Audio Reading (0:19:14):
June 29—July 9, 2008
‘Gospel’ is an old English word meaning: a good story, tale, history, recounting, recital, or news. The original English Bible translators used it to render a Greek word, evangelion, which means ‘proclamation’. It was eventually used in the titles of the first four books in the New Testament—the culminating part of the Bible—that proclaim the extraordinary origins, teachings and deeds of Jesus, demonstrating him to be the savior of the world. These ‘Gospels’ were written by eyewitness disciples plus a competent compiler of oral histories from many eyewitnesses. ‘Gospel’ also refers to the basic message of the New Testament as a whole. To make sense of these books and the message they contain, it helps to see the larger picture.
The undercurrent of this dramatic culmination of redemptive history after God created human life on earth is his inviting and preparing people to become eligible to adopt as his children, on whom he can shower the magnitude of his wisdom and graciousness for ages to come, privileging them to become inheritors of a New Earth in preparation. But who can qualify? At the start of history, the first human couple disobeyed God’s directions concerning the one thing he placed off limits—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Consequently, they started to suffer the penalty of death he warned them about: getting banned from the Tree of Life. Without its rejuvenating fruit, they and their descendants would all deteriorate and sooner or later die.
Yet because of God’s loving determination to have daughters and sons, he made agreements with select human beings that contained directions leading them and their descendants to the wholesomeness of mature faith and love despite their mortality and resulting sinful condition, as they overcame temptations to disobey. In this way they could make the earth a relatively pleasant habitat, productive of much good. He also warned them severely about other bad results, besides death, that would come from not following these directions. In addition, and very importantly, he included rituals that depicted in a shadowy fashion his startling final solution for reversing death and eventually doing away with everything bad and wrong with the world.
In time, God sent his only-born Son to earth, who was the perfect image of his own character, as well as being the ultimate reason why everything else exists. He was born miraculously of a virgin girl named Mary, in Bethlehem, the Judean town of her ancestor King David, as Scripture predicted. Yet he was to grow up in Nazareth instead, within the despised region of Galilee, becoming a humble artisan. At the ideal historic moment, he was publicly anointed by God at his baptism by John the Baptist. This indicated to Israel that he was the promised Messiah who would take away their sin so they could be a holy nation of priests, qualified by God to announce salvation from ultimate destruction to all the other peoples of the world, as well.
Instead, Israel duly executed him—the royal Son of God! In a dreadful crime against God, they shed his blood without just cause, assisted by Roman occupying forces. This was foreshadowed prophetically in the sacred Levitical rite of collectively laying hands on the sacrificial victim, representing accomplices and accessories to the crime of collectively laying hands on God’s Son to take his life. His official mistrial was an aggravated collusion to kill a man who was a public benefactor and miraculous healer of whoever had been overpowered by Satan in any way. He had never done anything wrong, and he even surpassed Moses in authoritative teaching and extraordinary deeds. This crime cried out for radical justice without delay!
Accordingly, on the third day after Jesus was, in effect, assassinated in front of crowds of witnesses by Imperial authority, God himself intervened from heaven and avenged the innocent blood of his Son, the Messiah. However, God achieved this not by putting them to death, but by raising Jesus alive from the dead, immortal, in a new kind of body with extraordinary powers, intended for caring for and stewarding the regenerated world God is planning. Jesus stayed on earth for forty days more, getting visualized repeatedly and teaching his disciples why things had to happen this way in order to extend the Kingdom of God to all humanity. He expounded in detail the true interpretation of Hebrew Scripture concerning himself so they could tell the story straight ever after. This is the substance of New Testament Scripture.
Throughout the whole career of God’s Anointed or “Christened” Messiah (Christ), but especially during his trial and crucifixion, God himself was encountering and confronting Israel’s sins by his Spirit, supplying his wholesome anointing to enable Christ to overcome every temptation to sin, especially that of avenging himself against his assailants on account of their sin of crucifying him. Such non-retaliating forbearance revealed the completely unsuspected, even unimaginable, depths of God’s love, wholesomeness, uprightness, and graciousness.
