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Friday, January 08, 2016

Jesus's Gospel

We hear quite often that Jesus was a nice guy, not some "fire and brimstone" preacher. You know, not like God the Father who scared people nearly to death at Mount Sinai (Exo 20:18-19). And this idea is perfectly defensible if you ignore the Scriptures. The Scriptures in which Jesus says, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30) The Word of God in which we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) The Bible that tells us Jesus's claim, "What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me." (John 12:30) As long as you ignore the fact that Jesus spoke more often of Hell than Heaven, you'll be fine with that.

So it's interesting when we come across Jesus's first message, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) "Repent," was Jesus's first message. It means to change how you think. It isn't simply "feel bad about your sin". It is in a real sense "turn or burn". The literal meaning of the word here is "to think differently". Now that should make you think. Because apparently we're not thinking right and we need to think differently.

It was the same message of John the Baptist (Matt 3:2). Both men argued that it was time to change their thinking because "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:2). (Note: Matthew's "kingdom of heaven" and Mark and Luke's "kingdom of God" are identical (compare Matt 5:3 and Luke 6:20). Matthew's is circumlocution -- avoiding the use of the word "God" -- as part of his Jewish upbringing.) So, what is this "kingdom"? Many would like to tell us it references the 1,000 year reign of Christ in the future. That is problematic because both John and Jesus said it was "at hand" and "2,000 years and counting" is not "at hand". So this kingdom has to be something that was "at hand". In fact, Jesus said it had already come in His lifetime (Matt 12:28). Daniel referred to this kingdom in Daniel 7:13-14 of which he said, "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." So this kingdom is not temporary. What is it, then, that is "at hand" that should cause us to change how we think and act?

We know that the kingdom of God is already present (Psa 103:19). So there is a sense in which God's kingdom has always been present. But Jesus said it was "at hand", so this is a different nuance. We know this because we also know that not everyone can be a part of the kingdom of God (John 3:5-7). We know that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) So this "kingdom of God" is God's reign in God's people through God's Son. It refers here to the redeemed, the people of God. And this is where we find the need for repentance. This kingdom is the one available to "the poor in spirit" (Matt 5:3), those who recognize themselves as spiritually destitute and desperately in need of salvation. This condition produces mourning (Matt 5:4), humility (Matt 5:5), and a hunger and thirst for righteousness they don't possess (Matt 5:6). Thus, repentance is necessary.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) What "gospel"? The good news Jesus preached beginning with "Repent!" was the gospel of the kingdom of God. "Unless one is born again," He said, "he cannot see the kingdom of God." Those who are born of God cannot make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9), so one who is born of God and, therefore, part of the kingdom of God falls under a new reign, that of Christ. it is the end of sin as a way of life and the beginning of the lordship of Christ in an individual life. That is a change.

Jesus loved. No doubt. Jesus was kind and gracious. No question. But love and grace cannot ignore the need of sinners for salvation. And Jesus did not ignore that. The gospel was that those who were born of the Spirit would enter the kingdom of God -- eternally. As opposed to the alternative, the Hell that Jesus warned against (Luke 13:3). It's good news when you tell someone who is headed the wrong way to turn around and go the right way. Some people just don't see it that way.


Bob said...

imagine what it must been like to stand at the edge of the valley of dry bones. then imagine an evangelical preacher of today telling them to exercise their free will and come to life.
seems absurd.. but the one that the Lord raises from the dead, is a new creation. yes we must be born again, but to make the statement as though is were something that we can do is absurd. how marvelous is this new life that God has given us. and it is this new nature that wants to repent. yet even still this power of repentance is a gift of God. the child of God does not sin, nor can he. because he is a new creature. this statement should get some attention...
what does this mean??

Stan said...

What do we know about Christians as a "new creation"? The phrase comes from 2 Cor 5:17 -- "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." It starts with "therefore", so we have to see on what it is predicated. Up in the previous section Paul says, "The love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (2 Cor 5:14). Thus, this "new creation" is based on our dying with Christ and being raised to "walk in the newness of life" (Rom 6:4). As a result, "the love of Christ controls us." And we know that the "new creation" is a gift (as opposed to acquiring it ourselves) (John 1:13).

The "new creation", then, is a gift from God that changes our perspective, changes how we live, changes how we walk. It is motivated by the love of Christ and powered by the Spirit in us.