What’s the good news in the New Testament?

What is the gospel? Ask many people in our churches and they’ll tell you it’s about how you get saved, by asking God to forgive your sins. Would it surprise you to know that that’s not what the gospel means in the Bible?

The word gospel (or good news) is used a lot in the New Testament — 125 times in the NIV translation. They’re all listed below so you can scan it and see. As you scan, ask:

  1. What is the good news about (its content)?
  2. Who is it good news for (its audience)?

Continue reading “What’s the good news in the New Testament?”

How Jesus overcomes the world’s power problem

What’s wrong with the world? What must God resolve to establish his kingdom with Jesus as ruler?

Remember the jubilation when World War II ended? Turns out Hitler’s defeat didn’t resolve our problems. SBS is running a documentary titled After Hitler, and episode 2 says:

In the five years that separated the end of the Second World War from the start of the Cold War, the world had hoped for a lasting peace, but instead found itself on the brink of apocalypse. Five years of chaos and hope for the people of a shattered Europe, who became pawns in the games of the major powers.

History keeps repeating. When people rise up against an oppressive ruler, the person who comes to power can turn out to be even more monstrous. How can we ever be delivered? Continue reading “How Jesus overcomes the world’s power problem”

We need good news

“Goin’ to church twice in one weekend? Gees, you must be feelin’ guilty!” I have no idea what he thought church was — the kind where you go and confess to a priest, or the kind where you pray the Sinner’s Prayer.

What bothered me was his perception of church as people who struggle with guilt. Is that the message people hear from us? Not a message of hope for the world? Not a Saviour who resolves the injustice and sets all things right? What happened to the good news of a selfless ruler who gave his life for his people and now calls us to care for each other the way he cares for us? Continue reading “We need good news”

The good news, without the blame

Let’s play a memory association game. If I say sunny, what word comes to mind? A sunny day? A sunny beach? If I say dark, what word springs to your mind? A dark night? A dark feeling? If I say the word sin, what comes to mind? Oh, you don’t want to play anymore?

Followers of Jesus associate sin with feelings of failure and fear. It brings to mind that accusatory list of my misdemeanours and crimes. That’s a totally inadequate way to think about sin — as if it’s all about me.

The world was already in trouble long before you were born and added your bit. If you think of sin as the need for some personal forgiveness for yourself, you haven’t begun to grasp what the problem is. Continue reading “The good news, without the blame”

Guilt, or good news?

What gospel did Jesus proclaim? Individual guilt, or global good news?

Over the centuries we’ve rerouted Jesus’ message. His core message was the gospel of the kingdom, and it was good news from beginning to end.

Instead of global good news, we often hear churches today proclaiming a message of individual guilt. A well-known evangelist was asked to explain the good news. He began, “Well, first I have to tell you the bad news. You’re a sinner …” Seriously? When did Jesus do that?

Can you even imagine Jesus bowling up to someone and saying, “First the bad news. You’re a sinner. But I’m here to save you. So get down on your knees and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. If you do that I’ll forgive you.” If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that’s wrong.

How did we ever get side-tracked from Jesus’ good news of the kingdom to a message of guilt? There’s quite a history behind that.

As followers of Jesus, we’re aware of our own shortcomings. As early as the second century, people worried what it might mean if they sinned after their baptism. Some even recommended delaying baptism until you were close to death, to ensure you didn’t die with sin in your life.

By the fifth century, the church recommended the exact opposite: babies should be baptized as soon as they were born. Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin. He said that all people are sinful — even babies — because parents pass on their sinful nature to their children. Augustine also taught that this original sin can be removed by baptism. That meant it was absolutely crucial for parents to get the church to baptize their baby: otherwise it would die in sin and be eternally damned.

Did you notice what Augustine did? He placed the salvation of the child and the forgiveness of sins in the hands of the church. Only if the parents asked the church for baptism was the child’s original sin removed. The church claimed it had power to remit sins.

For the next 1000 years, the church’s message revolved around guilt. To be forgiven, you must go to a priest and confess your sins. He assigned your penance, and offered you absolution. Then you attended mass where the priest sacrificed Jesus again and offered you Jesus’ body. The church told you it had “the keys to the kingdom,” so it could let you in or lock you out. The church’s power rested on guilt.

