Yesterday, while driving in the car, I noticed some large trees being tossed about in the wind.  I thought this was enlightening.  Consider how remarkably sturdy and unyielding a century-old oak tree looks–immovable and inflexible.  But given the right conditions that tree bends and flexes in the wind. It must, because that is how it survives.  A tree that does not bend will break.

What conditions will bend you?  What situations will break you?

A New Approach

A book I have been reading has challenged me to begin writing more–more content, more frequently, more engaging, more connecting.  More, more, more.  Writing on this blog has been arduous for me, probably because I do not exercise my writing muscles near enough. So I am going to try for greater flexibility (with my subject matter), greater commitment (to writing anything), and greater leniency (of my own perfectionism).  I realize this means that some of my writing may suffer, but not every post has been a gem so far anyways.

Every post will be a gift. But not every gift will be wanted, appreciated, or enjoyed.  And I am okay with that.  Not every gift will be for every reader, but I hope that you will be patient and kind while I stretch my proverbial legs, knowing there will probably be some early injuries along the way.  We stumble, and we get up.  That’s life.

Considering the Gospel: Simple or Simplistic?


There is a difference.  One way conveys the truth within which are hidden volumes of mystery and complexity.  The other way, though perhaps effective in communicating an essential component of truth, fails to relate the vastness and the beauty of the promises God made to Abraham almost 4000 years ago.

We live in a sound bite culture, especially where modern technology and the pace of life has caused people to become constantly distracted and virtually unable to sit still. Who has time for a slow cooker when there is a microwave available? Now, in this microwave society riddled by 300 television stations, instant online gaming, DVR’s and MP3 players, it seems that any explanation lasting more than 30 seconds is considered ad infinitum and complicated. It is this brooding impatience that I believe has most negatively impacted the presentation of the gospel, to its detriment.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV)

We have taken the words of the gospel-writers or the epistles of Paul, distilled and truncated them, and delivered them in true bumper-sticker fashion believing that our audience is no different than their audience, that our world is no different than their world, and that the Word of God is impervious to manipulation, misuse, and abuse! And we have been wrong on every count.

And if you require proof, then consider the massive flow of professing Christians out of the church.  They are leaving in droves because they were sold a bill of goods that cannot be delivered.  They heard a gospel message that has been robbed of the potency and richness of the promise to Abraham and so excised of its depth and power.  They heard countless sermons admonishing love and [sometimes] obedience without the Biblical foundation or practical direction that Paul’s audience had. They were told that the gospel begins and ends with the cross rather than understanding that the crucifixion is only a single chapter in a much larger story that is still being written.

Considering this more practically, while saying “Jesus died for our sins” may be semantically accurate, it fails to convey the fullness of what he achieved through his life and his resurrection.  When presented as the crux of the gospel, this statement is both simplistic and short-sighted. I am not suggesting that it is irrelevant.  On the contrary, I am saying that such a simplistic presentation fails to capture the significance of what was actually accomplished on the cross and even more so greatly diminishes its relevance in the larger pattern of exile and redemption portrayed within the Biblical account.

The gospel is not a statement.  It is a story.  And we all, Jew and Gentile alike, have the opportunity to be a part of that story.

Considering the Gospel: What’s in your [theology] wallet?

shutterstock_55958683-horse-and-cartI have spent some time recently thinking deeply about theology–not just the formation of theology but also its value in an evolving system of belief. Consider first that theology is not salvific in and of itself. And theology succeeds belief as a function of describing and explaining a belief system. If faith is a horse and faithfulness is the cart, then theology is the explanation of the integral relationship of the two and the physics that explains why the horse must proceed the cart for the relationship to work.

I think of theology as descriptive rather than prescriptive, though it might serve both functions in some respects.  This then begs the question: is theology necessary for anything beyond an intellectual exercise? What is the value of being able to effectively articulate theological concepts beyond the obvious goal of describing a system of belief? Theology is not the gospel.

Or is it?

But treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts; while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you — yet with humility and fear. (1 Peter 3:15, CJB)

When we read the Bible, we sometimes ask ourselves theological questions such as what did Peter believe about such and such or what did Jesus mean when he said such and such or how did the assembly of believers in Corinth understand Paul’s letters. Those are relevant questions pertaining to context, and we should always consider the context of Scripture.  Failure to do so is a guaranty of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. And those questions all relate to how we understand the words of the Bible and the gospel it records. Understanding the theology of the Biblical characters shapes our own belief systems, as it should.

