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Some  years ago I had in my personal library the autobiography of Granville Moody. He was a Methodist pastor from southwestern Ohio who served in the mid 1800s. During the American Civil War he became one of the political generals in the Union Army, as some other prominent pastors at the same time. It was a custom now little known that before a battle the generals of both armies would call the troops together and give a pastor a chance to call them to make their peace with God before the battle. The testimony of Moody and of history is that many of them did respond to the preaching of the gospel, and they then went to eternity having received salvation in Christ during the fearsome toll of human lives that those battles took.

Moody also told the  story about the conversion of a former slave in Kentucky after the Civil War.  He was a shrewd man who bought some land where there were some large old oak trees. Under those trees he then built a pen and kept pigs there. Under the trees their feed would naturally drop from above in the form of acorns which the pigs loved. This man then one day saw the pigs eating the acorns, and he realized that he was just like them. He had been taking the blessings that were falling from above without any regard to their source, and his heart began to turn to God. And we’re like them.  We often disregard not only the blessings from above, but without any regard to the tree from which they come. That tree from which our blessings fall is another way which we describe the cross of Jesus.

The expression ‘curtains’ is an idiom borrowed from the theater. It can be about the curtain that falls at the end of a final act. And it’s often used as a euphemism for someone’s death, maybe even a violent death. And there are curtains that we could say surround the circumstances of the actual death of Jesus. There we’ll find the opening of curtains, to reveal what is actually happening at the same time. But  then, at the same time,, as the crucifixion took place, it seemed that the curtains were falling on the hopes and desires that were pinned on Jesus. He was the best candidate to date for the Messiah to save Israel. But at the same time there were other curtains that were opening up to explain what was happening at that time, and these other curtains that were opening up opened to show that what was happening was not the final act for Jesus.

“And when the sixth hour had arrived, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And in the ninth hour Jesus shouted with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?’ – which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you totally abandoned me?’” Some of those who were standing by heard this and said, ‘Hey, he’s calling on Elijah!’ So one of them ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar. He put it on a reed and tried to get him to drink it. He said, ‘Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.’ But Jesus gave a great shout and then breathed his last. The veil of the Temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion who was standing opposite him saw how he had died he said, “Certainly this was the Son of God.” There were women who were watching these things from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the lesser James and Joseph, and Salome. These women had followed him and served him in Galilee, and many others had come up with him to Jerusalem.” (Mark 15:33-41, Dale’s sight translation).

The cross meant separation for Jesus.  It meant  separation from the presence of God the Father he had known all his life. So this meant that his suffering was not only physical, social and emotional, but also spiritual in a way which we could never understand in ourselves outside of a personal experience of hell itself. The actual circumstances of the crucifixion of Jesus showed the barrier between him and the Father which came with the crucifixion. This was  unique to his experience of the slow death of crucifixion: for him it was the sudden experience of spiritual death and the separation from God the Father due to the punishment of sin which he took upon himself for us.

The separation from God the Father which Jesus experienced as part of his utterly unique experience of crucifixion is described in verses  33-34: “And when the sixth hour had arrived, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And in the ninth hour Jesus shouted with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?’ – which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you totally abandoned me?’”

The separation is the meaning behind the unexplained darkness over the land. This unexplained darkness was well known to have happened in the ancient world, but only the gospels make the connection of this darkness with death of Jesus. Most modern commentators consider that this darkness was just over Judea instead of the whole earth, but ancient sources do indicate it was more widespread. It lasted, according to the gospels, for three hours, from about noon until 3 PM on that day of crucifixion. It’s noteworthy that the darkness ceased – probably gradually faded away — after his death.

This otherwise unexplained darkness was the first sign from heaven attending the crucifixion and death. It was also pointed out in ancient times that this could not have been an eclipse. Modern commentators think that it might have been s a black sirocco, a khamsin dust storm from the desert. Whatever the cause, the fact of the darkness at that time was never in dispute in ancient times or in modern commentaries. And the fact had real meaning for us as well. The description is reminiscent of the plague of darkness over Egypt, and for Jesus, it was literally and spiritually the ‘hour of darkness.’ It was what he had seen coming when he was in Gethsemane, and when he called it ‘the hour of darkness.’ It’s also worth noting that this unexplained darkness would not have been something that could have under Jesus’s control if he had been a mere man with Messianic pretensions attempting to fulfill heterodox understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. Make no mistake, you may call this a coincidence for which you cannot account if you are determined that it can only have a natural cause and no further meaning. But a merely human Jesus could not have stirred this up to add drama to a crucifixion scene which he thought he would escape for some reason. And a merely human Jesus would have been far too deeply delusional to submit to all that happened that day, to actually being crucified by the Romans, to suppose that he would escape death on the cross somehow. And that kind of Jesus would never have made any sense as a Messiah that would be worshipped as the Lord of life after three days and the numerous eyewitness testimonies of those who recognized him and saw him alive.

The culmination of the time of darkness was the cry on the cross which is known in Christian tradition as the cry of dereliction. As Jesus was dying, as he was in his last few breaths, scriptures were on his lips. This was more than a whisper, but it was a loud shout. Jesus shouted in Aramaic in front of all the eyewitnesses of the crucifixion – one of the few places in the gospels where the actual Aramaic words of Jesus are preserved. Since the gospel of Mark was first written in Greek, these words are then translated in Greek from the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, for the readers of the gospel. It’s astounding that Jesus  could command the physical energy to give such a shout after some six hours on the cross. A person who was crucified normally alternated between periods of exhaustion, unconsciousness and raving insanity – yes, the physical pain of crucifixion often drove the crucified insane, and their last hours as they were losing their lives gradually they lost their minds completely. This was part of the utterly dehumanizing experience of crucifixion that was intended to be a deterrent to the peoples subject to the Roman empire – remain under the yoke of Rome or you will lose your humanity and your life in the most degrading way possible. It was intended to put the fear into the subject people not to challenge the power of Rome or you would end up dying raving on a cross, having lost every last shred of human dignity, decency and comfort.

The cry of dereliction was Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you totally abandoned me?’” The cry of dereliction was his own application of the scripture to his present experience on the cross, and his testimony to his own fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the final moments of crucifixion. It wasn’t a full theological explanation – that was to wait for the days and years which followed his resurrection. It’s not hard to believe that Jesus actually explained this during the forty days of his post resurrection teaching to the apostles, when he went over the Old Testament scriptures with them again and showed how he had fulfilled them (Luke 24:44-46). It would have been wonderful to have been there to have heard how he explained his fulfillment of Psalm 22 to the apostles – but in light of what the New Testament says about the death of Christ, we can know what it meant: he took upon himself the entire sin of the world during this time, and this was part of his experience of the crucifixion, of paying the penalty for the sin of the world for all eternity.

By his own dying testimony, then, we can see that the black curtain of the sin of the world and the penalty of our sin stood between Jesus and God the Father. That time of separation which he experienced is not and cannot be part of our experience; it is something that we have to take as a real fact of what was done for us. It is the testimony of that death once for all that rendered all attempts to save ourselves by our own good deeds invalid forever. That death rendered all attempts to save ourselves by our good deeds invalid within our own lifetime and all of any churchy moralism where we may think that we may recommend ourselves to God. It rendered invalid forever any illusion on our part that even  over many lifetimes we could ever do anything good enough to atone for our sins, as in reincarnation and karma, the highly watered down Hindu doctrines which have made their way to much pop religiosity. The cross of Jesus was not a mere morality play—but if there is no truth and no justice and no wrath of God against the sin of the world — the cross of Jesus could not even have been a morality play. The separation between Jesus and God the Father in the cross shows that the reality of the wrath of God against sin is real, but the love of God for sinners is greater.  Unless the wrath of God to come is real and the wrath of God against sin in the cross is to move us is real, the cross, and the cry of Jesus does not make sense at all. But this is what it means: “He made him who had not known sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

So this death, the cross that meant separation for Jesus, means acceptance for us, in the satisfaction of the wrath of God by the death of Jesus. What this means for us we can often find best expressed in our hymns and poems from the hearts of strongly devout and deeply experienced Christian men and women. This conviction of faith in Jesus shines in a verse that was once quoted by Amy Carmichael:

“Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.”

Another man who depicted the death of Christ most vividly, in hymns which still shake our hearts was Isaac Watts. He wrote such hymns as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed.” Here is a little known verse where he tells how the cross was for our sins:

“’Twere you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear.”

Unfortunately, though, the meaning of the cross was lost on those who were standing around and watching during the crucifixion. It was a bizarre form of entertainment for some, perhaps, that they could stand there and continue to view and deride those who were crucified. Those there for the crucifixion of Jesus would have realized that his death was a quite unusual kind of execution. But simply being there did not bring understanding and faith to those who were lost in their own blindness. The meaning of all that was happening was lost on those who were there to witness it firsthand; they remained stuck in their blindness and unbelief.

The reaction of most of the immediate witnesses to the dying shout of Jesus is described in verses 35-36: “Some of those who were standing by heard this and said, ‘Hey, he’s calling on Elijah!’ So one of them ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar. He put it on a reed and tried to get him to drink it. He said, ‘Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.’”

It’s clear that those who were on hand for the last moments of Jesus on the cross had no clue about what was happening. Those around at the time of his final breath did not understand even what Jesus was saying. It’s clear that they thought that Jesus was calling on the prophet from the Old Testament, the revered Elijah, to come and rescue him from the cross. They would have had awareness of a Jewish tradition of Elijah in that time, that he was regarded as a kind of like a patron saint, who would come to help the unjustly condemned. From the gospel of John (19:28) we know that Jesus made the remark, “I thirst.” This was the reason behind the attempt from some unidentified bystander to get him to drink the sour wine. The others just wanted to stand around and see what would happen. None of them had any understanding of what was happening. The real understanding of the cross needed to come with the explanation of the cross from Jesus himself with the apostles. The events around the cross were themselves full of meaning, but those there did not find the events to be self-interpreting.  For instance, we don’t find anyone there at the actual cross itself falling to his or her knees and crying out about finally understanding the love of God and the meaning of the sacrifice on the cross for our sins – but that’s the reaction that should come when it finally gets through to us, when it comes to our hearts.

There is a thick, invisible and yet impassable veil of scriptural ignorance and spiritual blindness which is the curtain that lies on the hearts of men and women without Christ. The events of the gospel thus need the explanation of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit  to break through this blindness to bring the light of the gospel into the hearts of the men and women of this world. The meaning of the gospel was not self-evident in the events as they took place, and so we cannot share just the bare outline of the historical events. The gospel involves the explanation of what God was doing there and what he was doing for all of us in the cross of Jesus.

