Christ and the Gospel
Ivan Steeds, Bristol
The word 'gospel' carries the meaning of 'good tidings', or 'glad tidings'. In whatever setting this word gospel might have been used over the course of human history, the ultimate justification for its use has to be in connection with God's provision of a salvation for the creature 'man'. This He did in the person of His only begotten Son, and the communication of this news to men, by men, is truly the gospel.
Paul describes it as 'the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust,' 1 Tim. 1. 11, and in his Galatian epistle is at pains to ensure that no variation, or perversion, of this gospel should be allowed, He judges the gospel to be the revealed statement of truth clearly presented by the earliest preachers. Paul pronounced judgement (repeated) upon any who would dare to take any kind of liberty with 'the gospel of Christ,' Gal. 1. 6-10, for this would be to meddle with something that originated in the heart of God in a past eternity, being brought about in time by the Son of God, 2 Thess. 2. 13-14. Inasmuch as it was His Son, manifest in flesh, that revealed to us God's heart of love, so we must ensure that 'this Jesus' is ever the subject of the gospel we proclaim. It is in His Person, and His work on behalf of lost sinners, that we have been made aware that 'God is love', John 3. 16. We look to Christ for salvation; 'neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved', Acts 4. 12. Paul declares that 'the gospel of his Son ... is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth', Rom. 1. 9, 16.
As we proclaim the gospel today, what then must be said about Christ? Surely, on the testimony of God's word, and claiming its authority, there are truths that the bearer of glad tidings must declare, for they are crucial to the hearer's understanding of God's way of salvation.
His visitation as Saviour
The introduction of the Christ into this world of ours was 'through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us', Luke 1. 78. As the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, He came to us on an errand of mercy that was planned before the world existed, Eph. 1. 4-6. The prophetic word of Micah stated that He who would come forth from Bethlehem was in fact He 'whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (lit. 'the days of eternity')', 5. 2. John says, 'We have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world', 1 John 4. 14. The divine and eternal 'Word' became flesh and 'tabernacled' among us - this was His visitation - He came 'to seek and to save 'that which was lost', John 1. 14, Luke 19. 10.
His virgin birth
The word of 1 Tim. 3. 16, 'God was manifest in flesh', so succinct, states a wondrous and abiding mystery. From the account given of His birth we know it was unique in everyway. The first prophecy of the coming Saviour declared Him to be the 'Seed' of 'the woman', Gen. 3. 15. The hopes of the human race could not depend on Adam, or any of his descendants, for all were powerless to deal with sin, death, and Satan. Salvation would be found in the 'Seed' of 'the woman': so we read the word spoken to Mary, the virgin, 'the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God', Luke 1. 35.
His virtuous life
In the house of Cornelius, Peter declared that Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, 'went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him', Acts 10. 38, Such evidence of His virtue was but a fraction of the whole. Though like us in that He took 'flesh and blood', He was entirely 'apart from sin'. When exposed to any form of temptation He did not fall prey to it, for there was nothing within Him to respond to sin. His holy manhood upheld Him amidst unbelievable pressures, so that He 'did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth', 1. Pet. 2. 22. The gospel emphasizes the absolute virtue of Christ's life that it might be appreciated that He came to the sacrificial act of Calvary as 'a lamb without blemish and without spot', 1 Pet. 1. 19; cf. Exod. 12. 5-6.
His vicarious sufferings
That Christ suffered as a substitute for the sinner is made very clear: 'For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit', 1 Pet. 3. 8. We, the unjust, are spared the righteous wrath of God against us for our sins because He, the Just One, suffered for those sins in our place. These are the vicarious sufferings of Christ- those sufferings that He endured in His death upon the cross. We know that He suffered from the commencement of His pathway on earth - suffered at the hands of men; suffered from the constant attacks of Satan and his minions; suffered in sympathy with suffering humanity so that men marvelled at the extent of the sorrows borne in life by the Man of Sorrows. But all of these sufferings were not vicarious, for had it been so, then there was no need for Him to 'offer Himself without spot unto God' as the sacrificial victim of Calvary! 'Who his own seif bare our sins in his own body on the tree', 1 Pet. 2. 24. 'For (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us (instead of us) ... 2 Cor. 5. 21. In His act of atonement, His blood must be shed. As 'a ransom for the many', His life must be given, Matt. 20. 28. The death that He died must be 'even the death of the cross', Phil. 2. 8.
His voluntary death
All other men were made subject to death by the first man's disobedience, Rom. 5. 12, and 'by one man's offence death reigned', Rom. 5. 17. The gospel makes clear that Christ's death was unique, and entirely in line with His own statement, 'Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father', John 10. 17-18. Though He would die, paying the penalty of sin, yet His life was not wrested from Him. For other men death would be an involuntary act at the behest of an external, dominating force, but God's 'Holy One' would at the appointed time dismiss His spirit, and bow His Head in death as the victor over death, not the victim, John 19. 30; Heb. 2. 14-15.
He was vindicated in resurrection
The stupendous fact of Christ's literal resurrection, preached by His followers, attracted ferocious attack from the opposition. Each apostle had seen the Lord in resurrection life, Acts 2. 32; 1 Cor. 9. 1, and Paul took pains to establish the undeniable truth of what they, and others, claimed by submitting an impressive list of witnesses who had seen Him at various times and locations. The reason for such emphasis by these earliest preachers is that the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for our salvation, and therefore it must figure as an essential element in our preaching of the gospel, 1 Cor. 15. 4; cf. v. 1 7, 'if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins'. In his Pentecostal address, Peter affirms that it was God who raised up His Son 'having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that He should be holden of it'. Herein we see God's acceptance of Christ's work upon the cross. The resurrection represents God's seal of approval on all that had been accomplished, and vindication of Christ's absolute holiness, Acts 2. 22-32.
His valedictory promises
In the course of His upper room ministry, our Lord spoke of His imminent departure from this scene, but gave assurances to His followers that help was forthcoming, and support was available, to enable them to cope in His absence. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, would be given to uphold, to enlighten, and to empower God's people; He would reprove a guilty world. Prayer would be offered in Christ's name, with assurance of the Father's response, while Christ's own peace would be their portion. He would 'come again' to receive His people to Himself, to be with Him for evermore.
His victorious ascension
When the Man, Christ Jesus, duly ascended to His present position of glory in heaven, His progress to such highest estate was majestic! It was in the manner of a victorious conqueror returning with the spoils of war after conducting a successful military campaign, Eph. 4. 8-10, Acts 2. 32-36; cf. Psa. 24. 7-10.
His validation as judge
The raised and ascended Christ is God's appointed executor of judgement in a coming day. The world of unbelievers must accept His complete suitability for this role, for as 'Son of Man' His credentials for dispensing absolute justice are impeccable, Acts 17. 30-31; John 5. 22, 26-27.