Why is there a gospel at all? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Last night, I wrote about what the gospel is. Often, when we do our evangelism, we tell people that they are sinners and that they need forgiveness and that God loves them and wants to save them. Yes. This is true. Yet at the same time, if we approach the gospels that way, we will miss a lot.
For instance, is the story of Jesus just meant to tell us that God loves us? We can say that actions speak louder than words, and they do, but while we can say that God is saying that in Jesus, and He is, could we not say that He is saying more than that? I recall being in a Sunday School class where we were told the reason Joshua was written was so that Israel would know to obey God.
Of course Israel needed to know that, but could there not be something about the one who comes after the Law guiding the people into the land of promise and providing deliverance from their enemies all around them and in the end asking them to remain faithful to the covenant?
Quite interesting that that person in the Old Testament is Joshua, which would also be Yeshua, the name of Jesus.
You see, in the second century, there arose a heretic named Marcion who wanted to separate the God of Christianity from the wicked God of the Old Testament. He only had the non-pastoral Pauline epistles and a highly edited gospel of Luke in his canon. He wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel.
Now many Christians today would not say the God of Israel is a bloodthirsty fiend like someone like Marcion or Richard Dawkins would, but many of them are in fact Marcionite in their practice acting as if the God of Israel has nothing whatsoever to do with the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
If we start with us, we miss a lot of the problem and we miss a lot of what the story of Jesus is meant to tell us. For instance, readers of the blog know about my fanaticism when it comes to the series Smallville. If you watched the final episode without seeing the series, you could understand a good deal of it. Yes. Clark Kent must defeat Darkseid. Yes. Lex Luthor must be stopped. Yes. Clark puts on the suit and flies. You know the story ends happily. Clark Kent has become Superman.
If instead you have watched the whole series you know all about not just what Clark did there but how he got there. You understand how the battle against evil for him started at the very beginning. You understand that the meteor freaks at the start were the way Clark learned to fight and eventually become Superman. You learn about all the trials Jor-El put him through and the friendships developed with people like Chloe, Oliver, and Tess. All of these make the story all the richer for you. You can get the basic enjoyment the person who just sees the final episode gets, but you get so much more because you understand where it fits in the grand scheme.
We have enough of a problem already with this in our world. We have taken the gospel with this and made it all about ourselves. The gospel is about how God makes a wicked people to be righteous so they can be with Him. It is about how they can live forever. It is about how they can be forgiven. Here’s something to ponder. Why should God care?
In Christianity, we do know that God would have been fully justified in letting us go our own way. We all deserve hell. There is nothing special about any of us in that regards. God still cares. Why? Go look repeatedly in the account of the Exodus and the wanderings in the wilderness and see what happens.
Why does God not destroy Israel out there? Moses tells Him that the Egyptians will see and know that God was unable to deliver. His glory will be cast down because of that. See why it would be said the temple was destroyed. It would be because the people were becoming a blight on the name of God. Their lifestyles were not honoring to Him. Why are they coming back? For God’s Name sake. It is not because God owes Israel a thing. It is because He has chosen them regardless and for the honor of His Word, He will save them.
It is the same for us. God saves us for His glory and so that we can reflect that glory. It is not about doing works just out of gratitude, while that is part of it. It is also about doing them to bring about the glory and the kingdom of God, something that is absent from our gospel presentations.
When we look in the gospels, it is not a surprise, or at least it should not be, that the Old Testament is all throughout there. I’ve written much recently on how people don’t bother to understand the context of the Bible to see what is going on in the world. The Bible itself shows that is needed as to understand the New Testament, you need the Old Testament. Sure. You can get the message from just the New Testament, but you’re getting an incomplete story. Your understanding is enriched by getting the full account.
If we go to the gospels and read them like they were written to us today and have no understanding of the story of Israel, we will miss much. If all we understand is that we are sinners in need of a savior, we will get benefit of course, but we will not get all that we could. Surely we all want to get all we can out of the Bible! Then we must understand the story of Israel. It is not an accident that the gospels show us that Jesus is god with us and the Messiah. Both are essential. We can go and seek to establish the latter while ignoring the former as if being the Messiah was a side point. To take what Jesus Himself said, we should do the former without neglecting the latter!
Yet if we continue this inane approach, it will only make us more self-centered. It is already happening with several who wish to try to see where America is in the Bible or to see where “I” fit in in the Bible. To wrench the Bible completely from its time, culture, and context will make it say things it does not say and not allow it to say what it is meant to say.
If we want to understand the epistles, we need to understand the mindset from which Paul and the rest of the writers are arguing from. This is especially so in the book of Hebrews. If we want to understand Acts, we need to understand why the mission is spreading to begin with. If we want to understand the apocalypse of Revelation, we definitely need to understand the Old Testament. Revelation very rarely quotes the Old Testament, but it is alluded to well throughout the book. If you do not understand the Old Testament, you will not understand Revelation, PERIOD!
This will get us off of ourselves and onto the gospel. The gospel is not about God wanting to be with us as if we were so special, but about Him knowing we are incomplete without Him and wanting us to share His glory all the more. We are most glorious when we are in Him. Think of it as a marriage. A man and a woman can work quite well on their own, but when the two come together, they can far outshine what both of them could do separately. This is especially true in the sexual act. After all, it is only by their sharing glory with one another that they can bring about the glory of new life.
This also means that this is not about following a list of rules. It’s not about doing good just because that’s what good Christians do. You do good because it is how you win. We are told that Constantine had a dream where he was shown the cross and told that under this sign he would conquer. The reality is it was under that sign he had already been conquered. It was the cross that had overtaken the Roman Empire, not by the sword, but by doing good. This is not meant to ask if war might ever be necessary, but it is meant to show that when it is necessary, it is not as a means of evangelism.
The problem is not just your sin. That is a symptom of the problem. It would be like treating the flu by making sure your temperature stays down. You need to do that. You need to stay hydrated. The most important thing to do however is to kill the flu. The problem of your sin and mine is a symptom. It is a symptom of the disease of a world in rebellion against God. Let us be sure about how our lives are being lived. We are either advancing the kingdom of God or the kingdom of satan and if we are advancing our personal kingdoms, guess which side we’re really working for. It brings a whole new emphasis to good works when you see them as doing the work of the kingdom and conquering the kingdom of the devil.
Israel is not an accident. The whole point of the gospel story is not you. It is not even Israel to be sure, but Israel sure plays a much greater role in it than you do. If you are to know and appreciate the gospel, you will need to know what it was that God was doing in Israel in the Old Testament and how He deals with Israel in the New and what the person of Jesus really has to do with it all.