You can imagine how liberating it was when a priest named Martin Luther rediscovered from Scripture that it is God who forgives sins, not the pope or the priests or the church. It is God who justifies us, by faith. God forgives because of his grace, not because we merit it through works such as confession, penance, or indulgences.

Luther caused such uproar precisely because he challenged the authority of the church and placed power back in God’s hands. John Calvin systematically reframed the Christian message around this theme: the sovereignty of God was the liberating message that power lies with God, not the church or the sinful humans that run it.

Perhaps it’s unfair to critique Luther for not going far enough. Living in the era when the church’s power rested on guilt, Luther himself was deeply troubled by feelings of guilt. Justification by God’s grace through faith was the re-dawning of gospel truth, but Luther never questioned why the church had been trading in guilt in the first place. The troubled conscience remained central to his writings. For example, the word conscience doesn’t appear in the Book of Galatians, but Luther’s Commentary on Galatians uses the word more than 200 times.

Luther and Calvin did so much to declare that power belongs in the hands of our heavenly sovereign, but the reformation is not over. We still need to regain Jesus’ message — the good news of the kingdom of God.

How do we tell the gospel the way Jesus did, without using individual guilt to manipulate people? How do we present the good news of God’s kingship instead?

We live in an age where people are disillusioned with stories of power and cynical of the power of the church. Jesus called us to live under God’s kingship. In his world, it’s the powerless who inherit the earth.

Jesus’ kingship is not proclaimed through guilt. The restoration of God’s reign is the best news this world could hear.

Good news for God’s world (free course)

Let’s talk about being good news.

Know some good news? Like to share it?

Over the next 6 weeks, I’ll be taking a small class on why the gospel of Jesus is good news for God’s world, and how to share it so people experience good news. If you’re in Perth and would like to join me, this is your invitation.

Continue reading “Good news for God’s world (free course)”

Faith versus mistrust

Last Sunday I was at a church where the speaker actually said, “I’m not trying to manipulate you.” Afterwards someone asked, “Why did he need to say that? Was he trying to manipulate us?” She was probably right: it was during “the invitation” where the speaker is after a response from the audience.

We live in a culture of mistrust. We don’t trust our politicians, and they don’t trust each other. We don’t trust banks. We don’t trust churches.

Australians don’t trust each other anymore: Continue reading “Faith versus mistrust”

Does the church have a future?

Movies reflect culture. If that’s true, the church doesn’t have a future.

Think back over the movies you’ve watched recently. What part did the church play?

If it’s there at all, it might be complicit with evil. Or it could be a symbol of something we’ve left behind, an artefact of the past. Continue reading “Does the church have a future?”

Trained for kingdom business (Matthew 13:51-52)

Can Jesus teach us to present his kingdom in our setting?

Open Matthew 13:51-52.

The final parable of Matthew 13 would be the most relevant and practical of all, if we understood it. It’s the final application, the “so what” of the kingdom parables. Jesus commissions us to do something with the kingdom.

But what is he asking us to do by telling a story about a householder laying out his new and old treasures? Continue reading “Trained for kingdom business (Matthew 13:51-52)”

The naughty child story

How does Jesus’ gospel differ from the way we present the gospel today?

Jesus announced good news. He was good news because he restored God’s kingship (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). He was good news for those who’d missed out (11:5). He was good news for the whole world (26:13).

To announce the gospel is to announce Jesus — God’s anointed ruler (Christ), Son of the heavenly sovereign (Mark 1:1). The way Jesus told it, proclaiming the gospel sounds like this: “It’s time! God’s reign has arrived! Turn to his authority! Place your trust in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).

Unfortunately, that’s not the gospel presented by many Evangelical/Charismatic churches today. What passes for the gospel sounds more like the story of a naughty child.

It goes something like this: Continue reading “The naughty child story”

The kingdom and personal evangelism

How do we present “the good news of the kingdom”?

I grew up in a church were we didn’t talk much about the kingdom of God. If we did, we thought of it as something internal, like putting Jesus on the throne of my heart. We asked individuals to make that decision, to pray the sinner’s prayer by which they would be born again. Isn’t that how someone enters the kingdom? Continue reading “The kingdom and personal evangelism”

Tim Healy, “What is the gospel?” (reprise)

What is the gospel? Tim Healy explains.

