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Not Just a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

As most of you know, we have a good number of serious board game fanatics in our congregation – and I think I would probably count as one of them. I don’t know exactly how many table games we have at home, but I know we have over 50 anyway.

But my family has always play a lot of board games. When I was a kid, games like Sorry and the Farming Game and Stock Ticker were all favourites at our house. We spent a lot of hours playing those games. And Stock Ticker was one of those games that didn’t have a definite ending, so my brothers and I would often play the same continuous game of Stock Ticker for a week or more – pausing for meals and chores and sleeping, and whatever else… We’d pull out the 2 litre bottles of root beer, and we’d settle in for hours and hours of playing stock ticker!

And of course, we’d also play – probably the most famous board game of all time – monopoly! Now I know that board games aren’t everybody’s thing – but I’m guessing that just about everyone here has played at least one game of monopoly at some point in their life. Is there anyone here who has never played a single game of monopoly?

Well, monopoly is so famous that even if you haven’t played the game – you can probably quote some of the cards you’d draw in the game.

For example – let’s see if you can finish the phrase: There’s one card that says, “Go directly to _______, do not pass ______. Do not collect __________.

Or how about this one – this one’s probably the most famous of all: Get out of Jail, __________.

The “get out of jail free” card was the card that everybody wanted. Everybody wanted the option to exit that jail in the corner of the board without paying the fine… And hopefully, have a chance to land on free parking.

But you know, even though this was probably the most coveted card in the game, it wasn’t really all that valuable. The cost to get out of jail was only $50, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I mean, $50 was something, but it was hardly a game changer! It’s not like it would really make a difference as to who would ultimately win the game.

Now if the parker brothers had really wanted to make a valuable card, they could had made the “Get out of jail free” card come with some extra benefits. Maybe like giving you a bonus $1000 each time you passed “Go” or maybe a free hotel on each of your properties. Or maybe let you send your opponents to jail at will. If the “Get out of jail free” card could do all that, well, THAT would be a game changer! But then, I guess then the focus of the game would likely change to be all about getting that card, instead of playing the rest of the game… So I guess the Parker Brother’s knew what they were doing…

But I bring this all up, because I think a lot of people treat Christianity like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. For a lot of people, if you asked them why they became a Christian, they would say it was because they wanted to go to heaven. 

And of course, that’s not bad reason. I know I am certainly looking forward to one day being with Jesus in Heaven. But is that really all there is to our Salvation? Is Christianity really just the $50 get out of jail free card so that we can escape hell and make it to heaven one day?

And if it was, of course, it would still be totally worth it – but what if our salvation came with a whole lot more? What if Christianity was meant to be a total game changer right here and right now – not just some day later in eternity? Just like, if the “get out of jail free” card really did come with the $1000 bonus each round or a hotel on every property or the ability to send your opponents to jail at will – that would be a total game changer!

What if Christianity was meant to be equally, radically, life-changing – right here – right now?

For the last couple of months I’ve been pondering this very question.

We often talk about ‘sharing the good news’ with others. This is one of our main purposes as a church or as Christians. We’re to share the good news with others. But what exactly is the good news? Is the good news just the promise of heaven? (Which certainly is good enough, but is there even more to it than just that?)

And I certainly don’t want to down-play how awesome and amazing it is that we have the promise of a glorious, future life in heaven, but what if we are missing out today on what God intended for us when He invited us to follow Him and be his disciples?

What if there is a lot more good in the good news than what we’ve accepted? What if God has some amazing ‘good’ for us in this life right here and now… more than just the distant hope of one day going to heaven some day later when we die?

Well, that’s what I want to look at the for the next few weeks.

What Good is the Gospel?

I’m convinced that it’s more than just a ‘get out of jail free’ card. I don’t think God intended our faith to be merely a life insurance policy – something where the benefits only kick in after you die… As I read the Scriptures, it seems that God wants us to benefit from the Gospel today! We can experience the life-changing power of good news before we die!

So over the next few weeks I’d like us to explore what the Gospel is all about. What exactly is it that God is offering us? What is it that Jesus Christ made possible for us by dying and rising to life again? What does it really mean for us to be a Christian – to be born again? To be His disciple? And certainly our future life in eternity is key part of that – but in addition to that, what difference does the Gospel make in our life today?

