I’m going to start with Jeremiah and a verse about God Is the Gospel. And then I’m going to go backward in history to explain, How did this verse come about? How did God’s relationship to Jews come about? And how did humanity get into such a fix that he needed to have a relationship with Jews? And where did humanity come from anyway? We’re going to go all the way back to the very beginning, and after we’ve done that — set up Jeremiah from the beginning — we’ll come back, and then we’ll look forward five hundred years later to Jesus and what he has to do with that and this whole thing.
So what I want to happen tonight is to orient what I say in the whole sweep of history, especially as the Bible records it at its center story, the history of redemption. And we’ll close by asking, What did Jesus achieve when he died, when he rose again, and how can I, as a man, and you, get in on that? Or do I even want to? Is it appealing, what he accomplished when he came and died and rose again? That’s where we’re going.
My deep conviction is that talk is easy, and rebirth of the human soul from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive, and being blind to spiritual things and seeing to spiritual things, and being an indifferent person in relation to Christ and God, and a lover of Christ and God, that is something I cannot do. And I’m happy to have it so. The Bible says that it would be so. So I come and I sow seeds, I tell the story, I hold up the book, and now I’m going to pray and ask God to do what I can’t do. And all of us need something to be done. Some of you aren’t even at first base in that. Others of you have been walking this road for fifty years, and God’s got something to do wherever you are, and I would just like him to do it. And if I could be a means to that end, it would make me very happy.
Fountain of All Things
So here’s the verse. Jeremiah plus God is the gospel — these two centers of my present life these last few weeks. Jeremiah 2:12–13 goes like this. This is God talking to the universe.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
This is the very definition of evil, I think — ultimate evil, deepest evil, from which all other evils come. This is talking about Israel now. “My people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water. You drink of me and you live.” And they tasted it, and they said, “No, thank you.” They turned and they started digging and digging and digging, hoping to find something better than God, and they’re dry. It’ll never happen. God’s very angry about this — really angry. And he’s going to send them into exile. That’s what this book is all about. It’s a very bleak book because the people have committed these two great evils.
Now God is the gospel. What do I mean by that? I mean that he’s a fountain, and all the things that he’s done in the world, all the history of redemption that’s recorded in the Bible, all the things that he did in and through Jesus Christ (which we’ll see in a little while), he’s done to offer us a fountain: himself. The ultimate goal of life and eternity is to know him, enjoy him, be with him, fellowship with him. We’ll talk more about that, but when I say that God is the gospel, I mean that all the other pieces of the good news of the Bible are pointing to this one. Everything else is getting us to the fountain, and this people have thrown it away.
I was sitting beside a guy on the plane, flying from Minneapolis to Phoenix this afternoon, and he was from Iowa; he lives in Phoenix now. After a couple hours, he saw me just working like crazy, with my big, black Bible in my lap. There’s no sense in hiding the Bible, right? You want people to ask you questions, don’t you? I do anyway — with my big, fat, black Bible in my little, teeny lap on that crowded plane. So I’m there writing these notes. He says near the end, “You a minister?” “Yeah, I’m a minister and I love it. What about you? What do you do?”
We get into it and he starts rattling away. He wants me to know, “I’m on the straight and narrow. You don’t need to preach to me. I’m okay.” And I just listened to him for a while, and he knew a lot of Christ’s language. Maybe he’s a believer, but my concern in listening to him was that I had all this stuff going through my mind for tonight and tomorrow on “God is the gospel,” and what was coming out of his mouth were stories of how he knew God was in his life because of how good things were going.
So he gave me the example of driving out to Phoenix from Minneapolis, and his car broke down in Colorado, and he sits for 45 minutes and prays that God would get him to Phoenix. The car starts, he limps into town and they take out a sensor. They said, “We don’t know if this is it. That’s the best we can do. It’s Saturday. Maybe it’ll get you there.” And so, he starts driving, praying, praying, praying, and the car dies one block before he gets home — “I believe in God. Yes, sir. Amen. I believe in God.”