Tim Healy has just been appointed Senior Minister of Riverview Church in Perth, Western Australia.

Almost twelve months ago, Tim preached a rich message on What is the Gospel? We tend to focus on one little aspect. As Tim explained, it’s so much more than we think.

Check it out.

Good News for God’s World (course)

You’re invited to a free training course in Perth, over the next six weeks.

If you’re in Perth, Western Australia, come and bathe in the good news of who Jesus is and the astounding difference he’s making to set everything right in his world.

We’ll talk about how we share his good news with people, by being good news people. When you have genuinely good news, it’s hard not to share it! Continue reading “Good News for God’s World (course)”

On gospel and guilt

Do we need to make people feel guilty to proclaim the gospel?

Guilt was an important message of the Medieval church. The church declared people’s guilt. You had to confess your sins to the church, and the church had the power to give absolution. The church would determine the penance you needed to perform as an expression of your repentance. The church decided your eternal destiny (heaven or hell) because it held the keys to kingdom. Paying money to the church may even shorten the after-life purification needed before a relative could be accepted into heaven (via purgatory). A cynic could describe the church was a large corporate entity that traded in guilt.

In October 1517, a priest named Martin Luther challenged the authority to the church to determine people’s guilt. That was central to his 95 Theses, e.g.: Continue reading “On gospel and guilt”

What is forgiveness? (Matthew 9:5-6)

If you think of forgiveness as dealing with your personal guilt, you’ve only got part of the story.

Open Matthew 9:5-6.

Jubilee. What a joyful word! It’s the Hebrew word yôbēl carried over into English.

The way God designed it, Israel’s economy was to be reset every 50 years. Slaves would be freed. Debts would be forgiven. Property sold in tragedy would be returned. Obligations would be released.

A couple of centuries before Jesus, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and they chose an interesting word for yôbēl. It’s Greek word ἄφεσις (AH-fe-sis), meaning forgiveness. That’s right: in the Septuagint, the Jubilee year was known as the Forgiveness year. Continue reading “What is forgiveness? (Matthew 9:5-6)”

Why wasn’t Jesus demanding obedience? (Matthew 5:17-20)

As king, Jesus could lay down the law for his people. What he does is to lay down his life for his people.

Open Matthew 5:17-20.

“Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said (5:17). Why did he need to say that? Who would have heard his message as doing away with God’s commands? Why would the crowd on the hillside have had such a thought?

They’d never heard anything like Jesus’ kingdom announcement. Good news: heaven’s reign is being restored to earth (4:17-25). Joy to all the people who would benefit under his reign (5:3-12)! With God’s presence among them, they were as flavour-intense as salt, so brilliantly endowed with the glory of their sovereign that they couldn’t hide (5:13-16).

That’s not how Jesus’ contemporaries taught. The Pharisees expounded Torah commands, calling people to be more obedient. Over the centuries, Jewish rabbis have identified a total of 613 mitzvot (commandments). For each command, they have defined who should obey (males? females? children? foreigners?), how often (constantly? weekly? yearly? once-off), and where (e.g. the festivals are in Jerusalem). They analysed how commands about sacrifices could be obeyed after the temple had been destroyed. Their intense focus on commands is perfectly logical if you believe that God would only restore his kingdom once his people were more obedient.

But that was not Jesus’ message. His approach was so free and joyful that he needed to explain himself to those who thought he should have been calling for obedience. By announcing the blessing of YHWH’s restored reign after six centuries under foreign rule, was Jesus saying that Torah obedience didn’t matter after all? Was he saying that God had changed his mind about disciplining Israel for their disobedience, that Torah obedience didn’t matter and God would give them the kingdom anyway?

Jesus’ answer to that question is categorical:

Matthew 5:18 (ESV)
Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

God was Israel’s political sovereign as much as he was their religious deity. They were called to be a kingdom under God’s kingship. The Torah was their national law. If Jesus was Israel’s king, the son of David who represented the heavenly king on earth, he would undermine his own authority if he taught people to ignore their heavenly sovereign’s laws. He would not their great king, but the person of least significance in the whole kingdom:

Matthew 5:19 (ESV)
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

His opponents relax. Jesus is, after all, calling people to obey Torah. Then, just as they let down their guard, Jesus throws the final punch: “These Pharisees and Torah interpreters who constantly point out how you don’t measure up? You’ll all have to do better than that mob or Israel will never have God’s reign!” (5:20 paraphrased. Note: you in this verse is plural).