I don’t know if you’ve put much thought into those questions or not, but those are some questions that have been tumbling around in my brain recently. So I’m really looking forward to exploring these questions with you over the next few weeks.

And as we examine those questions, I think we’ll all rediscover the goodness of good news – the goodness of the Gospel.

Let me begin with a question: let’s say that as you’re leaving the church building after the service today, some guy happens to be walking along and he sees you exiting the church. So he comes up to you and says “I hear that you Christians are going around telling people some good news. Well, all I ever hear is bad news, so I’m curious – what’s the good news?”

How would you respond to that? Would you even have an answer? Could you, in just a few sentences, summarize the good news?

If not, I’m glad you’re here today because Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15….

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15b NIV

If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you have at least some level of understand of what the good news is all about, but can you articulate that? Can you give an answer to someone who might ask you for the reason for the hope that you have? Could you explain to someone what the good news is all about?

Think about it this way: I know most of us don’t get our news from the newspaper any more, but if the good news was on the front page of the newspaper – what would the headline be? Most newspaper headlines are usually between 2 – 7 words. Could you summarize the good news in a two to seven word statement?

I tried this with my son Ben this week and his headline was this:  “Jesus died for you.” 

Not a bad answer – especially for a 12 year old. But let’s take a look to see what the Scriptures say.

Now there are a lot of passages that we could look at that summarize the Gospel, but I think Paul gives us a good clear headline in 1 Corinthians 15, so let’s go there first.

Just to give us the context, I’ll start at verse 1 and go all the way down to verse 8. And then we’ll come back and narrow it down to the main points. So starting in verse 1, Paul writes…

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. 

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Now that’s little longer than a headline, but still it’s a pretty concise summary. Paul gives us four key elements – four key facts that Paul says make up the good news.

Starting at verse 3, Paul says….

1.) Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.  2.) He was buried, 3.) and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said 4.) After that, he was seen by many different people on many different occasions. 

Those are the four key, historically-documented, facts of the good news.

But if that’s all that we knew about the Gospel, if all we read was the headline – I think we’d probably have no idea what was so good about the good news. Sure, it’s pretty cool that some guy died and came back to life again some 2000 years ago – but what does that have to do with you and I? What impact does that make on our lives today?

Well, that’s where the rest of Scripture comes in. We can’t just read the headline, we have to read the whole article.

It’s like if I came up to you and exclaimed – “Hey, guess what? I’ve got some great news! My mother-in-law is coming to visit!”

Now without any further context, (And depending on your relationship with your mother-in-law), you might question why that would be good news!

But if, for example, I hadn’t talked to my mother-in-law for 20 years, but now we were finally coming together to making amends, you would then understand why it would be good news that she was coming to visit.

In the same way, if we don’t understand the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what it means for us, we’re going to have a really hard time understanding why the Gospel is such good news.

So let’s take a quick look at WHY those four facts of the Gospel are good news. And most of this won’t be new information for you. This is pretty basic stuff – but its important that we lay this as our foundation. We’ll start digging into these a lot deeper in the weeks to come, but here are the basics.

Here’s the first reason why the Gospel is such good news.

#1. Jesus’ death paid the price for our sin

Romans 6:23 tells us quite plainly….

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This is the bad news that makes the good news so good! All of us have sinned. I’m sure all of us can list many ways that we’ve disobey God and his Word. Not only do we actively do things in defiance of God and in defiance of his will and in defiance of his character, but right from birth, we are all naturally inclined to be put ourselves in God’s position of authority – and to resist and rebel against God. And as this verse so plainly put it – the wages (or the consequences) of sin is death. Not just physical death, but the complete eternal separation from God and all of his goodness.

But out of His great love for us, God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ – to die on the cross – effectively taking the punishment for our sins upon himself.

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

As a result, we have the free gift of eternal life – if we so choose to accept it. This is the ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ of Christianity that we talked about earlier. Without Jesus dying on the cross in our place, we would still be deserving our wages of death. We would deserve to be separated from God and everything good for eternity in place described by the Bible as hell.

