BUT WHAT IF I DON’T BELIEVE THE GOSPEL IS FOR ME?
A person can sit in church his whole life and not believe a pastor’s preachments are directed at him. Sure, God’s Word of Law waves a gnarled, arthritic finger in his face. Absolutely, the unseasoned pulpiteer’s exhortations about the “Christian life” prick up his ears, and stirs his heart. But, God’s Word of Gospel? The Father’s promise that Jesus’ work—His bloody suffering and death on a cross—is “for you”? “No,” he says, “the intended target of God’s grace has got to be the person next to me, or that guy over there, or that woman in the pew in front of me. Not me. Not after the week I’ve had. I didn’t do anything to earn it, and I sure haven’t done enough in my mess of a life to deserve almighty God’s giving me any ‘Good News.'”
So, what do we do when someone doesn’t believe God’s promise of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation is for him? What do we do when a family member or friend says, “I know that the Gospel is FOR YOU, but I just can’t believe it’s for me, too.”?
We can’t load him into a time machine to send him back to the manger, or the upper room at Passover, or the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection. There’s no way to get back there, to get back to Jesus, for him or us. What happened on Good Friday occurred without God asking our opinion on His choice of centuries. God certainly didn’t gives us any way to sit on a beach and eat some roasted fish with Jesus. Then Jesus ascended into the heavens and no one saw Him anymore. So now what? Jesus is “at the right hand of God the Father in glory.”
Jesus is back there some two thousand years ago. Or, Jesus is up in heaven. For many Christians, maybe even most Christians, the fact that Jesus died for our sin, rose from death for our justification, ascended into heaven and will “return in glory to judge both the living and the dead” is enough to satisfy their day-to-day need for comfort and hope. But, what about the person who needs more? What about the person who needs Jesus now, in the present tense, present for him as more than just a historical character who appeared, exited stage left, and will return sometime in the far future? Where does a despairing Christian go for comfort? Where is his hope when he’s hopeless that God has any Good News for him?
The good news is that we don’t have to go back to Bethlehem or Calvary to receive all the benefits of Jesus’ work for our salvation. We just have to go to where He says He is most definitely present for us. We just have to go to where He gifts us His body and His blood.
For the person who can’t believe the words spoken from a pulpit are good news for him, too, God’s Word poured into his mouth is the tangible Gospel, a concrete statement that God is most certainly there, present for him, for the forgiveness of all his sin, to breathe new life into him, and to deliver the hope of eternal Salvation to him.
Jesus’ body and blood poured into his mouth is God’s sure, certain promise that not only is the individual Christian the target of the Father’s Good News FOR YOU, but that Christian is also a member of Christ’s body. He’s in, not on the outside looking in at the communion of saints. He’s bodied and bloodied into a comfort and hope that surpass all human understanding.
But how? Why? Because Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh, says so: “This is my body… This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sin… Do this…” There’s no more certain, present tense, FOR YOU Good News than that!
For a person who doubts whether the Gospel is for him, when it’s poured into his mouth, gushes down his throat, and burns in his belly, there’s no more doubting he’s the object of God’s limitless love in Christ Jesus.
We don’t have to go back to Golgotha to receive Jesus’ salvific work for us. We don’t have to stand under the shadow of the cross to be drenched by the sin-covering blood that flows from Jesus’ side. We just go to His table come Sunday. He speaks to us there, and with His speaking He makes the Gospel tangible for us. A concrete certainty in the present tense. That’s because the FOR YOU-ness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always present tense. Always a flood of grace gushing from the altar to a Christian’s mouth and up to eternal life.
“This is my body given for you… This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins… Do this…”
One little word – “is” – to give us Jesus and two more words – “for you” – to give us forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.
For the Christian who doubts, and the Christian who doesn’t doubt, there’s no more sure Gospel than that!