Good News of Happiness

August 15, 2021 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Crosstown Basics

Scripture: Isaiah 52:1–52:10

1 Awake, awake,

put on your strength, O Zion;

put on your beautiful garments,

O Jerusalem, the holy city;

for there shall no more come into you

the uncircumcised and the unclean.

2 Shake yourself from the dust and arise;

be seated, O Jerusalem;

loose the bonds from your neck,

O captive daughter of Zion.

3 For thus says the LORD: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord GOD: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

7 How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;

together they sing for joy;

for eye to eye they see

the return of the LORD to Zion.

9 Break forth together into singing,

you waste places of Jerusalem,

for the LORD has comforted his people;

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

10 The LORD has bared his holy arm

before the eyes of all the nations,

and all the ends of the earth shall see

the salvation of our God.

Every year we do a three-week sermon series called Crosstown Basics where we discuss what we consider to be the three essentials for fulfilling our mission of making disciples of Jesus by exposing people to credible gospel community. The three essentials are gospel, community, and mission.

My task today is to remind us of the importance of the gospel. The gospel is the central message of the Bible and the most precious treasure that we share together. We need to know the gospel, believe the gospel, understand the gospel, and defend the gospel. The gospel is important, and we need to be clear about it what it is. We need to be able to summarize it succinctly, but we also need to be careful not to limit the scope of the gospel. We need to think carefully about the fulness of the gospel and not say that something is “not the gospel” simply because it may not do as a summary statement. The gospel is short and sweet, but it is also deep, and it encompasses more than we sometimes think. We need to embrace the fulness of all that the gospel means for us.

For this message, I searched through the Bible for all the times in which we find the word gospel or good news followed by some descriptor, every time we read “the gospel of” this or that. We find such a phrase more than 30 times, helping us to see the gospel more fully. What we find is that the Bible speaks of the gospel as the good news of God, the good news of the Messiah, and the good news of salvation.

The Good News of God

According to the book of Mark, Jesus began his public ministry “proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mk 1:14). The Apostle Paul said he was “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). So the first thing we note is that the gospel is good news of God. It is his good news. It originates from God and it belongs to God. The gospel is not good news we get to make up. We have to hear it as God tells it, and it means what (and only what) God says it means.

A God Who Is Near

Two quick observations come to mind here. First, if this good news is God’s good news, we should expect it to be something that is supernatural, strange in comparison to what we would expect from the human perception. Whatever this good news is, if it is God’s good news, then it does not originate from the human mind. The gospel is God’s invention, not man’s. It is not “man’s gospel,” but God’s (Gal 1:11). The gospel is supernatural, counterintuitive to the human mind, because its origin is the mind of God not the mind of man.

But observe also that this gospel of God tells us something remarkable about God himself, namely, that he is not a distant deity. He has his hands dirty with our world, being heavily involved in the affairs of planet earth and in human experience.

The Bible begins, of course, telling us that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and that he is the originator of planet earth and of all material existence. Now we can debate all day long the numerous questions that come from what we can observe about our universe as creatures within it and the validity of there being a God who, as Creator, is not confined to the universe he originated. My only point of observation here is that calling the gospel the “gospel of God” goes hand in hand with the biblical notion of God as Creator. As maker of the world, he also has good news for the world he made.

Knowing God

It is natural for us to ask who this God is, to seek to know him who made the world and who possesses good news for our world. Who is God? What is he like?

Again when we look to the Bible we are surprised to find that God is just there from the beginning: “In the beginning, God...” the first verse of Scripture says. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God is just there. Is it enough for us simply to know that God exists, and that he is the Supreme Being who created the world and everything in it?

The problem is that when we talk about God even in our present day, there are so many differing assumptions we possess about what he must be like? How you think of God is quite different from how your Muslim neighbor thinks about God, but it is also no doubt different in many respects from how many of your Christian brothers and sisters think of him, too.

The Gospel of Jesus

The problem here is that we assume that we know who God is and what he must be like. But the New Testament says otherwise. It says that our assumptions about God are way, way off. And the only way to know who God truly is, is by the gospel of God.

Here then we observe that the Bible also routinely calls this gospel of God the gospel of Jesus. It is not two different gospels any more than we have two different Gods. Rather, you cannot know the good news of God without knowing Jesus. If you want to know the gospel, you have to know Jesus. If you want to know God, you need to know Jesus, too. God, gospel, Jesus—each informs and explains the other and without one we cannot fully know the other.

