The Gospel

The word gospel literally means “good news.”  (And that just might be the understatement of the ages.)  But what is it?  What is the content of that news?  And what makes it good?  Well, as Maria from The Sound of Music said, “Let’s start at the very beginning.”  A very good place to start indeed.

The Gospel Starts with God

As do all things, the gospel message starts with God.  God created human beings in his image.  That means that human beings were created to reflect God and his attributes the way a mirror reflects light.  God is the source, and we were designed in such a way that when others see us, they are supposed to declare, “What a great God!”  No one looks into a mirror to admire the glass.  You look into a mirror to admire the reflected image you see in the mirror.  We’re the mirror.  We’re God reflectors.

And as is true in all creation, a thing’s highest joy is to do what it was made to do.  A coffee pot’s highest joy is to make good coffee.  A pen’s highest joy is to write.  A bird’s highest joy is to fly and sing.  That’s what these things were created to do.  Likewise, a human being’s highest joy is to live in such a way that God is made much of.  Anything short of doing that (like money, power, sex, and fame), simply cannot fulfill the eternal longings of the human soul to do what it was made to do.

When the Mirror Wants the Glory

But we all know the story.  There was this garden and some fruit and too many naked people for our 21st century sensibilities.  And something went horribly wrong.  Mankind turned his back on God.  Instead of reflecting God’s glory, the mirror lusted after the glory of the one it was created to reflect.  It’s like a book’s words wanting the praise due only the author.  The creation desired a life independent of the Creator.

Of course, that’s about as crazy as rejecting an opulent feast for dirt clods, or as Isaiah puts it, rejecting the fountain of living water for broken jars that can’t hold water (Jeremiah 2:13).  But that’s what they did.  And that’s what we do.  That’s the plight of every man, woman, and child alive.

God is Just in Punishing His Creation

You wouldn’t think twice about casting judgment on a defective pen and throwing it into the trashcan.  You bought it.  It’s your right.  Even more so if you were the owner of a pen factory and the defective pen was one of your products.

Now consider God.  He created mankind to make much of him and in so doing to find their deepest joy, and human beings have the audacity to say no.  When a person refuses to do what God created him to do, that person does two things.  First, he spits in God’s face.  What pot justly stands in opposition to the potter who formed it?  That’s damnable.  Second, that person cuts himself off from the only source of lasting, truly satisfying joy that exists in the universe.  That’s suicide.

The Infinite Cost of an Infinite Sin

Children are punished in proportion to the seriousness of their offense.  Now, what if the offense were infinite?  The punishment for such a crime would have to be infinite as well, right?  Spitting in God’s face and turning to other things to try to fill the longings of the heart that only God can full is an infinitely horrendous crime.  Why?  Because God is infinitely worthy of all praise, honor, love, and trust.

Nobody flinches if someone kills a fly.  It’s worse to hit a dog.  Do it enough and you could get in trouble with the law.  However, it’s quite another thing to hit a person.  Now you’re talking jail time.  You could get your kids taken away.  The seriousness of the offense rises with the value of the one offended.  Now imagine spitting in God’s infinitely worthy face.  The seriousness of that offense is infinite and deserving of an infinite punishment because the one offended is infinitely valuable.

God Cannot Simply Brush Sin Under the Rug

God cannot simply brush such a high crime under the rug of the universe.  Imagine a convicted child molester standing before a judge ready for sentencing.  Now imagine the judge looking down at the man and saying, “I know you’ve been found guilty beyond any shadow of a doubt, but you know, I’m going to forgive you.  You’re free to go.”  That would be a travesty of justice.  God is just, and his justice requires that sin be justly recompensed.

The Bible says the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23).  Death in the Bible is a metaphor for separation from God.  The infinite seriousness of our sin must be punished with eternal separation from God.  If not, God is not just and I don’t want to have anything to do with an unjust God.

The Cross: God is Love and God is Just

So what is God supposed to do?  Enter Jesus.  In short, Jesus takes it.  He is our substitute.  God’s wrath hangs over the heads of sinners, ready to fall fully and justly.  Yet right before it does, Jesus stands up and absorbs it like a sponge absorbs water.  Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV).  He died for us.  He died in our place.  He paid the infinite price of our sin with his infinitely worthy and utterly sinless blood.  The infinitely horrendous death of Jesus satisfied the infinitely righteous wrath of God against sin.  Therefore God is able to be both just toward sin and loving toward sinners (see Romans 3:21-28).

