The Gospel’s Scope

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Around 401 A.D. a 16 year old young man was taken captive by barbarian pirates and carried off to Ireland.  There he was forced to work on a farm as a day laborer and a shepherd.  About six years after being kidnapped, the young man escaped and return home.  Upon his return, however, he became burdened to go back to Ireland.  He desired to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with his captors.  This young man, who later on in history came to be known as Saint Patrick, then traveled back to Ireland, told his former enemies about the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the process played a major role in the transformation of that particular society.

The Gospel’s scope is very particular.  It is intended for and directed at a very specific person.  Mark 2:13-17 identifies who that person is.  This account begins with Jesus and a crowd of his followers taking a stroll along the Sea of Galilee’s shoreline.  Verse 14 reports that during their walk they came upon “Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth.”  Levi would have been immediately known to the crowd that was following Jesus.  First of all, in being a tax collector, Levi was a known traitor.  He was employed by Israel’s foreign overlords, the Roman Empire.  It was his job to collect taxes from his countrymen and send them to Caesar.  Secondly, Levi was known as an extortionist.  In collecting taxes, he also had to make a living.  Any additional finances that he was able to secure from his fellow Israelites turned into his income.  This was Levi’s reputation.  He was a known sinner.  And in verse 15 Jesus surprised the crowd by doing the unthinkable.  He invited this known sinner to be one of his disciples.  The text reports that Levi took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and immediately accepted Jesus’ personal invitation.

This is the scope of the Gospel.  The Gospel is for known sinners.  It is intended for people who the Bible identifies as God’s “enemies” and “children of wrath” (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3).  This truth compelled Patrick to return to Ireland in order to tell the Good News to sinners who he personally knew – his former captors.  This truth inspires missionaries around the world who desire to see known sinners transformed by the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This truth also ought to motivate Christians to walk across the street and share the Gospel with their neighbors.

Levi was blown away by Jesus’ invitation.  Out of a deep sense of gratitude, he threw a huge party in Jesus’ honor.  At this party, Jesus befriended Levi’s colleagues and friends – other known sinners.  To say the least, the religious leaders took exception to Jesus’ attendance and involvement at party.  Upon learning of their disgust, Jesus poignantly responded in verse 17 by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  In the first part of his reply, Jesus stated the obvious.  Only those who are sick go to the doctor.  It is then in the second half of his response that Jesus used this logic to identify himself and his mission.  Just as the sick are in need of a doctor, sinners are in need of a savior.  With this reasoning, Jesus identified himself as the savior of sinners and, hence, justified his participation at Levi’s party.

Jesus came to save sinners.  That was the scope of his mission.  But even more specifically, Jesus came to save those who recognize their own sinfulness.  Everyone at Levi’s party was well aware of their own reputation.  Jesus was well aware of their reputation too.  That is why he was there.  He was there to save them.  Levi’s house that night resembled a hospital, where the sick had come to see the doctor.  Jesus arrived that night with the intention to heal them.

This Gospel is for known sinners.  But even more specifically, the Gospel is for those who recognize their own sinfulness.  Only when an individual comes to terms with his depravity can the Gospel truly begin to take root and exert its influence.  Throughout history, God has utilized people who recognized that they are nothing more than sinners who are in desperate need of a savior. The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15 affirmed his depravity and Jesus’ deliverance when he said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  Saint Patrick too expressed an identical mindset.  The first line of his autobiography reads, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.”  This is the beginning of the Gospel.  With this perspective in place, God is able to transform sinners into saints and, perhaps even, whole societies too while He’s at it!

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The Transforming Gospel

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The late Charles Colson was notorious for being President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” “a dirty tricks artist,” and for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.  But later on in life, he became primarily known for founding Prison Fellowship, an outreach to inmates, as well as, Breakpoint ministries, a popular weekly radio broadcast.  What caused this radical transformation in Colson’s life was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is a powerful and transforming reality.  When an individual hears and embraces the Good News about Jesus Christ, their life is immediately and eternally changed.  This Truth is apparent in Mark 2:1-12.  Through Jesus’ interaction with a paralytic, this man’s life was spiritually and physically transformed.

Mark 2 begins with Jesus preaching to a mass of people that swarmed upon the disciple’s house where he was staying.  At this same time verse 3 reports that a group of men carried a paralytic to this house with the hopes of Jesus healing their friend.  Unfortunately, due to the crowd, they were prohibited from getting inside.  Determined to reach Jesus, they made their way to the roof.  There a hole was created big enough for the four men to lower the paralytic down into the house and into the immediate presence of Jesus.  It is at this moment in the paralytic’s life when he was powerfully transformed.

Upon seeing the situation unfold in front of him and being impressed by the men’s faith, verse 5 records that Jesus simply turned to the paralytic and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  With this straightforward comment, this cripple’s life was transformed spiritually.  In that exact moment he went from being a sinner, who was a child of wrath, into a forgiven saint, who is a child of God.

