Read The Gospel in Twenty Questions Online

Authors: Paul Ellis

Tags: #Christianity, #God, #Grace, #Love

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BOOK: The Gospel in Twenty Questions
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Who is a sinner?

 

When the Bible says “all have
sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), it doesn’t mean all
are bad, for the Bible also says some are blameless.
[10]
It means we’re part of a reality that falls short of God’s reality. Who is a
sinner? It’s everyone inside the Matrix. It’s anyone who settles for the
inferior reality of life without God.

Jesus said,
“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). It’s not our sinning that
makes us slaves; we sin because we are slaves. We can’t help it. The operating
system of this present age is flesh based. It promotes trust in self instead of
God. Since anything that is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23), the system is
inherently sinful. It falls short of what God has in mind.

You may say,
“I’m basically a good person. I’m not hurting anyone.” Adam could have said the
same thing, yet he missed the mark spectacularly. The issue is not what you are
doing but whether you are becoming the person God made
you
to be. God had a dream and wrapped your body around it. Life is
the
adventure of discovering that dream and learning who you really are.

 

Who rescued us?

 

If you were a first-century Jew
raised on a heavy diet of law and temple sacrifice, it would make sense to
describe the cross in the language of sacrifice, as is done in the epistle to
the Hebrews (see for example Hebrews 9:26, 10:12). But since you are not a
first-century Jew, it makes more sense to describe the cross as a rescue mission,
as Paul does when writing to the Gentiles.

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present
evil age, according to the will of our God and Father … (Galatians 1:3–4)

 

The cross is not about
satisfying some bizarre need for blood. The cross is a rescue mission carried
out by the greatest team of superheroes in history, namely, God the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Giving thanks to the Father … for he has rescued us
from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he
loves. (Colossians 1: 12a, 13)

 

Who rescued us? Paul told the
Galatians it was Jesus but told the Colossians it was God the Father. Which is
it? It was both of them working together. It was a joint effort. In the Garden
of Eden the Father delivered the threat, and on the cross the Son carried it
out.

What about
the Holy Spirit? How does he figure in this rescue mission? Jesus tells us:

 

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. (Luke 4:18–19) 

 

Who are the prisoners in need
of freedom? We are. Every single one of us. We are also the poor in need of
grace, the blind who sit in darkness, and the oppressed bruised by the shackles
of sin. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus to set us free. Where
the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Do you see
now why this religious emphasis on good or bad behavior is irrelevant? You can
be a good slave or a bad slave and it makes no difference at all. You’re still
a slave. A prisoner who reforms is still a prisoner. Inmates on death row don’t
get time off for good behavior.

Jesus did not
come to institute a reform program for convicts. He came to proclaim liberty
throughout the land. Christ is our long-awaited year of jubilee. In Christ, the
enslaved sons of God are redeemed and get to go home.

 

What happened on the cross?

 

The children of
Israel were enslaved and mistreated for 400 years.
Their deliverance was a prophetic play that parallels
our own. In the play, the part of the deliverer was played by Moses, who is a
type of Jesus the Great Deliverer.

Moses was
special because he was the only Hebrew not owned by Pharaoh. Moses was a free
man used by God to liberate a nation of slaves. Similarly, Jesus is special
because he’s the only human who wasn’t a slave. Since Jesus isn’t of Adam, he’s
not part of the slave race. This makes him an ideal savior. When you’re locked
up
inside
, you need help from
outside
, and Jesus is the very
definition of
outside help
. Jesus was constantly reminding people, “I am
not of this world” (John 8:23). He was saying, “Since I’m not part of the
Matrix I can help unplug you from the Matrix.”

In the play,
Pharaoh represents the villain: the slaver called sin. You may recall that
Pharaoh had no desire to free the slaves. Moses said to Pharaoh, “
Let my people go.” Pharaoh replied, “It’s not going to
happen,” so God destroyed him. Pharaoh and his entire slave-based system were
crushed under the mighty hand of God. After the Red Sea, the Israelites had
nothing to fear from Pharaoh. He was dead, his army was drowned, and his
corrupt government was ruined.

If
the destruction of Pharaoh seems over the top, it’s because God wanted to give
us a dramatic picture of what he was planning to do to the slaver on the cross.

