Tag Archive | gospel

Christmas, the Beginning of a Bigger Story

© Wendy Clark, December 2022

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. No, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is who He is–Messiah, the promised Deliverer, and He comes anointed to accomplish a specific assignment.

Think back to Moses and how at his birth there was a fearful king who tried to kill all of the male babies of the Hebrew people. Moses was protected, and Moses would grow to be their deliverer, leading the people out of slavery after 400 years.

Jesus is born after 400 “years of silence.” God hadn’t given the people a new word, recorded and passed down, in all of that time. Don’t be confused and think that means that God withdrew and wasn’t present or paying attention or actively working in the world. Every detail surrounding the birth of Jesus seems to say otherwise and shows that God was waiting until a time that He, Himself had appointed (Mark 1:14-15). At the very least it was 400 years of purposeful silence.

In Jesus’ infancy, there is another evil king who begins killing Jewish baby boys, out of fear that a new king will be born in his own generation. Jesus is protected and grows to be the promised Deliverer, the Messiah, who will “save his people from their sins.” 

Just as Pharaoh in Egypt was right to be afraid of the birth of Moses, King Herod was right to be afraid of the birth of Jesus, not because his earthly throne was in immediate jeopardy, but because of the Kingdom of God that Jesus would ultimately usher in: a Kingdom of justice and wisdom and righteousness and holiness. Kings like Herod can never stand boldly in the presence of Holy God. None of us can. We all need Jesus to deliver us–to save us from our sins.

I recently listened to a professed “progressive Christian” pastor preach about how he rejects the teaching of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He sees that teaching as rising out of a violent and punitive culture and in no way related to our lives today. I say with confidence that, no matter what the young pastor claims, he is not a “Christian” at all because Christianity rests on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The whole of Scripture, from beginning to end, is wrapped around the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the teaching that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Can anyone read the letter to the Hebrews or the letter to Romans and not see that Jesus came to deliver us from our sins? If you aren’t sure of the answer to that question, then I encourage you to start reading both of these letters, in a clear, straightforward way. What is Paul saying? What is the writer of Hebrews saying (whether or not that is Paul)?
The young “progressive Christian” pastor finds the teaching of the blood sacrifice offensive, and he is not alone. The Apostle Paul tells us that many will stumble over the cross and the teaching that Jesus came to die for our sins in our place to be the atoning sacrifice that was required to pay the penalty for sin. 

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ  the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1: 22-25). We preach Christ crucified.

Read all of 1 Corinthians, and it is clear that one thing that the Apostle Paul wants us to understand is that there are teachers among us that aren’t teaching the truth of the Gospel.  Pay attention and be aware.

When talking to people about the Gospel and trying to determine where another person stands, I often ask this question: “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” If the person says yes, then I ask this: “Can you describe or explain what that means to you?” Whatever the person says next is very helpful in bringing clarity and understanding to the conversation.

One time, a young man responded by saying that Jesus saved him from his depression and his fear and his anxiety and his loneliness . . .  and continued with a very long list that was lacking one specific and important word. Those of us sitting across the table from the young man looked at him and waited. One older gentleman prodded, “Brother?”

The young man then began in a kind of frantic way, “But I’m not a sinner. Jesus didn’t save me from sins. I don’t need saving from sins.” Then we knew where we were in the Gospel conversation. No spinning around trying to figure out how we weren’t communicating clearly. He didn’t believe that the Gospel is about salvation from sins, the blood atonement of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which the Bible clearly teaches. And from that point we were able to come to clarity about how we consider the Bible to be an authority over us and our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this young man considers the Bible to be one voice among many voices and of less authority than his own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. The “progressive Christian” pastor that I referred to earlier also eventually came around to sharing that same perspective about the Bible.

Christmas has significance, but the birth of Jesus is the beginning of something that is completed at the cross and confirmed through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We aren’t celebrating the birth of a baby who was born a long time ago and grew to be a good and wise teacher and then died and was buried long ago, his body now decomposed as everyone who died before or since. What is the point of that? There are many people like that throughout history, and we haven’t established in their honor elaborate and extensive celebrations that occur all over the world with decorations and parties and music and gift giving and stories and movies . . .

So if we do nothing else during this Christmas celebrating season, let’s meditate on this from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Philippians 2:5-11)

Let Christmas remind us that Jesus is still alive and is coming back, and we will all recognize who He really is. Let’s take seriously the Apostle Paul’s teaching that “today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) and respond to God’s invitation to draw near to Him through Jesus–and His death for us in our place on the cross. This is the significance of the birth of Christ and the heart of what it means to be a “Christian,” a follower of Christ, the Messiah. All of what it means to be a Christian begins with this understanding.

Son of God and Son of Man

© Wendy Clark, December 2021

Son of God

Hannah, my youngest, my late-in-life child, born after I had cancer and chemo, after we stepped out to adopt unsuccessfully twice, after many miscarriages, after I surrendered to God saying, “If I’m not going to have any more children, I’m okay with that, God,” that child–has always been beautiful, loved by pretty much everyone she spends time with, smart, funny, and unusually profound. Even when she was little, sometimes we would be sitting in a room full of adults, and Hannah would say something that would be so interesting, that the room would go silent, and everyone would turn in her direction.  Here’s one memory of that, related to Christmas.

