Jesus, the Heart of the Gospel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus, the Heart of the Gospel

By Larry R. Lasiter

2003

If you put your hand on your chest you will feel your heart beating. In anxious moments, we have all felt the strong thumping of this muscle as it pumps blood throughout our system. We may hold our breath momentarily, but we cannot stop the heart. Anyone who has experienced a problem with their heart understands how important this tiny organ is to their well-being, though it is no bigger than your fist and weighs less than a pound.

Our heart beats an average of 72 times each minute, which is about 100,000 times each day. In a 24-hour period it will have pumped the equivalent of 1,800 gallons of blood through more than 60,000 miles of our circulation system. Without its labor life could not be sustained.

On the last day of March 2002, my father passed away in his sleep while watching TV. He had lived with me for the last four years of his life. He was already expired when the paramedics came, but still they worked valiantly to restart his heart. They knew that a beating heart means life to the body. He was pronounced dead only when it became evident that they could not get a heartbeat.

The Bible says that the life of a person is in the blood. And it is the heart which pumps this life throughout the body. If any part of our body is deprived of the blood, it soon withers and dies.

Even in everyday life, when someone is really serious, they may find themselves saying,- "Come on! Let's get to the "heart" of the matter!" So, just what is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Most of the Christian world believes that the true gospel is a message about Christ and his crucifixion. But many of our fellow Sabbath keeping congregations teach a different message as the gospel.

Under the leadership of Herbert W. Armstrong the worldwide church of God taught that the one and only true gospel of Jesus Christ was a message of a coming kingdom or government which will be established on the earth at the return of Jesus. This church broke into many pieces in the 1990s because of massive doctrinal changes. This in turn, produced a multitude of congregations. Some affiliated with an off-shoot organization and some, like us, became independent. Most all of these churches continued to hold the belief that to teach Christ, and Him crucified constituted preaching a false gospel.

Notice this from "Mystery of the Ages," by Herbert W. Armstrong,- "What is the one and only gospel of Jesus Christ? It has not been preached for 19 centuries, strange as that may seem. . . It is necessary to believe that gospel to be saved! And how can you believe it, unless you know what it is? And for 1900 years, the world did not know. That gospel was suppressed and replaced by man's gospel about Christ." (P. 295)

Roderick C. Meredith, founder of the Living Church of God in his booklet "Do You Believe the True Gospel?"calls the teaching of Christ, and Him crucified a "false gospel." Notice, - "Frankly, millions of sincere men and women have put up with a false gospel." Mr. Meredith begins the booklet saying -"Your eternity depends on your willingness to understand and believe the true gospel!"

David C. Pack, founder of the Restored Church of God in his booklet "Which is the True Gospel?" writes,  "the knowledge of what the gospel really is has been hidden from the world for centuries! Almost everyone believes that the gospel is about the Person of Jesus Christ. Certainly, Christ plays an extremely important and central role to Christianity, but He is not the gospel. The Bible shows that Jesus is preached in conjunction with the gospel. Again, His role is enormous. But He is not the gospel."

Perhaps I should say here that I believe the Bible teaches a coming kingdom where Jesus will establish the Government of God on the earth. However, I believe "Kingdom" has to be Scripturally defined, a message of a future Kingdom is not the central theme of the gospel in the New Testament Scriptures.

Those who believe that a future kingdom is the main message of the gospel are quick to point out that Jesus said, -"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" The emphasis is always put on "of." This is meant to say, that the true gospel is a message "of" Christ, not a message "about" Christ.

After His death, the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to his disciples and commissioned them to take the gospel to the whole world, notice -"go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." (Matthew 28: 19 -20)

We can look in the Bible and see what the heart of their teaching was. Surely they knew what message was to be preached. Also, it is important for us to understand what the purpose of the gospel is. Is it to simply announce a future event as a witness? Or is it a message which has the power to save those who receive it from their sins at the time they hear it? And one must ask the question, how does announcing a future event redeem anyone from the penalty of their sins?