Now at that point, what would you say? I said, “Can I tell you about what I’m going to talk about tonight?” “Yeah, sure.” “I’m going to say tonight that when good things like that happen and you’re praying, God’s real. God is real. He does things like that. He’s really merciful. And the reason he does things like that is to show what kind of God he is, so that we’ll love him more than we’ll love getting to Phoenix in a good car — more than the gifts. Love the giver more than the gifts.” I said, “Do you believe that?” “Oh, yeah.” Okay, that’s real important.
That’s what I mean by “God is the gospel.” I mean that he’s a fountain, and whenever he does good things for you, he’s trying to tell you what he’s like, so that you’ll get through the good things to him — get through the good things to him. Men have a reputation of not doing relationships. Women do relationships; they get together, talk all morning across the table about everything. Women narrate their lives, and they want to do that with you. Men, they don’t narrate their lives; they just do stuff. So when men get together, a relationship happens shoulder to shoulder while they’re moving forward into a common cause — not face to face but side to side, moving. They do that together, get it done, and that really breeds deep camaraderie. I like that. I’ve got twenty guys like that around me on the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and we’d die for each other in a minute. We don’t spend a lot of face-to-face time together, but we do have a lot of shoulder-to-shoulder time.
With God, it’s the whole thing. The cause out there for which we are shoulder to shoulder is we have a great Creator, a great Redeemer, a great Upholder of the universe. He made everything, and every great cause we’ve ever engaged in is summed up in him. There will be, in the end, a great face-to-face, but it will be the greatest cause that ever was. You will find all of your energies, all of your desires, all of your longings, summed up in the face-to-face with God forever and ever, and there’ll be more joys, more glory, more beauty, more power, more justice, more truth revealed over eternity to you than you could ever imagine, and it will satisfy your souls. God will in the end be the gospel.
Blessing Through Israel
But now here’s the question. Here we are at the middle of the Bible. Jeremiah is almost the middle of the Bible. And he says, “My people have committed two great evils.” So my question is: Who are they, and how’d they get to be that way? Because if you don’t understand his connection with the Jews, you’re going to have a hard time making sense out of the whole Bible, and I think he wants you to make sense out of the Bible.
So you go back about fifteen hundred years and there was a man named Abram, whose name got changed to Abraham, and God sovereignly, unconditionally picks him out and makes him his own. God says to him,
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2–3)
Now that’s amazing — “I’m going to pick you out from all the peoples, and I’m going to make a great nation out of you, and it did become great.” Under King David and Solomon, Israel was a world power, and they are a very durable people, and they will endure. You know that novelist Anne Rice? She’s written Out of Egypt, a novel that a lot of people are reading right now. She got converted, and she said the main reason she got saved was because of the Jewish people. Just the existence of the Jews as she starts studying history, that they exist blew her away when she read their history. So he’s chosen this people. He calls them “my people,” and he says, “I’m going to make you great, and through you, all the families of the earth — even Phoenix — are going to be blessed.”
Now, my question is: How would Israel become a blessing to everybody? And there are two answers in the Bible, at least. One is that God’s going to work with Israel for two thousand years, from Abraham to Jesus, and ge’s going to bless them with the Law and with prophets and with judges and with worship, and he’s going to pour out his blessings upon this people — and they’re going to totally fail, in order that when he sends them into exile, it will be clear to all the world. This is the way the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 3:19: “ Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law [Jews], so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” That means every Gentile, every person everywhere in the world, their mouth stops — meaning, they’re accountable to God, because if his chosen people, with all these benefits, have tried to get right with God, and they blow it over and over again, nobody is going to get right with God.That’s the point.
So the first way that Israel blesses you is by being a lesson book. I mean, you read the first two-thirds of the Bible, and it tells this terrible story: fail, fail, fail, fail, fail. Get the point? We need the other half. That’s the way it works. That’s the way the Bible works. So the first blessing is that Israel becomes a lesson book for the nations. God speaks to them. Every mouth is silent now and what will happen?
And the second way Israel is a blessing is that through Israel comes Messiah. The name Christ is the Greek for the Hebrew mashiach, which is Messiah. Jesus Christ is the long-promised one in the first two-thirds here. We’ve got to have help. We need a king. This is Isaiah, seven hundred years before Jesus:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6–7)
That’s coming. All through this first part of the Bible, when God’s working with Jews, that was coming. So there are two ways that Israel, God’s people, become a blessing. First, they document the failure of humanity. If the people chosen and blessed fail over and over again to honor God, love God, trust God, obey God, please God, and only incur his wrath, so that he sends them into exile, what chance do we have? I am big-time sinner and there’s no way — if they can’t make it, I won’t make it.
