“THE COMPLEX GOSPEL”
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 18, 2018
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”
— Luke 11:29-36, ESV
Though we often refer to it as “the simple gospel,” there is truly nothing simple about it. The gospel is complex. It is not only difficult to comprehend, it is impossible to understand. That a remnant of the human race has come to accept the gospel is owed exclusively to the miraculous grace of God. Grace begets faith, and faith comes from hearing the gospel, and in these words from the Lord Jesus Christ you can hear it loud and clear; or, at least loud.
The Complexity of People
God is not an optimist when it comes to human nature. He was in the garden when we fell (ref. Genesis 3). When He became flesh and dwelt among us, He did not trust us, because He knew what was in us (ref. John 2:24-25). And as Jesus addressed one of the last big crowds He would face before His crucifixion, He called us what we really are: “an evil generation.”
This is no simple accusation. It is accurate and complex. The Greek word Luke uses for “evil” means inwardly flawed and/or outwardly bad. Something has happened to us on the inside that makes us selfish by nature and prone to commit deeds that dishonor or disregard God and harm or ignore other people.
Theologically, this is known as sinfulness or total depravity. Psychologically, this is called selfishness or narcissism. Sociologically, this is referred to as dysfunction, abuse, racism, sexism, just to name a few. As you can see, it is a complex problem and the problem is the people, us, one “evil generation” after another.
This dark canvas provides the background for some enlightening good news. In spite of the fact that we are sinful, God loves us and has done something specific and quite complex to forgive, redeem, and save our souls.
The Complexity of the Gospel
In context this crowd gathering was an insult to Christ. They demanded a sign (miracle) from Jesus in a bargain for belief. Had He not performed a plethora of signs and wonders in front of them for three years running? Yet they still did not believe. So He gave them a sign, alright, but not the one they were expecting.
The sign Jesus gave is the gospel, but the gospel He gave is complex, both pulling from the past and pointing to the future. It is simple enough on the surface, for the sign Jesus gave is the fish.
Pulling from the past, Jesus invokes images from the Old Testament fish tale called Jonah. The reluctant prophet spent three days in the grave-like belly of a great big fish, only to be spit out on the shore for a select preaching assignment in Assyria. “So will the Son of Man,” or the Messiah, said the Messiah Himself. Sure enough, not long after this episode, Jesus would lie in the belly of a grave over a three-day period. That’s the gospel, or at least a prime part of it.
Pointing to the future, Jesus presents Himself as the fish. Fish in the Greek of the New Testament is “Ichthus.” From first followers to twenty-first century Christians, the fish and its acronym — Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior — is a simple symbol for the complex gospel.
Jesus is the gospel, in all of its miraculous complexities. He is the eternal God, was born from a virgin’s womb, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, experienced a bodily resurrection, ascended into Heaven, and will return one day to resurrect every human being from every generation to experience either everlasting salvation or condemnation. Our destiny will be determined by our response to this complex gospel.
The Complexity of the Response to the Gospel
Responding to the gospel must be complex because of the varieties of opinions on the subject. Most people think no response is necessary, since if there is really a God, He is a big, nice man or woman who would never judge, punish, or condemn anybody. About half of professing Christians, according to modern day polls, say no real response is really necessary, either, because the road to Heaven is traveled by just being a good person. Catholics say seven or so sacraments must have their i’s dotted and t’s crossed to escape hell, skip Purgatory, and cross over into Heavenly bliss (admittedly this is a simplistic understanding of complex Catholic doctrine). The Protestants of my early experience stressed their own sacraments of walking an aisle during the emotionally charged ending of a service, repeating the sinner’s prayer, and signing a card pledging to be a good church member. I’m not sure if this is complexity or confusion.
Jesus answers this question, once again, by going to the Bible, a simple and complex gesture. He appeals to the Old Testament, once again to Jonah and also to the Queen of Sheba. And, He contributes to the New Testament with His parable of light. Two principles emerge which are often called two sides of the same coin. Wait a minute, are they two or one? This is complex.
God requires many things for worship and work in His kingdom. But He only requires two things in one moment to properly enter in. They are repentance and faith.
The Ninevites changed their mind about God in response to the gospel preaching of the fish-smelling prophet Jonah. The Queen of Sheba believed in the superiority of Solomon’s wisdom when she heard it for herself. When the light of the gospel is turned on in a person’s mind, heart, and will, it changes them entirely and eternally. The gifting and giving of repentance and faith unto salvation may seem simple but it is more complex and more significant that the discovery of the big bang or the splitting of the atom, for it has eternal ramifications. Oh the simplicity and complexity of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ!
The Complexity of God
The gospel is truly complicated because God is true and complex beyond our wildest imagination. He is three and He is one. He is Father and Creator, Son and Savior, Spirit and Regenerator. God the Father has chosen every person who will ever be born again before they were ever born. Jesus bore our sin on the cross and imputes His righteousness to the elect. The Holy Spirit comes in, changing the heart with the gifts of faith and repentance, so that we can be born from above into the kingdom of God.
Amidst all of these complexities are simple truths. You and I are sinners. We are in desperate need of the salvation provided by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You must choose to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Your free and willing choice, or lack thereof, will simply decide your fate before our complex, almighty, eternal God. It is not a simple gospel, but the simple choice is yours. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org