Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Monday, January 19, 2015

What is the Gospel and did Jesus preach it?

and did Jesus preach it ?
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth......When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

This week's texts exemplify Epiphany, the season after Christmas which began with the visit of the Wise Men, the season where our focus is on Jesus, light to all people.  The story of Jonah is relatively well known, even to people who no longer or never have had an interest in the Scriptures. In the week ahead, I invite you to read all of Jonah's 48 verses without being swallowed up by the tale's fishiness. Instead, focus on God's abundant love for all people.

Before criticizing runaway Jonah, remember that Ninevah's residents, the Assyrians, were Israel's brutal enemies who were likely to kill him. Jonah did not want God to forgive them. And, if we're honest, nor do we always eagerly share God's grace beyond our finite box containing our like-minded friends and ourselves. However, God is infinitely outside your box and my box seeking loving relationships with all people. Prophet Jonah's dire eight-word message, without even a call for them to change, still resulted in the Ninevites' repentance and God's forgiveness. 

He has to be regarded as the most successful prophet of the Old Testament and perhaps even of all Scripture...if the measure we use is bringing people to repentance, bringing people to change from their way to God's way. 120 000 people brought to repentance in 3 days...poor Jeremiah, in 40 or 50 years of ministry came nowhere near that "success", neither did Peter on the day of Pentecost, and dare I say, neither did Jesus in 3 years of full time ministry....He struggled to change a group of 12. I don't think Billy Graham had such "success" in any 3 day period (but I stand to be corrected on that).

In your studies this week you might want to reflect on the fact that in the book of Jonah (and some call it the "gospel" according to Jonah), the storm, the lots, the sailors, the great fish, the pagan people of Nineveh, the vine, the worm, the east wind.....all obeyed God's command....except the prophet of God himself....and yet, 120 000 brought to repentance in 3 days!

Can God do such a thing today? 
How big is your God?

Now, thinking of Nineveh, can God bring your Godless partner, spouse, child, parent, friend, city, nation back to Himself? Wesley certainly believed that a nation could be called back to holiness to the Lord. How big is your God? Just believe, says Jesus, and you will tell mountains and trees to throw themselves into the sea....and they will. Do you believe that? How big is your God?

Can people be brought to such repentance today. Can we remember the message of Jonah and say/pray with the prophet Habakkuk (3:1-2):

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Is the church you see, the church you hope for, a church which remembers, believes and expects a repetition of the mighty works of God "in our time"? Can you imagine a church that prays this prayer:
Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Where would we start? Walking the streets saying (with Jonah): "Forty more days and.......will be overthrown"....after all, it worked for Jonah and Nineveh. Well, yes it did, but it is not the message God gives to us today. It's a message many people hear today, doom, destruction, judgement, accompanied by guilt and shame, but it's not the gospel, not good news, not gospel...not what Jesus walked around preaching about, not what the disciples were so excited about that they would risk death to share the message. What is the gospel and did Jesus preach it on the dusty streets and in the synagogues of Galilee? Our Gospel reading records our message for the streets of our cities today:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Now, a few things to lift from our Gospel reading:
At the heart of the Christian faith is a Savior who was a preacher. “And Jesus came preaching” (Mark 1:14). This stands in contrast to the gods of Olympus or the deities of the Roman pantheon whose interaction with mortals, when it happened at all, was transient, detached, like a circle touching a tangent. Zeus thundered, but he did not preach. 
But when the divine Logos was made flesh, he embraced the full range of human activity and emotion: Jesus got hungry, Jesus got thirsty, Jesus got exhausted, Jesus got angry, Jesus wept, and Jesus preached. Jesus declared that the very purpose of his mission on earth was to preach: “‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching. . . .” (Luke 4:43-44a).

Notice, but don't be put off by the fact that Jesus called people and they seem (in Mark's gospel) to drop everything and follow Jesus, leaving their father to carry on the family business at the drop of a hat...who wants children like that? But Mark's gospel really leaves out the frills, so he doesn't tell us what John does....namely that Andrew (a disciple of John the Baptist) who was Peter's brother had been following this preacher Jesus and eventually introduced Peter to Him and then Jesus moved away and met Philip who later introduced Him Nathaniel (can anything good come from Nazareth?) and so on. Then, later, when John was put in prison, Jesus senses His call to full time ministry and begins to invite folk to become His disciples, and so, folk who have heard him over the months (perhaps years) respond to something (the call of God) that has been at work in them for some time.

But what attracted them?......what drew them to Him and His message? (We've seen already that His message was not one of doom and destruction.) What is it that should draw folk to Him today, and I must stress this, without in any way watering down or making more palatable His message.....what is His message of good news (gospel) that has not changed in 2000 years. The church might have changed the message (which would explain its decline in many countries) but the message of Jesus has not changed...listen to it again:  

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!or as Eugene Petersen translates it
Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
(The word translated repentance means think differently or reconsider. For a discussion on the Greek word that is translated "repentance" go here, here and here)

What is the good news that Jesus preached: The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near.
What is the gospel: It is this and nothing else, namely that the Kingdom of God is near.