And then this Messiah, this King, this Redeemer, this hoped-for One, he’s going to do something about this. And in the Old Testament, it’s not altogether clear how he’s going to fix it. There are some really good passages. I’ll quote one of those in a minute, but he’s coming.
Descent into Sin
But here’s my next question. We’re not back all the way to the beginning yet. Why did he choose Israel? Why did he go to an Abraham and say, “You’re mine; I’m going to make a great nation out of you, and through you there are going to be blessings for all the families of the world.” Why’d he do that? Now you go back eleven more chapters to the beginning, and the reason is because God’s good creation of man and woman fell into sin, and the whole history was messed up.
You know this story. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). What does that mean? You and your wife, or girlfriend, or women that you know — men and women — are created both equally in the image of God. We have different roles in our marriages, in the church, but in dignity and image, we’re the same. What’s the point of that? And the point is we were made to image God. I am a forty-five-degree mirror. I am created to take the glory, beauty, greatness, truth, justice, humility, mercy, grace, love of God, see it, and love it, live it, and reflect it like that. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. You were created to be this forty-five-degree mirror. That’s why you’re on planet Earth.
Now Adam and Eve turned in on themselves by the temptation of the devil who said to them, “Look, do you realize that being a mirror is low? Because really you want to shine with your own light, don’t you? You don’t want to just reflect, so why don’t you just be like God? He shines, and he’s just letting you be a mirror. So why don’t you just turn the mirror over and then the light will shine, and you’ll be the source of it?” Now that’s really stupid. They did that. Sin is always stupid. It is asinine. This isn’t going to shine. If you turn this over, it’s not going to shine. So what happened? They said, “Okay, we can be like God if we reject him, become our own source of wisdom and strength and we’ll be our own God.”
And they turned themselves over, and you know what they saw in the ground? A shadow in the shape that they were created in, and it’s pretty impressive. You know why? God created us in his image. Even when we turn our back on God, it’s impressive. We can get to the moon. We can cure smallpox. We can build skyscrapers. Human beings without God are phenomenal creators. So they fell in love with this shadow on the ground, and they’ve been loving it ever since and trying to spruce it up, fix it. That’s what happened in the garden of Eden, and then for eleven chapters after the fall, everybody goes haywire. Everybody’s born loving themselves.
I came into the world loving John Piper, wishing he didn’t have pimples, wishing I could speak in front of a group, wishing I could play basketball like the other guys in my neighborhood — just wishing, wishing, wishing I were more like God, meaning: “I want to do it myself. I want to get some praise for me. Why should God get all the praise? I would like a little praise, thank you.” That’s the way we come into the world. We’re all wrapped up in ourselves, and we think happiness resides in being much of by other people, and God says, “That’s not why you’re made. That’s not why you’re made. Get your mirror turned over like this. Get it cleaned off like that. Start shining.” “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That’s what conversion is all about.
Fullness of Time
So here we are, at the middle of the Bible, and they haven’t done that. Adam and Eve didn’t do it. The Jews didn’t do it, and they’re under judgment. God’s really angry at his God-belittling creation, especially his own people. Creation, fall, choosing Israel, two thousand years of wrestling and blessing this people. They go into exile, and that’s the end of the Old Testament. They make their way back a little bit, and what happens now? There is five hundred years of silence from God, until what the Bible calls “the fullness of time.”
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5)
That’s just too good to be true: that God, at the fullness of time, would look on this absolute mess that we’ve made of things and say, “I’m not done. I’m not done with this. I didn’t create this universe to go haywire. I created this universe to be what I meant it to be, and I will get it done.” And he sends his Son, Jesus Christ, the second member of the Godhead, the Trinity, always existing, never coming into being, and now he clothes himself with flesh, born of woman, that he might fix this somehow. In Luke, the angels show up in the fields to the shepherds on the night when Jesus is born,
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
He’s saving the world. He’s doing something. He’s breaking in. He’s not letting it just end. He’s not going to send everybody to hell. He’s going to do something. The Son has come. The Savior has come — five hundred years later at the fullness of time.
Upsetting the Status Quo
Now thirty years go by. He’s a carpenter, and then he makes his public appearance, gets baptized by John the Baptist, and begins to preach. Three years it takes him to get killed. What’s he doing? What’s he saying? What is the message he brings? The first words out of his mouth are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). That’s what he says.
So the question is: What do you mean by kingdom? “The kingdom of God is at hand.” So who’s the king? You’re the king? “I’m the king.” So what are you going to do? Defeat Cesar? That’s what kings do. You can’t have two kings. Now right there, it’s just huge. What happens? What’s the plan? Does he want to do that, and then he can’t pull it off, and so he dies and does plan B?
No way. From the very beginning, he knows exactly what he’s going to do. That’s not the kind of kingship he brings first time. He is coming back. We’ll get to that in a minute. Here he is. Picture him now. Three years go by. He’s touching lepers and taking away the disease. He’s taking little babies and children into his arms. He’s letting prostitutes who got totally changed because of his love cry on his feet, wash them with their hair. That’s titillating. You’ve got to be some kind of man in order not to carried away by this woman crying and rubbing your feet. There’s all this happening. He’s getting into big trouble. Finally, they just can’t stand this: “Let’s get this guy killed and out of here, because he’s breaking all the rules, letting people like that rub his feet, and he’s claiming to be a prophet. This is just outrageous. We’ve got to get rid of him.”
And here he is before Pilate. And Pilate says, “Are you a king?” And Jesus says, “Who told you to ask that question?” Pilate doesn’t like that feedback, and Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting. They’d be fighting, and I won’t let them fight. Put your sword away, Peter. I won’t let them fight” (John 18:33–38).
Neither Red nor Blue
I’d love to take a half an hour right now and talk about Christianity in the Western world in relation to Islam and right-wing politics and so on. I wish we could just do that for a while. That’s not my assignment. I’m just concerned about it, so I’ll stick in a little parenthesis here.
I’m so deeply concerned that Islam equates the West with Christianity, that Islam equates American politics in Iraq with Christianity. It’s so sad. It is so sad. It’s not. It doesn’t matter whether Bush is a Christian or not; that’s not the point. The point is Christianity, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, does not advance with the sword or bombs or guns. I’m not saying that nations do not have the right, at times, and in right ways, to defend themselves with force and rescue people with force.
That’s not my point. My point is that Christianity as Christianity, followers of Jesus as followers of Jesus — not as Republican, not Democrat, not American, but sons of the king, Jesus, who’s coming back and is going to wipe out all these distinctions and establish his kingdom — we must find a way to communicate that whether we’re Democrat or Republican is neither here nor there; we’re Christians mainly. And whether we are red or blue is neither here nor there; we’re Christians mainly. And we need to communicate to Islam, “Please, please, what’s happening there is not what we do for Christ. We’re not trying to establish the kingdom. The kingdom comes by suffering, not killing.” That’s the end of the parenthesis.
Jesus, what kind of kingdom are you bringing? You say the kingdom is at hand? His answer is: “It’s a kingdom that comes by my dying, not by my killing. I’m going to go to the cross.” He said this over and over again. “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:7). That’s the message that Jesus brought. He said it this way in Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served.” That means, “I’m not going to put myself on a throne this time; I’m going to put myself underneath humanity and let it crush me with their sin. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There’s the point of the first coming of Jesus.
He came into the world, sent in the fullness of time, that he might give his life as a ransom. So when it talks about the Son coming in the fullness of time to redeem those who were under the law, how does he redeem? He redeems by dying and rising again. That’s the crucial observation. So the kind of kingdom that he offers is a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of love, a kingdom of suffering, a kingdom of sacrifice, and he will rise again.
He did rise again, and when he rose again, here’s what he said — I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I had a sabbatical from March through July, and I wrote a book based on these verses. He said just before he went back to heaven to his Father, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Now this is a men’s thing. There are way too many churches that are effeminate — way too many. And people equate Christianity with women’s religion. So you line up eight women across the front with their microphones, swooning like this, and guys come to the service, and they say, “Good grief. That’s cool but I can get that somewhere else.” I really like robust, masculine churches. I really, really like that.
