Bad News-Good News:  Part 1

ohn Plunkett
Feast of Tabernacles - Seaside, Oregon
Day 5
October 5, 2012

I am going to start the sermon off today with this question: 

“What Would Jesus Do?” 

This question came from the well-known book “In His Steps.” by Charles Sheldon.  Some have said that the story is based on a true account.  I find it a little on the saccharine-sweet side for my taste; but the concept itself has been unfairly ridiculed by some.  The concept really is a very, very good one: “What would Jesus do?” 

It is not a bad idea for us to ask 
and to keep on askingourselves in various circumstances that we go through: “What would Jesus do?” 

But I often find myself asking an even more important question: “What did Jesus Do?” 

What did Jesus do in general terms during His lifetime?  What did He spend His short adult lifetime doing?  What did He come to earth to do?  What was, as they say in France, His ‘raison d'etre’?  What was His reason for being as a human ?  What do the scriptures say?

John 18:
36:  Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. 
37:  Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then?  Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king.  To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.  Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Jesus said that the very reason He came into this world was to bear witness to the truth. 

What truth is He talking about here?  It is the truth about Him being a King and the truth about His Kingdom.  For this cause He was born as a human being.  He came into the world to bear witness unto the truth about His Kingdom and that He was and isthe King of it. 

Another question: What was a more common term for Jesus bearing witness of the truth about His Kingdom?  We know it better as "the preaching of the Gospel."

Matthew 4: 23: 
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

This is what I would like to discuss with you today the Truth and the Gospel; the Truth of the Gospel; the True Gospel; the Good News.  This will be a two-part sermon with Part 2 on Day 7 of the Feast. 

For part of the sermon, I would like to use a question-and-answer format.  Many of you will remember the old Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course in which they would ask a question and we found the answers from the scriptures.  

You might be asking: “Well, okay, but hasn’t the subject of the Gospel been flogged to death and covered over and over again?”  Well, yes it has, and that has to be a very good thing. 

I feel that in many cases and I am not pointing the finger at any churches or ministries what some in the ministry have preached as "the Gospel" and what some people think of as "the Gospel" has been morphed and even been downgraded from what Jesus and the apostles preached, and from what Jesus and God the Father want to be preached today; wrested into a very negative and in some cases unnecessarily frightening message.  This instead of what Herbert W. Armstrong used to call "the good news of the World Tomorrow."  Instead of this, many have been preaching and concentrating, mainly on the bad news of the world today!

A few more questions: What would Jesus preach?  What did Jesus preach?”  Let us cover a few more scriptures on these questions just to nail down the fact that the preaching of the Gospel was one of Jesus’ highest priorities:

Matthew 9: 35:
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

Mark 1:14:
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,

And as Jesus approached the end of His preaching career as a human:

Luke 20:1:
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders,

On one occasion, during a Sabbath visit to the synagogue in Jesus’ boyhood home of Nazareth, He stood up and quoted Isaiah 61:

Luke 4:
18:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised...
Verse 21:   And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

This is quoted from Isaiah 61 where He actually uses the term “good tidings.”  Jesus, being the YHVH of the Old Testament inspired Isaiah to write this verse about Himself when He would come in human form as Jesus Christ.  When He did come, He proclaimed that these verses were about Himself.  This is interesting.  It is like a time machine and in effect, it is almost like Jesus Christ anointed Himself in advance. 

But for what job did He anoint Himself?  He tells us here in verse 18 that He anointed Himself for the job of the preaching of the Gospel the Good Tidings.  Yes, He healed people as well; and this fact is quite frequently linked to the preaching of the Gospel.  He talks about healing the sick and about preaching the Gospel.  But His number one priority was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. 

I have sometimes wondered, because of the frequent scriptural tie-in between the preaching of the Gospel and the healing of the sick, if one of the reasons why it doesn’t seem that quite as many miraculous healings are taking place today might be because the true Gospel has been suppressed, and even perverted to some extent.  That is just a personal  speculation.  I am not saying that God does not heal today.  He certainly does.  But, I am wondering how much of a tie-in between those two things.

Another question for our "Correspondence Course":  What message did Jesus Christ send to John the Baptist, to strengthen him, when his faith was apparently wavering? 

Luke 7:22:
Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.

We repeat our main question: What did Jesus do?  He preached the Gospel. 

Next questions: Was the Gospel to be preached by Jesus only?  What did the disciples preach?  Even while He was still alive, what did Jesus commission His disciples to do? 

Luke 9:
1:  Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. 
2:  And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

He sent them to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.  

Was the preaching of the Kingdom of God the same as preaching the Gospel? 