If you are reading this and you have professed your faith in Jesus Christ, remember that there was a time when you didn’t know what it was about and then when it was all so new for you.  when it was new for you. You were like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:31) in your need for someone to guide you through the scriptures to understand the person that the scriptures were guiding you to for your salvation. Hopefully now you realize the reality of the love of God in the cross, as the apostle Paul explained in Romans 5:8:But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Understand, though, the spiritual blindness in your own life that needed to be swept aside for each one of us who are believers in Christ to come to this point:  “But if our gospel is hidden  as if it were behind a curtain, it is hidden for those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age has blinded the thought processes of those who are in unbelief, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . because the God who spoke, ‘Let light shine from darkness,’ has made the light shine forth in our hearts to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”  (II Corinthians 4:3-4, 6). I fear so much that in our present age the current undiscerning generation of believers – the most undiscerning generation of believers in many years — has so little understanding of the supernatural work that has to take place in the hearts of men and women to overcome their natural ignorance unbelief and rebellion for them to come to genuine, scripturally sound repentance, faith and regeneration. We would see unbelievers much less as seekers after Jesus than as obtuse to salvation and often seekers after everything but Jesus, since apart from a supernatural work of God through the Holy Spirit, even with all the gospel events and facts of scripture before us, we would never have of ourselves naturally chosen repentance and faith in Jesus. And no one else ever will, either.

John Calvin once said,  “It is our wisdom to have a fit sense of the how much our salvation cost the Son of God.” The consideration of the testimony of scripture, then, pulls open the curtain of circumstances to explain the circumstances and meaning of his death to him. That is the cost of our salvation – the experience of Jesus of separation from God the Father during the hour of darkness. It exposes how much we have been looking for love in all the wrong places throughout our lives. But here the love of God is shown, in the cross, in the meaning of the cross for Jesus, and then in the meaning of the cross for us.

Here is more on the meaning of the cross that is revealed in the circumstances of the death of Jesus. The cross was our reconciliation to God.  The separation from God which Jesus took meant that the way was opened for human beings to be able to come back to God in a way which they had never had opened for them before. The actual circumstances that surrounded the death of Jesus showed that the barrier between humanity and God was now broken open. The sign was there for our understanding afterwards. The statement of scripture was acted out in the actual circumstances of the actual death in a way beyond all expectation and all human imagination.

Verses 37-38 describe the actual death of Jesus: “But Jesus gave a great shout and then breathed his last. The veil of the Temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom.” The actual last words of Jesus also scripture that he shouted out. These words are recorded elsewhere;  They indicate the voluntary nature of his death. His death was not the usual way it happened during a crucifixion. It was not the gradual exhaustion and wearing down of the normal way of crucifixion. It was not a peaceful expiration either, but happened with the second shout. So he died at that moment in a way which was not normal for those who were crucified, not with a whimper but with two shouts. It was utterly amazing that at that point Jesus had the remaining physical energy to be able give two shouts that could have been heard easily by all the people who were standing around.

Moreover, the gospels definitely assert to the reality of his death on the cross. They contradict any assertions that it was not him who died or he did not actually die, such as in Islam. Mohammed was not there to witness the death, but the eyewitness sources for the gospels were, and even the hostile sources of the brief mentions in Jewish and Roman accounts of that time leave no doubt that the man that they knew as Jesus of Nazareth, hailed as Messiah by his disciples, actually died on the cross. The reality of his physical death, then, also testifies to his true humanity. It asserts that that though he is the Son of God his humanity was real and subject to death and experienced an actual death; the awareness of his separation,

At the moment of the death of Jesus the second sign from heaven took place: the tearing of the Temple curtain from top to bottom. This was most likely the outer veil of the Temple, and it was a public sign. Several ancient sources outside the New Testament attested to it. There was never any dispute in the ancient world as to the fact that this took place. Again the gospels tied this directly to the moment of the death of Jesus – and no one challenged that the tearing of the curtain of the Temple actually took place during ancient times. That would have been the time when the fact would have been most easily falsifiable, by witnesses who could have contradicted that it actually happened. But no such witnesses ever came forward.

This sign is impressive as part of the Messianic credentials of Jesus which were outside his control if he were a mere human being.  The tearing of the curtain of the Temple curtain is something outside the control of Jesus if he were simply a deluded man dying contrary to insane expectations. It is also a sign that would not have come from a righteous and holy God if Jesus had been an evil man with Messianic pretensions who miscalculated and was executed anyway. Throughout the gospels, the trilemma continues to hold up in circumstance after circumstance.

The divine coordination of these events doubtless left the apostles and the early church thinking over them for some time. Hebrews 10:19-25 then gives the apostolic meaning to the tearing of the curtain: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new an living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised us is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The black curtain of the Temple that was torn at the death of Jesus showed us that the way is now open for us for knowing God personally. That was the moment in time when the transaction was paid in full for us. That was the moment that sin was fully atoned for. It was like the moment when we might be making a purchase with a debit card, and we see the message come back on the terminal, “Authorization Complete.” The last breath of Jesus and the tearing of the curtain of the Temple at that moment are God’s message to a lost and dying world that the price for its redemption has been paid – “Authorization Complete.”

So this is the stupendous meaning of all that. Do we realize the depth and cost of our salvation through the death of Jesus? It seems to much nowadays that modern believers all too indifferent toward and lazy in pursuing fellowship with God. Have we realized at what cost such that relationship of such value was purchased for us? Could we then see how we ourselves then become our own selfish pigs, that we fail to understand and appreciate the blessing of eternal life, fellowship with God that came from above from the tree, from the cross of Jesus? Sure, we may get caught up with trying to get and consume the blessings without regard to the source, to the way to the God who himself is all the blessings and that they come from our fellowship with Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). Many may seem to just want to be blessed and then run when they realize that deep fellowship with God elicits more from us than than ‘take the blessing and run.’

But there is an even deeper meaning to that moment in time.  The surrender of Jesus in his human life was complete at that moment. It was the culmination of the complete surrender of a life in complete submission and obedience from beginning to end, to the very last moment. I’ve written elsewhere that I think that the word, ‘surrender’, is overused nowadays and seems to have become almost a cliché. ‘Surrender’ is so weakly defined and explained that I fear for some people it means little more than getting caught up in the feeling of the music in our too often emotionally manipulative worship services. No wonder people who consider that they may have ‘surrendered’ to Jesus have so little fruit to show from it in their lives. But you need to look at the cross, at the last moment, when Jesus made the final surrender of his life which had been continuing since he entered our world. Now that’s surrender. That was literally complete faithfulness to his mission from God the Father until his last breath. Now that’s perseverance in the will of God until the very last breath.

How surrender will look in our lives is described in Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition form sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” So real surrender will work itself out like that: renunciation of sin, perseverance in following Jesus daily, and being ready and willing to face the scorn and contempt of the world without Christ for the sake of Jesus. Surrendered believers, then, are those who will not wilt before the sneers of this world, but rather continue on in following Jesus no matter what this world says or does. That’s what perseverance in the will of God and faithfulness to the mission God has given us will look like.

There is also another apostolic application of how surrender in our lives will  look in our lives if it’s to work itself out in our lives in any way like the surrender of Jesus of his life on the cross. True surrender will look a lot less like our pride, arrogance, sense of entitlement and privilege: “If there is any comfort in Christ, if there is any encouragement, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if there is any sense of mercy and compassion, fulfill my joy to think the same direction, as you have the same kind of love and of one soul, fixing your thoughts on the same thing, that you fix your thoughts on nothing from rivalry or glory seeking, that each one of you watch out for not only for your own benefits but for the good of each other. Fix your thoughts on the same direction that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not think that his equality with God was something to be used for his own advantage, but abnegated himself as he took the form of a servant as he took on the likeness of a human being. Then, since he was found to be in the form of a human being he humbled himself as he became obedient until death, even the death on the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).

All this, then, wasn’t something that someone made up. It wasn’t myth. It wasn’t legend. It wasn’t something that happened so long ago that no one can evaluate whether it is credible to believe that it happened or not. The actual death of Jesus was backed up by eyewitness testimony. There were multiple eyewitnesses whose testimony is preserved in the New Testament. This is part of the testimony to the reality of the events of the crucifixion and in fact the events of the gospel. Multiple eyewitnesses were there, and this made it something more than something which someone said happened so long ago. What happened there on that day is as historically verifiable as anything that could be accepted in a court of law as incontrovertible, beyond reasonable doubt. For this passage, in the gospel of Mark, verses 39-41 contain the eyewitness testimony: And when the centurion who was standing opposite him saw how he had died he said, “Certainly this was the Son of God. There were women who were watching these things from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the lesser James and Joseph, and Salome. These women had followed him and served him in Galilee, and many others had come up with him to Jerusalem.”

The first witness that the gospel of Mark called forward as one of the actual witnesses to the death of Jesus is the centurion who was in charge of the execution.  The eyewitness to the death of Jesus is also a witness to the uniqueness of the death that he had seen. He has probably seen many people die and many executed. The eyewitness to that death and many others definitely saw Jesus as more than just another victim of crucifixion. That man, the equivalent of a highly experienced and loyal top sergeant in a modern military unit, would have had to have been there for the whole six hours with the Roman execution squad.  He would have heard and seen everything for his report back to the governor and to sign the execution certificate for the official records that the meticulous Romans kept on these matters. Whatever he said, it was extraordinary in itself. But here the the gospels that report his words seem to differ on what he said: Son of God (Mark, Matthew) or innocent man (Luke)? Mark seems to give the more probable actual words and uses them to drive home the point about who it was that died. The version in Luke seems to be more what might have been the actual understanding of the centurion of what he meant at the time, and Luke seems to be avoiding giving the impression that the centurion made a real profession of faith at that time. But this is significant: by the testimony of the chief executioner, the Jesus that he saw die was neither lunatic nor a criminal, and he unwittingly comes to the correct conclusion about the innocence of Jesus and his true identity.  

But then we come to these women, these mothers and grandmothers, who watched the death of Jesus. At least three of them are named here, and their extensive experience with Jesus is underlined. They themselves were not apostles but shared pretty much the same experiences as the apostles from the ministry to the death and then to the resurrection.  Jesus didn’t appoint them to  the apostolic office, but they were alongside the apostles in being the earliest witnesses both to the complete events of the crucifixion and burial and then the resurrection. So the question comes, since they had the apostolic experience but didn’t have the apostolic office, how were they shortchanged by God in any way by their experience of Jesus? Obviously, they weren’t. And the testimony of these Jewish mothers and grandmothers comes down to us across the centuries as part of the gospels and the testimony to Jesus Christ.

