What was the gospel Jesus preached? Part 3 – Synthesis.

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By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

Before saying anything else, I should reiterate that the English word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’.  For our purposes, these two terms are interchangeable.

 

So far I’ve written two papers in this series.  The first, The Gospel of the Kingdom, focused on the answer we find in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The second, Eternal Life, did the same for the book of John.  This might leave the reader with the impression that John and his fellow apostles each thought Jesus proclaimed a different gospel.  This paper is written to show that this is not so, how the two different emphases fit together, and how they harmonise to provide us with a full answer to our question.

 

In the previous papers, I’ve quoted in full various Bible verses.  I’m not going to spell them out again here, though I may refer to some of them again.  Please see the previous two documents (or a website such as https://www.biblegateway.com/) for the text of those verses.

 

And before I get into the detail, a note to say that I’ve kept the answer to two sides of A4.  If anyone thinks what I present is a bit lightweight, that’s the reason.

The story so far

In The Gospel of the Kingdom, we saw that:

 

  • From start to end of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.
  • That term is used in a way which suggests that it was one with which his hearers were familiar, even if they didn’t understand its full implications.
  • Jesus gave content to the term ‘the Kingdom of God’ in piecemeal fashion, and in verbal picture form far more than by direct teaching.
  • The Kingdom is good news because its coming would bring an age of healing and resurrection, of security and prosperity, of glory and rejoicing (Matthew 11:4-5, cf Isaiah 35).
  • The Kingdom is in a sense a present gift (Luke 12:32). But it is also something which awaits full consummation (Matthew 11:40-43) and is therefore the future inheritance of the righteous (Matthew 25:34).

 

And in Eternal Life, we saw that:

 

  • John’s purpose was that we might believe Jesus is the Messiah and that by believing we might have life in his name (20:31).
  • The word ‘life’ in John can have at least three separate meanings:
    • Human existence in the present age (11:53).
    • Eternal life in the age to come (4:14).
    • Eternal life as a present blessing (5:24).
  • ‘Eternal life’ means a life lived in personal relationship with God, wherein we seek him, know him, and are filled with joy in his presence (Psalm 27:4, John 17:3, Psalm 16:11).

 

So how do these emphases fit together?

This Age and the Age to come

The Bible as a whole presents a contrast between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’.  The idea, which can be seen in Old Testament passages such as Amos 9:13-15 and Isaiah 65:17-25, comes into sharp focus in Jesus’s teaching, eg:

 

“… either in this age or the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

 

“… in this present age … in the age to come.” (Mark 10:30)

 

Within this framework can be found a number of connections which help us fit together all the foregoing material.  Jesus’s conversation with the man called ‘the rich young ruler’ (Mark 10:17-30) is helpful here because it makes clear links between some key terms.

 

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v17)

 

First, the English phrase ‘eternal life’ is literally in the original Greek ‘the life of the age’.  In context therefore, the man is asking how he can inherit the life of the age to come.[1]  Jesus first gives the man a prosaic answer based on some of the Ten Commandments (v19), which the man finds entirely unsatisfactory, as Jesus knew he would.  To paraphrase, he says: “Look, I’ve been doing all that since childhood – but I find I’m still unsatisfied and still uneasy about my future destiny.”  So second, Jesus calls him to give up worldly security and throw his lot in entirely with him and his ministry (v21).  This the man felt unable to do (v22).  Jesus’s immediate reaction was:

 

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v23)

 

What we easily fail to notice here is that Jesus casually equates ‘inheriting eternal life’ with ‘entering the Kingdom of God’.  Seamlessly, his disciples go on to make another connection for us, asking:

 

“Who then can be saved?” (v26)

 

Finally, Jesus completes the loop by saying that those who have given up worldly things to follow him will indeed inherit, “in the age to come, eternal life.” (v30)

 

Putting all this together, we see that eternal life is the life of the age to come, inheriting which is the same thing as entering the Kingdom of God and being saved. 

 

Now in the first paper of this series, we looked at Jesus’s answer to the messengers from John the Baptist.[2]  Therein Jesus states that in his ministry, the Kingdom of God has already, in part, invaded the present age (Matthew 11:4-5, referencing Isaiah 35).  If this is so, it would be no surprise to find the life of the age to come also manifesting itself in this present age.  In the book of John this is indeed what we find.  Jesus’s teaching – and demonstration – is therefore that the Kingdom of God and eternal life, which are both concepts which properly and in fullness belong to the age to come, have in his person and ministry both invaded the present age, that they can both be accessed here and now.

 

So how might we access these things?   That’s where we’re going next.

[1] This concept is in turn based upon the saying of Daniel 12:2: ‘Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.’

[2] See the first paper in this series: The Gospel of the Kingdom, p 2.

What was the Gospel Jesus preached? Part 2 – Eternal Life

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By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

This brief paper follows on from that titled ‘The Gospel of the Kingdom’.  In that we looked at the good news (= gospel) which Jesus proclaimed as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Our question remains the same: What was the gospel Jesus preached?  Herein we are going to see what answer we find in the book of John.[1]

John states his purpose for writing as follows:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31)

The Meaning of ‘Life’

The word ‘life’ is apparently a simple, everyday one, so that we’d think its meaning was obvious.  However, a closer look at its many uses in John reveals that this is not so.

First, we note that John uses the noun ‘life’ about 50 times.  This is the same as the total number of uses in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined, in which two main meanings can be discerned:

 

  1. i) Physical life in this world, eg:

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

  1. ii) Eternal life in the age to come, eg:

No-one who has left things of this world to follow me will fail to receive … in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:30)

These two meanings are also present in John:

So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (11:53)

“Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:14)

 

However, there are also multiple sayings in John which talk about eternal life as a present blessing:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (5:24)

“I have come that they may have life, life in all its abundance.” (10:10)

Up to twenty sayings with a similar thrust could be quoted.  Ladd concludes: “While eternal life is eschatological (i.e. belongs to the Age to Come), John’s central emphasis is not to show men the way to life in the Age to Come, but to bring them a present experience of this future life.  The life of the Age to Come is already imparted to the believer.”[2]  This is clearly good news.

The Essence of Eternal Life

Towards the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus makes this statement:

“Now this is eternal life: that they may be knowing you, the only true God.” (17:3)

To truly know a person means not simply to know about them, their characteristics and abilities, not even to just know about their personality.  It means also to experience through personal interaction all the things we have just listed, and to enjoy being with them, indeed to delight in doing so.  This is relational language.  And it is in full accord with the teachings of the Old Testament.

The theme of delighting ourselves in God finds clearest expression in the Psalms of David:

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (16:11)

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (27:4)

 

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (36:7-9)

 

Life in relationship with God is also the theme of a large part of the book of Deuteronomy:

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (30:19-20)

It is this same goal of which Jesus proclaims the ultimate fulfilment:

“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

In John 17 he goes on:

I pray these things while I am still in the world, so that they (i.e. his followers) may have the full measure of my joy within them.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (17:13, 24)

Here is good news.  Indeed here is the ultimate wow factor!  What could be better than this?

 

[1] This is not to suggest that the different New Testament books record different gospels.  It is simply to note that the different books focus on and emphasise different aspects of the same gospel.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Lutterworth Press, 1981, p 257.

Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 6

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

The mission-field on our doorstep

Connecting the coronavirus with missions may seem like a strange idea, but the reality is where we can’t see – God is on the move and many people have had, stripped away the things that have been their security.  This may have been their jobs, their relationships, their social life, their health or the investments and money they have made over time.  God is revealing that these things are like shifting sand.

In this season God is loosening roots.  The pandemic we are facing is challenging us to loosen our grip on the things that we have been holding tightly to.  Things like homes, jobs and even the way we socially interact.  Why may God loosen roots in this season?   Well it could be to shake us up to do mission.  It could be to move us to a different mission field or to make us more awake and alive to the mission field on our doorstep.

