The Gospel

A Message of Hope
Introduction
Creation
Curse
Covenants
Christ/Cross
Church
Crisis
Cure

There are a number of fundamental questions with which most of us wrestle at some time or another on the journey of life, particularly when that journey nears its end: Where do we come from, and why are we here? Is there a purpose to life and human existence, and if so, what is it? Is death the final end for human beings, or is there something beyond death? Why do we find so much evil, pain, and suffering in this world—wars, oppression, murder, poverty, etc.—alongside the many good and wonderful things that we also experience in it—from beautiful sunsets to a good laugh with friends, from the joy of momentous, life-changing things like the words “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” to simple, everyday things like good hamburgers and milkshakes? Indeed, why is the world the way that it is at present? Was there ever a time, and will there ever be a time, when things were or will be different than they are now?

Throughout history, many different answers have been proposed to these questions. This, then, leads to a second set of questions. Are any of the proposed answers trustworthy and reliable? Do any of them correspond to reality? If there are and if they do, do they provide any well-founded hope for humanity? A little over two thousand years ago a community of Jewish men and women boldly proclaimed—some at the cost of their own lives—that unlike the stories of other peoples, the story of their people does indeed correspond to reality, is in fact reliable, and truly does offer a dependable hope not only for their own people, but for all humanity. What was that story, and why did these people proclaim it with such confidence and self-sacrificial conviction?

The story can be divided into seven basic chapters:

Chapter 1: Creation

According to these Jews, the universe in which we find ourselves consists of the “heavens and the earth,” which came into existence “in the beginning” at the command of one God, the all-powerful Creator (Gen. 1:1). As the one who made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, this God is also the one who owns the creation, who determines its purpose, who has ultimate authority over it, and who decides what may or may not be done in it. When God first made the world, he was very pleased with what he had made. Everything was in its proper order and arrangement according to his will, and everything worked as it was meant to work. There was no violence or disease, and there was no disorder or death. Everything was good in God’s sight. Although God took delight in all of his creation, he was especially pleased with humanity, whom he created uniquely to enjoy a special relationship with him, to serve and worship him as priests, and to represent him on the earth as delegated authorities. God placed the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, in a beautiful place called the Garden of Eden, from where they were to multiply and fill the earth. In the beginning, all was well. In the opening chapter of the story, then, we encounter a world full of life, goodness, and abundance, and a creation free of evil, death, and decay.

Chapter 2: Curse

The next chapter of the story, however, is not so happy. Chapter 2 explains the origins of the problem that plagues humanity and all creation. When God made the Garden of Eden, he filled it with many beautiful, fruit-bearing trees, which were to provide Adam and Eve with delicious food to enjoy. Of these trees, however, two had a special status, as represented by their position in the middle of the garden: The “tree of life,” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). The tree of life was God’s chosen means for keeping human beings continually renewed with life; so long as people had access to this tree, they would not die. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on the other hand, was off limits; so long as people acknowledged God’s authority by refraining from eating the fruit from this tree, they would be granted continued access to the tree of life. To eat from this second tree was to bring death. God had made a glorious world for humanity to enjoy, but this enjoyment was a privilege and gift, not an entitlement. From the outset God made it clear that failure to recognize and honor him as God results in punishment; disobedience and rebellion lead to death. If Adam and Eve would humbly submit to God’s command, they would enjoy life in God’s glorious presence forever; if they did not, they would die and be banished from the land of the living. Which path would they choose? The path of life, or the path of death? The cloud of weeping, mourning, and grief that casts its shadow over grave sites and funeral processions around the world each day tells the answer. 

Chapter 3: Covenants

However, the situation is not hopeless. Although Adam and Eve’s disobedience ushered lawlessness, disorder, and death into the world, all was not lost. Despite humanity’s sin, God loves and is deeply committed to the world he made. This leads us to the next chapter of the story, which has to do with God’s promise. After the tragic events of Chapter 2 (which are sometimes referred to as “the Fall”), God planted a seed of promise and hope, one that he would faithfully water and cultivate over generations, and concerning which he would give increasing clarity and detail through his choice of, and dealings with, a nation appointed by him to serve as his instrument of salvation: The Jewish people. In Chapter 3, we learn of God’s promise to fix humanity’s problem and his plan to overturn death, cleanse the world of evil, and restore creation to its proper order. How would he accomplish this? By means of a particular nation—Israel—and a particular king—a “Messiah” or “Christ”—who would one day arise out of that nation. In this chapter rays of hope emerge out of the darkness as we discover both the depth of God’s commitment to his plan and promises, and his eagerness for us to be sure of that commitment. Not only does God make promises, we find out, but through the formation of certain covenants (a means of forging strong alliances and sealing loyalty between various individuals or groups in the ancient world) he assures us of their dependability in the strongest terms possible. Covenant promises have the weight and backing of a solemn oath behind them, and therefore they are completely trustworthy and reliable. This is especially true when the one who swears the oath is the Creator himself. Indeed, God has promised, and therefore there is hope for Israel and the rest of humankind as well.

