The Gospel #5 – Totally Upside Down News

Standard

When I was a younger Christian I used to be puzzled by statements that Jesus made like in Matthew 13:13-15. Why would Jesus speak cryptically so that people would be puzzled by what He said? I wondered, if the gospel is that good, why doesn’t He just come out and say it clearly? Why speak in riddles, seemingly convoluted statements that only confused people? As the robustness of the gospel has become clearer in my thinking, the gospel brings with it a value system that is upside down from what most people expected. And this confuses many…

The Jews believed that when Messiah came, He would come in power, overthrowing oppressive Rome and re-established the shalom of the Kingdom in the nation of Israel. Yet, what was so puzzling is when Jesus told people that the Kingdom is here, there was confusion! Where is this Kingdom? You say that the Kingdom of God is here yet where is this triumphal Kingdom we’ve anticipated?

But probably what was even more confusing is not just the seeming delay of what people expected the Messianic Kingdom would be like. It was also the “values” of the Kingdom that seemed exactly the opposite of what people wanted, even expected. For instance, how does the Kingdom of God come? In the quiet of a manger. As Pastor Mike spoke about this past Sunday, how does power come? When one is weak and humbly calls out to God for rescue. How does one get “in” to the Kingdom? Not by bloodline or power or riches, but by awakening to the fact that they have been “out” with God. What is the way up to greatness? By becoming low and seeing oneself through the eyes of humility. How does one find themselves? By losing themselves. Who is central in the Kingdom? The poor, the weak, the marginalized, the disenfranchised and not the powerful and rich. How is one made rich? When they recognize their own poverty with God and they find sheer beauty in Him. The announcement of good news is that the Kingdom of God is not out of reach but it is the inverse of what we expect it to be.

Here’s one application for young adults . Growing up in the church is a good thing. It provides “railing” that keeps one on the right path from early in life. I’m grateful that my boys have been given a background where they won’t have to figure life out the hard way. They have been given God’s Word early in life and it’s been to their benefit. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if this aspect of the good news is often forgotten, especially in Orange County, there is no need to live in an upside down way that the Kingdom points to. The railing that was so beneficial seems to keep people in a state of comfort as they get older. Why risk when comfort is available with a steady job and most everything is readily available? Humility is something to assent to but really it’s about making a name for myself (look at how much people talk about themselves!!). This creates tension and the problem with tension is that our modern form of Christianity does not like tension. At least here in Orange County, in the midst of plenty, the removal of tension has this tendency to lead toward a static faith.

So the tension that the upside down Kingdom brings is holy. It’s a really good thing. It keeps us risking (living by faith) in the midst of the Kingdom. It keeps us humble. It reminds us that no accumulating of any thing actually benefits us. It reminds us that we think the good life is comfort when in fact the Kingdom brings a vision of the good life that is much more consistent being transformed inwardly into a person that you were created to be. If our mandate is to make disciples, this Kingdom tension is inherent and any disciple must grapple with it as part of following Jesus.

The Gospel #4 – A New Identity

Standard

With this good news, this gospel, the glorious announcement has been made that God’s rule and reign is present. Everything that your heart has longed for has arrived in the person of Jesus. But while it’s not here in its fullness or completion, that end is guaranteed. There are a few elements of this new Kingdom that are worth looking at. Actually, the gospel message includes this as something that you just don’t understand at the beginning and then you get on to the good stuff.

With God’s Kingdom there is a certain kind of relational status that has been given to the follower of Jesus. A simple way to think of it is that with the arrival of the True King, not only does He rule in our hearts, but He has also invited us to share in His royal status.Paul writes in Romans 8:15, For you have not received the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

Notice the familial language! You are adopted as a son. You are put into a new family, with a new Father and  all of the rights and privileges that only belong to those who are of blood relation are given to you! You are considered an heir and a fellow heir with Christ! That kind of language should shock us because what we have received from God is not based on our work but on the work of Him in our place. As Tim Keller is fond of saying, the gospel is the message that you are far more wicked and flawed than you have seen, yet you are far more loved than you’ve ever experienced.

Why is this important to young adults? Our whole life we have heard messages told to us about who we are. For those who are “in Christ”, the core of our identity is not in what we do (or don’t do). The core of who I am is found solely in my forever adoption into the family of God with all of the benefits, rights, and privileges bestowed upon me freely. At the core of my identity, I am not a pastor, a father, a husband, a friend, etc. I am not what I’ve been told all my life – you’re a bum, you’re stupid, you’re so smart, you’re so special, etc. At the core of who I am is this relational adoption into God’s family. Scholars calls this the “sonship” aspect of the gospel.