In this season, at this time there is a call on the church to follow one of the final instructions given to the followers of Jesus to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt 16).  There is an opportunity for the church to not only demonstrate the mercy and compassion of God but to share the Good News with our friends and family who don’t know it.

It could be by loosening our roots, by removing our reliance on the things that hold us, God is saying go! Go and make disciples!  GO to your friends and neighbours, share with them about Jesus, the hope of the world.   The reality is people are seeking, they are asking questions and there is the opportunity to have spiritual conversations like there never has been before.  Nothing will stop God from moving, he is working out his purposes and even pandemics will serve to complete the Great Commission.

So as we conclude this series of devotionals I want to challenge you to …

Go to your neighbours and friends, go to your colleagues and family.  Tell them about this Jesus who transforms lives.  You have a message that the world needs to hear.  Share it with love, humility and grace.

 

Reflections:

  1. What are things that you hold on to the tightest and do you need to surrender them again at the cross?
  2. Are there things that stop you sharing the Good News? What are they and how can you overcome them?
  3. How can you ‘go’ and share the Good News without leaving your home?

 

Prayer – For the Holy Spirit to keep revealing to us when we hold things to tightly and need to trust them into God’s hands.

What was the Gospel Jesus preached? Part 1 – The Gospel of the Kingdom

posted in: Bible 0

By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

In speaking to his disciples about the signs of ‘the end of the age’ (Matthew 24:3), Jesus makes this statement:

 

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24)

 

This declaration builds on the words with which Mark introduces Jesus’s ministry:

 

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1)

 

What is meant by ‘the gospel of the kingdom’?  What is its content?

 

First, we must note that the English word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’.  This should not be confused with the technical practice of calling the first four books of the New Testament ‘Gospels’, a practice which derives from the understanding that those books themselves in part contain good news.

 

Second, the term ‘the kingdom’ is a contraction of the fuller phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ (used about 50 times in Mark, Luke and John) or its equivalent in Matthew ‘kingdom of heaven’ (31 times).  Beyond this, the contraction ‘the kingdom’ occurs another 20 times.

 

What is meant by the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’?  Why might this kingdom be good news?

Considerations to be borne in mind

 

For a number of reasons, these are not easy questions to give simple answers to.

 

First, the terms are given content in a wealth of Biblical material.  A full answer must adequately consider all of these.  We have already noted that there are numerous references in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which need to be considered.  Beyond that, the concepts are underpinned in a multitude of Old Testament passages.

 

Second, Jesus gives no summary teaching about the Kingdom.   Instead he seeks to help his hearers build up a complex mental picture one step at a time.  He gives his teaching on the subject not in summary form but in bite-sized chunks, not in top-down fashion but in bottom-up fashion.

 

Third, he also gives most of his teaching on the subject in parables rather than by direct teaching.  For example, he says that the Kingdom is like: a man who sowed good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24), a mustard seed (13:31), yeast (13:33), treasure hidden in a field (13:44), a merchant looking for fine pearls (13:45), a net let down into a lake (13:47), a king who wanted to settle accounts with his subjects (18:43).  The analogies go on and on.

 

Along with scholars such as George Eldon Ladd, we conclude that ‘the meaning of the kingdom cannot be reduced to a single concept, but is a complex concept with several facets’.[1]

What is the Kingdom of God?

Lots can be written on this subject.  But in order to keep this document brief, we will give only a summary answer here.

 

  1. It’s clear from the brevity of Mark’s introductory statement above that the Kingdom must have been a concept the Jews were already familiar with.  We find that the Kingdom is God’s dominion (Psalm 145:13), his rule over all people (Psalm 103:19).
  2. The coming of the Kingdom means the coming of the state wherein God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
  3. The Kingdom is something which will only fully come at the end of the present age (Luke 19:11, Mark 10:17-31; cf Daniel 12:2).
  4. Its coming will mean the final destruction of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), the formation of a redeemed society unmixed with evil (Matthew 13:36-43), and perfected fellowship with God at the messianic feast (Luke 13:28-29).
  5. It is in part a present experience and reality, a realm of present blessing.  (See our comments on Matthew 11:4-5 below).
  6. It is something which advances forcefully (Matthew 11:12).
  7. It means the gift of life and salvation.  It is a present gift (Luke 12:32), something to be sought after here and now (Matthew 6:33, 13:44-46).
  8. But it is also the future inheritance of the righteous (Matthew 25:34).