But because Jesus died for us, we can receive the ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ card, as it were. Romans 10:9 says…

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. Romans 10:9-10

Salvation truly is a free and wonderful gift from God. But like I said at the beginning – even as amazing as it is that we can be spared the punishment that we deserve, that’s not all there is to our salvation. There’s more! 

The second reason why the good news is so good, and that is…

#2. Death and sin are both defeated.

There’s a verse in 1 Corinthians 15… Verse 55 & 56 that says this:

55 O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-56

We’re actually going to talk a lot more about this in the weeks to come. 

While I think most Christians have the understanding that Jesus defeated death by rising again from the grave – and because of that we have the hope of our own future resurrection – but I think one element that we often overlook is that when Jesus defeated death, he also defeated sin. He gives us victory over sin – we are no longer slaves to our sinful inclinations. Romans 6:6 tells us…

6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.  Romans 6:6-7

And this isn’t a promise that we only receive once we’ve died and gone to heaven – We are set free from the power of sin today! We can actually live the good lives that we want to live – the lives that God created us to live. All those things that enslaved us before—our old habits, our rebellious nature, our self?destructive behaviour, our anger and bitterness—when we come to Christ, those things no longer have the same power over us.

This freedom from sin totally changes our lives. And we’re going to talk much more about that in the weeks to come.

But that takes us into the third reason why the good news is such good news. Now that our sin is dealt with and that barrier that kept us from God was removed, now….

#3. God lives within us.

Paul writes in Romans 8:11…

11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. Romans 8:11

I don’t know if you’ve every really thought about that, but what a concept! The Almighty God who created the universe lives in you! And that’s really been God’s desire all along. God wants to be with us. That’s why Jesus was called Emmanuel – it means “God with us”. That’s why in Revelation we get a glimpse of that future time when God has completed his work of restoring his good Creation, and we read in Revelation 21:3…

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3-4

That’s God’s ultimate goal – to be with His people whom he loves – living with them in joy and peace and happiness. I can hardly wait –  But until that day, God has sent His Holy Spirit to live within each one of us right now – giving us His power, his wisdom, his strength, and everything that we need to live good and godly lives.

Having the Holy Spirit living within us now is almost like sneak peak of heaven, right? We’re never alone. We have God’s presence with us day and night. We can talk to Him anytime we want – We have access to his power and his wisdom and his guidance. It’s pretty awesome!

And that leads us into the fourth reason why the good news is such good news.

#4. Our lives have meaning and purpose.

After Jesus had died and rose again – and after he appeared many times to many people, He promised his disciples that he was going to send the Holy Spirit – just like we talked about. And the Holy Spirit was going to give them power to do something. God had a job for them. In Acts 1:8 we read:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Jesus gave his disciples a job to do that would have eternal impact. They were to tell people everyone about Jesus – how he died and was buried and rose again and then appeared to many people. They were to share the good news. And their lives would make an eternal difference.

And I think all of us want to make difference. Nobody wants to live a meaningless life – A purposeless life. We want our lives to mean something and to have significance. And because of Jesus Christ – they do. Ephesians 2:10 says…

10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

Like those first disciples, God has a job for us to do. Since before he created the world, He has been planning for us to do certain good things with our lives. Before we came to Christ, when we lived in rebellion against Him, we were not doing those good things. We might have had our own ‘good things’ that we were doing – but none of them had eternal purpose or meaning. None of those ‘good things’ were the reason that God created us.

But now, empowered & led by the Holy Spirit – our lives can be jam packed full of purpose and meaning. We can serve our Creator and do exactly what He created us to do. And of course, the specifics will be different for all of us because he has created us all unique and he has different things for us all to do.

But the bottom line is that through Christ – and only because of his death and resurrection – can we fulfill our purpose in life.

And I realize that we’re almost out of time for today, and I feel like we’ve only just touched on these topics, but I hope that you’re beginning to see that there is a lot more good in the ‘good news’ than just going to heaven one day. And by no means have we covered all the bases! What we’ve talked about so far is just a sampling… The good news really is a total game changer! It changes your life completely – and it starts immediately. No waiting until you die and go to heaven. The Gospel changes things now.

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