I wrote last week of the church's failure to speak out in society over the past decades, which has resulted in the marginalisation of the church in culture and our inability to speak now when our voice needs to be heard. The first step, as I wrote in my last post, is to repent of our sins of silence, complacency and tolerance. Our next step is to start to proclaim the truth of the gospel and why we have hope in this climate of fear.
We often talk of the gospel message in church, but the word gospel means good news! People who know the good news aren't the ones who need to hear, but you tell good news to those who haven't heard. Just as it is important to warn people of the eternal judgement they face if they continue in sin, we must also tell them about the good news that we have been given and experienced. Scripture is replete with stories of people preaching the good news, and our commission to preach the good news to all nations. It is clear that we must tell those around us the good news that gives us hope, and now is the perfect opportunity.
Many, however, may not know where to start, because churches have not been preaching this good news. In Mark's gospel, he begins by saying 'The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.' (Mark 1:1) It is clear that the good news we have is Jesus himself, but why is Jesus good news?
1. Jesus is the fulfilment of God's promises
We can all agree that the world around us is decaying, and people are looking for salvation from all sorts of areas; from making nature divine, to looking within for our inner goodness, to emptying our minds to allow the universe to save us. But from the beginning of the world God promised salvation from the curse humanity ushered in through the first sin of disobedience. We do not have to try and find something to save us, because God has already promised and fulfilled His promise to send a saviour. The name Jesus means God saves.
God promised a saviour to deliver humanity from the curse, and the Hebrew Bible is filled with priests, prophets and kings who fall short of being the anointed saviour God spoke of from the beginning. This is where we first must find our understanding of hope from. Hope was a steady, continuing expectancy of good from God. This was not just a wishful thinking for someone for thousands of years, but was grounded in the fact that God is reliable and worthy of trust. Therefore the hope is an eager expectation that is not based on subjective experience but the truth of God.
As Jesus is revealed to be the Messiah, the anointed saviour who redeems us from the curse by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), our faith is grounded in the facts of his life, death and resurrection as fulfilment of God's promises. And it is on the foundation of this faith in God's revelation that we ground our hope; that God is trustworthy and reliable means we can wait with eager expectation for the fulfilment of His promises.
2. Jesus' life, death and resurrection points to a future hope
God did not only send His Son into the world to redeem us from the curse, and save us from our sins. Jesus came to do these things and to point to the future hope of bodily resurrection, a new heaven and earth and eternal life in the presence of God for those who repent and believe in him.
This is exciting! In these times where the threat of death seems all around us and our own mortality is suddenly in the front of people's minds, we know we have a hope that is greater than this earthly life. But do we live in the reality of this hope? Do we live for eternity?
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the foundation of our hope. It was a confirmation of what he declared as truth when he lived... it was a pledge that all who are united to him will be raised up. - Albert Barnes
Jesus is our living hope! The resurrection points to our own future resurrection and glory because the curse of death was broken by Christ's sacrifice, and we are united with him. Too often, though, we do not focus on our future hope. We live in the here and now along with the rest of the world, as if Jesus' ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven has come means that heaven is now.
Sometimes people think that if we have our eyes focused too much on heaven, we are no earthly good as we will miss the opportunities given to us. C.S.Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
"A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.
The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."
When we do not fully realise our future hope, when we do not fix our eyes on things above, that's when we become ineffective as disciple makers as there is no difference between us and the rest of the world. This life is only temporary, if we didn't realise before these past few weeks, we will all die! But we have a promise and a hope that we can share with our neighbours, friends, family- anyone who will listen to us. Let us live for the hope we have of eternity, and let us bring as many people with us as we can.