Hannah must have been no older than about four, and our homeschool group was making manger scenes. Hannah made three baby Jesus figures for her manger scene.  I said, “Hannah, you know there was only one baby Jesus, right?”  She said, “Yes, Mom, I know that, but there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three in one, and I didn’t know how else to show that.”

If you’ve missed that somewhere along the way, don’t miss it this Christmas, that Jesus is God made visible to us.  “Son of God” doesn’t describe an act of God the Father, birthing or creating Jesus, but the intimate relationship that God the Father shares with Jesus. Look at how the writer of Hebrews explains this:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Jesus is “the exact representation” of God the Father, the best way for us to see what God is like. God the Father, made the universe through Jesus the Son. Jesus was present at creation and participated in creation. The Apostle John explains this just before he begins to write the account of Jesus’ ministry. It is important to John, who lived and traveled with Jesus, that you understand who Jesus really is.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3, NIV). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NIV).

The “Word” in the Greek means “the expression, the utterance that flowed out of God’s mouth.” Jesus is God and pours out of God. Think about that for a few minutes. When God spoke the universe into existence, Jesus was that expression, the words that flowed out of his mouth.  The Holy Spirit is described as the very breath that God breathed, so that when God breathed life into Adam, that life was by the Spirit of God.

God and his Word and his Breath–three in one–perhaps beyond our ability to understand. 

Maybe it’s easier for us to comprehend the relationship of father to son and the spirit that moves between them, connecting them and making them one, and yet all three also separate and distinct in their identities and their roles. The Bible makes it clear that there are three separate persons–with a shared will, perspective, and purpose–separate and distinct from each other, and at the same time, completely unified.

Many have tried to explain this.  Maybe it’s like an egg that has a shell, a white part, and a yolk and is still all one egg.  Maybe it is like water than can be water and steam and ice and still be essentially the same thing.  These descriptions fall short of what the Bible teaches about God as three in one.

Jesus doesn’t explain how this works; he simply states that it is.  Every time Jesus says “I AM,” He uses the expression that God uses when he speaks to Moses and Moses asks for God’s name.

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:13-14). 

What did God just say to Moses?  God’s name translates to something like this:  I am the one who has always existed and who will always exist.  I exist in myself, by myself.  There is no other like me.

Jesus uses this same expression of God’s name to describe himself, which is why the Jewish leaders become so enraged against him and also why it is impossible to view Jesus as simply a good man; good men don’t go around claiming to be God.

Here are seven of these statements just from the testimony of the Apostle John.  In each of these statements Jesus identifies himself as God, I AM GOD who is .  . .

“I AM the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)

“I AM the light of the world.” (John 8:12) 

“I AM the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7,9) 

“I AM the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) 

“I AM the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14) 

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) 

“I AM the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5) 

Jesus also says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and those who oppose him pick up stones to try to stone him to death and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

If you have never heard that Jesus actually taught that he himself is God and the Son of God, not just a prophet of God or a good man sent by God . . .

If you were taught that Jesus was just a man . . .

If you’ve never really thought about Jesus much at all . . .

Consider this particular conversation that Jesus has with his disciples:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17, NIV)

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” and then commends Peter for recognizing that he is also the Messiah and the “Son of God.”

If you aren’t sure about all of this or even if you are sure but haven’t given it much thought lately, I encourage you to take some time before Christmas day and read through the Gospel of John, the Apostle John’s account of his encounter with the Son of Man/ Son of God.

As you read, ask and answer these questions:  What does Jesus say about himself?  What does he do?  What does he ask his followers to do?  If all of this is true, what implications does it have for my life? 

Next time . . . more about the Son of Man.

What Is the Gospel?

Wendy Anne Clark (C) 2020

Mark 16:15
And Jesus said to His followers, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.”

Proclaim the gospel, literally, “the good news.”  What is the gospel? What is this good news?

I used to think that when Christians, pastors, teachers in the Church, those who identify themselves as Christ followers used the word “gospel” that we were using the word the way the Bible uses it.

The Apostle Paul warned us about people who would come and preach a false gospel, but somehow I wasn’t picturing those people rising up in accepted churches or within my circle of friends. Without actively thinking about it, I suppose I pictured them being more “fringe” and even more obvious.

But lately I hear and read a form of “gospel” being preached that looks on the surface to be the gospel of the Bible, but is not.

Last week I listened to a preacher who said, “This is the true gospel,” and then he quoted this verse:

Luke 4:18-19
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  

This is Scripture, and this is true. Jesus read this passage out of Isaiah while preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and then He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Although the people of His hometown didn’t understand the fullness of what Jesus was saying about Himself, they understood that He was speaking with authority about the Scriptures and establishing Himself as sent by God, and they were offended by His message. 

