In the great vision that is known as Revelation, Saint John sees an angel flying through the sky and proclaiming an eternal gospel. This angel proclaims that the judgment of God has come. While that might not sound much like “gospel” or “good news” to our ears, it is.
In the book of Revelation the judgment of God is only on those who have no faith, who do what is evil in the sight of God. In other words “judgment” is synonymous with “justice”. The angel declares that the justice of God has come, and His faithful people, those who trust in Him will receive all that He wishes to bless them with.
What I want to focus on is the fact that this message is called the “eternal gospel”. The Gospel, the good news that justice comes to God’s people by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is everlasting. It is forever and ever. It will always exist and will never be stomped out.
This eternal Gospel should not have survived the first century. It never should have made it out of Jerusalem. Sinful men carrying a message that sounds impossible to believe facing persecution from religious leaders and political leaders. How did Peter, who denied Jesus, or Paul, who persecuted Jesus, ever find the courage to preach this gospel in the face of certain death?
This Gospel should not have survived, and if it were dependent upon the apostles, if it were dependent upon the goodness or the strength of the Church it would certainly have been snuffed out. But it was not. The eternal gospel remained.
This eternal gospel should not have survived the 4th century. There was violent persecution by the Romans. An emperor adopted the Christian faith only to fall into heresy and exile the defenders of the truth. The authors of the Creeds were marginalized and the preachers of false doctrine were elevated and supported.
It is miraculous that the doctrine of the Trinity survived the 4th century. It is nothing short of astounding that the good news was preserved. If it had depended on men the truth would have certainly been lost. But it was not. The gospel endured.
The eternal gospel should not have endured through the 16th century. The purity of the gospel had been mingled with bad philosophy to make a worse theology. The work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit was marginalized. Forgiveness and salvation were sold for silver and gold.
And when Luther rediscovered the gospel, when the Holy Spirit finally convicted him and assured him that salvation was a free gift from God in Christ, it is just as amazing that he was allowed to preach and teach.
Against all odds Martin Luther proclaimed the good news of Jesus, the eternal gospel, while the Pope excommunicated him, the emperor sentenced him to death, and theologians and philosophers attacked his writings and sermons.
If it had depended upon the wisdom of Luther, if I had been up to the courage of this German monk, then all would have collapsed. The gospel would surely have been lost. But it was not.
The gospel should not endure here in the 21st century. Denominational loyalty is disappearing. Knowledge of the Bible is declining. The very order of the creation is called into question. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
To mention nothing about your own local congregation. Many have taken up the habit of attending worship only periodically. Once a month is the new normal. People take a cafeteria style attitude toward theology and morality, taking what makes them feel good and leaving what does not.
And then there is the pastor, a man whose feeble pastoral leadership has so many flaws it is not even worth our time to try and recount them all. He is simply the chief of sinners by his own admission.
If it depended on the world around us being compatible with God’s Word all would be lost. If it depended upon the perfect attitude and discipline of the congregation the Gospel would quickly be trampled underfoot. If it rested upon the leadership skills of the pastor to get things done then nothing would ever get done. The gospel simply would not endure.
Truth be told, the gospel should not have survived its inception. One man humbly crucified on a Roman cross, buried in a stranger’s tomb, dead. That should have been the end of the gospel right there. And if it were up to mankind, it would have been.
Thanks be to God that we have nothing to do with the endurance of the eternal gospel. Its durability comes, not from the strength of men, but from the will and power of God.
The Gospel is eternal. It will endure forever because God wills it to, because God says so. You see, God likes to flex His muscles a little bit. He likes to do things that seem impossible so that we will have even more confidence that He is more powerful than we are.
To that end He makes the Gospel not only to endure through hardship and adversity, but to actually thrive through it. When the Church of Jesus Christ enters the fires of adversity and persecution it is brought through them better, not worse. The Gospel becomes more clear as the world become more muddled. The eternal Gospel stands out with much greater contrast against a world that is always chasing the wind.
The Gospel survived the moment of greatest weakness for God, the death of Christ on the cross. It survived because that moment, as seemingly weak as it was, turned out to be the hour of God’s victory over sin and death. The death of Jesus breaks the power of sin. It triumphs over our weaknesses and incompetency.
The Gospel thrived through the death of God on the cross, opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The Gospel flourished when opposed by the religious and political powers during the ministry of Peter and Paul; even to the ends of the earth. The Gospel succeeded during the 4th century and gave us the clear teaching of the creeds that we still confess to this very day.
The Gospel exploded during the Reformation. Martin Luther and the reformers were God’s instruments to make known that forgiveness and a new life are free gifts from God, purchased and won with the innocent blood of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel will endure here in 2013 and beyond. It cannot be defeated by the evils in the world around us. It cannot be stopped by the sin in our own hearts. It is here to forgive that sin, to renew our hearts, and to give us confidence and courage to hold fast to Jesus.
If it were up to the power of men, the Gospel project would have fallen apart two thousand years ago. It is not. All depends upon the blood of Jesus, upon the power of God. The eternal Gospel cannot be stopped. It cannot be broken. It will endure. It will thrive in Jesus’ name.