Jesus is standing before these eleven disciples, and he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That’s big. That feels real masculine. “I run the world. Now, in that authority, you go make disciples. You go to Phoenix, preach your heart out, gather disciples, and then he says, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). And this next phrase is what gripped me the last five months: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). So I wrote a book and tried to do that: What Jesus Demands from the World.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I’ll be with you tonight, John.” I prayed in my motel room an hour ago, “Will you do that for me tonight?” “I will. I will. Just as much as if I was in the flesh, my hand on your shoulder. I’ll be with you to the end of the age. You go make disciples tonight. All authority’s mine. It’s not you. You just disappear. You tell them what I say, call them to do what I call them to do, and you sit down and shut up. And I may kill you tonight, and your work will be done, and you’ll be home, and I’ll be the gospel for you.” That’ll be fine.
He rose from the dead, and he’s coming again. He told the story of a parable and he said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations” (Matthew 25:31–32). Brothers, that’s coming — maybe a year from now, or maybe a hundred years from now. I don’t know, but that’s coming. One day, the sky will split. Jesus Christ will be seen. Angels innumerable will appear. A trumpet will sound. We will meet him in the air, and his throne will be established on planet Earth, and he will judge the nations. That’s coming.
Four Accomplishments of Christ
Now here are my last and crucial two questions: As he sends me and you to do this, what did he achieve when he died? And how can you get in on it if you want to? Now let me make sure I ask the question exactly the way he’d want me to. I don’t mean: What did he do to help you do what you have to do? That’s not the main question. (There is some truth in that.) I mean: What did he do that you needed to have done outside of you before you ever existed, and he got it done and he finished it? What did he accomplish for you that you have to have done for you, and he did it outside of you before you ever came on the scene? What is it?
I’ll just give you four quick answers and they’re so easy and so clear, and breathtakingly significant. Now you may think sitting there, “I don’t know what I need from him. A little help financially would be good. A little better marriage would be good. The kids are not where I want them to be entirely, so help there would be good. Health — bad diagnosis last December; I’d like that fixed.” That’s the kind of stuff that goes through our mind because we’re fallen. You don’t have to have any new heart to want that stuff. Everybody wants that stuff — Christian, non-Christian, Muslim, Jew. Everybody wants health and life to go good. Jesus came for four way-bigger things, and as I say them, I hope you feel the need for them, because you may not right now, but as I say that he met the need, maybe the need will go up, and you’ll feel the need for him.
1. Christ absorbed God’s anger.
In his dying, Jesus Christ absorbed God’s anger, so that it wouldn’t have to fall on you. Here’s the verse: Galatians 3:13:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
Now feel the force of this. Here in the middle of the Bible, we saw God really angry at the Jews and sending them into exile under the king of Babylon, and everybody’s in that condition: under God’s wrath. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). That’s Jesus talking. God’s anger is on us for our indifference to him, our belittling of him, our failure to trust him, and honor him, live for him, and obey him, and enjoy him. His anger is justly on us.
And what did Jesus come to do? Take it away. I’ll tell you one of the sweetest things in all the world is to put your head on the pillow at night after a good long day’s work and know: God is not mad at me. And it isn’t because of how you lived that day; it’s because Jesus soaked it up. He just took it all.
2. Christ bore our sins.
We’ve got a wrath problem in God, and we’ve got a sin problem in me. Seven hundred years before Christ came, his work was described like this:
We esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6)
When Jesus died, sins were laid on him, and he bore them so that we wouldn’t have to.
3. Christ provided our righteousness.
He provided righteousness for us, which is not our righteousness. But we’ve got to be righteous. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” says Jesus (Matthew 5:48). You know, if you get before the King at the last day, and try to offer up your imperfect obedience, it won’t cut it. Perfection is required. So what can we do? Listen to these incredible words from Philippians 3: Paul prays,
[that I might] be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
That’s amazing. Let this land on you. The righteousness you will need when you appear before the Judge of the universe was accomplished for you two thousand years ago. That’s really hard to grasp, but if God were to move your heart to get it, that’s the best news you could ever hear. You’re all imperfect. You will stay imperfect until the day you die. Every day, from here till then, you’re going to sin. I do. You will too. God is absolutely holy. His standard is perfection. He demands that we be righteous. We cannot be righteous. It’s all over. Hell, here I come.