God’s transformation originates in the spiritual realm. Specifically, in order for true personal transformation to occur, sin needs to be eliminated.  This can only occur through a individual’s faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to “take away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29).  The Scriptures declare that those who believe in this Gospel are indeed “a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

After spiritually transforming the paralytic, Jesus sensed the religious leaders criticizing the legitimacy of his actions.  In order to verify his claims, Jesus responded in verses 10 and 11 by countering, “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.'”  With this straightforward comment, the paralytic was transformed physically.  In that exact moment he went from being a cripple, who was dependent upon others, into a healthy and active individual, who could take care of himself and even others.

Spiritual transformation always manifests itself.  Those individuals who hear and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ; their lives – in some way, shape, or form – will come to express their faith.  This is trajectory of every believer.  Christians will be transformed physically.  Romans 8:29 states that Christians are currently being “conformed to the image” of Jesus Christ.  As sin is identified and removed, new Christlike traits are applied and cultivated in believers’ lives.  The following verse, Romans 8:30, furthers this Truth and states that Christians are destined for glory.  All believers will be resurrected from the dead in the future.  And just like the paralytic, all evidences of sin will be removed at this time and their physical bodies will be transformed and made imperishable, glorious, and powerful (See 1 Cor. 15:42-29).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful and transforming.  It transforms individuals both spiritually and physically.  As the Gospel removes sin and molds people’s lives into the image of Jesus Christ, others will take notice.  And as with the paralytic, people will notice their transformation, be amazed, and say “we never saw anything like this” (v. 12).

 


The Gospel Demonstrated

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Many people are oblivious to the Gospel.  They are not knowledgeable of the Good New’s content nor are they aware of its relevancy.  As a result, the Gospel is absent in many forums and, even when present, it is often misunderstood or goes unnoticed.

In Mark 1:40-45 a report is given detailing Jesus’ healing of a leper.  Through their interaction, the Gospel is applied to this outcast’s situation and demonstrated in a very powerful way.

The Gospel presentation begins in verse 40 with the leper’s request to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.”  This desperate appeal is based upon two realities.  First of all, the leper affirmed his sorry state.  He recognized that he was ‘unclean’ and could not remedy his own situation.  The second reality that the leper recognized was that Jesus was capable of saving him from his horrendous condition.  With these two matters in mind, the leper humbly approached Jesus with his bold request.

The leper’s request demonstrates the beginning of the Gospel.  The Gospel begins to take root in the life of the person who recognizes that he is a sinner and in desperate need of a savior.  In some ways it could be said that the Good News actually begins with bad news for mankind.  As Romans 3:23-24 affirms, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  The person who accepts the reality of his own sinful depravity and Jesus’ redemption is primed for the Gospel.

The Gospel was further demonstrated in Jesus’ powerful response to the leper’s request.  In verse 41 Jesus’ love was put on full display when he reached out, touched the outcast’s unclean skin, and healed him.  With this shocking gesture, Jesus sacrificed his status of being ‘clean’ in order to cure this desperate man kneeling before him.

Jesus’ response to the leper’s request reveals the heart of the Gospel.  Jesus’ love for God’s people was demonstrated perfectly when he assumed their depravity and died on the cross for all of their sins.  As 1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” At the core of the Gospel is Jesus’ sacrificial love.  Through his death, God’s people have been saved from their sinfulness and made clean.

Instead of obeying Jesus’ instruction in verse 43 to remain quiet, the healed man disobeyed by telling everyone what happened to him.  His excitement drew so much attention that Jesus was forced out of the towns he desired to ministered in.  This final remark states that Jesus and the leper had literally switched places.  Jesus, who was ministering in towns and villages, was cast out to the “desolate places” (v. 45).  And the leper, who was an outcast, was healed and welcomed back into society.

The conclusion of Jesus’ interaction with the leper beautifully demonstrates the result of the Gospel.  Jesus and God’s people have switched places.  Jesus left God his Father, lived a life of perfect righteousness, yet died a sinners death.  On the other hand, God’s people were depraved sinners, yet made righteous and reconciled to God through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the cross.  This is the Truth that 2 Corinthians 5:21 proclaims, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The Good News is apparent in this account.  Through Jesus’ interaction with the leper, the Gospel was demonstrated in a very powerful way.  One cannot read this report and overlook the message that it proclaims.  Through Jesus death, sinners are forgiven and made righteous.


Jesus’ Resolve

32f2a485c5ea6ba4e7ab9747b8e20dd6Many people lack resolve.  Their lives fail to demonstrate a sustained sense of ambition or direction.  When difficulties arise, they readily succumb to the hardship standing in their way.  And when distractions pop up, they are all too easily amused and diverted from accomplishing their goals.  As a result, their lives quickly pass them by and are essentially wasted.

