Week 3, Day 1: Good News
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” So goes the well-known proverb. Sometimes we can become so familiar with something or someone that we start to take it for granted, whether that be a life-changing experience or person. It might be the person you chose to get married to, and while you were both excited to spend the rest of your lives together, the busyness and stress of life and family have squeezed out your appreciation and affection for one another. It might be when you chose to come to faith and be baptized, a moment that contained a degree of conviction and celebration that has faded over the years.
In the United States in the twenty-first century, “gospel” is a word that has become so familiar that it has lost its impact. Almost everyone has heard the word “gospel,” but everyone has a different understanding of what it means. For some, the gospel is about what we should and shouldn’t do. For others, the gospel is about believing the right things. For others still, the gospel is about your personal relationship with Jesus. But the gospel, though it includes these things, is so much more.
The word “gospel” means “good news.” Mark, who wrote one of the four accounts of the life of Jesus, begins: “The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Bible as a whole points to this good news as well. It is the story of God, and it has four chapters, each of which we’ll be diving into this week. To summarize:
Chapter 1: Creation. Out of nothing, God created the universe. Everything that exists was first birthed in the mind of the Creator; and after all of the creating, God said that everything was good, that everything was as it was intended to be. This good creation includes human beings, created “in the image of God”, commissioned to be image-bearers — or reflections — of God by exercising wise stewardship over all of creation. In the beginning, there was a rightness of relationship — shalom — that pervaded the universe, flowing between humanity and creation, God, and one to another. God’s reign — or kingdom — was paramount: everything was as God intended it to be.
Chapter 2: Fall. This is where things went wrong. With humanity’s disobedience to God, separation and enmity break apart each relationship — between humanity and creation, God, and one to another. Individuals, families, communities, and subsequently people groups and systems are corrupted, perverted, distorted, and turned away from their original goodness; even the ground is cursed. In other words, we choose our own kingdoms over God’s. This is why the world as we see and experience it today is so broken.
Chapter 3: Redemption. Redemption is the apex of the story, where God chooses to bring blessing and wholeness to the world himself, in the person of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he heralds, inaugurates, and embodies the kingdom of God, taking on the effects and consequences of sin, serving as a sacrifice for sin, thereby making possible new life — free from the damaging effects of sin and evil — and demonstrating a new way of living for those who place their trust in him. Indeed, Jesus instructs us to pray that God’s kingdom would come “on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), not simply that we might make it to the afterlife. Here, we are justified by the work of Christ and a path is opened up to right relationship once more.
Chapter 4: Renewal. Though Jesus defeated sin and the Enemy by his death and resurrection, the final movement — the full fruition of Jesus’ work, the full realization of God’s kingdom — is yet to come. In Revelation, the Bible describes a new city, the city of God, the city where all things are renewed and restored; where we are no longer frustrated by the ways that sin and brokenness frustrate, oppress, and violate; where the -isms of the world — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, tribalism — are no more; where flourishing and well-being are the hallmarks of life rather than exceptions to the rule; where we are fully rejoined in relationship with our Creator. This is the continuing work of the Spirit of God, sent by God to empower those who follow Jesus to live like him and to do the work in which we are called to partner with God.
Trouble can come, however, when we only know part of the story rather than the full story. If we try and tell this story with only half the plot, it’s like showing up at a movie thirty minutes late, leaving thirty minutes early, and then trying to write a movie review. It wouldn’t be fair to the creators of the movie, it wouldn’t make very much sense to us, and it would all be rather unsatisfying.
Some of us, particularly those who have experienced American evangelical culture, believe in a story that starts with the Fall and ends with Redemption. This version begins with our sin and culminates in Jesus saving us, but it neglects the part about God’s creation and how there is intrinsic goodness there, as well as the part about God’s final plan to make all things right, about what God’s Spirit is doing even now, and about the invitation for us to play a part in the story. When we subscribe only to a Fall-Redemption story, our faith becomes too privatized and too self-focused, and it loses sight of the broader implications of this good news.
Others, especially those of us engaged in justice work, see the brokenness that results from the Fall, and we want to see Renewal come. We see injustice, inequality, and oppression, and we commit ourselves to the fight against them. We long for the restoration that the gospel story tells us is ahead; we long to see the mountains made low, the valleys filled and the crooked made straight. But the temptation is to think we can get there apart from Jesus, apart from Redemption: perhaps we think that if we just protest enough, justice will be found; or if we develop the right policies, elect the right leaders, and secure the right economic engines, then we can find our way back to Eden or forward to the gleaming city of God.
But the gospel says that in order to go from Fall to Renewal, we have to go through Redemption — through Jesus Christ. It is because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we have been given the Spirit in order that we might be transformed so we might also bring transformation to our world.
This framing of the story is sometimes called “The Gospel of the Kingdom,” because it highlights the importance of the kingdom of God; after all, the kingdom was what Jesus talked about more than any other topic. Dallas Willard describes the kingdom of God as “the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.”
Thus, Creation was how God intended it to be, and he declared it good; Fall was when humankind expressed themselves in a way counter to their nature as representatives of a loving God; in Redemption we saw the fullness of God and his kingdom in the person of Jesus Christ; and in Renewal, we are invited to participate in the work of building for the kingdom.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: What parts of the gospel story have you heard before? What parts were missing from your previous understanding, or what parts do you need to be reminded of?
Heart: Which chapter do you find most challenging to believe or live — Creation, Fall, Redemption, or Renewal — and why? Which chapter do you find most encouraging? Why?
Hands: Take two pictures today: one of something that is good news to you, one of something that reflects God’s good news.
God, open my eyes, that I may see.
Trouble can come when
we only know part of the story
rather than the full story.