The first time I took a trip out west towards the Rocky Mountains, I had no idea what was in store for me. Sure, I had seen pictures. The snow-capped peaks. The prismatic mash-up of sepia, emerald, and slate. Whether I was scanning a postcard or a Google image, it all looked glorious from afar.
I remember my first glimpse of the range off in the horizon. It was exhilarating. Even at this distance, I was flooded with emotion. I thought there could be nothing better. As we kept driving, the mountains kept getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger. And before I knew it, we were right at the base of the mountain range.
What I thought from a distance was invigorating was now intoxicating! The mountains were beyond massive now - they were colossal. And as we drove into the range, they dwarfed us. I was overwhelmed. I knew I would never be the same.
One of the most beautiful discoveries in my spiritual life happened roughly decade and a half ago. I was sitting in the sanctuary where I was doing a church planting residency and I heard the preacher read this from the book of Colossians:
Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. (Colossians 1:5-6)
In a moment, I found myself amidst the mountain range of a fuller gospel that I had only seen from a distance. My life was revolutionized. The gospel was something that was supposed to bear fruit in my life? It was supposed to increase? In a way, it was a mini - but oh, so glorious - crisis of faith for me. How had I missed this?
I grew up understanding the gospel was merely the gateway into my salvation and real spiritual growth meant moving away from this initial message and into deeper doctrinal waters and religious activities. But here, it said that that the gospel itself was the key to my growth.
Something surprised me again on that journey. I’ve discovered yet another summit. While the gospel is the good and gracious news of what God has done in Jesus to rescue sinners, it is not merely information. Yes, there is “content” to the gospel but the gospel simply is something first. Titus 2:11 tells us that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. The new pinnacle I’ve unearthed is this: the essence of the gospel is not merely a message. It’s a person. The gospel is Jesus.
Yes, the content of the gospel is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus - but the gospel is embodied in someone, the Christ, Jesus. When we talk of the gospel, we are talking about more than the blessings that flow from the grace of Jesus, we are talking about grace literally personified.
In The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson relates the story of the Scottish reformer, Thomas Boston:
By way of contrast he (Boston) wanted to stress that the gospel’s center is found in Jesus Christ himself (emphasis mine), who has been crucified for sin and raised for justification, with the inbuilt implication that Christ himself thus defined and described should be proclaimed as able to save all who come to him.
As I attempt to draw near to the center of the gospel, I see him in new ways. It’s as if I’m moving among the Grand Tetons of the gospel, simply enjoying Jesus himself versus what merely flows down to me from the mountaintop of his gospel benefits. I’m experiencing a particular kind of encounter, much in the way theologian John Murray describes it when he says, “The redemption is not simply that which we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:7) but it is the redemption of which Christ is the embodiment.” (emphasis mine).
I’ve noticed that when my own heart can be devoid of the power of Jesus, I need to ask it a few questions. Could it be that I am more interested in living in the realm of ideas about Jesus rather than encountering the real and up-close Jesus? Could it be that it is easier to be in the vicinity of gospel truth rather than experiencing the unsettling companionship of Christ himself? Is it more comfortable to stay in a tent of doctrinal ease at basecamp or to trek up the mountain to a summit where I can experience the very person of Jesus?
The question underneath these questions on this newly discovered vista of the gospel that I’m exploring is this: Is Jesus enough? If the answer is no, then I’ll likely prefer in being in the proximity of Jesus and his gospel because there will be little threat to the kingdom of self there. But if the answer is yes, it means I’ve stopped looking at him from a distance and come all the way up to and into his colossal grace. When I have, I’ve found that he is personally magnificent. He dwarfs me with his mercy. I’m like Lucy in Prince Caspian who notices that Aslan has become bigger to her. Seeing magnificent things up close changes you.