The Gospel and the Mission of God
In the past five to ten years conversation over what the Gospel is, and what it demands has exploded with books, articles, sermons and even conferences devoted to the topic. While there is much good to be said about the resurgence of Gospel preaching and material being published by bloggers and preachers there is also one concern I have about all of this talk about what the Gospel is. My concern is that the conversation often becomes all about what the Gospel is to the neglect of the exploring connection between the Gospel and the mission of God.
When Jesus sends His disciples out into the world, He does so with the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit to make much of Himself. Jesus teaches us that at the heart of God and of His mission is the fact that, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In this post we are going to explore the connection between Gospel and mission from Luke 24:44-47 and learn about what Jesus taught His disciples about the Gospel as He sent them out to be a people about His mission of making disciples.
Luke 24:44-47, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
As Jesus proceeded to instruct them we must note that the Resurrection triptych, the three successive events of Easter day all focused on God’s Word for instruction. First, the angels at the tomb referred to the women back to Christ’s words: Luke 24:6-8, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words,”
Next Christ incognito chided the despondent couple on the Emmaus road. Luke 24:25-27, “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.”
And now in the third event of the triptych in Jerusalem he explained his Passion and resurrection in the dynamic context of the Old Testament Scripture: Luke 24:44, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.””
Leon Morris notes that, “The solemn division of Scripture into the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible indicates that there is no part of Scripture that does not bear witness to Jesus.” And again we must understand that one of the reasons Jesus taught them from the Scriptures was that He did not want them to rest their belief in His resurrection on their personal experience alone. He was not interested in their becoming an esoteric coterie, an elite group with a special knowledge of Christ.
Resting their faith on a miracle was not sufficient. He wanted them to ground their experience of His resurrection on the massive testimony and perspective of Scripture. Tragically one can actually believe in the Resurrection and not believe in Christ as Jesus had warned earlier in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Luke 16:31, “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus’ passion and resurrection only make saving sense in the beautiful context of the Law, Prophets, and the Psalms. This encounter was undoubtedly the ultimate teachable moment in all history. Jesus would have seated himself, taking the traditional posture of a teacher, and as he gestured in the candlelit room his nail-pierced hands or wrists emphasized his points.
No wandering minds here. No Eutychus nodding and falling off his perch. His teaching was enhanced by divine illumination. Luke 24:45, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” Though they had been his devoted followers, a spiritual veil had covered their understanding, so that on two occasions when he had foretold his death we read in Luke 9:45, “It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it” and again in Luke 18:34, “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.”
But on Easter night the blinders were removed as the Holy Spirit opened their minds. What a dynamic combination—The Holy Scriptures illumined by the Holy Spirit. What they learned that night and in succeeding conversations during the forty days before Christ’s Ascension became the biblical substance for the apostolic preaching of the gospel and their apostolic mission.
First we read that Jesus instructed them about the Gospel (Jesus’ passion and resurrection from the Old Testament). Luke 24:46, “and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,” From this we understand that the apostolic preaching of the gospel was always framed by the rich background of Old Testament exposition.
Paul says this in 1st Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 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.”
From this we must also understand that the gospel is only fully preached when set in the context of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The Law? Where do we find the gospel of Christ in the Law? Most clearly, we see his sufferings in the great institutions and events of the Law.
According to Exodus 24, the Old Covenant was launched on a sea of blood from sacrificial animals with which Moses doused the altar, the Book and the people. In the following centuries oceans of blood flowed upon Jewish altar from suffering animals, effecting an external ceremonial cleansing of the offerers. These sacrifices pointed to and were fulfilled by the shed blood of Christ, as the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
The daily sacrifices pointed to and begged for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. In a similar way the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 prophesied of Christ’s sufferings. Just before his death, while with his disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus made it very clear that he was the Passover lamb as he prepared to eat the Passover meal saying in Luke 22:15-16, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus then fulfilled the Passover to the letter as a male in his prime without defect who in the sacrificial process did not have any of his bones broken. And now just as faith in the blood of the Passover lamb delivered the Israelites from death so faith in Jesus’ blood brings life. Christ is our Passover. In this connection the entire tabernacle spoke of Christ, and the epicenter of the tabernacle (the mercy seat atop the Ark of the covenant where the blood was sprinkled) pictured Christ’s atoning/propitiating work.
It is a fact that the New Testament word propitiation from the Greek word hilaskomai comes from the root word for mercy seat so that the Apostle John would explain of Christ in 1st John 2:2, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world.” Paul similarly comments of Christ in Romans 3:25, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood”
Jesus is both the atoning place and the atoning blood for our sins. Christ’s sufferings are written huge in the Law. There is even a hint of the Resurrection in the Law. Luke records in chapter 20 that Christ embarrassed the resurrection denying Sadducees by showing them that Exodus 3:6 where God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”, proves the idea of resurrection because God would not say “I am” in the present tense the God of those deceased patriarchs unless they were still living.