And why is this sonship aspect of the gospel something that isn’t just received by faith at first and then it’s up to us to work really hard or obey? It’s because I take my identity from so many other places each and every day. Why do I live with this sense that I’m not doing enough, or I’m  not enough? Why am I so prone to idolatry and finding my identity in something other than God and love that with a super-love? It’s because I’ve forgotten the gospel. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I forget this radically good news every day. I forget the good news that with God’s Kingdom, He accepts me completely, without conditions. That takes some serious weight off of obedience. I am now going to obey for much different reasons.

Every other religion that’s out there in some form or fashion has to make you doubt that you really belong. Whether it’s trying harder, or being better, or striving for some ideal, there is always this lingering sense that I’m not enough. I think this is what’s used to keep people “motivated.” The result of that is it naturally leaves people wondering, “Where do I stand with God?” Christianity is, as far as I know, the only religion that actually says that your status is not dependent on your working or striving, but on the work of someone else who did it for you in history. This is radical!

 

The Gospel Pt. 3

Standard

I suggested that the gospel is like a brilliant diamond with the work of Jesus at the very core (1 Cor. 15:1-8). While acceptance of this might come in the form of the modern day “salvation prayer”, as I said earlier, the gospel is much more than forgiveness. It certainly includes this but it’s more than we ever thought and all that we hoped would be true.

The good news is that a Kingdom has arrived! The three writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke call this the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), meaning this good news is about the rule and reign of Messiah that the Jews were waiting for. In short, this is the good news… God’s effective reigning, His power and authority, are present in the lives of His people and around them. While this Kingdom will be fully realized at a future point, with the coming of Jesus, we have enough to instruct us and motivate us that God’s rule and reign is ultimate reality.

What can get confusing is that Jesus sometimes uses “Gospel of the Kingdom”, and sometimes, “Kingdom of Heaven”. As far as my study goes, there is no appreciable difference between the two. Jesus is announcing, turn back to God’s face for life as God created it, a life full of shalom, happiness, and salvation, is readily available to you. And if you don’t know what God’s face looks like, take a long hard look into the loving face of Jesus.

Further, we shouldn’t see any difference between the gospel as described in Kingdom terms and the gospel described in the disciple John’s terms. If you want a better treatment you can read Chris Green’s Power to Save (which includes the chapter written by Simon Gathercole). John rarely word “Kingdom” to describe the gospel. In fact, he doesn’t even use the word “gospel”. Rather, he describes this good news of the Kingdom as requiring personal transformation – you must be born again and “eternal life”. Both of these terms describe this now and future life that Kingdom language speaks about.

What difference does this make? The gospel is not just about getting forgiveness. It certainly includes that but it’s more. My deepest concern has been that we give people the idea that they pray a prayer “to get saved” and then get really busy living the Christian life. Or that somehow we are rescued by God’s grace (salvation) but then growth (sanctification) is what you do. If salvation is by grace through faith it seems to me that sanctification is by grace through faith as well (it might includes our participation but all growth is caused by God).

The gospel has a Kingdom element to it. The invitation of Jesus in all of our lives is to trust that what He brings with Him is a life connected to the deepest longings of our heart. It is the way of real, deep personal transformation and it tells us that we actually are heading somewhere in life (more on both of these later). And the way to receive this life is to acknowledge that you could never do this or achieve it on your own. It was Jesus’ work on  your behalf that secured this very life for you. And so while the prayer can be useful in terms of helping people articulate what’s in their heart, it turns out that the gospel is more compelling than simply pray the prayer to be forgiven. What if the gospel were so simple a child could understand it and prayer is the simplest way to demonstrate acceptance? Yet, what if the gospel is more nuanced that we thought?

The Gospel Pt. 2

Standard

In my opinion some of the best Bible scholarship is coming out of western Europe! Ironic isn’t it? In a part of the world that is clearly post-Christian there are some who are challenging the misbelief that the Western European church is  an empty shell of what it used to be. Simon Gathercole is a British New Testament scholar who has given much thought to harmonizing the four gospel accounts along with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the gospel. Gathercole in God’s Power to Save, summarizes the data from Paul as, “the gospel is God’s account of His saving activity in Jesus the Messiah, in which, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, He atones for sin and brings new creation.”  Let’s tackle the first part.

