“The Essence of the Gospel”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
The past four weeks’ articles have been something of a deep dive into defining and better understanding the gospel that the Bible always talks about. It’s not a magical ritual that puts hidden powers at the command of men; it’s not a mystical experience that functions as a get-out-of-hell-free card in the eternal Game of Life. It’s something deeper and richer, a pattern reflected repeatedly through many ages, of descent into darkness, followed by victorious ascent into marvelous light.
That’s the pattern Jesus established when he left his heavenly home to dwell in this dark world, and then returned to his Father’s side, to receive his well-deserved throne. That is, as we described it last week, “the essence of the gospel.” We see the same essence in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. And he acted out the same pattern, when he weakened himself and faced temptation, then defiantly commanded, “Be gone, Satan!”
For that matter, it’s the same pattern Jonah predicted, when he was thrown into the dark, stormy sea, preserved by God’s grace, and then brought back to the land of the living and told to start over; the same pattern David predicted when he faced a mortal threat from his own rebellious son, and put his trust in the Lord, saying,
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
And it’s the same pattern the nation of Israel followed, when they were despairing at the reappearance of their enslaver and his army, grasping for hope of escape. They took a nearly suicidal leap of faith into the midst of the Red Sea, down the unnatural path that appeared before them in the night. They could observe, as easily as we, that the collected waters, which formed “a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Ex 14.22), would not stay held back like this forever; but they were afraid enough of Pharaoh, to throw themselves into that deep, dark chasm; and God rewarded their trust by conducting them safely through the Sea, and then used the same means to kill their pursuers and destroy their hold over Israel.
And it’s the same pattern Daniel followed, when he heard Darius’ foolish and irreverent decree, a thirty-day ban on any prayer not directed at the king himself. Darius was Daniel’s friend, but allowed his sycophantic underlings to puff him up and make him out to be divine. Daniel knew disobeying would lead him into a dark pit full of hungry lions; yet he deliberately refused to go along with with the sacrilege, and was preserved by God and brought safely back to the light, while the mortal threat he’d successfully evaded was turned instead on his accusers (Da 6.24).
And it’s the same pattern Gideon followed, when he received the call in the night to destroy his town’s idolatrous shrine and his own father’s valuable livestock, to make an appropriate sacrifice to God. He knew full well that the townspeople would seek to kill him in response, and he was “afraid of his family and the men of the town” (Jdg 6.27); but he did it anyway, and in the morning light was defended and protected from reprisal.
And it’s the same pattern Peter acted out, when he attempted to make good on his vow to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mk 14.29). He failed miserably. He’d followed Jesus and his captors down from the mountain in the darkness, trying to stay close as his Lord was brought before representatives of Satan dressed as holy servants of God; but in the darkness and cold, he’d stumbled, repeatedly denying that he even knew Jesus. He could have, like Judas, chosen to stay in the darkness and make it his home forever, alone with his misery and guilt; but instead he confronted his failure, mourning his sin and returning to serve Jesus despite his lapse. He followed his order, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22.32).
And it’s the pattern the Apostle Paul followed, when he was confronted with the alarming news that he’d been fighting on the wrong side of God’s war with Satan.
Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
In that abiding darkness and misery, he surrendered his heart to Christ, and was rewarded when God took hold of him and brought him back to the light—symbolized when “something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (Ac 9.18).
We could go on, and on, and on, with more of these; but this is as good a time as any to bring into focus what Jesus said: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Re 2.10). Similarly,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
This is what it’s all about: a death, burial, and resurrection, following the pattern established by Jesus and demonstrated by God’s people across the ages. But is this death, burial, and resurrection literal? Or is it figurative? Bodily? Spiritual? Singular? Repeated? Constant? No; it’s all of the above! It is the very essence of the Gospel, through which Christ redeems and saves.