What is the Gospel?
Some feelings are difficult to put into words. Occasionally, I experience a sudden sense of familiarity, which creates a deep longing that I can neither express nor fulfill. It happens in front of a roaring fire around Christmas time, or on a cool autumn afternoon as the sun nears the end of its descent. It occurs when I see grey skies and barren hills, or I hear certain strains of music, or I smell freshly cut grass on a warm summer evening. It begins to stir as I drive past my childhood home or recall childhood friends. In each of these instances, I sense something familiar yet missing.
On a far greater level, all of us experience what C. S. Lewis called “life long nostalgia.” It stems from our inexpressible longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel isolated – something familiar yet missing. This something is God, of course. He created us in His image, so that we might find our rest and center in Him; but we broke away from Him, and we have lived with the isolation ever since.
In 2012, an elderly woman in the city of Borja, Spain, walked into a local church and noticed a familiar painting on one of the walls, Ecce Homo (“Behold the man!”)—a rendition of Christ as He stood on trial before Pontius Pilate (John 19:5). The painting looked a little faded, and so the woman took it upon herself to attempt a restoration. The result was disastrous. According to one report, she turned the painting into something resembling a “bloated hedgehog.” Sadly, that’s us. Sin has marred us beyond recognition. As a result of this defacing, we’ve lost the life of God and the enjoyment of God, and this isolation has led to our “life-long nostalgia.”
But the story doesn’t end here. Mercifully, the Son of God “became flesh” (John 1:14). He came to experience life in a fallen world, bear our sin and shame, and bear God’s curse for us (Gal. 3:13). At that moment of utter darkness and forsakenness upon the cross, He purchased the enjoyment of God for us—restoration and reconciliation. On one occasion, He declared, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). When your child calls for you in the middle of the night, or crawls into your lap to cuddle, or cries out for you after falling to the ground, do you realize what you’re witnessing? The way into the kingdom!
What does this mean? Simply this: recognizing our sinfulness and helplessness, we cry to God for mercy in child-like dependence. He hears our cry and welcomes us for Jesus’ sake. His forgiveness supersedes our sinfulness, His merit eclipses our guilt, and His righteousness hides our vileness. His “abundant mercy” blots out our multitude of “transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). And this is the way home.