Where then do we begin? The Bible tells us to begin with Jesus. We all have our assumptions about God, but to truly know God we need to take a close look at Jesus and let our ideas about God be shaped by him rather than the other way around.[1] And the same is true about the gospel. To know the gospel we must concentrate on knowing Jesus. This is where we must begin.

The Good News of the Messiah

Of course nowadays we have much the same problem with Jesus as we have with God. We assume we know him, that we have him figured out, mainly because of the stream in which we have been taught about him. But our authority on Jesus is the Bible, and when we read our Bibles, we see that Jesus was a puzzling figure in his own day. Perhaps we should recover some of this puzzlement again if we are really going to know Jesus. The crux of the matter is whether Jesus is the Messiah. Because the gospel of God is the gospel of Israel’s Messiah. The two cannot be separated. So the question becomes: is Jesus Israel’s Messiah, and what does that mean anyway?

Jesus the Christ

During Jesus’s lifetime, various theories existed as to who he was. But we also have a definitive statement about his identity. When Peter said about him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

Whatever else we might say about Jesus, the Bible is explicit on this one point. Jesus is “the Christ.” And it is this designation that is central to our understanding of the gospel. When the Bible refers to the gospel as the “gospel of Jesus” it does so, explicitly, with reference to this designation and never without it.[2] So if you want to understand the good news, you must know Jesus, but you must know him as “the Christ.”

The Deliverer of the Jews

Let’s be clear. “Christ” is primarily a title like “President” or “King” or “Doctor” rather than Jesus’s last name.[3] We can refer to Jesus with the word Christ or we can use the designation before or after the name Jesus, Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. But we must grasp the significance of the designation or we cannot grasp the significance of Jesus himself.

The Christ is a designation for the expected Jewish deliverer, the “Messiah,” which is the Hebrew word for Christ, both meaning “anointed one.” To speak of the gospel as the gospel of Christ is to speak of the good news that the promised deliverer of Israel has come.

This long-expected deliverer of Israel means something quite objective to a Jew in Jesus’s day, like Peter. When he says about Jesus, “you are the Christ,” and when Jesus affirms his statement, what exactly did Peter (and Jesus for that matter) think that meant? He did not mean by this confession that Jesus was God himself, the incarnate second person of the Trinity.[4] While there were plenty of disagreements about all that being the Messiah would entail, the one thing that everyone believed about the Messiah is that it meant “king of the Jews,” and that the expectation is that with this king “Israel’s long history would at least reach its divinely ordained goal.”[5]

The Kingdom of [Israel’s] God

If “the Christ,” the Messiah, is understood to be “the king of the Jews” then it should not surprise us that any talk about someone being this messianic king would also include talk about his ensuing kingdom. When someone is elected the new president of the United States, we quickly begin to imagine what this new president’s administration will look like. If the gospel of God is the good news that the promised King has come, then this gospel is also the good news about the promised kingdom that has come along with the king.

It is not surprising then that the third most common descriptor of the gospel in the New Testament is the word kingdom. Jesus preached “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Lk 4:43), and so must we if we are going to preach the same gospel that Jesus preached. To do this, we must connect the dots properly between the gospel of Israel’s King and the gospel of this king’s kingdom. If Jesus is indeed Israel’s king, finally bringing Israel to its divinely ordained goal, then this kingdom we are talking about is not “up there” in heaven, but “down here” on earth. The gospel is not primarily about how we can get to heaven to be with God and his reign there. It’s about how God comes down to earth to be with us and reign with us here. The gospel of God and of Jesus the Messiah and of the kingdom is good news has, as its primary place of reference, the material universe that we inhabit.

If the gospel we preach is primarily or essentially a message about how to get to heaven when you die, then we are not preaching the gospel of God, or of Jesus, or of the kingdom. That message is more at home with paganism than it is with the God of the Bible. It is, in fact, more at home with Roman or Greek mythology, with its fantasies about the disembodied world of the gods, than it is with the God of the Bible who is so tangible that he takes on flesh and walks among us. And no wonder then, if this is the gospel we preach, we lose interest in it all too quickly, for it makes little of the life we live in the flesh which we can’t help but care most about. The only life we know is this embodied life we live now, complete with its concern for sustenance and pleasure, or at least the avoidance of pain and misery. Israel understood the gospel as the good news that life on earth would flourish again when the promised Messiah arrived and established his rule and reign on earth as God reigns in heaven. This is the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached.

Why Then His Death?

This is not to say that the gospel offers us no hope about what awaits us after death. Of course it does! But it does so in light of what God has done for the life we do know: embodied life on earth.

