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? Enters 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.
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.
- Are you ready to stand before God right now as you are? Why or why not?
- 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?
- How does Jesus provide a person with the security of being accepted before God?
- If someone offered you a joy 10,000 times greater than anything this world could imagine, what would you do to get it?