Newsletter April, 2001

APRIL, 2001

The Heart of The Gospel

Outside the bedroom window, on that silk cotton tree, the robin used to come every morning, early enough to chirp away my dream. These days as the weather gets warmer, the bird seems to have disappeared in a rush to make me worry about her whereabouts.

The young seminary student who was usually loaded with questions seems to have disappeared quickly. In our last conversation, when just returned from his class, depressed and frustrated, he drove to the point by asking, "I grew up in the church and have always wanted to be a minister. Now I have taken all these classes, but please tell me straight and simple, what is the heart of the whole matter?"

How would you answer such a question from such a young man?

May be the 23rd Psalm: the Lord is my shepherd? Or we may like to discuss the great teachings of forgiveness, prayer, grace, covenant or good deeds? Thumbing through the bulky volume of the Bible we can quote the famous passages such as John 3:16, Matt 11:28, I Cor 13, II Tim 3:16 or I Peter 2:9, and recite all the do's-and-don'ts, do we yet touch on the heart of the matter?

"Before your eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified" (Gal. 3:1). Suddenly, a glorious picture stands out to present all the truth with sublimed clarity. The ancient sign of the cross, the story that never grew old: Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again!

Paul said, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (I Cor. 15:3-4). No more, nor less, only the cross of Calvary stands as a shining jewel among the mile-markers of history, stating simply and clearly the whole matter.

On the Cross Jesus identified with all the sufferings of the human race. His resurrection brought eternal hope to all that despair. The historians critiqued the cross, the archeologists examined it, the philosophers analyzed it, the scientists doubted it, the religious glittered it and the zealous idolized it. But no one can ever ignore it. That old tree (Act 5:30) cried out the loudest in the stream of time; the carpenter on that tree declared that He is the Son of the living God. He came to swallow up death and defeat the ruler of the power of death (Hebrew 2:10, 14).

Paul also declared that this is the gospel he preached. The Corinthians could receive and stand on it for salvation. He said, "of first importance", the most important, the fundamental, the heart of our faith, the crystallized gospel message!

Would the robin return again next spring? I pray that the young student would come back soon, so we can talk about the desolated tree standing on a hill outside Jerusalem on that windy April day. Let me refresh for him the last words the sacrificing Savior uttered on the cross. I'd like to remind him of the stumbling of Peter, the helplessness of Pilate, the loyalty of John and the shame of Mark. Not to forget that, on that foggy morning in the garden, there were the empty tomb, the appearing angels and the risen Christ in His glory!


The Manger, The Cross, and Resurrection 

Two thousand years ago Jesus came from heaven to be born in a manger, thus began His suffering life on this earth. Why did the heavenly Father plan such a sorrowful life for His only begotten Son? Today what was there to benefit us here?

The mystery of the manger can only be explained by the reality of the cross, and vice versa. Without the cross the manger was nothing but a blink of happy moment. Without the beginning at the manger there would be no meaning of the cross. Jesus was born for the cross. He came to suffer as we suffer, and to die on the cross in the place of us the sinners. He alone drank the bitter cup of the cross, not just the whip, the nails, not only the shame, the desertion, but the judgement of the righteous God and the separation from the loving Father.

Why did He have to die on the cross?

The gospel records showed that Jesus foresaw His death before Jerusalem and repeated warned the disciples of it. The religious authority was against Him, and the Old Testament prophesized with certainty. But by His own choice He walked to the cross, as He indicated to His own, for it is the will of the Father. "I came for this cause", said He. The manger was for the fulfillment of the work of the Father at the cross.

Through the cross of Jesus Christ God Himself took the place on the cross for us, bearing the death that was due us. Then we can be accepted by God, received into His house with a new relationship as sons, overcoming the power of sin and death.

Jesus knew the cruelty of the death of the cross. He showed that it was an integral part of the life of Messiah, the suffering, the death and the resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, He reminded them, "was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26)

Thanks be to God, for the story of redemption did not stop at the cross, otherwise the death would be the end. No wonder that people eat and drink and be merry, for they see nothing beyond the tomb. But God has exalted Jesus on high through the glory of resurrection and seated Him on the right hand of the Father. "For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Act 4:12). In the opening pages of Revelation He was presented as the first-born of the dead: dead but, behold, "living forever more" (Rev. 1:18).

The empty tomb reveals the true meaning of the manger.

In the shadow of the cross, Lord Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Him three times. Someone as sincere and strong as Peter, how could he deny Jesus? But the devil is indeed aiming all the time at those who love the Lord. Whenever we are not alert, easily we fall into the enemy's trap. Thank God that Jesus knew the devil's scheme and prayed for Peter so that he would not lose his faith.

Why didn't Jesus simply pray and deliver Peter from the temptation? We know that without testing of our faith we will not grow and the impurity in our lives will not be removed as dross. Peter did fail the Lord. When Jesus turned to look at him, he went out to weep bitterly. Perhaps in his own opinion, and in ours also, that he could never return to the Lord and was of no use anymore.

Praise be to God, for He did not forget Peter. As soon He was risen from the dead, he sent words to Peter via the women at the tomb. He appeared to Peter, comforted him and restored him. Peter was totally transformed by the risen Lord so he could later confirm others who might be tempted and failed in a similar way (Luke 22:31-34).


That same afternoon Jesus joined the two disciples who left Jerusalem for Emmaus. On the way they appeared sad as they discussed what happened those last three days in the city. Their hope of redemption was in this man Jesus of Nazareth, but He was crucified by the chief priest and the officials. They did not know what to do now.

Jesus rebuked them for their ignorance and little faith, because they did not understand the words of the prophets. So He explained the scriptures to them, pointing out that Christ was to suffer then entered into His glory (Luke 24:26). It is the way of Messiah the King that He should first suffer the cross then reign in His glory.

In the village of Emmaus He abode with them. As they broke the bread, the disciples' eyes were open. Recognizing the Lord, they rushed back to Jerusalem in spite of the distant travel in the late hours. They reported to the apostles that the Lord was risen! Alas, the suffering of the cross did not defeat the Messiah. Instead He overcame with the divine power of resurrection, and employed the cross as His means for the redemption of mankind.