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A Statement for the Gospel for our Age

12-31-23

Brad DeGroot


As we continue to celebrate Christ’s incarnation in Jesus, and we consider the beginning of a new year, I hope to build on the sermon Daniel presented last week and provide for us a brief statement of the Gospel we can confidently use to share that Good News with those around us.

I think many of you know that I spent many years in college to become a “card-carrying” (so to speak) scientist. When I was younger, I regarded science as the highest human pursuit. I have come to see that the most important questions are actually those of history – what happened to bring us to the place where we are today. The question is not just what can we do, but what should we do. God has acted in history to show us His redemptive work. I hope to lay out a few introductory points from history that show us that the Gospel is true, and that it is indeed good.

In our Christmas Eve Service last week, Daniel pointed out how very unexpected the Gospel is. We would not have expected God to take on human flesh. We would not have expect Him to

·         Take on that flesh as a tiny embryo in a virgin’s womb

·         Start life in the care of young, inexperienced parents of meager material means

·         Live His whole life Himself with meager material means

·         Die a brutal death on a cross to pay for our sin

·         Rise from the dead after 3 days

·         Assend to the Father after only 40 more days with His disciples


If we wrote the story, it is not the story any of us would write.


As we discussed with the children here at the front a few minutes ago, not only is the Gospel unexpected, it is uplifting. But not the way a fairy tale is uplifting. It is uplifting because it happened in the same space and time as yesterday’s sunrise and breakfast happened. Jesus’s birth and life were just longer ago and further away than yesterday’s breakfast.


Archeology continues to bear out the validity of the historical record that we have in the Scripture. A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz covered new findings in a current controversy in archeology.


1 Kings 9:16-17 – Did this really happen, or did the writer of Kings appropriate historical events to lend credibility to his tale?


The headline to the 11/15 article is “David and Solomon’s Kingdom May Have Existed After All, New Study Suggests.”


Skeptical interpretations of historical data have continually been overturned. As Christians, we need have no fear of historical questions about the text of Scripture. Findings such as these provide evidence that the Christian historical record, both Old and New Testaments, is true.

Now, if we look again at these verses in Kings, Solomon’s conscription of labor to build cities raises a challenge to Christianity that has captured the popular imagination in the past couple of decades: true or not, is Christianity good.


In recent decades, many have come to excoriate Christianity as a religion of oppression. They have blamed slavery and subjugation of women on the Judeo-Christian world view. Now, to be sure, Christians and those claiming the name of Christ have sought to justify sin from the pages of Scripture. However, a dispassionate view of history shows that contrary to these views, Christianity has been the foundation for real love and justice since Jesus’s resurrection.


As the roman empire collapsed, Christians stopped the common practice of infanticide, brought the end blood-sport in colosseum games, elevated the status of women, and put slavery into disfavor. Christians through the ages have been the fountain-head from anti-slavery activism has flowed. What started fitfully in the early centuries of the Church culminated in the abolition of chattel slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.


Raised and trained in the soup of Christian thought, Enlightenment thinkers who rejected the existence of God thought that they originated ideas of the equality of all men. Yet, it is Jews and Christians who recognize the image of God in every person as bedrock of each person’s worth.

So, we come now to our age where many regard Christianity as oppressive and evil. Satan’s challenges continue to morph into new forms, and so in each age, we must make sure we state the Gospel truly and compellingly in language those around us readily understand and in such a way that it addresses the issues swirling in their minds today.


With Ingrid’s help, I have put together this brief statement of the Gospel that I hope does just that in about 5 minutes.


God created the universe with all its grandeur and beauty.[i] He placed humankind uniquely bearing His image in the world to tend and care for it.[ii] That is, God invited humans to share in His work in the world. Our fulfillment as God’s image-bearers is derived from our friendship with and obedience to God Himself, and in our proper stewardship of His creation.[iii] Because real love cannot be coerced, God created us free to choose communion with Him. God is God and we are His creatures, therefore, we commune with God through our reliance on and obedience to Him[iv] as He reveals Himself in the Bible[v] and through the Holy Spirit.[vi] Our first parents believed the lie that God did not fully supply our good and decided to live by what they thought best apart from their reliance on God.[vii] So too, all of us down through the ages choose self-reliance over humble obedience to God.[viii] Self-reliance excluding God is the essence of sin.[ix] Sin produces injustice and exploitation in culture and society,[x] and it produces pollution and degradation in the environment.[xi]


Our sin thus pervades and degrades all of God’s creation.[xii] Our sin dishonors God, and it dishonors His image[xiii] as we exploit one another to satisfy our own selfish ends.[xiv] God is perfectly just.[xv] When we who bear God’s image turned from communion with God to self-reliance,[xvi] we severed all of creation from the source of life.[xvii] Now all living creatures die[xviii] and all warmth-giving fires left unattended slowly burn out to leave only cold ash – that is entropy reigns in the material universe. Death is both God’s judgment and His mercy. It is the just punishment for our acts to deface God’s image as we exploit one another and misuse His creation. Death also prevents the strong from forever exploiting the weak. Finally, death delivers those who respond to God’s call to communion with Him from eternal sin and brokenness.


