The Gospel in Living Color
Intro – Three boys are bragging about their fathers. One says, “My dad is a nuclear physicist. There are only about 100 people in the world who can understand him.” The 2nd says, “My dad is a world class brain surgeon. There are only 50 people in the world who can understand him.” The 3rd boy says, “That’s nothing. My dad is a preacher. When he’s preaching, nobody seems to understand him!” That would be tragic, wouldn’t it – a garbled, distorted message? II Cor 4:3, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Imagine someone missing heaven because we didn’t get the gospel right! I fear in our day we’ve lost both the message as well as its appeal. It’s appeal is that it is true, not that it is easy! We’ve lost that!
So, we come to this wonderful little vignette in the life of Christ. At first it seems like a throw-away introduction. But it speaks to us in a compelling way of the beauty and appeal of the unadulterated, unchanging gospel. It is a powerful message that must not be veiled to those perishing.
I. It is All-Inclusive
The gospel is for all. Lu 8:1, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” Jesus went everywhere. No place too big; no place too small. No person is too big or too small; no one is too good or too bad; too mean or too religious. Jesus sought everyone He could. The invitation is open to everyone. Jesus’ parting instructions to His followers was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” There is nothing parochial about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has universal appeal because it is universally needed. So Jesus took a bunch of hillbilly Galilean fishermen and small businessmen, trained them for 3 years and then sent them out with a mandate to evangelize the world.
They were a little slow on the uptick. It took heavy persecution and the martyrdom of Stephen and Jas to get them to move out of Jerusalem. God had to practically dynamite Peter out of bed to take the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius. It was not the church in Jerusalem, but the church in Antioch that finally sent out missionaries, Paul and Barnabas with a vision to reach the whole world. They were slow, but once they got going there was no turning back. The gospel has universal appeal because there is a universal need. What is our greatest need? To be happy? No – it is to be guilt-free before our God and Creator. Only the gospel has a solution to that need.
The gospel is for every race and creed and country and people. It is for rich and poor alike. No one is too bad to be reached by the gospel; neither is anyone too good to need the gospel. Paul reminds us in Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” Our goodness could never make us right with God. But at the cross Jesus paid the penalty of sin for all who believe and accept Him. That’s good news. That’s the gospel. It’s for everyone. Only our own rejection prevents us.
Many years ago, the Prince of Wales was visiting the capital city of India. A barrier had been set up to keep back the masses of people who wanted to see royalty. But when Prince Albert saw the crowd, he ordered, “Take down those barriers!” They were quickly removed and all the people regardless of social rank were allowed free access to the heir to the throne. Sometime later when he visited again, a crowd of 10,000 outcasts waited under a banner that read, “The Prince of the Outcasts.” That’s Jesus, Beloved. At the cross He broke down every barrier between man and God. The gospel is for everyone!
II. It is Audacious
V. 1, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him.” Times were tough in 1st century Palestine. The Romans humiliated the Jews. They allowed unscrupulous tax-collectors to gouge them. Their religious leaders scorned them and imposed impossible demands. They lived with the persistent doubt – “Am I good enough?” The great hope was that Messiah would appear and remove them from bondage to Rome.
How to meet their need? A 21st century emergent church advocate would have taken a survey to find out what the audience wanted. “You want more miracles, bread and fish at every meeting, deliverance from Rome. Come next Sunday. You’ll love the music, too!” In fact, after Jesus fed the 5,000, they came to Him next day with these exact demands. He didn’t have to take a survey; they tried to make Him king, expecting more food and more miracles. What did Jesus do? “Come next Sunday?” Not quite. He knew they had a much deeper need than the need for food and miracles. He stayed faithful to the message. He told them in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” That went over like a lead balloon. The end result is given in John 6:66, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Note -- He didn’t chase them down.
Jesus was neither a sensationalist nor a seeker-friendly, give-the-audience-what-they-want evangelist. He realized the power was in the message, not in the method. What was His message? Matt summarizes in Matt 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He realized it was no good to free people from physical bondage while leaving them in spiritual bondage. The priority was repentance.
Of course, Jesus healed people. But that was a sidelight which occurred for two reasons. First, Jesus is God’s king. His presence brings kingdom conditions with it – a preview of what’s coming. Kingdom conditions follow the King. Second, the miracles authenticated His message. Physical healing authenticated the spiritual healing that was at the core of His message.
But He did not come to town advertising a healing service. His priority was proclaiming [κηρυσσω] and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. It was an audacious message reminding people they were sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus wasn’t about making people comfortable by feeding, healing, clothing and catering to them. Rather, He made them uncomfortable in their sin so that they would repent. Once, early in His ministry, He spends a whole day healing people. Next morning His disciples seek Him while He is praying because the people are back and want healing. But He says in Mark 1:38, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Cancel the healing service, guys; let’s go preach the gospel!
Most churches no longer believe in the power of the gospel. Our watered down message is unintelligible. We preach 10 ways to get along with your boss and 5 ways to improve your communication or 7 secrets to business success. But the gospel is gone. In many churches you never hear the words “sin” or “repent” or “atonement.” We might offend someone. We send people to a Christless, Godless eternity rather than offend them. We cater to felt needs rather than addressing people’s true need for forgiveness. Jesus never did that.
Theologian Michael Horton says, “I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful and perhaps even well-liked, that it nearly mirrors the world." His point is what do we have to offer if we look just like them? Amazingly, a secular writer in the New Yorker magazine said almost the exact same thing. “The preacher, instead of looking out upon the world, looks out on public opinion, trying to find out what the public would like to hear. Then he tries his best to duplicate that, and bring his finished product into a marketplace in which others are trying to do the same. The public, turning to our church culture for help, discovers there nothing but its own reflection.” It’s no wonder we have megachurches on every corner; we look just like their concert or night spot or social club. They like us because we have become them – but along the way we lost the gospel.
