Monday, August 14, 2017
What is the Gospel? There is gospel music, gospel rap, gospel tracts, gospel cruises, gospel yoga. There are all kinds of gospel things, and all the while people are asking, what is the gospel again?
It's easy to take the gospel for granted. It's easy to assume that we all know what we are talking about when we throw that word around. But it's not something we should take for granted, because it's really not in our nature to believe this kind of thing. It's our nature to believe that we are basically good people who need a little bit of assistance - a little bit of instruction. Not to believe that we are helpless, hopeless spiritually dead sinners who need to be saved and rescued.
That's what the Gospel is - that's what the Gospel does - it saves and rescues sinners from sin, death, and the devil, and gives forgineness, life, and salvation to all who believe. That's why the Gospel is good news - and why it is needed now more than ever in this bad news world.
Some of you may remember the old bumper sticker - Jesus is the Answer. That was fine, but I liked the bumper sticker that came afterward which some wise-acre agnostic came up with. That one said -What is the Question?
Whether they meant it or not, that's actually a very good question. If Jesus is the answer, what is the question? What is Jesus there to do? If we need to be saved, what do we need to be saved from, and what do we need to be saved for? We can't just say Jesus is the answer without first knowing what the question is - what our real problem is. Our real problem goes much deeper than just not having a personal relatinship with God. And by the way - everyone has a personal relationship with God - the question is not if we have one - but what kind of relationship do we have? Is it as a moral judge or as a heavenly father?
Our real problem is that we are all natural born sinners. We came into this world as rebels and enemies of God - and we will leave this world that way unless God works a miracle in our hearts and in our lives. That's the bad news - we're all going to hell in a handbasket if God doesn't intervene for us somehow.
The good news is that God the Father looked down in love upon His fallen creation and sent forth His one and only Son, in order to redeem fallen sinners under the curse of sin and death. By His perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection for us in our place, we are made right with God the Father, and now forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and everlasting salvation are available to us and all who believe in Him.
That's the Gospel. That's the good news. The term that the New Testament uses, euangelion, originally meant good tidings after a victory in battle. After the battle, the victorious captain would send a herald in his name to the city to announce his triumph. The greek word nike means victory, and euangelion means good news, the good report that the herald brings to the people. Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that in all these things we have the nike - we have the victory through Him who loved us.
You know the picture of the two people kissing in Times Square after victory is announced in Europe? It's one of the most famous photographs in the world. It's a great example of the power of good news. Two total strangers embrace and kiss in celebration after hearing the good news that the war was won. Total strangers who have nothing in common become bonded together as family. That's what good news does. That's the power of the Gospel.
You know why the church in America is so scattered and all over the map and not together these days? Because Jesus isn't at the center. Because the Gospel isn't the focus. Because the good news of Jesus death and resurrection for sinners is not preached and taught the way it should be.
A lot of people in America think of God as a kind of elderly grandpa who will give them stuff when they need it. Kind of like a cosmic vending machine - someone to keep us out of trouble and make sure that we all have a good time - some nice guy up in the sky that is part of our life - part of our story somehow.
The truth is - He's not part of our story - we are part of His! He is the One who created us and redeemed us and reconciled us to Himself. He is the One who will come again to restore us and all creation. The very fact that we are even alive is a gracious gift from God - our very existence is a miracle in and of itself. In short - we exist to glorify God.
So don't try to get God to play a part in your story - make sure you play a part in His. And what is His story? It goes something like this ...
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God made a perfect world with land and sea, plants and trees, lakes and ponds, birds and fish, and all kinds of animals. And then He created man and woman on the 6th day as the crown of His creation. It was all very good and He was well pleased.
But then man was rebellious and disobedient and corrupted. Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of the evil one and had to leave the garden under sentence of death, to toil and tarry in a fallen and broken world, as the whole creation was now tainted because of their fall into sin. But God was still with them, and made a promise to them and to His people to one day save them from the evil one. He sent prophets like Moses and Elijah and Isaiah, He sent priests like Samuel and Nathan, He sent kings like David and Solomon - but none of them were able to save God's people.
Maybe for a time they brought change and reform and got people back on the straight and narrow. But none of them could change people's hearts and minds. None of them were pure or perfect or holy enough to do what needed to be done. And just when the situation seemed hopeless and bleak, just when the screen was about to fade to black, God stepped into history and sent forth His one and only Son, from the heights of heaven down to the depths of earth below, to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, in order to redeem and reclaim and restore them once again and bring them back to God. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead for you in your place so that you might be a part of His story of salvation and redemption for the whole world. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
That my friends is the Gospel. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Easter, and Happy Birthday, all rolled into one.
Jesus has come to turn your bad news into His good news - which really is the best news of all.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
It's a similar feeling this year for Lutherans. It's 2017 - the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. There are lots of events and activities going on, special services are being planned, Luther's seal is being waved, and the Battle Hymn of the Reformation is being played. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."
We all know this hymn of course. It is one of the most well-known hymns in church history. But I'm not sure we all know the background of why it was written in the first place.
In the summer of 1527, one of Martin Luther's friends was martyred for teaching the Lutheran faith. In the fall of that year, the plague broke out in Wittenberg which caused much suffering and pain. And then in December, Luther's daughter was born sickly and later died.
It was at this time that Luther went through one of his worst periods of temptation and trial. Most scholars believe that it was in the midst of these difficult circumstance that Luther set out to write "Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) based on Psalm 46.
An early church father named Tertullian once said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." In the same way, suffering and trials are often the crucible from which come great works of literature or art in the church. Luther didn't consider this hymn as a "battle cry of the reformation" as many call it today. For him it was a hymn of comfort and consolation in the midst of great suffering and pain.
In his periods of greatest darkness and despair, Luther knew where to turn, to the love and promises of God in his Savior Jesus Christ. "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble."
"And take they our life, goods, fame, child, or wife,
though these all be gone, our victory has been won,
the kingdom ours remaineth."