Unless at the fullness of time, Christ came to bear wrath, to bear sin, and now, to complete in his sufferings a life of absolute righteousness, which God might be pleased to count as mine. That’ll be my last question: How do you get in on that? But there it is: It’s accomplished two thousand years ago before you did anything. Christ lived a righteousness that could be yours, counted as yours. The doctrine is called justification.
4. Christ conquered death and opened eternal life.
He conquered death and opened eternal life when he died. I’ll tell you, I’m a pastor, and if I had a choice between a funeral and wedding, I’d do a funeral any day. Not because I’m morbid, but because people don’t need any help to be happy at weddings. They need lots of help to be strong and joyful at funerals, and I’ve got the best news in the world. I’ve got the best news in the world at a funeral. Here’s what I say.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51–57)
In other words, he came, and he died, and he broke the power of death. He rose from the dead. He put his foot on Satan. And he offers to take his wrath away, to remove sins, to conquer our death and provide our righteousness.
How the Promises Apply
So my last concluding question is: How do you get in on it? It gets better and better. What if he said, “Well, my Son did all that, and now the way to get in on it is to be a good person. If you are a good person, this will count for you.” Of course, that would just contradict everything that he just did. So he says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Now get this: Because Christ, two thousand years ago, did those four things and finished them — wrath completely removed, sins completely covered, righteousness completely provided, death completely overcome — what’s left for me to do?
Answer: Receive it. Believe it. If you try to add to it, if you try to say, “Okay, thank you for doing that much. Now I’m going to do my little part here, and I’m going to do this and this and this” — it’s not a bad thing to be a good guy. But if you think being a good guy, trying to be a good husband, trying to be a good employer, trying to be a good dad is going to add to that, you don’t get it. You don’t get it. You can’t add to it. The righteousness is perfect. The wrath absorption is perfect. The sin-bearing is perfect. Death is perfectly destroyed in Jesus. You can’t add to it tonight. All you can do is say, “I’ll receive it. It’s a gift? I’ll take it. I’ll take it.”
So if you were to die tonight, and God asks you after hearing this message, “Why should I receive you, welcome you, accept you?” I hope you will not say, “I was as good as Joe and he went to church every other week. I was as good as Joe. I know I was. Joe, he’s a creep. He’s a churchgoing creep, and I was just as good as him.” You know what? God will not be impressed with that answer, because the relative differences among us compared to the perfection demanded are very small. They don’t count. One thing counts: Are you connected to Jesus so that his wrath-bearing, and his sin-bearing, and his righteousness-providing, and his life-providing counts as yours?
And only one thing connects you: faith. Here’s the answer. God says, “Okay, here you are. You died. I took your life. Your time is up. Why should I let you in? Why should I receive you into everlasting happiness?” You should say, “In one sense, you shouldn’t, God, because I’m a creep. I have been such a failure. I haven’t been the husband I should be, the father I should be, the churchman I should be. In fact, I hardly ever went to church.” The thief on the cross never went to church, not one day in his life, and Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He only had a few minutes left.
“But God, there was this preacher who came to town, and he just opened up what your Son did — that your anger fell on Jesus. And if I trust in him, it wouldn’t fall on me. And all my sins he carried, so if I trust in him, you wouldn’t hold them against me. And he lived a perfect life. I didn’t, and I trusted him, so that would count for me. It’s like asbestos around me, walking into your fire, and I could enjoy the fire and I wouldn’t get hurt. And he said that when he died and rose, death was overcome and I would rise from the dead. So all I want to do is say for his sake, for his sake, would you receive me?” God will like that answer. He will very much like that answer because it will honor his Son. It will honor his Son.
What Do You Really Want?
