One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:32, for in it I find the heart of the gospel. The verse states:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
It is a powerful reminder that God is a Father to His people and not just a King or a Judge. There is mercy in His heart and not only judgment; there is compassion and not just adjudication.
This verse also demonstrates that the gospel message is not simply the introductory message of Christianity – i.e., how a person gets saved – but it is the impulse driving the Christian life from salvation onward. It is “good news” because the gospel is the announcement of God’s intention to eternally give to us. This is what a true father’s heart does – it gives.
However, there is a lot of confusion today about just what the gospel is and what it signifies. Is the gospel merely an instrument promoting social justice? Are Christians mainly supposed to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and care for the downtrodden – but not “proselytize”? Is the gospel simply the avenue for getting lost souls into heaven? Does it not have any transformational power in a cultural context? Is the gospel a message of universal acceptance? Does it simply state: “Come as you are; stay as you are”? These are issues about which many Christians are having passionate discussions.
Moreover, what is the core message itself? Fortunately, we have a very specific layout of that in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Paul sets before us the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the heart of the gospel.
Most of us rightly see the gospel as a power that addresses the problems of sin, guilt, and death. If we combine this passage with Romans 8:32, we see that the cross, burial, and resurrection are manifestations of the love of God, expressed as an act of giving in order to meet these needs.
After all, as John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...” God’s love expands outwardly – His love toward the perishing expresses itself in giving.
But gives what? Jesus. The giving of God’s Son is the highest expression of His love. The gospel is a message of God giving so we might have Jesus. There might be many other wonderful blessings bundled up with Him – the Father “also with Him [will] freely give us all things” – but the central gift is the Son of God.
I think this is why 1 Corinthians 15 unexpectedly contains a fourth statement as part of the gospel: “and that He appeared to Cephas” and others that were among the people of God (vv. 5-8). We usually leave this off, don’t we? Yet Paul includes it as part of his gospel presentation.
This is fascinating to me. The gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day – and then He appeared to His people afterward. But why did He do it? Why did He appear to them?
The answer is sublime. Jesus Christ appeared to His people afterwards because He wanted to see them. His heart desired to be with His friends. The cross, burial, and resurrection weren’t just a series of boxes to check off on His heavenly “to do” list. It was the painful path He had to take in order to save His people so they could forever be with Him!
No doubt this is why Peter (“Cephas”) heads the list of people to whom Jesus appeared. Because Peter was no doubt wracked with guilt and shame for his denial of Christ, Jesus went first to him. Is this not the grace and mercy of God demonstrated for all to see? The Son of God wanted to see the biggest failure first – and lovingly restore him.
That’s why this is included in the gospel message – because it brings the process of redemption full circle. Why did God save us? So we can be together for all eternity. God wants to see you.
This Easter, that’s something wonderful to remember!