Do the gospels tell the gospel? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
With the Inerrancy debate going on, a lot of people are getting introduced to the idea that the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. I have no desire to challenge that idea. I even agree with it. I’d like to come from a different perspective. Are the gospels really meant to teach us the gospel?
If you mean the idea that we have today that you need to believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and turn to him, then I would actually say no. That is not the point of the gospels. A possible exception could be at the end of John of course, but I’d like to suggest a different purpose that could include that and yet goes beyond it.
In Mark 1, right off the start, we have Jesus after his baptism and temptation saying the the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news. If good news there means “gospel” as we often take it to mean, then this is strange because there is nothing in there about turning to Jesus for forgiveness or believing in Him as God and Messiah.
The same happens in Matthew 4:17. In neither of these cases, Jesus has not preached a sermon yet. We have no idea what His message could be, but I’d like to suggest a different approach.
N.T. Wright wrote about how in Josephus there is a reference to someone telling someone else to repent in the meaning of “Come over to my side.” I find this to be a fascinating consideration. Jesus is telling Israel to repent, Israel that already believed they had forgiveness.
In fact, Jesus doesn’t really speak out against the system of forgiveness. He speaks against its misuse. He tells the people what God really desires more is mercy and faith, but He never goes against the system as a whole, which is interesting since Jesus was very quick to point out other areas that he thought the Jewish system was deficient.
Let’s suppose this isn’t about forgiveness per se. What could it be about? The connection with both texts is the Kingdom. Jesus is telling people that the Kingdom is here. In Matthew, we have more clues. Matthew starts off with Jesus being seen as “God with us.” Matthew has prophecy being fulfilled left and right and John the Baptist showing up marks this as a time of high eschatological fulfillment. God is doing something and He is doing it in Jesus.
When Jesus is doing His ministry, it is not just a ministry but a political statement as it were. Let us compare it to modern campaigns. There were several Messiahs running around town. Jesus was another claimant and Jesus had to show He was the real deal. Not only was He showing who He was, He was also showing what the Kingdom was like. What is the Sermon on the Mount? It is a message about what people under His reign are to be like. What are the miracles? They are showing what the Earth will be like when Jesus is fully in charge.
We have just gone through an election cycle. We should know what this is like. Each candidate goes out to the masses and presents Himself. Jesus is presenting Himself to the people as the person that they should “elect” as their Messiah and in saying repent, He is saying “Identify with me and recognize me as your Messiah.”
This is also why He tells his disciples to go to only the lost sheep of Israel. It doesn’t make any sense to go anywhere else to proclaim yourself as Messiah. What good would it be to go to a place like Greece and say “The Messiah has come!”? The people would wonder what exactly that meant. It only makes sense in Israel. Israel gets the first vote as to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.
Unfortunately, Israel votes no.
What is the resurrection? God votes yes. Note the resurrection does not mean Jesus is the Messiah because He rose again. He is the Messiah because He claimed to be and the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on His ministry. It is God saying “Yes. I support Jesus as Messiah.”
And the one vote of God counts as a majority.
It is after the resurrection then that all authority is given. Israel may have decided they did not want to participate in the reign of Jesus, but He still reigns and now the Christians are to go out with a new message. Jesus is the king of the world. Jesus is the ruler of all. It’s no shock the Romans weren’t happy with this message.
What does this have to do with forgiveness of sins? For those who are concerned about it, as I’ve said elsewhere not everyone was, forgiveness is found by recognizing Jesus as king. If you recognize Him as the one to trust in, you get the favor in that He forgives your crimes against Him. This trust is what we call “faith.”
The good news does include forgiveness, but not just that. The good news is that Jesus is the king right now and we are to prepare ourselves for His total reign one day. When you are evangelizing, you are campaigning for people to recognize Jesus as king. Make a good case.