A T4G 2020 Sermon: What Is and Isn’t the Gospel
The title of this talk is “What Is and Isn’t the Gospel?” I have to assume the grand poohbahs of T4G asked me to do this talk because of a book I wrote ten years ago this month, called What is the Gospel? It’s been wonderful through the years to hear the stories of how the Lord has used “that little black book” to encourage believers and even bring people to faith in Jesus.
But believe it or not, that book—and it’s definition of the gospel as a proclamation of whom we are accountable to; the problem of human sin; God’s solution to that problem in the substitionary life, death, and resurrection of King Jesus; and the call for us to respond to Jesus in repentance and faith—has not been without its detractors.
THE BEATING HEART OF THE GOSPEL
Now, I don’t intend to use this time to defend a book I wrote ten years ago. Instead, I want to use this time to engage in a conversation with one particular charge that’s often leveled against all of us who understand the Bible to teach that the beating heart of the gospel is Jesus’s penal substitutionary atonement for us and our justification by faith alone in him.
I was recently re-reading two books that make this charge, Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel and Matthew Bates’s Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation. These authors spend a considerable amount of time interacting with my little black book, among others. I was especially gratified to run across this sentence in Bates’s book, near the end, when he’s summing things up:
Should Protestants break fellowship with or excommunicate Protestant leaders such as Chandler, Gilbert, MacArthur, Piper, and Sproul if it is true that they have made mistakes about the true content and boundaries of the gospel? Absolutely not. This would be wildly inappropriate.
My first thought on reading this, of course, was “Wow. Not bad company; I’ll take it.” I wanted to take that sentence out and frame it. But then I realized, “Wait, did he just ask if Protestant evangelicals should break fellowship with me and excommunicate me?” That wonderfully concentrates the mind! Thankfully, he we shouldn’t be excommunicating. Bates later writes that maybe Matt, John, R. C. and I are actually, deep-down, trusting in Jesus in a saving way even if we can’t articulate it very well.
Anyway, the reason I bring these two books up is because, in their own way, they each make the same charge against those of us in this Reformed evangelical camp, if I can paint in broad strokes for a minute. That charge is that in centering the proclamation of the gospel around Jesus’s penal substitutionary atonement for our sins, and on justification through faith alone in Christ alone, we are ignoring and sublimating what is actually the heart of the gospel.
And what’s that? Well, McKnight, Bates, and others make their own cases, with sometimes subtle and sometimes enormous differences and disagreements, but the central proposition seems to be that the gospel is the declaration that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah or King of Israel. McKnight puts that declaration as “The gospel is the Story of Jesus as the culmination of the Story of Israel,” which involves not just kingship but other threads in the story as well; but kingship is certainly key to that Story. Bates puts it utterly straightforwardly: “The gospel climax is that Jesus is the Christ, the King.”
The burden of that charge, of course, is to make sure that we as evangelicals—especially as evangelical preachers—don’t excise Jesus from his place in the grand, sweeping storyline of Scripture. And I have to say, I think that’s a good warning. It may even qualify as a legitimate critique of much evangelical preaching, especially when at least one of our most well-known spokesmen is explicitly calling on evangelicals to “unhitch the Christian faith” from the Old Testament.
It’s true: Many of us would be helped in our preaching of the gospel by not just preaching the simple (though true) propositions of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone, but by re-embracing the epic of the Bible, placing those things in their proper place in the grand storyline. If people think Christianity is about three or four sentences that you can fit on a napkin, it’s going to seem shallow and flimsy compared to the myriad other worldviews and religions that are competing for their attention. Christianity rests on a spell-binding story about the history and future of the world—a story of kings, conquests, failures and redemptions that, when once you understand it, makes Jesus breathtakingly awesome.
IS THERE A “KINGSHIP GOSPEL”?
But what I don’t understand about books that make this case for a “kingship gospel” or a “royal gospel” is why there’s so often an impulse to take the story of Jesus’s kingship and divorce it from the realities of personal salvation, forgiveness, atonement, and justification. It’s puzzling; because the message isn’t just “Don’t forget that salvation has a history; preach the word of the cross and the good news of the kingdom!” It’s often something more like, “The gospel is that Jesus is king and not that he wins salvation for his people.”