True justice is born out of love.[xix] To pardon without justice is to institutionalize injustice and therefore evil. God’s perfect nature is love,[xx] and He is therefore unyieldingly just.[xxi] God the Father sent the Eternal Son out of His perfect love to absorb the full and just punishment for sin.[xxii] The Eternal Son took on mortal flesh in the world He created through His birth to a young, Israelite virgin named Mary.[xxiii] Mary, with her husband Joseph,[xxiv] named the Christ child Jesus, which means “God saves”. As the man conceived in Mary’s virgin womb by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’s mortal body was free from mankind’s fall into sin. Jesus lived a sinless life,[xxv] and died on a Roman cross[xxvi] nearly two thousand years ago and there absorbed the full punishment for our sins.[xxvii] Jesus displayed His power over death and decay by rising from the dead after three days in a tomb.[xxviii] God the Father and Jesus the Eternal Son together send the Holy Spirit to any of us who will humbly submit to Jesus’s benevolent rule as the basis to live life both now and forever.[xxix]


While sometimes slowly and almost imperceptibly, the Holy Spirit quickens and conforms the faithful into Christ’s image.[xxx] All of us who are being grown by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image join together now in churches,  those local communities[xxxi] the Holy Spirit is transforming to substantial, even though imperfect and incomplete,[xxxii] love and justice on this earth. In the next life, we will then live in the Universal Church perfected. That is, we will live in one perfectly and completely transformed community, of love and justice under the direct rule of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternity.[xxxiii]


Will you join us?


[i] Genesis 1, John 1:1-5

[ii] Genesis 1:28; 2:15-16

[iii] Genesis 2:15-17

[iv] Joshua 14-15 (“… choose this day whom you will serve, … But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

[v] John 1:1-5, 14; John 5:36-40, esp. v. 39

[vi] John 16:12-15

[vii] Genesis 3:17-19

[viii] Deuteronomy 4:1-9, esp. v. 9; Deuteronomy 6, esp. v.12; Proverbs 30:4-9

[ix] Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 55:3-12; Isaiah 65:2-7; Romans 1:18-23

[x] Exodus 23:1-9; Levitus 19:1-18, esp. vss. 11-13, 15, 17-18; James 1-2; esp. vss. 2:1-4

[xi] Thinking of the passage in the prophets about the broken down hedge around the vinyard; sure there are others, but none come to mind just now

[xii] Genesis3:17-18; Genesis 5:28-29; Romans 8:18-22

[xiii] Matthew 22:15-22, esp vs. 21

[xiv] “bite and devour one another”; one who oppresses the poor for his gain; partiality again in James

[xv] Exodus 34:5-8;Deuteronomy 32:1-7, esp. vs. 3-4; Last chapters of Job Job 34:1-30, esp. vss. 10-15, 36:1-16, esp. vss. 5-6, 15; Isaiah 6:1-7 (Isaiah’s vision of out holy God (JHWH) and his recognition of his and his peoples unrighteousness in comparison); Daniel 4, esp. vs. 37;

[xvi] Genesis 2:15-17; Romans 1:28-32

[xvii] Romans 8:19-23

[xviii] Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, Psalm 49:11-12

[xix] The righteous soldier is motivated by a love for what lies behind him that he is protecting rather than hatred for the enemy who stand before him (CS Lewis); Romans 12:9-13:14 (“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” love does no wrong and therefore satisfies the righteous requirement of the law); John 14:15 (“if you love Me, you will keep my commandments”); Galatians 3:24 (“So then, the law was our guardian (or tutor) until Christ came,…”;

[xx] 1 John

[xxi] “You thought that I was like you …” God proclaiming that His justice pure and uncompromised Isaiah?

[xxii] Romans 3:21-26 esp. v. 26; Hebrews 2:14-18; 1 John 4:7-12

[xxiii] Luke 1:26-56, 2:1-20

[xxiv] Matthew 1:18-25

[xxv] Hebrews 4:14-16

[xxvi] Matthew 26:30-27:56, Mark 14:32-15:41, Luke 22:39-23:49, John 18:1-19:30

[xxvii] Colossians 2:6-15, esp. vv.13-14

[xxviii] John 19:40-20:10, esp. v. 20:9

[xxix] John 14-16, esp. vv 14:14-17, 14:25, 16:7

[xxx] Romans 8:29, 12:1-2

[xxxi] Hebrews 10:19-25

[xxxii] Matthew 7:15-27; Matthew 13:24-30

[xxxiii] Revelation 21-22

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