In Mark 1:38, Jesus demonstrated great resolve.  In this verse, Jesus makes clear to the disciples his determination to proclaim the Gospel, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38).  This statement more than likely caught Jesus’ followers off guard.  The previous evening Jesus had an incredible night of ministry exorcising demons from the oppressed and healing the sick.  Jesus’ disciples more than likely believed he was ready and primed to do it again the next day.  He was not.  As his statement in verse 38 reveals, Jesus had in mind other things that he needed to accomplish.  He needed to preach the Gospel.

Jesus’ resolve stemmed from the time that he regularly spent with God his Father.  Earlier that day, verse 35 reports that Jesus got up “early in the morning…went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”  Through his intimate conversation with God, Jesus was able to remain focused on the mission that his Father had given him to complete.  Jesus’ resolve to do God’s will and speak His word is also revealed in John 12:49 when he said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak.”  As the Gospels make clear, this commandment directed every aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry.

People who regularly spend time with God do not lack resolve.  They are well aware of what God has called them to do with their lives and how they are to spend the time that He has given them here on earth.  Individuals who do lack resolve, however, need to do what Jesus did.  They must spend time with God by talking to Him and reading His word (i.e. The Bible).  Through this communication, God will reveal the first few steps of faith that He desires them to take.  And as their interaction with Him increases, a greater sense of resolve will be cultivated in their life.

The Bible is full of people who are instilled with God-given resolve.  In the Old Testament there is Moses who encountered God in the Burning Bush.  Through this interaction, Moses is tasked with delivering God’s people from Egypt and leading them into the Promised Land.  In the New Testament there are the Apostles.  After spending three years with Jesus, they are assigned to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The ultimate example, however, is Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus’ determination to do nothing but his Father’s will, God saved sinners from Satan, sin, and eternal death.

People who maintain and demonstrate resolve are practically unstoppable.  Although they may stumble, they eventually persevere through whatever difficulties may come their way.  To say the least, their lives are not wasted.  God is able to work through them to accomplish His awesome will.  And in a world filled with many who lack ambition and determination, their resolve is inspiring and powerful.


The Doctor of doctors

ERThis past week, I had the flu and was kind and generous enough to give it to the rest of my family.  Let’s just say, it was a long week in my household.  On Friday of this past week, Mr. Mike Ilitch, a local legend and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, passed away.  It proved to be a tough weekend in the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit.

The Bible makes it clear that sickness and death are the result of sin.  Romans 5:12 states, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  God never designed nor desired death and sickness to be a part of His Creation.  Since their entrance into the world, God has been working towards eliminating them and remodeling Earth.  In fact, the Bible describes God’s New Earth in eternity as a place where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?!?

In Mark 1:29, Jesus arrived at Simon and Andrew’s house after worshiping in the local synagogue.  Shortly after entering their home, Jesus was informed that Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a terrible fever too sick to even get up.  Mark then reports in verse 31 that Jesus, “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her.”  And just like that, with a simple touch and caring gesture, the fever was instantly removed and her health was completely restored.

Jesus is the Doctor of doctors.  The Bible teaches that God is working through Jesus to remove death and sickness from Creation.  The Gospels contain numerous records of Jesus healing the sick and curing the diseased (see Mark 1:34).  There are also several reports that detail how Jesus brought the dead back to life (see Mark 5:35-43 and John 11:38-44).  All of these cases demonstrate that Jesus is truly the source, sustainer, and redeemer of life.

God is not only working through Jesus to heal those in Creation, but He is also working through Jesus to restore Creation to its original design.  Jesus spoke of his cosmic calling in Revelation 21:5, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”  In renewing the world and everything in it, Jesus is focused on eliminating the root cause of sickness and death.  He is zeroed in on eradicating sin.  The Bible declares that when Jesus died on the cross and victoriously came back to life, a fatal blow was delivered to this archenemy.  In Romans 8:20-21, Paul uses an anthropomorphism to talk about how Creation anticipates sin’s final eviction, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the the children of God.”       

Before the world’s final destiny arrives, the Bible states that those individuals who come to view Jesus as the Doctor of doctors and submit to his care will begin to experience this ultimate reality beforehand.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).  This verse does not teach that Jesus’ believers are instantly immune from sickness and death, but that Jesus has immediately freed them from the death grip that sin had on their life.  This passage also points to the Truth that believers are now exposed to this new life and will ultimately experience it completely when they too – just like Jesus – are resurrected from their graves.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who give us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56-57).

In a world that is marked by death, sickness, and even the flu, this is truly Good News.  People need to know that Jesus is the Doctor of doctors.  Only he can truly provide the remedy for their real sickness.  Only he can heal them and the world from sin.  As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).


