The Gospel is the 4-Lane Bridge to God

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Today is Week 2 of a sermon series about the basics of the Christian faith called Start Here. This is really the first step in what it looks like to be a Christian. I’m going to start with an apology because I often mess this up. You would think after 25 years of ministry, I’d be able to get this a little bit better, but unfortunately I keep messing this up.

See, I don’t always accurately define the word gospel. We’re going to talk about gospel a lot today. I’m going to give you a four-word definition for gospel in just a few moments, but here’s the deal: When preachers describe the word gospel, we sometimes give you the short version of that word, and unfortunately we don’t give you the full meaning of it.

It’s kind of like when you ask somebody to describe what it looks like to be in love. If you’re a teenager and you ask 50 people, “How do you know that you’re in love?”, you’re going to get 50 different answers. How can there be 50 different answers to one question? Well, the truth is, this is such a powerful human emotion, that 50 different answers, when you put them all together, probably gives you an accurate picture of what it looks like when you’re in love.

And this is also true of the gospel. When you ask 50 preachers, “What is the gospel?”, you’re going to get 50 slightly different, or perhaps even significantly different answers. And it’s not that those answers are wrong. It’s not that 49 of them are wrong. That’s not what I’m saying today. What I’m saying is the reason why we sometimes give 50 different answers is because we don’t often give the full range of definition. So today, I’m going to give you the full range of definition.

Here’s what I want you to understand about the word gospel: The gospel in one simple sentence is kind of like a 4-lane bridge to God. Now, when I was preparing for this this week, I was thinking about the idea of a four-lane bridge to heaven. But the problem with that image is it doesn’t describe what the gospel does to a human being right now, right here on planet Earth. You see, the gospel is all about life. It’s about eternal life in heaven, but it’s also about abundant life here on Earth. 

So I’m not talking about a bridge that gets you to heaven only. Yes, that’s a big part of the gospel. What I’m really describing for you today is a bridge that gets sinful people to a Holy God, a bridge that would be so humongous that there’s no way you could swim this distance on your own.

I want you to think Pacific Ocean-wide distance between a Holy God and sinful people. And you’re going to need a bridge, a 4-lane bridge to help you get from where we are to the kind of people that God created us and made us to be. In this bridge, we’re going to give you four lanes today. Two of those lanes are going one direction. The other two lanes, like any good 4-lane highway, are going the opposite direction. And here’s lane one in this 4-lane bridge to God.

Lane 1- We get God’s love

Lane one in the gospel is, we sinful people get God’s love. Now, by this I mean, we get something, I get something that we don’t deserve. Perhaps one of the most simple verses in the entire Bible to understand what this is describing is found for us in Romans 5:8. It this way:

Rom 5:8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Now, listen to the word proof because the word proof here really describes God making something for a specific purpose. It’s like, Ladies, when you bake a cake, you bake a cake for a very specific purpose (or Guys, you can bake cakes too, but yours is just not as awesome as ladies). Or when you’re building something in the wood shop, you’re building it for a purpose. The proof that God gives here is that we’ve been burned in the past. You maybe had a lady who just took you for your money; that’s all she wanted. You had a guy who was only interested in your body; that’s all he cared about. God says, “I will prove to you how much I love you. It’s not about your money. It’s not about your body. I will prove to you what you mean to me.”

And here’s the timing: When you were at your absolute worst, when you were still in the middle of your sin, Christ chased after you, he snatched you up out of your sin and he paid the price so that you could get something that you don’t deserve so that you could get a relationship with God. He went after you to woo you and to win you back. And I want you to keep this in mind: The timing on this is God did something for you when you were at your farthest moment from him. When you were at your worst point, lowest point in life, that’s when God chased after you.

Think about it like this: You’ve been waiting for Final Fantasy VII to come out, but you know you don’t have the money to pay for it when it comes out and you’re waiting for it and you’re longing for it. And then all of a sudden, somebody puts money in your account before the game even comes out so that when it finally hits the stores, you’ve got more than enough to pay for it. That’s what God did while you were still in your sins. 

