Have you ever been reading a book from the library or a bookstore and discovered a page missing? How about a whole chapter or section? I’ve found many older books suffer this condition. They’ve been well-used, or handled a bit too recklessly, taken for granted; and somewhere along their path, a group of pages tore from the binding and vanished. It wasn’t necessarily that the readers didn’t enjoy or appreciate the story; they just didn’t recognize how important the loss could be. When you’ve encountered books like this, how enjoyable are they to read? Inexorably, the missing portions are critical to the plot, or contain some essential pieces of character background on which the whole story hinges. Tough to finish a story like that, let alone have it stir your heart. Some may still read it, especially if they are persuaded to believe the most important parts are still intact and ignore the subtle hinting that more is available, that something important is missing.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the story of our redemption, our restoration at God’s hand. In the Bible, there are many chapters, even volumes, bursting with suspense, romance and danger. Each tale builds on the others, with a tender, powerful thread throughout, binding truth to love and nuancing a full image of God’s heart. Facets of his personality are seen everywhere, subtle and bold, but the climactic part of the plot is also the main character: Jesus. If I were to dare describe the indispensable components of this climactic chapter we call the gospel, they would be three: The cross, the resurrection and the ascension. Climactic because they are the harvest of God’s planting since before Creation; indispensable, because if any of the three is absent, the result renders the message of good news either invalid or immaterial.
If we have only Jesus’ death on the cross, the gospel is immaterial, since many men have given their lives in service to others in history without accomplishing eternal salvation for any, let alone all. Even if this first truth relies on the fact that Jesus was without sin, unchanged is its companion – he still died. His death offers no hope by itself, because, while He may have died in my place, this Jesus evidently did not conquer death.
If we have Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is certainly hope for eternal life; he ultimately defeated death, and so we can hope for the same destination, based on his promises to us while on earth. But this holds little promise for the days, months, perhaps years between now and our last, and having only these can even hinder living according to his word. With just these two truths, we are hopeful but still left as orphans for this period of time, despite what Jesus promised in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Can the one who died for me and was raised to life lie? No, and this leads to an inevitable and errant conclusion: I must have misunderstood what he meant. Thus have too many Christians and congregations begun a desperate contortion of truth and experienced the bleeding away of salvation’s power.
If we have all three – Jesus’ death in our place, his resurrection to life and his ascension to the Father – then we discover the complete gospel. Father broke his own heart with Jesus’ death to pay for my sin – past, present and future. He joyfully raised Jesus to display supremacy over even death, the most final of human frailties. And Jesus ascended to the Father to begin fulfilling his remaining promises. The first of these? To send the Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who guides us “into all the truth.” (John 16:13)
The Holy Spirit helps us understand the fullness of God’s word, showing the best path when our compass is overwhelmed. He prays directly to Father’s heart our deepest, most desperate needs when we just can’t form coherent thoughts, let alone words. He reveals a little more each day of God’s personality, his purity, his grand, longing, joyful love for us! Psalm 32:7 encourages he will surround us “with shouts of deliverance!” Here is where his joy and ours are fulfilled; here is where we find true intimacy, connection with the heart of him who made us.
The truth is, we need all of him. Part of the book only offers part of the story – only partial freedom, partial restoration. It takes all of him to free us, all of him to transform us. And he offers all of himself, without reservation, to anyone. Even me. Even you.