But wait, there’s more!

I have often heard it said, especially in protestant evangelical circles, that I don’t believe in religion. I believe in relationship with God–a cute phrase that is actually self-contradictory at best and totally misleading at worst. By definition, any belief system that incorporates belief in a deity and a definable mode of worship of that deity should be understood as a religion. What is usually meant by the statement is rather, I don’t believe in a liturgical system of worship. I subscribe to a less rigid, free-style, do-what-feels-right form of religion that allows me to define my own practice based on my own interpretations. (Ironically, these individuals typically still fellowship in a church congregation with its own set of mores and dogmatic ideals thus conforming to a predetermined set of allegedly non-conformist values and practices.)

So why should I work to define my theology?

Because doing so forces me to admit both what I believe and why I believe it. And sometimes that is not easy to do.  If I cannot articulate these fundamentals of my own belief system to myself in a thoughtful and constructive way, then I will not be able to effectively communicate them to others. Thankfully, no man is an island.  And the path of the God-follower was not meant to be walked alone. We are meant to work the difficult truths out with others who share our beliefs.

Theology is a full-contact team sport. (Figuratively. Not literally.)

Considering the Gospel: Reconcilable Differences

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-8)

passing the batonAs we have considered the Abrahamic origin and Jewish nature of the Good News, we should next consider the various gospel messages we receive in Scripture. We read plainly in the evangelists’ accounts about John the Immerser and Jesus both preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This seems in stark contrast with the gospel messages promoted by Peter and Paul, who both put more emphasis on the divine nature of Yeshua (Jesus), justification by faith, the function of grace, and the eternal destiny of the believer.  On the one hand, we have Yeshua saying, “Turn from your sinful ways and return to the Torah of God.” Then we see Paul emphatically denying the need for good works or adherence to God’s Torah. This is a difficulty.

Or is it?  When we read the Holy Scriptures, we can often encounter apparent (and sometimes blatant) contradictions.  For example, consider the accounts of who discovered Yeshua’s empty tomb.  Or the multiple genealogies found in both Hebrew and Greek scriptures. The difficulty in reconciling these differences begins with our innate need to establish order and explanation for everything.  In our evolved, post-Enlightenment, western culture, we have a tendency to only accept concepts that we can define.  Another way to explain this is to say that we can’t say “I don’t know” and be okay with that. Likewise, we have all but lost the ability to look at conflicting information and accept that both accounts can be totally accurate.

The Bible was not written in a vacuum.  And it was not written as a text book. Considering that we are two millennia removed from the latest Biblical accounts, there is a good chance that we might not be understanding the text in the way it was intended.  Add to this the fact that we are not even reading the text in its original language nor with an understanding of the Jewish mindset of the writers, and we do not have much of a chance at rightly handling the Word.

For example… When we read about Yeshua (Jesus) preaching repentance, it can seem out of touch with the modern gospel as we hear it preached today, principally justification by faith. To the Jew hearing Yeshua, repentance was understood as an action–not the belief or mind-set change you will often hear mistakenly taught in churches today. No, repentance to the Hebrew mind was about changing behaviors, realigning them with God’s ways, His Torah (teaching). But the Greek word used to represent repentance, μετάνοια (metanoia), actually can mean to change your mind. But Yeshua was not speaking Greek.  He was speaking Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. If we then look at the Hebrew for repentance, שׁוּבה (shuvah), we find the more action-oriented definition “return.” That is very different from just changing your mind, in fact I find it quite comical to think that repentance is just about changing your mind. What good is a belief change if it doesn’t manifest outwardly? That is like faith without works, which James the Righteous calls dead. You want dead faith, dead repentance? Then just change your mind. Such a thing is pointless and meaningless without the full manifestation into your daily activities and the outward proclamation of your life witness.

So Yeshua is telling the Jewish people to return to God, but it isn’t so easy for Peter and Paul to go out to the pagan masses and preach the return to a God that these masses have never known. So the Gospel, still focused on the Kingdom and Messiah’s kingship, expands to include monotheism, the divine origin and nature of Yeshua, his mission, his teachings, his self-sacrifice, his resurrection, and his future return to usher in the great redemption of Israel and the foreigners  who join with her.  When Yeshua preached repentance, his audience understood all of this.  We are the ones who are so far removed that we miss sight of the goal.  Evangelicalism has stopped short of the gospel message by making personal salvation the end gold.  That’s not even close.  Personal salvation, or redemption, is just the beginning, as we read in Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

How quick we are to quote verses 8 and 9 to prove that we cannot earn salvation and thereby have no obligations once we are “born again.”  But how often do you hear verse 10? On the contrary, there is such a pervasive fear of legalism within the body of Messiah that the importance of good works and value of obedience to God’s Holy Word has been virtually erased from the mindset of the average protestant Christian. And it all begins from both a lack of Biblical literacy and a failure of the average Christian to connect with the body of Scripture. The Enemy is robbing the body of Messiah of its potency by convincing believers that obedience to God’s Word is somehow unnecessary or, worse yet, even to be avoided. And well-intentioned believers are blindly walking that wide path with pride.

If you read a gospels and find a difficulty in reconciling the good news as Yeshua preached it and the good news that Peter, Paul, or the other Apostles preached, then take a step back and remember what the end goal of the message was meant to be. There is no difficulty here. Neither Peter nor Paul preached the good news with the intention that their hearers should abandon the Word of God, i.e. His Law, because they were almost always writing to mixed groups of Jews and Gentiles. The force of what they taught was that faith and trust in Yeshua brings salvation, as opposed to one’s status as a Jew. They taught the life, death, and resurrection of a divine Messiah whose work on the cross was meant to bring those who believe into the Kingdom of Heaven, one day to be realized by the Kingship of Yeshua sitting on his throne in Jerusalem. Peter so eloquently conveys this in his first epistle.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

If you are still stuck in that false law versus grace dichotomy, then you need to spend some time rediscovering Paul, who remained faithful to his Pharisaic upbringing throughout his life. He never abandoned his devotion to Torah. Careful and literate reading of his epistles will show as much. But careful and literate reading is not happening in our seminaries, our churches, or our homes.

Considering the Gospel: 5 Reasons a Jewish Gospel Matters

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:13-16)

1108155-1440x900-[DesktopNexus.com]The quote above is taken from a passage in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome. He continues by ex-pressing a metaphor com-paring the commonwealth of Israel–made up of both Jew and Gentile–to an olive tree consisting of both natural and grafted-in wild branches.  We must be careful not to carry the metaphor too far and in so doing apply a meaning unintended by the author.  The olive tree metaphor is intended to communicate the idea of Gentile-inclusion in the body of Messiah.  This is what Paul means when he says commonwealth of Israel. He’s not intending to imply that the physical distinction between Jew and Gentile has been mysteriously erased.  Instead, he’s communicating the idea that, through faith in Israel’s Messiah, the Gentile can now join with Israel in the rebuilding of the fallen tent of David (that’s another metaphor from Amos 9:11 quoted by James the Righteous in Acts 15:16-18). What is this fallen tent?  This commonwealth? This body?  It is a unified expression of faith that includes both Jew and Gentile.  (No, it’s not the church. The church is a uniquely Gentile expression into which many Jews have been assimilated and stripped of their defining covenantal status.)

I have made no hesitation in stating that the gospel is Jewish.  Its origin is Jewish, and its destiny is Jewish.  This concept is impossible for most believers to reconcile, because we have been taught for almost 2000 years that Christianity and Judaism are mutually exclusive, in the same way classical soteriological doctrine holds to the idea that the Torah (Law) and grace are working against each other. It may therefore seem entirely inconceivable that the Jewishness of the gospel is the critical, contextual foundation without which our entire understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower is robbed of historical context, personal significance, clarity of mission,  spiritual impact, and even diminishes in efficacy.

Historical Context

When reading from our English Bibles, it’s easy to forget the historicity of the stories we read, especially when they’ve been allegorized and analogized beyond recognition.  But there is a context to everything we read.  Unfortunately, the thoroughly Jewish language (it’s even there in the Greek manuscripts) has been almost completely removed in translation to English.  There are Hebrew idioms and colloquialisms that we have to work even harder to identify now, simply because the translators tried to interpret them out of the text to better align with their own doctrines.  When we restore the Jewishness of the gospel texts, Jesus leaps off the page into his own Second Temple-era Judaism.  He becomes Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Yoseph and Miriam.

