Did Jesus preach what we preach? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Just recently I got from the library N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King” and started reading it. What Wright wants us to emphasize is that the middle portions of the gospels matter. We can skip straight from birth to cross and forget that the early church thought it was important for us to know what Jesus said and did.
Often, we want to rush on to the epistles because they’re written in the style that we usually think best in. They are logical outlines and this is the way Westerners think. It’s difficult for us to read a story like the gospels and grasp everything that is underlying them.
When we teach about the gospel, we teach the death, deity, and resurrection of our Lord. Those are all what we should teach in a salvation message, but we must remember when Jesus showed up, he said, and this is early in both Matthew and Mark, that he was calling people to believe the gospel. It could not have been to believe in the death, deity, and resurrection then. Only deity was around at that point and we don’t really see Jesus going around just saying “I’m God. Believe in me.”
It’s interesting in fact that it’s Matthew and Mark that the term gospel shows up in. It doesn’t show up at all in Luke and John. It is not that either of them would be opposed. We even call John 3:16 the gospel in miniature and yet nowhere in John 3:16 do you see anything about the cross and the empty tomb. Matthew is written by a Jew quite familiar with Jewish thought and Mark is supposed to be from Peter himself. Luke could be the most Gentile gospel of all and John is meant to show a contrast of who Jesus is. It is the most different. Why is it two gospels heavily Jewish would be the ones that mention the term gospel?
Also just as important is to realize that we are often looking at the events after the cross and tomb. However, we do believe that Jesus came and spoke a message to the people at the time and we have an accurate presentation of His words. If the gospels say He was preaching to the people to believe the gospel, then He was telling them to believe the gospel. Now we must learn to step outside of our modern western perspective. What was Jesus calling them to believe?
On the one hand, we know that the death and resurrection of the Lord fall into this somehow as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that this is the gospel that he preached. Yet at the same time, we know that there must be some continuity between what Jesus said then and what Paul said later. How are we to unite the two?
When we step outside of ourselves, we learn to think of a Jew in the first century and this is where we often start making big mistakes. Anyone who studies anthropology will tell you that one of the worst mistakes you can make when starting to study a different culture is to assume that that culture is like yours. The Jewish one in the Mediterranean area in the 1st century was not like ours.
This affects the way we read the text greatly. We take many writings literally. Of course some Jews did, but some they did not. We think about what the message means to us as individuals. They thought about what it meant to them as a community. We think about justification by faith. They think about the rescue of God. We think about going to Heaven. They think about being righteous in the sight of God.
Sorry to some, but you won’t understand the Jewish people in their historical and social context just by reading the Bible. You’re going to have to do your homework. Why should this be a surprise? We do this in our own culture. I’m happily married now, but in learning to love my wife, I then and now have to do my homework. When we’re out looking at a store I listen and if she says she likes something, I keep it in my memory banks knowing her love language is gifts. I have to learn to think the way she would about a situation and try to come from her perspective. If I have to do this with the person I sleep next to every night, why would I be so foolish as to think I don’t have to do that for a whole culture separated by time, space, language, etc.
If you were a first-century Jew, chances are you were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. You were tired of the Romans being in charge and dominating your holy land. You had returned from exile or so you thought, but here you were in the land and you were hostages in your own country. Sure, you were granted tolerance, but you were not your own kingdom. Rome would not stay out of your business.
Religion? Of course it was a central part of your life, but the oral tradition of the Pharisees got worse and worse. The Sadducees were dominating the Sanhedrin. The temple itself was more made by a king you considered more pagan than Jewish and you could not entirely trust what was going on in it. You knew the system was the revelation of YHWH and you would die for that system, but you also knew some changes needed to be made.
What are you wondering?
Where is YHWH?
When Jesus shows up, this is what He is saying. “YHWH is on the move.” Think of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” What do we hear? Aslan is on the move. Everyone is waiting for Aslan to come and deliver the people from the rule of the White Witch.
Interestingly, YHWH is far more active in Jesus than He could have been in anyone else. Jesus alone is the image of YHWH and in Him, God is acting to bring about the freedom His people long for. It will not be by the way of conquering Rome, but rather by conquering the real enemy, the devil himself. It will not be by a sword but by the cross that YHWH will conquer. In doing so, He will also bring about the full fruition of Judaism. Judaism and Christianity are not opposed. Judaism is the seed. Christianity is the flower. The Christian needs to understand Judaism to understand all the truth of his religion.
How is this connected? Jesus is telling us before the cross “See that YHWH is active in me. See that He is on the move. The good news is that redemption is coming. Trust in the promises of YHWH in me to see them brought about.” After the cross, we are told to see how YHWH has moved in Jesus and wishes to continue the movement through the church.
The message is still the same. YHWH is on the move. The gospel then is not about us. It is not about what happens to us. It is about what is happening with God. We are incidental to it. We are not necessary for God to move, but we are invited to join in. We have made it be that we want people to believe the gospel for what will happen to them. Of course, something will happen to them, but let us think not about what will happen to us, but what we will do for God.
If YHWH is on the move, we are either with Him or against Him, as Jesus Himself said. If we are with Him, then let us take up the arms described in Ephesians 6 and continue our fight. If we are against Him, then we will find we are fighting a force we cannot defeat and will be conquered by. Let us not make the silly assumption that we are neutral. No one is.
If YHWH is on the move, then He is on the move and that is it. Perhaps if we realized how serious the call is on our lives, we would take it that much seriously. We Christians have a problem with Jihadists who speak of a holy war that involves taking up the sword, but they do have one aspect right. There is a war going on and we are involved. This is not a war that will be won with material weapons, but with arguments that demolish lies that keep us from being free. The truth will set us free after all.
Our good news today is related to the good news they heard before the cross. As Christians, it is to our benefit to read the gospels to see what the good news was and continue the work of our Lord today.