(Article #1 in 3 Article Series on the Gospel Revealed)
What is the Gospel or “good news?” We often hear that it is simple enough for a child to understand and yet there have been many books written trying to explain it. If Christians were to try to sum up the Gospel in two words, what might those words be? Those two words for some could be “Heaven bound” or “New Covenant” or “Jesus saves”. How about “born again” or “eternal life” or “coming Kingdom”? As we ponder the central theme of what we might consider the Gospel it could be difficult to use just two words without including words like faith, grace, salvation, redemption, resurrection or love. Aren’t all of these words and concepts “good news” to be preached?
While all of these words and concepts elaborate on the Gospel, it’s interesting to see how the Apostles, such as Paul and John, clearly understood the central theme or heart of the Gospel and used two words to proclaim it. In I Cor. 1:17 Paul said he was sent to preach the Gospel and in v-23 & 24 he used two words to proclaim that Gospel—“…but we preach Christ crucified….” (NKJV used throughout article). He continues, “to the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (it’s His power and wisdom in how He saves mankind through His Word). God’s power and wisdom is a mystery to mankind because His thoughts and ways are far above man’s (Isa. 55:8-9). When God Himself calls individuals, He reveals that mystery of the Gospel of salvation through His gift of faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice makes salvation possible (I Cor. 2:7, 10-14). Paul prayed “…that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel…” (Eph. 6:19). It was “…the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began…” (Rom. 16:25). Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
As Christians, we must always, always, always remember that without “Christ crucified” or “Lamb slain” there is no Gospel, redemption, justification, sanctification, glorification, salvation, resurrection, New Covenant or hope of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Paul said that Christ sent him “…to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (I Cor. 1:17). He told the Corinthians that when he came to them it wasn’t with excellence of speech or wisdom of man’s words in declaring the mystery of God, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2 and be sure to continue reading the entire chapter). Paul preaching “Christ crucified” included the fact that not only was Jesus crucified, but that He also rose from the dead (I Cor. 15:1-4). Paul traveled all over the Roman world preaching “Christ crucified”. All the other important words and concepts mentioned earlier followed the what, where, when, why and how of that cross and who was on it.
Take note that Paul is warning us here (and in Gal. 1:6-7, 3:1-8, 5:4; Eph. 4:14; II Cor. 11:3-4, 13-14 etc.) that there were/are false, different and even perverted gospels coming from men (religious teachers) who distract believers from the truth of the power and wisdom of God about His continuous sanctifying work in each individual He calls to salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is then of no effect on many who are refocused to men’s ideas and interpretations of a gospel. A gospel without Christ and the result of His sacrifice working in each “new creature in Christ” is not the real Gospel. “Good news” about anything else keeps people focused away from what God wants to do in them through faith in Jesus alone who personifies the love and righteousness of God in each of us as we individually grow in Him.
“Christ Crucified” is the Heart of God’s Plan for the Salvation of Mankind
Jesus said, “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:32-33). He prayed on that night He was betrayed, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (v-27). Jesus had to be crucified. He came to save mankind from the suffering and death caused by sin. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God….” (I Pet. 3:18). Man’s sins have separated us from God (Isa. 59:2). We’ve now been “…reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (Rom. 5:10). We now can have “…boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…” (Heb. 10:19-20).
He is the wisdom and power of God, the only way of salvation for mankind– the good news for us (I Cor. 1:24). We need to focus on this and believe (trust and have faith) in Him. He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16). This is why Christ came to the earth. There is salvation in no other name or way (Acts 4:12; John 17:2-3). This is why Paul preached “Christ crucified”. It’s the heart of the Gospel in 2 words. This is where our focus must stay as we are to grow in grace and our knowledge of Him as His Holy Spirit brings us to perfection. By Jesus, we believe in God and His way of agape love and true godly righteousness. Our faith and hope is in God (I Pet. 1:21). Through Christ, we are restored to a sinless relationship with God where now we can by faith believe Him and not want to go another way– knowing without a doubt that God’s way is the only way that works now and forever. Jesus is our Lord and redeemer. As we walk in newness of life being led by His Spirit we are now to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Salvation with ongoing sanctification is all made possible because of Christ crucified.
Jesus told His disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup signifying his broken body and shed blood in remembrance of Him, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Cor. 11:26). This is a memorial for us to stay focused on “Christ crucified.” Even the very act of partaking in the Lord’s Supper is a proclaiming or preaching (Gk. kataggellō ) the Lord’s death till He comes. “Christ crucified” is the wisdom and the power of God to save mankind from the suffering and ultimate death sentence of sin (missing the mark of God’s perfect agape love and the true righteousness that can only be motivated by His perfect agape love). We need to stay focused on Jesus and His redeeming work of justification, sanctification and glorification of His called out ones.
“Christ crucified” has always been central to the salvational plan of God for all mankind. Paul said, “…Christ, our Passover was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7). He was born in a stable in Bethlehem fit for a Passover lamb and because of its proximity to Jerusalem, those shepherds keeping watch over the flocks by night (Luke 2:8) could easily have been Levites watching over the sacrificial lambs. He came into this world to be sacrificed by a loving Father because of His agape love for each of us (John 3:16). Jesus wants none to perish, but all to have everlasting life. God is agape love (I John 4:16) and we are to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29) that we all may be one and live forever in that perfect Kingdom of love. It is a Kingdom free of sin where nobody questions or even thinks of going another way other than God’s perfect way of agape love. For that to happen the ultimate result of sin (death) must be made soberly clear. Jesus does this by paying that price for us in our stead showing His and the Father’s perfect agape love for each of us. This is accomplished for us through His agape love of “Christ crucified”, the sacrificial Lamb of God. That redemptive payment is “…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God. Who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (I Pet. 1-19-21). John the Baptist declared Jesus to be “… the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
In the book of Revelation Jesus is pictured as “… the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). While we can see the glorified Christ described in Rev. 1:10-18, it is interesting to see how Jesus primarily revealed Himself to John and the churches in the prophetic events unfolding before John throughout the book of Revelation. This “Lamb slain” is synonymous with “Christ crucified”. He revealed Himself as the Lamb slain (Christ crucified) who is worthy to open the seals (Rev. 5:6).
In Rev. 17:14 it says that the kings with the beast “…will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful.” Have you ever thought of how or why Jesus chose to reveal Himself to us in this manner? Think about it! Christ crucified will fight and overcome the beast and all the kings of the earth for Christ crucified is the King of Kings. He is Lord. You are going to the marriage supper of Christ crucified. Your name is written in the Book of Christ crucified. In the end of Revelation we see that Christ crucified is the light of the New Jerusalem. Christ crucified, the “Lamb slain”, was there from the beginning of the Bible to the very end. He is “the mystery kept secret since the world began….” (Rom. 16:25). It is through Him that everyone in the Kingdom will understand the love of God is the only way to live sinless forever so there will be no more suffering or death.
To a Jew reading the book of Revelation (with the veil removed from his mind), he would see that the conquering Messiah, the son of David, is one and the same as that son of Joseph who hung on a cross. By revealing Himself throughout the book as the “Lamb slain”, Jesus is in essence preaching “Christ crucified” to not just the Jews and the gentiles, but specifically to His church who read His Revelation. This is what He wants us to stay focused on. Since the very beginning the big lesson for mankind to learn is that no other way works, but the way of God’s agape love. All other ways lead to sin with its result of suffering and death. The Son of man was “lifted up”, hung on that tree, wore the crown of thorns, poured out His blood and dealt with sin and death so that by faith in Him we can come to know and trust in God and live forever with God in His Kingdom of agape love. For all of us it demonstrates the tremendous love that our Father and His Son have for us. That the “in remembrance of me” is an eternal reminder of His eternal love that He wants us to fully understand and embrace while the remembrance of Him (“Lamb that was slain”) is loudly proclaimed in “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants….” (Rev. 1:1).
“Christ Crucified”, the “Lamb Slain” From the Beginning
When we step back and take a fresh look at the Bible with the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) in us we can clearly see this centrality of “Christ crucified”, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” that has actually been preached throughout all of mankind’s history. Paul said about the unbelieving ancient Israelites in Heb. 4:2 that the Gospel was also preached to them, but without faith they could not hear it. Jesus told the Jews in His day, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). In v-46 He went on to say “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.” The Jews couldn’t move beyond the shadow to the True. The shadow pointed to Jesus. He alone is the only way to eternal life. Jesus came to reveal the Father to those He has chosen (Matt. 11:27) and to know the Father and His Son is eternal life (John 17:3).
Christ was the promised Seed that God told Adam and Eve was to be bruised (Gen. 3:15) and “Christ crucified” was in those skins God clothed them with and in Abel’s sacrifice of the firstborn of his flock (Gen. 4:4). “Christ crucified” was also in that ram that Abraham sacrificed on Mt. Moriah to take the place of Isaac when he went up to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22:13-14) and was the Seed promised to Abraham (v-18; Gal. 3:16, 19). In the New Testament when you read the book of Hebrews it becomes obvious that all those sacrifices and offerings from righteous Abel to the patriarchs to the Levitical priesthood all pointed to Christ’s sacrifice. That was the spiritual intent behind the sacrificial system. For over 800 straight years, before their captivity to Babylon, every day each morning and evening the priests made a sacrifice of a lamb without spot or blemish and dozens more on the Sabbaths, new moons and holy days (Num. 28 & 29) all pointing to Christ crucified. Those messianic prophecies were also about Christ who was the righteous Servant despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, smitten, afflicted and wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and shall justify many for He shall bear their iniquities” (read Isa. 53:1-11).
“Christ crucified”, the “Lamb slain” has been the heart and core of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind from the very beginning. It is the Gospel in two words. Christ’s crucifixion was the pivotal point in God’s plan that all those animal sacrifices from the patriarchs, prophets and priests pointed toward and is the same pivotal point that we as Christians remember when we take the bread and the wine symbolizing His broken body and shed blood.
To the ancient Israelites, their access to God for purification, for thanksgiving, for peace, for trespasses and for sins all came through sacrifices made by the Levitical priests. For us we have a relationship with God our Father through His Lamb that was slain, who “…did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27) and became our High Priest and “…Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6). This is why Paul preached the Gospel of “Christ crucified.” It is through Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world, that we now have access to and can worship and glorify God our Father in spirit and in truth as He desires. Through “Christ crucified” we will have eternal life with God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ in a Kingdom of agape love. The mystery of the Gospel encompasses the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation (please also see the next article titled “The Gospel Revealed In God’s Holy Days”).
Paul sums up this Gospel of faith in Jesus Christ best when he closed the book of Romans with, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith– to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Rom. 16:25-27).
Written by Lee Lisman
(Please click below to continue to the 2nd of this 3 article series to see how the 3 Holy Day seasons God revealed to Israel foreshadowed the Gospel of “Christ crucified”).
The Gospel Revealed In God’s Holy Days part 2 of 3