Imagine you see a terrible car accident. You’re the first to the vehicle and the driver is clearly in bad shape—seemingly on the point of death. At the last moment, he turns to you and says, “I’m afraid to face God—how can I know that my sins are forgiven? Could you explain the good news of Jesus to this desperate person, in 25 words or less?
I’m asking this because this circumstance demonstrates that the good news of Jesus is our most important message. For the first three broadcasts of 2020, I wanted to clarify our 2020 vision. Last week we talked about the initial part of our 2020 vision: our first priority in life. In Matt 6:33, Jesus taught that we are to seek first God’s rulership and righteousness in our lives. Today I want to mention another passage that uses the word first—it’s 1 Corinthinans 15:1-8, which reveals our most important message. Paul declares that the message that they believed and by which they were saved, the good news was delivered to them “as of first importance.”
Unfortunately, although the message of the gospel is such a priority, frequently committed, educated, biblically astute, mature Jesus followers, present and proclaim this most basic issue in a most inadequate way. So today I want to review the most important message we can give to others as part of our 2020 vision: What is the gospel? What is the good news that we proclaim? What must we believe to experience God’s forgiveness and new life in Jesus?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses the word “gospel,” two Greek words put together into one and it means “good news.” In vv. 1-2 he says that he proclaimed this message of good news and the Corinthians have received it; He even says they are “saved” by this good news. This is the essential message of the faith and he delivered it to them as of first importance. It is what we must believe to experience God’s redemption and forgiveness in Jesus. So what is it?
The first part of the good news, found in 1 Cor 15:3-4, is that the Messiah Jesus died. Paul also gives the reason for His death—it was for our sins. He died as a sin substitute, taking the punishment we deserved for our sins. Then Paul gives the evidence that Jesus really died as our sin substitute: The first part of the evidence is biblical—it was “according to the Scriptures” meaning that Old Testament passages like Isaiah 53 foretold Messiah’s death on our behalf. The second part of the evidence is historical. He was buried, meaning Jesus really died; it wasn’t a sham; He didn’t merely swoon or appear to be dead. He really, truly died, or He would not have been buried. And when He died, He took the punishment we deserved. So, the first part of the good news is that the Messiah Jesus died for us. What’s the second part?
The second part of the good news, found in 1 Cor 15:4-8, is that the Messiah Jesus rose from the dead. The reason the resurrection is so important is that it validated His deity; it proved He really is God. You see, anyone can claim to be God but how do we know that Jesus, who claimed to be God in the flesh, really was God? The proof is the resurrection. God the Father validated Jesus’ claim by raising Him from the dead. That’s why Rom 10:9-10 says that if we confess that Jesus is Lord, meaning God, and believe that God raised Him from the dead, we’ll be saved.
Just as He did for the death of the Messiah, Paul gives two lines of evidence for His resurrection. First, the biblical evidence is that it was “according to the Scriptures.” Likely Paul has in mind passages like Psa 16:10 and Isa 53:10-11, which predict Messiah’s resurrection. Second, there’s historical evidence: He was seen alive again. He appeared to Peter, to the apostles, and up to 500 people at one time. He really is alive.
So often I hear people presenting the good news and they say it’s that Jesus died for our sins. That’s true but that’s not all of it. We have to include that Jesus is alive, that He was raised from the dead. The Romans crucified some 20,000 Jewish men in the first century. But only one was raised from the dead. So, when presenting the good news, we can’t presume that those who hear the message will assume that Jesus was raised. Friends, let me give you a challenge—listen carefully to the various presentations you hear about the good news—it might be a commercial on Christian radio, or a pamphlet you might read, or a website, or a message at your congregation or anywhere. Note how frequently people leave out the resurrection of Jesus when presenting the good news. It’s not that people don’t believe in the resurrection—they just don’t realize how essential it is.
So here’s the good news in a nutshell. It’s what we must believe to become a child of God: Messiah Jesus died for our sins and rose again, proving He is God. That’s it. It’s not about going forward, raising our hands, getting baptized, joining a church, feeling really, really bad for all the wrong we’ve done, knowing everything in the Bible, repeating the Westminster catechism, or anything else people have proposed. It’s this: Messiah Jesus died for our sins and rose again, proving He is God.
Now what would I say to the guy in the car accident, in 25 words or less? Here it is: “The wrong things we do separate us from God. Messiah Jesus died, taking our punishment, and rose again proving He is God. Trust in Him.” That’s 25 words!
It’s of first importance that we believe this essential message. Have you trusted that Jesus died for you and rose again, proving He is God? If not, do so today, right now. And if you’ve made that faith decision, then be assured. You are God’s child, forever. And that message has become the most important message we can present this year. Let’s make it our 2020 vision to proclaim this good news so we can help people find the Lord Jesus and experience His mercy, grace and forgiveness.