What is the Gospel? No, really, what is it?
Now that it’s been a few weeks since I read the book, The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and have had time to digest it more I think I can be ready to put up my thoughts here. So, back to my question: What is “The Gospel”?
Many Christians will tell you that the Gospel is that Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sins and eternal damnation in a fiery pit called Hell. While I believe that there is truth in it, I also believe that this statement is incredibly short sighted and largely misses the target.
Gospel is defined by many as meaning “good news”. What about the above statement is good news? Salvation, sure, but saved from what? Our sins? What does that even mean? What about Hell? You expect me to believe in some ultimate destiny that no one really cares to think about? Honestly, how often do you think to yourself, “When I die…”? I know I am often distracted by the present to think too deeply about an expected 50 years in my future. Obviously, not all of us alive today are going to live another 50+ years, but I think it’s safe to say that we all expect and hope to. So this good news often feels irrelevant to John Doe who works in a corporate office from 9-5, whose wife is threatening to divorce him, whose kids hate him, and whose dreams are slowly slipping away. John doesn’t need to be saved from death; if anything, death might feel like a relief. No John needs to be saved from fear, pain, worry, and despair. There is no better way to break a person’s soul than to make them fall into despair.
This is a little bit like where Israel was around the time Jesus showed up: Romans had taken over the government and frequently levied taxes on the people; Their deity, I Am, has become silent for over 400 years; the people they trust to direct them in the ways that honor their deity have become corrupt; and there is general unrest. You might even say that this was Israel’s form of The Great Depression. I do not know about you, but I can almost feel the darkness that surrounds this era of earth’s history. So many things go on in the shadows.
In comes Jesus, born of a virgin, Mary, and raised by an earthly father, a carpenter, Joseph. On the night of his birth an insane amount of Angels shout out in joy (and scare the crap out of the shepherds they are speaking to), there is excitement in the air (certainly wasn’t a “Silent Night”), and YET, this kid enters the world largely unnoticed, and would not really make a name for himself until he reached the age of 30 and began his ministry. For 3 years, Jesus develops a relationship with and intensely invests in 12 men, which we know as the 12 disciples. As a closure to this time spent with the 12 men and the crowds that followed to listen to his teaching, Jesus is accused of blasphemy (rightfully so according to the religious leaders at the time) because he did, after all, claim to be the Messiah and God Incarnate. The penalty for Blasphemy is death, but by this time the Jewish religious leaders were so angry they decided stoning was not good enough. The man needed to be crucified as the show of ultimate shame. Thus Jesus was killed, on all accounts blameless and sinless. The story doesn’t end there though, according to his followers, this man decided that he did not want to be dead any longer and revived on the third day. After spending a few more months with his disciples Jesus finally ascends into heaven and is never heard from again, or at least, not in the physical sense like he was for those 33 years.
A couple of decades later we have Jesus’ disciples writing about the events that happened in his life. These accounts are known as the Gospel. We have all heard the story, but have we all grasped the fullness of it. Looking at Matthew alone I find there are details that I often overlook; for instance, the constant use of numbers to emphasize a point. 12 disciples, 3 days, 5 loaves 2 fish (7), and on and on it goes. Each number means something to the Jewish reader; each one sticks out like a sore thumb.
All that to say, the Gospel is – so – much more than the story of the death and resurrection of a Jesus, Messiah. It is a completion of a story. It is the Resolution of a long history, and the beginning of a sequel. The story of Jesus is the story of God restoring Israel, and all of creation with her, to that has been longed for since the first sin of Adam and Eve. It is freedom. Freedom from legalistic law, freedom from the worries, stresses, and hopelessness experienced by people under the rule of a Roman Emperor, and freedom from themselves in some sense. No longer are they enslaved by the law, but freed by it. How many times did Jesus say something that had to do with life? Jesus’ death allowed for people everywhere to live. He was the “ultimate sacrifice” as I’ve heard it called sometimes. I tend to think of it as the ultimate communication.
“I love you, come be with me.”
And I think that is what he would want today as well. Yes, we are saved from a wretched existence, enslaved by the very things we often do not want to do. But even more importantly than that, we are given a freedom and a life that we can experience here, now, in the “today”. I believe that in the death and revival of Jesus, there is peace that can be found, and a relationship that can be established with a very real and involved deity that we simply call “God”.
I believe this for so many reasons both intellectual and intuitional. I would even argue to be a Christian you cannot have one without the other. And even if I’m wrong, to paraphrase Puddleglum in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, I would rather believe in a place that has peace, freedom, life, and emphasizes this concept of altruistic expression to others and to a creator being than in this hopeless place we are in now. I do not mean place in the physical sense (heaven, hell, or earth); I mean it in a status sense. I would rather follow a standard that tells me to make my current location as much heaven on earth as I can. To let people know that I love them, even if no one else will.
Now comes the temptation to trail off. So, I’ll be done.
Grace and Peace