What are some of the times in your life when you received some great news? News that filled you with joy? News that caused you to celebrate immediately?
Maybe it’s when you received word of some recognition or award that you would receive. Maybe it’s when the man that you love proposed to you…or when the woman that you love said, “Yes.” Maybe it’s when you first learned that you would have a child. We all remember those moments when we received news that caused us to immediately celebrate.
Maybe you also remember times of national celebration. Maybe you recall iconic images of celebrations when news of the end of World War II spread throughout the nation. The war had been so long and so costly. And as soon as the news came out that it was over, celebrations broke out everywhere. It was great news.
More recently, maybe you remember the intense celebrations that broke out when we heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a team of Navy SEALs. This man that was responsible for so much death and devastation would no longer be able to hurt anyone else. And people celebrated.
What are the times that you remember when you received news that was so good, it just caused you to immediately celebrate?
Today as we kick off the second week of our series called Presence, we’re going to talk about some good news. News that caused immediately celebration…and news that still causes us to celebrate today.
Let me pray for us, and then we’ll jump into what God has to say to us today.
This entire series comes from one verse in Luke 2. A group of shepherds were out watching over the flocks one night, when all of a sudden an angel appeared. The shepherds were freaked out, but then the angel reassured them.
In verse 10, Luke wrote, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
In this series, we’re keying in on the four things that the angel told the shepherds in this verse.
Last week, we talked about the first thing that the angel said to them. Don’t be afraid. Jesus came to break the chains of fear in our lives. Jesus’ presence destroys fear.
Today in the second week of this series, we’re going to key on this. The angel told the shepherds that he was bringing good news. News that would cause celebration. News that would change the lives and eternities of countless people.
That news is that Jesus has come. Jesus was now present. And His presence is good news.
Look at what Luke writes in the next verses. The angel told the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14, NIV)
This was good news. So good that it sparked a celebration even among the angels. The good news is that Jesus had come. Jesus was God in the flesh. God was now present with us, and His presence is good news.
We call it the gospel. The word gospel literally means “good news.” Our church is all about the gospel. We are all about this “good news,” and we’re going to spend the rest of our time today talking about why it is such good news.
But here’s the deal…we need to start today with a clean slate. We are going to listen as God explains the gospel to us through His Word, the Bible. But for a lot of us, that means that we’re going to have to set aside what we’ve heard and learned and experienced in the past. Because the word “gospel” has been twisted and manipulated in a lot of different ways. A lot of the stuff that people call “the gospel” today isn’t the gospel at all. But what we want to do today is set all of that stuff aside and listen to the simple, clear truth of the gospel.
And this is for every single person in this room today. If you’ve never even heard of Jesus, the gospel is for you. And if you’ve been following Jesus for years, the gospel is for you. It’s still as fresh and exciting and new as it ever was.
So let’s go. What is the gospel? Why is it such good news?
A couple of reasons. First of all, the gospel is good news because it’s all about Jesus.
If you’ve been on our church’s website, connect.cc, you’ve probably seen the page that lists our church’s core values. The core values that are the fuel in our church’s engine. The core values that state why our church exists.
The very first core value on that list is, “It’s all about Jesus.” You will hear us say that all the time here at Connect. It’s all about Jesus.
Every service we have is all about Jesus. Everything we do to minister and serve people is all about Jesus. Everything we say, everything we do, everything we are is all about Jesus. And the reason is simple…because we’re all about the gospel, and the gospel is all about Jesus. That’s what makes the gospel such good news. It’s all about Jesus.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds, He said, “I’ve got good news for you. Jesus has come.” His good news was all about Jesus. And our good news today is still all about Jesus.
The most clear and concise description of the gospel in the entire Bible is in 1 Corinthians 15. The Apostle Paul laid out exactly what the gospel is.
Starting in verse 1, he wrote, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
[So what is this gospel? Here it is.] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NIV)
Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, died on the cross. And the reason He died is us. Paul said that Jesus died “for our sins.” What does that mean exactly?
