Gospel Notes: Part 1

A group of friends have been gathering on Wednesday mornings to think and pray about a possible series for 2013 on the Gospels.  I thought I would blog my notes on our meeting here, if for no other reason than to have a running record of our discussions. 

So far, we have worked on 4 thoughts/themes:

(1) Mark 12:28-34 The Gospel is as much about the Here & Now as it is the future.  The good news is not, despite popular renderings, simply that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we can go to heaven instead of hell after we die.  In Acts, Resurrection is mentioned some 40+ times, while forgiveness of sins is mentioned some 15 times.  Not to minimize forgiveness of sins, its obviously crucial.  But what about this new life empowered by the Resurrection?  This is something we will continue to explore – Abundant Life in the here and now.

A Gospel Story.

At Jesus’ Ascension the disciples are standing and… ‘They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  

So what about in between?  That’s the point.  We live life in the middle.  In between the times of Resurrection & Return.  Between Ascension and New Creation.  This is the kingdom life.  Stop staring at the heavens.  Go live it.

(2) Luke 1  Salvation has too often been couched in negative terms.  Salvation “from” hell.  Salvation “from” death.  What if we miss the much more meaningful “salvation FOR” ?   There is certainly language in the New Testament about what we have been saved “from” – but there is also a LOT of rich and meaningful language about what we have been saved “for!”

A Gospel Thread:

In his book, “Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service”  Stephen Seamands lays out the meaning and purpose of “Freedom” within the Trinity.  Each divine person of the Trinity is distinct from the others and is free to act as God.  But their freedom is not a “freedom from” the other two divine persons.  It is a “freedom for…”

“No one person of the Trinity is the tool or the extension of another; they never blend or Submerge (absorb) one another. Finally there is Freedom in their relationships with each other–not freedom from the other persons, (the typical Western conception) but freedom for the others in which paradoxically the uniqueness and distinctiveness of each person finds it’s highest expression”

In the same way, we Western minds typically think of Salvation in terms of the “from” rather than the “for.”  We might say something like “We have been saved from the power of hell”  Not to suggest that we are not saved from such things as “hell” and “slavery” and “decay” and “death”, rather we ought to recover the sense in which salvation is as much “for” something as it is “from” something.  We have been saved “for” an abundant and good life with God.

(3) John 1:1-18  “In the Beginning…” John starts with obvious words.  But this isn’t the creation story.  This is the beginning of a new story.  This is New Creation. “… what counts is New Creation.”  (Gal. 6:15)  This is, in theological terms, John’s attempt to combat the Gnostic threat to the gospel.  Gnosticism says, among many things, that the world is corrupt at its core – its very nature.  Therefore, material things (body, flesh, world, life, earth) are all corrupt and NON-redeemable.  So, in Gnosticism, primacy is given to things like:  knowledge, spirit, soul – all else is just rotten.  But this is not the stance of Scripture.  In Genesis 1, the Creation story tells us that God created the world and called it “good” and he created man in their image (trinitarian theme again) and called them “very good.”  Fast forward to the innauguration of the “new creation” in the person of Jesus Christ.  God is now acting to redeem and restore what once was broken and estranged.  He has not come to destroy or condemn, but to save and redeem (John 3:17).

A Gospel Truth

A further push on this point might be the significance of passages like John 1: 14

And the Word (Logos) became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. 

In Jesus we see heaven and earth interlocking in one man.  And his sacrifice prepares the way for his Spirit to indwell our what?… our BODIES.  Thus, our life and collective life becomes the temple of the living God – flesh, body, community, earth, world ALL reconciled to God.  This is a story of redemption – NOT evacuation.

Also, Rob Bell suggests that the Gospel of John goes a bit further on this point of  “New Creation” than is obvious at first glance.  Check out this video:

(4) John 1:16 Grace Upon Grace.  Grace on top of Grace.  Let’s grade ourselves.  When we tell people the Good News, when we live out the good news, does it seem like grace upon grace?  Or, perhaps it feels more like law upon law, burden upon burden, shame upon shame?  But when God comes into the neighborhood, his presence feels like “grace upon grace.”  A profound theme for a life shaped by the Gospel Story.

A Gospel Summary

The following is Lee Camp’s proposed revision of the Good News.  From his book “Mere Discipleship”

“Gospel preaching has sometimes gone this way: the holy Creator God set forth a holy law, which that God demands we keep.  In rebellion, we transgressed God’s law, and now deserve death.  In his mercy, though, God gave his Son in our place, so we don’t have to die.  If we believe in this Good News (and/or give intellectual assent to sound doctrine? and/or do the right things in church? and/or grow in personal holiness?), we can be saved from hell and go to heaven.  Thus you must decide: what will your fate be when you die?

While such preaching might capture some biblical trajectories, truer to the biblical portrait of Good News is this synopsis:  God created a good creation in order to be in relationship.  In rebellion, we rejected the offer of relationship, made a hell of God’s good creation, and find ourselves enslaved to those things created for our good.  In God’s mercy, God consistently pursued covenant relationship and sought to redeem the rebellious creation.  God offered in Jesus a new beginning, the kingdom of God, the new creation.  We rejected him again and killed the Son.  Yet our rebellion did not have the last word, for Jesus’ obedience even unto death unmasked the rebellious powers of this world for what they are – weak, paltry, concerned only with their own pitiful self-existence.  Thus the Father raised him from the grave in the Resurrection – and offers that same power of renewal to be at work in his covenant people, embodying the new creation.  We may receive the Good News and trust that we shall be vindicated and blessed beyond measure by fellowship with God.  Or we may continue in our rebellion, left to our own peril, self-centeredness, loneliness, and hell.”

Did I miss anything?  Anything to add?  Comments, thoughts, suggestions?  Keep the Gospel Story conversation alive! 

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