The crucifying of God’s christened Son showed the truly horrible nature of sin because it unpacked the unvarnished truth about human hatred of personal uprightness and public justice. Christ Jesus bore with the criminal deeds of all those who apprehended, betrayed, abandoned, slandered, assaulted, pierced, insulted, and ridiculed him. By bearing all these wrongs of both friends and foes—whether they illegally tried, falsely accused or outright denied him—and by refusing to defend himself or avenge their disrespect or abuse, he was exhibiting divine graciousness to the max. By this action, Jesus was not only visibly forgiving them himself but also preparing them to understand and accept the less visible, though no less gracious, pardon of his Father when he decisively acquitted Jesus wholesale from all accusations of false teaching or wrongdoing by raising him right out of the jaws of death—from a fate that only sinful human beings were liable for.
Therefore, Jesus’ ultimate vindication magnificently displayed the reason for the super-compensation that the Law of Moses required offenders to make to their victims. This was the greatest judicial compensation ever awarded in recorded history, because the sin it avenged was by far the worst ever perpetrated. It was executed against an absolutely sinless person who, on top of that, had done immense good to others, with self-sacrificial kindness and unrestrained generosity. With redemptive irony, this capital offense was ideally calculated to make peace with offenders and bring about their conciliation with God, and in turn reconciling them to the wholesome community of others who had been likewise restored.
The offenders could never compensate their victim by this point, even if they finally came to realize their terrible mistake, since he was beyond human restitution. Yet this predicament supremely situated God, at long last, to be able show his own hand in a wonderfully tangible way by raising their mutilated and certifiably dead victim out of the grave, certifiably alive and graciously forgiving! Of course, this was the way God himself had always behaved, in patience, kindness, mercy, and toleration, even though routinely sinned against by every earthling since Adam. Jesus was imitating God his Father so that we could see what wholesomeness, justice, goodness, and love look like, up close and personal. In fact, the judicial award he was repaid by God—are you ready for this?—he actually gives away to us in order to ransom us from the intimidating menace of death, and hence from Satan’s tyranny! If we submit to being rescued, we’re free!
Before Jesus suffered execution, he ate the traditional Jewish Passover meal with his disciples but turned it into a sign of the New Covenant, which the wrongful shedding of his innocent blood was soon to inaugurate, and which would eclipse the Old Covenant established at Mt. Sinai. His new meal portrays his life entering those who receive it in good faith. By considering the bread to be his flesh (which was soon to be offered to God in voluntary sacrifice) and by regarding the drink as his blood (expecting the very Spirit of his own lifeblood to enter), we are announcing his wrongful death until he comes to raise us from our rightful death to everlasting life by the power that raised him. God, in turn, regards such faith as being right doing itself, therefore he seals and certifies it by sending more Holy Spirit to clean and release us from the wrongs we may fall into. As often as we eat this meal we put up a protective covering around our sins, achieved by this innocent blood of “the Lamb of God” whose sacrifice amounted to a horrible sin (ritually portrayed by the ancient “sin [offering]”) but which was more than rectified by his resurrection to immortal life. This is God’s ultimate replacement for the original Tree of Life, and is far superior, because it provides a rightfully magnified repayment for the wrongful death of the sinless living soul who is now, by God’s power, a sin-quenching, life-making Spirit! Here we see how the Resurrection marvelously atoned for the crime of the Cross, and if for this monstrous felony, then how much more for our lesser crimes! This villainous human injustice actually commended that super-compensating divine justice, which supplied lavish graciousness for guilty, undeserving human beings, based solely on what Jesus deserved instead! Whatever could atone for that SIN would obviously work for any sin! Ah, sweet revenge: RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD!
This all means that Christ’s shed blood (signifying violent death of a sinless person, justly avenged by God with surplus power to restore life, heal disease, cleanse sin, and render wholesome) prompted the wholesale shipment of Holy Spirit to him from God in partial repayment for the sin of his cross. What a wonderfully surprising further outcome of God’s justifying Jesus by raising him from the grave! Thereafter, anyone who will trust Jesus as the promised Savior can receive his Spirit, which continues operating to carry on where he left off historically due to his return to sit at his Father’s side—the place of universal honor. There, as High Priest for all mankind, he intercedes for the welfare of those who trust him—his needy adopted sisters and brothers. At the same time, he began ruling over all nations and defeating all enemies within the disrupted creation by the power of this Story and Spirit in preparation for inaugurating the new, purified order—a suitable habitat for upright, peace-loving, joy-filled sons and daughters for future ages. Anyone can inherit a share if they follow Jesus as Master now. That’s Kingdom come!
