“Reflections of the Gospel”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
In the past three weeks’ articles, we have built a better understanding, little by little, of the gospel. We started by considering the false teaching popularly known as, “once saved, always saved,” and examined both the kernel of truth behind the idea of eternal security, and also a handful of the multitude of examples in the Bible that make it clear that God leaves it within each individual’s power to reject his grace. Next, we acknowledge the usefulness of describing a person’s conversion with the phrase, “obeyed the gospel;” but did away with the notion that the moment of belief and baptism is the whole story. That left us asking, what is involved in the ongoing nature of obedience to the gospel? But before we could answer that adequately, we had to consider, what exactly is the gospel, in the first place? When we searched the books in our bibles called—by no coincidence—the Gospels, we found Jesus and those whom he appointed to share this good news, tying it to the kingdom of God, which through Jesus is established on earth, for the rest of the present age, until he returns. What will he do, then? He will transfer the kingdom, which currently exists, in part, in this world, even though it is not of the world, entirely to the heavenly realm. So, the essence of the gospel is that heaven came down to earth, in order to bring the world up to heaven.
In fact, Jesus used this imagery long before the details were manifested and acted out! “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn 3.13). He illustrated the same pattern to Nicodemus, pointing out that he’s been to heaven, and descended from there to earth. But since heaven was his origin, and not merely a stop along his journey, his use of the word, “ascended” is puzzling, until you factor in his plan to ascend back to his Father, after his work on earth was done. In part, he’s referring to his future plan; and in part, he’s speaking figuratively, reflecting the fact that any ordinary man would have to ascend, in order to reach God’s presence.
But there’s more. Asked for a sign, Jesus said the only sign given to those who refused to believe in him would be the
“sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
That’s another form of descent, isn’t it? And yet the finite duration of the time he predicted he would spend in the earth is an indication that, when it came to an end, he would no longer remain there—that he would ascend to the realm of the living again! This is far from Jesus’ only prediction of his death, burial, and resurrection. Just before he spoke to Nicodemus, he told some early detractors, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2.19). He later told a diverse crowd in Jerusalem, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (Jn 10.17). Then, as the time drew near, he repeatedly told his closest disciples,
“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
The Scriptures had foretold the same thing!
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life…
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
We could throw in several other Psalms, the aforementioned story of Jonah, the sacrifice of Isaac, the recurring pattern of experiences by Joseph and then all Israel in Egypt, and many other indications in the Scriptures God had already given to the Jews, that the Messiah would suffer, die, be buried, and then rise again. These are fairly obscure shadows rather than outright statements of fact; but that’s how God chose to reveal his plan, and the hints are obvious, in retrospect.
Paul makes the same case, writing,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
(1 Corinthians 15.3-4)
Not only did the Scripture testify to this, but they were matters “of first importance.” It’s just Paul’s updated rendition of the message Jesus had preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.15). What was the essence of that gospel, again? Heaven came down to earth, in order to bring the world up to heaven. Jesus acted that out, in his flesh—first, by descending from heaven, to suffer the effects of sin, without incurring any guilt of his own; and then, by descending even farther—into the belly of the earth, in faith that his Father would raise him up again, and the reward would be worth it. Jesus
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What is our appropriate response to this, but to join the numberless multitude in bowing before him and confessing that he is Lord?