What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? In Paul’s words in  2 Cor. 5:21… “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” While there are discussions about “atonement”, “propitiation” and “expiation” that we could have, I just want us to see the thrust of the verse. Paul is stating that there was an exchange that happened in history because of the cross: He made Him to be sin for me and He made me righteous. Again, we could have a discussion on what happened and it certainly has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of sacrifice. But all I want us to see is central to the gospel account is Jesus’ rescuing work. Our sins are “put on” Him and His righteousness is “put on” us.

At the center of the gospel then rests Jesus’ accomplished work on the cross. Jesus cries out in John 19:30, “It is finished” or “tetelestai”, debt paid in full. So Jesus accomplished on the cross something that  we could never do in fulfilling a debt to God that you and I could never pay and we are thus declared to be in a relational right standing with God. At the center of the gospel rests Jesus’ work in history that He accomplished on our behalf to make a declaration: we were in far worse shape than any of us would want to admit. But we are far more loved by God than we could ever imagine.

The gospel is not moral formation. It is not “get in” and then get busy. You do not become a Christian merely to become a good person. Nor do you become a Christian merely to go to heaven. You become a Christian by rejecting your own wisdom in order to embrace the Wisdom of God  (1 Cor. 1:24). Christ did something for you that you could not do and now has declared you to be somebody that you’ve always wanted to be.

What is the gospel? Pt. 1

Standard

The word “gospel” is the Greek word euengelion. The word was used primarily as a way of describing news that was brought from the battlefront to the rest of the city. A herald would stand and announce to the crowd euengelion, good news from the warfront. This news was in the past tense. It was about what happened.

Christianity then is a declaration, an announcement  first and foremost about what’s already happened in time and space. It’s not someone’s opinion. It’s news about what’s happened. Going back to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the Apostle Paul locates the central gospel message in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. These were past tense events which tells us that the good news is about something that happened in history.

Did the Jews in the Old Testament know this word “gospel”? In Isaiah 52:7, the Hebrew word for “good news” means exactly that… good news. It’s “good” in the sense of radically, audacious, life-turning upside down news. And what was the content of the announcement? First, it’s shalom or peace. It’s more than just the absence of noise! As the Jews understood it, shalom had to do with personal wholeness, completeness, or soundness. The good news is that God is bringing a wholeness not just within yourself but also with your neighbor, with your spouse, and with all of creation. This shalom is a picture of the peace that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden. So in many ways, Christianity is a renewal of shalom.

The second word is “happiness.” This good news is not about happiness in the modern sense of feeling good or an temporal elevated feeling. Rather this happiness means a rootedness, stability that leads to a sense of well-being. In other words, the happy or good life is the deeply settled life that does not ebb or flow based on circumstances and is connected to a deep inner transformation of the heart (character).

The third word is “salvation.” This Hebrew word related to the word Yeshua, which is where we get the name Jesus from. So this salvation involves both rescue and redemption from God.

So a Jew who read the Isaiah passage would not have understood the gospel as praying a prayer or personally accepting this. They would have understood it as Yahweh’s commitment to Israel to rescue them and put them in a place of safety where they could flourish as His people and ultimately enjoy shalom. Now the prayer as we know it is not bad. It’s just that’s not how the Jew would have understood salvation.

In the end, we are incredibly reductionistic when it comes to the gospel. Already we’ve seen that while at the core of it we have the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the scope of this good news is much larger than we think. I have described it to others in the past it is as a diamond with the core of Jesus’ work in history at the center. Yet, there are different ways to see through the diamond to the core. It’s important that I unpack those for you in the next few blogs.

Why is this important for Young Adult ministry? The gospel is grand. It’s something that we must be reminded of over and over again because we tend to forget it. How do I know? Go through your day and try to catch how many times you get upset and don’t offer forgiveness, how many times you worry, how many times you forget how Christ is connected to our entire lives (John 15:5). The fact is that we continually forget this radically good news! As Mike offered in his sermon this past Sunday, we must be aware how easy it is for any of us to keep Christianity as a set of moral codes or intellectual propositions or just simply a lifestyle. This gospel is so compelling that we will spend the rest of of our lives trying to understand it’s intricacy and connectedness to everything in our life. As young adults, this is largely the difference between seeing the gospel as something heart stirring, compelling or merely as a set of propositions that one agrees with or seeing it as becoming a better person through adherence to a moral code. More on this later…