Verse 6:  And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. 

So we see that, yes, they preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Next question: Were the disciples to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God just during Jesus’ human lifetime only?  Or did He expect them to continue to preach the Gospel after He had returned to His Father? 

Mark 16:
9:  Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 
14a:  Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat... 
15:  And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Jesus gave His disciples a very clear command here.  He was going back to His Father, as we read in Acts 1; but first He gave them this commission: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Did the disciples obey this command?  Did they fulfill this commission?  We know that the disciples did not manage to preach the Gospel to every single human creature, as was commanded them; but they did make a very brave attempt at it.

Acts 8:14: 
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Please remember that the Samaritans were hated so very much by the Jews.  If you would like a good Bible Study, look up Samaria and the Samaritans; find out their history and read all about them.

Verse 25:  And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

So we see here, that after Jesus returned to His Father, the disciples (now apostles) did preach the Gospel.

Acts 14: 6 They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:

The unbelieving Jews were aware of the danger being stirred up amongst the Gentiles to whom the Gospel was being preached.

Verse 7:  And there they preached the gospel
21:  And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

They were busy going from one place to another, preaching the Gospel as they went.  They were really excited for God’s Word and for the Gospel, and to be able to spread it.

What about the apostle who was born out of due time, the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:8)?  Did he have a different commission than the other apostles?  Or was he to preach the Gospel too?  We see what Paul did right after he was converted, right after God knocked him down and told him that He had a job for him:

Acts 9: 
15:  But the Lord said unto him
(Ananaias), Go thy way: for he (Saul – Paul) is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel...
Verse 20:  And straightway he
(Paul) preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God... 
27:  But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

Right off the starting blocks, the apostle Paul was preaching.  But what did Paul preach?  Without any delay, he was inspired to preach Christ and to bear His name before Gentiles, Israelites and even kings.  He preached in the name of Jesus, whom he had formerly denied.  But did the apostle Paul preach the Gospel?

Acts 16:
9:  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 
10:  And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

Yes!  They were called by the Lord for the specific purpose of preaching the Gospel;, but not only to these Macedonians, of course, but to the Romans as well:

Romans 1:
1:  Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God... 
15:  So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

In addition to being called by God to preach His Gospel, Paul was "separated."  He was set apart from his Jewish brothers and sisters with whom he had worshipped before.  There are many other scriptures from Paul’s writings that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that his life was dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Did Paul fulfill this command right up until the very end of his life?  We believe that he did:

Acts 20: 25:
And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

His remaining time was winding down.  Even when Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he finished his life preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.  (Last year, Trish and I were blessed to be able to visit Rome.  Near our hotel was a section of the Via Appia over which Paul was led under guard from Puteoli (now Pozzuoli, near Naples) all of the way up to Rome. We made sure that we walked backwards and forwards across those ancient stones, so that we could say that we had walked where the apostle Paul walked).

Acts 28:
30:  And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
31:  Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

Why did Paul and the other disciples/apostles preach the Gospel?  Because Jesus Christ had commanded them to do so and because they were following His example.  They were imitating Him.

What should we preach?  This example of preaching the Gospel was it to be passed on to all the other members of God’s church down through the centuries?  Was this example of preaching the Gospel to be passed on to all other members of God’s church including you and me?

I Peter 1:1:
I Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, 

These were God’s people, the elect.  Some of them may have been Jews; but a lot of them would have been Gentiles.

I Peter 2:21:
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

The ‘ye’ that Peter was writing to here was referring to the church brethren in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.  As this epistle is part of the inspired written Word of God, we believe that it can be applied to all the people of God’s Church of all ages and locations; and this includes us.  As we go along, we will see this fact confirmed that it does apply to us as well.

Philippians 3:17:
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Yes, we are to follow the apostle Paul’s example:

I Corinthians 11:1:
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

The apostle Paul followed Jesus’ example, and he is telling the Corinthians here and us by extension that we must follow their example.  If Paul deviated from Jesus’ example, we would not have to follow his lead in that case.  But in most cases, we don’t believe that he did deviate from it.  The New King James Version renders this verse: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”  

So we are to imitate Jesus, Peter and Paul in what they did; and their very highest priority, as we have seen, was the preaching of the Gospel.  Paul wrote that the preaching of the Gospel, to him, was super-important; and that it was an unavoidable necessity for him; it was in his bones!

I Corinthians 9:16:
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

Again, it was an unavoidable necessity for the apostle Paul.  What an example that sets for us!  

Let us begin to move this towards ourselves.  Were their examples of preaching the gospel perhaps only to be followed in that one area of the world?

