Theology Thursday: The First Gospel
What is the Gospel?
As a missionary, I’ve begun to ask myself this question regularly. Not because the answer ever changes, but rather because it’s necessary to remind myself daily why my wife and I do what we do. Every time, it rekindles both the joy of my salvation and the joy of sharing with others what I believe is the best news anyone could ever receive.
The most victorious moment in human history is recorded for us in Matthew 28: the resurrection of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. He claimed to be the Son of God and many put their faith in Him, but the Jewish leaders, offended by Jesus’ claims, delivered Him over to be punished by the Roman authorities. Their Messiah dead, Jesus’ followers felt defeated.
Jesus was buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. It was sealed with a giant stone and guards stood watch. Three days after Jesus was taken down off that cross, some of the women went to visit the tomb. Bewildered, they discovered the stone rolled away and an angel of the Lord standing inside, his appearance like lighting and his clothing white as snow. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6).
The women ran back to where the other disciples were staying to share this good news with them. Many have dubbed this as the first time the Gospel was ever shared. But what does this first century event have to do with you and I in the 21st century?
Back to the Beginning
While this was the first time news of Jesus’ resurrection was told to anyone, victory over Satan had been foretold long before. In Genesis 3 we find what became known as the proto-evangelium — Latin for the first Gospel.
In Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve had just been deceived by the serpent and, consequently, the world had fallen into sin. But, here we also find the first promise of a redeemer!
God says to the serpent, “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Ultimately, this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ, who crushes the head of that ancient serpent Satan, but not without his own death on the Cross at Calvary. The mortal blow to the serpent came by Jesus’ bruised heel; our redemption from sin came at the cost of the Son of God’s life.
The Great Commission
After Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discovered the empty tomb, they left with “fear and great joy,” running to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive!
Jesus, after His glorious resurrection, met the disciples at Galilee and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).
That call extends to us, His followers in this generation. We are to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) until the fullness of the Gentiles have come in (Romans 11:25). Our greatest work in life, you might say, is to know God and then to make Him known. Our task is to bear witness to the resurrection of our King, professing just as the apostles did that only in Jesus’ name can you be saved! Paul says,
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Christianity Without Resurrection
Some ask, “Can I be a Christian without believing that a man was raised from the dead?” The resurrection has always been a stumbling block for people not to believe in Christ, but here are two reasons why, without resurrection, there is no Christianity:
- If Christ isn’t raised, then his substitutionary atonement isn’t counted to you. Paul writes to the Corinthians that, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Each of us individually have accumulated a debt to God because of our sin— a debt larger than we could ever repay. Jesus cancels this debt by nailing himself to the cross, rather than you being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). Before Jesus, atonement was made by repeatedly offering animal sacrifices to remove one's sin, as prescribed by God. Jesus, however, removes sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:12). Thus, John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).
- Christ’s victory over death secures your eternity. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes on to say that if Christ is not raised, “then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied “ (1 Corinthians 15:18-19). Thus, if Christ died and was never raised, then we also will never be raised. At Christianity’s core is a confidence that we will spend eternity alive with Christ, and that we will not perish after death. Only because of this can we proclaim with boldness, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15: 55)
Let us be a generation who refuses to forsake the historic teachings of Christianity because of modern skepticism.
Let us be a generation of believers who share this good news with the world, fulfilling the call to make disciples of all nations!
Do you feel called to respond to the Great Commission? A great place to start is a Discipleship Training School.