Personal Significance

Once we realize and reinforce the Jewishness of the gospel in context, and Yeshua along with it, it can be exceedingly difficult for Gentiles to see their own story in the words of the Master.  That’s because Christian doctrine has always represented Jesus as one of us, the Son of God who came to overturn the Law of His Father.  Sounds pretty rebellious when I put it that way, but that’s the essence of how he gets represented. But consider this: the resurrection of Yeshua opens the way for Gentiles to enter into the story in a new way. We are welcomed into the faith of Abraham much in the way a proselyte (convert to Judaism) did before the revelation of Yeshua.  That is a huge difference from the way that we’ve always been taught.  Instead of supplanting the Jewish people and starting a new religion, Gentiles are welcomed into the family with an inheritance in the World to Come!

Clarity of Mission

If the Jewish people are God’s chosen, intended to be a light to the nations, then where does that leave the Gentile who has joined to herself to them?  While the lines of distinction remain (she doesn’t become a Jew), the Gentile believer is now a part of the New Covenant with the burden to be discipled into a life like our Master Yeshua. Remember the great commission from Matthew 28:19-20?  The Master commissions his disciples (think student) as apostles (think emissary, i.e. one sent out to carry a message) with the command to go and make disciples of all nations.  That’s it!  There is the mission. Become a disciple.  Not a convert.  If you stop at conversion, then you have failed the mission.

Spiritual Impact

I mentioned above that the Gentile becomes part of the family of Abraham through faith in Messiah.  Consider, for a moment, what that means from a spiritual perspective.  We have inherited something profound.  The Jewish people have been carrying the oracles of God for almost 3500 years.  When we join with them, with their prayers, we present a solidarity that the Enemy hates.  We oppose his designs to destroy God’s chosen people by declaring that we will stand unified with Israel and her God-given role of  manifesting the Lord’s attributes to the world. You want to give the devil a hard time?  Then devote yourself as the earliest believers did: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (the teaching of Jesus passed down) and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread (shared meals) and the prayers (Jewish liturgy in conjunction with the Temple service)” (Acts 2:42).

Diminished Efficacy

If the gospel in any form results in salvations, then how could the absence of a Jewish understanding diminish its effectiveness? What does it really matter?  What’s the difference? If you haven’t asked this question yet, then you should have. If you asked this question and cannot figure the answer, then you need to go back and read this.  Every time you slip into thinking of the gospel message as relating solely to individual salvation, i.e. personal eternal destiny, then you have fallen back into the old way of thinking, enslaved by false doctrines designed to fragment and diminish the work of God through His chosen people–and in which the Gentile Christ-follower now plays a vital part.

If the gospel is about an expression of godliness through the revelation of His Torah in ways that manifest His character and life-giving grace to an unredeemed world, then we have to remember to whom those oracles contained in the Torah were first given.  Without a Jewish perspective on Scripture, we are going to miss the essence of what God is meaning to do in the world. We have a responsibility, a duty, a role in the redemption process. (Don’t get cracked up with that tired old argument that I’m even suggesting we can work our way to salvation.) The world seeks its redeemer.  It’s our responsibility to demonstrate His love by living according to His standard of righteousness.  Christianity will continue to miss out on what that means by continuing to purport ancient man-made traditions that seek to remove and replace the Jewishness of the Word, the Messiah, and the gospel message.

It is time for a paradigm shift.

Considering the Gospel: Origins and Revolutions

 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:56-58)

flat,550x550,075,fAbout 4000 years ago, give or take a few years, a man from Mesopotamia was called out personally by God to make a journey of faith.  He was told to leave all that he knew and go out to find his inheritance.  This inheritance would then pass on to descen-dants too numerous to count. But the story wasn’t all roses.  Generations would be taken into captivity and enslaved until that same God would redeem and return them to their land.  The man believed God, and he trusted Him to fulfill the promises even though he wouldn’t live long enough to see them realized.

