September 23, 1990
“You don’t seriously believe that, do you?” This question can stymie the well-intentioned evangelist if we are not clear about the message of the Gospel and confident about its validity. Alistair Begg reviews the essential facts of the Gospel, which may vary in presentation but should always remain consistent in content. It is imperative to have a solid grasp of these foundational truths before we can expect any meaningful response to our efforts.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We are in the foundational building blocks of a study in evangelism—not only personal evangelism but also the opportunities of evangelism that present themselves to a local church that are uniquely ours, and we’ll come to them. But we’ve said that we’ll spend the first four weeks—and tonight is the third—on the theology of evangelism before we come to the practice of evangelism. And tonight, we’re going to take time to understand our message. And again, I make no apology for the fact that much of this is repetitive for some, but those of us who find ourselves in that category must recognize that it is not repetitive for others. And in order to be an encouragement to some, we will need to patient.
I hope that you received an outline tonight. I haven’t seen any. Did you? All right. That’s good. And I believe that printed right at the top of it is the statement, precis, from John Stott’s book Our Guilty Silence, in which he suggests that one of the reasons for the silence of the church is “because we [either] lack … a thorough knowledge of the gospel,” the good news, “or a conviction about its truth or both.” And then he says, “There can be no evangelism without an evangel, no mission without a message.”
And he quotes a Buddhist monk who said, “It looks as if Christianity has reached the stage in adolescence when the child is slightly ashamed of his father and embarrassed when talking about him.” And those of us who are young enough to remember that adolescent phase of seeing our fathers coming down the street, being with a group of friends from school and wondering, well, which manhole into which we can possibly crawl, because the strangest man in the world is about to walk down the street—namely, our dad. And the Buddhist monk was suggesting that perhaps that’s how Christians feel about their heavenly Father.
And so it’s vitally important that we have a solid grasp of the essential facts of the gospel, which must be declared before we might expect or anticipate any kind of meaningful response.
And so, first of all, we’re going to notice the essential facts about Jesus, beginning to note that the central truth of the good news is Christ himself. And we read from Colossians 1:28, where Paul says, “We proclaim him.” And as foundational as it may be to some, it is not to be overlooked that our responsibility in going out into the world is not to commend ourselves, not to commend our brand of Christian understanding, but it is to commend and to present Jesus—that we who have become his followers would seek to see others join with him also.
Secondly, we want to notice that Christ’s purpose in coming into the world and in dying upon the cross was to save sinners. Now, again, that is very, very important. Because people want to believe that Jesus came into the world to show us that God was very gracious and very loving (and, of course that is true), to show us that God cared (and, of course, that is also true). But we cannot understand nor can we proclaim the coming of Jesus, invading the time-space capsule of our planet, unless we move directly to the truth that Jesus came as a Savior for sin. And there, of course, in Matthew 1 and in Luke 2 we have the accounts that we’ve referred to before: that “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And in the verse that we may not be most familiar with and probably should turn it up just for the discipline of it, in 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul affirms, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” So when we’re talking about Jesus, when we’re seeking to proclaim him, the Jesus that we proclaim is the Jesus who came into the world as the Savior of sinners.
Also it’s important that we realize that Christ’s coming and death were no accident but were part of God’s eternal plan. We saw that in our study of 1 Peter; that’s why I’ve noted 1 Peter 1:20. We’ve seen it also as we’ve turned time and again to Acts chapter 2, where Peter in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost wants to make his listeners aware of the fact that God did not somehow come up with Jesus to correct a defect in a system that had taken him by surprise, but rather that from all of eternity—if we can understand it in this way—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit entered into a relationship with one another whereby they decided who was going to do what, and it was determined amongst them that Jesus Christ would come and would die, and that would be according to the eternal purposes of God.
Fourthly, Christ’s resurrection—and you can see we’re just moving through here from his coming and the purpose of his coming and then his death to his resurrection—Christ’s resurrection was the Father’s declaration of Christ as his Son and evidence of his satisfaction with the work of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus Christ not only declared him to be the person that he claimed to be, not only allowed him the opportunity of coming back to his discouraged disciples, but made it perfectly plain that God the Father was satisfied with the work of atonement, and so he raised him from the dead and declared this for all, so much so that when Paul writes in his opening verses of the book of Romans, he says of Jesus that he was “as to his human nature … a descendent of David, and … through the Spirit of holiness was declared”—hence the word declaration in this statement—“was declared with power to be the Son of God by [the] resurrection from the dead.”
And that it why it is very, very important that in our attempts to proclaim Jesus Christ (and we’ll come to this another evening, but just in passing), if you want—and I’ve said this many times before—but if you want to get to the real nuts and bolts of the issue with people, you must learn, we must learn a solid grasp of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; that we must become well-versed in the apologetics of that. And that is simply to say that we must become good at reasoning in the defense of the truth that Jesus Christ is actually alive from the dead and, affirming and doing so, that Jesus was declared in manifest power to be the person that he had said he was by the very fact that in his resurrection, his Father was saying, “That is my Son, and what he has done is all that I desired.”
