Over the last couple of weeks I have, on more than one occasion, made something of a fool of myself. Perhaps you’ve noticed! I hope so, because that was at least partly my intention when I donned a pink wig and went public with my ludicrous attempt at singing. By that, and other nonsensical endeavours, I wanted to gain your attention so that I could make you aware that there is a GP post up for grabs at my place of work. It’s important for me that people know this because it’s important for the practice that the position is filled. As such I suppose you could say that, by acting in ways contrary to social norms for the greater good of the organisation in which I work, I have been a fool for East Quay Medical Centre.

But important though it is for any potential new doctor to be aware of our job vacancy, the truth is that there are other news stories that are far more important for people to be aware of. For these continue to be difficult days, not only at an international and national level, but at a personal level too. For some these days are particularly dark, and for some the future looks darker still.

And so rather than being a fool for East Quay, I want now to follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul who, on account of his willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel, once described himself as a ‘fool for Christ’ [1 Corinthians 4:10]. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be persecuted for writing this in the way that Paul was, but being open about my faith in God and my desire to follow Jesus is something that some consider inappropriate in the public square and may cause one or two others to roll their eyes and consider me something of an embarrassment. But like Paul, I am not ashamed of the gospel believing it to be the power of God for salvation for all who believe. [Romans 1:16]

So what exactly is meant by the ‘gospel’, a word that simply means ‘good news’? This is an important question to ask because the gospel is something that is often misunderstood, even by those who regularly attend church. Too many confuse the law with the gospel and end up believing that, to be right with God, they need to keep all of his commandments and only by being sufficiently successful in that endeavour will they earn their way into heaven. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying here – God’s law is good and we should indeed strive to keep it, but the gospel is the good news that God has done something to rectify the situation when we inevitably fail to do so.

Even so, many of us do seem intent on living a life of continuous struggle. And so, not content with trying to satisfy the just requirements of God’s law, we burden ourselves further by attempting to present ourselves as better than we really are to those whose love we crave. We live in a world that constantly demands that we are awesome. And what a burden this is for those of us who know how far short we fall, who recognise our weakness and our need for help.

With this in mind I have noticed lately a tendency for some to encourage friends who are facing great difficulties with the words ‘You’ve got this’. I don’t doubt that such expressions are well intentioned but I wonder how they are received by those who feel lost, confused and powerless, those who feel out of control and are all too well aware that they haven’t ‘got it’ at all. At such times, rather than being told that we can do what we know we can’t, how much better it would be to hear that what we need to do has already been done for us by somebody who really can?

And that, in short, is the gospel. The good news is that God has done what we can not.

But what exactly has God done? To some the answer may sound like more foolishness, at least it did to those who, back in the first century when Paul was writing, considered themselves wise. But as the apostle wrote back then, ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men’ [1 Corinthians 1:25]. What Paul was referring to was the cross on which Jesus was crucified. For this was an act that, despite its apparent foolishness and weakness was the means by which God wisely chose to show his strength. For violent and bloody though it was, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the means by which the penalty that was rightly ours was paid. It was on the cross that a righteous God’s need for justice was satisfied, and our peace with God was secured.

The law then reveals to us what God demands – demands that we cannot keep however hard we try. In contrast, the gospel tells us that dispute our sinfulness, God loves us, and sent his son into the world to save us. The gospel is the news that by living a perfect life, Jesus kept the law that we could not, it is the news that a great exchange has taken place such that we are robed in Christ’s righteousness even as our sinfulness is laid on Jesus, it is the news that, as Jesus allows himself to be crucified in our place, bearing there the punishment we deserve, we are counted right with God. Some will indeed say this is foolishness, but it is through such apparent foolishness that we have been redeemed and a great salvation has been a secured, one that, as well as guaranteeing the forgiveness of our sins, promises a future devoid of sickness, sadness and death. [Revelation 21:4].

How then should we respond to this good news. A story Jesus once told might help. This is what he said in Luke 18:10-14.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus is describing two types of people. The Pharisees were the religious types who prided themselves on how well they kept the law. The one spoken of in this story seems particularly pleased with himself and clearly thinks God should be impressed with him. In contrast the tax collector, one of that group of people hated even more in Jesus’ day than they are in ours, recognises his sinfulness and, rather than trusting in his performance, appeals instead to God’s mercy and his willingness to forgive. When Jesus says it was the tax collector who was justified, he is using a word that means that it was he who was counted right before God. And so you see what Jesus is saying – since nobody but Jesus himself was truly good, it is not by keeping the law that we are saved. On the contrary, rather than reaching a certain level of awesomeness, it is by humbling ourselves before God, by recognising our weakness and our need for mercy, that we are reconciled to the God who really does love us in the way we all so long for.

I for one am pleased that this is the case because I haven’t got what it takes. The truth is I haven’t ‘got this’ – but I am glad that God has. Perhaps you will consider it foolishness on my part, but rather than pretend that I can cope, I am content to leave things in the hands of the one who really does know what he’s doing. This of course doesn’t mean that everything in this life will necessarily work out the way I would like, after all, as the old hymn goes, God works in a mysterious way his wonders to perform. Even so, in difficult days it helps me to know that, because he is good and because he is strong, what God ultimately brings about really will be for the best, irrespective of how unfathomable current circumstances might sometimes be.

And I hope this might help you too. For God can be trusted and those who do will surely find the foolishness of God really is wiser than the wisdom of man. God really does ‘have this’ and he has you too – safe in his everlasting arms.

Quote generally attributed to John Bunyan, author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’

Related posts:

To read ‘On being confronted by the law’, click here

To read ‘The “Already” and the “Not Yet”’, click here

To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here

To read ‘Rest Assured’, click here

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read ‘Good Friday 2022’, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

To read ‘Real Power’, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read ‘True Love?’, click here

To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read ‘I’ll miss this when I’m gone – extended theological version’, click here

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