His mission accomplished brilliantly, Jesus was awarded all authority in heaven and earth by God. But before returning to his Father he gave his learners some final pointers. They were to spread out over the entire earth to proclaim this joyful News about him and to teach and testify to the truth of everything he taught. For a sign, they were to baptize in water everyone who changed their mind and believed the record of his triumphant achievement, invoking the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so they get washed from sins and thus saved from eventual condemnation and destruction. Therefore, baptism triggers his sending the Spirit to seal them as his wholesome adopted children in order to extend his Son’s rescuing mission with often miraculous power into all nations until he returns to wrap up this malicious age at a final Judgment that gives everyone what their actions really deserve (now in light of this further revelation about God’s legitimizing immortal life for all who endure in the truth of this Story).
That’s why this Proclamation also includes the climactic event that occurred ten days after Jesus ascended back to God, when Israel commemorated Pentecost (‘fiftieth’ day after Passover), also called the Festival of Weeks (seven weeks after the second day of Passover). It celebrated God’s giving the Law through Moses (on the fiftieth day after the Exodus from Egypt) plus the first fruits of the spring harvest, which heralded more abundant harvests later on. So Pentecost was a fitting occasion for God to send the promised Spirit to earth after Jesus was enthroned in Heaven and accepted the rightful award for his wrongful abuse-taking. The Holy Spirit is our security deposit on everything Jesus inherited by his faithful obedience to his Father’s instructions. By following them unwaveringly to the bitter end, he won back all he lost by getting crucified, plus immeasurably more, in order to reward his courageous endurance in the face of such humiliation, dishonor, and agony. Yet he generously shares the spoils of that victory with all who believe this News! In this way the Lord modeled how to behave even toward fierce opposition and what to expect from God in return. The Spirit of truth is the supreme gift and glory of this New Covenant, given to teach, inform, remind, enlighten, counsel, accredit, and testify about everything Jesus communicated during his career. Pentecost commenced a grand project that spans the rest of history, building to a climax of incorporating new people into the citizenry of Christ’s resurrected body and thus complete God’s plan of adopting and training a worthy and diverse population to inherit the New Earth.
Now for the downside of the story. Jesus prophesied that the generation which crucified him would not pass away before Jerusalem was leveled to the ground in repayment for its role in killing not only him, but also many previous prophets that God sent to warn about their Covenant violations. There, in 70 A.D., God’s indignation fell with hurricane force on those unrepentant people, along with their children, who remained stubbornly and violently opposed to his way of peace. Yet in his mercy, God intended this event to serve as a reminder throughout the rest of history so that other nations would be afraid to hoard up such divine indignation, to their own devastation and sorrow. God does not intend anyone to get destroyed, which is why he is so kind and patient even with the vicious, corrupt, and criminal (in case you were wondering). Yet if they refuse to change their minds and bow their knees regardless of his many historic exhibitions of anger toward the incorrigible, and now especially of his unveiling of exuberant graciousness toward believing sinners for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ, they will eventually suffer the rightful sentence of extermination by fire after the final Judgment by Jesus, now Sovereign over all.
So why doesn’t everyone believe the Gospel? Could it be because, although they actually know plenty about God and retain the truth about good and bad, right and wrong, yet they don’t do the truth but hate it instead, hoping that the injustice of their evil thoughts, bitter words, and vicious deeds, in addition to their refusal to credit or thank God for all his good gifts, don’t get exposed to the light and cause them embarrassment? They prefer to shrink back into the dark and even to oppress and persecute those who come to the light. People who do what is good will be drawn to the light so their good works can be seen to be produced in God’s strength. Yet they should be prepared to suffer abuse for it. And if they endure bravely, everything will work out for the best because this is the best of all possible…proto-worlds! It’s only a qualifying run to find and train people to become deserving to inherit the coming new world. Do you want to qualify for Kingdom come? Then choose life! Increasingly trust Jesus and all he has done for you, learning to follow his directions sincerely, welcoming his Spirit to lead you back to the Father through the maze of difficulties you’ll face in this life. And never give up the adventure!
© 2008, Ronald Lee Roper. Revised March 13, September 2, 2011, October 3-4, 9, 2016.