The first place in Scripture where we see an apostle preaching the gospel is in Acts chapter 2. This of course, is Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. In verse 21 Peter says that all who will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. In verses 22 -24, Peter tells the Jews that they had killed the Son of God, but that God had raised him from the dead. In verse 36, he tells them -"God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." It verses 37 -41, the Jews cried out -"what shall we do?" Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. In verse 40, we see Peter exhorting them saying -"Be saved from this perverse generation!"

In his entire message, not once did Peter mention a gospel of a coming kingdom. Yet we see that 3000 souls were saved that day as they received the message of Christ and Him crucified.

Now, let's take a look at what Paul taught, notice 1 Cor.15:1-4, -"Now I make known to you brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, and which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried , and that he was raised on the third day."

Here, the apostle Paul is clearly identifying what gospel he preached, again there is no mention of a message of a soon coming government being established on the earth, just the saving message of Christ dying for our sins.

Notice also, that Paul said that he had delivered to them what was of "first importance" saying that he had received it from Christ. In his letter to the Galatians Paul said that he preached what Jesus had taught him personally by revelation. In chapter 2, he reminded them that he had gone up to Jerusalem and presented to Peter, James and John what gospel he was preaching to the Gentiles, and said that they had added nothing to him.

Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians he said, -"And when I came to you brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1 -2)

Here again we see the apostle Paul preaching the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified, even saying thatthis was the only message that he had delivered to them in the beginning. Clearly they received salvation through hearing and receiving the message that God had become a man and was crucified for our sins.

Notice also, -"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."(1 Cor.1:17-18) "For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness."(1 Cor.1:22-23)

Here we find an apostle of Jesus Christ preaching a message, the true gospel, - Christ crucified. It is this message that has the power to save souls. All who are lost in sin, which includes everyone who has ever lived except Jesus, are in need of a Savior. A righteous Savior who was willing to give his life, by shedding His blood to blot out the sins of all who would receive His sacrifice. An announcement of what Jesus is going to do on the earth at His return is not relevant, nor is it good news to those who are lost in sin.

A "witness message" cannot save, it can only warn or announce. As Paul said the gospel is the power of salvation to all who hear and receive it.

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul said that if the gospel was veiled, it was veiled to those who are perishing. He goes on to say that they are blinded by their unbelief and cannot see the light of the gospel, the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:3-4) Again we find the subject of the gospel is Jesus.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul said that he was set apart to preach the gospel concerning the Son of God who was resurrected from the dead. (Romans 1:1-4) Now notice verses 16 and 17, -"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." Only the gospel of God becoming a man and giving his righteous life for unrighteous sinners has the power to save those who believe.

Paul told the Hebrews that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness for sins. (Hebrews 9:22)He goes on to say that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (10:4) Paul then reveals the righteous offering, a holy sacrifice had been made once and for all, and his name was Jesus.(10:10)

When Paul wrote the Philippians he told them that since he had been in prison greater progress had been made in spreading the gospel (1:12) He said that the "cause of Christ" had become well-known throughout the whole praetorian guard. As a result, people had far more courage to speak the gospel without fear.

Paul admits that some were teaching "Christ" out of selfish ambition, but said that even in this he would rejoice because "Christ was preached." Once again, we find the heart of the gospel message was about the person Jesus Christ. Paul did not say he rejoiced because a message of a "coming kingdom" was being preached, but that "Christ was being preached."