II Corinthians (NKJV): 
14:  For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; 
15:  not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, 
16:  to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.

This is pretty tricky English here.  I don’t know if it is any clearer in the Greek!  What Paul is saying here is that the preaching of the Gospel was not to be limited by geographical boundaries or constraints.  If one minister went into another area, he was not encroaching on another minister’s territory.  This is basically what he was saying here.  As God led them, they would go to different areas and preach the Gospel.  Another example for us today!

So the preaching of the Gospel was not to be restricted by geographical limitations.  What about time limitations?  Was the Gospel only to be preached in the First Century Church?  Or was it to be preached throughout all the centuries all the way up to the end of the age?  We all know the scripture that answers these questions.  This was one of the very first scriptures that knocked me out when I first heard Mr. Armstrong speaking way back in 1965:

Matthew 24:14:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

This scripture knocks away both the geographical limitations and the time limitations.  

Now, let us cast our minds forward to the end-time. Even after the fall of Babylon the Great, the Gospel will continue to be preached.  The preachers of that time are promised angelic help with this:

Revelation 14:6:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.

Here is one of our biggest questions:  Has the Gospel of the Kingdom of God been preached to the whole world?

The disciples/apostles had pretty "low-tech" resources compared with what we have now.  But the early Church made a very brave effort at fulfilling their commission.  Some have taught that the possibility that the apostle Paul may have even gone to Britain to preach the Gospel.  I don’t know how true it is.  We don’t have the whole story. 

The Worldwide Church of God (WCG) also made a brave effort to preach the gospel to the whole world.  Again, compared with what we have today, the techniques they had were certainly inferior to what we have today.  Mr. Armstrong and the church back then used mass-marketing techniques.  Mr. Armstrong had trained in marketing and, compared with the First Century church, WCG had comparatively great technological power.  They had radio, television, the printing press, computers which we would now look upon as primitive, and satellite communications.  (I remember on the Last Great Day each year, when we were all so tired, Mr. Armstrong used to broadcast the afternoon service worldwide from Pasadena via satellite.  The worst thing about it was that they turned the lights down... and I used to fall asleep!  Shame on me!)  

But did even the Worldwide Church of God reach the whole world with the Gospel?  Obviously not, because if it had done so, Matthew 24:14 would be fulfilled, the end of the age would have already come, and Jesus and the Millennium would be here by now. 

So what does this tell us?  It tells us that the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom must continue, because we are not there yet.

The next question is: How should the Gospel be preached?  The apostle Paul asked this very same question:

Romans 10:15:
And how shall they preach, except they be sent?  As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

I am not saying that “My Lord delays His coming.”  We will come back to this later; but God the Father knows the day and hour.  I don’t!  But I am not saying that He is delaying the coming of Jesus Christ.

God tells us, here, through the apostle Paul, that preachers of the Gospel must be sent.  A people must be called, chosen, set apart, trained and sent to do the preaching of the Gospel.  Any old Tom, Dick or Harry just cannot come and choose to do it by himself.  I am not trying to say that I am any more important than Tom, Dick or Harry!  I am just saying that somebody just can’t elect to do it by themselves. 

We had a man attending with us for a very short time who believed that, by putting on a "Jesus" T-shirt and going into the shopping malls, he would fearlessly proclaim the gospel.  He basically elected himself to do that; but he was not truly sent. 

Romans 10:
1:  Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 
2:  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

Although this man was a very nice person who possessed a kind of zeal, it was misguided zeal.  This kind of preaching has been tried repeatedly in modern times; but it has failed.  We have all seen people yes, sincere and well-meaning people with kind of a zeal for God walking around our malls and city centres wearing sandwich-boards proclaiming that “The End is Nigh.”  Does anybody take them seriously?  No!  The poor man just exposes himself and God’s Truth to ridicule.  That is not how God works!

Back in Romans 10:15, please note what we are to preach.  We are to preach "the gospel of peace" and "glad tidings of good things."  Those who do so are promised to receive a special blessing.  This is a key point in this sermon.  Please remember it, and we will come back to it and talk about it later; and in a couple of days time as well.

Next question: What is the true Gospel? 

It is very important that we know what the true Gospel is.  Why?  Because it is downright spiritually dangerous for us to be preaching a gospel other than the only true Gospel:

II Corinthians 11:
2:  For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 
3:  But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4: For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. 

Paul gave a similar warning an even more serious warning to the Galatian brethren:

Galatians 1:
6:  I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 
7:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 
8:  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 
9:  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

That is a double curse!  As I said, it is downright dangerous. The apostle Paul, with God’s authority, pronounces a double curse on anyone preaching another Gospel than the true one.

