14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Hot Christmas toy: Transformers – “more than meets the eye”
At first glance it looks like a car or a truck. “Oh, that’s a cool car! Thanks!”
But then you push a button and BAM it becomes a robot that moves and talks and the eyes glow… Calls for a different response, right? “WHOA!!! THAT IS AWESOME!!!”
Why? Because it’s not what you thought, it’s so much more! And if no one ever showed me that button, I might go on my whole life thinking it was just a cool car, never knowing what it really is or what it can really do.
If I were to ask you, “What is the gospel?” what would you say? We know that gospel means “good news,” but what IS the good news?
Most of our answers would go something like this:
“Jesus died on the cross for my sin so that I can be forgiven and go to heaven.”
For many of us, the gospel is simply “I am forgiven and now I don’t have to go to Hell.”
Like the Transformer, we simply accept the way it looks as it first comes to us, but we never investigate it any further to discover what it truly is and what t was meant to do.
For some Christians, we have never even unwrapped the box! It’s still sitting there unopened, unused, and having absolutely no noticeable impact in their lives. Begs the question: If you have never opened the gift, is it really yours?
Merely accepting that Jesus gave us something isn’t enough; we have to dive in like a kid on Christmas morning and unwrap that thing and take it out and start using it for what it was meant to be in our lives. To go through the motions of receiving a gift, but never open it, appropriate its contents, allow it to enter your live and make the impact it was given to make constitutes rejection the same as if you never accepted it in the first place!
A gift given but never received is a gift rejected.
As we move into the Christmas season I want us to unpack the gift of the gospel. I want us to start with the question most of us ask when we are given a gift unexpectedly: “What is it?”
We shake it, turn it over, feel its weight…
We have always heard that the gospel is “Jesus died on the cross for me, to forgive my sins, so I can go to heaven when I die.” That’s technically not wrong, but it is far from the whole story.
I want us to go to Mark 1 and look at the gospel that Jesus preached while He was on earth and spend the next few weeks unwrapping it, investigating it, discovering what it truly is and what it was meant to do – not only in us but in the world and even in creation itself.
Read Mark 1:14-15
Question: If Jesus had not yet died on the cross, what did He mean by “the gospel”?
There are basically three elements to the gospel that Jesus preached:
- The time is fulfilled.
- The Kingdom of God is at hand.
- Repent and believe the gospel.
This morning we are going to concentrate on part 1: The time is fulfilled.
What does He mean by that? What time is He talking about, and what does He mean by “fulfilled”?
Today marks the beginning of Advent. In Christianity, Advent is the 4 Sundays that lead up to Christmas Day. The word advent literally means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” We buy Advent calendars, mark the days, light the candles, until “the time is fulfilled.” The Day arrives. That’s what we mean by advent.
One of our favorite Advent stories from the Bible is the visit of the Magi. Matthew records that:
“wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
The wise men were expecting a king based on ancient prophecies. They were waiting for Him. And now, the best they could tell, the time had come, the prophecies had been fulfilled, the time had come, and they had come to see this King.
This is what we celebrate during Advent, the coming of a promised King. That’s why Jesus is called Christ. Literally means “Anointed One.” Greek word for Hebrew word messiah = promised deliverer. Good translation would be “Liberating King.”
In Mark 1, Jesus comes into Galilee proclaiming “the gospel,” and He starts with these words: “The time is fulfilled.” In other words, “Ta da! I am the One you have been waiting for, the One who was promised.”
So who exactly were they waiting for? What was the promise that Jesus claimed to fulfill?
To fully understand this we need to rewind, all the way back to the beginning…
Genesis – God creates earth, beautiful paradise, everything existing in harmony: animals, plants, elements, land, sky, space even at the microscopic level. Speaks it into existence from nothing.
- With every new thing He makes He pronounces: “It is good.” It is exactly as I desire it to be and perfectly represents my glorious nature.
- “Let US make man in OUR image.” First glimpse of the Trinue God. Men and women somehow uniquely “image” God to the rest of creation. Nothing else in creation bears that distinction
- Notice that all of creation is spoken into existence except people. Gen 2:7 – “…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
- “Form” in Hebrew (yaw-tsar) = to squeeze, to mold into a form as in pottery
- When it came to making man, God rolled up His sleeves and got His hands dirty. The imagery of Creator God reaching into the earth and scooping it into His hands, pressing and squeezing and shaping something that was meant to resemble Himself is very powerful. It conjures a very evocative and intimate relationship with man that nothing else in all of creation experiences.
