Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Heart of the Gospel ~ by Ruth

One dark midnight about a year and a half ago, in our home in a small town in Central African Republic, I woke up to find myself bleeding profusely. I had gone through a
miscarriage several weeks earlier, but something further was clearly going wrong now. There was nothing we could do to stop the bleeding. My husband rushed me into town to try to find help, but by that time I didn't have energy left to stand or even sit. So as we waited outside a gate of a French doctor, I was lying on the ground on my back, still bleeding. My hands and legs felt light.

I have often wondered how I'll feel when it comes to the moment of dying. Will I be afraid? Is it possible that at that point, the love of God will overwhelm me and all my fears and doubts will subside? It seems like in normal everyday life it's impossible to shake completely free of worries, doubts, fears. What if this happens? What about that? Many times before, I had wondered how I might feel when really faced with the end of my life on this earth.

Lying on my back under that dark sky, looking up at billions of stars, I realized that this could be it. Miles away from anywhere I could get a blood transfusion. Nobody there who actually could halt what was happening to me. Nobody, humanly speaking.

But I looked up at the stars and thought of Abraham, so long ago, looking up at the stars. About God promising him that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars he gazed at in that vast expanse. I’m one of those children. One of them, looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.

And I remembered a phrase from Psalm 23: even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. 

The French doctor in our small town couldn't do anything to help me. So we headed out to the missionary-run hospital in another town. Many words of comfort came to my mind in the hours that followed, as my husband drove me along the long, bumpy road to the hospital.

The Lord is my Shepherd.
  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. Neither shall anyone pluck them out of my hands.

And I did not feel afraid. I even felt a strange sense of happiness coming over me as I lay in the back of the truck, looking out the window at the stars all along that road. I knew I was hearing the voice of the good Shepherd, and that I belong to Him. I was at peace. Thank you, Jesus.

So what was it that could give me such deep peace, even joy, at a time when I was facing the possibility of death? That secret lies in the truth of the Gospel. Gospel literally means “good news.” And what is this good news? The entirety of the Bible weaves a story of God’s love which tells us what that “good news” is, but the heart of the Gospel’s “good news” can be summed up in this one beautiful verse:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

Let’s unpack that verse a little to get at the heart of the Gospel:

For God has not destined us for wrath…” We are sinful by our human nature, and furthermore, we have chosen to disobey God’s commands and go our own way. Every one of us deserves eternal separation from God, and deserves His wrath as punishment for our sins. BUT, this wrath is not the destiny God has chosen for us!

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…” God loved us too much to leave us to a destiny of eternal wrath. He wanted us to be with Him. But for us to be reconciled to Him, God had to make a great sacrifice. He gave Jesus to die, taking the punishment due our sin, so that we could justly receive Jesus’ perfect righteousness and stand before God unashamed. Thanks to God’s loving plan and Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, we can obtain salvation—eternal life with Him—instead of the wrath we deserve.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” God’s beautiful destiny for us is that we might belong to Him, and live with Him, forever—both in this earthly life and (in a far greater, richer way!) beyond the grave.

As John described it, “…to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

By receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior, yielding your life to Him, and believing on His name, we become children of God. We are His forever. I pray that today you will rest fully on Jesus’ death and life that accomplished salvation on your behalf. You can belong to Him now, and forever. That is the heart of the Gospel—good news indeed!

I am the Lord’s! O joy beyond expression,
  O sweet response to voice of love Divine;
Faith’s joyous “Yes” to the assuring whisper,
  “Fear not! I have redeemed thee; thou art Mine!”

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