Jesus Manifesto - 3rd Installment

I've been preaching on the centrality of Christ in Christianity for the past few weeks during this season of Lent.  That's a fancy way of saying that we have been struggling with the question, "Is Jesus still the center of Christianity?" And more specifically for those of us who call ourselves Christians, is Jesus still the center of our churches and our lives?"

This week I'll be preaching and teaching on the "Gospel" of Jesus Christ.  The word "gospel" means "good news," which leads us to this very important question for Christian-y people: "What would you say is the 'good news' of the Gospel?"

Is it Salvation? You know, getting your ticket punched--your "Get out of Hell Free" card.
What about Christianity? Is the "good news" wrapped up in a religion?
Is it all about going to Heaven when you die?
What about prosperity?  Is the "good news" that God blesses you in this life?

Lots of people lift up at least one of these as the "good news" of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some might even lift up all of them.

I am going to steal a line from Rob Bell's new book "Love Wins" to offer another definition:  "The Good News is better than that."  Whatever feeble way of explaining the Gospel that we come up with can be answered with, "The Good News is better than that."

I know that it flies in the face of what some people might teach, but the Good News is better than the individualistic doctrine of Salvation that the Church in North America has lifted up for the past century.  The Good News is better than a religion.  The Good News is better than just going to Heaven when you die.  I know that last bit is hard for some people to hear.  But here's the news: Nothing we can come up with, none of our limited language or our weak-kneed theology will ever do justice to the huge, expansive, wondrous Good News that God wrought through Jesus. 

The Gospel is integrally tied to the Bible's story line.  It's part of the story that God has been telling since before time--the story of God's plan to save the world.  And not just a few people, who claim to have a handle on the truth.  The whole world.  "For God so loved THE WORLD," the author of John's Gospel wrote, "that He gave His only Son that whoever believed in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life." Jesus is at the center of God's plan--a plan  for redemption of all of his good Creation. The fact that many Christians try to truncate the Gospel and limit it to four verses in Romans (What  Evangelicals have call "The Romans Road") doesn't do justice to the huge story that God tells throughout the entire Bible.  And this story bears witness to the reality of Jesus' victory over sin and death. 

C.S. Lewis once said that our "second things" will never be right if our "first things" aren't right.  This is why it is so important for us to understand the "first thing" about the Gospel:  That it is Good News and the Good News is "better than that."

The word "gospel" in Greek is euangelion, which is the root for words like "evangelize," "evangelist" and "evangelical."  It was synonymous in the 1st Century with the proclamations from the Roman emperors, who would issue the kinds of "good news" that were considered "saving messages."  When the "good news" was proclaimed by the emperor, it was very nearly compulsory that a celebration occur.  Good news, it was believed, should make you leap and dance.

The word euangelion is used by the Apostle Paul 60 of the 76 times that it is used in the New Testament.  He addresses what the eungelion means to him in a letter he wrote to the church at Corinth:
 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)
Paul lays out his understanding of the Gospel in methodical fashion.  First, the idea of a "crucified" Messiah was a scandal to the Jewish beliefs about the coming Savior.  The Messiah of Jewish hope was one that would restore the nation, would do battle against oppressors and set everything right.  Second, the term "for our sins" doesn't necessarily just refer to forgiveness, but to a release from sin's power.  Third, and most importantly, Jesus was raised from the dead to new life, "according to the Scripture."

Paul asserts here that the Resurrection was all part of God's ongoing story of redemption, and that it was absolutely vital to the Gospel.  In fact, it is the Resurrection that is at the very center of the Gospel.  Theologian NT Wright has asserted that the 1st century Church could have survived without a Birth Narrative of Jesus, but would have fallen completely apart without the Resurrection. The Resurrection meant that followers of Jesus didn't have to live the same old way, they weren't even the same people they once were.  They were made new.  Unfortunately, some leaders in the early church didn't see it that way.  They taught that there were all sorts of things that made you a Christian, and none of them seemed to center around the Resurrection.  The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Galatia:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people?
 Paul believed that the church at Galatia had "deserted" the Gospel and embraced one that was essentially "perverted."  Their emphasis shifted from the newness of life that they had in Christ to an emphasis on racial identity, religious practice and ritual.  In so doing, according to Paul, they were basically denying the Resurrection. 

Peter Rollins, theologian, scholar and philosopher tells this parable about a rabbit.  You can read it HERE. The meaning of this is that Christians haven't learned anything in 2,000 years.  We get a glimpse of the resurrection life that is possible in Christ, and then we just return to our cages.  This is what the youngsters call an "Epic Fail"

Jesus told the story of two brothers in Luke 15.  Most of us know this story as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  But it's the story of two brothers.  The younger brother is the one who takes his inheritance and leaves town to spend it on wine, women and whatever.  He finds himself face down in the mud of a pigsty.  He says to himself, "I will go back home and just be a slave in my father's house."  But his father meets him on the way back and welcomes him in love.  He gives him a ring, a robe and new sandals.  In ancient terms, he restores him as a son.  Then he throws a big party that involved eating a cow.

Meanwhile the older brother who stayed behind and worked on the family farm hears about the party, and is incensed.  He can't even say his brother's name.  "This son of yours," he tells his father, "went and wasted all of the money you gave him on prostitutes, drink and whatever.  Now you go and throw him a party."  I have worked my fingers to the bone for you, and you never even gave me a goat to eat with my friends."  The older brother sees the father as a slave driver who is cheap. The father says to him, "You have always been with me, and everything I have is yours.  Your brother was dead (hint, hint) and now he's alive.  Now come and join the party."

Both of these brothers have a choice to make.  They can choose to believe the story they are telling about themselves, or the one that the father is telling them.  They both received grace.  Grace isn't fair.  People get what they don't deserve.  The Resurrection turns everything on it's ear. 

Rob Bell writes, "What the Gospel does is confront our version of our story with God's version of our story."  Is the story that you've been telling yourself... Good News?

Comments

  1. I have always been puzzled as to why so many ignore the fact that Jesus's original disciples - those who knew the master and were directly taught by him - were Jews, lived and died as Jews and never abandoned their Jewish faith, nor did they teach anyone to do so. Acts 21: 17-26 makes this abundantly clear. Here we have James - the brother of Jesus and the other Jewish 'Christian' elders defending the validity of the law and declaring their 'zealousness' for the law against the accusation that Paul has been teaching his converts just the opposite. So if there was any perversion of Jesus's gospel it appears that this would have originated in Paul's movement. It was Jesus himself who declared in Matthew that until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. His original disciples appeared to have maintained true to that teaching by upholding the Torah for Jews and insisting on at least a minimum adherence to it by Gentiles. It is a pity that most of what we have in the canon was written by Pauline Christians long removed from the original mission and its purpose and objective.

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  2. You are forgetting an entire section in the book of Acts where Peter encounters Cornelius and his family and has that extraordinary vision. Then at the first church "board" meeting James himself reduces the "requirements" for Gentiles drastically. It's clear that the Apostles affirmed Paul's mission and ministry despite their own adherence to the Jewish faith.

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