We’re like the boy who couldn’t sell his stack of newspapers. So he started yelling, “Read all about it. Fifty people swindled! Fifty people swindled!” A passerby walked over, bought a paper, checked out the front page and said, “There’s nothing here about 50 people swindled.” At which point the boy began to yell, “Read all about it. Fifty-one people swindled!” That’s exactly how we swindle people when we hide the gospel. We’ve got something people can’t get anywhere else, but instead we’ve become something people can get anywhere else. Paul warned Timothy in I Tim 6:20, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” Paul is saying, “The gospel is your sacred trust, Timothy.” It is the power of God to salvation. So preach it!
III. It is Authenticated
V. 1-2: “And the twelve were with him, 2) and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” Women were held in low esteem in 1st century culture. Christianity changed that. The twelve apostles traveling with a noted rabbi would not have been particularly noteworthy, but the addition of several women to this traveling entourage was as scandalous as it sounds. Most rabbis would not even speak to a woman in public – not even their wives. Jesus held them in the highest regard. They were faithful to the end even after the guys fled. Mark 15:40-41 tells us, “There were also women looking on from a distance (at the crucifixion), among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him” These same women prepared Jesus’ body for burial (Lu 23:55) – and these women – not the apostles, discovered the empty tomb (Lu 24:2) and witnessed resurrection!
They were wonderful disciples. They no doubt managed the logistics of travel and ministry. But they also had a more telling purpose – an authenticating purpose. They have a story. They were proof in living color of the healing power of the gospel – both physically and spiritually. V. 2 -- these women had been “healed of evil spirits and infirmities.” These women had been healed of both illness and demonic activity. They are exhibit one of the power of His message. When Jesus says the kingdom of God is at hand, He’s not kidding. These women are not who they were before they met Jesus. They authenticate the message.
The gospel always comes with authentication. Sometimes it’s miracles – particularly where the Bible is unavailable. They were prevalent throughout the ministry of Christ and the early church. But miracles diminished as the NT evolved. Early on, the touch of Paul’s handkerchief was enough to bring healing in Acts 19. Later Paul was refused healing himself in II Cor 12, had a companion, Epaphroditus who was ill and near death in Phil 2, and tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach problems (I Tim 5:23). Miracles were no longer common. Instead, the Word authenticates – even more so than miracles. When the rich man in hell asks for Lazarus to go warn his brothers, insisting they’d believe a revived dead man, Abraham responds, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, (if they will not believe God’s Word) neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lu16:31). That is a strong statement, dear friends. The Word is a powerful authenticator.
But changed lives also authenticate the gospel. Outside of the Word itself, I suppose that more people have been brought to Christ by watching someone’s changed life than by any other means. That’s why our conduct is critical. The early church father, Tertullian, was a brilliant man. Friends begged him to become a Christian, but he countered every argument they gave him. When faith finally overtook him, he explained, “They demonstrated something I didn’t have. The thing that converted me to Christianity was the way they loved each other.” Conduct counts. Theologian JI Packer sums up our mission this way: "The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing." Changed lives authenticate the gospel. How authenticating are you?
I love how Paul says it in Titus 2:9-10, “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” We are the necklace! We’re not the beautiful woman; that is the gospel. But we can make her look good or not so good by how well we adorn her. Let’s adorn well. It is the privilege of a lifetime to be called upon to adorn the gospel.
IV. It is Arduous
The gospel is not the watered-down, everything-will-be-perfect-with-Christ message that we have turned it into. We’ve made the gospel me-centered instead of He-centered. We’ve diluted it to, accept Christ and He will heal your marriage, make you successful, solve your problems, cure your ills, and give you your selfish heart’s desire. But when we present that gospel, we lie. The gospel is not easy; it is hard. It does not promise the fulfillment of every selfish whim; it requires death to self. Jesus’ gospel is found in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To these women the gospel was a costly. It always is.
One woman left a palace to follow Jesus. V. 3, “and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager.” Chuza served Herod like Joseph served Potipher. He managed all his affairs. He acted in Herod’s name. He undoubtedly had a palace residence along with Joanna. But she found Christ. And here she was in company with others, including Mary Magdalene who had been healed of 7 demons. Many suppose Mary had been a prostitute, but there is no suggestion of that in Scripture or tradition. But, she was certainly from the other side of the tracks from Joanna – yet they unite in service to Jesus. That’s the power of the gospel. Bearing the cost of discipleship. They are a living representation of what Jesus says in Lu 14:26-27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” To become a follower of Christ costs us everything. I think we will find out on the day of judgment that many who thought they were followers never really were. They wanted the benefits without the cost.
Not these women. They put their money and service where their mouth was. V. 3, “and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” So much for the contention of the prosperity gospel preachers that Jesus was well-off. He willing accepted the financial support of these true and faithful followers. You’ve misunderstood the gospel if you think it is not demanding.
But it comes with this promise from Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30). The demand is death to self, but the promise is – it is infinitely worth it. To give up self to have Christ is the best trade anyone ever made. Few people had more Christian influence on the 20th century than Francis and Edith Schaeffer through their Swiss working chalet L’Abri which attracted troubled seekers from around the world. But there was a cost. Schaeffer once wrote, “In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Drugs came into our place. People vomited on our rugs.… Sure it is a danger to your family, and you must be careful. But have you ever risked it?” They’re in glory now. If interviewed today they’d say, “Sure the gospel is hard. But it is way worth it. Don’t mess with it; don’t change it; just preach it. Get it right!” We surely don’t want someone to miss heaven because we got it wrong. When we get it right, in living color, it is a compelling message. Watered-down? Useless. Let’s pray.