The inclusion of these names is quite important. It provides the historical traceability of the events of eyewitness testimony beyond the apostles. There are far too many eyewitnesses named to have been involved in any kind of plot or cover-up, especially when you include the others named throughout this and the other gospels  such as the apostle John, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus within the church, Pilate and the centurion outside the church, who are witnesses to the actual death of Jesus. This shows us the historical nature of the gospels and the gospel of Jesus, that they were not based on anonymous, unnamed sources. In a very common sense way of historical method the gospels themselves often name the eyewitnesses who were there for the events that they relate.

This brings up an important point about the nature of the gospels in their historical and literary context. Sober, common sense reporting of events, with some commentary and selection of course, was the way that the gospels told and passed on the story of Jesus. These events happened in definite times, places and involved people who were also known from outside the gospels. It’s beyond reasonable belief to see the gospels as the collection of myths, especially as compared to the known collections of myths and legends from the cultures outside Palestine at the time. It’s clear that mythologizing was characteristic of non Christian religions, not a part of Christianity generally during the first century. Rather, mythologizing was cultural compromise as apostolic Christianity came into contact with the pagan Greek philosophies and religions outside Palestine, as apostolic Christianity spread among the Gentile cities. Moreover, the most blatant forms of this trend, in the various forms of Gnosticism, developed much later, over a century later, and grew not out of a robust apostolic Christianity but out of and into a compromised, lukewarm, syncretizing and often corrupt counterfeit of Christianity that was deeply rejected by those who examined the scriptural testimony to Jesus. So the current gospels never needed to be demythologized by anyone; rather, they were heavily mythologized years later as some foolish and outrightly wicked people thought the gospel of Jesus had to be adapted to conform to the heavily mythological Greek and pagan religions in the Roman empire and other pagan dominions of the ancient world.

This, then, is how the gospels present the testimony about Jesus for the commonsense evaluation of people worldwide. This is so that they can know that the gospel is true and that they can stake their lives on what Jesus has done for them.This is assurance that our gospel, our salvation, our joy is not unfounded emotionalism but reality. The unknowing confession of the centurion echoes the point of the gospel of Mark from the very first verse and is an echo of the confession of faith of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. So for the first believers in Christ apologetics was often a part of simply explaining the gospel events from the eyewitnesses and the gospels themselves. I’ve wondered myself if we do apologetics too academically nowadays, and that it may be missing  something of the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching and teaching of the gospel as the normal ministry of the church, and whether it may be missing the unashamed power of the Word itself as it tries to explain too much.

The second curtain that opened up, both in actual fact and in God’s explanation of the death of Jesus, was the curtain that opened up for us as well. This curtain opened up for us first to know salvation, that there would be no eternal separation of us from God by the action of God himself. Then it opened up for us to know that all this was not just some nice little story that someone made up long ago, but something that stands on solid historical ground and that men and women using their common sense reasoning and evaluation of the testimony of scripture are able to be verified beyond reasonable doubt.

IT MAY HAVE SEEMED TO THE PEOPLE ON THE SCENE AT THE TIME AS IF THE CURTAIN HAD DROPPED FOREVER ON THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS AS HE DIED, BUT IT WAS ONLY A SLIGHT PAUSE. HE WAS BURIED IN A TOMB THAT WAS SEALED BY THE ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT BUT THAT WASN’T THE END EITHER. HIS SEPARATION FROM GOD THROUGH HIS SUFFERING AND DEATH ON THE CROSS WAS TO PAY THE PENALTY FOR SIN PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. WHEN HE HAD COMPLETED THE TRANSACTION THAT PAID THE PRICE FOR OUR SALVATION, IT MEANT THAT HE WOULD RISE AGAIN THREE DAYS LATER AND ASCEND TO HEAVEN AS THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE WITH ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH.  AND THE WAY IS OPEN FOR US NOW INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD THROUGH JESUS, THAT THROUGH HIM NOW WE DO NOT COME BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD AS A THRONE OF JUDGMENT BUT AS THE THRONE OF GRACE.

Consider your own need for Jesus. No one else could have or did open the curtain to the presence of God for you and for me. His separation from the presence of the Father on the cross opened the way for you to be able to approach God directly. This is what salvation in Christ is: the relationship directly with God through him. You receive and enter into this relationship of salvation by saving faith in Jesus. It’s not a general belief that Jesus existed in history or in the existence of God, or even a belief that Jesus is the Son of God as a hand me down from involvement or membership in an institutional church. It is the acceptance that Jesus death was the ’ authorization complete’ for our salvation for all time and eternity, with nothing that you or anyone else has ever done ever added to it. So, have you received the salvation that he paid for? Have you been spending all your life looking for love in all the wrong places? Start here to find the eternal, unchangeable love of God in Jesus Christ by placing your faith in him alone for your complete salvation, for all time and eternity. 

Consider also what real surrender and endurance in the faith is from Jesus: it was for him persistence in the mission which God the Father gave him to his last breath. So what did you ever think that it was compared to what it was for him? While in this world there is so much so often to discourage us, to tempt us to slack off, or to neglect following Jesus as closely as we can, it is when we look to Jesus that we see what real surrender really means. When we look to people – our friends, our family, our churches, our political parties — instead of Jesus, we will be disappointed – and too many of us slack off from Jesus when we face the last bit of disappointment from others. We often find that we had expected much better treatment from the people in our lives, even those who may genuinely and credibly claim to know Christ, and we often think that we are contributing more to them than we receive in return. But it’s not so with Jesus. He has already treated us far better than we ever treated him, and he has already provided and given more for us than we ever can give in return. And furthermore, he is our standard when we get weary and disappointed, and in those times as well he is our power to endure to the end, to be faithful to our last breath.

Finally, consider the ultimate need for people everywhere and in every time. They need  be given the scriptural understanding of what the death of Jesus was all about. This is the major part of the gospel, the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what they need for us to give them. In this world the black veil of spiritual blindness lies upon the hearts of so many. They need to have someone there to explain it to them, let them know what God was doing for them on the day that Jesus breathed his last breath and the curtain of the Temple was torn open. And for us, we need to understand the love, wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit that is available to us when we share the gospel, the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is why this was given to us to make this news known: that the Holy Spirit would work in us and through the truth of the gospel to open hearts to the salvation in Christ.

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The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

Don’t Ask Them to Take Time to Think and Pray About It; Invite Them Immediately to Saving Faith in Christ

“You say . . . ‘Yes, but I should like to get home and pray.’ My text does not say it will be the accepted time when you get home and pray; it says, ‘Now,’ and as I find you are ‘now’ in this pew, ‘now is the accepted time.’ If you trust Christ now, you will be accepted: if now you are enabled to throw yourself into the hands of Christ, now is the accepted time between God and you.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

The Gospel of God in the Power of God

Updated!

The missionary James Fraser, while he was preparing to preach in SW China,  decided to go through the New Testament, especially Acts, to see how the gospel was preached. As he read through the New Testament again, he was struck by the simplicity of the gospel. So he went throughout the marketplaces of the different towns, and explained it to the others that he would meet. What he had found, when he looked for not just, “What did Jesus do?” but “What did Jesus and the apostles say, do and teach?”, was that the center of the gospel was the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and he made this the center of his own evangelistic efforts. Even more, he noted that the gospel included the call to repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins, and he kept these as the expected response and the promised benefit as well.

So, this takes us beyond the simple inquiry of approaching the gospels about evangelism with just the question: What did Jesus do? Here are the questions which form a starting point for a deeper, more robust inquiry:

  • What did Jesus command?
  • What did Jesus preach as the gospel?
  • What did the apostles do?
  • What did the apostles command?
  • What did the apostles preach as the gospel?

  And eventually, you will consider the question: What did Jesus teach in his post resurrection teaching? And then you come up with the outline of the gospel that James Fraser found and then the one which apostles used as they entered into the worldwide mission to spread the gospel throughout the world. The Lord Jesus himself supplied the basic outline of the gospel. In fact, he made it a central part of his teaching to the apostles during the 40 days after the resurrection, before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost. This summary of the gospel was the center of his post resurrection teaching, which was the capstone of and culmination of his earthly teaching ministry. In this post-resurrection teaching ministry it can truly be said that Jesus Christ was personally and literally bringing his church into being through his Word, and giving the apostles all that they would need to begin their mission after his ascension. It can truly be said that this often underemphasized post resurrection ministry lay behind the majority of the preaching and teaching in the book of Acts, and carried through to the New Testament books written by Peter, Paul and others.

So then, the center of his post resurrection teaching was the explanation of all that had happened in his life, ministry, death and resurrection according to the Old Testament revelation of himself as the Messiah , and then the constant reinforcement of his great concern for the spreading of the good news which centered on his own suffering and death. That was his constant command to the apostles, and to all who had become his disciples, who had witnessed his resurrection, to begin their mission. This has likewise been the continuing mission to those who have received his salvation ever since.

The need since then has ever been for the people of God to go back to his Word, and to get the message of salvation straight. The message of salvation is the gospel of life, the acquittal from the guilt of our sins by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. It is not something that we have made up, our own opinion, or religious idea, nor is it something that we have any authority or freedom to modify. It is something that we need to keep in our understanding and deepen our understanding, because we need to be sure of it to be sure of our own eternal salvation. And this is often the reason why over the years, when the church, meaning the leaders and the people in the institutional churches, there has often been a struggle within the churches with the problem of nominalism, the person with a connection to a church, but who has never truly gotten the message straight in his or her own life, and often has truly never received salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

But once we have that message straight, the need then is for the church to get it out. For the church to get it out means that we need  to make it plain to others, to witness to Jesus Christ. This means that we take the message, when we have it straight,  and share the gospel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus Christ himself has commanded his people. 

“And he said to them, ‘This is what is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And, look, I am sending upon you the promise of my Father; stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).

 THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE SOLE MESSAGE OF SALVATION. The Lord Jesus himself gave us the outline of the message of salvation that he wanted for his people to explain and proclaim. It is his offer to the whole world of himself as Lord and Savior, and the message originates with him. It is not a Western, white man’s gospel, but it comes from a man from the Middle East, who grew up there, lived there, and died at the hands of an occupying army, and who rose from the dead beyond all expectations. He then gave the whole world the message of who he is, and what he has done for us in his life, ministry, death and resurrection, and it is the only message that he has given his people as the basis of eternal salvation.  And because it is his message, no one afterward has the right or authority, especially among those who would claim to be his followers,  to change it, edit it or try to suppress it by any means.

Of course, gospel means ‘good news’, and Jesus Christ himself is the center of the good news of the gospel. The only gospel that the Bible contains and recognizes has Jesus as the summary and the entire message. Therefore, to evangelize means to explain and emphasize the crucified and risen Lord as the scriptures present him to us. To try to put another message in its place is to attempt to present a Jesus or a Messiah other than the one which the Bible has presented or one which Jesus himself did not mention or recognize.

This is how Jesus himself summarized his gospel: “This is what is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (v. 46). The summary of the post-resurrection teaching of Jesus was himself, as he fulfilled the scriptures, and he was himself his own visual aid and living proof of all that he explained. First, he explained all that the disciples had seen and experienced with him in the context of the Old Testament revelation of what the Messiah would be. This is part of the prior context of this statement, of the teaching about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:26-27 and immediately preceding this statement in Luke 24: 44-45. All that he said cannot have been forgotten in the days afterwards; it beggars belief for anyone to think that anyone would not remember the the words of someone so familiar to them standing in front of them, whom they had seen die but were now seeing risen with the scars of his crucifixion upon him. And in his words he first of all explained how all this was in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures, which they had known intimately from their earliest childhood,  as the Messiah of Israel. They would remember how during his preaching and teaching ministry before his crucifixion in Jerusalem how he had so often then presented himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world through the gospel. But there was a difference now, all that he had said and done was now for them to have as the center of their message, the only Christ who saves, the Son of God of the New Testament. Among them, children of the most assertively monotheistic nation of the ancient world, he had credibly presented himself as the Son of God, and was now standing before them and making sure that they saw, knew and recognized that he was the center of their message. For two thousand years, since God first spoke to Abraham, then, the tutorial of the Jewish nation that there was one holy God who created and ruled the world was now finding its fulfillment in the person of his Messiah, who had come to present his salvation to the world.

The message that Jesus Christ gave, the gospel message which he gave, is the message which his people, from the apostles onward, has needed to get and to keep straight. The church has never been the origin nor the judge of the message, but rather the steward of the message. And it is correct to assert along with the Reformers that the church is not the source of this gospel but rather that Jesus Christ creates the church through his gospel. And even more, the gospel will therefore include every implication and application of the death and resurrection of Jesus also throughout the New Testament, since the emphasis is not just on the fact but upon its meaning in the life of the world and its call to every person upon this earth. This then means what the apostle Paul called the scandal, the stumbling block, of the  cross to his day and age, the truth that all have sinned in this lost and dying world, and that there is no salvation in our own wisdom, speculations or attempts at good deeds, but only through the Jesus who died and rose again according to the scriptures, as Jesus himself has outlined in his gospel. This gospel is the only message which Jesus has given as the basis for saving faith, the message about himself, and the only message to which his Holy Spirit will bear witness. Therefore the only real witness, the only missional statement, the basis of scriptural evangelism and missions, is Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen.

The method that the apostles used, then, to proclaim Jesus did not seem to be a rote memorization of an outline with supporting verses. Rather, they seemed to be immersed in the truth of the gospel, had the  passages which Jesus himself probably explained to them deep within their hearts, and had a number of talking points to explain the gospel. They seemed to be knowledgeable enough to give a clear and understandable reference and allusion to a verse during preaching and teaching, even if it was more of an explanatory paraphrase. But the center of their preaching and teaching was still Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified and risen. And the centrality of the cross, the Messiah who had suffered, filled their preaching and teaching as the heart of the gospel.

It is, then, the gospel message itself, the truth of the saving Christ, that brings his church to life, and it is not the other way around. In fact, one of the signs of a church or denomination that has begun or has the potential for a deep decline is when anyone gets an idea that he or she can fiddle with the gospel of Jesus and the message of the crucified and risen Messiah in any way. The decline of a church, Christian organization, then, comes with  the infiltration of people into positions of leadership who are not sold out completely to the gospel of salvation in some way. Maybe they do not indulge in a completely outright denial, perhaps, but usually comes down to the consideration and acceptance idea that there might be or is some other way to salvation other than Jesus Christ himself. What happens is that these people start to substitute their own speculations and superficial reasonings for the plain statements of Jesus Christ and the apostles in the New Testament. What this often comes down to, then, is that they try to figure out how to make it something with which we are comfortable and that we think that we can control and something that we think will be acceptable to the type of unbelievers that we want to become a part of our churches. The gospel of a living Lord who died for us is certainly nothing that that we can either find easily comfortable nor anything that we can control, but it is certainly something with which we can find full assurance, as something with which we need not be embarrassed before anyone in this world: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . .” (Romans 1:16-17).

Lately, then, I’ve also been seeing a confusion creep back into the evangelical church of evangelism with ministries of compassion, where evangelism is equated with actions like feeding the poor and homeless. For a generation since World War II this confusion was mercifully absent from the ministries of the evangelical church, where it was recognized as an unscriptural equivocation and foreign import from old mainline liberalism. That following Jesus means compassionate concern for the poor and downtrodden has really never been much in dispute in the evangelical church; the deliberate confusion of compassionate work for the poor with evangelism in terms of communication of the gospel has always been something that those serious about Biblical authority and who have examined the scriptures have rejected.  And it’s easy to see that the apostles themselves did not consider concern for the poor (Galatians 2:10) and evangelism (Galatians 2:7-8) to be the same thing. And the truth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is as much for the up-and-outer – for example, the divorced rich man, for instance, living in an ornate home but drinking himself to sleep every night – as it is, for example, the skid row alcoholic, the down and outer, the homeless man in tattered clothes who likewise self medicates through alcohol in one of the many paths to self ruination of fallen human nature. And the problem with this confusion of evangelism with ministries of compassion is that it usually ends up destroying evangelism, and the ministries of compassion end up being small efforts with which busy and self absorbed church members feel comfortable. I do not think that it’s too much to say that this eventually becomes humanitarianism without a Savior and without a cross.

The promise, then, of the scriptural gospel  is salvation. It is the forgiveness of sins to those who repent of their sins. Salvation from the real guilt of sin before God, therefore, is the promise of Jesus Christ himself, to those who come to him in repentance. And the fact that Jesus himself outlines repentance as the expected response to his gospel and the forgiveness of sins as the promised result shows that neither of these can be excised from the preaching of the gospel, from scriptural evangelism or from Biblically based missions upon any earthly, human authority. Rather, these are part of the scriptural gospel from beginning to end, as undersigned by Jesus Christ himself.

In verse 47, then, Jesus went on to state, “ . . . and that repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” By his own words he made the promise of scripture that his gospel brings forgiveness of sins, and from the very heart of the Middle East, the city of Jerusalem, this promise would be made known and available to all the world. His name, the name of the crucified and risen Son of God, would be the signature upon the pardon available to all those who had sinned, upon the response of repentance. His death and resurrection that he had paid the price for the forgiveness of sins and his authority as Lord of all meant that he had the eternal right to grant forgiveness of sins to the whole world. And consider this, that the crucified and risen Lord presented this as the fundamental need of the whole world: not of political or economic liberation, nor physical sustenance, though those may be real needs in themselves for some in this life, but that the problem was sin and the solution was the forgiveness which he had come to provide. That need was so important that he had gone to the cross to make it available.

It is also, then, within the very same sentence, the word of Jesus that repentance is part of the reception of his salvation. Repentance in itself cannot be an earning of salvation, but rather it is a change of allegiance, a turning from one’s own way and a life in disobedience to God, which keeps the forgiveness which came at his own death from becoming a permission to sin. It is his expectation that his granting forgiveness of sins once, completely and forever, would be received with a change of direction from one’s own sin and selfishness to the entire, wholehearted commitment to the will of God, to the Son of God as Lord of one’s life from then on. And this would also include a change of heart toward Jesus himself , of repentance from the sin of rejecting him as Messiah to faith in him as one’s Savior and Messiah once and forever. At it worked itself out, then, in the apostolic preaching and teaching of the gospel, repentance led to living as a disciple of Jesus with Jesus as Lord over one’s life. (For more on the relationship of saving faith and repentance in the scriptures, see John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Imperative Mood in Evangelism.)

The promise of the forgiveness of sins addresses the need that everyone everywhere in the world will always need first of all, the need to get right with God because of the guilt of their sins. Even more, the need of repentance as this response means that the forgiveness of sins that Jesus offers cannot be cheap grace, the permission of continuing in the sin which offends and alienates God, which treats God as a fool in offering a forgiveness which requires no change of life. Because people are naturally sinners by nature and by choice, there is that  condition of repentance, a change of heart before God and his will and a rejection of sin as the ruling power and authority in one’s life. This forgiveness of God then is not the geniality of an easy going God, but the gift of the God who hated sin and loved sinners to the point of providing the death of his Son on the cross and who raised Jesus to life to be Lord of all. The need of reconciliation with God, of a complete turnabout from sin to God to receive his salvation addresses the real need of people everywhere at every time. There may be some felt needs associated with this need for forgiveness, but the gospel then goes through to the real need of forgiveness of sin and salvation in Christ of everyone everywhere. And right here Jesus joins together both a gospel command – repentance – with a gospel promise – forgiveness of sins. So it’s normal, within the practice of Jesus himself, to join together both the commands and promises of the gospel with the presentation of the gospel, and Gospel commands and gospel promises were certainly presented together as during New Testament evangelism.

First, then, if anyone everywhere is ever to have any assurance of eternal life, it will be through the acceptance of the scriptural gospel, through becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. If anyone anywhere has been truly saved, it is because he or she has repented and received the forgiveness of sins upon the personal signature of Jesus Christ himself in his gospel. Getting the message straight, then, will first of all mean that the power and truth of the scriptural gospel will become and continue as a part of one’s own personal experience first of all. It will mean that one can tell others about the power of God to save through the gospel of Jesus Christ because that person has already experienced the saving power of the truth of God.