Jesus was using irony to make a serious point. Why was he so antagonistic to the Pharisees and Torah teachers? Matthew provides further detail as his Gospel account unfolds, but one reason was that they only added to the people’s burdens, making life under God even harder to bear. They weighed people down without lifting a finger to help the people carry these loads (Matthew 23:4). The Exodus story was about God releasing his people from slavery to live as his royal kingdom, but these Torah teachers turned his kingdom law into a form of slavery. They misrepresented their heavenly sovereign — not as the saviour of his people but as their enslaver.

Jesus planned to do more than lift a finger. Instead of weighing the people down with failure, Jesus planned to take their failures on his own shoulders and bear it for them, as only their king could. Torah mattered, and Jesus planned to fulfil for his people what the heavenly sovereign required:

Matthew 5:17 (ESV)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

Jesus never taught that obedience to the heavenly sovereign was unimportant. Their suffering under Roman rule was indeed because of their disobedience. But what Jesus planned to do was astounding: instead of pointing to their failures and commanding them to do better, Jesus planned to take their disobedience on himself, to face the oppressive powers for them, to be the obedient one who fulfilled Torah for them, to free his people from their oppression.

The crowd on the mountainside could not have known how Jesus would do this, nor how much it would cost him. All they knew was that he had a plan to reinstate God’s reign for them. The king would act on his people’s behalf. Instead of demanding they serve him, he would serve them. That’s good news.

 

What others are saying

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: SPCK, 2004), 41:

Jesus wasn’t intending to abandon the law and the prophets. Israel’s whole story, commands, promises and all, was going to come true in him. But, now that he was here, a way was opening up for Israel—and, through that, all the world—to make God’s covenant a reality in their own selves, changing behaviour not just by teaching but by a change of heart and mind itself.

This was truly revolutionary, and at the same time deeply in tune with the ancient stories and promises of the Bible. And the remarkable thing is that Jesus brought it all into reality in his own person. He was the salt of the earth. He was the light of the world: set up on a hill-top, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship his father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 183:

We might then paraphrase Jesus’ words here as follows: “Far from wanting to set aside the law and the prophets, it is my role to bring into being that to which they have pointed forward, to carry them on into a new era of fulfillment.”

[previous: Who is the light of the world?]

[next: Do the Ten Commandments apply to Christians?]

Jesus’ kingdom agenda (Matthew 4:23-25)

What was Jesus’ main message? How would you describe his message in a single phrase?

Open Matthew 4:23-25.

Does your pastor have a key theme you hear in most messages? Perhaps you hear how wonderful people are, an encouragement to be your best self. Perhaps you hear how depraved people are, and the importance of getting saved. Perhaps your church focuses on being kind and loving, or perhaps it calls you to act for justice. For some, exegeting the Bible is central, while for others church life is the focus. Most of us preachers and teachers have a core message.

So what was Jesus’ core message? If you had to summarize what Jesus wanted to say, what would it be? A single sentence: how would you describe it? Say it (out loud if you can) before reading on. Continue reading “Jesus’ kingdom agenda (Matthew 4:23-25)”

Light in dark places (Matthew 4:12-17)

Why did Jesus announce the kingdom first in Galilee?

Open Matthew 4:12-17.

They met in the wilderness: the person God appointed to rule, and the enemy who claimed to rule all the kingdoms of the world. They reached no compromise deal. Now it’s war. Continue reading “Light in dark places (Matthew 4:12-17)”

Short Video: Gospel of the Kingdom

Relax and enjoy the animation.

The Bible Project produces animated video summaries of Bible books and themes.

They’ve created a great little summary of The Gospel of the Kingdom (5 minutes). Watch on YouTube, or save a copy by right-clicking the Download button on this page (430 MB).

They also have some great introductions to books of the Bible, giving you the background and overview you need when you go to study a book. Check them out. My favourites are Genesis and Romans (2 videos each).

bibleproject_gospelofthekingdom