It’s not you cleaning yourself up and becoming a good person. I need you to know this. I need you to lean in to pay attention to this because this week, when life starts to get hard, this week when stuff starts to go bad, I want you to remember that when you were at your worst, when you were in need the most, that’s when God showed up and showed his love for you. Lane one in this 4-lane bridge to God, is you getting something that you don’t deserve when God shows his love for us.

Lane 2- Jesus gets God’s wrath

Let me tell you about lane two, because in lane two, Jesus gets something that he doesn’t deserve. In lane two, Jesus gets the wrath of God. What we deserve for our sins from lane one, Jesus takes on himself in lane two. And here, before we look at the scriptures is where I think the preachers often mess up. This is where I sometimes mess up. You see, we’re really good, this is just human nature, at making the gospel all about us. And we only think about it from our perspective. It’s like a coin. A coin has two sides. There’s a heads side and a tail side to it. The head side of this coin is, we get God’s love, but the tail side of the coin is somebody else has to take the wrath of God in order for that to happen.

And Jesus gets something in this great exchange, this great trade that we refer to as the gospel that he does not deserve. He gets what we deserve.

I want you to hear these words from the book of 1Thessalonians. This is the Apostle Paul describing what happened to us and what happened to Jesus. 1Thessalonians 5, starting in verse nine:

1 These 5:9-10 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

Verse nine describes how we have been saved from the wrath of God. Verse 10 describes what it took in order for us to be saved from the wrath of God. What Jesus gets in his side of the coin or his side of the equation. 

This passage that we’re reading about is a letter written to people who are wondering, “What happens to you, Paul, after you die? What’s it like?” And Paul says, “Well for Christians, some of them who have died have fallen asleep. They’re in the grave and they’re sleeping.” They’re resting in peace is the language that we would use today, but they will one day wake up. And when they wake up, they will one day get the eternal reward of heaven. 

For us who are already awake, though, we get that reward, and it starts right here, right now, today. It is the love of God because Jesus has paid the atoning sacrifice for our sins. We get the abundant life now and we get eternal life after we fall asleep. That’s what’s waiting for God’s people when we have gone through the great exchange, when we have received the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now, when I use the word wrath, it may offend some of you. So I want to tell you a quick Bible story. In fact, I’m going to give you a verse from the Bible to back this story up in just a second. One day, Jesus was walking with his disciples and like a classic helicopter mom, James and John’s mother show up. And she kind of pushes Jesus in a corner and says, “Hey, Jesus, when you get to heaven, I want you to get my two boys because I love my boys, and I know you love my boys. So I want you to give my two boys the best seat in heaven.” Now you can imagine James and John are just sitting there kind of embarrassed by mom right now, right?

This is Matthew 20:22 and Jesus, instead of looking at Mrs. James and John’s mother turns to James and John and says, “Do you really want what your mother is asking for from you?” And they kind of shyly sheepishly, nod their heads and say, “Yeah, Jesus, we would really like to be in the best seats in heaven with you.” And then Jesus asked them a powerful question. He says, “Okay, if you really want this, are you able to listen to these words, drink the cup that I’m about to drink?” And without even thinking about it, they shoot their mouth off and say, “Of course, Jesus, we’re ready to drink the cup that about to drink.” -because they have no idea what he’s talking about. 

It’s too bad they don’t know what he’s talking about because the Bible references it in Job, Isaiah and in Revelation. But perhaps the clearest reference that Jesus is making to the cup of God’s wrath is found in the book of Jeremiah. It’s actually found in Jeremiah chapter 5. And this is what Jesus is saying is about to happen to him so that we can get God’s love. Jeremiah 25:15-16:

Jer 25:15-16 Take this cup of the wine of wrath from my hand and make all the nations to whom I am sending you drink from it. 16 They will drink, stagger, and go out of their minds because of the sword I am sending among them.”

