Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All of the Gospel

If you grew up in an evangelical church, like I did, you often heard the phrase, "I presented the gospel." What the person meant in saying that is, "I explained to the person that Jesus died for their sins on the cross and that if they repented of those sins and gave their life to Jesus, they would be forgiven and spend eternity with Jesus in heaven."

"I presented the gospel."

And that is Gospel. At least part of the gospel.

Before I go on, I need to define the word gospel. It comes from a Greek word that means "good news." It was originally a military / empire term. Representatives of the Roman government would go from town to town across the empire, proclaiming the good news of the current Roman Emperor's victory over their enemy. A preacher would preach the gospel of Julius Caesar.

As they often did, the early church borrowed from the culture around them to explain the message of Jesus. Jesus' life, death and resurrection was given the title gospel - good news of Jesus' victory over all that opposes God. Gospel means Jesus has conquered sin, death, hell, the devil, the grave - you name it.

So for evangelicals to proclaim the gospel of Jesus' victory over our personal sin and physical death, they are proclaiming gospel. Most evangelicals however, don't believe that we can be set free from sin in this life - that we must keep sinning until the next life. Wesleyan evangelicals however, proclaim a gospel of Jesus' victory over sin in this life. Often Wesleyan churches call this the full gospel.

But when our proclamation of gospel is only about the defeating of personal sin and our own resurrection, we're not proclaiming the entire gospel. In a nutshell, evangelicalism got caught up in the individualism of the American culture, reducing it's gospel proclamation to having my own sins forgiven and getting my own butt out of hell.

But sin is more than personal and Jesus' gospel is a story of victory over more than personal sin and our personal grave. It's also about victory over systemic sin, institutionalized injustice and evil. The type of sinful oppression often called out by the Old Testament prophets. They type of systemic sin that keeps the privileged wealthy and the underprivileged poor.

And a biblical view of heaven is not just about the next life. In fact, when the word "heaven" is used in the gospels, it isn't referring to the next life at all - it's referring to life right now, on this earth, in our present life. Not the "sweet bye and bye" nor the future glory to which we'll all "fly away." The word "heaven" was referring to the reign of God. Jesus came to establish that reign. Not in the distant future, but right now.

There is a day coming, Jesus and the Old Testament prophets called it The Day of the Lord when Heaven will have complete reign. Evil will come to an end and all of God's desires for this world will become a reality. Pastor John in Revelation 21 gives us a picture of Jerusalem coming down and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

But our role as followers of Jesus is to proclaim the gospel - right now. To work to help people realize that God's will for the world can start becoming a reality now. That all the powers of sin that both mess up our lives and destroy entire groups of people were defeated on the cross and can be overcome by those living out gospel.

And while this gospel is about the reality that we can be set free from personal sin and that we have a resurrection to which we can look forward. Another huge part of the gospel is that the poor no longer have to stay poor. That God's will for this world is that the powerful and privileged care for the weak and voiceless. Gospel says that all of God's creation can be taken care of in this life. Jesus' victory on the cross has set us free from the need to be concerned only with ourselves, to keep our wealth to ourselves and to continue to prop up an unjust system that guarantees that that haves continue to be the haves on the backs of the have-nots. Gospel says that there don't have to be any more haves and have nots. Through a Holy Spirit empowered, Resurrection reality - the haves make room for the have nots.
The gospel is good news for the poor. For the outsiders. For the have nots.

And that victory over systemic sin is just as much gospel as the forgiveness of personal sin.

But don't take my word for it, listen to Jesus' first public speech in the gospel of Luke, the 4th chapter.
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit's power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region.15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the LORD's favor has come.*"
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently.21 Then he began to speak to them. "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!"

But the haves didn't like this talk of the have nots having equal access to God and to justice, so they tried to do to Jesus what they did to the Prophets centuries before - kill him. And the heaven that Jesus came to establish has continued to be pushed back and rejected by those who felt threatened by the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God. Those who had the most to lose didn't feel comfortable knowing that the gospel of Jesus was good news for the poor.

This summer, I'll begin my training to help bring in a little more heaven (through the education that will help them succeed) to some have not children deeply loved by Jesus but spurned by a sinful system.

And even in moving from a pulpit to a blackboard, I'll still be living out the calling I was given as a 15 year old kid. A calling to preach the gospel, especially to those who have never heard it.

And for a little more reading, check out this post http://www.redletterchristians.org/10-more-reasons-the-gospel-thats-good-news-for-the-poor-is-good-news-for-the-rich/

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