HERE'S A LONGER VERSION
Our beliefs as a church begin with the core of the Christian faith - something known as "the gospel".
Take a look at this verse from the Bible - Romans chapter one verse sixteen:
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
The word “gospel” is translated from a Greek word, euanggelion, which means “good news”. It was used by Roman emperors, and it would announce the coming of their reign, which in their estimation, was a tremendous gift to humanity. Ruler after ruler came through the empire proclaiming their ruler-ship as good news, yet each would come and go, and leave things more or less like they found them- or worse.
The Christian gospel is the proclamation of the reign of a ruler that is unlike anything the world has ever seen. It is a message that is profound and life changing, and it is not only for Romans and Jews but for all the nations of the world. It is an invitation to join a country that is above and beyond any political regime; a country that is even above and beyond this world and the existence that we experience here.
Notice the kind of confidence that the Apostle Paul has in this gospel. It is the “power of God”. How can the gospel equal the power of God? Doesn’t this seem a little strange? Shouldn’t the power of God simply be the power of God? How can this “good news” be that very power?
The reason for the equating of the gospel and the power of God is that the gospel message (we’ll define it in a moment) is what God has chosen to be the means for His power to be released in the world. It certainly has no power apart from God, but God has so exclusively limited Himself to working through the gospel that it almost seems that the gospel itself is the power. If the gospel is so powerful and essential, we should define what it is. One of our favorite places to go to answer the question of what the gospel is comes from 1 Corinthians, in it The Apostle Paul writes:
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After 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 Corinthian 15:3-5
Paul grew up in Jewish culture where passing on tradition was of utmost importance. One of the reasons we know our Old Testament has been accurately translated is how the Jews painstakingly copied their biblical manuscripts. For example, they knew exactly how many letters there were in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, also called the Pentateuch. They knew what the middle letter and the middle word of the Torah were. The scribes would count the number of letters from the first one to the middle, and from the back one to the middle. If their count was off by one, they would burn the manuscript and start over. Paul is using Jewish technical language (what I received I passed . . .) to describe the passing on that Christians are to do. They are to be diligently passing on the gospel. Then he defines what that is in a nutshell - “Christ died for sins.”
CHRIST DIED FOR SINS
It is essential that we understand that central to the gospel message is that our king, Jesus, died a sacrificial death in our place, for sins that we committed. We can see right from the start that this is not your ordinary king. Before Jesus is our Lord, He is first our Savior. Jesus Himself proclaimed this in Matthew 20:28. In this verse He says that He came to serve humanity by dying as a “ransom for many.” We, who had been kidnapped by sin and Satan, were rescued and ransomed, by our Savior through His death on the cross.
THAT HE WAS BURIED
He wasn’t faking his death. He really suffered and really died. His heart, which was fully human, really stopped. His lungs, which were just like yours and mine, really ceased to take in air. He was laid in a cold dark tomb. As far as Jesus’ followers knew this was the end of their leader.
AND ON THE THIRD DAY . . . HE APPEARED.
Wait a minute! This is odd. Many a great leader has died for their cause. From William Wallace to Martin Luther King Jr., leaders have died brutal deaths that spurred their followers on to participate in their movement with even greater zeal than before. This leader is different. This leader died, was buried, and rose again as a victor.
As might be expected, many people are skeptical of this claim. Perhaps this is metaphor? Perhaps Christ resurrected spiritually in the hearts of His followers? A dead man rising? Come on. Paul is prepared for this and lets us know that the events that make up the gospel happened in history in front of eyewitnesses. In fact, more than five hundred people were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ.
A few of these eyewitnesses, and one man who had access to eyewitnesses, Luke, wrote about their experiences with Jesus. We call these written records “the Gospels.” They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They make up the first four books of the New Testament. They have often been described as having very long introductions leading up to the main body of their works- the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
This is the core of the Christian message. In the only two religious rituals instituted by Christ, the church role-plays this story. Through communion and baptism we again and again point to the center of our faith - the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In the words of Christ we do these things “in remembrance of him.” What are we remembering while we are chewing on symbols of flesh and blood? It’s not that we should be nice to everybody and never tell lies. It is the gospel, the foundation of our faith.
According to the Scriptures
You may have noticed the phrase “according to the Scriptures” being repeated twice in Paul’s telling of the gospel story. Why would he see the need for repeating himself like this in such a short verse? Paul is letting us know that the gospel is part of a much larger story. It’s not something that dropped out of thin air in the first century in Palestine. This gospel is the pinnacle of God’s work among humans that has been going on since the beginning of time. The church throughout history has often summarized that larger story into the following three acts: Created, Fallen, and Redeemed.
Created (see Genesis 1,2)
In order to be a Christian, one must believe that there is a God and that this God has created us. Back in Genesis 1 and 2 we find God creating the world, culminating in the creation of human beings. Those human beings are created to be in relationship with God, themselves, each other, and the rest of creation.