Scot McKnight, for instance, describes the gospel as “the declaration of the Story of Jesus as the culmination of the Story of Israel,” and what he calls “the Plan of Salvation.” But then he draws a hard distinction between the two:
Now to our third big idea: the (personal) Plan of Salvation. The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story. Just as we dare not diminish the importance of this Story if we wish to grasp the gospel, so also with the saving effects of the story.
But equating the Plan of Salvation with either the Story of Israel or the Story of Jesus distorts the gospel and at times even ruins the Story.
He goes on to say it a few more times. Salvation “emerges from” and “flows from” the gospel, but “the plan of salvation and the gospel are not the same big idea.”
Again, Matthew Bates says it even more starkly, but the idea is the same:
My claim is different: our justification by faith is not part of the gospel. We need to work cautiously to ferret out exactly how justification and faith separately relate to each other and to the gospel. But when we begin saying that it is the gospel, or even part of the gospel, we seriously distort the Bible’s presentation.
You see the point here. If the caution and warning to us, even to me, from writers like McKnight and Bates is “Brother, preach the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, but don’t forget to put it in all its glorious narrative context,” I’m there! But these passages seem to be saying something different. They seem to be saying that “Jesus is king” is the gospel, and that personal salvation, atonement, and justification are not.
JESUS IS KING—BUT WHAT DOES THE KING DO?
What do we say to that? Well, we say it is wrong, and there are plenty of Scripture passages we could unpack to prove it. But I think it’s wrong even on a level higher than a bunch of prooftexts, and that’s what I want to flesh out in the rest of this talk. To say that “Jesus is king” is the gospel, and that personal salvation, atonement, and justification are not the gospel is wrong precisely because it doesn’t grapple with what kingship in Israel actually meant. It doesn’t grapple with who the king is and what he is expected to do.
So what I want to do here is show that you should proclaim the gospel that Jesus is king—but you cannot rightly do that without proclaiming what that king does: The king stands in his people’s place, and he suffers and dies in their stead in order to save them from their sins.
Now hear me out: that’s not just incidental; that’s not just what one king, Jesus, happened to have to done. To represent and to suffer for your people was what the kingship in Israel meant. It’s what the king was expected to do.
A KING ON THE CROSS?
Let’s start with a question: what office do we tend to associate with Jesus’ death on the cross? Priesthood. And that’s right. Hebrews tells us that when he died, Jesus was acting as a priest to make a once-for-all final sacrifice to save his people. But have you ever noticed what kind of imagery suffuses the passion narratives? It’s not priestly imagery; it’s kingly imagery. As he’s scourged by the Romans, Jesus is dressed in a purple robe and given a reed as a scepter. As he’s nailed to the cross, Jesus is coronated with a crown of thorns. As he hung dying, the sign over Jesus’s head read, “King of the Jews.”
So the story of Jesus’ death is screaming to us that, in some beautifully and yet wrenchingly ironic way, Jesus is dying not just as priest, but as king. His death is somehow particularly and uniquely king-like work. That’s not how we usually think of kingship. Kings are about power and ruling. When we talk about Jesus’ sovereignty and majesty, we call him King of kings. When we talk about his suffering and humiliation, we tend to reach for priestly language.
But here’s what I want you to see and rejoice in today: Jesus’s death in his people’s place, his salvation of them from their sins, is naturally, rightly, and inherently tied to his office as king. In fact, you can’t understand kingship without understanding that. You cannot rightly proclaim Jesus as king without proclaiming him also as Suffering Savior. That’s what I want to try to show you—that the whole Bible strains toward the good news that God’s people will be saved not just by a king, but by the blood of a Slaughtered King.
A BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL CASE
To that end, let’s do a bit of biblical theology, tracing a few themes through the storyline of the Bible—particularly Kingship, Representation, and Suffering. We’ll look at this in four acts:
- The King in the Garden
- The King in Israel
- The King in the Prophets
- The King in His Beauty
The King in the Garden
Genesis 1:28 defines what it means to be the image of God. God commissions Adam to have dominion and subdue the earth. He has him name the animals. God is setting up structures of authority. This is why Satan comes to Eve and as a snake. He wants to upend and overthrow all the structures of authority that God had placed into the fabric of creation.
