In the very opening pages of Scripture, after Adam’s sin catapulted all of humanity into depravity and subjected the whole of creation to corruption, there appears a promise like the silver lining around a dark cloud of despair. God promises that Eve shall bring forth a Seed Who shall bruise the ancient evil serpent’s head. But this shall happen only at a great cost—this victory shall not be without the serpent first bruising His heel (Gen. 3:15). As the proceeding books of the Bible progressively reveal God’s actualization of this promise to save mankind from His wrath, we arrive at a portion in the book of Isaiah. Chapter 52 looks forward to the arrival of this Messiah, using the word ‘Gospel’ or ‘Good News’ and ushering God’s reign and salvation over His people. Continuing into chapter 53, Isaiah goes on to explain how this Herald who is King, is also the suffering Servant and must be pierced first for our transgressions and be crushed by God for our iniquities before He makes many to be accounted righteous.
In the New Testament, we know this Messiah is Jesus Christ and that he fulfils the Gospel: He is ‘lifted up’ (Jn. 12:32), but first, on the cross, the most cruel instrument of death ever invented. He dies on the cross bearing the plaque ‘King of the Jews,’ with a crown of thorns on His head. This was his enthronement in the spiritual realm as this is the place where He crushed the serpent’s head while being bitten by it. The gospel of God defeating Satan, atoning for our sins and establishing His kingdom was decisively fulfilled in the Messiah’s death on the cross.
The Gospel Is Not About Us
While the Bible is clear on what the gospel is, there is a great deal of gospel ignorance prevailing among professing Christians in India. For many, the ‘good news’ is about their subjective pleasures and interests. When asked about the gospel, many are not able to clearly articulate it and instead speak about how they were once healed of a disease, or had a prayer answered, or seen prosperous days or have a friend in Jesus to pity their troubles. The gospel for them is that their carnal desires are met by Jesus. Many who earnestly love Jesus are in need of good teaching because they confuse the gospel with its fruits: their change of heart, their sanctification and victory over sins, etc.
Scripture is clear that the gospel is not about us, but about Jesus Christ and for a truly regenerate person that is really good news. Romans 1:3 says that the gospel of God is concerning His Son. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that the gospel he preached was, of first importance, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures……(1 Cor. 15:3). So the good news is really about Jesus Christ, about His Person and about His work for our salvation, more particularly and importantly His work on the cross.
The Cross Is The Central Message In The Gospel
While it is true that the Gospel is not only about the cross of Christ, but includes everything about His Person and other aspects of His work for our salvation: His Divinity, His virgin birth, righteous living, perfect law-keeping, his obedience through suffering and being perfected, His resurrection, ascension, rule and dominion etc, the heart of the gospel lies in the work done by Him on the cross. Its centrality is shown when Paul, while preaching the gospel, decided to know nothing among you (believers) except Jesus and Him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2). Had Jesus not accomplished the substitutionary work on the cross, His righteous living would have earned good only for Him and not for us, His two great commandments would have been another heavy yoke on us because we would have no power to obey them and would have more condemnation as we break them.
The Gospel is not good news without the cross. Because when Christ died on the cross, He accomplished our justification, in that He suffered the penalty of God that we should have received for our sins and His one act of righteousness, obedience to the point of death caused us to be counted righteous (Rom. 5:18-19). Through this great transaction, the work done on the cross solved our external problem of being guilty before God. But the work on the cross also solved our internal problem of depravity, of being slaves to sin and being able to do nothing except sinning. God accomplished this by uniting us with Christ’s death and His resurrection, where our old self was crucified with Him…..so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom. 6:5-6), so that we can now truly walk according to His commandments and in sanctification. That is why Paul calls the gospel simply the word of the cross for it is fulfilled decisively in the work Jesus did on the cross, and says that to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). God’s Power in saving vile, sinful and condemned creatures like us is revealed in it.
Many professing Christians, along with the perishing world, do not see anything significant in the message of the cross. They are happy with Jesus as a good teacher, faithful friend, or someone who answers prayer, but do not regard His work on the cross. This is because the Grace of God has not yet come upon them to help them realise that their biggest problem before a Holy God is their sin and that their depravity is so great that they can do nothing to get rid of it. As Paul says, the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18).
Throughout scripture, the centrality of the cross in God’s work for our salvation has been resounded. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to it (like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22). Jesus preached it throughout His ministry saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk. 9:22) and that the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28). In the book of Revelation, Christ, the lamb who is slain, is glorified in heaven because He was slain and with His blood ransomed people for God (Rev. 5:9).
Christ Work On The Cross: The Penal Substitution
To have a clear and saving understanding of the gospel, it is necessary to have a right view of the cross. What exactly did Christ do on the cross that we should obtain salvation by it? Romans 3:25 says that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation for our sins, i.e. it was an act of justice where Christ bore the wrath of God that should have fallen upon us, so that God can remain just in justifying sinners like us. Galatians 3:13 says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Also in 1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross. So, on the cross Christ died by being our substitute and bearing the penalty of our sins, so that both our guilt can be acquitted and our body of sin may be brought to nothing and that we may be released from the power of sin (Rom. 6).
It is true that by dying on the Christ cross became our model of how we should live in this world, carrying our crosses (Heb. 12:2) and also that by dying on the cross He defeated death and the one who had power over it (Heb. 2:14). However, these are not exhaustive descriptions of the work He accomplished on the cross. The primary work on the cross was the Penal Substitution. All other things flow from it. It is of utmost necessity that this be the cross that is believed and preached whenever the gospel is believed and preached.
The Message Of The Cross Must Be Preached And Believed For True Salvation
It is very unfortunate that the message of the cross is not considered to be central in many churches. It has been reduced to something that must be informed to unbelievers before they get baptised, and then move ahead. But a Christian really cannot outgrow the gospel. He is to boast in nothing except in the cross of Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). As in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, the love of God (displayed in the cross) constrains him, concluding this that Christ died for all so that he may no longer live for himself but for the One who died in Him. He finds courage in that now there is no condemnation for him in Jesus Christ since God condemned sin in His flesh (Rom. 8:1-3). Moreover, whenever the gospel is preached to unbelievers, it is this gospel that emphasizes Christ’s work on the cross that must be preached, and not promises about carnal blessings from Christ. How bold and clear were Paul’s words “I decided to know NOTHING among you except Jesus Christ and HIM CRUCIFIED” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Do you delight daily and place all your hope in the cross of Christ? Does your church actively preach it, sing it, and remember it in the Lord’s Supper? What gospel do you preach to unbelievers?
In the Cross of Christ I glory
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime
~Sir John Bowring
Abir Kumar Baruah serves as the pastor of Grace Church Jorhat in Assam.