One day I saw a man jogging in the park. He was wearing a sweat shirt with a printed message on the back: Jesus died. Jesus rose.” I remember thinking at the time, “Nice, but not entirely correct.”
Jesus did not only die and rise from the dead. Jesus died for our sins. Omitting or including those three words makes the difference between communicating mere news and communicating God’s Good News. Believing in the one puts us “in the know.” Believing in the other puts us right with God.
While teaching an older Jewish woman named Lilly, I was reminded of the importance of those three words “for our sins.” We had met a few times and had examined the Hebrew Scriptures together so that she might discover precisely what they said about the identity of the promised Messiah. One afternoon we read the prophecy concerning the time of Messiah’s coming as recorded in Daniel 9. As a businesswoman, Lilly was accustomed to working with figures. She got a pencil, added up the years indicated by the prophecy and came to the startling conclusion that Jesus had to be the one for whom we Jews have waited all these years.
“It’s right here in black and white!” she exclaimed.
“Do you think then that he is the Messiah?” I asked.
“He has to be. I don’t see how people could have missed it.”
I thought Lilly was ready to pray to receive the Lord, so I asked, “Tell me—can you admit that everyone of us has ‘blown it’—that in the final analysis we’ve displeased God, that we’ve sinned?”
I expected her to agree with me. Instead, a look of surprise came to her face as she exclaimed, “Oh, no. I haven’t sinned. I don’t lie. I don’t cheat. I’ve never murdered anyone. I never committed adultery or anything like that. I’ve lived a good life. I’m a good person.” There was no trace of boasting in her tone. It was just a simple statement of what she thought was the truth about herself.
Lilly was not about to change her mind that afternoon, so we chatted a bit more and made plans to get together again. When I returned the next week, I had a single purpose in mind—to show her that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She had recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, but as far as embracing him as her Savior from sin, that was something else.
“Lilly,” I began, “do you remember when you came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah?” She nodded. “You asked me at that time why so many of our people had failed to recognize his credentials. I think I have an answer for you if you’d like to know.”
“Oh, yes. I would,” she said.
“It’s not that people failed to recognize his credentials, Lilly. It’s that they—we—failed to recognize our need. You see, Jesus isn’t just the Messiah. He’s the Messiah who saves us from the consequences of our sins. But if we don’t believe we’re sinful, then we don’t need a messiah who offers to save us from our sin.”
“That describes me, doesn’t it,” she asked quietly.
“It does,” I agreed. “Let me try to explain why I think all of us are sinners, even if we’ve lived very good lives.” I went on to tell her how the Bible describes sin not just as a deed, but as a disease—one that affects us all and is killing us, and that one of the most hideous side effects of this disease is that all too often we are unaware of it. We feel just fine, but whether or not we feel fine, the tragic fact remains that we’re dying of the disease called sin.
“Lilly,” I said, “you don’t feel ill, but if the Bible teaches that you have this disease and need to be cured, will you believe what the Scriptures teach?”
“Yes,” she said after a moment’s thought. “I will. I do.”
“Then will you pray with me to ask Jesus to forgive you and to take away the consequences of this disease called sin?” I asked.
“Yes, I will,” she said. And she did.
Jesus did not merely die and rise from the dead. The 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, verses 1-5, defines the gospel we must preach: “…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;…was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
If we omit the concept of sin from our witness, we are not preaching the gospel. We may persuade an individual that the facts of Old Testament prophecy find their fulfillment in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But if we fail to explain that he is the solution to the problem in our lives called sin, we deprive that individual of the opportunity to repent and receive God’s pardon. We must help people to see that the death and resurrection of Yeshua are not only objective historical facts to be taken into our memory banks, but that they must personalize that event and take him into their hearts. We must deal with the matter of sin, for where there is no communication of the concept of sin, there is no understanding of the need to repent. And where there is no repentance to God, there is no relationship with God.
That is the entire gospel, and may we never preach anything less!