Second, the forgiveness of sins Jesus promises speaks to a need of the human heart which other religions address in some way, but never with a complete pardon based upon repentance. For instance, often people who claim to be Christians in the USA may in some way ascribe to the reincarnation and karma in a kind of syncretism with Hinduism on these matters. It has amazed me personally how much Hinduism resembles the pre-Christian religions and philosophies of the pre Christian West, the old Roman empire, which Christianity basically destroyed, such as Pythagoreanism with its emphasis on reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, the pantheism of Stoicism and mythologies with the multiple gods and goddesses and occult and magic of pagan religion. Hinduism even is based in part on the Vedas, which are more like the ancient Greek epic poems the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Theogony, which event the ancient Greek pagan writers, such as the poet and philosopher Xenophanes credited for the portrayal of the gods and goddesses of old paganism, and which even contain the old Indo European sky god Dyaus, who is known as Zeus among the Greeks and Jupiter among the Romans.   It seems like many Christians never realize the extreme contrast of all that there is from the Old Testament to the New Testament with what there is in Hinduism. Historically and theologically, Hinduism resembles much more the old philosophies and religions of the early Roman empire, the pre-Christian Western paganism, than what we find with the gospel of Jesus Christ that arose in the strict monotheism of post-exilic Palestinian Judaism. With Jesus, though, we have a real person lived in history, of the unabashedly monotheistic Jewish race and religion which continues today, and who lived in an easily verifiable time and place in history. We have someone whose teachings were not philosophical speculations and who offered not repetitious mantras but an approach to God in prayer as a loving Father and as the same person and personality that he created you to be. We have a Savior who died on a Roman cross and came to life with many witnesses in a historically verifiable time and place. And he offers the complete forgiveness of sins through his own death and resurrection instead of a continuous series of millions of reincarnations through various forms of life to wipe out the sins of an undefined past karma. And the gospel and promise of Jesus is is not the religion of a colonial power but the power of a man who lived, died and started the mission to reach the world in the heart of the Middle East, in a city under the domination of the world empire of that period.

So then, the Lord Jesus has given his message to the world, to be communicated by those who have received his salvation. But that is not all that he has given those whom he has called to be his witnesses. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for messengers filled with the Holy Spirit. The communication of the supernatural gospel of salvation was never left up to the natural abilities of anyone. The message calls for messengers, and the risen Lord has given his requirement and promise that it is not to be left up just to the human abilities of the messengers. Even more, he has promised the supernatural promise of the Holy Spirit to his messengers, so that they can take it beyond where they would naturally be able to go of themselves and speak it with a power that no one of them would ever have in themselves.

First, the declaration of the Lord Jesus is that his followers are to be his witnesses, and this declaration is both a statement of fact and a command. Those who receive his salvation are to be the messengers of his salvation. It is not too much to say that this expectation of the risen Lord himself is that every believer has already been appointed a missionary in the part of the world where he or she lives regardless of the opinions of any human mission board or agency.

In verse 48, then, Jesus simply states, “You are witnesses of these things.” The first witnesses were the apostles, who were the prime eyewitnesses of his death and resurrection. But this declaration has never been understood to apply simply to the twelve apostles, but to everyone who has received his salvation thereafter. Here he makes the simple appointment of his followers to be his witnesses. Since then every believer in Jesus Christ, who has come to know the Lord of salvation, has been responsible to be a witness to the Savior. This simple declaration of Jesus Christ himself appoints all his followers in all ages as his witnesses. No one in any kind of church hierarchy can therefore override his simple appointment.No ordaining council, no laying on of human hands, no certificates or letters of recommendation from anyone nor underground opposition even from other believers else is either necessary to endorse his declaration nor can they contradict his declaration or appointment.

The believer in Jesus Christ who has experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ and who knows the living reality of the Savior in his or her life can therefore testify to the Savior and the reality of his salvation. The power of his salvation in our lives is our testimony, backed by the truth of the gospel events in the Bible and the historical trustworthiness of the Bible, and even more by the power of the gospel through the Holy Spirit. The present day believer is still responsible to explain the way of God’s salvation as in the Bible and to be a witness to the salvation of Jesus which he or she has already received, or otherwise, the reasonable conclusion is that he or she is not a believer at all if he or she has no Savior or no salvation to which he or she can testify. From all that there is in the New Testament, from the words of Jesus himself before and after the resurrection, each believer is called to be a witness to this world of the salvation that he or she has received or he or she is not a follower of Jesus Christ. It is as A. B. Simpson once said: “We are missionaries, every one of us with a commission and trust as definite as those we send overseas.”

So then, evangelism comes down just to simple obedience to be a witness to Jesus. I’ve heard over the years some strange justifications for evangelism, such as those who seek to lead lots of outward decisions for Christ, because they thought that the person would never then be lost – this is based upon an underlying belief in the eternal security of the believer based in a kind of pop Calvinism. Or, those who may have a prior underlying belief in a pre-tribulation rapture to try to get as many decisions for Christ before the rapture, and even presenting the pre-tribulation rapture as itself being a reason to pray the Jesus prayer, so that you won’t be left behind. But these kinds of justifications are really never necessary, since Jesus simply gives his people the assignment to be his witnesses, and his people simply need to be obedient to his assignment.

A reasonable application of this assignment would be for each believer in Christ to make it a goal for one’s life to be a witness for Jesus Christ anywhere in the world.  This would entail first of all, becoming as consistent a disciple of Jesus Christ as possible and to know the Word and the gospel clearly enough to be able to share it with someone else. Furthermore,  churches need to see evangelism training not only as swelling their numbers locally, but also as training for evangelizing cross culturally. And certainly the official leadership of the church needs to understand its own role to equip the church for this according to their own assignment in Ephesians 4:11-12 and never, ever to let anyone in the professing church to get away with trying to put any kind of obstacle in the path of anyone who seeks to be a witness to Jesus Christ anywhere in the world.  And in view of the fact that persecution may strike and scatter a church at any time, such as in Acts 8, it is crucial to make this a consistent part of our ministry in the body of Christ, since unexpected persecution may lead to a growth in the church by scattering the witnesses.

Here are then some suggestions as to how a person in a relatively affluent culture such as in North America, Europe and developed nations such as Japan, or perhaps anyone who is in a nation with some kind of educational system. Early in life, there are some preparations that a person can make to be available and prepared as a witness from very early in life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn other languages, whether within a school system or even as a family and personal project. Take linguistics courses if possible and learn the cultures as well as the languages. These languages in particular may prepare you for being a witness in parts of the world where the gospel has not been communicated thoroughly: Hindi, Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Farsi. Then do such things as get a Bible and memorize key evangelistic verses in those languages and write your testimony and translate it or even familiarize yourself with gospel literature in those languages.
  • Get a passport for international travel and keep it current.
  • Develop and keep job skills that are both marketable and useful worldwide, that could prepare one for vocational ministry throughout the world. Engineering and software development are two areas of expertise which could open doors to personal ministry worldwide now. (For parents seeking to motivate children in languages, science and math, that these subjects may help to open doors for ministry worldwide if they lead to vocational expertise in worldwide demand may help.)
  • Learn to live frugally in terms of resources and resiliently in the face of deprivation and difficulties.

To those who will be his witnesses, then, God promises the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Those whom Jesus Christ has appointed to be his witnesses have the power of God available to them through the Holy Spirit, and this is his basic spiritual equipment to spread the gospel.

Jesus then concludes his instructions to the apostles in verse 49: “And, look, I am sending upon you the promise of my Father; stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” His instructions were to remain in Jerusalem for a little while until the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and all this is expanded upon in the book of Acts, chapters 1 and 2, with the results continuing through chapter 28 of the book of Acts. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church would then come upon the church by the authority of Jesus himself to those who had prepared themselves by uniting in prayer. This shows the scriptural emphasis of the day of Pentecost: it is not so much the ‘birthday’ of the church, in that phrase borrowed from Augustine and repeated since then. Rather, it is the empowerment of the church to spread the gospel to all nations. And this is explained in the words of the risen Jesus to the apostles in Acts 1:8: “But you will received power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the furthest extent of the earth.”

This, then, is the highest and most scriptural reason for anyone to welcome, seek and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in his or her life: to glorify God through being a witness to Jesus Christ anywhere in this earth. So many people may seek to know the power of the Spirit of God to experience happiness or to try to be something in themselves or to accomplish something to make themselves look good in front of other people. Rather, the highest scriptural reason to seek the power of the Spirit of God, from the words of Jesus himself, are to have the full spiritual equipment to fulfill the mission that he has given us to be his witnesses. This is why so many, when they give themselves in full consecration to God receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, since that consecration includes the consecration of oneself to be witness in the power of the Spirit – and if it doesn’t, then that full consecration is not complete, because something of such supreme importance is being held back. Therefore the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the enduement of spiritual power from God himself, the power in which Jesus himself spoke and ministered throughout his earthly ministry, is the primary qualification for evangelism and ministry, as it has been throughout all the ages of the church and everywhere in the world.

Clearing up this one point can often be a spiritual breakthrough to new life and ministry for many, many people. For instance, a church elder once asked Charles Finney, “Mr. Finney, what would you think of a man who was praying week after week for the Holy Spirit but could get no answer?”

Finney replied that he thought that such a person would be praying from false motives. So the elder asked the further question, “But from what motives should a man pray? If he wants to be happy, is that a false motive?”

So Finney continued with his reply, “Satan might pray with as good a motive as that,” and he quoted Psalm 51:13: “’Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will be converted unto thee.’” And Finney concluded, “The Psalmist did not pray for the Holy Spirit that he might be happy, but that he might be useful and that sinners might be converted to Christ.”

Shortly afterward, Finney went out and when he returned later, he found out that the elder had come to this conclusion about himself: “What you said forced upon me the conviction that I had never really been converted, that I never had any higher motive than a mere selfish desire for my own happiness.” This conclusion had broken him, and he became a new man through true repentance and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

So then, if you are today a believer in Jesus Christ, it is because someone else was faithful enough to his or her assignment to have shared the gospel with you. Someone else was gracious enough and cared enough to share with you the greatest news in the world to meet your greatest need. And thus you are likewise called to be a part of the chain of witnesses around the world and across the centuries, to bring the gospel to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So this then brings to us the question: have we – each of us, not just some of us – really every put in the time to seek and to receive all the ministries of the Holy Spirit that are involved with spreading the gospel and with empowering our witness? Consider further what Jesus had to say about this: “When the Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who is from the Father, he will witness about me; and you yourselves will bear witness, since you have been with me from the beginning . . . if I go away, I will send him to you, and when he has come, he will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, since I am going to the Father, and you will no longer see me; and of judgment, because the rule of the world has already been judged” (John 15:26-27, 16:7-11). There is obviously more exposition of these scriptures that could be done, but this shows us that Jesus spoke about the conviction of the Holy Spirit not as some kind of magical guilt-trip mist but connects his work of conviction with the ministry of the gospel through his disciples. But even more, we can trust the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, will then make us as passionate, confident, forthright and loving in the communication of the gospel as Jesus himself.