Why is the Kingdom of God good news?

When questioned by messengers from John the Baptist about the focus and content of his ministry, Jesus answers by summarising Isaiah 35:

 

4 “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  (Matthew 11)

 

This is interesting in several ways.  Jesus’s ministry was something to be seen and heard, to be experienced as well as listened to.  It involved imparting good things to people there and then as well as announcing better things to come.  Isaiah 35 itself is replete with qualities such as rejoicing, glory, splendour, salvation, holiness, safety and everlasting joy.  The presence, impartation and experience of such things is surely good news.  It appears to picture an idealised existence in this present age.

 

But Jesus does also present the Kingdom as something better to come.  In his parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), he draws a clear contrast between ‘the sons of the kingdom’ and ‘the sons of the evil one’ (v38) and says that the end of this current age is like a harvest (v39).

 

40 ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Why is the kingdom good news?  Because its full coming will inaugurate an age when sin and evil will be done away with and when those sown by Jesus (v37), also known as ‘the sons of the kingdom’ (v38) and ‘the righteous’ (v43), will ‘shine like the sun’ forever.  Amen and Amen.

[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Lutterworth Press, 1981, p70.

Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 5

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

A TIME FOR RADICAL REALIGNMENT AND COURAGEOUS ACTION

 

RADICAL REALIGNMENT.

Repentance…..

The coronavirus is not a unique call to repentance. In fact, every natural disaster- whether floods, famines, tsunamis, the coronavirus etc. …  they are all God’s painful and merciful call to repent. Luke records a disaster in Luke 13. 1-5. In this story we read that Pilate had killed many worshipers in the temple and that the tower of Siloam fell killing eighteen innocent victims.  One disaster was the fruit of human wickedness and the other disaster was apparently an accident. The crowds were wanting to know from Jesus what the meaning and purpose of these disasters were. Was it a specific judgement for a specific sin? Jesus’ answer was astonishing. He draws a meaning from these disasters that relate to everyone, not just the ones who died. In both cases he says those who were murdered and those who were crushed were not worse sinners than you! The crowd were wanting to know what the disaster means for the victims, not for the rest of us. The reason why Jesus’ answer was so incredible was because he was saying (in essence) that the meaning of this disaster was for everyone. And the message is, “Repent, or perish’’ (Luke 13:3).

What does Repentance mean?

The word in the new Testament simply means a change of heart and mind. Not a superficial change of opinion, but a deep transformation so that we perceive and prize God and Jesus for who they really are. Jesus described the change like this:

“You shall love the lord your God with all of your heart , soul and mind.”   (Matt. 22:37)

“Whoever loves the father more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37)

In other words, the most fundamental change of heart and mind that God calls for is to treasure God with all that you are and to treasure your relationship with Jesus more than any other.  So what does thismean for the world and the church?

For this world

I believe that one thing God is doing in and through this coronavirus pandemic is that He is sounding a trumpet call of repentance to all outside of his saving grace. This coronavirus is God’s cry to a world who has rejected him, and he is saying, “come back to me, embrace my son Jesus as your Lord and saviour and I will give you life, meaning/purpose and hope that is not just for this life but lasts for eternity.”