Already we can see the meaning and purpose of kingship taking shape—the role of the king is to act in righteousness by rightly imaging God to His creation. He must protect the Garden. That’s what Adam was supposed to do, and he failed to do it.
We should note that Adam held two offices under God. He was king—you can see that in the dominion language. But he held another office as well. Genesis 2:15 says that Adam needed to “work” and “keep” the garden. The word “work,” abad, means exactly what it sounds like. Adam was to be the caretaker of the garden, to cultivate it and encourage its growth in maturity and beauty. And he was to “keep” (shamar) the garden, which means more than just keeping it presentable. It means, rather, “guarding” it, “protecting” it, and making sure that nothing evil or unclean ever entered it, and if it did, to make sure that evil was judged and cast out.
What’s fascinating is that these two words, abad, “work” and, shamar, “keep,” are the precise job description not only of Adam, but of the priests in Israel’s temple/tabernacle. That’s not just a coincidence. The Garden of Eden was, in its very essence, a perfect temple—the dwelling place of God with man. And like the priests who would abad and shamar the tabernacle and the temple, so Adam was to abad and shamar the temple of the Garden of Eden. He was not only king in Eden; he was priest-king. The offices of priest and king were united in him.
The upshot, of course, is that, as the priest-king in Eden, Adam should have acted to protect the Garden. He should have executed the snake. But he didn’t. He joined Satan’s rebellion. Thus God cast him out of the garden, along with the woman and the serpent, and placed an angel at the entrance. He would, with a flaming sword, fascinatingly, “guard [shamar] the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). See? If the vice-regent would not shamar the garden, the High King would do so himself.
By end of Genesis 3 the situation looks hopeless. Sin takes hold, death begins to reign, and if you didn’t know the story already, you’d wonder if there is any hope at all. But then you remember Genesis 3:15—a bolt of lightning in the cataclysm—in which God promises that someone else will come who will do what Adam failed to do.
The word “king” isn’t used there, but it’s clear that this “seed of the woman” will exercise the kingly dominion that Adam failed to. He’ll pick up the sword that Adam dropped, slay the Enemy that Adam allied with, and win the battle that Adam lost. In other words, he’ll finally be the king that Adam failed to be.
From that point, the whole storyline of the Bible begins to revolve around the great question: “Who is going to be the fulfillment of the promise of a new king in Genesis 3:15?” Who is the king, and how does he repair the damage that Adam has done by his rebellion against God?
We can see that question working itself out in the rest of Genesis. In chapter 4, we wonder if it’s Cain, then in Genesis 5:29, Lamech really thinks its Noah. “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” It’s also striking that the hope of a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 isn’t just the coming of a king, but a king who will reverse death and the curse. Exactly how he’s going to do that is still cloudy at this point, but here’s what I want you to see, even this early in the story: The good news proclaimed in Genesis is not just the coming of the king. The good news is that the arrival of the king will mean salvation—it will mean an end to the curse, and a reversal of the death and separation from God that resulted from sin. That’s what the king does.
Through the next few chapters of Genesis, that Genesis 3:15 promise of a coming king focuses on one man, Abraham, and the nation that would come from him.
That brings us to the second act.
The King in Israel
In Genesis 12, it’s clear that God’s promise of salvation has localized on Abraham. From him will come the Seed, the Offspring (same word as Gen 3:15) who will bring blessing instead of curse to the families of the world. But the promised seed, the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, is not Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob. In fact, the rest of Genesis reads like a giant game of Kill the Carrier. Reuben? Nope, sleeps with his father’s concubine. Simeon? Nope. Levi? Nope. They do the whole nasty thing in Shechem. Maybe Judah? Nope, unfortunate incident with Tamar. Oh, it’s Joseph; he’s the promised King!
But we find then Genesis 50:10. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs!” Shocking; it’s Judah after all. And the promise of Genesis 3:15 still hangs there, tantalizing but unrealized.