So then, this brings back the question on whether the churches in the USA have been sidetracked away from this that Jesus has spoken with the ‘seeker friendly, church services for seekers’ mentality since the early 1990s. Personally, the more I think and pray about it, that mentality gave far too much credit to fallen human nature, that anyone apart from Christ knows what he or she is seeking but is spiritually shy about it, and far too little to the seeking and saving initiative of God in Jesus Christ through his people. It often seems to assume that the real need is for the shy seeker is just some information offered in an entertaining and non-threatening way, and that the shy seekers may come to Christ if they just have several questions answered. Rather, what scripture says about fallen human beings is that, “  . . . if our gospel has been concealed, it is concealed among those who are perishing, in whom the god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . and we ourselves were dead in our trespasses and sins, in which we once went about according to the fashion of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the children of disobedience; in whom we once conducted ourselves by the desires of our human nature and acted on the wishes of our human nature and our own understanding, and we were by nature children of wrath as the rest of mankind . . .” ( , II Corinthians 4:3-4, Ephesians 2:1-3). And who among us can give any real amount of credence to our having received salvation to our own seeking and receiving information, as much as to the reality that “ . . . God, who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine,’ is the one who has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

Scripturally, the gospel of God in the power of God can bring a person to salvation in a very short time, and no protracted times of seeking or conviction are really necessary. Rather, the gospel of God in the Spirit of God can take a hardened sinner into salvation in a very short time. For instance, does anyone really think that the 3000 saved on Pentecost were really just seekers after salvation in Christ, and just needed several questions answered in order to come to repentance and find salvation in Christ? Did the apostles ever use community theater as a normal evangelistic method? Even more, though there will be seasons of openness to the gospel in the lives of many throughout their lives, there is really no scriptural necessity that gospel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit must wait for those period of openness in the lives of others. Rather, many, many times gospel of God in the power of God through the Holy Spirit has opened up hearts and in an astonishingly short time from the perspective of man.

The call of the Lord Jesus to witness continues to come to us today through his Word. He himself has already done the most essential part in his death on the cross when he took the penalty for our sin that we deserved. His death is the reason that through the gospel God offers forgiveness instead of his wrath. The living Lord then stands by his people now who are his witnesses with all the power of the Holy Spirit, and so his plan is that we should share the life changing message that all need to hear, the life changing message that we share out of love for the Lord and for others who have the same need what we have had for the Savior.

If you, then, have already received Jesus Christ as your Savior in repentance and faith, then you have already received the first and greatest qualification to be a witness to his salvation. Moreover, the Lord Jesus himself extends the assignment to you personally. So consider and address every excuse that you may have as to why you cannot witness to him now, since you will one day come face to face before him to give account for all your life, and that includes your assignment to witness to him. Consider that the acknowledgment of him as Lord and Master means that acceptance of his assignment to be his witness. Make it your personal act of submission to him to be his witness out of love to him, and seek from him the opportunities for witness. Accept no message coming from you life other than the scriptural gospel of salvation. And furthermore, consider it to be unacceptable for you or any other believer to in any try to set any kind of obstacles or stumbling blocks to anyone else seeking to witness for Jesus Christ.

In addition, then, if you have been born again of the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ, make it your goal to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. The fullness of his Spirit is the power to love and to witness to Jesus Christ beyond anything that we are in ourselves, and he takes us beyond any of the fear, intimidation and self concern and self consciousness before a world that is often hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, don’t leave home without him.

John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Imperative Mood in Evangelism

Many years ago I heard Dr. Lewis Foster, professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Bible Seminary and one of the translators of the New International Version, give this illustration at a college age retreat for the Christian Student Fellowship ministries at Miami University, The University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. The camera that he had at the time, which was quite high-tech for the 1970s, had a feature in the view finder which split the image horizontally down the middle. As he explained it, when he would focus the image, both halves of the image would eventually come into sync and eventually  merge into one, and the camera would be in focus. He told us this to tell us how we needed to bring the Jesus of our experience and the Jesus of scripture into sync to give us a clear picture of Jesus and put our Christian lives into correct focus.

Ultimately, the only Jesus worth knowing and worth believing is the one of scripture. The gospels are the trustworthy accounts that were set down for us to tell us who Jesus Christ is, and to tell us about his birth, life, ministry, and especially his death and resurrection. The Christ of the Bible is the Christ of our experience, if we have been born again of his Spirit by faith in him. The inspired Word of the Bible is the guide to the truth about the Lord that we claim to believe in, to his will that we claim to follow, and to the glory of the one  we claim to love and praise.

It can be quite startling for someone who has seen, heard or read some of the distorted pictures of Jesus in our movies, our history classes and texts or even in some of our religious institutions, to read how Jesus began his ministry in the gospel of Mark. This summary of the habitual message of Jesus, from Mark, the recorder and translator of the eyewitness and apostle Peter, describes Jesus as someone who burst onto the scene with good news. He started his ministry preaching the gospel, as Mark put it, and calling people to repentance and faith. It tells of how Jesus came with good news to the pity party of first century Judaism as they smarted under the domination and oppression of Rome. It tells of how he came with good news that called for a response, of repentance and faith.

So here is what Mark wrote down for us: “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, and was saying, ‘The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived. Repent and believe the good news!’”

The real message of Jesus Christ is that the kingdom of God has arrived. His ministry centered around the message that the time of God’s intervention into our world which had been promised by the prophets had begun. So he came and gave the message that was the fulfillment of the longings of the people of God, then and in all ages, had arrived in him and through his ministry.

Jesus began his ministry with the good news of the kingdom of God. He did not point to anything else or anyone else as the reason why he could make that stupendous claim.  Rather, he himself was the fulfillment. He was the kingdom of God in person, the center and the fulfillment of the promises which came through the Old Testament prophets. His sovereign authority and power were the demonstration of the truth of the promises, and in Jesus Christ the promises of God become reality.

When Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, Jesus took up where the ministry of John the Baptist left off. Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the Herod who had been king of Judea when Jesus was born, had John the Baptist apprehended and imprisoned. Jesus had already spent some time with John and his disciples in the area of Jordan in Judea, but now returned to Galilee where he had grown up in Nazareth. John had declared that there was a more powerful one to follow, and Jesus took up his ministry as the one that John had been predicting would come.  And so Mark wrote, “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God . . . “ Jesus  came as the good news of the kingdom of God both in his person and in his message. He came as the anointed King, with the authority and power of the Son of God, with the power over sin, disease and death. But his message was summarized as the good news of the kingdom, because it was good news that the King whom God had appointed had come. Indeed, the wording of Mark also shows a real intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prediction of Isaiah on his return to Galilee:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,
Proclaiming peace, bringing good news of good things, proclaiming salvation,
Saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

(Isaiah 52:7 — Dale’s sight translation of the Hebrew, informed also by the Septuagint).

Indeed, in the original Hebrew, there’s that word for salvation, yeshuah, which sounds a lot like Jesus’s name – Yeshua — in Aramaic. This may well be  And this takes up and continues the opening words and prophecy of Isaiah with which Mark’s gospel opened: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God – just as it has been written in the book of Isaiah the prophet . . .” . So, the good news of the kingdom of God is the the King has come with the salvation of God.

Now, the gospel of the kingdom is not the physical presence of the anointed King, and his conscious use of his sovereign authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Rather, it has become the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God. He is still the same anointed King, though, and still has the same authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Since his ascension into heaven, he still gives eternal life and righteousness through those who come under his sovereignty and enter his kingdom by being born again of his Spirit. This is still the good news that the King has come, and that now through his spiritual presence through his Holy Spirit in his people he still brings salvation. This good news is still the stupendous news that brings hope in the midst of this world. This gospel is the same gospel that once came to Winston Churchill once said to Billy Graham: “I am an old man. Life has lost all meaning. I am ready to take a fateful leap into the unknown. Young man, can you give me a ray of hope?”

So then, the message of Jesus that the kingdom of God had arrived meant that the time had come when God was fulfilling his promises made in centuries past. God had announced his purposes long ago through the Old Testament prophets, and now these promises had begun to reach their fulfillment in him. All the goodness that God had for his people had arrived, in the person and ministry of his anointed King from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth.

The summary of the form of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed, appropriate to the opening of his ministry, was, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.” Though there are many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, when Jesus said that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had arrived, he is specifically referring back to Daniel 2:44 and 7:22. The first reference came in the dream that God gave to the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar, which the prophet Daniel had to interpret for him, of the four empires that there would be, including his own. In the days of the fourth empire, which we now know as the Roman empire, God was to set up his own kingdom. In the second reference, as part of the interpretation of a vision that Daniel himself had of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, God would set up a kingdom for his people. So Jesus was saying that the time had come when this kingdom was being set up and being given to the people of God, and it was coming at the prophesied time and according to its predicted schedule. Therefore Jesus, who himself would call himself the Son of Man throughout his ministry in conscious identification of himself with the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14, was announcing the fulfillment of prophecy to them. He came as the King to the people who had the Old Testament revelation, all the Bible that there was up to that time, who were looking for its fulfillment. He did not bring a new ritual, a new set of rules or anything else, but in him, God came in person, in the person of God the Son, to set up his kingdom. This brings the understanding that the good news that came through Jesus was fulfillment of the promises of God.

Though the content of the gospel itself has changed through addition, as more of God’s promises were fulfilled through Jesus, even to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality is that the message is fulfillment of the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament. So often, when we go over the central events of the gospel, as the life and ministry of Jesus came then to the cross and the empty tomb, we may miss the stupendous understanding that it was all fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the promises of God. But Jesus took special care to keep on explaining this in depth to the apostles after his resurrection, in a time which some have called his post-resurrection ministry, on how his the circumstances of his life, ministry, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of what God had already declared through the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44-45). Even in the statement of the outline of the gospel, the apostle Paul repeated several times that it was according to the scriptures: “I make known among you, brothers and sisters, the gospel with which I evangelized you, which you have received, in which you stand and by which you are saved — by that word with which I evangelized you, if indeed you are holding fast to it – apart from which you would have believed in vain. I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he arose on the third day according to the scriptures . . .”   (I Corinthians 15:1 -4 ).