Some say (somewhat sarcastically) that Jesus came preaching the kingdom but what we got was the church.

The kingdom of God is near/at hand.

Consider for a moment what the response would have been like if Jesus had preached, “The kingdom of God is 2,000 years away.” This would not have been news, nor perceived as all that good. The message would have been disappointing, and public response would also have been disappointing. Jesus may not have been popular, Jewish religious leaders might not have been jealous, and Jesus might not have been crucified. 
However, John and Jesus preached a kingdom that was near in time to their audiences. The message said something about what people should do now; it had immediate relevance and urgency. It aroused interest—and jealousy. The message challenged the status quo and implied that changes were needed in civil government, in religious teachings, and in personal behavior.

Now, there was a great expectation at the time of Jesus, and I would suggest today, of what a great Saviour, a great King, should look like:

Plenty of people wanted (and want) God to sort everything out and rescue his people, but nobody quite knew how it would happen. He had a different vision of God, God’s purposes, and God’s way of achieving those purposes—a different vision of what the real good news was supposed to be…. 

The Jewish people of the first century were expecting their God to come back in person to rescue them, revealing his glorious presence, defeating their enemies, and reestablishing them as his people once and for all.
They got Jesus.
They were hoping for a new exodus—that is, a repeat performance of what had happened fifteen hundred years earlier, when the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt and their God came to rescue them. He had overcome the powerful Egyptian rulers, liberated his people, and led them in person through the Sinai Desert to bring them to the promised land. Many prophets had said that one day God would do something like this again. Many people were hoping it would be soon.
They got Jesus.
They were hoping for a new age of justice and peace. Ancient scriptures had spoken of a time when the wolf would lie down with the lamb, the mountains would drip sweet wine, and the earth would be full of the knowledge and the glory of the one true God like waters filling the sea.
They got Jesus.
Is it any wonder they were puzzled?

I don't know what you expect in terms of good news (gospel) in your life...your work life, your home life, your city life, your national life, your life in sickness and in health, in richer and in poorer.....and perhaps, like the people of Jesus time, you're a little disappointed with what this BIG God is up to in your life, a little disappointed that the good news just doesn't seem so good. I can only speak for my own country (South Africa) and say this: Churches are not full because churches are not preaching the good news, because, as Jesus showed, good news attracts, good news is appealing, good news gets people (like Philip) talking and saying You've got to hear this. Our strength is our message and our message ought to be:
The kingdom of God is here, so near you can step into it right now.

 NT Wright in his latest book defines the gospel: "So how might we in turn summarize the good news—both the good news announced by Jesus and the good news that his first followers announced when they talked about him later on? The good news is that the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection….The good news was, and is, that all this has happened in and through Jesus; that one day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now. This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything less." (Buy Simply Good News here)

The good news is not that your city will be destroyed in 40 days, 40 months, 40 years or 40 centuries. The good news (gospel) is that the Kingdom of God is

What does that mean?: Well it means that with our prophetic binoculars, or microscope, we see what the world is meant to look like when Jesus Christ is King and we then work to bring about that We see that in that kingdom, no one goes hungry, so if we see a hungry person, we feed them, and in so doing God's kingdom comes and God's will is done....ditto Mt 25 thirsty, cold, stranger, sick, prisoner.

And until this kingdom comes in all its fullness, the wonderful words of Jesus encourage us: Remember, He preached kingdom, kingdom and kingdom and then one day He said:
Behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke just gets better and better, doesn't it?...and then Paul gives us this wonderful exposition of what that means in Romans 14:17
For the kingdom of God is ... righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Now that is Good News, that is the Gospel.

That is good news for this preacher and all of us who are just so tired of trying to be good, thinking that we possess within ourselves the ability by our acts of obedience to make ourselves presentable before God. Rather, believe the good news that the only true righteousness comes from outside and beyond ourselves, given by God. Believe...and see mountains of unrighteousness in your life marching off to the see. I know, believer and unbeliever alike, want to be better people than they are, so this is good news.

Hear the good news, the gospel, of peace...turn to Him (that is what repentance means, to change direction towards God...that is what the Ninevites did, they turned, repented, to God), turn to Him, in faith and you will find peace amidst your unpeace. Paul struggles to describe this peace, but he can't really, so he just says it's a peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).....I know that you, believer or unbeliever, want that peace, so this is good news.

Hear the good news of joy...this speaks of many things, including happiness, but the word used here means calm delight closely related to contentment. We live in a world of discontent which steals our joy...we are discontented with our spouse, children, parents, government etc. So this is good news, joy in the very midst of the things that steal our joy.
Jesus came into a world which was desperate for these things, desperate for a kingdom where these things could be found and He preached that that Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, was near.
I follow in His footsteps and proclaim to you;
The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

I beg you: just start believing that statement and then see where faith leads you;
You might want to say: I believe and commit myself to continue living by faith;
or, you might want to say: I believe, help my unbelief;
or, you might want to say: Today I'm going to repent, change my mind about Jesus, change the direction of my life, I'm going to turn to Him, deeply sorry of the things that have been so contrary to His way, I'm going to turn around and follow Jesus.

No comments: