Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

6. Gospel - Understanding Christ's Story

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
 

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Understanding that Jesus is our absolute Lord, Messiah, and King, and we are his servants and friends.The word "gospel" occurs 98 times in the New Testament, but if you were to ask the average man or woman, he or she probably would not be able to define it.

"Gospel" in the Bible actually means "good news."

So what is this Good News about Jesus? If you listened to some angry preachers, you would think that the gospel is that you are a sinner and condemned to hell without Jesus. While that may be true, that is bad news, not good news! So what is the good news?

Let's examine some of the elements of the Good News or the Gospel.

1. God Loves Us

The first piece of amazing Good News is that God loves us. He is not in an angry rage. Yes, our sins separated us from him, but he loves us! He is willing to go to the limit to rescue and help us. He isn't so preoccupied with running multiple galaxies that he can't be bothered. He loves us. If anything is good news, this is! In Lesson 5 we spent considerable time examining God's love for us.

2. Jesus Is God in the Flesh

The second piece of amazing Good News is that Jesus is not just a great teacher and honored prophet. He is God in the flesh, a truth called "the incarnation."5The Jews considered this blasphemous. Even today, some people shy away from it. But the Bible is clear: Jesus is the divine Son of God.

It started when Jesus was conceived in a virgin -- not by a human husband, but by the Holy Spirit. The angel said to Mary:

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35)

Jesus was born into a poor and humble family, so poor that Jesus' first cradle was a cattle manger. But the night he was born, an angel choir announced his birth:

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

Though Jesus did not proclaim publically that he was the Messiah or Christ until the end of his ministry, during his trial this interchange took place:

"The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'

'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'" (Matthew 26:63-64)

After his resurrection, one of his disciples, Thomas, suddenly realizes who Jesus really is, and responds: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Many times the New Testament acknowledges his divinity,6 his unique relationship as Son to the Heavenly Father. Christian theologians call this relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit7the Trinity or tri-unity, the three-in-one.8

The point here is that Jesus is God in the flesh. When he speaks and teaches, he does so with "all authority on heaven and on earth."9But that Jesus would come to earth at all is a huge statement about God's love for us.

3. Jesus Atoned for Our Sins on the Cross

The third piece of amazing Good News is that Jesus' death on the cross was not just the tragic martyrdom of a great man. Since Jesus was the Son of God -- fully divine -- his death provided atonement or payment for our sins. He bore our sins on him and suffered their logical penalty: physical and spiritual death and separation from God the Father.

Seven hundred years before Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah foretold this mission:

"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows....
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed....
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:4-5, 12)

Jesus talked about his death in clear terms:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

St. Peter put it this way:

"For Christ died for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18a)

Though it is difficult for us to understand, the Bible teaches that Jesus served as a substitute or stand-in for us. Jesus did not bear his own sins -- he was sinless -- but he bore the punishment that justice requires for our sins.10That is the meaning of the cross. It is terrible to contemplate, but Good News in the sense that we are forgiven of our sin and guilt. Nothing stands between us and God now. We are free!

Last Supper -- Lord's Supper

Ever since earliest times, we Christians have remembered Jesus' atoning death for our sins in a unique way, in a sacrament or ordinance known as the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice) together. It commemorates Jesus' last meal with his disciples (Matthew 26:26-29). The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Today, Christians partake of the Lord's Supper in small, informal gatherings in homes as well as in highly formal settings in huge cathedrals, and all in between. Different Christian traditions call it by different names -- communion, the Lord's Table, Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, Mass -- and have different customs about how to partake of it. But on two points we all agree:

  • The Bread reminds us that Jesus' body was broken or given for us.
  • The Cup reminds us that Jesus' blood was shed for us.

We are never to forget or take lightly Jesus' sacrifice for our sins.11It is Good News!

4. Jesus Was Raised from the Dead

The fourth piece of amazing Good News is that after Jesus died on the cross, he rose from the dead.

Jesus was not in a coma. He really died. He had been speared in the side to verify his death. Then he was wrapped in grave clothes and placed in a rock tomb, the entrance to which was closed by a very large stone.

