part 7

In these readings, take note of the word "gospel."

Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

Mark 1:14,15 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Acts 8:25,40 So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. ... But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

Acts 15:6-11 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."

Acts 20:18-24 "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God."

This evening I want to challenge you to think about something you likely are sure you understood a long time ago. In fact, all of us are sure we have a complete understanding of this subject. There has been no need to think about it, because we understood all there was to know about it. There was no need to discuss it because everything was settled about this subject a long, long time ago.

This evening I want you to think with me for a few minutes about the gospel.

  1. The basic meaning of the word "gospel" is "good news."
    1. Personally, I wish for our sakes today that the Greek word for "gospel" had been translated "good news." The concept of good news is familiar; the word "gospel" is a strange word to most of us.
      1. Outside of a religious context, do you ever use the word "gospel" in any other context?
      2. For most of us, the word "gospel" is strictly a religious word used only when we use our "church language." We just assume when we use the word other people know what we are talking about.
    2. When we tell someone we want to teach the "gospel" to them, many of them cringe. In fact, some people will do anything they can to prevent us from sharing the "gospel" with them. They may say, "I don't want to talk about church things," or, "I don't want to talk about religion."
      1. Do you understand the why of that?
      2. The word means good news, but many people do not expect good news when we tell them we want to discuss the gospel with them.
      3. The truth is that when people discuss the "gospel" with others, they might hear anything. Would you like to tell someone what to expect in such a discussion?
      4. Consider some of the ways we use the concept of gospel:
        1. Good news--you are going to hell!
        2. Good news--you are going to held accountable for every mistake you make!
        3. Good news--you cannot escape God's judgment after death!
        4. Good news--you should be living in a sense of guilt and despair!
      5. Is there any way we would consider any of those statements good news?
        1. "Good news--God is going to stomp all over you, and there is nothing you can do about it because you are no match for God!" That is good news?
        2. "Good news--God is keeping a list of your mistakes, and you can never fool Him!" That is good news?
        3. "Good news--after you die you are going to suffer so much that you will wish you could die again--but you can't!" That is good news?
        4. "Good news--there is coming a time when you are going to pay for every wrong you have done--without exception!" That is good news?

  2. Then what is the good news?
    1. The problem:
      1. All of us are very weak, and our own worst enemy.
      2. We--all of us--do a horrible job of distinguishing between right and wrong, good and evil, what is kind and what is mean, being compassionate and being judgmental, and showing mercy instead of demanding justice.
      3. So often when we face a complex situation we just do not know what to do.
      4. Yet, when we are in need, we all want kindness, compassion, and mercy.
      5. If we are compared to God in any way, we just do not measure up at all.
      6. We are trapped by our own mistakes, and there is nothing we can do of ourselves to get ourselves out of the trap we created as a consequence of our own mistakes.
    2. The good news:
      1. God is not our enemy! As undesirable and "yukkie" as we are, God wants us.
      2. God does not merely want us, but He loves us. And He has worked very hard for thousands of years and has been very patient to solve our problem.
      3. He loves us so much that He sent us Jesus to enable us to do all the things we could not possibly do without him.
      4. Jesus is the forever symbol of how real, how genuine, and how deep God's love is for us. When you look at Jesus, you see in flesh and blood God's love for us.
      5. God wants to forgive us and has done everything necessary for us to receive forgiveness.
      6. The good news: who we were does not have to determine who we are; we can be cleansed; we can start over; we can be released from the trap and be forgiven.
      7. This can happen for any one regardless of who they are or what they have done because a loving God is on our side and wants for us to be forgiven.