Through the rest of the Pentateuch, God keeps promising his people that the king is coming. In Numbers 24, even this pagan sorcerer Balaam points to the future and says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. . . . And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion.” You can easily hear the echoes of Genesis.
But still, the promise is long in coming. By the end of Judges we hear the ominous refrain in the midst of rank chaos and wickedness: “There was no king in Israel.”
In the books of Samuel a king finally arrives. The story of 1 and 2 Samuel, on its face, is the story of how the nation of Israel got a king. But underneath and within that story is another one—the story of God teaching what Kingship in Israel was all about. In David, the role and responsibility of the King begin to become clear.
What are those responsibilities? They are particularly representation and suffering. As the story plays out, it becomes clear that this is what the king does. He represents the people in himself and he suffers. Let’s think about both.
First, representation. This isn’t a terribly hard concept to grasp. Sovereigns are often said to represent the very identity of their nation. This was a strong theme in Israelite kingship, and we can see it in several ways. For instance, think about the phrase “Son of God.” We know it refers to Jesus being the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. But it was also a well-known throne title for King of Israel.
- “I will be to him a father, and he will be to me a son” (2 Sam. 7:14).
- “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son’” (Ps. 2:7).
- God says of the king, “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock of my Salvation, and I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the Kings of the earth’” (Ps. 89:26).
Now, why would this use of “sonship” language be important in understanding the role of Israel’s king as representative? Well, consider Exodus 4:22–23: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’” The reason the king was the “son” and “firstborn” of God was that Israel first was the “son” and “firstborn” of God. Do you see? The identity of Israel was taken up and summed up in the King. They were united to him. He represented them.
That representation meant that the king was understood in important ways to act for the nation. What he did, they did. What he did had ramifications for them. Consider 1 Chronicles 21:3, 7. Joab is pleading with David not to take a census of the people. He asks him: “‘Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?’” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. . . . But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.” Did you notice what happened? The king acted, the king sinned, and the nation suffered the consequences. Consider also Psalm 89:
But now you have cast off and rejected;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust.
You have breached all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
All who pass by plunder him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
You have also turned back the edge of his sword,
and you have not made him stand in battle.
What happens to the king happens to the people, and what happens to the people happens to the king. They are inseparably united to one another. He represents them; he stands in their place.
Besides representation, David’s life teaches that suffering is another major theme of kingship. To be king is to suffer. It’s right there in the story—David’s life is not one of royal ease; it’s one of suffering. He lives in the wilderness, he’s captured by enemies; even when he takes the throne, he doesn’t have an easy time. His reign is wracked by family strife, civil war, and consequences for sin. In fact, God promises suffering for the king in the Davidic Covenant: “When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men” (2 Sam 7:14). Read the Psalms. Many of them show David crying out in distress and pain—sometimes as an individual, but sometimes (especially in Book 2) as the voice of the nation. By end of Book 3, Psalm 89 reveals nothing but shame and despair for the king and therefore for the nation itself.
So let’s take stock. Can see picture of kingship developing? In the Garden, Adam the king must act in righteous dominion by imaging God correctly to creation. King Adam fails, but another is promised. That promise crystallizes in a covenant with David, King of Israel, who learns that the very nature of kingship in Israel is to represent the people in himself and to suffer.
It’s still not clear, though, how this is going to result in salvation. These are disparate, unconnected shards of meaning. The king would represent and the king would suffer. But what do those things have to do with each other?
Sure, Israel had an understanding of vicarious suffering—one thing suffering for another, dying so that another wouldn’t have to. That’s the whole lesson of the sacrificial system. But that was the realm of the priests, not the king. In fact, it was forbidden for the king to do the duties of the priest. When King Uzziah tried, God struck him with leprosy and he died outside the city in a village of lepers. That’s one of the lowest points of Davidic Dynasty.
So why these disparate pieces of the meaning of kingship, lying there like the shards of Narsil? What do they mean? What do they become when you put them together? That would become a bit clearer as prophets revealed more of God’s plan and purpose.
