The Gospel According to the Scriptures
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul outlines his definition of the Gospel for the believers in Corinth. He reminds them “of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved.” This gospel, according to Paul, is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And while this definition is very basic, it still requires a lot of careful unpacking.
In this definition of the Gospel, Paul uses the phrase, “according to the scriptures” a couple of times, emphasizing his reliance upon the Old Testament to articulate his understanding of what the Gospel is and what Jesus has accomplished. Jesus, himself, does this in Luke 24:27. As Jesus and a couple of his disciples are walking to a town just outside of Jerusalem, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
An average churchgoer can give you a short, plain answer to the question, “What is the gospel?” They might give an answer along the lines of, “the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins.” While there is nothing inherently wrong with that answer, the language of sin and Jesus dying, is so often used that the answer has, unfortunately, become absent of real meaning.
If you press a little harder and ask, “But what does that even mean?” you still may not get a very good answer – just that everyone is a sinner in need of Christ’s gift of salvation. Again, there’s nothing incorrect about this answer. But the gospel is much more than this because, as Paul says, Christ died according to the Scriptures. And he was raised on the third day. According to the Scriptures.
What does this mean?
In order to understand the Gospel in its entirety, we have to go back to the first few chapters of Genesis. God creates the world and establishes a plot of paradise in which to put the first man and first woman. Giving them just one command, he says, “Do not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And by the way, if you do this, you’re going to die. And so they’re barred from eating the fruit of this one tree.
No sooner is the command given, than it happens. Adam and Eve are deceived by the serpent and, the narrative tells us, they eat from the one tree from which they have been disallowed to eat. The creation chooses disobedience. The man then confesses to God what has happened and God puts a curse on the whole of creation. He curses the man, he curses the woman, and he curses the serpent.
Just as God curses the man, he curses the ground and the creation. To the man he says,
“Cursed is the ground because of you, in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.”
God places a curse on the ground saying that it won’t easily yield it’s abundance for the man. Man will have to work hard in order to bring forth its produce. God here makes the man’s labor much more difficult.
And as God curses the woman, he states “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” And as with the man, God’s promise is that he will make her labor much more difficult.
As God curses the serpent, he says,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
The significance here is that as God curses the serpent, we see what has become known as the protoeuangelion. Or the “first gospel.” In this curse is a small glimmer of hope that, at some point in the future, the seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. Knowing this is vital to understanding the trajectory of the rest of the Bible.
This is all from Genesis 3. I would encourage you to go back and read the full chapter, because a more robust understanding of the gospel requires it. Read this in conjunction with Romans 5 where Paul says, “as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.” So this curse spread to everyone that would follow after Adam.
Genesis 4 picks up with the narrative of Cain and Abel. Eve has a son, named Cain, whom Eve hopes is the promised one through whom God will bring about restoration. In a gross turn of events, Cain crushes the head, not of the serpent, but of his brother, Abel. He then flees from his family and Eve is left to start over with another son. Eve, remembering that it is through her seed through whom this deliverance will come, then says of her new son, Seth, “God has appointed for me another offspring (seed) instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” She is undoubtedly expecting a son to come from her who will reverse the effects of the curse that she and her husband have brought upon the earth.
And this is made abundantly clear in Genesis 5 as the narrative continues. Sandwiched between Cain and Abel and the Noah story, there is a seemingly random genealogy that lists the line of descendants from Adam to Noah. If you’ve ever read Genesis 5, you’ve probably wondered what on earth is going on. Why is it significant? There aren’t many details given as to why these men are listed. But I believe that it is made clear by the conclusion of the genealogy. It begins like this: “The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.”
Adam didn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise that God made. The genealogy continues, “When Seth had lived 106 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.” Eve was wrong. Seth wasn’t the son who would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. And the genealogy continues. Kenan lived 70 years and fathered Mahalalel. He had other children and then he died. Mahalalel fathered Jared, had other children. And then he died. And Jared died. And Enoch was taken up. And Methuselah died. And Lamech died.
The mantra of the genealogy is ‘and he died,’ ‘and he died,’ ‘and he died,’ ‘and he died,’ ‘and he died.’ The point of this genealogy is not to tell us how long people lived before the flood, but to tell us that death reigns and they were searching for seed of the woman who would reverse the curse and overthrow death’s dominion.
FInally the reader gets to Lamech, who says of his son, “Out of the ground the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” It becomes clear that people were holding onto this hope that God is going to raise up a man who is going to save the world out of God’s judgment – that God has cursed the world and there will be a deliverer who will come to undo what the first man did. One who will come and crush the head of the seed of the serpent.
This hope continues through Abraham in Genesis 22, to whom God says, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” It continues through his great-grandson Judah in Genesis 49, saying “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.”
It goes through David in 2 Samuel 7 where God tells him, “when your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his kingdom forever.”
Isaiah 53 speaks of the Suffering Servant who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
It is Malachi who prophesies, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”
So humanity, from the time of Genesis 3 to the days of the last prophet of the Old Testament, is looking for the one who is to come and to restore God’s rule over the world. Israel is looking for the savior to come and redeem a people back to the creator. And it is in this framework that a baby is born in Bethlehem who is Christ the Lord.
Four books, known as the gospels, were written to proclaim the continuation of this grand narrative, shouting to us that the promised one is finally here who would reverse the curse. Andrew exclaims to his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Thomas, upon seeing the resurrected Jesus, exclaims, “My Lord and My God!”
It is within this context that Paul writes. Paul delivers to the Corinthians that which is of first importance: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.
Through the death of Christ, God accomplished what Genesis 3:15 promised long ago. The seed of the woman crushed the head of the seed of the serpent. It is through death and resurrection that Christ was victorious over sin and death and made the enemies of God into friends of God. Through his death, burial, and resurrection, guilty sinners can stand before a holy God blameless, clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Through that righteousness, we “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Through this resurrection, the dominion of death has been destroyed forevermore. And through this resurrection, Paul can conclude with “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So when your average churchgoer says that everyone is a sinner in need of Christ’s gift of salvation, this is what they mean. It is only through this new birth, through repentance and a submission to Christ’s lordship, that we can truly live and draw near to the throne of God. The gospel is this: that God, in his forbearance, did not kill us as we immediately deserved, but extended grace, through Christ, a gift of eternal life to unworthy, treasonous, rebellious sinners.
This is the gospel. This is the good news.
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