The Rest of the Gospel

Advancing the Kingdom


Jesus went throughout Galilee preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of sickness among the people.” (St. Matthew)

THE TRUNCATED GOSPEL
The revealed word of Scripture contains the ultimate good news: Man isn’t a bag of chemicals produced by the blind forces of nature, but a creation whose existence has eternal meaning and significance. The Creator has not kept himself hidden, but has penetrated history in the person of Jesus Christ. In that Person, the God who is, is a God of mercy, grace, and love, who has provided the gift of salvation. History will unfold according to His sovereign purposes; and in the pause between the Cross and Second Coming, Heaven’s resources are accessible to believers for advancing the Kingdom. This is the Gospel that Jesus came to preach.

Yet, ask a modern-day Christian for a definition of “the Gospel” and you will rarely get anything beyond some familiar affirmation about salvation.

To right-leaning Christians, the Gospel is about God resolving our moral guilt through Jesus’ sacrificial death. To left-leaning Christians, the Gospel is about us resolving our social guilt by following His example of loving tolerance. In one case, Jesus is the gate to heaven; in the other, an icon of social justice.

In either case, the good news of Jesus is truncated to what Dallas Willard calls in The Divine Conspiracy, “sin management”—the notion that Christianity entails little else than freeing individuals from the consequences of sin, whether moral or social. The effects of this impoverished understanding have not been insignificant.

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
Much has been written about the bewildering gap between the beliefs and behaviors of Christians. After studying over 100 behavioral indicators, cultural watchdog George Barna concluded in 2001: “To the naked eye, the thoughts and deeds (and even many of the religious beliefs) of Christians are virtually indistinguishable from those of nonbelievers.”

Earlier this year, Barna reported that the behaviors of “born-again” Christians and the general population are small to “statistically indistinguishable.” Among the behaviors evaluated were lying, gossiping, substance abuse, and extra-marital sex. For his study, Barna distinguished “born-agains” broadly by a belief in eternal life based on confession of sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior—in other words, “sin management.”

However in 2004, Barna discovered that a small subgroup (9 percent) of “born-agains” exhibited a strong correlation between their faith and actions.  That subgroup is “evangelicals,” who Barna defined by commitment to a biblical worldview and conviction that “their religious faith is very important in their life.” For this group, the Gospel is more than sin management; it is the good news that eternal life begins now as one’s faith is lived out under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Barna observed that this “has produced a distinct way of living . . . that is increasingly at odds with the accepted norms.”

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
Although Christ’s salvific work marks the climax of the Gospel account, the central subject of Jesus’ teaching was not the Cross, but the Kingdom. The long discourses and numerous parables of Jesus disclosing the mysteries of the Kingdom—its nearness, its principles, its attributes, its signs, its manifestation, its Ruler, and its fulfillment—dwarfed his expositions about his impending death.

Jesus’ emphasis does not diminish the importance of the Cross. To the contrary, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is “good news” because it, and nothing else, brings the Kingdom of God “near.”

At the same time, “nearness” in no way suggests that God was any less sovereign or involved in creation prior to the Incarnation; but, rather, with Emmanuel (“God with us”) God’s reign and presence will be manifested through his earthly agents. Neither does “nearness” mean that the kingdom had been absent or remote. Instead, the good news of the Kingdom is that, from the Incarnation forward, individuals and culture would experience the healing touch of Christ through his bride, the Church.

On the surface, this would seem at odds with Jesus’ statement that his kingdom was not of this world. Indeed, that oft-quoted verse has been misinterpreted to mean that the kingdom of heaven is not concerned with the affairs of this world: it is otherworldly and invisible, either “out there” beyond the cosmic expanse or confined “in here” within the hearts of men. Nothing could be further from Jesus’ intent.

While the kingdom of heaven is not ruled by earthly powers or according to earthly principles, its flesh-and-blood dimensions are to be visible in the lives of those powered by God’s Spirit. Jesus makes that clear from the get-go.

AN ANNOUNCEMENT AND A CALL
Jesus began his public ministry with, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” It was both an announcement and a call. An announcement of a new era in God’s rule, and a call to transformed living.

He then set about healing the sick, exorcizing demons, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, making the lame walk, and raising the dead. These were not spectacular displays against the natural order, like turning a frog into a prince. They were merciful acts of restoration bringing wholeness to lives splintered from the Fall. This is significant.

When Jesus restored sight to eyes and hearing to ears, it wasn’t to wow the crowd with his dazzling powers; it was to jolt their memories back to the ancient story about the way things were, while giving them a preview of the ways things will be again. His miraculous works introduced an epoch of renewal that will culminate when all things are made new.

Jesus launched into a long address (spanning three chapters in the gospel of Matthew) on a Galilean hilltop. He challenged the crowd to love their enemies and pray for them. It was part of his dizzying expectation to “be perfect” like their heavenly Father—something that even the paragons of spirituality, the Pharisees, failed to do.

His instructed the Twelve to follow his pattern of teaching by announcing the Kingdom and performing the kinds of miracles they had seen him perform. In time, they were given the “keys to the kingdom,” the authority to “bind and loose,” the charge to feed his lambs, the command to love others as he loved them, and the parting commission to:

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19)

Notice that they weren’t charged to make converts, members or even believers, but disciples—apprentices, if you will, who study, learn and emulate the life of a teacher who partners with God in his restoration work.

In a very real sense, the Gospel of the Kingdom fulfills the Creation mandate—the divine command given to Adam and Eve to enrich and flourish creation.

FULFILLING THE CREATION MANDATE
The primordial state of man was one of integration and oneness with creation and the Creator—in a word, shalom. In this harmonious existence, nature was compliant to man’s caring stewardship.

But with the Fall, a malignancy was loosed contaminating the created order and tearing asunder what God had joined together, putting man at odds with creation, the Creator, and his fellow man.

Once harmonious and responsive, nature was now alien and unbending. No longer could man control it with a gentle word or guiding touch. He would need his entire physical and intellectual wherewithal. Yet after untold millennia, man’s attempts to manipulate his environment through science, technology, and social institutions have failed to re-create the Garden.

However, the good news of the Kingdom is that shalom is a future reality that is unfolding before us. As citizens of the Kingdom live out their faith, bringing God’s glory to bear in every sphere of life, creation is being incrementally restored, up to the final act. At that time, the curtain will open and the returning King will step onto the stage to complete the divine makeover.

Then the reign of God will be established over all the earth. The knowledge of the Lord will permeate the cosmos. The former things will be forgotten. Discord, dysfunction, disease and death will be relegated to the past. Wolves and sheep will lie together, lions and leopards will feed on grass, and children will delight in them as they did their former pets.

It will be shalom.

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a Centurion of the Wilberforce Forum. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: centurion51@aol.com.

 


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