Thursday, July 23, 2009

Four Books, One Gospel

On this blog I enjoy asking the question, "What is the gospel?" I do so because I believe it is one of the most important questions one could ask or reflect on. Some answers focus on the kingdom while others focus on the atoning death of Christ; one group quotes the words of Jesus, "The Kingdom of God has drawn near!" the other quotes Paul, "Christ Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was risen on the third day." While I think these discussions are helpful there is a point that is often missed. In the Scriptures we are given four books in the Bible with the title, "The Gospel" stamped right on them. I was reminded of this fact in a lecture by D.A. Carson. Jesus going to John for Baptism, healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, going to the cross, rising from the dead, this is all under one title,"The Gospel". I found this quote by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld helpful:

We speak typically of gospels (plural). The superscriptions should remind us that the evangelists (i.e., the writers of the gospels) and those who preserved their writings and added the superscriptions would have been happier if we spoke of a "fourfold gospel". They would have insisted that they were each in their own way telling the one story, the one gospel. They recognized that the only gospel that counts is that "of" Jesus Christ, both in the sense that Jesus is the center of the good news, but also in that he is the ultimate proclaimer of the euangelion that God's kingdom is becoming reality. With that in mind, and over their protestations, we will follow common practice and refer to their writings as gospels. (quoted from Recovering Jesus)

The gospel can be summarized, sometimes very precisely, in many ways (always with a focus on the death and resurrection) but we must always remember that it took the evangelists more than a few sentences to tell the full-orbed gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is a quote from Acts 10:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and h does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Evangelism Experience

On Saturday I went out with my friend Paul MacDonald to share the gospel of the Kingdom. I had a very interesting conversation with a woman and I thought I would post it here. Please note that the conversation recorded here is from memory and I tried my best to record it faithfully. You can also find it here at Paul's blog:

While Paul was assisting a man with finding the appropriate bus stop I decided to go across the street and speak to a woman who was sitting on the step outside a church. The woman was listening to her MP3 player so as I approached her I made it obvious that I wanted to talk to her by making eye contact, reaching out to hand her a 10 commandments penny, and smiling. She took off her headphones and greeted me with a, “hello”. I introduced myself to her and told her what Paul and I were doing. I asked her if I could talk to her about Jesus and she agreed. I began by asking if she knew anything about Christianity. She responded by saying, “Well, my parents are Christian; I am too, I think…” I said, “That’s great” and then asked her if she could tell me what Christianity was all about. She said, “It’s really about values; you know, as a Christian you value the things that the Bible says.” I said, “That’s great. Yes, the Bible tells God’s people what they ought to value; many of those things are different than the values of the world. However, the core of Christianity isn’t just about values; it’s about what God has done in and through Jesus Christ.” I asked another question, “When you look at the world around you do you think that there is something wrong?” She answered in the affirmative. I said, “There is tragedy all around us. There is suffering and death. We just heard on the news about Michael Jackson who lived a tragic life and died a tragic death!” She responded, “You’re right. Our world is messed up.” Then I asked, “So what do you think is wrong with our world? Why do you think our world is like this?” She said that she didn’t really know. I told her, “I want to tell you what the Bible says about our problem and what God has done to save us.” So I explained, “From the beginning God originally created our world good. God made man to live in fellowship with himself, to enjoy his good creation and experience great blessing in God’s presence.” I asked, “Have you ever heard of Adam and Eve.” She laughed and said, “Yes!” “Well” I said, “God created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship with him but they rebelled against him. Because of this God cursed our world; this is why our world is the way it is; our sin caused it.” She seemed to be taking it in. I continued, “God did not desire to leave us in his curse. He called a man named Abraham and promised him that he would create a people who would experience his blessing instead of his curse.” I asked, “When Jesus came to earth do you know what his message was?” She said, “Jesus was all about teaching people to love one another. By doing this people can find life.” I responded, “Jesus did teach his followers to love one another. In fact, that was a very important part of his mission. But Jesus’ ministry was about something much more than just that. Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God.” I asked, “Do you know what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God?” She said she didn’t so I explained, “The kingdom of God basically means ‘the reverse of the curse’. Although man deserves to be under God’s curse he sent Jesus to bring his blessing. Whenever Jesus healed someone, made the blind see, cast out demons, or raised the dead he was showing that his mission was to reverse the curse that had rightly fallen on us.” I asked, “Does this sound like good news?” She laughed and said, “Yes!” I told her that there was more, “One day Jesus is going to return to judge the living and the dead. He will come to defeat all evil once and for all. But this raises a problem for you and me. If the world was filled with people just like me and just like you would the world be a better place?” She thought about it for a second and then said no. “That’s right. We are evil. You are evil. And if Jesus is coming to judge all evil then we ourselves need to be done away with. We don’t deserve God’s blessing, we deserve his eternal curse in hell. But Jesus did something so that we could become a part of his kingdom. He went to the cross. He was our substitute. He entered into darkness so that we wouldn’t have to. He, even though he wasn’t a sinner, was treated like a sinner on our behalf. He bore the curse that we deserve so that we could go free and enter into his kingdom community. Jesus died as our ransom; then, Jesus rose from the dead. He broke the curse once and for all. The Bible says, “He loosed the pangs of death”. All this was done so that people just like us could experience God’s blessing instead of his curse; so that we could have fellowship with God, receive his Spirit, and have the hope of a world to come without any pain or sorrow.” I handed her a bible and I told her to read the gospel of Mark. I told that God commands her to repent. I emphasized that this was not an option but that she needs to pledge her allegiance to Jesus so that she could be forgiven.