Chapter 4: Christ/Cross

As wonderful and marvelous as the promises of Chapter 3 are, however, they do not come to pass immediately. God has a work of faith and trust that he wants to accomplish in his people’s hearts through the process of delayed fulfillment. As years, decades, and centuries went on, many in Israel struggled: Would God really do what he had said he would do? Were the promises truly reliable? Were they really worth suffering or even dying for (as many Jews had)? After many years of delay and testing, the page finally turns to Chapter 4, when a Jew named Jesus, or Yeshua (Hebrew), from a small town called Nazareth, appears on the scene in the first century and creates quite a stir in Israel. Many people were awed by Jesus’ life, teachings, claims, and miracles; some believed that he was the coming king whom God had promised. Others, though, were repulsed or felt threated by Jesus—some even to the point of wanting him killed. And killed he was—through a gripping twist and turn of events that involved both Gentiles and Jews. However, after Jesus’ death by crucifixion on a cross—the most humiliating and agonizing form of capital punishment practiced at the time—something incredible happened: Jesus’ disciples began boldly declaring that their Master had been raised from the dead and had appeared to them in a resurrected body full of life and glory, which they themselves had seen and touched. After being raised to life, Jesus explained to his disciples the significance of his death: In accordance with the principles of Israel’s sacrificial system, his death was to be interpreted as a sacrificial offering by means of which full reconciliation between God and human beings is now possible. Death had come into the world through sin, and therefore, in order for the door of death to be closed, the problem of sin first had to be dealt with through the forgiveness of sins. As for the problem of death, this will find its resolution in the future, when Jesus comes to the earth a second time to judge the world, restore the nation of Israel, and raise his followers from Israel and all nations from the dead. In other words, in faithfulness to his promises, God sent the Messiah a first time in order to suffer on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and, in the future, will send him back to the earth to accomplish the rest of what he has promised. Jesus’ own resurrection is a first-fruits proof and evidence that God does in fact have power to overturn death as he had solemnly vowed, and is a confirmation and guarantee that the promises of the covenants are in fact true and will in fact be fulfilled at Jesus’ return. Chapter 4, then, could be summarized as, “Promises Confirmed.”

Chapter 5: Church

This brings us to Chapter 5, in which we see Jesus’ disciples transformed from a band of cowards who had abandoned their leader in his hour of suffering, into bold witnesses ready to die proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and the biblical storyline as the one true hope for Israel and the nations. The Jewish story and hope, they declared, does in fact accord with reality, as confirmed by Jesus’ resurrection. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commissioned his followers to go out into all the world to tell people about God’s offer of the forgiveness of sins on the basis of what happened on the cross. They were to call people from Israel and all the nations to repent of their sins, to humbly place their faith in him, and to allow him to clean them from the inside out in preparation for the Day of his glorious return. Those who did so would be granted a place in the promised Kingdom of God, in the promised resurrection from the dead, and in the promised restoration of creation. Those who refused his offer of mercy, however, would be excluded from these things; they too would one day be raised from the dead and receive resurrected bodies, but ones fit not for the glory and beauty of the Messiah’s coming Kingdom, but for the fires of eternal punishment. Jesus knew that his disciples could not fulfill his commission or become inwardly changed by mere human strength, and therefore, after ascending to the height of the heavens, he poured out the Spirit of God upon them. The Spirit would be their source of life, strength, power, and transformation as they proclaimed the hope of Israel to the nations, formed communities of Jesus followers, and suffered as representatives of the one who himself suffered for the salvation of the world. Chapter 5, then, is about the empowering, cleansing, and preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus’ people, who, collectively, make up his assembly, or church.

Chapter 6: Crisis

When we come to Chapter 6, we are confronted with a very sobering fact: The window of mercy that God has opened to the world will not stay open forever. Can you imagine a world in which violence, murder, injustice, and death go on forever? God cannot, and he has a Day in store when he will remove from his creation these and all other things that he considers to be evil and a corruption of the good world he made in the beginning. In the biblical reckoning of time, a new day starts in the evening, moves through the night, and then gives way to daylight in the morning. This is how it will be at the arrival of what Jesus and other Jews of his day referred to as the “end of the age” (see, e.g., Mt. 28:20). The days leading up to and including Jesus’ return will officially mark the transition from this present “evil age” (Gal. 1:4) to the glorious “age to come” (Mk. 10:30). This transition will begin with the earth entering into a new time of darkness—a period of history that will at one point witness the rise of a Satanically-empowered ruler who demands the worship of the earth’s inhabitants, and which will be characterized by new heights of evil, turmoil, distress, lawlessness, cosmic disturbance, and persecution of Jews and followers of Jesus. As the earth moves deeper into the night, these things that are causing the earth to shake will only increase in intensity. Like a woman in labor, the earth will experience increasingly difficult contractions as Jesus’ return draws nearer and nearer. Jesus gave clear warning that those of his people who are living in those days will be tested to the uttermost. The pressures and temptations will be fierce, and patient endurance—realized only by the help of the Holy Spirit—will be required. Eventually, however, the darkness will give way to the light with the arrival of dawn. Waiting at the end of the labor pains is the joy of a new baby. That is the glorious subject of Chapter 7, to which we now turn.

Chapter 7: Cure

Rejoicing and celebration…renewal and restoration…perfect justice and order…life and resurrection…salvation and deliverance…finally, the Day dawns and the baby is born. With the glorious return of Jesus and the arrival of the age to come, the story reaches its grand and glorious culmination. When we turn the page to the long-awaited Chapter 7, we see every promise that God made in the covenants fulfilled: The dead are raised; the Jewish people are regathered; Israel is restored and all the nations worship the one true God; the Kingdom of God is established on the earth with its headquarters in Jerusalem; a king from David’s line is sitting on his throne in Zion; all creation is renewed; the earth is returned to an Edenic condition; God dwells on the earth with his people; the heavens and the earth are purged of all Satanic influence and evil powers; all warfare is ended; hostility in the animal kingdom is finished; all the wrong things are made right. This is the glorious future that awaits those who hold fast to the promises of the covenants and remain loyal to Jesus to the finish by the Spirit’s power. The King of glory will return on the clouds of heaven, accompanied by countless thousands of angels, and death will be no more. This is a story and promise worth living and dying for; this is our hope.