The early Christian leader Paul summarized the gospel: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4). According to Paul, the gospel is the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to save people as they receive it and stand in it.
The good news of Jesus’ death
The word gospel means “good news.” But death is usually bad news. How can Jesus’ death be good news? The Bible shows that Jesus’ death is good news because Jesus’ death was a sacrificial substitute for others. Jesus’ death is good news because it solves the most vexing problem in world history (and your own personal life): humanity’s rebellion against God earns us and all creation death. The gospel is so great because the problem it solves is so severe.
The death you see all around you is not the normal state of the world. According to the Bible, death intruded into a created cosmos that God originally created good, without death. Paul says, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). He also explains, “the creation was subjected to futility” and now is in “bondage to corruption” (Rom 8:20). All this resulted from the rebellion (sin) of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, against God. God put them in a good garden in the midst of a good world. He gave them lavish provisions and gave them only one law: to trust him and abstain from eating the fruit of one tree out of all the other trees in the midst of the garden (Gen 2:16-17). Brokenness in relationships and brokenness in the rest of creation are the direct results of human sin (Gen 3:16-19).
The ultimate brokenness that befalls everyone and everything is death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). But in the Bible, death is not only physical death but also spiritual death. In rebellion against God, you are broken spiritually, as well as physically. Your sin will earn you physical death at the end of this life, but you are spiritually dead even now (Eph 2:1). In rebellion, each of us from the beginning of our lives “live according to he flesh” and thereby “set [our] minds on the things of the flesh,” and this “is death” (Rom 8:5-6). Rebellion against God is spiritual death even now, “for the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (Rom 8:7). God gives all people “life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). He is the source of life (John 5:24). At enmity against him, we have spiritual death even now, and we will have physical death at the end of life.
But death according to the Bible is not only temporal but also eternal. The opposite of eternal life is eternal perishing (John 3:16). Jesus teaches us, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). This destruction is eternally perpetual, never-ending. It is to be forever in “outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). It is “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). This is what the Bible refers to as “the second death,” the ultimate punishment for sin (Revelation 21:8). To reject the Lordship of God is to reject the eternal life that is available only in faithful submission to him. To reject the eternal forgiveness that God in love offers to all is to accept the eternal punishment that we all have justly earned.
That is why Jesus’ death is good news. In his physical death, he was absorbing all God’s just wrath against our sin. Paul explains, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus did not deserve to die. He died not because he earned death but because we earned death. When Jesus died on the cross, God was treating Jesus the way we deserve to be treated. Peter confirms that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). He goes on to explain, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus’ death is good news because it was a “propitiation,” a satisfaction, a covering sacrifice, to satisfy the just requirements of God’s wrath against sin (Rom 3:25).
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection
Jesus’ resurrection proves that his death was unlike any other in human history. According to Paul, Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). The Bible presents many evidences for Jesus’ resurrection:
- Jesus first appeared after his resurrection to Mary Magdalene and other women (Matt 28:1-10; John 20:11-18). In first century Roman society, women were not allowed to be legal witnesses. The Gospel writers wouldn’t have claimed that women were the first to see the resurrected Jesus if it weren’t so.
- Jesus appeared on numerous occasions to his closest followers, among whom were later New Testament authors Peter, Matthew, John, and James (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:13-49; John 20:19-23, 24-29; 21:1-24; 1 Cor 15:7). On some of these occasions, he let them touch the scars in his hands and feet, and he ate food with them.
- Jesus appeared for forty days following his resurrection to hundreds of people “at one time” and various other Christians, “most of whom [were] still alive” when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (Acts 1:3; 1 Cor 15:5-7).
- Jesus appeared to Paul, “as to one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8). Paul went from persecuting Christians to becoming one of the great Christian leaders and an author of much of the New Testament because the risen Jesus appeared to him in a vision when he was on his way to Damascus to imprison Christians there (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-25; 22:3-21; 26:1-29). As a Christian, Paul had “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times [he] received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times [he] was beaten with rods. Once [he] was stoned. Three times [he] was shipwrecked; a night and a day [he] was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from [his] own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor 11:23-27). Why would Paul change so radically and endure all these sufferings (and more) if he did not have a genuine experience with and commissioning from the resurrected Jesus?
The purpose of Jesus’ resurrection, though, is your own resurrection. Remember why Peter said Jesus died for unrighteous people: “that he might bring us to God,” and Peter also says how Jesus does this: “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus’ death and resurrection brings you back to God, if you will turn back to God.
Salvation through receiving this good news
Even in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, Paul says this good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection saves only if it is received. Elsewhere, he explains that receiving the truth of the gospel means believing, trusting that Jesus died for your sin personally and was raised from the dead so that you personally can have new spiritual life now and new physical life eternally when he comes again. When Paul described Jesus’ death as a propitiation, he said that it must be “received by faith” (Rom 3:25). The glorious mystery of the cross is that it “show[s] his [God’s] righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). At the cross of Christ, God was just. He was pouring out his righteous wrath against sin. Because of the cross and his satisfied wrath, God is now able to justify, to declare righteous, those who trust that Jesus’ death and resurrection give them peace with God.
But in the Bible, saving faith is always repentant faith. Jesus himself said, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). To repent is to have a change of heart about God. It is to go from viewing God as an enemy to viewing God as your Creator and as the one worthy of your love and devotion. True faith looks to Jesus not only as Savior but also as Lord. As Paul also says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Receiving this good news means accepting the truth about the seriousness of your sin, agreeing with God that it is heinous and warrants death in every biblical sense, and thankfully receiving God’s offered forgiveness through Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection on your behalf.
Salvation through standing in this good news
There yet remains one aspect of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 to unpack. Paul says that the gospel saves as you stand in it and as you hold fast to the word, and he warns against believing in vain. All these statements point to the truth that saving faith is persevering faith.
A vital aspect of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is that when you trust Jesus to make you at peace with God, he immediately gives you new life spiritually. Paul tells Christians, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). If you rely on Jesus for a new relationship with God, he gives you his Holy Spirit, who strengthens you to grow in obedience to God and to do away with rebellious thoughts, words, and actions that remain in your life. And the great promise of the gospel is that if you have new spiritual life in Jesus, you will have eternal physical life in Jesus, too. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). And Paul confirms, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). And at the resurrection, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
We members of Friendship Baptist Church have all received this new life in Christ and are experiencing his power in making us increasingly whole as we await the final, eternal resurrection and the new heavens and new earth “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). Our prayer is that you will meet Jesus yourself by his word, the Bible, and trust him for peace with God and for new, eternal life. If you are in southwest Ohio and would like to learn more about following Jesus, we would love to meet and minister to you in person, so please go to the Visit Us page for information on how and when to visit us.