The Gospel Truth (Continued)
Third, the gospel is a historical fact. Jesus lived, died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to others in time on this earth. If Jesus’ bones were ever discovered, Christianity would be proven completely false. More than any other religious system, Christianity must include a Jesus who was (and is) a historical figure. Buddhism would survive if Buddha were found to be mythical. Jesus regularly taught in public, was crucified outside of a real city, and could be seen by all of the people who lived in Israel two thousand years ago. Paul declared the public and historical nature of Jesus to Festus: “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Jesus was a real man, although much more than a man, who really died on a real piece of wood at the hands of real Romans in a real Israel.
When the Swiss theologian Karl Barth began lecturing in America, then editor for Christianity Today, Carl Henry, asked Barth in front of two hundred religious leaders and many news reporters, “The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus. . . If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility? Was it news in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”1 Henry knew that at the heart of Christianity was the historical nature of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. J. Gresham Machen defended the historical verity of Christianity by boldly asserting,
From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name “gospel” or “good news” implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. “Christ died”—that is history; “Christ died for our sins”—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity. The coming of Jesus was understood now as an act of God by which sinful men were saved. The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried”—that is history. “He loved me and gave Himself for me”—that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.2
Fourth, the gospel is doctrinal. Doctrine is any statement of truth about God. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul emphasizes the doctrine of substitutionary atonement with the words, “Christ died for our sins.” Paul’s language reflects Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 53 where God’s Servant, the Shepherd of the people, becomes the sacrifice for their sins. The atoning death of the sinless Jesus for others is a common and biblical teaching (Rom 5:6–8, 8:32; 1 Cor 8:11; 2 Cor 5:14–15; Titus 2:14; Gal 1:4).
Vicarious substitution, or penal substitution is under attack, even by some professing evangelicals. While Jesus’ death was certainly an example of love, a demonstration of God’s view of the law and sin and an ultimate victory over all cosmic forces, Christ’s paying sinners’ penalty is at the heart of the gospel. God’s wrath must be assuaged by Jesus as He died on the cross, receiving the punishment that sinners deserved for their sins. Christ’s sacrifice paid the full penalty for sin, bringing an imputation of God’s righteousness and, therefore, full forgiveness. Notice the substitutionary nature of the atonement in these verses, and rejoice in a God who saves:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” . . . 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.” (Gal 3:10, 13)
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. (1 Peter 2:24)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet 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. (Isa 53:4–6)
In light of penal (penalty) substitution, songwriter Phillip P. Bliss was right when he penned, “In my place condemned he stood, and sealed my pardon with his blood–hallelujah, what a Savior!”3
Fifth, the gospel is scriptural. Paul repeats the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” twice in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4. The Messiah’s work of salvation was an Old Testament promise. When Paul wants his New Testament reader to think of an exact Old Testament reference, he uses the singular, “Scripture.” Since the plural “Scriptures” is used in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is alluding to what the Old Testament generally taught, namely, that the entire Old Testament bears witness to the saving work of the Messiah, the sin bearer. The atoning work of Jesus was the pinnacle of salvation history that had been disclosed in the Old Testament through direct prophetic references as well as types and shadows like sacrifices. Paul preached to Agrippa,
To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23)
The warp and woof of the Jewish Bible is saturated with references to the Messiah and His sacrificial work for sinners. Peter, like Paul, proclaimed God’s eternal plan would naturally reveal itself in both the Old and New Testaments:
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)
Sixth, the gospel was confirmed by the resurrection.
That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:4)
The entire fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is devoted to the resurrection of bodies, both Jesus’ body and every believer’s physical body. Paul states the burial here to confirm the authenticity and conclusiveness of Jesus’ death, thereby presenting the resurrection as a true resurrection from the dead. The Father vindicated the work of the Son on Calvary by raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection served as a veritable “Amen” to Christ’s “It is finished.” Was Christ’s death satisfactory for sinners? Did the Son please the Father with His mediatorial sacrifice? Was Jesus the sinless Savior dying for sins that were not His own? Yes, yes, yes (cf., Rom 4:25).
1 Corinthians 15:4 utilizes grammar to rivet an important truth to the mind of every Christian, namely the perfect tense which describes the resurrection as a past event but having a lasting and germane consequence on the present and for the future. Christ has been raised from the dead and He is still the One whom God the Father raised from the dead. Jesus is the risen Lord, even now! The substitutionary death and burial of Jesus occurred at points of time, but Jesus’ resurrection continues as a fact. A cursory reading of Acts reveals the importance of preaching the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:20–28, 13:30–37, 17:31).
Paul continues to establish the validity of Christ’s resurrection by chronicling Christ’s initiative in appearing to many Christians:
And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Cor 15:5–7)
This vast army of witnesses fully attests to Christ’s resurrection. There is a continuous chain of eyewitnesses who verified the truth of what Paul states. Paul says that even though Christ’s resurrection was 20 to 25 years ago, some of the witnesses are still alive today, and you can even go and ask them in person.
Is this the gospel that you believe? Is this the gospel that you proclaim?
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Mike Abendroth’s Evangelical White Lies (NoCo Media, 2016). Stay tuned for part three of this adaptation.
1. Carl Henry, Confessions of a Theologian (Grand Rapids: Word, 1986), 211.
2. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 23–24.
3. Phillip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah? What a Savior,” accessed from http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/a/halwasav.htm.
©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.
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