The message of the angel to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus contains a divine summary of the central features of the gospel. Let us read it:
"Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10, 11.
It is worth noting that the Greek word here translated "I bring you good tidings" is the same as is translated "to preach the gospel" (Luke 4:18, A. V., margin), or "to preach good tidings" (R. V.). In other words, this angelic messenger preached a gospel of great joy in the announcement which he made to the shepherds of the birth of a remarkable person whom he designated as "a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
In thus making the birth of Jesus the basis of the gospel of great joy, we have a striking instance of the way in which the forms of expression familiar to the people of that time were adopted and filled with a divine content. The following extract will throw light upon this statement:
"Two examples are now forthcoming to prove that the word euaggelion. `gospel, good tidings,' which was in use in pre-Christian times in the profane sense of good news, and which then became a primitive Christian cult word of the first order, was also employed in sacral use in the Imperial cult. One of the examples is that calendar inscription of Priene, about 9 B. c. . . . Here we find this remarkable sentence referring to the birthday of the Emperor Augustus: `But the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of good tidings [euaggelion] of joy on this account.'"—"Light From the Ancient East," Adolph Deissman, pp. 370, 371.
It appears, then, that just at the time when the birth of a mere man Was proclaimed as "the beginning of good tidings of joy," the birth was announced of One whose mission it was to bring "to all the people" the good tidings concerning the kingdom of God. Of all the good news ever made known to the world, this is the best.
In these seven words, "a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord," we have a summary of the gospel of great joy. Here we find the goal of the prophetic Old Testament as a whole, and of its many specific predictions. From the time when the original promise was made that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), during four millenniums succeeding generations watched and waited and prayed for the Coming One. It was the work of the prophets to develop more fully this hope of salvation, and to maintain the faith of the people even in the darkest times until the dawn of the new day. But - now "the time is fulfilled," and "a multitude of the heavenly host" recognized the most glorious event of the ages with a note of praise, "Glory to God in the highest." The words of the prophet Isaiah have now become history: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." Isa. 9:6. The Son of God has become the Son of man.
In the announcement to the shepherds three outstanding facts are stated:
1. The child born in Bethlehem amid the most humble and almost repelling surroundings, is the longlooked-for Saviour.
2. This child is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, our word Christ being the transliteration of the Greek word which is the translation of the Hebrew word Mashiah which appears in English as Messiah, both Christ and Messiah meaning the anointed one. (Cf. John 1:41.)
3. This child is the Lord. Since the Greek word Kurios, Lord, is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament as the rendering of the Hebrew for Jehovah, the designation "Lord" is equivalent to Jehovah God.
The good news "of great joy" which the angel told to the shepherds may then be put into three short sentences: Jesus is the Saviour; Jesus is the Messiah; Jesus is God manifested in the flesh. This is the gospel unfolded to us in the New Testament, the gospel of the person of Jesus which we are to apprehend in its full meaning, and then to proclaim "in the power of the Spirit."
I will now offer a few suggestions concerning the deep significance of these three words—Saviour, Messiah, Lord. To Joseph it was declared before the promised child was born, "It is He that shall save His people from their sins." Matt. 1:21. Jesus Himself defined His mission to this world in these words: "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10. And in harmony with this we read: "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 1 Tim. 1:15. Our Lord indicated the method by which He would save the world: "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for [instead of] many." Matt. 20:28. A ransom is a price paid in order to secure the release of a captive, or to redeem one held in captivity.
Jesus clearly understood the work which He was to accomplish, and so in the synagogue in Nazareth He applied to Himself the words of the prophet, "He hath sent Me to proclaim release to the captives." Luke 4:18, 21. The price paid for our release, or our redemption, is plainly revealed: "Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ." 1 Peter 1:18, 19. The blood with which we have been redeemed is the blood shed on Calvary, "the blood of the cross." The purpose for which this blood was shed was clearly stated by our Lord Himself when He instituted the supper the night before His death: "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins." Matt. 26:28.
The great problem with which we have to deal is the problem of sin. The central truth of the gospel is that provision has been made for the remission of sins. The central features of this gospel are the death and resurrection of Christ, in virtue of which there is remission of sins. These statements are based upon the words of Christ to His disciples after His resurrection: "Thus it is written, that the Christ [the Messiah] should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Luke 24:46, 47. This repentance and this remission are the gifts of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord, as the apostle Peter pointed out:
"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging Him on a tree. Him did God exalt at His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins." Acts 5:30, 31, margin. It is this Jesus, the Saviour, "in whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace." Eph. 1:7. It is this Jesus, the Saviour, who "is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them." Heb. 7:25.
This provision for the remission of sins involves the mediatorial work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary where He presents the merit of His sacrifice in our behalf. He became "a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." Heb. 2:17. "We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man." Heb. 8:1, 2. We are now to emphasize the closing phase of the mediatorial work of our High Priest.
I cannot here develop in detail what is involved in the remission of sins, since in the final analysis it includes the whole gospel, both on the Godward and the manward side, but I must emphasize the fact that it is not a mere commercial transaction by which an account is balanced entirely apart from any effect upon the life of the sinner. In order that there may be remission there must be a complete change of attitude toward God expressed in repentance, confession, the surrender of self, and the acceptance by faith of a new life which will find expression in obedience of faith. This is the gospel of righteousness by faith: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin." Rom. 4:7, 8. This is the heart of the New Testament gospel.
(To be continued)