So, even in this day and age, where some voices are coming up again that say that the Old Testament is not really necessary, and some may even want to do like the ancient heretic Marcion and ditch the Old Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ establishes for all time the continuing validity and relevance of the Old Testament, since his coming was in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Even more, it becomes necessary to chop all the passages out of the gospels where they point out the different places in his life, ministry, death and resurrection where he fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. And then whatever gospel that there may be left of Jesus seems as if it lacks foundation and context, and all that is left are some moralizing stories, some miracles which they usually gloss over as well, and a death that seems more tragic than purposeful and a resurrection that seems more gratuitous than victorious.

And because the content of the message began in the prophetic Word of God in the Old Testament, and was fulfilled and explained by Jesus Christ himself through his ministry, there is no authority on earth for anyone ever to change or alter the gospel message. Again, there are some who may try to excise parts of the message out to try to make it more appealing to those who make no profession of following Christ – the parts that they say that the post modern mind cannot accept. We’ve heard that kind of thing before for almost every generation  in the church in the Western world for the past five hundred years or so. In fact, from before and after the First World War, the attempt was to downplay the parts that some said that the modern mind cannot accept. One word added to the cliché – the post modern mind instead of the modern mind, and the same error that emptied mainline churches pops up again. But the center of the gospel has always remained Jesus Christ, the promised King, the Son of God crucified and risen, despite the reappearance of the same readiness to cave in to the intellectual fashions of the moment.

And so the question comes on where anyone else can come into a church of Jesus Christ and claim any kind of authority for changing the content of the gospel, and changing proclaiming the message of the good news of the gospel into something else – like doing some kind of good deed or church task. In the past pastors and teachers within the body of Christ, in clarifying what Biblical evangelism really is, have often had to say that inviting people to church is a good thing and a good deed, but in itself it is not evangelism as defined and practiced by Jesus and the apostles. We’ve also had to say that doing some church support ministry such as teaching Sunday School or playing the piano is not in itself evangelism, though there may be opportunities for evangelism. (And sometimes I’ve startled some people within churches by saying that church musicians – directors, composers, instrumentalists and singers – need themselves to be grounded in the Word of God and to be able to share their faith – and that may transform much of the current music from its current emotionality and superficiality to something that reflects more of a Biblical faith and universal Christian experience. ) And we’ve had to say that doing humanitarian deeds as Christian service is not itself evangelism, though again it may well furnish opportunities for witness and corroborate the reality of how the gospel transforms people.

But when we read about Jesus proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, we can correct a misleading picture and cultural stereotype which many may have of evangelizing – of a man in a tie and suspenders, yelling, huffing and puffing in a microphone in a deep accent from the southern United States, as he is “preaching the gospel”  — like a character from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Certainly many who may have fit that stereotype during the 1920s and the 1930s did preach a Biblical gospel, were not corrupt as the fictional Elmer Gantry, and did lead many to a real salvation in Christ.The reaction of some to that kind of straw man character is to the style, and they may consider themselves more sophisticated. But we can see Jesus speaking in his normal calm, controlled, direct and forthright style – sometimes stupendously compassionate and kind, at other times commanding with all the authority of the Son of God — as he did so much throughout the gospels. So then he showed us a genuinely Christlike way to proclaim the gospel and truly evangelize – the Biblical content in a truly Christlike way, without the stereotypical style that some have associated with evangelism, and which they have avoided because they want to appear more sophisticated and intelligent than a straw man stereotype.

But even further — the very coming of Jesus Christ as the promised King was therefore the corroboration of the truthfulness and faithfulness of the God of the Bible. He is the God who stands by his promises and purposes, even if others might forget them, be indifferent to them, or even be skeptical or dismissive of them. The good that he has promised will come about just as he had said. And this is a reason for every believer in Jesus Christ to  look forward with anticipation for the fulfillment of all the promises of God for his people and to live in the strength of his promises. Though the kingdom came in its opening installment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and continues since his death and resurrection in his church, the citizens of his kingdom, yet there is all the fullness of his kingdom yet to come, when he returns in glory. This will mean that we can continue to live in  hope and anticipation, with the knowledge that through Jesus Christ we know, love and serve an eternally faithful, truthful and trustworthy God. It is like the reply of a Marine during the Korean War to the reporter Marguerite Higgins, when she found him eating beans in –42 degree Fahrenheit weather. She asked him, “If I were God, and could grant you anything you wished, what would you like?”

The Marine replied, “Give me tomorrow!”

In the fulfillment of his promises to bring his kingdom into this world, and the fulfillment of his promises through Jesus, God has given us tomorrow. The coming of Jesus Christ into this world meant that God’s kingdom has already arrived, and there is yet more to come, when it comes in its fullness. The saving sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the power of sin, disease and death through the power of his death and resurrection. God’s message to this world began in the ministry of his Son and continues with us today. This means that the good news for us today started with the good news that Jesus came with both in his message and in his presence so many years ago. And this is the good news which he has passed on for us to share with the entire world until he returns.

The reality of the kingdom being present now is not something that brings the goodness of God to everyone and anyone without a personal response. The reality of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ calls for repentance and faith. The reality that came with Jesus still calls for our response and acceptance. The valid, expected responses to the good news of the kingdom of God still remains exactly what Jesus was calling for in his ministry.

The call for repentance was very definitely part of the ministry of Jesus. The reality of the presence of the kingdom called for this response, and Jesus was plain in calling for it. He himself had all the authority in himself to call for repentance, and he did so as part of the condition for anyone to participate in the kingdom of God. His call reflects the impossibility of acknowledging and coming under the sovereignty of God, becoming a part of the kingdom, while remaining in selfish charge of one’s own life. His call was for a complete change of life as the proper response to the good news of the kingdom of God, for people to turn from sin to follow the will of God.

Jesus simply used that one word, “Repent!” This verb came in the imperative mood, as a command to the people whom he heard. In this command to repentance he followed clearly the Old Testament prophets who called the people of God to repentance, and here as the anointed King he also fulfilled the ministry and office of prophet – not a moralizing teacher, but someone clearly echoing the message of the Old Testament prophets.

This is why Jesus didn’t have to spend much time defining repentance for those who heard him. First century Jews were well aware of what repentance meant from the prophets. Here is how Isaiah defined it:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
Call on him while he is near!
Let the wicked man forget about his own way,
And the evil man his own thoughts and plans,
And let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, because he will abundantly pardon.”

(Isaiah 55:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

Turning away from sin – and not just from an outward act, but also the very thoughts, intentions, plans and schemes to think, speak and act outside the will of God — and turning to God for pardon and mercy – that is the scriptural definition of repentance. And the prophet Hosea even went so far as to give the Israelites some specific words to say to God to express repentance, to tell him of their turning away from sin to him:

“Turn, Israel, to the LORD your God,
Take these words with you to him, and turn to the LORD,
Say to him, ‘Forgive our sin, And receive us for good, so that we may offer you the fruit of our lips.’”

(Hosea 14:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).

And just as Mark already wrote a few words earlier, the baptism with which John the Baptist came was a baptism of repentance, and as the people were baptized they confessed their sins. So, with this emphasis on repentance, John was recognized as a prophet clearly taking up the Old Testament call to repentance, and Jesus took it up as well. Though they both made predictions – John of the immediate appearance of Jesus, and Jesus of his own crucifixion and resurrection, as well as the events leading up to his second coming (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21), they were not regarded as prophets for making predictions. Rather, the call for repentance marked them clearly as prophets consistent with the prophets God sent to Israel during the centuries of the Old Testament. So it’s noteworthy that while during his ministry, then, that Jesus was recognized not just as a teacher, but also as a prophet – just like his forerunner, John the Baptist.

So then, it can be quite shocking to some when they really pay attention to what Jesus said when he once defined his mission as, “I have not come to call the ‘righteous’, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). And even more startling to anyone who has been propagandized by the picture of  Jesus as a moralizing story teller, is this declaration of Jesus: “I say to you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:4). And in his post resurrection ministry, he put the emphasis on repentance as a clear part of the expected response to the message of the gospel (Luke 24:47) in practically the same words which he had used earlier and which had been characteristic of the ministry of John the Baptist.

So on the day of Pentecost, at the conclusion of his great proclamation of the gospel, it’s no wonder that the apostle Peter concluded, “Repent! And be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These words clearly echoed the prophecies of John the Baptist and of Jesus, but were now being fulfilled in the age of the gospel. And apparently at the conclusion of his sermon he went on to plead at length with those who heard to “Save yourselves from this broken generation” (Acts 2:40). And this call to repentance was a part of the ministry of Paul as well – but more on that shortly.

So then, this was part of the expected response to the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ: becoming part of his kingdom calls for repentance. This means the renunciation of all self righteous pretensions, of holding to getting one’s own way at all costs to oneself and to others, and it means trusting in God’s readiness to forgive. The message of repentance was not intended to put anyone down, but to give people the truth about themselves so that they could enter the blessings of the kingdom. This message of repentance is the invitation of love and grace to receive forgiveness and to change the direction of one’s life into the direction of the kingdom of God.

This message of repentance needs regularly to be asserted in every age of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is in full accord with the direction of his earthly ministry and his stated expectations during his post resurrection ministry. It addresses the reality of a person which is known deep inside each person’s conscience, about the reality of one’s own sin, but it also demonstrates genuine faith in the readiness of God to forgive. This means turning from sin, and even the thoughts, intentions and schemes of sin, and turning toward following the will of God, so that the direction of one’s own personal life is turned into the direction of the kingdom of God.

How repentance is a change of heart leading to a change of life and a change of sides can be understood from an incident which happened during the ministry of John Wesley. There was a group of his followers that were planning to hold a meeting in a barn, and there was a group that opposed them. So one man hid inside the barn inside a sack. He was planning to open the door after the meeting started, to let the others from his group in to break up the meeting. But after the singing, prayer and preaching of the gospel began, the man hiding inside the sack came under deep conviction, and came to Christ that evening. He never opened the door to let the others in, because he had repented and he had changed sides.

But repentance was not all that Jesus called for in response to the good news that he brought. He expected to be believed and trusted as the anointed King of God, the Savior who had come at the predicted time. So, coming into the blessings of his kingdom means trusting the word of the King.