- The intimate nature of God’s relationship with those made in His image is a major theme throughout the rest of the Bible.
- He breathes His breath into man; in original Hebrew literally means a puff of breath. At that moment, scripture says, man “became a living creature.” That breath is still what defines our lives today and sets us apart as unique in all of creation. According to the Bible, nothing else did God “form” to represent His “image” and then put something of Himself inside of it to make it alive.
- It’s that breath of God in us that the Bible refers to as the “spirit” of a man that yearns for the one who originally breathed it into us. That’s why every person in every time and every place is driven to worship. We were made to not only be in the presence of God, adoring Him, but to have His presence in us.
The plan was for people to rule the earth as His regents, on His behalf:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The original plan was for people to be full of the Spirit of God, to exist in loving, intimate fellowship with Him and with each other, and to flourish. “Get married. Have families. Discover things. Invent things. Make art and music. Enjoy my beauty and glory here in this Garden and recreate it out there, in the rest of the world.”
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The Garden was the original Temple; the presence of God among people. It was where God and man existed in perfect love as it was intended. Stop for a minute and just allow yourself to imagine what it would have been like if things had stayed that way. What might we have seen? What might have been created? What might we have learned, discovered, invented? Where might we have gone in the universe if we had remained in loving fellowship with God?
But we all know the story… wheels off!
In Genesis 3, we are introduced to the Serpent and told in other places in scripture that this is Lucifer, a former archangel who used to be in the presence of God. Scripture tells us he rebelled against God with a huge army of other angels and was defeated and cast out of God’s presence forever. Unable to overpower God, he sought now to destroy everything God loves…
He becomes Satan, which means Accuser. When we first meet him, he is living up to his name…
Genesis 3:1-13 – notice Satan’s deliberate assault on the heart of God towards Adam and Eve
- Attempts to demote God in the eyes of Eve, calling Him simply God, instead of the Lord God as He is called throughout the rest of the Genesis narrative
- Calls God’s Word into question – Did He really say that?
- Calls God a liar – You won’t die
- Accuses God of betraying their trust; calls His heart into question. Questions His goodness towards mankind.
- Suggests they take matters into own hands; define good and evil for themselves
We call this event The Fall. All hope is lost, it seemed. The Kingdom God created us for is destroyed before it barely begun. Wreaked havoc in three primary ways:
- Man’s relationship with God:
- Sin – worship turned inward in itself; man seeks to define right and wrong on his own terms. Just a few short chapters we will see murder, violence, hatred cause God to regret ever creating man.
- Evil – when Adam abdicated his rule of the earth as God’s steward, Satan seized it. The whole world was now under the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19)
- Death – not just physical death, aging, decay, corruption… but spiritual death – separation from that which is Life. Driven from God’s presence in the Garden
- Man’s relationship with his fellow humans
- Broken relationships – jealousy, hatred, mistrust, blame
- Loss of intimacy – hiding from each other
- Conflict in marriage
- Man’s relationship with Creation
- Hard labor to work earth
- Pain in childbirth
- Disease – micro level
- Poisonous plants
- Venomous creatures
So the gospel goes like this: Creation – Fall… but it doesn’t end there!
But God immediately sets in motion a plan to redeem, rescue, and restore everything that was lost in the Fall. He announces this plan in Gen. 3:15:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This is known as the Protoevangelium: “first gospel”
For the first time, God gives us a glimpse into what He plans to do about sin and death and Satan…
- Hope! God speaks of offspring continuing in the future!
- Enmity – Satan will always harass and oppress people
- HER offspring – literally “seed.” It is through the woman one will come to deliver from the power of the evil one. He would be human, an offspring of woman. Also, hints to the virgin birth in that woman is exclusively singled out as the vessel through which the deliverer would come.
- He will bruise your head, you will bruise his heel – Satan would cause the Deliverer to suffer but it would not be fatal. However, the Deliverer would ultimately destroy the serpent.
He drops one last hint as to what this Deliverer will do to redeem us:
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
Up until that moment, how had Adam and Eve covered their nakedness? Fig leaves, made for themselves
How did God cover them? Skins of animals.
Where did those skins come from? Animals
What happened to the animals? Died
That’s the first time we see the shedding of blood to cover sin. More about that later…
From that moment on began the wait for the Savior, the seed of the woman who would come. The entire rest of the Old Testament would be the unfolding narrative of God’s plan to redeem, rescue, and restore all of creation:
- God’s wrath against sin; cannot go unpunished, but God in His grace saves Noah and his family; God initiates and drives the relationship.
