Jesus brought us Good News, that’s what ‘gospel’ means. If you want to understand the Good News fully, it’s best picked up by reading and meditating on the Bible. If you’d like a summary, here’s the way that Colin Barnes (leader of the River Churches) sees God’s wonderful news for us.
When you take a look around at our world what do you see? Well, I’ve recently been to the Himalayas and there’s no doubt that the earth is a stunning place to live. You don’t need David Attenborough to tell you that the variety, the complexity and the sheer beauty of life on this planet is breath-taking. You may gaze at mountains, seas and stars and be inspired in a thousand ways. Then there’s the people we meet, each relationship having the potential to enrich our lives, bringing love, challenge, tears and laughter. The sacrifice and love demonstrated in families and communities around the world is heart-warming. Man is capable of incredible bravery, creativity, hard work, ingenuity and love. Yet scratch beneath the surface and something seems wrong. Life is truly amazing, but it is also all too often filled with pain, suffering, bondage and decay. As someone said to me the other day, the world seems somehow broken. We can look at this brokenness under 3 headings.
1. Disease and Death – Too many people are robbed of the full enjoyment of life by sickness and deformity. We feel the injustice most when children suffer and die, but we hate to see it in anyone, old or young. We know it’s not the way we’re meant to be, but there seems little we can do about it. As a society we spend a lot of time, money and energy fighting sickness and rightly so. Our medical profession does a great job. We’ve developed cures, vaccinations and ways to alleviate suffering, but the task is enormous and the fight never ending. In the end, we all face death and whilst the pain of losing a loved one is unbearable, we must bear it. The end appears final, yet many of us cling to the seemingly illogical hope that we may meet our loved ones again some day.
2. Man’s Inhumanity to Man – Whilst most people you meet would claim to genuinely desire to do good and to contribute positively to society, it seems that man has a knack of causing his fellow man grief. This happens on all scales, between individuals and between nations, from muggings to wars and from slavery to adultery. The motivations to do good just don’t seem strong enough in most of us to always overcome the darker motives in our hearts, like selfishness, laziness, greed and pride.
3. Natural Disasters – Earthquakes, floods, avalanches, storms and famines have regularly made the news headlines since records began. These days we have to add global warming and tsunamis to the list of potential disasters! Every year millions of lives are devastated by such events.
On top of these more obvious troubles, most of us feel a deep need to be needed. We want our lives to count for something, to have some significant meaning or purpose. Without such vision we quickly lose motivation, we become lethargic and depressed and sometimes even lose the will to live. We’re told by some scientists that we’re nothing more than a chance combination of chemicals, but most of us feel we are more than that and that our lives matter.
Unsurprisingly, most cultures have recognised that there is something drastically wrong with the world. Many come to the conclusion there is a battle going on between good and evil, that there is a spiritual dimension to this battle that impacts our lives and that we can take part by appeasing or appealing to the spirits involved. The Western culture is one of the very few that does not acknowledge this unseen realm. For the past 200 years or so, we have been encouraged not to seek any help or comfort from the spiritual world. Instead, we have been asked to take the world at face value and place any hopes of solving the world’s troubles on ourselves. Since we have already noted that we are often part of the problem, is it any wonder that depression and stress are endemic to our society.
At a superficial level, you could argue that the fact the world is so broken is proof that it has not been made by a loving God and that if there is a God, he must be uncaring. On the contrary, I would say that the message proclaimed by the Bible makes the most sense of this broken world and provides the greatest hope for its mending. You see, the Bible tells us that the world was made by a God who is love, a God who created mankind with the hope that man would choose to be like him, to live in love with Him and with one another. The world was intended to be a glorious place without pain and suffering. God gave us this world to do with as we pleased, we were supposed to care for it and bring out the best in it. However, man chose to join in a rebellion against God, to go his own way and the earth became broken as a result. Man turned his back on God and walked away, all intimacy was lost and we became separated from Him. The earth was totally overrun by that dark rebellion. This story is told in Genesis chapters 1 to 11 and could be subtitled “How the earth came to be so broken”. The rest of the Bible contains the story of God’s rescue plan. Being the most powerful, He could dictate and force us back into relationship, but being love, he chooses to woo us back. Rather than use might, he trusts that love will win the day and pleads with us to come home. So he started by revealing himself to a man, called Abraham, and through him to a nation, Israel. His aim was to prepare a people whom He could come down and live amongst so He could save the whole world. When God launched His major offensive against the rebellion, he did so with the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem and we celebrate it at Christmas.
Jesus revealed exactly what God is like. He loved everyone he met, especially those whom the world had written off. He went around healing many hurts, including every form of sickness. He also told us wonderful things. For example, that God is best described as a loving Father, that he is for us and not looking to punish us. Like a good Father, he loves his children regardless of what they do. Yes, we can do things that upset him, but we can also do things that bring him joy. That message was fantastic news for those who knew they didn’t deserve God’s love and they found a wonderful freedom to live differently. However, that message upset religious people and they crucified him. It still upsets religious people today. Jesus demonstrated the fullness of God’s love by hanging on a cross, until dead. He proved that you could continue to live the way God hoped we would and love the world even when you get nothing back. Three days later he was raised from the dead and appeared to those who loved him. In doing so, he also proved that love would overcome anything the broken world could throw at it, every form of pain and sorrow and even death itself. Before leaving, Jesus charged his followers with continuing the work he had begun.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus has given mankind a second chance. What will we make of it? Each of us now has the opportunity to build a relationship with the Father. The intimacy between God and man that was lost can be restored, if we choose. Jesus has shown us the way, the only question is will we follow him? If we come to Him he promises to accept us no matter what we’ve done! He promises to live with us by his Spirit, to empower us to live the way God intended and also to continue the work he began of healing this broken world. He told us to pass on this wonderful news, to go about as he did, to demonstrate God’s love by giving to the poor and praying for the sick. If we live this way, we will see an end of man’s inhumanity to man. We will see some sicknesses miraculously healed and lives restored. Finally, He has promised to restore the earth to what He intended, to make it anew. There will come a time when there will be no more tears, no sickness, no suffering or death. In the meantime, He is giving us back the world one heart at a time, helping us to throw off the darkness. Our lives do matter!! We can either help God mend this broken world or continue the rebellion. You can’t get a higher purpose or more significance than that. What will you choose?