The Exorcist of exorcists

The Roman Catholic Church is in need of more exorcists.  In an article posted on catholic.org, their want is due to a recent rise in documented cases of demonic possessions.  This situation that the Catholic Church finds itself in corresponds to the biblical belief in the existence and activity of Satan, demons, and evil.  As the later half of 1 John 5:19 declares, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

In Mark 1:23-28, Jesduccio-descentus is confronted by a man who was possessed by a demon.  What is truly remarkable is how Jesus rid this man of his spiritual oppressor.  He did not recite a specific prayer or creed.  He did not invoke a higher power.  He did not act out a ritual.  Jesus simply spoke, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (v. 25).  And with these words, Jesus commanded the demon to leave and the demon could not do anything else but simply obey!

Jesus’ words are incredibly powerful.  Earlier on in Mark 1:17, he commanded four fishermen “follow me” and in response they abandoned everything and followed him.  Later on in Mark 4:39, he commanded a stormy sea “Peace! Be still!” and in response the storm immediately stopped and the sea instantly calmed.  Jesus’ words are so powerful that the writer of Hebrews says that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3a).  It should not be surprising then that when Jesus commanded a demon to take a hike, the demon packed up his bags and hit the road.

The reason why Jesus’ words are so powerful is because they are in fact the very words of God the Father.  Jesus spoke about the Divine origin of his words in John 12:49, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak.”  When Jesus spoke, God the Father spoke.  And through Jesus’ words, the full weight of God the Father’s authority and power is expressed.

The Bible is clear in its teaching concerning the ongoing spiritual war that begun in the Garden of Eden.  Right now, the forces of evil are on the attack.  In this war, one of the best weapons that an individual can arm him or herself with is Jesus’ word – the Word of God.  Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12 both describe the Bible as a “sword.”  This sword is incredibly powerful.  And when unsheathed, God’s authority and power is revealed.

In the midst of the spiritual war that the world is hosting, God’s people must arm themselves with Jesus’ word – the Word of God.  They need to read, memorize, and meditate upon it.  But God’s people also need to make sure that they obey the Scriptures and do what the Bible says.  In submitting themselves to Jesus’ word, they will be unsheathing God’s power in and through their lives.  And just like the demon who was exorcised by Jesus, when confronted with God’s word, evil will cower and flee before God’s people.


The Teacher of teachers

norman_rockwell_school_teacher_classroomGrowing up, we all had them.  Some were better than others.  A couple probably terrified us.  And a few maybe perhaps even had a profound and powerful influence on our lives.  I am talking about teachers.

Simply put, a teacher is a person who imparts knowledge or a skill set onto others.  And if we stop to think about it, there are all different kinds of teachers.  Not only are there grade school teachers, but there is also your kid’s piano teacher, your older friend who gives you advice based off of his 50 years of marriage, the political talk show host who tells you who is a detriment to society, and don’t forget about your yoga instructor.  We all have teachers in our lives and these individuals, in one way or another, are passing along information or an ability onto us.

Mark 1:21 reports how Jesus, while in Capernaum on the Sabbath, “entered the synagogue and was teaching.”  This verse simply portrays Jesus as a teacher.  A quick survey of the Gospels depicts Jesus teaching on numerous occasions and in various environments; for instance, Jesus taught on a mountain (Matt. 5:2), on a boat (Mark 4:1-2), in a friend’s home (Luke 10:38-39), and in the Jerusalem Temple (John 7:28).  It is apparent that Jesus loved to teach and took any and every opportunity to impart Truth onto others.

The readers of Mark’s Gospel are not told what Jesus specifically taught in the synagogue, but verse 21 does states that his listeners were “astonished” by his teaching.  In the Greek, this term literally means, “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out or away.”  Those Jewish worshippers were rocked to their very core by whatever it was that Jesus said on that day.  And specifically, the text states that what caught their attention the most was the “authority” with which Jesus taught (v. 21).  They had never heard anyone before teach with such conviction and power.  Jesus’ teaching proved to be second to none.

Jesus is not just a teacher among teachers, but the Teacher of teachers.  His words carried some serious weight.  In speaking with his students, Jesus declares in John 14:10b, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his work.”  The authority associated with Jesus’ teaching emanated from the One True God.  Through his teaching, Jesus was revealing Divine Truth and exposing others to the transformative power of God’s Word.

Jesus’s teaching is eye-opening and life-changing.  His words are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  As an individual becomes Jesus’ student that person’s world is rocked by the Truth.  And through his teaching, a renewed perspective on life is passed along and instilled.

All of us are students.  We are all learning something from someone.  Who is teaching you?  Jesus desires to be our teacher.  He desires to teach us the Truth, the way to live our lives, and who God is.  Will you learn from him?  Are you willing to be Jesus’ student?  If so, then you need to pick up the Scriptures, hear his words, and prepare to be truly astonished!