God is a holy God of justice. When sin occurs, it must be punished. That is the only way to satisfy His holiness and His justice.
But God is also a God of love and grace. He desires to forgive sin to satisfy His grace.
So how does God deal with this apparent contradiction in His character? How does He satisfy both His justice and His grace? The 16th century theologian Martin Luther called this “a problem fit for God.”
Every plan that we could devise would satisfy God’s justice OR God’s grace. Only God could find a way to satisfy both parts of His nature equally.
The solution came in the form of a cross. God’s justice and grace come together in perfect harmony at the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus died for our sin. He never sinned Himself. He was perfect, absolutely sinless. But He died to atone for our sin, to pay the price for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. He was beaten and mocked and crucified to pay our penalty.
God’s justice was satisfied because the price of sin had been paid. God’s grace was satisfied because, even though we are guilty, we don’t have to pay the price for our sin. It has already been paid in full. The cross is the perfect union of God’s justice and God’s grace.
That’s the gospel that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus died for our sin. And Paul said that we know He really died because He was buried for three days.
But then after three days, Jesus rose to life again. His death was real. His burial was real. His resurrection was real.
His resurrection to life gives us a new life. It signals that Jesus has won the ultimate victory for us.
That’s the gospel. It’s all about Jesus.
If you’ve ever heard someone preach “the gospel” but they never talk about Jesus, then that person is not preaching the gospel. It’s really that simple. Anytime a person or a church claims to preach the gospel but they don’t preach Jesus, then they have bastardized the gospel.
The first reason the gospel is good news is because it’s all about Jesus.
The second reason the gospel is good news is because it’s not about me.
Now, let’s be honest. At first, this doesn’t sound like good news. We are conditioned to believe that everything should be about us. Our culture trains us to make ourselves the center of our own universe. To only worry about our own problems. To look out for #1.
In other words, we’re conditioned to become just like Sheldon Cooper.
That’s how we’re conditioned, isn’t’ it? To believe that it really is all about me. Everything should revolve around me. Every piece of marketing, everything we see in our culture, it all tells me the same thing. It’s all about me.
But the gospel is NOT about me. And in reality, that’s really, really good news.
First of all, it’s good news because it’s not based on my goodness.
Now, that’s not exactly the selling point that we make with our kids this time of year, is it? We actually tell them that it is ALL about their goodness.
Maybe you’ve heard it. “You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
“He’s making a list, Checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake.”
What’s the whole thing based on? How good you can be! If you’re good, you get good things. If you’re bad, you get bad things.
That’s the message of Santa Claus, but thank God that is not the message of Jesus. That is not the gospel.
The gospel is not about me. And that’s good news, because I can never be good enough.
This really comes down to the difference between religion and the gospel. Maybe you’ve heard a lot of religion in your life. Maybe you grew up in a church like I did when I was a really young child. Before my family found a healthy church that I now call my home church, we went to a very legalistic, very religion-based church. And every week, I got a steady dose of religion…but very little gospel.
Here’s the difference. Religion says that there are good people and bad people. The gospel says that there are bad people and Jesus.
Religion says that you should trust in what you do as a good moral person. The gospel says that you should trust in the perfectly sinless life of Jesus because He alone is the only good and truly moral person who will ever live.
Religion leads to an uncertainty about my standing before God because I never know if I have done enough to please God. The gospel leads to a certainty about my standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus on my behalf on the cross.
Religion says that if I obey, God will love me. The gospel says that it is because God does love me, I can obey.
This is why the gospel is such good news. Because it takes the pressure off of me. I will never be good enough…and I don’t have to be.
