The Good News
What is the gospel (the “good news”) of Jesus? Or what defines Christian faith?
From the beginning, Christians have declared that Jesus is Lord (i.e. the world’s true king or ruler), and that God raised him from the dead to renewed bodily life. In many ways this is the essence of the gospel. But it sits within, and finds its meaning within, a larger story which spans the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. One way of setting this out is provided in what follows.
God created all things, including humankind. In God’s plan human beings were meant to bear God’s image, representing God to the rest of creation; they were meant to rule the world on God’s behalf; they were meant to be priestly, drawing the world’s worship towards God, its creator. In the story of Adam and Eve we see how human beings failed in their proper role. They usurped the rule of God, trying to make themselves equal with God; they effectively placed themselves under the serpent by listening to its devious lies about God rather than correctly pointing the serpent towards worship of God.
Israel was a nation set apart by God to be as kings and priests on humankind’s behalf, a distinctive nation intended to be a “light to the nations”. When Israel sought human kings, each in turn really proved that the human problem of wanting to self-rule, overtaking God’s rule, was as strong as ever. And the assignment that God had given, that humankind – represented in God’s people Israel – was to be a priestly kingdom to bless the world, was seemingly forgotten.
Prophets were sent by God to remind the people of their assignment and to warn the people that there was only one governor, one true King, one and only one God – the Lord, Yahweh – and that God would somehow act to replace the rulers, and would rule directly again.
Finally, in Jesus God broke into history as someone who was both descendant of Adam and Eve, and at the same time not a descendant; both human and divine. In Jesus, God supplied the faithful Israelite king (“Messiah” or “Christ”) who would fulfil the mission given to Israel in the first place. In Jesus God supplied someone who would rule rightly and not as a usurper of God’s authority; someone who would rule with justice and love, not for self-gain but for the good of the people and for the good of the whole world; someone who was indeed God.
Of course, Jesus was not welcomed in this role – the descendants of Adam and Eve don’t really want to be ruled by anyone other than themselves. So they decided they were better off putting Jesus to death. The Jews among the descendants of Adam and Eve shouted out to Pilate, Caesar’s underling, that they had “no king but Caesar”; the Roman descendants of Adam and Eve subjected Jesus to a mock coronation, and nailed him to a cross with the charge “the King of the Jews” over him. They killed him in the most humiliating and brutal fashion they had invented, crucifying him naked on a cross outside Jerusalem.
What the usurpers and descendants didn’t know was that Jesus was actually entering willingly into the depths of the consequences of their seizing of control. What they didn’t know was that this way of dying as a servant was to become the beginning of the revolution in which God would once again rule.
God’s rule will in the end be made complete, and the world’s brokenness will be mended, war will be replaced with peace, the oppressed will be raised up, injustices will be put to rights. And human beings, those who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, too will find renewed bodily life in the renewed creation.
In the meantime we are to be partners in God’s project to establish his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. God is to become king of the whole world at last and his rescue of human beings in the present is so that they (we) might be agents of his rescuing activity for all creation – a nation of kings and priests in the world.
This amazing message however finds each of us unready, in a state of idolatry (worshipping false gods), rebellion (submitting to other lords), and broken humanness (which we call “sin”) which is the very opposite of the genuine humanness God wishes to create in us as from the first. The appropriate response therefore is sorrow, recognition of sin and guilt, and repentance with intention of changing the way we live and for whom we live it.