 

For what the law could
not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in
the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh …
(Romans 8:3, NKJV)

 

On the cross, God
condemned sin. The Amplified Bible says he subdued, overcame, and deprived sin
of its power. Need a picture? Look at Pharaoh rotting at the bottom of the sea.
That’s what God did to sin. Need another picture? Then consider Sodom and
Gomorrah. Those cities were wiped off the face of the earth. No trace of them
remains. What God did to those cities is what he did to sin. On the cross, God
condemned and obliterated sin once and for all.
[11]

 

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of
the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26b)

 

Again, this is sin
as a noun, not a verb. Jesus didn’t put an end to bad behavior; he put an end
to sin itself

that enslaving power that kept us bound.
How did he do it? The details are a mystery, but here is a clue:

     

God made him who had no sin to be sin for
us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians
5:21)

 

Sin had no hold on Jesus, but
on the cross Jesus took hold of sin and held tight while God poured out his
wrath and fury. I like to imagine God the Father and the Son working like a tag
team of wrestlers. When God the Son grabbed hold of sin God the Father launched
himself off the top rope and delivered the killing blow.

Why do it
this way? Why the cross? Because God couldn’t tackle sin directly without
killing us all. If he had dropped an atom bomb of judgment on the slaver’s
home, we would’ve been vaporized. We would’ve ended up like Sodom. To save us,
God tackled the problem from inside the enemy’s camp. He came undercover,
disguised in human form; like a slave but not a slave. As a man he confronted
the slaver, and as God, he condemned him. It was the consummate act of
judgment, total and complete.

What
happened on the cross? God abolished slavery. He destroyed the Matrix from
within, paving the way for our liberation.

 

What is the gospel of the cross?

 

The cross tells us two things
about God. First, it tells us he loves us more than he loves his own life.
Second, it tells us that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us, not
even our sin.

The good news
of the cross declares that the power of sin has been completely broken. Our
enemy has been disarmed and defeated and our sins have been removed as far as
the east is from the west. The implications of this are staggering. It means
your sins are no longer being held against you (Romans 4:8). You who were once
condemned have been blessed with the gift of no condemnation in Christ Jesus
(Romans 8:1). You have been forgiven once and for all time through the blood of
the Lamb (Ephesians 1:7), and in Christ your status has changed from sinner to
righteous (1 Corinthians 6:11, YLT).

Just as sin
had no claim on Jesus, sin now has no claim on you. None. Nada. Zip. Your
forgiveness is an eternally unshakeable fact.

The religious
may ask, “Are you saying all are now saved?” To which I respond, “Repent and
believe the good news!” The kingdom of God is at hand, and through faith in
Christ and his perfect work, you get to participate in it. Since the Father has
qualified you, your sins cannot disqualify you. The only way you can miss out
is if you don’t believe it—if you refuse to leave the shattered prison.

The
carnal-minded may ask, “Are you saying we can sin with impunity?” To which I
respond, “Why would you want to have anything to do with that old life of sin?”
The impunity question misses the point. Before the cross, we had no choice; we
were slaves to sin whether we were good or bad. But after the cross we have a
choice. We can stay in the prison or we can run free. We can live according to
the old law of sin and death or according to the new law of the Spirit of life.

In Adam, we
had no power to choose. We had to live with the consequences of Adam’s choice.
But Jesus has done away with Adam’s sin and your sin and my sin, and now we get
to choose. That’s freedom.

 

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a
cover-up for evil … (1 Peter 2:16a)

 

You are free to fritter away
your freedom, but it would be foolish to do so. Choosing to sin is like messing
around with handcuffs and losing the key. It is for freedom that Christ has set
you free (Galatians 5:1), so be free. Stay free.

You may ask, “How
do I stay free in a world still bent
towards sin?”
You’ve got to choose who you will listen to. The devil says, “Look at your
sin,” but God says, “Look at the Son.”

The
cross marks the end of your old life. The person you used to be died there with
Jesus. The gospel declares that in Christ, you are no longer a sinful son of
Adam, but a righteous son of God. So reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to
Christ and get on with the joyful business of living the Father’s dream. It’s
what you were made for.

 

3. What About the Resurrection?

 

If I ever made a movie about
the resurrection of Jesus, there would be one detail I would be sure to
include. I’d film Mary coming to the tomb in the early morning and finding it
empty. Then I’d show her telling Peter and John the astonishing news. Then we
would see the two disciples sprinting to the tomb, followed by a shot from
inside showing John’s face looking in and Peter pushing past. Next, I’d have a
close-up to capture the shock on Peter’s face before cutting to show what Peter
saw, namely, the detail that gives meaning to the whole scene. This is how John
scripts it:

 

Then came Simon Peter following him, and went into the
sepulcher and saw the linen cloths as they lay and the napkin that had been
about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but wrapped together in a
place by itself. (John 20:6–7, KJ21)

 

The empty tomb was not
completely empty. Sure, it was missing a body, and that fact should stop us in
our tracks. It is the puzzle that primes us for the good news of the
resurrection. But if you were a CSI investigator trying to unravel the mystery
of the missing body, you would not have been without clues.