  3. We need to be very careful not to give people the wrong impression of God.
    1. Are we ultimately responsible for our choices and behavior? Absolutely!
      1. Must we assume responsibility for the way we live our lives? Surely!
      2. Must we seek God's will and obey him? Certainly!
      3. However, the truth of those statements does not mean that God is our enemy.
    2. Speaking as a parent, my children must be responsible for their choices and behavior.
      1. When they lived with me, I made it no secret that I expected obedience.
      2. After they leave home, I hope they will continue to make choices on the basis of the principles that I taught them
      3. However, in no way does that mean I did not love them as children or do not love them now.
      4. In no way does that make me their enemy.
    3. We are not declaring we do not need to obey God when we declare the truth that God is not our enemy.
      1. We really need to understand that stressing people's responsibility to come to God is not declaring the core of the gospel, the good news.
      2. The core of the good news is that God loves us and wants to help us even if our lives are a mess.
      3. The proof of God's commitment to us is Jesus Christ.

  4. God specializes in what seems to us to be lost causes.
    1. The night that Jesus was tried by the Jews, Peter (Jesus' most committed friend who vowed he would never deny Jesus) cursed and swore the he had never known Jesus (Matthew 26:74).
      1. If someone treated us that way, we would be very angry!
      2. Less than two months later (50 days), it was this same man God used to preach the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that God made Jesus Lord and Christ in the city he denied Jesus.
        1. People simply do not do things that way!
        2. Did Peter repent (turn himself around)? Surely!
        3. The man who was a fearful coward the night of Jesus' betrayal, publicly in broad daylight stood up for God's work in Jesus on the day of Pentecost.
    2. Let me call your attention to a statement Paul made (a statement very familiar to most of you).
      1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
      1. Prior to being a Christian, Paul was a very religious man, but a very mean man--his religious perspective made him mean.
      2. He said of himself when offering his defense before King Agrippa in Acts 26:9-11:
        So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
        1. By our standards, the pre-Christian Paul was an obsessed hate monger, not a nice man.
        2. He did many things hostile to the name of Jesus; he put Christians in Jewish prisons; he encouraged the executions of Christians; he used physical force (pain!) in his attempt to get Christians to blaspheme; he was furiously enraged at Christians; he was willing to go outside of Palestine to arrest Christians.
      3. In the statement to Timothy, he described himself at that time as a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor.
      4. To put his point in our words, Paul said, "If God could save me, God can save anyone."
      5. He even said that this was one of the reasons God forgave Paul.
      6. That is how serious God is about saving people!

  5. I want to share a biblical example with you that I have thought about for a few years.
    1. The example I call you attention to is found in a letter of Paul's to Corinthian Christians we know as 1 Corinthians 7:21-24.
      Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
      1. The slavery discussed in the New Testament and American slavery years ago were quite different in some specific ways.
        1. First century slavery was not racial--you did not have one race serving another race.
        2. A person could become a slave in many ways--failure to pay debts, birth, a P.O.W. in a Roman war are some examples.
        3. It was not unusual for people who were slaves to be well educated and from the highest levels of society.
          1. Such people were commonly bought to be household slaves.
          2. In a world that very much sanctioned fornication, adultery, and homosexuality, it was not unusual for slaves to be expected to serve in sexual roles.
          3. Slaves were property; to refuse a order from a member of the owner's family could mean harsh penalties including death.
      2. Paul said if you are a Christian who is a slave, do not make the goal of your life escaping slavery.
        1. He said that your circumstances as a slave was not a hindrance to God's purposes.
        2. He said you could be a Christian even if you had no control over what happened to you.
      3. That is how much God is on your side!
    2. "Does it make you nervous to realize how we today might misuse that example?" Certainly!
      1. Paul was not talking about justifying our behavior.
      2. Paul was talking about circumstances we have no control over.
      3. He said that even if a Christian was in circumstances he or she could not control, he or she had no choice in, he or she still belonged to God and could was useful to God.
    3. That is how much God loves us and wants to save us!

The issue is not and never has been, "Can God save me?" The issue is, "Do you want God's forgiveness? Do you want to belong to God?"

Because of God's acts in Jesus, it is every person's choice! That is the good news!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 19 March 2006

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