If you take a look at Genesis 2, you will find those four relationships represented. Adam’s relationship with God is one of being a child with God as his Father. God is providing for him, protecting him and instructing him. After this God tells Adam that “it is not good for man to be alone.” This is God’s way of introducing the need of every human to be in relationship with other humans. God solves the problem of man’s aloneness by creating Eve and giving her to Adam to be a companion and helper to him. Adam responds by professing his thanksgiving to God and admiration of Eve.
Next we find out that Adam and Eve are also in perfect relationship with themselves. They are said to be “naked and unashamed.” They are not self-conscious in any way. They are not wondering what the other might be thinking of them. Finally they are in perfect relationship with the earth. Adam and Eve are cultivating the garden that God planted for them, and it is responding by producing good fruit for food.
Fallen (see Genesis 3)
In Genesis 2:16-17 we find out that there is a ground rule for living in the garden. God inserts an opportunity for Adam and Eve to choose to continue to be in relationship with Him, or choose to separate themselves from Him. The ground rule is this: to never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence for disobeying this rule and thus forsaking their relationship with God is death.
It doesn’t take long before we see that there is another voice in the garden. A serpent (we know to be Satan) adds to the laboratory of choice in the garden. He offers an alternative view for Adam and Eve’s existence. He proposes that God isn’t as good and trustworthy as they first thought. Satan says that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil will actually not bring about death, but instead bring about an illumination and an empowerment that God is trying to hold back from them. Adam and Eve choose to believe this alternative explanation of their existence and the rule God has set up, and the result is horrific.
Just as God had promised, the consequence of their choice was death. While this death certainly included physical death, it also encompassed much more. This “death” spoken of by God in Genesis 2 included a separation within all those relationships that were mentioned earlier. The first consequence that becomes obvious is the death of their relationship with themselves. As soon as they eat the fruit they were told not to, Adam and Eve try their hand at sewing so that they can cover up their naked bodies because now they are feeling shame and are self-consciousness for the first time.
There is also a death in their relationship with God. God shows up for His daily afternoon walk with His son and daughter and instead of jumping into His arms as they normally did, Man and Woman are hiding in the bushes. This is the first time humans have known separation from God. God in his mercy pursues Adam and asks him if he has eaten of the fruit. Adam reveals the death of his relationship with God and Eve by letting God know that it was “the woman” whom “God gave him” that caused him to eat the fruit.
We don’t find out about the death in their relationship with the earth until we read the section in Genesis 3 sometimes called the curse. It’s a listing off of the consequences that resulted from Adam and Eve’s decision to choose Satan and themselves over and against God. In the section of the curse spoken to Adam we find out that work will now be “toil” and that the earth will produce “thorns and thistles” instead of responding with fruitfulness to human cultivation.
It is a sad moment for humans, like opening the exit door of a plane at thirty thousand feet. Deathly chaos has replaced what was once a paradise. Paul describes this in Romans, he writes:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”
Redeemed (see the rest of the Bible)
Even in Genesis 3, all hope is not lost. We see two glimmers of hope. The first glimmer is that God do esn’t seem to be done with humans. He sees the pathetically sewn fig leaves that Adam and Eve made and are wearing, and He responds by killing a few animals and giving their skins to Adam and Eve as clothing. It seems tragic that God would kill His own creation to take care of these two rebellious children, but it is a foreshadowing of things to come in this larger story of the gospel. Many animals will die for the good of humans before this story ends. Each sacrifice points to the death of something much more precious than animals. They point to a final Sacrifice that will have to die to benefit humanity by giving life once again.
The other glimmer of hope in Genesis 3 is contained in Satan’s curse. In this curse it is explained that Satan and human beings will be at war with one another for a good part of the larger story. The way this is stated is that God will put “enmity” between humans and Satan. Not only is the war predicted, but so is the outcome. Genesis 3 states that Satan (a serpent at that moment) will strike the heel of the offspring of Eve but that this same offspring will crush Satan’s head. While heel striking does not sound fun, it isn’t nearly as devastating as head striking. The hope in these verses is that somehow a human being will one day reverse the mess that had begun with Adam.
The Apostle Paul follows up the problem of death in Romans 5:17 with the solution:
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus eventually comes through the travail of many a birthing mother for the purpose of dying a death that would take on the consequences that were experienced by all humanity starting in the garden with Adam’s disobedience. The Apostle Paul writes it this way:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The wages for sin had to be paid by us or by someone else. That someone else is Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death allows for the “great exchange,” whereby through faith we receive the free gift of eternal life because Jesus was willing to receive an undeserved death for sin.
Those who place faith in Jesus’ atoning death for sin then experience a restoration of all those relationships mentioned earlier. First and foremost He restores the relationship between humans and God. The Apostle Paul expresses it this way:
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”
Once this relationship is restored then all the others can be redeemed as well. The fear and shame that was experienced by Adam and Eve is replaced with an experience of “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The broken relationship between Adam and Eve that had turned into blame shifting and isolation is replaced with "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." The toil of work and the thorns and thistles of the earth will one day become a “new earth"
All this redemption is in a state of "already but not yet." Christ is going to return in His second coming to restore all of these relationships to their perfect state. It is while we still live in this fallen world that we seek to teach people how to live out these new relationships that are experienced anew in Christ.