Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is the Gospel in the Gospels? Part 1

Not if the Gospel is defined narrowly as the doctrine of justification by faith. Think about it.

I believe the Gospel is clearly stated in the Gospels and that we are often in danger of misunderstanding Paul's teaching because we have marginalized the Gospels. Otherwise stated, the Gospels ought to constrain our reading of Paul. To reverse this is backwards. For example, Matthew tells us that Jesus preached the "Gospel of the Kingdom" (Matt. 4:23), then he gives the content of his preaching of the Gospel in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. If we don't like that, then we ought to change our narrow definition of the Gospel.

And there's more to say about this. I believe that some construals of the law/gospel dichotomy have blinded us to the Gospel dimension of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels. Over the past 11 years I have preached through Matthew, Mark, and John and have tried to pay careful attention to the text itself, without importing unhelpful categories.

We modern Christians have created a problem that first century Christians would have marveled at. I don't think they would have even understood the conundrum. What is it? We have a hard time finding the Good News in the first 3 books of the NT—Matthew, Mark, and Luke! We ask: where is the Gospel, the Good News in Matthew? In Mark? In Luke?

I have sat in graduate seminar classes at Concordia Seminary (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) where professors and students have debated about IF and WHERE the Gospel is found in these three books. Do you see the irony, the weirdness of this? Let me put it like this: Where can we find the Gospel in the Gospel According to Matthew? Or: where is the Good News in the Good News According to St. Matthew? Is it really there? Pretty weird, if you ask me.

This is partly because since the Reformation, when everything became polarized, we have tended to reduce the Gospel to something very narrow and specific—the teaching about how individuals get to heaven when they die? Our Gospel presentations perpetuate that reductionism. What's the big diagnostic question? If you were to die tonight, would God let you into his heaven? and why? and how?

Now let me be quick to say: preparation for dying is important. We will all stand before the Judgment seat of Christ! It is appointed for men to die once and after that comes the Judgment—Hebrews 9, etc. So the Good News does indeed prepare one for death and judgment before the throne of God. We must know that trusting God's grace in Jesus, accepting his work on our behalf, is our only hope in death. So far so good.

But. . . the Gospel is also our hope in LIFE. And we live before we die, unless I've missed something.

The Good News has to do with how we live before God in the world, how we order our lives in God's world. How we live in Jesus' Kingdom—which is the entire world and life under Jesus' reign and rule.

So just where is the Good News, the Gospel, in the Gospel According to Matthew? Seriously. The early church would want us to read the entire story, including Jesus' teaching on how to live as Good News, Wonderful News, the Announcement that brings happiness, blessing, peace and power for living our lives! And nowhere is the Good News more clearly announced and explained than in the Sermon on the Mount. If I might be permitted to put it like this: The Gospel is about the Law.

What? Outrageous heresy! How can you say that? How dare you say that! Simple. The sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaching about the genuine meaning and significance of the Law and the Prophets, is Great News. Life in his kingdom is explained and clarified and purified of all of the misinterpretations and awful legalisms of the Scribes and Pharisees in first century Judaism.

Matthew tells us that Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:23), then he gives the CONTENT of the Gospel in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. If we don't like that, then, like I said above, we ought to change our narrow definition of the Gospel.

This is a major challenge for us modern Reformation Christians as we read through the Gospel according to Matthew.

Recovering the Good News of life in the Kingdom means reading the Gospels in a new, refreshing way.

To be continued. . .


sh said...

Great post Pastor Meyers. I think we often forget what Paul told the Galatians, and which kind of summarizes what you've said here, that Jesus, "...gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Gal 1:4)

Anonymous said...

The gospel is about the law if by the term "the law" we mean the Bible as a whole, including the promises. The gospel is about the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, which fulfills the law in the sense that he is the promised one who redeems Israel and the other families of the earth according to the promise of blessing made to Abraham and the Seed. The Gospels are extended proofs that a particular Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, is the promised Davidic heir. Everything else is subordinate to that, including commandments and obedience.

Jeff Cagle said...

Could we not expand this a bit further and say that the Gospel is about Jesus? Jesus as prophet (hence speaking the true meaning of the Law), Jesus as priest (and therefore restoring our covenant relationship), and Jesus as king (and therefore Lord)?

Jeff C

Jeff Meyers said...

Rogerion & Jeff C: Yes to both of you. Good points.

Anonymous said...

I would go one step further with Jeff C's statements to say that the Gospel is not just about Jesus, it IS Jesus.