The Great Exchange

Jesus’ work on the cross is twofold.  On the one hand Jesus takes the infinite punishment that we sinners rightly deserve.  He pays it in full.  On the other hand, Jesus’ imparts his righteousness to us.  Our sin goes onto Jesus.  Jesus’ righteousness goes onto us.  That is, his perfect life is credited to our account as if it were our own righteousness.  The exchange was so acceptable to God that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus’ resurrection is proof positive that, in Christ, there is hope of being found acceptable in God’s sight.

How Do I Get In On This?

“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  The offer of God’s forgiveness and the ability to again experience the joy of doing what you were created to do is open to you if you would but call upon Jesus’ name.  What does it mean to call on Jesus’ name?  Imagine you were drowning in a swimming pool.  What would it mean to “call upon” the lifeguard?  It would mean that you, realizing your helpless state, cry out to the lifeguard to save you as only the lifeguard can do.  When you cry out to God to save you through His Son, he hears you, and he responds.  His Word guarantees it.

And as you lie there at the pool’s edge gasping for breath at Jesus’ feet, an incredible thing happens to you.  Suddenly you realize the horror of the cesspool of sin that you were just pulled out of, and you begin to despise sin.  There’s a change of mind that happens in you.  You come to see Jesus as more valuable than anything—good or evil—this world has to offer.  And setting your gaze on him, you go for him alone.  That God might open your eyes to see Jesus.

Let’s Review

This is the message of the gospel—both its content and what makes that content good: We were created to glorify God, which is our greatest joy.  We haven’t.  We’ve stiff-armed God, trying desperately to satisfy our souls on lesser pleasures.  The punishing of such an infinite offense must be infinite, namely hell, because God is infinitely worthy of all honor, and God is just in carrying out such a punishment.  Then came Jesus.  In his death he takes sinners’ punishment on himself and credits his perfect life to their account.  He’s our substitute.  God accepted the sacrifice on sinners’ behalf, proven by Jesus’ resurrection.  Cry out to him.  He is near to those who call on his name in faith.  Forsake the cheap thrills of this world and go for glory.

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you ready to stand before God right now as you are?  Why or why not?
  2. How can you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God accepts you and that when you finally stand before him, you will be received with love and not wrath?
  3. How does Jesus provide a person with the security of being accepted before God?
  4. If someone offered you a joy 10,000 times greater than anything this world could imagine, what would you do to get it?
  5. Is there anyone you can think of that would benefit from reading this post?  If so, please feel free to share it via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail, or you can print it off and give that person a paper copy.

Hope Apart From Jesus

Man’s hope apart from Jesus works on stage,
Where actors sing and dance behind their pink
And plastic painted-on expressions, all
Their faces beaming from what seems like self-
Constructed confidence and joy. They find
Their strength from deep within and conquer by
The light of their own hearts. Their sugary dreams
And iron wills suffice to guide them through
The dark in time for Act III’s curtain call.
And when applause at last dies down inside
The house and people finally file out?
Mere mortal actors testify that Christ,
And not their self-lit hearts, is what they need
Most desperately to guide them through to life’s
Soon-coming final bow. And what’s
Their testimony? Their own broken lives
That fail to measure up to all the self-
Sufficient strength and haughty wisdom their
Own characters displayed to wild crowds
Mere hours before on a pristine stage.
The one who bravely vanquished death for love
Is, hours later, utterly inept
At quenching his heart’s bitter, bottled rage.
The actor who had overcome against all odds
Is soon awash in seas of inner fear
And doubt, without a single ray of hope.
And she who found her way by story’s end,
Who followed closely her own inner star,
Is left alone and wandering long before
She even leaves the parking lot for home.
How can it be? Is truth that hard to see?
It’s Jesus, not some secret, innate spark,
The actors need to make it to their end,
For hope apart from Jesus doesn’t work.

© 2011 Eric Evans

7 Things to Remember

There are moments in your life when you’re on the cusp of something new.  Perhaps a period of hardship is finally coming to an end.  Maybe something long-awaited has finally arrived.  It could be that you’re wrapping up one chapter of your life to begin a new one.  In those moments, it’s good to pause and remember.

In the book of Deuteronomy, just as the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land after a grueling 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses calls his people to remember.  Below are six things that Moses (and one thing that Joshua) tells Israel to keep in mind as they move into a new chapter of their history.