For his Church

This pandemic has taken away or restricted our freedom of movement. It has and continues to prevent many from working and deprives us of face to face contact and connection with family and friends. It has pulled the blanket of comfort and security from under us and also poses a very real threat to our physical health and wellbeing. The reason why God is exposing his people (the church) to such losses is to rouse us to rely on Christ. If God is calling his church to repentance in this season (I believe he is!) it is a calling to turn away from everything that is competing for God’s throne in our lives. For example the good gifts of money, material possessions, relationships with family and friends, employment etc.… all of these things are good and God given, but when Christians start to put their COMPLETE  trust and confidence in these things, they become idols. God is jealous for the glory of his son in our lives and in this season. He is stripping everything away, not to leave us exposed in guilt and shame, but rather that we might respond with the Apostle Paul when he says…. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21)

For everyone:

For everyone, the coronavirus is the experience of loss- from the smallest loss of convenience and comfort to the greatest loss of life. That is what God is saying to non-Christians and Christians alike. Repent and RADICALLY REALIGN your life with Jesus so that you might declare with the Apostle Paul, “indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have counted them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:8)

COURAGOUS ACTION.

 “The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of joy that glorify God.” (John Piper)

 

Self-isolation, not hibernation:

Whilst the church (with everyone else!) is called to self-isolation, it is not called to hibernation. Church history is replete with examples of how Christians took the initiative in times of international and national crises and broke out of their comfort zones (even at times risking their own safety in the presence of real danger) so that they might selflessly display the grace of God by offering help and support to those in need. (1 Pet. 2:12).

Christ magnified in wise but risky acts of kindness:

In this season the church is called to exercise wisdom in knowing how to practically help those who are in need. Whilst I do not think that Christians are to deliberately risk their own health and wellbeing in their pursuit of helping others, the fact is that many who are working on the front line in this pandemic are doing just that. How is God calling us to be salt and light in our communities at this time? I know for example that Hope church continues to offer practical help and support to those in Open House, but also as individuals God is calling us to be salt and light in our communities. Let’s with God’s grace and in the power of His spirit put to death self-pity and fear. Instead lets lean towards the needs of others, not our own comfort, and towards the love of others, not our own safety. That’s what our Savior is like.  In dying on the cross Christ displayed the ultimate act of selfless COURAGEOUS GIVING. God is looking to be magnified and glorified in our lives as we selflessly allow our light to shine before men/women so that they may see our good works, and glorify our father who is in Heaven. (Matt.5:16)

Questions for reflection

  • Do you think your life needs realigning in this pandemic?
  • What is God calling you to specifically repent of in this season?
  • What are some of the ways that God might be calling you to meet the needs of your neighbors, friends, and family in this season?

Thoughts for Prayer

  • Ask God to reveal any areas in your own thoughts, attitudes and actions that he might be wanting you to bring in line with his word
  • Ask God for insight, grace and wisdom in knowing how you can be salt and light in your neighbourhoods and with your friends at this time

Remembering not forgetting

posted in: Bible 0

By Jon Gledhill

1 kings 17

“Sometime later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah “what do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son.” Give me your son, Elijah replied. He took him from her arms…..”Lord my God let this boys life return to him”

I am always amazed how easily I forget how good God has been to me in my life. I need to remind myself regularly. The alternative is fear, self-reliance, self-protection.

The last time I applied for a job was 30 years ago but since then I have found the Lord providing work without a struggle. I now find myself with a significant loss of work, yet I still sometimes forget Gods faithfulness in the past and don’t find peace until I remember and meditate on this.

In the amazing story of 1 Kings 17, it is remarkable that the widow of Zarephath was delivered from starvation with a plentiful supply of food that never ran out. Elijah then chooses to lodge in her house.

“Sometime later” her son dies and she immediately accuses Elijah with vicious words “what do you have against me, man of God. Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

She has forgotten what God has done for her in the past saving her son and her from death with a  routinely full stomach. She forgets how Elijah was used by God to rescue her from starvation and death. She doesn’t realise that the same God who provided food can also provide deliverance from death.

Despite her strong words, Elijah prays and the son lives. She then testifies again to Gods goodness.

Interestingly her rescue from starvation came when she gave over what she had to the prophet Elijah. She handed her situation into Gods hands. In this passage, she released her son over to Elijah so he could pray for him.

The challenge for us is to give our situations over to God and remember and not forget past faithfulness.

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