted to churches that preach that; and some of the largest churches in the country today preach that kind of so-called “gospel.” But that is not the gospel of I Corinthians 15, is it? It doesn’t talk about sin; it doesn’t talk about the death of Christ on the cross or His resurrection; it doesn’t talk about our need to repent and trust Christ and follow Him. “Positive thinking” and “self-fulfillment” is NOT the Biblical gospel!
We need to make sure that the message we have received personally, and the message that we are sharing with others, is the Biblical gospel Paul shares with us here: that Christ died for our sins, and rose again, and we must personally repent and receive Him. It is vital to us and to others that we all understand just what the basic message IS which we should share in our community here:
— Our basic message is not physical healing for everyone. God does heal, amen, but healing itself is not the gospel.
— Our basic message is not that God will prosper you and make you financially wealthy, or fulfill “your dreams.”
— Our our basic message is not conservative Republican politics or the capitalist system.
— Our basic message is not even that we have a great church or friendly people, or a great pastor or staff.
— The basic message we are to be sharing in our community is the GOSPEL: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” — and we need to make sure that is always the message we are seeking to share — not only here in Burke County, but also when we go overseas on mission.
I am so thankful that we have mission teams coming and going from Pleasant Ridge this summer: Ray just reported on the India mission and the church we are building over there. Our youth are just back from Hamburg Germany team where they went on mission. And we have a team ministering in Romania right now! This is great; this is just what we should be doing as a church. But as we go, we need to be sure we remember what our gospel IS that we are to be sharing on mission.
I have been reading a book of articles by Lesslie Newbigin, who served as a missionary to India in the 1950’s to 1970’s. Being a theologian, and serving in India, opened his eyes to a lot of things. And one of the things he points out is that when American Christians go overseas on mission, we are often guilty of “confusing the gospel with the American way of life.” (p. 108) In other words, we often we often go over and think: “Oh, these poor people, they don’t have the standard of living that we do, and they don’t get to vote like we can, and they don’t have the basic practices of Western culture like we have” — and he says if we are not careful, we will end up try to make Western Europeans or Americans out of them. But he reminds us: we are not there to conform to our cultural ideals; we are there to share the GOSPEL with them: ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” In other words, don’t bring your cultural presuppositions; bring the gospel!
So let’s be sure that whenever we go on mission, we remember what our gospel is. Our gospel is not “American exceptionalism” or capitalism, or democracy. Now make no mistake: I love our country. I get chills whenever “The Star Spangled Banner” is played. I greatly appreciate the material blessings and the standard of living God has showered on our land. America is in many ways the greatest country the world has ever known.
But when we go overseas on mission, we have to be careful: American capitalism is NOT our gospel! We aren’t going over there to share the blessings of capitalism or constitutional democracy with the people there. We aren’t going to share our standard of living. We are going to share the gospel: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and rose again according to the scriptures, and our need to repent of sin and receive Him. THAT is our gospel. THAT is what we are to share: in Romania, in India, in Germany — and right here where we live as well.
And that message never changes. Not even for US! I appreciated something our new SBC President J.D. Greear said the other day. He said the Gospel is not like the “ABC’s” that just gets us into Christianity, and then we set those aside and go on to the other letters. Rather, he said, he aways, continually lean on those “ABC’s” of the gospel.
I read one of the best pieces of advice for the Christian life a couple of years ago, when someone said that we should all — even mature Christians — should all “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Why? Because we never outgrow it. Every day we need to remember again that we were sinners, and we are only saved by the grace of God, and what He did for us in Jesus Christ. And every day when we sin, we need to trust anew in the Gospel — not that we “get saved” again every day — but we confess our sins every day, and remember that we not going to heaven because we are “holier than thou” over anyone else, but only because of what Jesus did for us in the gospel. That’s a good word: “preach the gospel to yourself every day.” (And when you do that, not only does it help you keep your attitude right, but it also helps you to be ready to share the gospel with others — because you’ve been preaching it to yourself every day already!)
But the gospel is our message. We need to know it; love it; review it; rely on it; and share it, everywhere we go — “in Burke County and to the ends of the earth.”
So when we use the word “gospel,” let’s be sure it means what we’ve learned it means:
— when we have “gospel music,” let’s be sure we are singing the GOSPEL!
— when we have a “gospel choir,” let’s be sure we’re singing the GOSPEL!
— when we have “gospel preaching,” let’s be sure we are preaching the GOSPEL!
— when we go on “gospel missions,” let’s be sure that what we are actually sharing is the GOSPEL!
— When we witness, let’s make sure what we are sharing with people is the GOSPEL that Paul outlined here
— And most importantly, be certain that YOU have responded to the only genuine gospel that will really save you.
Like Helen in “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” said, have you ever “prayed for yourself” and made sure that Jesus will be pleading for you? If you never have, you can do it right now … !