The Apostle Paul says it this way in Romans 3. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. [Faith in Jesus Christ. Not faith in myself. Not faith in what I can do. Not faith in how good I can be. It’s based on faith in Jesus Christ.] There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [There is NO difference. There is no difference between you and anyone else. We’re all in the same boat. All have sinned. All fall short of the glory of God. All.] and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24, NIV) [We are justified freely by God’s grace. It’s a no-strings-attached gift. It’s not about what we can do. It’s not about us at all. It’s all about Jesus.]
Can you feel the freedom here? That’s why the gospel is such good news.
And here’s the thing that’s really ironic. Religion doesn’t make people better. Teaching them to obey certain rules to win God’s favor doesn’t work. It has the exact opposite effect. It doesn’t make people work harder. It makes them give up. When religion is what people learn, they realize that they’ll never be able to keep the rules. They’ll never be good enough, so they might as well give up.
And maybe that’s you. Maybe you walked away from the church for a long time because all you heard was religion. And all it did was keep you pinned down. You knew that you could never be good enough, so eventually you just quit trying. You gave up and walked away.
The gospel message is completely different. It is good news because it’s not based on your goodness. You aren’t good enough, but Jesus is good enough. And the gospel is not about you. It’s all about Jesus.
When the angel came to announce Jesus’ birth, He went to a bunch of shepherds. That is incredibly significant.
These shepherds have been romanticized in Christmas stories and nativity scenes, but those romantic images are far from the truth.
In the first century, shepherds were about as low as you could go. They had no standing in society. Their work was menial. There were always filthy from living out in the field. And they had a bad reputation on top of all of that.
Shepherds were despised in their culture. Jewish literature from this time period says that, “most of the time [shepherds] were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people’s land and pilfered the produce of the land.”
One early Jewish writer said, “There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.”
These hireling shepherds would often go months at a time without supervision, so they were often accused of stealing and selling some of the lambs that were born into the flock. Because of that, people were warned not to buy wool, milk, or lambs from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property.
Shepherds were actively discriminated against in first century Jewish culture. Shepherds were not allowed to hold political office. In fact, they weren’t even allowed to vote. Shepherds were not admitted in a court as witnesses because everyone believed that they were so dishonest. They weren’t even allowed to worship in the temple.
Now, doesn’t it seem a little crazy that a group of shepherds were the first ones to hear about Jesus’ birth? God could have sent the angel to make this announcement to anyone in the world…and He chose a group of shepherds. A group that was considered the lowest of the low, the worst of the worst.
But God’s choice of the shepherds is a perfect illustration of the gospel. When the angel told them, “I bring you good news,” the good news is that Jesus had come. The good news is that their standing with God wasn’t based on their goodness, it was based on Jesus’ goodness. It wasn’t about what they could do, it was about what Jesus would do.
That’s the beauty of the gospel. It’s not about me, which means it’s not about my goodness.
And that also means that it’s not about my circumstances. If the gospel is all about Jesus and it’s not about me, that means that it’s not based on what happens to me. It’s not based on my situation. It’s not contingent on my circumstances.
Do you ever feel like God is distant or silent? The people in the first century felt the same way. The people who lived in the time period of the angel and the shepherds felt like God had gone silent, because He had. God had stopped speaking. There were 400 years of silence from God after the Old Testament was written.
Jesus was the break in that silence. God was speaking. God had come near. He hadn’t abandoned them. He was present with them. And that was incredibly good news.
Even if it seems like God has gone silent…even if it feels like God is doing nothing in your present situation, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has come. He is present. And in Jesus, we see that God will never leave us or forsake us.
Just because you can’t see what God is doing doesn’t mean that He is doing nothing.
I love the way The Message paraphrase reads in Isaiah 45. “Clearly, you are a God who works behind the scenes, God of Israel, Savior God.” (Isaiah 45:15, The Message)
Just because you can’t see what God is doing doesn’t mean that He is doing nothing. The gospel is still true. God is still present. He is still working on your behalf. He still loves you.
