Alas, with installment #5 now, though a bit delayed, I am finally beginning to make more head way around my discussion of what the gospel and evangelism are all about.
So far, I’ve honed in on Jesus in the Gospels (here, here) and the preaching in Acts (here).
My major premise has been that the gospel, the evangel, should be and is actually centred in the proclamation of the coming of God’s kingdom rule in Jesus, God’s Messiah-King. This is simply what Jesus proclaimed when he proclaimed the gospel, and I believe this is essential to the proclamations that we find in the book of Acts.
Questions arise as to the validity of this premise, though I always ask people to go back and read Jesus’ words in the Gospels, which becomes quite an eye-opening experience. And from that starting point, considering the gospel announcement of Jesus himself, we can consider how the messages of Acts, Paul and the rest of the New Testament fits in. At least I am convinced we should begin with Jesus if we are to claim we have a Christ-centred faith and gospel.
But queries definitely come forth when we consider what Paul wrote in his letters. And, at the top of the list, we find many people referring to the well-known Pauline gospel passage of 1 Cor 15:1-4:
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
Isn’t the gospel, at least for Paul, centred in the death and resurrection of Jesus? That’s what seems to be the underlying theme in this passage above.
For starters, I would refer people to Scot McKnight’s new release, The King Jesus Gospel, of which I review here. McKnight reminds us that this gospel that Paul proclaimed was all about the story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Israel. And it is this great story which is fulfilled through his life, death and resurrection. Not just with fulfilling certain verses here and there, like the focus in our modern day cross-reference Bibles. But rather the whole story, the bigger story, which includes the details, but includes the details because Jesus fulfils the whole.
And I do like what McKnight emphasises here. But, as I challenged in my review of the book, and especially noting the title of the book, I would have liked to hear McKnight talk more about the reality of the kingdom rule of God. From that first-century and Jewish perspective, and that is the setting Jesus stepped into, I would say that the good news was all about God taking charge of the world through his Messiah who became Lord of both heaven and earth. That is the good news, the gospel of the kingdom.
But how did this all get worked out?
This is where the gospel gets extremely exciting as it focuses in on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God made His kingdom rule known on earth as it was in heaven in the most unique of ways – first through the death of His own Son and then through the death-defeating resurrection of His Son by the power of the Spirit, which was a playing out of the Hebrew story of old (as McKnight would highlight).
Of course, that is gospel! To deny such would be absolutely ludicrous. To proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus is to proclaim the gospel. But my whole point is that to proclaim this is to proclaim that God is reigning in His Son, and the proof was in the pudding, the pudding of His Son’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. That is the proof of the good news that our God reigns, the great sign(s) that God is sovereign over all.
So whereas some might charge me of downplaying the death and resurrection of Jesus, I want to make clear that if such ever seems to be the case, it is not with a desire to negate the absolute and divine importance and necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus as gospel-evangel. But it is to rather start with the reality that the Son came to proclaim that God’s reign was here, God’s kingdom was here. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God’s coming rule. But, in establishing that rule and making it a reality, the story continued down an important road of the life, death and resurrection of God’s Messiah-King.
As Paul said, it is of first importance that Christ died for our sins and was resurrected, according to the Scriptures (the whole Hebrew-storied Scriptures). And it was in that Christ event that God’s kingdom rule was established. That is amazingly good news. And now we await the final ending of that story, the final chapter of that good news, when the Bridegroom steps out of heaven to fully establish God’s rule, making all things just, right and new.
What do we do(while we wait)to help people realize the present kingdom/reign of Jesus?
Um… tell them? 🙂
I would practically begin to read Scripture itself, re-studying the Gospels first, and spreading back out into the OT and rest of the NT. I would take other people into the Gospels. I would also encourage you to read some good works by NT Wright, as he is quite helpful. His book Surprised by Hope will address some good things here and supposedly his new book Simply Jesus. Also, his major work (some 700+ pages), Jesus and the Victory of God might help. But start yourself by re-reading the Gospels and consider what is being talked about when the phrases kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven arise (they are synonymous terms), as well as the word gospel.
Ephesians 4: 1-6 are my key verses for applying the kingdom here.
Paul exhorts us to live in the here and now according to our [heavenly] calling.
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.