Old Yet New25 May, 2017
The Christian gospel is the most remarkable story in the world. It is not an ancient myth, nor is it modern fake news. Neither is it a dark psychological thriller, although death plays a major part in the story. Rather, it brings light and hope with a promise of a future supreme happiness in heaven.
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’, and it is really good because it did not merely originate in the minds of fallible human authors, but was foretold throughout the centuries of the Old Testament writings by prophets whom God had inspired, and who were moved by the Holy Spirit. Then at the time of Christ, John the Baptist clearly declared that Jesus Christ was indeed the coming Messiah, the Saviour of God’s people, predicted from of old. This message was further explained by the apostles who established the Christian church upon Christ the cornerstone, and that faith in him alone qualifies us for membership of that church and unites us with him now and for ever.
The God-given nature of the gospel makes it absolutely true because God cannot lie. Paul sought to convince Titus of this fact when he wrote to him: ‘Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began’ (Titus 1:1-2). The apostles were so convinced of the truth of the gospel that most were prepared to suffer martyrdom rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ. Luke was a careful researcher and included many verifiable historical details. He had ‘followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account’ (Luke 1:3). He spoke to eyewitnesses and, for example, checked out that Herod was king of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus.
If someone tells us something we already know, we might say ‘that’s yesterday’s news’ or ‘that’s stale news.’ The amazing thing about the gospel is that it always appears to be fresh and satisfying no matter how often we have heard it before. If you have been brought up in a Christian home you would have attended morning worship from infancy, and that would probably have included a children’s talk, and often Sunday school would follow. By the age of 10 you may have heard the gospel 1000 times. Over every successive ten years you might hear the gospel 2000 times, so by the age of 70 you may have heard 13,000 gospel messages with prayer meetings and conference addresses as well.
The remarkable thing is that one can listen spellbound each time a preacher, with his own unique insight, urges people to repent of their sins and look to Christ for forgiveness and the salvation which he made possible by dying on our behalf at Calvary on the first Good Friday morning.
What makes the gospel story so different from even the cleverest fictional novel? Even the most inspiring human author can never write words capable of giving us eternal life. They might inspire a temporary moral reformation, but never produce in our hearts a ‘spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). There is a freshness about the Spirit’s ministry, especially as we read his Word or as it is preached to us, which diffuses into our inmost being and affects our lives.
Backsliding and restoration
If we go off-track and grieve the Spirit, that gospel freshness will disappear. The Bible will become an academic textbook and sermons just a stream of words. Fellowship will have no joy and prayer will become a tedious duty, ‘the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron’ (Deut. 28:23). We will mourn its loss until we have returned in repentance to the right path again.
Jeremiah found great hope and comfort in remembering the Lord’s fresh portions of spiritual food which had fed his soul in times past: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lam. 3:22-23).
We will soon tire of repeatedly hearing broadcasts of yesterday’s news, but as faithful gospel ministers bring new insights into ‘the old, old story’ week by week, we will always be refreshed as we drink deeply from the well of truth.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” O God my Saviour,
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960).
Nigel T. Faithfull, 2017