Catch-up Friday

 

Use today to catch up on any readings you might have missed in our month-long series. We begin a new series in Hosea on Monday.

If you’re up-to-date, have a think about what our month-long series has meant for how we might understand the gospel.

So what is The Gospel?

As we’ve seen, the gospel is much bigger than just individual salvation – it can’t be reduced to a mere “transaction” between you and God. Yes, Christ died for your sins – but he did so as part of this big story throughout history. Although each of us as individuals must respond to God’s offer of forgiveness, it’s not in the first instance an offer between God and an individual. It’s first and foremost God creating a people of his very own who will bear his image to the world. Christ died and rose again as a representative of that people, defeating sin and death, and making it possible for them to have new life.

God now calls each of us to belong to that people – to repent of our sin and become part of the people of God (symbolised by baptism) – so that Christ’s death and resurrection counts for us, too. And, having done that, he calls us to get on board with the purpose of God’s people: to bear God’s image to his world. (Which, by the way, is a good reply to those who want to be “solo Christians” – not wanting to be part of the people of God. Being included in God’s people is how Christ’s death and resurrection become yours.) Ultimately, it’s being a part of God’s renewal of all of his creation – of which Jesus’ resurrection is the start, the firstfruits, of what God will bring about in the age to come.

If we reduce the gospel to the “sinner’s prayer” (as important and indispensable as it is), we can easily overlook the rest of this story. It’s a bit like saying that a marriage can be summed up by a set of vows between a husband and a wife. Sure, they’re vitally important; you’re not married without the vows! But in the grand story of a couple’s life together, they represent the means of entry into a lifelong relationship, which is far bigger and all-encompassing than a moment in which a commitment was made.

So don’t throw out your old gospel tracts! (Each of us does need to admit we’ve rebelled against God, ask for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and commit ourselves to a new life of obedience, with God’s help.) But realise that they’re the wedding vows, not the whole romance.

To think about

How has your understanding of the gospel become broader during this series?

Further reading

I recommend Tom Wright’s Simply Good News.

Why Jesus? – Part Sixteen

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense. Or wait until Monday, when we begin a new series!)

Today, we wrap up our sixteen-part series on Why Jesus? (don’t worry, I’m exhausted, too!), and look – very briefly – at how the next chapter of Israel’s story is to play out.

Yesterday, we saw how Jesus’ death makes sense not simply as an abstract sacrifice between God and humanity, but as the representative of Israel. Just as in his life Jesus became Israel’s representative (succeeding as God’s image-bearer, where they had failed), he did also in his death – bearing the consequences for their rebellion, dying a rebel’s death in their place at the hands of Rome. And we saw how Jesus was consciously drawing on the Old Testament image of the Suffering Servant (found in e.g. Isaiah 53), the innocent one who bears the sins of the guilty.

So far, so good. Historically speaking, a rebellion was averted, and Jerusalem was spared. For a few decades. Then they rebelled again, and Rome came and finished them off – destroying the temple in the process (AD70). Had anything changed? Was Jesus’ sacrifice for nothing?

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Fifteen

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

Closing in on the end of our series, yesterday we reviewed the historical reasons that led to Jesus’ death. Basically, his telling of Israel’s story (and his outline of the next chapter he was writing) clashed with almost everyone else’s. He proclaimed a rival kingdom to that of Rome, leading to (unfounded) fears that he’d lead a rebellion. He proclaimed a non-violent kingdom, disappointing many of his followers who wanted a military uprising. He forgave sins, opening himself to the charge of blasphemy (doing something only God could do), and bypassing the corrupt Temple leadership in the process – not helping matters by his judgmental act of cleansing the Temple. He welcomed the repentant sinners of Israel into the kingdom, yet challenged those who sought status with God on the basis of law-keeping – which made the Pharisees cranky, like the resentful elder brother outside the party for the returned prodigal. And, of course, there was the danger that his return-from-exile, I’m-the-Messiah, coming-rule-of-God message would be heard by the people as a call to rebellion: and Rome would intervene, meaning the end of the cosy power-sharing arrangement the Jewish leadership had managed to set up for themselves. The historical answer is that Jesus trod on everyone’s toes: that’s why he ended up getting killed.

But what’s the theological answer?

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Fourteen

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

OK, we’re in the home stretch – just the rest of this week to go. So far, we’ve seen how Jesus sent the message (in words, in miracles, in parables) that God was about to enact the next chapter in Israel’s story: the return from exile and coming reign of God. And he’d do that through Jesus, his anointed one (Messiah) who was from the line of David (keeping good on that promise), and who would execute God’s judgement and authority over the nations (as the image-bearing Son of Man). Which should have been Good News to all those expectant Jews, waiting for the restoration of Israel.

But not everyone liked the message. Last week, we already saw Jesus subvert Israel’s story in his parables – making it clear that those who enter the kingdom won’t be the “obvious candidates” from the religious establishment, but repentant sinners who embrace the new thing God is doing. Today, we focus on what he said and did that ended up getting him killed.

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Thirteen

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

In the first two weeks of this series, we looked at Israel’s defining story, and their hope of a true return from exile when God’s promises to his people would finally be fulfilled. Last week, we saw how Jesus presented himself as the Messiah (“anointed one”) who would bring about the fulfilment of that hope – by his words which announced the arrival of the kingdom, by his miraculous deeds which fulfilled the prophetic expectations of the kingdom, and by his parables which (among other things) subverted Israel’s expectations of the kingdom and brought him into conflict with the Jewish leadership.