That leaves me one last observation that takes us back to the beginning. I said I’m operating out of the center of God as the gospel right now. What if the second question God asked you was not “Why should I let you in here?” but “Why do you want to come in here?” Now what that question does is test whether we are truly believing, because believing doesn’t mean using Jesus to get worldly goods, even in eternity. What would you answer? “Why do you want to come in here?” Now here are some wrong answers. They’re not evil in themselves; it’s just that if this is your answer, something’s wrong.
“Because my mother is there.” Mine is, and frankly that would be sweet. I would love to thank my mother again for twenty-eight years of faithfulness to me. I’m sixty. I still love her like crazy and miss her a lot all these years later. I can come to tears over my mom in a minute if I do the right kind of thinking. That’d be nice. Wrong answer.
“Hell is hot. I don’t want to go there.” That’s true — nobody does. You don’t have to be born again not to want to go to hell. Nobody wants to suffer. That’s not a good answer — not an adequate answer.
“I hear there’s total health in here. I get sick a lot and my back is always aching. It’s always aching. It has ached for thirty years. I would like to get rid of lower back pain.” (That’s a little autobiography there.) That’s a bad answer.
“There’s no death there. There’s no depression there. There’s no conflict there. There’s no anger there. I heard it’s a good place. I really would like to go to a good place, and I hear that there are some really neat golf courses.”
All those answers, brothers, won’t cut it. That’s the wrong answer because what it means is when you say you trust Jesus, what you mean is: “I hear he’s the ticket to all the stuff I wanted, and it wouldn’t matter to me if, God, you weren’t there, because I just want the stuff. I want the health, I want the mom, I want depression to go away, I want the back to be good, I want to swing a little golf. Maybe a few girls. Is that okay? Are girls okay?” And God will not think that you have come to trust his Son.
‘Get Home to Me’
This is my closing issue. When you look at
- God sending his Son to bear his wrath for you,
- God sending his Son to carry your sins for you,
- God sending his Son to provide a righteousness for you when you didn’t deserve it,
- God sending his Son to conquer death and open eternal life,
when you look at that, do you think, “What a God! What a Christ!”? God is the gospel, guys. God is the gospel in and through wrath-bearing, in and through sin-bearing, in and through righteousness-providing, in and through death-conquering. We’re on our way to him, and I know you want that. Some of you don’t know you want that, but I think there are clues in your life. There are clues in your life.
What about this? You watch sports. You go to movies, and maybe some of you are kind of artsy and you go to concerts or museums. And in each of those places, these athletes, these actors, and these artists are better than you are. They’re way better than you are. That’s why they get paid so much, and you watch them. You watch them every weekend. Why? Don’t they make you feel stupid? I mean, you’re so inferior. Don’t you feel inferior when you watch pro football? Look at those guys. Good night, if I get hit like that, I’m paste. So why do you watch them when you feel so inferior? Why do you go to movies when they can act so much better than you can? Don’t you sit there feeling inferior? And why would you go to a museum and look at great art when you can’t even draw a stick figure? Don’t you feel inferior? What’s the deal with all this enjoyment in front of these games and movies and art? What’s this enjoyment?
Does that say anything to you? What are you made for? So many people think they’re made to stand in front of a mirror and like what they see. I promise you, heaven is not a hall of mirrors in which you like what you see. It’s much more akin to a ballgame or a movie or a concert or a museum when Jesus is the best. Jesus is the best. All I’m saying is you are wired this way. You are wired to find your deepest joy not in standing in front of a mirror and liking what you see. You are wired to stand in front of greatness and admire it, even if it makes you feel small.
In fact, wouldn’t you agree, guys, if you live long enough anyway, you know that the highest points of joy in your life have not been the navel-gazing times when you liked your navel. They’ve been the times when you forgot yourself standing before something magnificent — maybe a little baby that was just born to your wife, or maybe the wife herself, or maybe the Grand Canyon, or maybe the Rockies, or maybe some magnificent performance of a symphony, or maybe some three-point jump shot as the buzzer rings when you’re down by two.
You’ve tasted what it is to go vertical, and if God were to wake you up, do you know what he’d say? “That’s a little parable. That’s a little parable, son. That’s a little parable about me. It’s a little parable about me. You’re made that way to break through all these things and finally get home to me.”