The Good News
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
This is what Jesus Christ taught when He was on the earth. His message was radical enough to get Him crucified, and it is no less radical today. Most people do not think of God as a king. They probably don’t want to think of God that way, because kingship itself is often disagreeable to us. The dominion of a king requires absolute obedience from the people to his will—no higher power can veto him, nor can any vote of the people overrule him. Such a submissive attitude is hard for people to muster, and it’s even more difficult for them to find genuine joy in such submission. Whatever problems we have with kings in general, they are multiplied by the discovery that God Himself is a king, that His kingdom has arrived, and that His kingdom cannot be escaped.
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)
When a person rebels against any human king, we call it a crime. Rebellion against God is called sin. Sin is itself another idea people have tried to put out of their minds, mainly because we do not like to feel guilty. But for all our efforts to escape the concept of sin, we cannot deny our guilt. Someone has observed that two facts are true of every person: that everyone has some moral code by which he tries to live, and that everyone has often broken his own moral code. That hypocrisy would be bad enough, but we have a far worse problem along with it: God Himself cares greatly about our wrongdoing. Since God loves all that is good, He therefore hates all that is evil, and He hates evil with the same passion that He loves goodness.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. (Rom. 1:18)
We might protest that we have done good deeds which outweigh our evil, but when we examine ourselves more closely, we find that our decency, integrity, and hard work are rarely, if ever, performed for God. Our goodness is performed in what we believe to be our own private world where God has no place—for we do not wish to give Him any place in our lives, even though He is the source of everything we have ever possessed or enjoyed. This thanklessness toward God is itself a rebellion, and it shades all that we do, whether evil or good. As such, our good deeds are more like the good deeds done among an army of rebels. If one rebel helps another rebel care for his wounds, will that kindness be remembered on the day of the king’s victory? Such deeds will be forgotten, since they were done in a state of rebellion. God rules His kingdom accordingly. For that reason, we sinners are left standing before God with only our sin and its consequences.
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)
Ever been a coward? Ever suffered a lack of faith? Ever lied? Ever done anything worse than all that? Hell is God’s response to all of these sins and the sinners who commit them. This is the great horror we face as sinners under the wrath of a God who rules absolutely over all.
Upon learning that God, the great king, has wrath directed at all sin—and therefore all people—we ought to feel an urgent need to escape that wrath by whatever means possible. Our most natural response is to “turn over a new leaf” and stop sinning. Jesus Himself mentions that response. His proclamation of the kingdom of God was barbed with a commandment: Repent. To repent is to change your mind about sin, and to change your thinking about it so completely that you now hate it and long for godliness instead.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him—return to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:7-9)
But repentance is not all that Jesus commands—and we should be glad He does not stop there, because repentance itself is not enough. Even if a person were to stop sinning entirely, and provoke God to wrath no more, that person is still guilty of years of sin. Sins are not forgiven simply because they happened yesterday, nor because we are sorry for them, nor because we resolve to do better. Certainly no system of justice could work by those principles, and God’s kingdom does not work that way either.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. (Ps. 97:2)
Thankfully, Jesus did not merely command us to repent. He also commanded us to believe the gospel. The word gospel means ‘good news’, and by now we could use some. The good news is that God Himself has lovingly and graciously provided a way for our sins to be forgiven without compromising His own justice. This forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom God has given to us as a Savior. Even in human justice, we sometimes allow substitutes. A man who cannot pay a legal fine may yet have a friend who can pay it for him. In much the same way, Jesus died on the cross, under the very wrath of the God we fear, to pay our penalty for us.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which 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 according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
This same Man who proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingdom, and died for His testimony about that kingdom, has also illustrated and proven the establishment of that kingdom by rising from the dead. The murderous rage of a rebellious world could not finally defeat Jesus, and neither can it defeat the kingdom He founded. For those who do not repent and believe the gospel, the resurrection of Jesus is the sign of their guilt and condemnation. But for those who repent and believe in Christ, His resurrection is the sign of their own resurrection to a new life with God.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death is no longer master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:8-11)
The death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins is the good news we need to believe, before we can welcome the kingdom of God with a sincere joy, and before our repentance can have any enduring substance. Whatever indignation we may feel about the proclamation of this kingdom and this command to repent, it should melt away when we understand the goodness and love of this King who has provided a Savior for us, to reconcile us to Himself in spite of all past wrongs, and to offer us a new life of freedom from sin, being freed from its guilt and power by the death of Christ.
He has freed us from our sins by His blood. (Rev. 1:5)
The Lord reigns: let the earth rejoice! (Ps. 97:1)
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