The pastor that I heard referred to this passage as “the gospel” then went on to talk about social justice and the need to care for the poor, free the prisoners, and lift up the oppressed.  All of his examples were limited to this physical world and this temporary life, but is that what Jesus was talking about, and is that what Jesus focused on in his three years of ministry?

When Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the crowd, they then followed Him.  Jesus recognized that they were looking for Him to keep on providing their physical food, but He refocused their attention off of the physical and onto the spiritual:

John 6:26-27
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” 

Why did Jesus talk about “signs”?  Signs of what? What were they missing in what Jesus was saying?

Why didn’t Jesus fight against the Roman government, declare all of the slaves to be set free, establish funds for the poor and the orphans and the widows?  

It wasn’t because He didn’t care about doing these things or because God the Father does not care about these things; the Bible clearly promotes doing all of these things.  It was because this is not the focus of the gospel and not what we are to go and preach.

How do I state that with confidence?  Because I use the Bible to understand what the Bible means. Many people are saying that for us to come to understanding about what the Bible really means, we must read a particular book or watch a particular movie, but the Bible tells us what the Bible means, and the Bible clearly states what the gospel is.

Romans 1:16
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

Paul says that the gospel brings salvation.  What kind of salvation? He explains more in his letter to the Church in Corinth.

I Corinthians 15;1-4
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

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 . . . “

Paul is not talking about being saved in the physical world, but being saved from our sins–spiritual salvation. 

But if you aren’t willing to take Paul’s word for it, Jesus said it too:

Luke 24:45-49
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus tells us what the gospel is that is to be preached to all nations, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

After Jesus rises from the dead, lives among the disciples teaching them for another 40 days, He ascends into heaven, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and they go out in obedience and begin to preach the gospel.  What do they preach?  

Here’s the first recorded sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel:

Acts 2:14-24
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls   
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”

And verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 

Jesus had referred to the “signs” that the people of God were supposed to recognize, the “signs” pointing to the promised Messiah.

Here’s what happens after the people hear Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:37-39
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”

So in the very first sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel, he does not talk about how to treat the poor or widows or orphans.  He does not talk about standing up for the oppressed.  When the people ask him what they should do in response to what Peter has told them, Peter talks about repentance and sins and Jesus.

The Bible tells us over and over why Jesus came:

I John 4:9-10
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

John 3:16-17
“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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Romans 10:9-13
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

But does it matter that this is what the word “gospel” means?  The pastor I listened to was trying to stir people to do good things, so does it matter that he identified and described the gospel message incorrectly?

What about what James writes, isn’t he saying that the gospel is to do good things?

James 1:26-27
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Go back and read everything that James writes. He is not writing to define the gospel message or to explain how one is saved.  He is clearly writing about how what we do demonstrates what is in our hearts and is evidence of who we really are and what we truly believe.  When he writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14), he is not arguing that it is our works that save us, only that it is our works that flow out of a true salvation.

We are not saved by our works. I know this because the Apostle Paul in explaining salvation writes this:

Ephesians 2:4-10
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Notice the order that Paul explains to the Christians in Ephesus:  salvation by faith through Jesus, which results in works.

Paul uses this same order in writing to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 1:1-6
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

The gospel we are to preach is salvation from our sin, not because loving others, serving others, and caring for others is unimportant, but because those things flow out of our salvation and do not produce salvation.

Salvation according to the Bible is not some collective thing that occurs as people in a society promote justice and do loving and kind acts. Salvation is for individuals who will confess their sins, repent, and trust Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross in their place for the forgiveness of their sins. 

When one person believes and confesses and turns to Jesus to be Savior and Lord, in a single moment that person is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light.  In a single moment, that person is declared righteous before God.  In a single moment, that person becomes a child of God, belongs to the family of God, and is part of the Body of Christ.  All of these things happen before that person ever shows a change of behavior or does anything “good.”

In that same moment the process of sanctification begins, but it continues for a lifetime. Sanctification is a refining, purifying, aligning to the truth and to the heart of God. But Sanctification cannot happen without personal confession (agreeing with what God says is sin) and personal repentance (turning away from sin and back toward God).  

Sanctification cannot happen collectively, and man’s attempt to sanctify self, can never result in salvation. And we can’t come up with our own ideas and rules about salvation and then live by them and hope to be saved.

Romans 10:1-4
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The Apostle Paul takes the use of the word “gospel” very seriously:

Galatians 1:6-8
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”

Galatians 3:1-3
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

I have been troubled by what looks like Christians who came to Christ by grace and through faith, but are now preaching a false gospel of works to purify and make holy.  Only the blood of Jesus purifies and makes holy. 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The gospel, the good news, is this:  Though we were all born as enemies of God, God Himself loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins in our place so that we could be reconciled to God, make peace with God, and live in relationship with Him.  

We are all invited.  But each one of us must individually respond in faith and accept the gift that we have been offered. There is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve this gift, and God is not waiting for us to do anything but to believe and respond in faith. 

Everything good that God has for us and everything that we are called to do in obedience to His commands, will flow out of our willingness to “be reconciled to God” and to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.