Remember What and Where you Were

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

It’s good to look back and remember where God has brought you from.

Remember God’s Past Works

“[Y]ou shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out” (Deuteronomy 7:18-19).

Remember what God has done in the past gives us confidence that he will continue to be faithful in the future.

Remember God’s Sweet Discipline

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:2-3).

In verse 16 Moses tells them that God humbled them in this way “to do you good in the end.”  So God’s discipline, though hard, is precious.  Remember it.

Remember that All Good Things Come from God

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

The good you’re on the cusp of enjoying will not be of your own doing.  It is God’s good gift to you.  Remember that.

Remember your Sin, and Remember that God Remembers His Faithfulness in Spite of It

“Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:7).

So much so, Moses says, that God was ready to destroy them (9:8).

Yet, when Moses fell prostrate before God and begged him to remember the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God didn’t destroy them.  He was faithful even though his people weren’t (Deuteronomy 9:27-10:2).

Remember that God is Both Savior and Lord

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today (Deuteronomy 15:15)”

God said that he redeemed his people and therefore commands them.  The God who saves you is the God who rules you. Don’t forget that.

Remember the Hope that is Before You

“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land’” (Joshua 1:13).

As you look back on God’s past faithfulness, be encouraged to know that he will continue to be faithful in this next step.  As he fulfilled his promises in the past, trust that he will fulfill his promises in the future.

As we stand on the brink and look forward to what’s ahead, may we, like the Israelites, pause to remember.

God’s Peace

God’s peace is trembling joy before a God
Most holy bidding you to come through Love’s
Rich blood despite gross sin and you accept.

God’s peace is freedom from a conscience long
Held captive ’neath a guilty verdict now
Declared both just and free in heaven’s courts.

God’s peace is utter confidence before
A righteous judge that Jesus’ blood prevails
Though self’s and Satan’s voice indict your guilt.

God’s peace is standing naked, unashamed
Of defects unacceptable to man’s
Critique, for Christ makes you acceptable.

God’s peace is liberty from prideful, self-
Awarded righteousness that seemed, yet failed,
To offer true and lasting happiness.

God’s peace is rest for man’s long-labored soul,
Distraught and hopeless as it toiled night
And day to gain God’s love and earn his smile.

God’s peace is liberation from one’s fears
Of man to finally fear the one who kills
Both soul and body, not mere temporal life.

God’s peace is untold joy in leaving all
To follow God’s dear Son, though ridiculed
And never understood by those you love.

God’s peace is having lost all footholds you
Had carved ensuring your security
And finding something greater holds you fast.

God’s peace is having all life’s props knocked out
From under you at once, and though night falls
And light is dim, hope’s candle burns unquenched.

God’s peace is being stripped of every last
Enslaving idol you adored to have
Them all replaced with him who truly fills.

God’s peace is lying down at night to sleep
With twenty-seven things undone assured
Tomorrow’s grace will flow abundantly.

God’s peace is quiet resolution when
The doctor enters after what has seemed
Like years, his eyes downcast and face forlorn.

God’s peace is standing near a loved one’s grave
And smiling through the bitter tears, for faith
Had reconciled both you and her to him.

How long my heart did ache for you, sweet peace—
That for a moment tumult’s rage would cease
And I would find at last true joy and rest!
True peace became my soul’s undying quest.

The Maker of my longings knows them well
And knows how best to placate ocean swells.
And wanting me to have this peace so craved,
He kindly leaves all other paths unpaved.

He opens up before my yearning mind
But one path, long and treacherous and lined
With deadly snares and pitfalls on all sides,
For he knows at its end true peace resides.

So though the path that leads to peace is hard
And this faint nomad’s history is marred
With failed attempts to find his way alone,
He strives by grace to make such peace his own.

And strangely I’ve not yet arrived at this
Path’s end God’s sent me down. It’s strange, for bliss
Is mine not when I’m strong nor travel’s fair.
It’s mine when I am weak and God is there.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Why I’m a Christian

He’s Won Me Over

It is true I was raised in a Christian home, for which I am very thankful, but that’s not mainly why I call myself a Christ follower.  There is one reason I follow Jesus, and that reason is because he’s completely won me over.  No one who ever lived in the history of the world even comes close to him.  I’ve studied the prophets and leaders of other religions, and they simply don’t do it for me.  They’re as wicked as the “heathen” they intend to convert, and a lot of times more so.  Even Peter or Moses or Abraham, men remembered for having great faith and for being godly, don’t really do it for me.  That is, I wouldn’t follow their God for their sake.  No, it’s this Jesus who’s completely won my trust.

