The Jesus Gospel

Liam Goligher is a pastor in the U.K. and a very able writer. His book “The Jesus Gospel” is an effective tour through the Scriptures with focus on how the Gospel functions as a central interpretive motif. Helpfully, Goligher begins his book with an exposition of John 17 – Jesus’ high priestly prayer. He writes, “In the Bible, we have access to the very first scene in the drama – not Genesis, but before time even began. In John 17 we have the very first scene in the very first act of the drama of the redemption – God’s plans before the beginning of the world to save humanity from the consequences of its sin.”

Next, Goligher takes us on a tour through the fall narrative in Genesis three. It was in that dark day of rebellion and loss and judgment that God nevertheless took pity on his human creatures and promised that one would come who would finally crush the enemy. This promise made to Eve is often called the “protoeuangelion” or the first Gospel. It was the very first announcement of the good news; that salvation would come through a God-sent deliverer.

On through Genesis, Exodus, even Leviticus we go. Goligher calls attention to The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur described in Leviticus. This is particularly helpful for Christians who often do not understand the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant festivals and regulations.
“What is the problem? God is holy. And the book of Leviticus is about how that problem is resolved. How do unholy people visit God in his home, the tabernacle? Leviticus 1 is the transition point. The Lord called to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them whenever any of you bring an offering to the Lord…’ They can visit God in his home and bring an offering. Literally, the Hebrew reads: the offering is what brings you near. The sacrifices unite us to God. The people cannot enter into God’s house but they can draw near on the basis of sacrifice.”

Goligher then turns to “the scandal of forgiveness” through an examination of David’s cry of repentance in Psalm 51. “God knew what would cover David’s sin. That’s why God said to him through Nathan the prophet, ‘You will not die.’ David is saying, ‘I don’t know how you did that. I don’t know what this sacrifice that covers blood guilt is.’ The New Testament answers David’s cry. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin…This is what the hyssop does. It cleans me through the blood of Christ and it brings joy and gladness (v. 8) back where the bones have been crushed.”

As the progressive revelation of Scripture continues we are helped to understand the coming sacrifice for sin clearer through Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). “Isaiah 53 takes us one step nearer the final truth; only someone sent by God who is pure and has no sins of his own to answer can take our place and bear our punishment…The Servant will not only be humbled, he will also be exalted (v. 13). This parallels the story of Jesus, who is raised in his resurrection, lifted up through his ascension to heaven, and highly exalted when he sits down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.”

After the overview of the Old Testament Goligher takes us to what he calls “the main event.” We see how Christ is revealed as the One who will uphold the righteousness and mercy of God and justify sinners. The Gospel of Mark, Romans, 2 Corinthians, 1 John, 1 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation provide a rich and highly textured understanding of Christ’s cross work. We are comforted by the intercession of our Great High Priest and the news of our release from the condemnation of sin.

Like all good theology, Goligher’s book is both doxological and practical. There are numerous occasions for worship as we read of God’s burning holiness and his tender mercy. There are clear calls not only to believe the Gospel but to be conformed to the righteousness and love that are on display in Christ’s cross.

“The Jesus Gospel” is also a timely warning against the recurring and often fashionable attempts to redefine the Gospel. I think particularly of men like Brian MacLaren, Doug Paggit, and Rob Bell who have devalued and even denied the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement – the very heart of the Gospel itself.

I commend “The Jesus Gospel” to your reading. Not only will your heart be thrilled by the truth but your mind will revel in a greater understanding of Scripture’s great plot. You will also find yourself better equipped to be one who proclaims well the greatest news in the universe.