Then when Jesus answers James and John’s mother and says, “Do you really know what you’re asking?” And he looks over at these two disciples and says, “Do you have any idea what it’s going to take for me to make people right with God?” They have no clue, but they quickly answer, “Yeah, Jesus, whatever it is, we’re willing to go through it with you.”

And he says, “Oh no. You don’t have the first idea of what you’re getting into because in order for sinful people like Jeff Struecker to be made right with a Holy God, Jesus is going to have to drink the full measure of God’s wrath.” Jeremiah calls it like staggering drunk because of how brutal the punishment is. That’s the lane two that Jesus had to endure so that you and I could be made right with God. We often look at our side of the coin when we talk about the gospel. We preachers sometimes quickly forget to talk about what this costs Jesus.

Communion is really, really important because in it, we remember the broken body. We remember the poured out blood that it took for us to be made right with a Holy God. We get something we don’t deserve, and as a result, Jesus has to take on something that he doesn’t deserve.

Lane 3- Jesus gives his righteousness

In lane three of the great exchange, Jesus gives something away. He gives away his righteousness. Now, Theologians would refer to this phrase as “imputed righteousness”. Let me explain what imputed righteousness looks like when we get something that we didn’t do anything to earn. This is found in the book of 2 Corinthians 5:21 this way: 

2 Cor 5:21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The he in this verse at the beginning is God. Basically, Jesus took upon himself our sins and God held Jesus accountable for our sins. This verse is saying that we get credit for something that we didn’t deserve, that we get put into our account a credit for something that we didn’t do right, and God is going to give us the benefit of something that we didn’t work for. 

I want you to think about it like you’re on a softball team and the softball team has one win and 20 losses. You see, what preachers typically do is they treat the gospel like it’s just sin wiping the losses off of the books. -Jesus’s blood pays for your sins. This is absolutely true; it’s just not the whole picture.

The other half of the picture is getting credit for something that you did not do. In fact, this past week I was meeting with a couple and I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with this couple. And I asked them to start the conversation, what do you think it takes in order to get into heaven? And one of them, their answer was basically, “I think by being a good person, my good deeds are going to kind of outweigh my bad deeds and that’s going to get me into heaven.” 

And I tried to explain, “I don’t think you really understand how sin works, nor the moral perfection that God expects of people.” If the gospel were just a God wiping the losses off of the books, our team would have a record of one and zero, one win and zero losses. The 20 losses just went away, but we don’t get credit for any wins. We just get morally neutral for all of the bad things that we did.

The other half of the gospel, the other side of the coin is that God now gives us credit for something that we did not do, right and he gives us the blessing or the benefit from it. He says, “Not only am I going to take those 20 losses and wiped them off the books, but I’m going to put wins in your account, not because you did anything right, but because of what my son Jesus did right. Because of the righteousness of my son, Jesus, I’m going to now make your record 21 and zero. You now have 20 wins instead of 20 losses.”

When we sing about the undefeated savior of God, who makes his people undefeated through his righteousness, his imputed righteousness, we get something that we did not work for, that we do not deserve. And we get credit for something that Jesus did right. This is what it looks like to have the righteousness of God credited into our bank account so to speak.

When you and I stand before a Holy God (here’s what I said to this couple), “He’s not going to see Jeff’s mistakes, though there are lots of mistakes that I deserve to pay eternal punishment for. God’s not going to see those mistakes because they were wiped off of the books by the blood of Jesus Christ. But if I were to stand before God with that and that alone, that just makes me morally neutral. No, when I stand before God, instead of seeing my mistakes, he’s going to see all of Jesus’s perfect righteous actions. And God gives me credit for the things that Jesus did right.” That’s imputed righteousness. That’s what it looks like when somebody who gives you credit for something you don’t deserve.

Now we’ve covered three lanes. We’ve seen that we don’t get something that we do deserve, and we get something that we don’t deserve. Jesus gets something that he doesn’t deserve. He takes on himself the wrath of God in lane four. Jesus gives something. We get his reward when we stand before God in heaven. This is where the whole gospel picture starts to come into fruition. Jesus gives us credit for what he did right.