The King in the Prophets
By end of David’s life, it was clear he wasn’t the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. He was a blurry picture of the promised king, but he wasn’t him to whom the scepter belongs. In the end, David’s family was in rebellion against him, and Adonijah his son tried to usurp the throne while his dying father was kept warm in bed by a beautiful woman. This isn’t exactly a picture of strength.
The situation didn’t get better. Solomon’s reign was glorious for a time but collapsed because of his sin. His son Rehoboam was a disaster, the result of his reign being the splitting of the throne of David into two different kingdoms. Ultimately, the northern kingdom was invaded by Assyria and carried away into exile, never to be heard from again, and the southern kingdom was invaded twice by Babylon.
Through all this, though, in both kingdoms, God sent a series of prophets both to call the nation to repentance and to point them to a future, reaffirming God’s intention to keep the promise of Genesis 3:15. Through the centuries, prophets picked up these threads of kingship, union, representation, and suffering and began to weave them together into a breathtaking picture of a king who would represent his people by suffering for them, and so save them.
Let me show you this in a few places.
First, look at Isaiah. The first part of Isaiah’s prophecy we might call The Book of the King. In it, God reaffirms his determination, even in the wake of Uzziah’s awful death, to keep the now-piled-up promises of Genesis 3, Numbers 24, 2 Samuel 7, and Psalm 2. The second part of Isaiah we might call the Book of the Suffering Servant. It in, this suffering Servant of the Lord suffers in the place of his people as a sacrifice for their sins. We see this preeminently in Isaiah 53. But the shocker is that as you read Isaiah, you realize that this Promised King and this Suffering Servant are one and the same person. Do you see the shards coming together? We can now begin to see how the king’s representation of the people and the king’s suffering fit together. Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled by a king who would not just suffer, but would suffer as the representative of his people—for them, in their place.
Second, look at Zechariah. Zechariah focuses on both priest and king—two separate offices. Since the Fall in Eden, these offices had always been separated. The king rules, while the priest performs the sacrifices of atonement. So Zechariah comes along and says—unsurprisingly—that God is going to save his people through those two offices of priest and king. Then in chapter 3 we find a vision that introduces Joshua the high priest of the time; then another vision in chapter 4 that introduces Zerubbabel the governor.
But then something astonishing happens. “And the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Take from the exiles who have arrived from Babylon. . . . Take from them silver and gold, and make crowns, and set it on the head of Joshua the high priest” (Zechariah 6:9–11).
Wait, what? Our mind is immediately caught by two problems. First, they are supposed to make crowns—plural. But then it says to set it—singular, one crown—on somebody’s head. And who’s head? Not Zerubbabel the governor, but Joshua’s, the high priest’s head. This is shocking! It’s so shocking that people have asserted that Zechariah got the name wrong and Zerubbabel should have been the one crowned. But that’s whole point! This enacted parable shows that one day, kingship and priesthood would merged together. The two crowns are forged into one. No longer will Israel have a priest who would atone and perform sacrifices and a king who would rule and represent and suffer. Rather, once again, a single, united priest-king would represent the people, and offer himself as a sacrifice for them.
The second half of the book of Zechariah drives this home. It tells how the people reject their king, pierce him and run him through, and salvation will flow from his death. Why does this happen? Why does the king have to be stricken for his people? Because that’s what the King does. In love he stands in the place of his people to absorb the wrath that should have been theirs.
The King in His Beauty
Of course, all this comes to its ultimate end, goal, and fulfillment when the angel says to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:31–33).
All the gospels scream, “This is the King!” But now we understand—and Jesus himself understood—that to take the crown, to be the King, was also to be the suffering servant who would have to die.
I think one of the most extraordinary and poignant moments in entire Bible is the baptism of Jesus. Remember what the voice from heaven says? “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That statement is packed with meaning, and it helps us see how all this came to its fulfillment in Jesus.
We are told three things about Jesus in that statement:
First, “my beloved Son.” This is God the Father’s announcement that Jesus is his dearly-loved Son, the one who, as the apostle John puts it, is God’s one-and-only begotten Son, the one who was with God and who in fact was God from the very beginning.