Could this
have been a case of grave robbery? You observe the strips of linen lying there
and wonder,
Who takes the time to unwrap a corpse?
You note the fine
quality of the linen and learn that it was recently purchased by a rich man
(see Mark 15:46). Since it is inconceivable that a thief would discard such
valuable cloth, you dismiss the hypothesis that the tomb was robbed.

Next you
consider the possibility that the disciples stole the body to perpetuate a
deception. You recall that the religious leaders and the Romans took steps to
prevent this from happening (see Matthew 27:62–66). You observe the large
stone, the broken Roman seal, and the spooked Roman guards.
Could the
disciples have done this? Could the men who quailed and ran at the cross have found
the courage to break the law, over-power a squad of soldiers, and shift a heavy
stone?
You dismiss this as unlikely.

Then you
notice the detail I would emphasize in my movie, namely, the folded napkin, and
you are thunderstruck. The napkin is the clue to the mystery. It tells us there
is more going on than meets the eye.

 

What was in the empty tomb?

 

In Biblical times there were
customs governing how one should act when visiting a Jewish home. As Barbara
Richmond explains in her book,
Jewish Insights into the New Testament
,
the proper way to express gratitude after an evening of fine food and
fellowship was to casually crumple your napkin. If, however, you had an
unpleasant evening and wished to express your displeasure, you would fold the
napkin and leave it as you found it. A folded napkin was a slap in the face of
the host. It was an unmistakable sign that you would never return to his house.
[12]

The empty
tomb wasn’t empty. The fine linen cloths remained to show the grave had not
been robbed, and the napkin was folded to send us a message. Knowing that many
pairs of eyes would look into the tomb, Jesus took the time to fold the napkin
as if to say, “I’ve been to the grave, I didn’t care for it, and I will never
return.” Jesus, who faced death on our behalf and was raised to new life, will
never die again.

The
implications of the folded napkin were not lost on John:

 

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb
first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand
from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) (John 20:8–9)

 

John saw the folded napkin and
realized Jesus had risen from the dead. But at this point neither he nor Peter
understood that the resurrection had been foretold in scripture. That
revelation came later. But what was the scripture they didn’t know? It was this
one:

 

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my
body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the
dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the
path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence... (Psalm 16:9–11)

 

A few weeks later Peter would
quote this scripture in his Pentecost speech (see Acts 2:25–28). By then all
the surviving disciples, along with many others, had seen the risen Christ, and
what they saw changed them. They literally become different men.

The cowardly
Peter, who ran away on the night of the betrayal,
after seeing the risen
Lord
became the bold witness who confronted the Sanhedrin and was later
crucified for his faith. The skeptic Thomas, who refused to believe the
testimony of ten honest friends,
after seeing the risen Lord
became the
apostle who took the gospel to Persia and was martyred in India. The
unbelieving James, who had tried to silence his half-brother Jesus,
after
seeing the risen Lord
became the fearless leader of the Jerusalem church
and was thrown off the temple when he refused to deny Christ. The hater Saul,
who persecuted Christians,
after seeing the risen Lord
became the
apostle of grace who wrote most of the New Testament and was beheaded for his
faith.

On the night
Jesus died, all but one of his disciples fled in fear. By their actions they
denied him. Their message to the world was, “We don’t know the man.” But after
they saw the risen Lord and were filled with the Holy Spirit, those same
disciples went to the four corners of the earth and to their deaths declaring,
“God raised Jesus from the dead. We are witnesses. We cannot help speaking
about what we have seen and heard.”

Jesus’ death
on the cross did not change the disciples. What changed them was the
resurrection. It’s the same with us. When we see Jesus on the cross we learn
that God loves us. But when we see Jesus risen from the dead we realize his
love is greater than anything life can throw at us. The resurrection proves
nothing can separate us from the undying love of God, and
this
is what
changes us and empowers us to walk out of the prison of sin.

 

BOOK: The Gospel in Twenty Questions
6.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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