Peter remembered this and alluded to it in his sermon in Acts 3:13, then went on to proclaim the resurrection in 3:15, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” Peter saw that the same resurrection power that raised the patriarchs to life after death raised Jesus who was after all the author of life.
The Prophets? Where is the gospel found in the Prophets? The most explicit foretelling of Christ’s suffering in the prophetic Scriptures is in Isaiah 53, the text to which Christ directed his disciples in the Upper room by referring to its final verses indicating that he himself was numbered with the transgressors thus directing their attention to he fact that every line of the chapter refers to him as the ultimate suffering Servant.
Isaiah 53 drips with Christ’s passion. Not only do the prophets detail Christ’s sufferings they also speak of His resurrection occurring on the third day. In verse 46 Luke was apparently alluding to Hosea 6:2, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” That prophecy was given to sinful Israel, but there was nothing in their history to correspond to it—except that when Christ rose from the dead on the third day he raised with himself believing Israel. The prophecy plainly points to Christ. Christ’s body lay in the tomb for two days on the third day he rose again. Christ according to 1st Corinthians 15:4, “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The Psalms? Indeed the gospel was in the law and the prophets and in the Psalms. Psalm 22 is the locus classicus as it gives a technical description of one dying of crucifixion before the cross was ever invented. But even more it perfectly describes Jesus’ experience even to the detail of the soldiers gambling over his clothing according to Psalm 22:18. The Psalms also teach the Resurrection as Peter explained in his sermon at Pentecost when he quoted Psalm 16:8-11, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Then Peter explained that David did not fulfill the prophecy because he rotted in the grave. But Christ, the ultimate Son did fulfill it because he rose before decomposition began in Acts 2:29-32. Thus along these lines Jesus is the theme of the entire body of the Scriptures.
As the Law was opened, their hearts burned. As the Prophets came alive the flames rose higher. And with the Psalms their hearts became passionate roaring furnaces. They became men of the gospel. But it didn’t stop there. Jesus also showed them that the world mission was taught throughout the Scriptures.
The law? The Law, the Torah foretold this right at the origin of the Jewish nation when God said to Abram in Genesis 12:2, “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.” This was accomplished through his ultimate seed Jesus Christ as Paul explained in Galatians 3:16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”
So Christ is the heir and mediator of the promise made to Abraham. And the blessing goes out to the Gentiles as they come to Christ and are incorporated into his body. Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” The nations of the earth are blessed with the spiritual riches of Abraham when believers preach Christ.
The Prophets? Mission is also found in the prophets. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas explain why they are turning to the Gentiles and they quote from Isaiah 49:6, “he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.””
When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and honored the word of the Lord and all who were appointed to eternal life believed. All Christ’s followers are charged to aid in bringing light to the Gentiles and salvation o the ends of the earth. The Psalms? This is also the ancient message of the Psalms.
Psalm 22 which so graphically describes Christ’s sufferings ends with a statement of mission in Psalm 22:27-28, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”
That eastern night privately locked up with the Eleven Jesus grounded gospel and mission in the Old Testament Scriptures. He showed that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms all taught about His suffering, all taught about His death, all taught about His resurrection, all taught mission to the world beginning with Jerusalem, the very heartland of the Jewish faith, the place where the incarnate Son suffered, died and rose again. The gospel was and is for the world!
We are to be gospel men and women who proclaim the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “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,”
The Gospel is not a message, or a way of life—it is eternal good news based on the historical events prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. We are to preach Christ and Him crucified. Gospel people are mission people. The gospel demands that we share Christ everywhere and that we use our time and resources to go to the nations. It is a matter of life and death and it is about the glory of God.
Luke 24:48-49, “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.””
All three stories in Luke 24 conclude with witness. The women hurried from the empty tomb to share the good news with the eleven in Luke 24:9-10. The couple on the road marched back to Jerusalem to share what had happened along the way.
Here in Luke 24:48-49 Jesus makes it official. He was promising the Holy Spirit a promise reiterated at His ascension in Acts 1:9. And when the Spirit came, what power there was! The preaching of the gospel was not advanced by mere recitation of what the law, the Prophets, and the Psalms said about Jesus. Neither was it advanced by the declaration of the Scriptures’ fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel was advanced when the messengers were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit was pleased to do His work of regeneration. As Paul testified to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
May we be gospel people, devoted to mission in the power and passionate conviction of the Holy Spirit.