- God designs an Ark but has Noah and his sons build it according to His commands;
- All who entered the Ark were sealed in by God (“God shut the door) and spared the wrath of God
- Ark is a type of Christ; foreshadowing Christ as God’s way of saving us from the wrath of sin.
- God makes covenant with mankind through Noah never to flood the earth with water again.
- From Noah’s three sons, all the nations of the earth are descended. Shem is singled out for blessing. (Semitic peoples) From Shem’s line comes…
- Again, God in His grace chooses and approaches Abram, reveals Himself and initiates a relationship..
- Gen. 12:1-3 – Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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.”
- Abram is very old and his wife Sarai is barren. It will take a miracle – a miraculous birth – to fulfill this promise. Abram has to wait a very long time for the fulfillment.
- Gen. 17 – God confirms the covenant again, changes his name to Abraham (father of many nations) and tells him that kings will arise from his offspring and that the covenant between Him and them is eternal.
- Gen. 21 – Isaac is born, fulfilling the promise of a son that will carry on the covenant. Everything rests on Isaac! The ONLY son.
- Gen. 22 – God does something really weird: He tells Abraham to go sacrifice his only son. And Abraham does something even more amazing – he obeys!
- Huge turning point in the redemptive narrative! Remember, all God’s future promises are dependent on Isaac staying alive and having more children.
- Takes Abraham and Isaac to Mount Moriah in the land of the Jebusites.
- Abraham so trusts God that he obeys in faith, believing that God can still make a way, even if Isaac dies. Abraham believed God could accept the death of his only son as a sacrifice and then raise him from the dead!
- Gen. 22:5-8 – Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
- Just as Abraham is about to offer his son, God stops him and spares Isaac. A ram stumbles out of the bushes. They offer it in worship.
- Gen. 22:14 – So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
- On that same mountain, thousands of years later, God would offer His only Son as a sacrifice. God Himself would provide the lamb on the mount of the Lord.
- Abraham dies, God confirms covenant with Isaac: Gen. 26:4 – I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,
- Isaac grows up, gets married, has two sons, Esau and…
- Jacob is a huge jerk. His name literally means “cheater, swindler.” And he lives up to it.
- Cheats his older brother out of his birthright by taking advantage of his blind, elderly father.
- Then has to run for his life because Esau wants to kill him.
- Here’s where the story gets really interesting: God initiates a relationship with Jacob and chooses Him – not Esau – to carry on the covenant.
- Appears to Jacob in a dream while he’s on the run from Esau
- Gen. 28:14 – Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
- Jacob gets married (twice! Long story) and has 12 sons. Grows very prosperous
- Jacob’s 12 sons become the heads of twelve tribes that make up the nation of Israel.
- On Jacob’s deathbed, he prophecies over his sons. Judah is singled out as a tribe of a future King: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen. 49:8-10)
- Jacob’s son, Joseph, lands a job in Egypt, moves the whole family there, they end up staying there for about 400 years…
- The central story of the whole Old Testament, and the pattern for everything that happens afterward is in the Exodus.
- God’s rescue and redemption of Israel from a worldwide evil power through the blood of the Passover Lamb is the central focal point of the redemptive narrative.
- Following His pattern, God initiates a relationship with a man of His own choosing, Moses.
- Three major themes in Exodus that become the pattern for everything to follow:
- Divine Deliverance through Blood Sacrifice
- A Distinct Covenant People
- The Promise of His Presence
- In a major epic narrative, God delivers Israel and brings them out of Egypt into their own land and establishes a covenant with them to be His people – a unique treasured possession to Himself.
- The idea is that Israel would occupy land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- Nothing particularly impressive about Israel geographically
- On a world map it’s just a tiny patch surrounded by huge nations full of industry, military power, economic power.
- Strategically placed along converging trade routes of surrounding nations. Everyone in that part of the word had to pass through Israel to do business.
- When they passed through they would see a nation unlike any other:
- Ruled not by man but God
- Living life radically different than any other nation
- Built upon mercy, compassion, forgiveness, liberation
- No other land treated their wives, families, animals, land like they would
- No other nation would do business the way they did
- No other national would be devoted to justice and righteousness
- Jeremiah 9:23-24 – 23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
- The big idea was that the whole world would come to know God through Israel.
- Remember, Israel is supposed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, according to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob
- God tells Moses to build the Tabernacle – portable temple – that God’s presence might dwell among the people.