Jesus called for faith in himself as a part of the response that he expected to himself and to his ministry. As Mark recorded, he said, “ . . .believe the good news!” Faith in the good news meant confidence in the word of the messenger, and the bearer of the good news was the King himself. As he came and presented himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, of all the hopes of the people of Israel, he expected those who heard him to accept his word and believe him. He called for confidence in his words and promises, as the Son of God, God’s chosen ruler of his people. This entailed more than just acceptance of the facts of monotheism, of belief that there is one God, but also of the claims and trustworthiness of the messenger from God, the Messiah himself, the promised King. And as it would become evident throughout his ministry, the reality of this faith would mean following the King. And this new emphasis on faith in the Messiah as leading to personal salvation as being central to the personal conversations and public teaching of Jesus is also the central theme to the gospel of John.

This was a new emphasis, then, in the response that was expected with the inception of the age of the kingdom of God with the ministry of Jesus. Faith in the Old Testament was belief in one God, the God of Israel and the renunciation of idolatry, and while trust in him was expected and encouraged, the explicit call to faith becomes much more prominent with the arrival of Jesus and start of his ministry. But with the coming of John the Baptist, who pointed to the people to the Messiah in their midst, and with the ministry of Jesus, faith in the Messiah became paramount to become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom of God. And this emphasis on faith continued after the life and ministry of Jesus came to the culmination of his earthly mission in his crucifixion and resurrection, so that belief in the gospel came to its full New Covenant meaning of faith in Jesus, King Messiah, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again to life. He is now the crucified and risen Son of God who calls for our full trust and allegiance still, and for faith in his good news of his salvation that he has brought. Certainly belief in his gospel means concurrence with the facts of his death and resurrection, but even more, it is a personal, conscious trust and allegiance to him. It is trust in his good new which opens our lives to where we can receive all the goodness of God in his kingdom, as we trust in his word and the trustworthiness of the messenger, who was the King himself.

This call to faith in the crucified and risen Son of God continued onward in the New Testament ministry of the gospel. The apostle Peter concluded his message to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, “All the prophets bear witness that everyone who puts his or her faith in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The apostle Paul told the jailer of Philippi, “Put your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31). And Paul joined repentance and faith together as the expected response to the gospel when he said that he had “ . . . testified to both Jews and Greek about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And it was Paul who defined what it meant to come to saving faith in Jesus when he wrote in the epistle to the Romans, “ . . .  if you acknowledge with your mouth that, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ and you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . .” (Romans 10:9).

This is also an emphasis that needs to be kept paramount in the preaching and teaching of the church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times. Belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ is saving faith. J. Gresham Machen once wrote, “  . . . saving faith is acceptance of Christ, not merely in general, but as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It involves acceptance of the truth about Jesus as in the New Testament, not merely as a historical figure, but as the Son of God who came, suffered and died and rose again, and trusting him alone for one’s eternal salvation. And this is what brings anyone now into his Kingdom and into the fullness of the goodness of God that his Kingdom brings.

In the Old Testament, God told his people, “I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Now choose life!” ( In Jesus Christ, God came as the sovereign King, God’s own anointed Son, as the bearer and messenger of the Kingdom of God, came near to us and in person to set before us the way of life and the way of death, and call us to choose life by repentance and faith in his good news. In his preaching and teaching, then, Jesus expected response to his message. He expected no complacency or a business as usual attitude to his message. Moreover, he, as well as John the Baptist, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul and the Old Testament prophets were totally unashamed of using the imperative mood to call people to repentance and faith. They did not deliver requests to think about it for a little while. They called for, and expected response to their message. And responses they received as they called for repentance and faith: 300o on the of Pentecost, some several thousand more after another time of great preaching and teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, the household of Cornelius, the Philippian jailer, Lydia the seller of purple dye, and so on. They would all take the time to explain the gospel in depth and to explain repentance and faith in depth, as well as to answer honest questions with honest answers, but they were all calling for a verdict and a decision in response to the gospel of God.

The nature of the kingdom of God, as the salvation and sovereignty of God through Jesus Christ, then, calls for the response of repentance and faith. The people of God today do not need to have any kind of reluctance in making this known. Some will question our authority to command this; we can point to the command that we received from the Word of God and our own response to the command to do just that. Some will dislike it because of their theological position that repentance and faith are the gifts from God, and must come from the working of God. We can point to the reality that the Holy Spirit who inspired the scriptures is present when the gospel is proclaimed to bestow those gifts of repentance and faith, and that he inspired the Word which set forth the direct commands to men and women of all ages to repent and believe in the gospel. Some will simply not like the style of directly calling men and women to repent and believe in the gospel. But there is no need for any kind of false dichotomy between immediate response or allowing people more time to consider their response of repentance and faith. It would be scriptural to give a clear understanding of the gospel and clear directions of what repentance and faith, as well as making it clear that an immediate response is possible and that a delay can be eternally fatal as to anyone who wants to consider his or her response at length. There does not need to be great pressure on anyone but rather loving clarity and even loving pleading, much as Peter gave on the day of Pentecost.

But even more, making clear the expected response of the human will to the gospel in repentance and faith – which can be understood themselves to be good works brought about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as John and Charles Wesley asserted – can correct an impression that some may have that being born again means waiting for God to zap them with the same kind of experience of overwhelming love and joy that so many believers may give witness. The reality of the turning to God through repentance and faith in Christ as he is presented in the gospel does not require any kind of passive waiting on God to provide anyone with any kind of experience. Rather, there is the conscious response to the gospel in repentance and faith and many may have an overwhelming experience of the joy of salvation at that time, but there is no need to seek or look for that same kind of experience. At the same time, there is no gradual sliding into the kingdom of God, but rather a real point of decision in response to the call of the gospel through Jesus Christ to repentance and faith. It is as Henry Wright once wrote: “No man or woman oozes unconsciously into the Kingdom of God. In the final analysis, all enlist, and every soldier knows when he enlisted.”

Through the message of his gospel, then, King Jesus has challenged each of us personally to enter his kingdom. This good news comes from the risen Lord himself, and he himself, in his death and resurrection, is the gospel himself. Life, righteousness and healing are the blessings of his kingdom to those who respond to him, who come to him by repentance and faith and then find out how good the good news really is.

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the reign of sin, death, disease and Satan, and entrance into his reign of salvation, to eternal life and righteousness. This is the good news that calls for our response in repentance and faith: repentance to receive forgiveness and faith to receive eternal life from the King. It means for each one who comes to the King in repentance and faith a place of personal place of acceptance in his kingdom, pardon for sins, acceptance with God and the possession of eternal life. So the question comes to each one of us: have you responded to the invitation of the King?

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ, in his saving power and authority, is our message to the world. The salvation which was secured by his death and resurrection is available to everyone. That is the reason for our witness to others, and for our working together to bring his message to all the world. The entrance of the kingdom of God to our world is good news for everyone, and we cannot keep that message to ourselves.

But finally, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the reason for our praise and rejoicing. We cannot remain sullen and self pitying, as if he had never come to our world as the kingdom of God and salvation of God incarnate. He came to give freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and living in that freedom means the joy and the celebration of how the kingdom of God has come into our world and how it has entered and changed our lives.

The Reception of Salvation: Repentance

What does this mean?

Repentance is part of the expected response to the scriptural gospel!

  • Jesus: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

  • Peter: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . . “ (Acts 2:38, 3:19).

  • Paul: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus . . . first to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 20:21, 26:20).

True repentance involves:

  1. Humbling oneself before God and turning from sin: ” . . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

  2. Confession and renunciation of sin: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 29:13). This means rejecting any excuses for sin or shifting the blame for one’s sins on anyone or anything else before God and man. It means the full acknowledgment of personal responsibility for one’s own sins.

  3. Renunciation of the thoughts, desires, and intentions of sin, as well as the outward actions and habits of sin: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

  4. Agreement with God about the reality and offenses of sin, and desires to be rid of them entirely: “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).

  5. Godly sorrow that leaves no longing for the former way of life: ” . . . yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (II Corinthians 7:9-13).

    Thus false repentance involves worldly sorrow, wounded pride, and shame at the exposure of sin. It means no change of actions or direction. It leads to hardness of heart, demonstrates resistance to the Holy Spirit, and contempt for the grace of God, and continues in sinful ways with stubbornness. It comes from spurious decisions, where repentance is not presented as part of the expected response to the gospel. It comes from dishonest decisions, where a person goes through the outward appearance of faith in Christ, but has not decided to be done with sin. These spurious and dishonest decisions not only come from an incomplete presentation of the gospel, but many times where a person is seeking something else — church membership, the approval of family or friends — instead of salvation by Christ from sin. In these cases a person is really coming to God with his or her own agenda instead of paying attention the extremely serious promises, commands and warnings of the gospel.

  6. The realization of the truth: “Those who oppose (the man of God) he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape fro the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:25-26).

  7. The working of God’s prevenient grace: “So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; see also Acts 5:31).

    Prevenient grace is the theological term for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the gospel to enable them to repent and believe. True repentance and saving faith are thus the work of the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, and not “works salvation” by any means. This is an enabling which does not reduce or eliminate any human responsibility to repent and believe when the gospel is heard, since the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit brings with it the ability to respond. It is not natural to the pride and stubbornness of sinful people, though, to repent when the gospel is preached.


What does this mean to me?

  • Let us make a call for repentance a definite part of the presentation of the gospel.

  • Let us each consider the matter of our own conversion, and be sure that our own repentance has been deep and thorough!

  • Let us pray for others who need to know the salvation of Christ to receive God’s grace for repentance, and for him to incline their hearts to repent.


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

A Brief Introduction to Justification by Faith

What does this mean?

Justification is primarily judicial, but it bears on our relationship with God.

  1. Justification comes by faith for the forgiveness of our sins

    “All the prophets testify about him (Christ) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42).

    “Therefore, brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything which you could not be justified through the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

    Therefore justification is the result of saving faith, which is trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and eternal life. It means that God forgives our sins, in the sense of discharging us from their penalty. It means that God refuses to exact any punishment for them in the final judgment, just as if he had forgotten them entirely.

  2. Justification is the gift of the standing of righteousness before God. This means that God treats us as if we were perfectly innocent of sin and entirely holy before him.

    “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness comes through faith to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

  3. Justification comes by the grace of God.

    ” . . . having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

  4. The basis of justification is the death of Christ.

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


What does this mean to me?

In our relationship with God, justification means:

  1. Peace with God, in the standing of grace! The access to all the blessings of salvation which come by grace!

    “Therefore,since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2).

  2. We come to God in his grace and not in his judgment. This means that our relational forgiveness comes, based upon our judicial forgiveness. This means that we have access to God in prayer!

    “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.