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!'" (Luke 24:1-6)

Afterward Jesus appeared to his disciples and many other people. This was not done in secret. There were many credible witnesses, even twenty-five years after the fact. The Apostle Paul wrote:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

Jesus was with his disciples for about 40 days after the resurrection. Then Jesus left them in what is called "the Ascension." Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came upon the fledgling church on the Day of Pentecost, which we will discuss in Lesson 7.

Doubters have long disputed the resurrection. "Dead people don't come back to life," they say. But those who have examined the evidence carefully have found that Jesus' resurrection makes more sense than any other explanation. It was a miracle, pure and simple. To say that it is impossible for God to do miracles is silly.

The implications of this are powerful.

  • Jesus is the only founder of a major religion who is claimed to have been raised from the dead. This sets him apart from all others. God has authenticated his teaching and his death for our sins by raising him from the dead.
  • Jesus has conquered death, our ancient enemy. Though we humans die, we follow One who was raised from the dead. Our promise is that our bodies, too, will be raised from the dead on the Last Day.12
  • Jesus is alive. He is present with us today by his Spirit.

5. Jesus Lives in Us by His Spirit

The fifth piece of amazing Good News is that Jesus lives within us by his Spirit. We will explore this more fully in Lesson 7. But for now, rejoice that God has made his home in you. Jesus said:

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23)

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So what is the Good News, the Gospel? We have talked about five audacious claims of the Gospel:

  1. God loves you and me.
  2. Jesus is God in the flesh.
  3. Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins.
  4. Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day.
  5. Jesus lives in us by his Spirit

One verse that we looked at already sums up the central truths of this amazing Good News very well:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

That, indeed, is Good News! That is the Gospel!

Prayer

Father, thank you for this Good News. Help me to understand it better. Give me joy in this Good News. And help me to share it with others. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, NIV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Read aloud five times today's memory verse (John 3:16) and write it on a card.
  2. Discuss. What does "Gospel" mean?
  3. Discuss. What does "incarnation" mean? Why do you think Jesus had to come in the flesh? Why do you think the meaning of Christmas has been so distorted by our culture?
  4. Discuss. How can Jesus be God? What is Jesus' relationship to the Father and the Spirit?
  5. Discuss. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Why do our sins make us deserving of spiritual death? Who was Jesus that he could take the punishment that we deserve?
  6. Discuss. Why do you think Jesus was raised from the dead? What are the implications of the resurrection? Why do you think the meaning of Easter has been so distorted by our culture?
  7. Discuss the Lord's Supper, sometimes called Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass. What is it supposed to remind us of? How is the Lord's Supper practiced in the church you are attending? Have you partaken of the Lord's Supper yet? Why or why not?
  8. Discuss how your quiet time with God is coming. Are you experiencing any problems here? Have you finished reading one of the Gospels yet?
  9. Discuss how you are forgiving those who have hurt you? Have you been able to forgive them in your heart yet? If not, what seems to be the problem?
  10. Review your memory verses from Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9), Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32), Lesson 3 (1 John 1:9), Lesson 4 (John 13:34-35), and Lesson 5 (1 John 4:7-8). Say them together with your mentor without looking at your cards.
  11. Pray for each other. Share with your mentor your needs to pray about and ask your mentor how you should pray for him or her. Then spend a few minutes praying for each other aloud.
  12. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

5. You can learn more about this in my online Bible study, "Christmas Incarnation" (www.jesuswalk.com/christmas-incarnation/), also available as a book.

6. For example, Philippians 2:6.

7. Matthew 28:19.

8. For more on this, read my article, "Four Reasons Why I Believe in the Trinity," Joyful Heart Newsletter, August 22, 2000 (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/trinity.htm).

9. Matthew 28:18.

10. You can learn more about the meaning of the crucifixion in two online Bible studies, "Behold, the Lamb of God" (www.jesuswalk.com/lamb/), also available as a book;  and "The Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross" (www.jesuswalk.com/7-last-words/), also available as a book.

11. You can learn more about the Lord's Supper in my online Bible study, "The Lord's Supper: Eucharist and Communion Meditations for Disciples" (www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/), also available as a book.

12. You can learn more about the resurrection in my online Bible study, "Resurrection and Easter Faith" (www.jesuswalk.com/resurrection/), also available as a book.


JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
New Christian, New Believer Discipleship Training and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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