Exile.  And redemption.  That is the gospel message.  Without exile and redemption, there is no gospel. The penultimate exile began with mankind’s expulsion from Eden, but that story is really just part of the prologue to the story of Abraham and the founding of the God’s promises to Israel. That is where the gospel message finds its genesis, with the covenant El Shaddai made with that man from Mesopotamia.

Just as much as the gospel is about exile and redemption, it is about Israel. I’ve said before, the evangelical gospel message as it exists to day–essentially just a diluted and watered-down message of justification by faith–is almost totally devoid of its historical foundation and thus neglects the foundational understanding that the Bible is the story of Israel–that’s physical Israel and not some separate and distinct, spiritualized, allegorical entity (raise your hand if you get my meaning).

If we understand the origin of the gospel promises, then where is the revolution? That comes later, after Jesus, as the gospel message begins to permeate the gentile communities outside the land of Judea, as the gentile believers begin to outnumber the Jewish believers.  The revolution by the church against chosen Israel is fundamental and cemented in Christian theology by the time of the Reformation. And in many ways, it continues today every time the evangelical salvation message is presented outside of its historical reality and devoid of its Jewish context.

What am I saying?  I’m saying that the gospel message in the New Testament wasn’t intended to start something new.  Gentile Christianity took the good news and mutated it into a self-serving, diminished proclamation of personal freedom.  And then it forced this new kind of bondage on the Jewish people over the past two thousand years.  It looks a little something like this: Jesus came to do away with Judaism so that you don’t have to do the law anymore; ergo, put away your yarmelke and enjoy a ham sandwich.  Now all the Jews can turn into gentiles and complete Hitler’s Final Solutions via assimilation instead of gas chambers.  Okay, that might be extreme, but the essence is still the same: the complete irradiation of the only nation God declares as “chosen.”

This theology of cessation and replacement is so well intrenched in the way the Bible is taught in churches that most people can’t distinguish this man-made tradition from what the Scripture actually says.  It’s a vile lie from the Enemy that permeates church doctrine.  You have got to strip away the gentile tradition from Christian doctrine if you will ever truly see and apply Scripture the way God intended.  As the great rabbi Yoda was known to say, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” There is a profound role for the Jewish people to play in the world, as Jewish people, who love and honor God through their covenantal obligations–not as converts to Christianity who have abandoned their identity and unique calling. To discount that is to discount the very Word of God!

Start a new revolution and restore the gospel to its rightful Jewish context.  Only then will we see the unveiling of new life and redemption the good news is capable of producing.  Only then will the full mission of gentile believers who have joined with Israel become apparent. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.  He was Jewish at his birth.  He was Jewish at his resurrection.  And he’ll still be Jewish when he returns to take up his throne in Jerusalem. To suggest otherwise is to embrace tradition over the Word of God, and there’s already too much of that happening in our churches already.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the Jewish nature of the gospel which in turn impacts our understanding of exile, redemption, salvation, justification, and sanctification–and another -ation you can come up with.

Considering the Gospel: A Message in Exile

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:2-5)

The message of the gospel is one of redemption, one of freedom, and one of hope.  But these concepts have no value when there is not first exile, enslavement, and despair. The seeds of good news must be sewn in the fertile ground of exile in order to later produce a harvest of redemption. All the prophets through Jesus–he was the awaited prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15)–proclaimed a message of return.  They called on the Jewish people to set aside their neglect of God’s ways and to return to a life of obedience to His teaching, His Torah.

The essence of the gospel message never changed, though the wording and nature of the plea evolved up to its culmination with Jesus. I say culmination because Jesus’s gospel was the final call for repentance and warning to the Jews of the Second Temple era prior to the destruction in 70 CE of Jerusalem and the Temple by the future Emperor Titus and the Roman Army. This is not to suggest that the gospel didn’t evolve after Jesus.  Instead, I would say it was transformed under the stewardship of the Apostles for its delivery to the nations. By this, we should understand that saying “Jesus’s gospel,” or “Paul’s gospel,” or “Peter’s gospel” prescribe a disparity where none exists. Their message was, in essence, no different from the prophets of Israel before them: repent and return to a life submitted to God’s authority.  The challenge comes in discerning how the message each carried was tailored for an intended audience while still holding true to the intent of the original plea.  More on that later…

We who, in modern times, are charged with the spread of the good news must ask ourselves: does the gospel message that I am sharing and teaching still maintain the integrity of the good news Jesus taught?  Or instead, have we sent the gospel into its own exile by stripping it of the power contained in the hope of the earthly Kingship of Messiah? I believe that the evangelical gospel has done just that, by reducing the gospel message down to only a message of justification by faith.  This individualistic salvation message might be a component of the good news, so to speak, but it isn’t all of the good news.  And the gospel doesn’t end with a cross or an empty tomb. (Put down your stones; I’m not finished yet.) Those acts make a way for the Holy Spirit to then begin its work as a pledge, or down-payment, of our inheritance in the World to Come (Eph 1:14).

