Monday, October 15, 2018

The Gospel

In 1830, George Wilson was convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson but he refused to accept it. The matter went to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who concluded that Mr. Wilson would have to be executed. "A pardon is a slip of paper," wrote Marshall, "the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged."

A pardon is the action of forgiving and being forgiven for an error or offense. It requires two parties: the pardoning agency and the convicted person. Pardon may be offered but unless the convicted receives the pardon, he remains convicted and subject to the sentence hanging over him.

The right to pardon is essential for the process of justice being served. If something changes within the evidence against the convicted person or new information is added, there may be reason to change the sentence.

When God created mankind, He did so in a context of divine justice. Which means God set up the expectations for how people could live in relationship with Him. He is a holy God and only holy people can come to Him. That presents a problem.

In Rom 3:10-12, Paul quotes Psalm 14: "there is none righteous, not even one;  there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside and have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." 

If, from God’s perspective, no one qualifies, how do we become this holy person that gets to live in relationship with Him?

Imagine God setting up a target as you would for an archer. The target is called pardon. If you hit the target you will be pardoned of all the unholiness that separates you from God. You, then, would be declared right with God and would be welcomed into the family of God. Miss the target and you remain guilty of unholiness and remain wrong before God – the penalty being separation from God in this life and forever.

But here’s the problem: as many times as you pull back the bow and let the arrow fly, the arrows keep falling short. You can’t hit the target though your life depends on it.

But what if someone else comes, takes the bow and shoots your arrow directly into the bullseye? And it counts! That would mean the conditions God had set were met. And because the target was hit in your behalf, you can be pardoned. God will declare you holy and you will receive the privilege of life with Him now and forever.

Well, guess what? Col 2:13-14 When you were dead in your transgressions, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 

Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He hit the target. The charges against us can now be dropped, canceled, taken out of the way, pardoned. It can be as though we’d never been unholy. God is now able to accept us as His children.

Paul had told us: Rom 6:23 The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Wages – what you expect from what you did. I worked 40 hours. I expect pay for 40 hours work. If the wages or expectations of sin is death, that means, because of sin – my life and actions of unholiness against God – I should expect to live a life separated from God now and forever. But I’m not a bad person. Bad isn’t the measuring stick.

Death is the sentence established by God as our Judge because we are guilty of sinning against Him. As a result, we are condemned, and we will die without Him unless we get pardoned.

The second part of that verse says: But the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. What’s the free gift? Grace – God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Remember: we couldn’t hit the target. Jesus hit it for us. And what Jesus did made the pardon available. It’s that pardon that sets us free from the condemnation of our guilt. Because of what Jesus did, the sentence over us can be changed.

Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Why did He die? Because death was the only payment for sin. In the Sacrificial system of Israel, Heb 9:22 Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness

Pardon means to forgive. Forgiveness wasn’t possible without blood. That was the requirement God set. That’s why Jesus died, so God could forgive us and offer us His pardon.

Now, remember, a pardon offered isn’t a pardon received. God’s pardon is an opportunity to be forgiven, to be granted life now and forever, but it must be accepted.

John 1:11-12 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 

There seems to be a response with two actions. The first part is to believe and the second part is to receive. As a kid who grew up in church, I never didn’t believe. But I didn’t receive until I started college.

What are we to believe? That Jesus, being the Son of God on earth as a man, died on the cross to pay what it cost for God to forgive our sin and pardon us from the sentence attached to it.
That’s the message of the Gospel. The word gospel means the good news.

Pilot came on the speaker and said: Folks I have good news and bad news. The bad news is we are totally lost. I have no idea where we are. The good news is we’re making excellent time.

So, the bad news is, without pardoning, we are separated from God now and forever. The good news is because of Jesus’ death on the cross, our pardon is available.

1Cor 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, [delivered, pardoned] since you hold fast the word which 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 according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. [power to do what He promised.]

Jesus paid the price we couldn’t pay for the debt we owed because of our sin. And He has already shot the final arrow into our target that meets God’s requirements. Which brings us to the second part of the two-part response. To receive it.

So mechanically, how do I receive something so intangible? Here’s that familiar Bible word: FAITH. Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Faith is my confidence that God is telling me the truth, that the only way to His salvation is through Jesus. When I am convinced that’s true, I will, then, do what else He says, expecting the results He promises. But my church teaches something different than this. Here’s a good rule: Let’s go with what God says. He’ll be the final judge.

Rom 10:8-13 But what does it say? That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved [delivered, pardoned]; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." 

Saved is the collective word that means we have accepted our pardon, have been forgiven of our sin that separated us from God and have been brought into a personal relationship with Him that lasts for all eternity.

Eph 2:8-9 For by grace [God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves] you have been saved through faith [our ability to believe what God says is true and act upon it]; and that not of yourselves [we couldn’t hit the target], it is the gift of God [Jesus did it for us]; not as a result of works [nothing we did made us worthy of the gift], so that no one may boast [our confidence in our salvation rests in God alone]

Jer 33:3 Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.' Jer 33:8 I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me.

It’s been His plan all along. It’s still His plan for each of us.

So as a reminder: We believe in who Jesus is and what He did. By faith we call out to God in prayer for Him to apply what Jesus did to cancel out our guilt. Then we receive the gift of his pardon. Having believed and received, we become Children of God.

Lord Kenneth Clark, internationally known for his television series Civilization, lived and died without faith in Jesus Christ. He admitted in his autobiography that while visiting a beautiful church he had what he believed to be an overwhelming religious experience. "My whole being," Clark wrote, "was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy far more intense than anything I had known before." But that created a problem. If he allowed himself to be influenced by it, he knew he would have to change, his family might think he had lost his mind, and maybe that intense joy would prove to be an illusion. So, he concluded, "I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course."

As Maxwell Smart would say: He missed it by that much. I don’t want you to miss it.

  1. Though Jesus died for everyone, and has made salvation available for anyone, it remains a gift that must be received.
  2. It is time to receive it when we sense God is offering that gift to us.
  3. There is no formula of words to say, only the desire of our hearts to belong to God.
  4. In response to that desire we might thank God for what Jesus did for us, accept His death as payment for what it cost Him to forgive us, receive the pardon He offers in exchange for our guilt and thank Him for making us one of His children.
  5. We can then change the word: Jesus is the Savior to Jesus is my Savior.

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