Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Great Announcement - Part 1

(I'm on vacation this week.  Since I've almost finished the 3rd installment of my series The Great Announcement (about what the gospel really is) I thought it might be helpful if I reprint parts 1 and 2 while I'm gone. Here is the first; Part 2 will follow on Thursday.)

(Photo courtesy of Hannahmw)
God has a message for us, one that is so important and powerful that accepting it can transform the very nature of your existence -- not just in a nice metaphorical way, but a real, actual change. The Christian Movement was founded in large part to spread this message. I'm talking about the Gospel, of course. Anyone who's ever taken a cursory glance at Christianity knows it teaches that to "be saved" (whatever that means) you have to believe "the Gospel."

So what is the message? What does it say? That's what this occasional series will be about: What the Gospel is.

Probably the most common answer to the question runs something like this (which I'm taking from a site that named itself after this message): "So what is it? Here it is: There is a God, he loves you, and you can know him personally. That's it."

But, not to be a spoil sport or anything, that's not really it. 'It' is in there, it's part of the gospel and it's wonderful, but wonderful as it is it's almost a side issue to the main thing God wants said. It's not the "point" of the Gospel "spear."

Just as a side point think about this: Has it ever struck you as odd that the Gospel message we usually hear is, well, rather self-centered? I mean, stripped down to its bare bones, the Gospel is often presented as, "Avoid Hell. Believe this so you can go to Heaven when you die." Jesus and his greatest champions down through history did not do self-centered. His followers do self-sacrifice.  Does it make sense then that the main point of God's message would be about getting something?

So let's take a look through Christianity's founding documents and see what Christ and his messengers said this "Gospel" (a.k.a. "Good News") was really about.

Where Are We?

How Messiahs are supposed to look (Judas
Maccabeus,  a Messiah from a century and a
half before Jesus)
First a bit of background.

The nation of Israel was set up by God so that, "All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants," (Genesis chapter 22 verse 18 CEB). But by the time Jesus showed up, they had fallen far from the heady days of of David and Solomon. For the last approximately 600 years they had been subject to other nations, the current one being Rome. Although the nation technically had some liberty the Romans kept them them on a very short leash and soldiers were everywhere.

But many Jews believed that their prophetic books promised them a "Messiah" to deliver them from their oppressors and make them an independent kingdom once again. There were a plethora of views on what exactly this Messiah would be like and do, but mainstream opinion included at least this much: That he would be a mighty warrior who would march into town, cleanse the Temple of pagan influences, defeat Israel's enemies, and set up the "Kingdom of God" (or "of Heaven," which was a respectful way to refer to God).

Meet Jesus

So now we encounter Jesus of Nazareth for the first time. He is proclaiming a message that he calls "The Gospel." How does it go? "After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Gospel of Mark chapter 1 verses 14-15, Common English Version).

Interesting. Not much like the Gospel I quoted at the beginning. I used the Common English Version instead of my usual translation so we could feel a little of the impact this would have had on the average oppressed 1st century Jew. It would have been rather incendiary!  Matthew's Gospel tells us that, "Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, (Gospel of Matthew chapter 4 verse 23).

In our next installment we'll follow this gospel message through Christ's resurrection, into the early Christian Movement and see where it takes us.

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