- Moses and Israel have a unique intimacy with God, visited and led by His manifest presence. God begins here to express His desire to dwell among us.
- Moses prophecies in Deut. 18:15 – “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…”
Fast forward to David:
- Israel is now a powerful nation. David is a king from the tribe of Judah.
- God calls David a “man after His own heart.”
- David desires to build a permanent temple for God’s presence to dwell among the people.
- God tells him no, but “your son will build a house for Me.”
- 2 Samuel 7:12-16 – “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'”
- Davidic covenant: God promises:
- A direct physical descendant
- Will build a house for My Name
- Establish his kingdom
- All of that was fulfilled in Solomon, EXCEPT…
- Unique relationship with God: father/son
- Will bear punishment for sin through human authorities (Roman crucifixion)
- “steadfast love will not depart from him” (accepting Christ’s sacrifice as atonement)
- throne established forever (eternal reign as king)
- The house that God was talking about was not merely the Temple, but the household – family – of God.
- Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
- Solomon wasn’t the offspring promised – Jesus was!
- The Temple wasn’t the house promised – the Church is!
So let’s review… Creation-Fall-Redemption…
- A deliverer would come from the seed of a woman and crush the head of Satan
- He would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; His coming would benefit all the peoples of the earth
- From the nation of Israel, tribe of Judah
- He would be a man like one of them, from among them
- He would be a king from the line of David
- He would reign as King forever (eternal life, more than just a man)
- He would suffer at the hands of men but God would not abandon Him (all along the way we’ve seen it would have something to do with blood sacrifice)
- That God would provide a sacrifice on the same mount that Abraham offered Isaac
- He would establish a house where God would permanently dwell among His people
After that there are a series of prophecies throughout the history of Israel that brought the picture of this promised Savior more sharply into focus:
- Born of a virgin
- Born in Bethlehem
- That His name would be Emmanuel – meaning He would be God in the flesh among us
- He would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Divine designations)
- That the Messiah would be one like a Son of Man
- That He would heal the blind and deaf and lame
- That He would minister in Galilee
- That He would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey
- That He would suffer and be despised and rejected by His own people
- That by His suffering He would bring healing and restoration
- That on a single day, God would lift the curse of sin and death on the same mountain
- That they would cast lots for His clothes and tell Him to save Himself
- That not a single bone of His body would be broken
- That He would die alongside criminals but be buried among the noble
- That God would not abandon Him to Sheol but would raise Him up
- That He would reign as a King forever over a restored new heaven and new earth
- That through Him, Gentiles would be brought to salvation
- That God’s Spirit would be put inside people, give them a new heart
SO… when Jesus shows up in Galilee and says, “The time is fulfilled…” THIS is what He is talking about! Jesus came claiming to be the Promised Liberating King Israel was waiting for.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ manifesto – He clearly states: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:19)
Just as prophets foretold:
- Despised and rejected by His own people
- Crucified as a criminal, alongside thieves and robbers
- Buried in noble’s tomb
- Raised from the dead
- Ascended to the Father as Risen King over all forever!
So what? All this is really neat but what difference does it make to me? Or you may be thinking, “Yes, yes, yes… We know all this already.”
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We clearly see now that the Bible is not just a series of random Bible stories with a moral attached to teach us how to be good people. The gospel isn’t just about you not having to go to Hell and living a better life … that’s settling for the truck and ignoring the Transformer!
All of scripture is an epic story of God’s rescue of His beloved creation and restoring it to what it was always meant to be. Everything in the Bible points us to Jesus!
And here’s the really exciting part: The Story is not finished yet! We have a role to play! Just like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, doesn’t your heart burn with excitement and passion at the very thought of it? Don’t you want to run and tell somebody about it?
If we know all this already, you would think we would be living differently than we do right now.
- God is actively at work to restore creation! He is not passively allowing evil to run rampant, unchecked. “Why doesn’t God do something about evil!” He IS doing something! That’s good news for the world who believes evil proves God isn’t real.
- The Enemy has been defeated! His head has been crushed. His power has been broken. We no longer have to live under his power. Freedom is available NOW!
- There is hope for everyone! No one is beyond God’s redemption, no matter what you’ve done. The way back into the Garden has been made through the blood of Jesus. We are not hopeless orphans!
- We are God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B. The Church is God’s plan to spread the Good News to every tribe, tongue, nation, people. We have a job to do and time is running out.
There’s a Kingdom coming! If God kept His promise concerning the first coming of Jesus, how much more can we expect Him to come again and fulfill the future promises? More about that next week…