No One’s Ever Spoken Like This Man

We read in the gospel of John that at one point in Jesus’ life the Pharisees (the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) sent soldiers to arrest Jesus, and when they returned empty handed, the Pharisees asked them, “Well, where is he?  Why didn’t you bring him?”  To which the soldiers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:45-46).  And they didn’t have a clue as to how right they were.

What was it that the soldiers heard Jesus say that hindered them from arresting him and bringing him back to the Pharisees?  Maybe they heard Jesus’ completely open-ended invitation in the temple: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).  Realize to whom he was offering this invitation.  He was offering eternal, completely soul-satisfying life to the very Pharisees who were trying desperately to procure his death.  He was offering unending fullness of joy to the very soldiers who had been sent to arrest him.  And all that without condition.  Without bitterness.  All you have to do in order to drink the water he offers is to be thirsty and then come to him.  He does the rest.  The Pharisees could have come and could have drunk, and he would have filled them.  The soldiers could have come and drunk, and he would have filled them.  Astounding.  This means, of course, that you, too, can come and drink, and he will fill you.  Perhaps you’ve mocked him, cursed his name, or worse.  Yet there he is, inviting you to come.  That is not human.  That is divine.  No human being, naturally speaking, is like that.  Truly no one ever spoke like this man.

I Believe their Testimony

So in the gospels we have the historical, eyewitness testimony of people, like the apostle John, who saw and heard Jesus do and say these things.  They’re witnesses.  Of course, you must choose whether to believe them or not.  However, no one can simply dismiss them without at least hearing them out.  Have you heard them out?  Have you at least given Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John a chance?  Do you buy their testimony regarding this Jesus?  After examining their claims and comparing the Jesus they describe with the leaders of other religions, I’m completely convinced.

I’ve Come, Tasted, Believed, Received, and Drunk

And yet, if I stopped there—with a mere mental consent to the truth of who the person of Jesus was—I would miss out on salvation entirely.  That is, it would be possible for me to accept this eyewitness account of the utter uniqueness of Jesus without coming to him and drinking from him.  I have a feeling that’s what the soldiers did.  They realized—because they heard him speak—that he was different.  He wasn’t like any other religious leader who had come before him.  He was in a category all his own.  Yet, it seems like that’s all the further they went.  They accepted him as true, yet they didn’t accept his invitation to come and drink.  Accepting the invitation makes all the difference.  Likewise you may read the gospels and realize—because you hear and believe the record they contain—that this Jesus is completely different.  Yet it may be that, even so, you’re not willing to come and drink the water of life he so freely offers you.

What does it mean to “come to Jesus and drink” (John 7:37)?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  Coming to Jesus carries with it the idea of drawing near to Jesus.  Are you moving toward Jesus?  Are you seeking him out?  Do you want to be near to him?  God says that he draws near to those who draw near to him (James 4:8).  The opposite would be moving away from Jesus, shunning him, rejecting him.

So what does it mean to drink?  Jesus talks this way a lot.  Don’t get tripped up by this kind of language.  In other places Jesus says that he is bread, and he says that we can come to him and eat and drink him (John 6:48-58).  What does that mean?  Right after offering his invitation in the temple that all could come to him and drink, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).  “Eating the bread of life” and “drinking the water of life that Jesus offers” means to believe in Jesus.  Time and time again accepting the bread of life or drinking living water is explicitly connected with believing in Jesus.

OK, great, so what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?  Isn’t that a little ambiguous?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  The apostle John says, “[T]o all who receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (John 1:12).  That is a very important verse.  In that verse “receiving Jesus” and “believing in him” are paralleled.  Grammatically, the phrase “who believed in his name” explains the phrase “who received him.”  It would be like saying, “To all who received [Jesus], that is, to all who believed in his name….”  So believing in Jesus and receiving him are like terms.  When you do one, you are doing the other.  So far we have eating, drinking, believing, and receiving, and I’m saying they’re all different ways of saying the same thing.

