This weekend, pastors and preachers around the world will exert significant effort to explain the good news of Jesus (i.e. the gospel). They’ll do so knowing that a lot of people in the pews have never believed the gospel and may not hear the gospel again until next Christmas or Easter when they return to church (if that ever happens at all). I’m praying that the gospel rings out clearly in our churches and multitudes are gripped by the grace it offers.
Hopefully, preachers are able to keep the gospel understandable. It’s a message with a myriad of implications and one that is deep enough for an elephant to swim in. And yet, it’s a message simple enough for a child to understand. The key, it seems, is keeping in mind basic gospel ingredients.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives us a short outline of the contents of the gospel. Notice what he says. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3–4). There are three parts to Paul’s gospel in this text. All three parts are essential to the good news, which means you can’t take any part away or the whole thing falls apart. If you take the eggs out of the brownie mix, the mix won’t work. If you take any of these elements out of the gospel, well, there is no gospel.
- Christ died for our sins—in his death, Jesus did not merely give us an example of self-sacrificial love. No, he died “for our sins.” We know the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) and we are all sinners (cf. Rom 3:23). Therefore, death is our wage. But Jesus comes and takes our place. He dies for sinners.
- Christ was buried—Jesus went to the grave. It proved he was dead. His death is no hoax, as some would later claim (i.e. The Swoon Theory of the cross). Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, so Jesus was in the belly of death for three days.
- Christ was raised—but then, the stone is rolled away. The sin-debt has been paid. Death has been defeated. The grave is conquered. Jesus gets up, walks out, and appears to Peter, then the twelve disciples, then to 500 followers, then to James and all the apostles, and finally to Paul, “the least of the apostles” (15:9). When some of the women who followed Jesus show up to the tomb to check on his body, they hear, “He is not here, for he has risen” (Matt 28:6).
This is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a basic statement of the gospel. Of course, we could (and should) say so much more. There are tons of implications. And we have to explain how this good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection fit into the overarching story of the whole Bible. But these are the basics of the good news.
In summary, Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus went into the belly of death. The payment was enough. Death had to loosen its grip. Jesus rose. The grave is conquered. Death has lost its sting.