I know in the hard seasons of life, it doesn’t feel that way. Some of us are in that season right now. Life is so tough. It just doesn’t feel like God is present. It doesn’t feel like He loves me.
But remember that feelings are not facts. And our faith isn’t based on feelings. It’s based on fact. The fact is that Jesus has come. The fact is that He died and rose again for you. The fact is that He promised that He loves you and He will never leave you.
In his book called King’s Cross, Tim Keller wrote, “And when you suffer, you may be completely in the dark about the reason for your own suffering. It may seem as senseless to you as Jesus’ suffering seemed to the disciples. But the cross tells you what the reason isn’t.
It can’t be that God doesn’t love you; it can’t be that he has no plan for you. It can’t be that he has abandoned you. Jesus was abandoned, and paid for our sins, so that God the Father would never abandon you.
The cross proves that he loves you and understands what it means to suffer. It also demonstrates that God can be working in your life even when it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to what is happening.”
The gospel is not about you, which means it’s not based on what happens to you. It’s based on what happened to Jesus when He died on a cross for you.
He has not abandoned you. He is present with you. And He loves you. Your circumstances may tell you differently. Your feelings may tell you differently. But the gospel isn’t based on your circumstances and it’s not based on your feelings.
The gospel says that you are loved, period. God is with you, period. He has not and He will never abandon you, period. And even when you don’t know what He’s doing, He is working behind the scenes on your behalf, period.
The gospel is all about Jesus. And the gospel is not about me. It’s not about my goodness. And it’s not about my circumstances. And when you add all of that together, you get some really, really good news.
The good news is found in Romans 8, where the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)
When the gospel is all about me, I get sin and death. When it’s based on what I can do…what I can produce…how good and holy I can be…it adds up to sin and death. I will not and cannot ever measure up. That’s what happens when the gospel is about me.
But when the gospel is all about Jesus, I get life. Jesus is good enough. His death for me is good enough. And that means that if I’ve given my life to Christ, there is no condemnation left for me.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. And in the Greek, this word that is translated as “condemnation” is a judicial term. It refers to a judge who passes sentence on a guilty person. But it goes even deeper than that.
This word not only refers to the guilty sentence, but it refers to the penalty that follows. This Bible word, “condemnation,” literally refers to the judge, jury, and executioner. The judge hears the case. The jury finds you guilty. The executioner carries out the punishment.
But look at the word that comes before “condemnation.” Paul said that if we are in Christ, there is “no condemnation.” Literally, this word in the Bible that is translated as “no” means “not a single one of any kind.”
So here it is…if you give your life to Christ, there is not a single shred of guilt left to condemn you. You are pure. You are clean. You are holy. You are a saint. Your past sins are forgotten. Your present sins are forgiven.
You don’t have to listen to anyone who says that you’ll never measure up. You don’t have to live under the weight of your own self-imposed guilt anymore.
Through Jesus Christ, God has removed everything and anything that could ever condemn you. There is NO condemnation for anyone who has given their life to Christ.
You want to know why the gospel is good news? That’s why! Because my life was a mess. It still is a mess. But the message of Christmas is that God loved us enough to get into the mess with us.
That’s the gospel. It’s all about Jesus. And it’s not about me.
When the angels appeared to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they couldn’t help but break out into celebration.
The Bible tells us, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:13-14, KJV)
They broke out into this celebration because of the good news of Jesus’ presence. The good news that says that the gospel is here.
The gospel is all about Jesus. It’s not based on what I have done. It’s not based on what I can do. And it’s not based on whatever happens in my life.
The gospel isn’t about me at all. It’s all about Jesus. That means that there is no condemnation for me. I don’t have to listen to anybody else. I don’t have to listen to my circumstances. I don’t even have to listen to myself. The only person I have to listen to is God. And the gospel says definitively that God loves me. God forgives me. God sets me free. And God is present with me.
That’s the gospel. That’s why the angels celebrated. And that’s why we’re going to celebrate now.