Again, I am not pointing fingers at any ministers or any churches; but I fear for anybody who is wandering away from the true Gospel – the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

Philippians 1:27:
Only let your conversation
(conduct) be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Please note ‘the’ Gospel singular!  Clearly there is only one true Gospel.  

So again, what is the true Gospel?  

Is the true Gospel a message that concentrates on the misdeeds of our Government leaders, who God tells us to have a certain level of respect for?  Is the true Gospel a message about today’s bizarre weather conditions and awful natural disasters?  Or about the many horrible things that are happening in the world today, and how these conditions will likely worsen into the end-time tribulation?  Is that the true Gospel of the Kingdom of God?  Are these the things that Jesus and the apostles concentrated on when they preached the Gospel?  Are these the things that Jesus wants us to concentrate on?  Here is another "homework assignment" for you: When you have time in your own Bible study at home, read or skim through the New Testament and see how infrequently such things are mentioned by Jesus and by the apostles.

The true Gospel by its very definition (which we are going to get into next time in Part Two) is a message of Good News.  So, am I telling you that we should be preaching "smooth things"?  No, I am not saying that.  

I am not saying that the prophecies of the end-time troubles and tribulation are not going to happen.  I know that they are. I am not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand and deny the reality of the problems of the world today.  We can all go to the news media and see it all.  We can make ourselves sick looking at all of that stuff.  I do not believe that God wants us to spend very much time on that, because it is not the true Gospel.  Let’s look at what God tells us through Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 21:7:
And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt answer, For the tidings; because it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord GOD.

I don’t even want to get into some of the horrible things that the prophecies say are going to happen.  God says that it is coming, it will come, it shall be brought to pass.  Those "tidings" certainly will be brought to pass; and when they do start coming, it is very right that we sigh and cry.  When they do start coming, it will be very natural for every heart to melt, figuratively; for all hands to become feeble and for every human spirit not injected with God’s Holy Spirit to be faint; and for all knees to be as weak as water.

But here is some more big questions:  Is it coming now?  Are we really living in the last days?  

We have already seen that God’s people must speak the truth. When we answer these questions, we are not just to be wishful thinking.  We must be truthful!  Yes, we all desire the end of this age, the World Tomorrow and God’s Kingdom to come.  But let us be truthful!

I first came in contact with God's true church back in England in 1965 and I have heard God’s ministers saying that "the end is nigh" for all of that time. There can be no doubt, of course, that we are now forty-seven years closer to the end of the age than we were in 1965.  It is even longer for some of us.  Those of us who are approaching the end of our human sojourns certainly are in our last days.   Our individual end-times are already here.  It doesn’t matter if the end of this age does not come for another twenty or thirty years, it is likely that I am not going to be there to see it.  We might even say that the whole human life-span whether seventy, eighty, ninety or even a hundred years is a very short time in the big scheme of things.  If you really think about it, life is so short say one hundred years maximum that our individual end- times begin at the second of our birth. The main thing is that God knows when it is to be.

Are the terrifying last days of this stage of mankind; of the end of this age; are they imminent now?  Please be truthful.  I am just asking you to run that question through your mind.  Is the incomparably terrible and calamitous time of Jacob’s trouble, mentioned in Jeremiah 30:7 at our very doors?  You don’t need to be embarrassed by what you think. You might think that it is.  Or you might think the same as I do and I don’t know!  God the Father knows.  He knows exactly.  And probably, Jesus knows by now too.  But we don’t know.  No man knows for certain.  

Some men claim that they do.  Some ministers or men who we thought were ministers of God, have gone out there on radio and television and have set dates.  I am not talking about Mr. Armstrong or the imprudent titling of "1975 in Prophecy."  I am talking about those in recent years even in recent months who have gone out there and embarrassed the very name of the Church of God by saying false things, making false claims and naming false dates to major television reporters.

Have all of Jesus’ Matthew 24 signs of the approaching end come to pass?  Is everything in place?  Some people will say, "Yes, it is."  But those who tell the truth will admit that we don’t really know how much longer we have to go.

Someone once said to Sir Winston Churchill, “Mr. Churchill, you seem to be an optimist.”  To which he answered, “I see no point in being otherwise.” This is a good quotation for God's people to think about.  Whether or not the Last Days are upon us, we must not take things too far either way.  We must beware of "the two ditches."  One ditch is that of being overly positive
overly optimistic that things are going to go on just the way they are.  The other ditch is being overly negative overly pessimistic. 

We will continue with this point in Part Two of this sermon on Day 7.