The reason why the followers of Jesus were so discouraged by Jesus’s death was because they thought he was the Messiah of Israel, the one who would “redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21) once and for all and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Their assumptions needed to be corrected, but not where we often think they had gone wrong. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Jesus admonished them. “Was it not necessary that the Christ [the Messiah of Israel] should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:25-26). Is this not how Israel’s story has always gone? Did not the nation have to suffer slavery in Egypt before they entered the glory of the Promised Land? Did not David have to go into battle against the giant before he would take the throne? Did not Daniel have to face the lions before he would be vindicated as a worshiper of the true God whose “kingdom shall never be destroyed” (Dan 6:25)? So also the Messiah must suffer before the kingdom could come.

But when he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, fully embodied, but in a body that could no longer die, the good news was now made manifest. Can the dead live again?

This is what the Lord says to these bones: “Look, I am bringing a living spirit into you, and I will place tendons upon you, and bring flesh upon you, and stretch out skin over you, and place my spirit into you, and you will live and know that I am the Lord. (Ezek 37:5-6)

Yes, there is life after death, but not by escaping to a different world in a disembodied state destroyed by death. Jesus died and rose again to defeat death and the sin which is its proximate cause, to bring about a restored world, a new world, a new creation. This is the good news of Jesus the Messiah.

The Gospel of Salvation

And it is this gospel, then, that takes on a series of other descriptions in the Bible that bring it home to us who will believe it. It is, put simply, “the gospel of your salvation” (Eph 1:13). But by now we should see that “salvation” is not entirely future. It is present and practical, real and assuring. Consider these three benefits of the “gospel of your salvation” that are yours to enjoy now and forever.

Good News of Joy

Our text this morning speaks of the “good news of happiness.” What is the source of this happiness? Verse 2 speaks of liberation from slavery. Verse 3 speaks of freedom from oppression. Verse 6 speaks of knowing who God truly is. “Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am,” says the Lord. Indeed, there can be no happiness without knowing who God is. The “good news of happiness,” verse 7 says, is to hear it proclaimed loud and clear: “Your God reigns.” Verse 8 speaks of “the return of the LORD to Zion.” Verse 9 speaks of God comforting his people because “he has redeemed Jerusalem.” But this good news cannot be confined to a piece of ground to the east of the Mediterranean Sea. As verse 10 says, “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

This was the promise of salvation, of the good news of happiness for the whole world that never did find fulfillment until one night, on the hill outside Bethlehem, an angel appeared to a team of shepherds keeping watch over their flock and declared, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).

Good News of Peace

Two other times in the Bible this good news, this gospel, is called the good news of peace (Acts 10:36; Eph 6:15).

Peace. Who doesn’t long for peace? But where can peace be found in a world that has a history of war and conflict? How can there be peace when we are so polarized? How does the gospel promise peace? By proclaiming that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).

The world can only hope for temporary peace through either war or compromise, through domination or a peace treaty that is sure not to last. The gospel of peace says our only true hope for peace is for everyone to trust “the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Will you trust him? Will you follow him? Or will you continue down the path of your own salvation?

Good News of Grace

The question simply becomes, “What do you truly trust for your salvation?” It sounds like a question about religion, and it is, but here everyone must answer. “What are you looking to for joy and for peace?” That is your hope of salvation. That is the gospel you believe. The question is, will it truly save? Can it deliver what you hope it will deliver?

The Apostle Paul came to see that his only hope for salvation, the one thing he would cling to even if it cost him his life, was what he called “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Grace. The completely free gift of the unmerited favor of God that is available only to the undeserving sinner who will come to Jesus, the only place where this grace is found.

Turn to him. Trust in him. Follow him. Submit to him. He alone has the words of life. He is the gospel. He is the good news of happiness.

 

[1] Tim Stafford, “Mere Mission: N.T. Wright talks about how to present the gospel in a postmodern world,” Christianity Today 51, no. 1 (2007), 40.

[2] The “gospel of Christ” (8x), “gospel of the glory of Christ” (1x), the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (1x). The only occurrences without the designation “Christ” speak of the gospel of God’s son (Rom 1:9) and of the “Lord Jesus” (2 Thess 1:8), but to speak of Jesus as the Son of God or as the Lord carries the same royal designation as does the title Christ. The Bible nowhere calls the gospel the “gospel of Jesus” without some messianic designation.

[3] The title does begin to take on the role of serving as a personal name for Jesus as the gospel moves beyond the borders of ethnic Israel in the New Testament. See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1091.

[4] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 477–78.

[5] Ibid., 482.