C. S. Lewis, author of the Narniastories, said that the essentials of what we are as human beings can be argued quite cogently from two things – dirty jokes and attitudes towards death.
The former centre almost exclusively on reproduction and going to the loo – two of the most natural processes on earth. Why is it that activities we share with all other animals are somehow embarrassing only to humans? Clearly, as Lewis perceived, there is something different about us.
Then again, in nature death is a normal everyday occurrence. Flies, vultures and other carnivores stake their life on the fact of death. Only we humans treat it with shock and revulsion, as if we can’t get used to the reality. Few of us would even kill our Christmas turkey – we get Tesco’s to do it for us.
Lewis argues that these seemingly trivial quirks betray a deep fracture in the human psyche which evolution can’t explain. But the Bible does explain it.
It tells us that human beings are not just animals. Each individual is an immortal soul, as well as a body and a mind. Human beings were created in the image of God, designed to know God and live with him for ever. But something went wrong.
Although God loved our first parents they rebelled against him, and we follow in their footsteps. This rebellion is what the Bible calls sin. The loving relationship with God was broken. A great fissure has opened up between what we were made to be and what we now are.
That is why we get uncomfortable with death and bodily functions. We know we are more than mere animals. We know, deep down, that we exist for something more than this material world.
Christianity is about restoring this lost relationship with God. Sin has cut us off from God, but Jesus was born into this world to perform a rescue mission. The Bible says, ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15).
God wants to reopen that lost relationship with us. This is the gospel – the good news. Let me point out three things that this Bible verse tells us about the gospel.
Firstly, Christ Jesus ‘came into the world’. Christianity is not a speculative philosophy, or a set of spiritual exercises based on some cosmic theory. It is about straight historical facts that can be checked out. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He preached and performed miracles in Palestine. He was crucified under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Three days later his grave outside Jerusalem was empty. His followers were so convinced he was alive that despite murderous opposition they changed the world with their message of love and mercy.
It is history. You can read of Jesus and the early church not just in the Bible but in ancient secular writings too – the Jewish historian Josephus, the Romans Tacitus and Suetonius and more.
Secondly, Christ came to save (i.e. rescue) sinners. Jesus did not just come to be a great teacher, or start a new religion, but to be a rescuer.
Why are we cut off from God? Because God is holy. Neither sin nor those who commit sin can survive in the presence of his burning purity. The wages of sin is eternal death, eternal separation from God.
But God is not only holy – he also has unfathomable love. So he sent Jesus into the world to save sinners. That is what Christ was doing when he was crucified on Good Friday. The sins of innumerable sinners were heaped on him, and the eternal penalty for their sin was paid by the eternal Son of God on their behalf. He died that we might live.
Thirdly, our verse says that the gospel deserves ‘full’ or ‘unreserved’ acceptance. It means, ‘this is completely reliable and should be universally accepted’.
The offer of forgiveness is for everybody. The good news of Jesus is for you – whoever you are. Some people think they are too sinful to be saved while others feel they are too good. Some see themselves as ‘not the right type’. But none of that is true. The forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to God, eternal life and the love of God – all are on offer to whoever will receive them. There are no catches.
But this good news must be received by each of us individually. The verse speaks of ‘a trustworthy saying’. And that is what we must do personally – we must trustthe gospel. We must trust in Jesus Christ for ourselves.
As we do so, enabled by God’s Holy Spirit, our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God is wonderfully and eternally restored.