Now, added to that, we need not only to understand the essential facts about Jesus, but we need to know the essential facts about the unconverted. What is true about people who don’t know Jesus? Because if we’re going to take to them the news of a doctor, we better know the condition that they have. For it would be silly to send the doctor to somebody who isn’t sick. And, of course, that was one of the explanations that Jesus gave to the Pharisees.
First of all, Ephesians 2:1 tells us clearly that those of our friends and neighbors who are unconverted are dead—doesn’t sound very nice—in trespasses and sins. And we labored this last Sunday evening, and so I don’t want to beat on it again, but I don’t want us to miss the fact that those to whom we go to declare the message of Jesus as the one who has come according to God’s eternal plan, who has died as the Savior of sinners, who has been raised to new life in a declaration of God’s satisfaction with his work is the only answer to the death dilemma which confronts men and women tonight. The notion that all men are simply spiritually alive and don’t know it is an untruth. That somehow they are all latently tuned in, and they’ve all actually become recipients of divine cable, as it were—they’re all wired for it, and just all you need to do is go and tell them, “Hey, you’re wired. Did you know that?”—is not what the Bible says. The Bible says is that they are wired, but they’re wired the wrong way round, and they need to be completely rewired—and, indeed, the wiring that’s in is going to have to be destroyed and a complete new set of wiring put in place, for the wires that are intuitively theirs are in the wrong direction.
So, they’re dead in their trespasses and in their sins, and at the same time, their unbelieving minds are blinded. By whom? By Satan. “Well, you don’t believe in Satan, do you, for goodness’ sakes?” says somebody. Yes, we do. “Why?” Because the Bible said so. Because Jesus was tempted by him. Because Scripture is replete with the notion that there is one who is the prince of the power of the air.
And 2 Corinthians 4:4 makes this truth perfectly clear. Turn to it for just a moment. Let’s read it: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This takes us back to last Sunday night, when you think it out. That’s why we started by saying we need to be clear as to what God alone can do and therefore understand what we cannot do. And if men and women are blinded by Satan and we cannot make them see, then only God may vanquish the work of Satan in their lives and bring light into their darkness.
Also, thirdly and simply, in one word, they are lost.
Now, I don’t suggest tomorrow morning that you go into work and say, “Hey, by the way, last night we were learning a number of things about you, George. And if you could grab a cup of coffee and come in the supply room over here, I wanna lay them on you. One: you are dead. Did you know that, George?”
George says, “Well, I’ll tell you, I had a rough night, and I don’t feel that great, but I don’t think I’m dead.”
“Yes, you are. You’re dead in your trespasses.”
“My trespasses, huh?” And so we go.
No, we’re not discovering this tonight so that we can go out and lay this on the people. We are understanding this tonight so we can get on our knees for Cleveland, for our offices, for the lawyers that work next-door to me, both sets of them. They are walking dead men! And they’re lost. They can find their way around the Cuyahoga map, but spiritually, they are lost. They’re lost naturally, they are lost helplessly, and they are lost willfully. That’s why Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” and the Good Shepherd came seeking to save them that were lost.
Fourthly, they are the what of sin? Slaves. That’s it. John : slaves of sin. Why are we the way we are?
Okay, so essential facts about Jesus. Essential facts about the unconverted. Thirdly, we need to ask the question: What are the benefits that are promised by the gospel? We’re going to go, and we’re going to share this good news. And somebody says, “Well, you know, what’s it all about? What does it do, you know? What happens?” And you see, it’s God by his Spirit that makes that happen in somebody’s life, that they even want to ask the question. So that ought to be an encouragement.
There was a little boy here this morning, a Down syndrome child, who, as he walked out—he sat through the whole service—and as he walked out, he asked the person who held his hand, “Why did Jesus die?” He has a mental age of under five. By the way, I think he’s thirteen years old. And he wanted to talk to the man who talked. And he came to talk to me. And I tried to explain to him that Jesus was a gift. And so I gave him my pen knife, and I explained that as he took my pen knife, so he could take Jesus. “What will happen?” “Well, you’ll go to heaven.” He gave me the pen knife straight back. “I don’t want to go to heaven!” he said. ’Cause he thought he had to go right away.
But the amazing thing for me was this: that in a message that, frankly, I couldn’t understand part of it myself, and I was preaching it, here is a child who comes out asking the question, “Why did Jesus Christ die?” Now, I want to tell you something: that’s God by his Spirit, in a tiny mind, asking that question. The natural man couldn’t give a monkey’s ear as to why Jesus Christ died.
