I had the privilege of giving a short talk at our women’s retreat last weekend. I’ve posted an edited version of what I said here, in three parts.
When you hear the word “Gospel,” what do you think about? Most of us probably think about the message that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead to give us life. It becomes a past event for us — something that we agreed with and believed at some point in time — maybe just a short time ago, maybe many, many years ago, but still — in the past.
But the Gospel is not just a past event for us. It is ongoing good news, because the Gospel is not just about God’s grace to us in justification, but about the grace he gives us each day as we repent of the sins we have (again) committed, it’s about the mercy that God gives us in each moment, about the presence of God in the glorious and the mundane.
The Gospel is good news for us each day, each moment. Because it is not only important as an event in the past, it gives us an important foundation for thinking about this topic of encouragement. Without the foundation of the Gospel, the most we can really say about encouragement is, “That’s nice,” or “What a sweet story,” and the most we can feel is a satisfied feeling — that we’re so glad that somewhere in the world, someone is doing something nice for someone else, and that the world is not as bad as it seems, yeah?
But this is a short-lived encouragement. We need more than little snippets of stories and verses on coffee mugs, more than a little booster shot of strength to give us encouragement for the hard road of following Jesus. We need something that will sustain us for the long-haul.
We need the Gospel.
In the Gospel, we have the message that is ultimately and finally encouraging. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. We can pretty easily trivialize what is significant. But, the Gospel is not a trite little truth — Jesus died for my sins, and now I’m going to heaven. I think it easily becomes this, when we forget the pain and anguish that Jesus went through. It can become trite if we only think that Jesus has given us a ticket to heaven. But the Gospel gives us something much bigger: true encouragement comes from the way that the Gospel deals with our past, present, and future.
Our past: the Gospel gives us encouragement by telling us that Jesus has dealt with our past. Our sins, our failures, our embarrassments, our regrets, our suffering, our hurt —everything that we mull over and wish had been different, wish we had not done, or wish someone had not done to us. Jesus redeems all of it. He takes the sin that soils our hands and twists our hearts and he forgives it. He has taken it on himself, and we can be freed from the weight of it. Paul tells us in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
We are given new hearts, made into new creations, to live new lives of love and self-denial. He takes the scars from the evil that others have done to us, the cruel looks and words and actions, and he does not allow them to define us. They are not the last word over us: his words calling us his beloved children are. This is the encouragement that we need.
Not only our past, but our present, too: the Gospel gives us encouragement by telling us that Jesus is present with us here and now. He is God with us, and even though we do not experience the fullness of his presence yet, we have the incredible reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us that because of the Helper he has sent, he has not left us; his presence is with us always.
The Gospel tells us that in all our difficulties and trials, not only is God with us, but he has also given purpose and meaning to all we do. In Ecclesiastes, the preacher laments the futility of life. He says at the beginning of the book,
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them” (Ecc. 1:1-11).
This is a pretty discouraging perspective. And yet he’s right — from his perspective, without the cross of Jesus, everything is meaningless. Injustice, death, our limitedness — what’s the point? Why bother trying to be encouraging, when the wicked will prosper and we’ll all die anyway? The Gospel tells us the answer: because of Jesus, all of the work that we do, all of the pain that we suffer, all of the good things that we experience, everything has meaning.
Paul also says in Romans 8, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:18-21).
Death has been conquered. Injustice will be dealt with. And, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13, we who see and know only in part now will soon see face to face.
God’s presence. Ultimate meaning. This is the encouragement that we need.
And what about our future? The Gospel encourages us by giving us hope. We have hope that the difficulties and limitations, the pain and the trials, the unfulfilled desires and longings, will come to an end. Some of these will come to an end in our lifetime. The work of Jesus breaks into the here and now when the sick are healed, broken relationships are restored, and our longings are fulfilled. But even if these things do not come to an end tomorrow, or the day after that, or the year after this, they will not continue forever. One day, Christ will come again to dwell with his people, and we will see God face to face. We will dwell in his presence forever, with no hindrance, no hesitation, no self-consciousness. We will be made like him, and “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich first said. This is the encouragement that we need.
The Gospel, then, is the truly encouraging message. Everything that encourages, to paraphrase pastor Sam Crabtree, everything truly encouraging originates from and is supremely found in Christ — whether that is recognized or not.
Continue reading with part two