Now, my point is not to be cute or clever with words.  I’m hungry for truth here.  I want to understand what in the world Jesus is talking about.  My conclusion, then, is that the Bible uses a variety of terminology to describe the process of coming to Christ.  You come to him.  You move toward him and not away from him, and you’re willing to leave behind where you currently are to get to where he is.  You eat of him as if he were bread; that is, he becomes your sustenance.  He becomes what your soul longs for just like bread is what your body longs for.  You drink of him.  That is, he becomes more needful to you than a cool glass of water on a hot day.  He is your refreshment.  He is your satisfaction.  You believe in him.  Your faith is in him.  You trust him.  He speaks, and from the depths of your being you shout, “Truth!”  And then even upon threat of death or public humiliation, the fire of conviction burns hot within your soul, and you don’t turn back.  You receive him.  That is, you accept him.  You welcome him in.  You bid him come.  You don’t stiff arm him or ignore him.  You want him to come and be near to you.

Those are just a few of the ways that the Bible talks about the exact same thing.

Quick Recap

My point so far is this: I’ve examined the New Testament writers’ testimony regarding Jesus, and I’m sold.  Are you?  But not only am I intellectually convinced concerning Jesus, he’s won my trust, my admiration, my love, my life.  He’s done all that because I’ve “tasted” him.  I’ve “drunk him in.”  I’ve “believed” and “received” him.  I’ve “embraced” him and “cleaved” to him.  He’s it, and I will not be satisfied with any other.  What about you?

It Will Cost You Everything to Have Jesus

I would not leave you ignorant, dear person who’s still reading this.  Accepting Jesus’ invitation to come to him (and drink and eat and believe in him and receive him), is a very weighty matter.  Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).  If you come to the point in your life in which it’s as clear as crystal to you that Jesus is the way, and if you desperately realize your deep thirst and your heart yearns to drink of the water of life that Jesus freely offers, then know that coming to him will cost you your life.  To bear one’s own cross means to die like Jesus died.  Are you willing to die to yourself?  Are you willing to renounce the half-baked pleasures of worldly fame, and job security, and a fat retirement account, and sex, and public approval, and all the other small pleasures this life might afford you so that you might experience eternal, joy-filled life forever with this Jesus?  Are you willing to die to your pride, and to your own self-exaltation, and to your will, and to your way so that you might live for this Jesus?  You must count the cost.

And if you’re willing, something awaits you that is 10,000 times greater than anything you’ll ever give up.  Jesus says to the person who comes to him and drinks, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).  You don’t just get one satisfying drink when you come to Jesus; you get an eternally satisfying spring embedded within you that will never run dry.  Jesus was referring to his Spirit coming to dwell within those who drink (that is, those who believe, and come to him, and eat of him, and receive him).  The Spirit of the risen Jesus comes and abides with and within that person.  The Spirit of the living God who is the source of all existence and of all joy and of all good takes up residence in the one who comes to (and eats and drinks and believes in) Jesus.  Neither pornography, nor a master’s degree, nor a new smart phone, nor a beautiful wife can even come close to knowing Jesus because he lives in your heart.

May you not only intellectually see the incredible beauty of Jesus, but may you know him personally.  And may he be to you a spring of “living water” more satisfying than anything this world has to offer.

Unrestrained

As parched earth thirsts for long-belated rain
Beneath a cloudless sky and searing heat,
Where grassland now has turned to desert plain
And even scorpions long since did retreat—
As cancer’s victim yearns with anxious hope
For medicine of men to find a cure,
With forecasts grim and cures beyond man’s scope,
And nothing, though he fight, might he procure—
As moon desires sun’s resplendent rays
That she might bask in glory’s golden glow
And sing without restraint the sun’s due praise
While her black rock illumines white as snow—
So, too, sweet Jesus, do I long for you.
Your presence fills dead souls and makes them new.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Welcome

God is so good.  Not only does he pull men up out of the miry pit, he also puts “a new song in [their] mouths, a song of praise to… God” (Psalm 40:3a).  So God’s salvation is not merely a saving us from something.  It’s a saving us to something.  He saves us from the pit, but that’s not all.  He gives us a song to sing.  A new song.  A song of praise to him for his greatness.  And those songs have a specific end that they are to accomplish.  “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3b).  When the God of the universe pulls a man up out of the pit, that man can’t help but sing.  And when he does, people can’t help but overhear.  And when people overhear the unbridled praises of a man to his God at his awesome work, the end result is their fear and trust in that same great, redeeming, song-giving God.  May my words here be songs to your ears.  May the result be a sense of wonder at the greatness of God in saving sinners and a sense of hope that he’s worth trusting in yourself.