Second, with this same phrase God declared, again, that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the King of Israel. God first called Israel “my Son” when he brought the nation out of Egypt. But later the title was given to the king, the representative of the entire nation before God. Jesus is here given that title; he steps into the office of King and Representative.
Finally, “my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This seems like a plain statement, but it points to another office that Jesus was stepping into. These words reflect Isaiah 42:1, where God says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen (or beloved) one, in whom my soul delights.” My servant—the same servant who would be despised and rejected by men, who would suffer in the place of his people. Here was the suffering servant.
With his baptism and with these words from heaven, Jesus steps fully into the roles—the offices—that God intended him to fill since the very beginning. You might say that with these words from heaven, Jesus takes on the triple crown—the crown of heaven as God’s Son, the crown of Israel as the long-awaited king, and the crown of thorns as the suffering servant who would save his people by suffering for them, in their place. That’s why it was right for him to be baptized with a bunch of sinners—not because he was a sinner, but because he was taking on the office of being their representative, their king, even their champion.
Do you know what happens next? It’s amazing! Having stepped into these offices, Jesus immediately rises, takes up his sword, and heads into the wilderness to take on his people’s mortal enemy—the one who would bruise his royal heel, but whose head he would crush.
All that kingly imagery around the cross. The purple robe, the crown of thorns, the sign above his head—Jesus died as King, not just as Priest. Yes, the coming king would inaugurate a kingdom, but he would also bear his people’s sins and qualify them to live with him in that kingdom. Do you see? Jesus is not just the king; he is the suffering King. He is not just King Jesus the Great, but King Jesus the Crucified and Resurrected.
THREE CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS
First, I hope you can see now why I say that a gospel of mere kingship is insufficient. It is insufficient because it doesn’t do justice to the very role and responsibility of the King of Israel. To be King was to represent and suffer in the place of your people. That’s what Jesus does. So by all means preach Jesus as King. Declare his dominion and power and authority. Talk about the new heavens and new earth, the kingdom of justice and righteousness that he himself is establishing.
But remember that the good news is not the coming of the King, full stop; it is the coming of the King to suffer, to die, to rise, and to save.
Second, I hope you can see now why the cross stands at the center of the gospel; why Paul refers to his message as “the word of the Cross”; why the most unambiguous testimony to Jesus’s kingship in the gospels is a sign hanging over his head as he dies on the cross. This is what kingship means—to be king is to suffer, to die, to rise, and to save. It’s strange to see evangelicals struggle so often with kingdom and cross. It’s almost like we treat the two of them as different stories, and we can’t figure out how the cross fits into this story of the kingdom. So we manage to create a rift between the cross and the kingdom, with cross over here and kingdom over there and everyone crouching on one side or the other of the chasm, sneering suspiciously at each other.
But the Bible doesn’t leave us with that kind of division. The cross and the kingdom are theologically inseparable because the only way into the kingdom is through the cross.
That’s how we must put all this together. The only way to be included in the kingdom, to receive the blessings of the kingdom, is through the blood of the king.
So brothers, let me exhort you a moment. If you preach a sermon or write a chapter on the good news of the kingdom, but neglect to talk about the cross, you’ve not preached good news at all. You’ve just shown people a wonderful thing that they have no right to be a part of because they are sinners. What Jesus himself and the apostles preached was not just the coming of the kingdom; it was the coming of the kingdom and the way people could enter it.
So by all means, preach about the kingdom. Talk about Jesus’ conquest of evil. Write about his coming reign. But don’t pretend that all those things are glorious good news all by themselves. They’re not. The bare fact that Jesus is going to rule the world with perfect righteousness is not good news to me; it’s terrifying news, because I am not righteous! I’m one of the enemies he’s coming to crush! The coming kingdom becomes good news only when I’m told that the coming king is also a savior who forgives sin and makes people righteous—and he does that through his death-destroying death on the cross and resurrection to the Life of the Ages.
Third, and finally, I hope you can feel anew an impulse in your heart to rejoice, to worship this Suffering, Dying, Rising King.
Crown Him with many crowns,
The lamb upon the throne:
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns
All Music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.
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Editor’s note: This lightly edited sermon manuscript is being printed here by permission of Together for the Gospel.