Today, we look at two features of the Jewish hope we traced in week two of the series that we haven’t touched on so far in our discussion of Jesus. They relate to two of the titles often given to or used by Jesus.

Continue reading

Catch-up Friday

This is our third “catch-up Friday.” Use today and the weekend to get back on schedule, if you’ve fallen a bit behind.

But if you’re up-to-date, here’s something that’s not part of our “Why Jesus?” series, but touches on yesterday’s parable – which I find interesting.

Intercultural readings

Yesterday we looked at the parable of the lost sons. This parable was the subject of a study by Mark Allan Powell (see his book What do they hear? Bridging the gap between pulpit and pew) in which he describes the different ways in which different cultures “hear” this parable. He asked groups of people studying the parable to re-tell the parable in their own words, and answer the questions “why was the son hungry?” and “what was the parable about?” The results were intriguing.

US/Western groups

In the US, the focus of the telling was on the bad choices made by the young man. He was hungry, they said, because he squandered his wealth. In their re-telling of the parable, 94% would leave out the famine altogether. The parable was about how our choices as individuals get us into trouble.

Russia

 

In Russia, the situation was the opposite. He was hungry because there was a famine. The parable was about the foolishness of leaving one’s family and support network (i.e. God’s providential care) when outside forces can unexpectedly come at any time and take everything away.

Refugees in Tanzania

In Tanzania, among a group of refugees, the son was hungry because the foreign country was full of mean people – they made much of the fact that no-one gave him any food (which is indeed in the story as Jesus tells it!). Powell pressed back: but what about him squandering his wealth? Oh, they replied, everyone loses their money when travelling in a foreign country – you’re a target! For them, the parable was about the generosity of the Father vs the hostility and meanness of the world.

Powell points out that each of the three reasons can be found in the text, but it takes an intercultural reading to bring them all out.

 

We might also argue that we need some first century Jews expecting the imminent end of the exile to help us hear the parable how Jesus originally intended it to be heard, but that was yesterday’s subject. For now, we can just find this fascinating.

You want more?

I heard George Wieland (from Carey Baptist College in New Zealand) tell about a similar experiment he’d been running. Students from different sub-cultures ran bible studies on the story of Zacchaeus, recording and transcribing the group discussion:

  • A group of young, white males quickly turned the study into a discussion of how Christians ought to view wealth.
  • A group for older, single women focused on Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus.
  • A group of refugees couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name.

 

We tend to learn more when we study the bible with different “voices” – people who have different ethnic or cultural or life-stage backgrounds from ours.

Why Jesus? – Part Twelve

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense. In fact, today’s post is really part two of yesterday’s, so make sure that’s fresh in your mind.)

Yesterday we looked at how one of Jesus’ parables (the Wicked Tenants) challenged and subverted Israel’s defining story. Today, we look at two more, asking the questions:

  1. What expectation of the return from exile and coming kingdom does this parable speak to?
  2. How does Jesus subvert or overturn this expectation?

The Wedding Banquet

Matt 22:1-14 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Eleven

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

Last week we looked at Israel’s defining story, and their hope of a true return from exile when God’s promises to his people would finally be fulfilled. This week, we’ve seen how Jesus presents himself as the fulfilment of that hope – both by his words announcing the arrival of the kingdom and by his miraculous deeds fulfilling the prophetic expectations of the kingdom. Today, we continue this theme by looking at how his parables relate to this defining story of Israel – not only announcing the arrival of the kingdom, but also challenging Israel’s expectations of the kingdom, and subverting her story.

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Ten

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

Over the last two weeks we worked our way through Israel’s defining story, seeing their hope for a true return from exile in which all of God’s promises would be fulfilled, and they would experience God’s righteous rule. (Rather than this half-way house of being back in the land, still finding it impossible to follow God from the heart, and being ruled by foreigners who didn’t know God.)

Yesterday, we saw how Jesus symbolically reenacted Israel’s wilderness-wandering history, and how his first words in each of the Gospels declared that he was bringing about (at long last) the end to the exile and the beginning of God’s reign. But was he just another madman who’d drunk too much Messiah-juice? Or was he, finally, the real deal? Today, we see how he backs up his outrageous claims with equally outrageous actions.

Continue reading

Why Jesus? – Part Nine

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll need to start with Part One for the series to make sense.)

Over the last two weeks we worked our way through Israel’s defining story – quickly at first, and then slowing down as we approached the time at which Jesus was about to enter the narrative. We concluded on Friday with a summary of the story as it stands in the closing years of the first century BC:

God’s image-bearers are still in exile, despite being back in the promised land. They were looking forward to a time when the exile would truly be over and all of God’s promises would be fulfilled – a time when they’d be able to bear God’s image the way he always intended.

This week, we change gear to look at how Jesus fits into the story: how he presented his message and ministry as the fulfilment of Israel’s hope – the logical next chapter in the story – as well as how he corrected and challenged some of their expectations as to how that would happen. We start today with how Jesus announced the end of Israel’s exile and the coming reign of God.

Continue reading