Lane 4-  We get Jesus’s reward

The last verse that I want you to take a look at comes from Ephesians. The first part of Ephesians 2 says how we are lifeless, totally dead apart from the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. But when you get to verses 8,9 and 10, the Bible makes it abundantly clear nobody can take credit for what happens inside of us. Ephesians 2, starting in verse 8:

Eph 2:8-10   For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

The Bible is making this perfectly clear, there’s no escape clause. There’s no working a way around this. You cannot take credit for the good that God gives you. Because of the gospel and all of the bad that you did, you don’t have to bear the responsibilities for it. So you can’t stand before God and say, “I was a pretty good person, God,” because the system just doesn’t work that way. The Bible makes it abundantly clear it is all about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s all about what he did for us, what he took on himself on our behalf, what he gives to us that makes it possible for us to be made right with God in heaven.

This bridge that we’re describing in Ephesians 2, in Romans, in Thessalonians and Corinthians, this bridge is a bridge between us and God. And this bridge describes what it would be like if you were to try to work your way to heaven on your own. Please lean in and listen to me for just a second. This would be the equivalent of trying to swim from Sydney, Australia to Seattle, Washington. There’s no human being on the planet that can bridge the kind of gap that there is between sinful people and a Holy God.

So, God takes the initiative, and God goes after sinful people, and God cleaned sinful people up. God makes it possible for sinful people to be made pure and Holy and righteous in his sight, and he does it through the sacrificial death of his son, Jesus Christ. 

When I was preparing this 4-lane bridge analogy, I was thinking about, what would a good modern day example of this be like? And frankly, I couldn’t find one because there’s some pretty amazing bridges out there that span some pretty impressive distances, but none of those bridges really describe what it would look like, what it took in order for you and I to be made right with God.

So now I went back to a fiction book, one of the epics of the English language, The Lord of The Rings written by J.R.R Tolkien. Tolkien wrote this series of books to describe the gospel. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but he wrote the books to represent Jesus Christ and to show what sinful people and a Holy God, how far apart these two are. And in the first book, The Fellowship of The Ring, this little band of misfits are all trying to do away with the temptation that’s destroying the world. And in order to do that, they have to go return back to the source. They have to go back and throw away the ring of power. They’re going through the Mines of Moria. Tolkien describes a moment where they have to cross a bridge.

In fact, Tolkien gives this bridge a name: Khazad-dum. They’re being chased by the enemy that will do whatever he has to do to destroy them. And he sends one of his greatest monsters after them, a Balrog called Durin Doom or Durin Bane. This bridge represents temptation and struggle and suffering on one side, and it represents safety and the way to heaven on the other side. 

Of you’ve ever seen the movie, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Rings, there is this epic moment where there is a show down on the bridge. In order for the fellowship to be healthy and safe and successful, Gandalf is going to have to sacrifice himself. 

There’s this great gap between who we were created to be and what sin did to us. And now, we are no longer acceptable in the sight of God because we’re broken, stained, marred images of what God created us to be. And if we were to try to fix this on our own, it would be like trying to go from Sydney, Australia to Seattle, Washington. It’s humanly impossible. No one can pull this one off because God’s standard for heaven is moral perfection. 

So what God does through the gospel is create a bridge between his holiness and my sinfulness. And in order for me to be made pure and clean and get credit for what Jesus did for me, Jesus is going to have to pay the price, the ultimate price. I told you, I was going to describe the word gospel to you In four words, here it is: We get; Jesus gives. 

We give nothing in exchange; we get everything. Jesus gives everything so that we can get his righteousness, and we can get his reward. When the Christian stands before God in heaven, God looks at us and he sees the good works of his son. He gives us credit for what Jesus did for us. Not only that, but he gives us this abundant everlasting, eternal life. And it starts right here, right now on planet Earth.