In the book of Acts, chapter 8, we read the story where Philip preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch. He had come across the eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. More specifically, he was reading chapter 53 which is the prophecy of Messiah as a suffering servant. Notice, -"He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth." (Acts 8:32 / Isaiah 53:7) The Ethiopian confessed to Philip that he did not know the meaning of this Scripture and asked if the Prophet was speaking of himself or someone else. In verse 35 we see that Philip "preached Jesus to him." After receiving this message of Christ and him crucified, the man asked -"What prevents me from being baptized?" Now notice what Philip said,-"If you believe with all your heart, you may." And the man answered Philip and said,-"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."(Acts 8:36-37)

Notice that Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart" you may be baptized. Did Philip mean that this Ethiopian must believe a "gospel" that Jesus would establish a government on the earth in 2000 years in order to be baptized and saved? What was it that this man said he did believe? Wasn't it that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and had been crucified for the sins of the world? Isn't that what Isaiah chapter 53 is all about? And didn't this man receive salvation through the message of the suffering servant? Once again, we find that the subject of the gospel is Jesus crucified. And once again, we find nothing about a "gospel" of a coming kingdom connected to the salvation of this sinner.

Even when the angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he proclaimed, -"And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, (Heb."Yeshua" meaning "Salvation") for it is He who will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The purpose for this child coming into the world was to "save His people from their sins."The angel did not say, "To announce a future world-ruling kingdom."

In Acts 5 we read where the Apostles were arrested by the Jewish Religious leaders for "Preaching Jesus Crucified." When those men forbade them to teach Jesus Peter replied, "We must obey God rather than men."(Verse 29) He goes on to remind them that they had killed Jesus by "hanging Him on a cross." (Verse 30) He testifies in the next verse that this Jesus is "Savior" and in Him alone can one be saved. Afterwards these Jewish leaders had the Apostles beaten, warned them against preaching Jesus, and released them. Notice the result,- they "rejoiced", "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ." (Verse 42)

Paul told Timothy,- "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David according to MY GOSPEL, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the Word of God is not imprisoned."(2 Tim. 2:8-9) This was the message for which Paul suffered persecution. And this was the "gospel" which he delivered.

"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time. And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle."(1 Tim. 2:5-7)

In chapter 1 of Galatians Paul warns of a curse for those who would preach or receive a different gospel than the one which he taught. I do not know what this curse is, or will be, but since it is in the word of God I believe it is very real. Personally, I want to make sure that I have received, confess, and proclaim the true gospel of Christ, for I want no part of a curse. Even then there were those who were perverting the gospel of Christ. Even today, some teach that Paul was warning against receiving a gospel of "Christ crucified"other than the "true" message of a "coming kingdom." But where do we find Paul saying this? We have seen clearly, by the apostle's own words that he preached Christ crucified and resurrected as the gospel message.

Now, the Bible does teach that at the return of Jesus He will establish a kingdom upon the earth and reign for 1000 years. But when Jesus was on earth as a man he said that the kingdom of God was at hand. Was he referring to a kingdom thousands of years away, to Himself as king of the kingdom, or was he saying that a kingdom was really then "at hand?"

In Luke chapter 17 the Pharisees questioned Jesus as to when the kingdom of God was coming. He answered them and said,-"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say 'Look, here it is!' or ' There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." (verses 20-21) I am quoting from the NAS but the KJV renders this,-"Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." There are some who teach that Jesus was only referring to Himself because He would be the king of the kingdom when He established the kingdom at His return in glory. But Jesus taught that the kingdom was something that the Jewish religious leaders of His day could have entered into but were unwilling to. Notice,- "But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Matthew 23: 13)

A high-ranking Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night inquiring about the Kingdom of God. This man held the belief that this Kingdom would be established upon the earth when Israel was exalted to power under the leadership of a Messiah. But Jesus told him, "You must be born again to see the Kingdom." (John 3:3)Jesus was saying that it is not enough to be born of Abraham's natural seed to inherit the Kingdom of God. One must be born of the "spirit." Jesus said, "Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." (Verse 5) When Nicodemus confessed that he still did not understand, Jesus replied,- "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (Verse 12)Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is a "heavenly thing," not a "earthly thing."

Now notice what Paul taught the Corinthians,- "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 15:50)

If one "cannot see" the Kingdom unless he be "born again", and if "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, then the Kingdom must be more than a physical government on the earth enforced by spiritual beings on the earth. The nations which will be forced to obey God after the return of Christ cannot enter nor inherit the Kingdom of God because they will be flesh. Though these nations will be ruled by the Kingdom of God, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God, because one must be "born again" of the "spirit" to even "see" it.