I hope you’re beginning to see how big this thing called the gospel really is.  The evangelists who wrote and compiled the four New Testament gospel records understood what most today have forgotten, and it goes back to the point I brought up in my previous post: the good news is about bringing Israel out of exile, by the redemptive process through the agency of Messiah, and back into relationship with her one, true King: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the mystery of the gospel, as the Apostle Paul puts it, is that even people from the nations can join in that process through faith in the Messiah of Israel.  If we are to redeem the gospel message from its long exile, then we must first acknowledge the primacy of Israel and her covenant with God as the core of the good news.

How do we do that exactly?

Considering the Gospel: The Light of Redemption

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.  14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. ” (Genesis 15:12-14)

00663_ghostfog_1440x900.jpgBefore that extra Hebrew letter was added to his name to turn Abram into Abraham, the Lord was already preaching the Gospel message to him.  At its core, as I mentioned in my previous post, the Gospel message speaks about salvation–not solely at the individual level, but of the whole of Creation.  The entire body of Scripture, from Genesis to John’s Apocalypse, is about the exile of Israel (and this present world) and the redemption that God’s Messiah (literally “anointed one”) will bring. This challenges many of you, because you have been erroneously taught that redemption has already occurred.  But this is a half-truth.  The work of redemption has begun, but the Bible text makes it abundantly clear that the work is not finished.

 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

In this new covenant text, the Lord tells us that when redemption is complete and the new covenant has come into its fullness, there will no longer be a need for evangelical efforts, for every man will already the know the Lord. That means (follow me here, because I know this is pretty tough to hear) the new covenant isn’t finished. It was initiated, but we have a part in furthering the Kingdom towards that perfected goal. We still have work to do.

That’s right.  We have work–hard work–to do.  We still live in “this present darkness”–the exile of Israel still goes on.  We live in diaspora.  Our King does not yet reign on His throne in Jerusalem.  And until that happens, we still have work to do to help realize his Kingdom now, by furthering the message of loving God and loving our neighbor, a message of hope and devotion to the life that God has ordained for His people Israel and those of the nations who have chosen to join themselves to her by placing faith in the Messiah of Israel. We each have a measure of the light of redemption that we are responsible to share in the darkness that pervades the world around us.

As we enter a new year, I challenge each of you to be a light to those around you by spreading the hope of redemption and faith in a God who saves.  Because if you won’t, then you’re only adding to the darkness.

Considering the Gospel: What’s the Point?

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)

Why do we share any gospel message at all?  What is the point of the gospel message?  I think we tend to lose sight of the big picture when we talk about the gospel.  I read a brief description of an upcoming seminar that purports to set straight the gospel message in a revelatory proclamation of emancipation for all within reach–essentially–from their domination by legalistic thinking and delusions of duty and responsibility to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Did you catch my sarcasm there?)  Clearly, I don’t share in that polemic for a number of reasons that we’ll discuss in a later post. But the point I want to make here is that this presentation of a fractured and diminished gospel speaks solely to the individual’s salvific future through the assent to the speaker’s declarations while actually negating our responsibility to respond with intent in a meaningful and tangible way.

Salvation in the Bible is so much bigger than that.  What a narrow and low view of the gospel message is being proclaimed when it speaks only to the individual! That’s right.  It’s much broader and all-encompassing.  Notice in the citation above from Romans: salvation at its most expansive and inclusive expression speaks to the whole of creation! Creation itself seeks redemption by its Creator.  That is the point of the gospel: the redemption of the world and all it contain, brought back into the presence of a perfect God, basking in His light and infinite wisdom.  Personal and individual redemption (you might have referred to this as “being saved”) is just one small piece of a much larger tapestry.