I’m told that the golden arches of McDonald’s and the swirling script of Coca Cola’s logo are more widely recognized throughout the world today than the Christian cross. Millions around the world have never heard of Jesus Christ. Is the cancel culture that is keen to silence any talk of Jesus, succeeding?
Indeed, there seems to a lack of urgency amongst God’s people about reaching others with God’s gospel. If they do speak up, they fear what others will think. They also fear they won’t have the right words. I’ll come back to this later.
Promise. But first, come with me to Luke 24. Luke’s ‘resurrection chapter’ sets out three scenes – Scene 1: Angels remind the women who visited Jesus’ tomb early on the Sunday morning following his crucifixion of what he had said: “… and on the third day (I will) rise again” (24:7). In Scene 2, Jesus walked as a stranger with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus and explained what the Scriptures had predicted and promised about the Messiah. In Scene 3 Jesus spoke in person to his disciples of the promises and the fulfillment of the Scriptures concerning his death and resurrection.
Moses had foreshadowed the need for a perfect sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). Isaiah had spoken about God’s servant who would suffer for the people, bearing our guilt, dying for our sins (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Jesus wanted his perplexed, grief-stricken followers to understand they were to interpret all that had happened to him in the light of the Scriptures. He is saying, ‘The Bible says…’
Five words express the essence of what he was saying: He (the Christ) died for our sins. It’s a simple statement. The first two words have to do with facts – history: Christ died. Without explanation the event could mean almost anything – one thing for the Christian and another for the Muslim. The meaning is provided with three further words: … for our sins.
Christ died is not good news. Whereas Christ died for our sins is.
When people ask, ‘How does Christ’s death benefit me?’ our response should be, ‘We need to go to the Scriptures, for they give us the interpretation’. The Scriptures provide the meaning: the New Testament interprets the Old Testament and the Old interprets the New. The idea that both Testaments interpret one another may seem strange, but that is the nature of the unity of the Scriptures. Indeed, a passage such as Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in providing us with a clear interpretation, also reveals God’s masterplan of rescue.
Fulfillment. Jesus’ words in Luke 24:46 are electrifying for in telling us that Christ had to suffer and die, and rise again, they reveal the depths of God’s love for us: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,…”
Jesus’ death and resurrection is not the story of a dead man who came back to life, nor the story of a dying and rising god. Nor is it a romantic story that tells us that death is not the end. It is the story of Messiah’s shameful death by crucifixion, suffering the pains of God-forsakenness on behalf of men and women who had broken God’s good and perfect law.
Jesus’ resurrection is God’s answer to the innocent man who had cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Without his death, Jesus’ resurrection has no significance for fallen men and women. Unless sin has first been dealt with, resurrection cannot point to forgiveness and new life. The resurrection is now a glorious message because it has made sense of Jesus’ death. Jesus, for his part, would be crowned with the highest honours and given the greatest glory.
But there is much more – that involves you and me today! In verse 47 we read: “…and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things.”
Repentance translates a Greek word which speaks of ‘a change of mind and lifestyle’. Unless we have a change of mind and heart towards Jesus Christ, asking for his forgiveness and committing to a new attitude and lifestyle, there is no forgiveness.
These truths are to be proclaimed to the nations! Jesus commissioned his first disciples – not just one or two – as his witnesses. And, as God’s good news must be taken to all nations, we are caught up in this partnership today. We can’t be witnesses in the strict sense, but we can introduce others to the God of love and compassion.
One way we can do this is to turn the pages of ‘The Word One-to-One’ with friends over coffee. ‘The Word One-to-One’ has the text of John’s Gospel with helpful explanatory notes. You can find out more at: www.theword121.com. Furthermore, the February Anglican Connection Online Conference included talks from Dr. John Lennox and Richard Borgonon. Both spoke of the advantages of this ministry. For US$30.00 you can access this conference at www.anglicanconnection.com.
Not Alone… Jesus knew that even his close followers who had seen him risen from the dead didn’t have the inner resources to go out and tell the nations God’s good news. They needed the Holy Spirit, to clothe them (24:49). They needed then, as we do today, a clear understanding of the truth, wisdom and inner resolve to talk with others – especially when faced with opposing voices. The encouraging news is that the regenerative power of God’s Spirit is now actively at work in us and in the world.
Because people’s eternal lives are at stake, let’s not be silenced by the voices around us. Rather, let’s pray that God’s Spirit will so fill our lives that our faith spills over into our conversations enabling others to find life and joy in all its fullness in Christ forever.
© John G. Mason
A Prayer for the Gospel
Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.