Can one enter the kingdom of God now? Notice what John said in Revelation chapter 1, verses 5 and 6,-"To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by his blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father." We see here that those who are released from their sins by the blood of Jesus then become a kingdom, and priests to God.

In Revelation chapter 5, verses 9 and 10 we read the words of a new song sang in heaven saying,-"Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain and did purchase for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

Now, concerning a kingdom which can be entered into now, notice what Paul said in this letter to theColossians,-"For He (Father) delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (1:13-14)

From these "Kingdom" Scriptures, we see that those who are "born again" of the "spirit", "become a Kingdom" or are "transferred into the Kingdom of God."

At the return of Jesus in glory, the dead in Christ shall rise in His glorious image, (1 John 3) spirit and immortal, then those who are alive shall be changed also with a "twinkling of an eye" and shall all meet the Lord in the sky. Then they shall descend with Jesus to the Mount of Olives. (1 Cor 15 / 1 Thes. 4 / Zech. 14) This Body of believers are the spiritual entity spoken of in Scripture, the Kingdom of God coming in all its glory to the earth.

Did Jesus merely come to reveal the Father and announce a far in the distance kingdom? Let us allow Jesus to speak for himself,-"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say,-Father save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came." (John 12: 27) Here we find Jesus telling us why he came into the world. At this time He was preparing to suffer an agonizing death on the cross for those lost in sin, and He was deeply troubled. God, the Son had come into the world as a man that He might die to redeem the lost.

Those who deny that the gospel is about Jesus and Him crucified, going so far as to believe that this is a "false gospel" cannot feel free to adore Him. Though they know that He suffered horribly and died for their sins, it is difficult for them to openly worship Him or publicly profess their love and appreciation for His sacrifice. The label "counterfeit gospel" attached to the person Jesus is like a dark cloud that hangs over their minds. They may love Jesus, but they do not feel free to publicly express it. They feel awkward just lovingly saying "Thank You Jesus."

Though Christians should not be driven by emotion, they should feel free to express proper emotion. The apostle Paul once said,- "If we are beside ourselves, it is for God and because of Christ. If we are of sound mind it is for your sake. "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died ;and He died for all the that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."(2 Cor. 5:13-15)

To understand that Jesus, our Savior, loves us with a love so great that he suffered and died for us, should cause us to be literally overwhelmed with deep gratitude and appreciation. I never get tired of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or find it burdensome to regularly express my adoration to Him who gave His life for mine.

Recently, during a Friday evening Praise and Prayer service here, a young man was suddenly filled with the joy of the Lord and could not help but proclaim the wonderful name of "Jesus" over and over as he publicly prayed a prayer of gratitude for His sacrifice. He had been raised in a church which taught that "Christ Crucified" was a "false gospel." He never felt comfortable saying "Jesus" so he would usually say "God" or "Christ." To call Him "Jesus" was just too personal for him,- until that night.

He now feels that he has entered a "new chapter" of his life. It was like he was literally released from some invisible chains which held him in bondage. He now feels free to express with his lips what he has been feeling in his heart for some time. Now he wants everyone to feel the joy that he is experiencing in Jesus.

There is power in the blood of Jesus, the power to blot out sin. Where sin is blotted out there remains no longer a penalty, only freedom. As Jesus said in his first message in the synagogue when He began His ministry,-"He anointed Me to preach the gospel. . To proclaim release to the captives. . . To set free those who are downtrodden. . . Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4: 18-21)

The gospel of Jesus Christ does set free those who are downtrodden and releases those who were once held captive by sin. It is the liberating and lifesaving message that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) 2000 Years ago the love of God displayed its might on a hill called Calvary. That is a life changing message, the real heart of the gospel, -and the best news sinful man could ever receive.

 

 

Points of Truth Ministries