The gospel literally means good news: the good news that God has accomplished His plan for our salvation and has offered us the gift of eternal life.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is central to God's plan for our salvation. No human being is righteous enough to stand before God in judgment. As the prophet Isaiah put it, "Our righteousness is like filthy rags." If He were to judge us on our own merit, no one would stand. We would all fall short. We might like to think of ourselves as more righteous than others, or at least righteous enough, but in God's eyes there is no room for any self-righteousness.
God alone is righteous, holy, and pure. God is love. And out of His love for us, He sent his own Son to the cross to take on the punishment we deserved. Jesus paid the price; we have been ransomed. Justice was satisfied; God has granted us pardon. If there had been any other way to save us from the punishment we deserved, God would certainly not have sent His beloved Son to a humiliating and painful death on a rugged cross nearly 2,000 years ago. Through Jesus' suffering and death on the cross, our sins have been forgiven. Through his resurrection, we have the assurance that death has been defeated.
Now how does God expect us to believe that? After all, these things took place nearly 2,000 years ago and they were written by men who were followers of Jesus.
Let's think about this. What if the "enemies" of Jesus were to step forward with evidence that these things were true? What if dozens of writers spanning hundreds of years prior to Jesus' birth were to take the stand and testify on behalf of the New Testament accounts?
In fact, this is exactly what has happened. Prophets writing well over 2,000 years ago foretold the story of salvation. God gave promises to the Hebrews not only for their benefit, but for ours. The "enemies" of Jesus trusted these prophecies to be God's Holy Word. They may not have believed that they applied to Jesus, but Jesus fulfilled literally hundreds of prophecies written over a span of fifteen centuries. Is there anyone else in history who fits the description of the promised Messiah better than Jesus? Does anyone else even come close?
If for no other reason, believers should love their "enemies" for preserving these prophecies as God's Word for our sake. The promises that were given to Israel over 2,000 years ago have become a blessing for all nations since. With "enemies" blessing us like this, who needs to call friends to the witness stand?
Judge for yourself.
It was foretold that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin and be named Immanuel, meaning "God with us."
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
The Messiah was to be known by other names including "Mighty God."
Jesus later would say to his disciples, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:6-11)
Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
On Palm Sunday, one week before his death and resurrection, Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The people praised him as their King and Messiah.
Zechariah 9:9-10 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
It was prophesied that one of Jesus' own disciples was to betray him. Elsewhere in scripture it was foretold that he was to be turned over to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.
Psalm 41:9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Jesus endured the mockery of a trial; he was whipped by the Romans, mocked, and spit upon. The last temptation of Jesus was not sexual. It was the temptation to hate those who rejected him. Even this temptation he resisted in love.
Isaiah 50:5-7 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
The heart of the gospel message is this: Jesus traded places with us. He lead a sinless life and the sins of the world were placed on him. We have lead sinful lives and have been given the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life.
Isaiah 53:3-6 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus, scorned by those who praised him only days earlier, hangs on the cross. The prophet, David, writing centuries before the events took place in human history reveals the very thoughts of the Messiah just prior to his death.
Psalm 69:20-21 Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Sit at the foot of the cross and look up. Here are Jesus last words and thoughts revealed in the prophetic words of King David.
Psalm 22:1-9 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.
The Romans and the Jews are not to be blamed for Jesus' death. It was God's will that he be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Jesus became the willing sacrificial lamb. He even rebuked his own disciples when they attempted to save him from the cross. He prayed that this "cup" might pass from him--that there might be another way to achieve our salvation--but in the end he prayed, "Thy will, not mine, be done." God's will was accomplished through Jesus' death and resurrection. There was no other way.
Isaiah 52:13-53:7 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him-- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But Jesus be; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. He was buried in a rich man's tomb. He was the spotless lamb who became our guilt offering. On Easter morning, he rose from the grave, saw the light of life, and declared victory over death. Elsewhere in the prophecies of Isaiah, God declares, "Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." Jesus bore the sins of many, washing away our guilt and making us free. All who truly seek the Lord's forgiveness and accept his gift of salvation will receive it. He is our Savior, the intercessor between God and mankind.
Isaiah 53:9-12 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Job knew suffering. He also knew that long after his flesh had been destroyed, he would see God in his resurrected body. He placed his troubles in an eternal perspective, knowing that earthly suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory which is to come. It almost seems as though God created time so that love might exist and suffering might be reduced to nothing from an eternal perspective. Love cannot exist without free will, but free will makes the rejection of God's will possible. Rejection of God's will brings suffering, but acceptance of His Son brings eternal salvation.
Job 19:25-27 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes --I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job knew that his body would decay, while King David prophesied that the body of God's Holy One would not. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead fulfilling this prophecy.
Psalm 16:8-11 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
The Messiah came to solve our most pressing problems: sin and death. Isaiah shared the good news of Jesus' future victory over death with the people of his time, just as he gives us the assurance that God's promises come true. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth to fulfill the rest of his prophecy.
Isaiah 25:8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
The New Testament closes with a parallel prophecy: the end of death, mourning and pain. From God's perspective, the old order of things has already passed away.
Rev. 21:1-7 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son."
God respects our free will. No will be forced to live with Him eternally. We can choose to reject Him and His plan for our salvation, but out of love for us, He will continue to warn us of the consequences through His Word. Whether or not one chooses to believe in a literal lake of burning sulfur, the language of the following verse conveys a stark contrast to the new heaven and new earth he promises to those who turn to Him for salvation.
Rev. 21:8 "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
Jesus fulfilled hundreds of other prophecies during his lifetime. Is there anyone else in history who fits the description of the promised Messiah better than Jesus? Does anyone else even come close? Would God have sent Jesus to the cross if there was any other way for us to be saved from the coming judgment? His invitation to you is simple, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9 ) "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20)
UCSB Faculty/Staff Christian Forum