Oh, you see, we make our God too narrow by false limits of our own. And the benefits of the gospel, promised, are these: reconciliation with God; secondly, justification. (These are a series all on their own.) We’ve got a big debit in our bank balance, we say to our friends. But somebody at work says, “You know what, Al? This is a great deal. I like the news, but you know what? Nobody ever messed up as much as me. I mean, I’m so badly in the hole that I could never get out.” Oh, well, we’re going to tell them all about justification. We’re going to tell them all about the fact that God not only wipes the slate clean, but he credits our account with so much that we could never ever stand helpless before God again.
Thirdly, deliverance from condemnation. Do you know how many people wander the streets feeling absolutely condemned? They may put on a good front. They may say they’re happy in what they do. But their conscience bugs them, and they live condemned lives. They live under a sentence of death. It’s good news to tell them that one of the benefits of the gospel is not only that they’re reconciled to God, justified by faith through God’s grace, but they’re liberated from condemnation.
Fourthly—and this is all that has happened to us if we’re in Christ—we’re given the privilege of belonging to the people of God. We no longer have to live alone. We no longer have to wander empty streets. Membership in the family of God. So, to the lonely people we go, the people who have found themselves friendless.
Sixthly, the benefit of the gospel lies in the gift of the Holy Spirit. “[Nobody] can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ [but] by the Holy Spirit.” If we haven’t got the Spirit of God, then we are none of him.
Seventhly, that we’re given the privilege and the benefit of eternal life. We talked about that this morning.
And eighthly, the resurrection of the body.
Now, these are all vital things. We could’ve spent a long time on each one of them. Somewhere along the line, there’s a point of contact here with people. A lot of people at the moment are prepared to talk about the notion of living forever. The whole New Age consciousness has created that. And therefore, if we can talk about somebody who conquered death and made it possible for others to conquer it, it’s a hot subject. People may be interested in spiritual things. They may be involved in tarot cards. They may be involved in Ouija boards. They may be involved in some experience of life that is creating a hunger in their hearts. And we get the opportunity to speak to them of the benefits of the gospel. And we’re going to tell them this: that to enter into the benefits of Christ’s work and to know forgiveness and the gift of God’s Spirit and a place in his kingdom, then repentance and open confession of Christ are required.
Here’s the truth about Jesus. Here’s the issue concerning man. Here’s the benefits of the gospel. “So how, then, may a man in my condition enter into the benefits of the gospel on the strength of what you’ve told me Jesus Christ has done?” Answer: by repentance and confession of Christ as Lord and Savior.
And then, finally, we need always to keep in mind William Temple’s statement that “the Gospel is true always and everywhere, or it is not a Gospel at all, or true at all,” and remind one another that it is the presentation of the gospel, and not its content, that changes with time.
The gospel is as relevant in the streets of Cleveland tonight as it was on the streets of Athens when Paul proclaimed it, as we thought in the prayer meeting. It’s as relevant in your office tomorrow as it was in the carpenter’s shop and at the seashore of Galilee amongst the disciples. Those of you who are tax attorneys, it’s as relevant there, for you, as it was for Matthew, involved in the tax business of his day. We don’t need to tamper with its content. We do need to be skillful with its presentation. But the reason I’ve spent tonight doing this, or at least these twenty-six minutes doing this, is to remind us, lest we fall into the pit of believing that the skill and vehemence of our presentation will compensate for a thoroughgoing knowledge of what the message is to be proclaimed.
May I encourage you to take these things, to go back through them, to begin to memorize some of the Scriptures? Because the real value of these evenings is going to be that you, alone with your Bible, one day, in responding to the opportunities around you, will be able to open it up and to trace a line such as we’ve done this evening, in simple terms, letting people know the truth about Jesus, the truth about the condition of man, the benefits of the gospel, and the way that an individual may enter in to those benefits.
Let’s bow together in prayer:
And now, gracious Father, light a spark within our hearts, we pray. Stir us up from potential lethargy and disinterest. Remind us that when we don’t have the opportunity to speak to men about God, that we can speak to you about men. Remind us that we can do more on our knees than we believe and less on our feet than we think. Give to us a thorough longing for a thorough knowledge of the gospel message so that we might be able to proclaim it in humility and in clarity and in sincerity. Open doors of opportunity for us as a congregation scattered throughout the city of Cleveland this week, we pray, that we may turn our learning into living.
Thank you for this day, for your grace and goodness expressed in so many aspects. We commit one another lovingly to your care in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
 John R. W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence (Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1967), 28.
 Douglas Webster, Yes to Mission (New York: Seabury, 1966), 9.
 Matthew 1:21 (paraphrased). See also Luke 2:21.
 See Acts 2:23.
 Romans 1:3–4 (NIV 1984).
 See Ephesians 2:2.
 John 10:11 (NIV 1984).
 See John 8:34.
 1 Corinthians 12:3 (NIV 1984).
 William Temple, Thoughts on Some Problems of the Day: A Charge Delivered at His Primary Visitation (London: Macmillan, 1931), 19.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.