Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 5)

Chapter 7 - Jesus and the Gospel

As Scot has defined the gospel, he now asks, “Did Jesus preach that he was the completion of Israel’s Story in such a way that he was the saving story himself? This kind of question shifts the focus of the gospel from being the personal, individual benefits we experience to the Person who himself is the good news.

Piper defines the gospel in his book, God is the Gospel, “the glory of god in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.” Despite several important differences between McKnight on Piper on the contents of the gospel, they agree on this: the gospel is to declare something about a Person, about God in his revelation in Jesus Christ and about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Scot then sets out to show that Jesus preached a gospel that concerned himself as the completion of Israel’s story in a way that he was the saving story himself.


Scot begins by examining how Jesus overtly connects his mission, his vision, and his preaching with kingdom. The gospels frame their stories (for the most part, synoptics anyway), from the start as how the births and beginnings of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus point to messianic and kingdom expectations of Israel’s Story. Mary, Zechariah and john the Baptist point to the fulfillment of the Kingdom and kingdom for them is a community ruled by a King, the Messiah.

Jesus and the Kingdom

Jesus believed the kingdom of God was breaking into history. Two text point to that clearly in Mark 1.15 (the kingdom has drawn [very] near) and Matthew 12.28 (Jesus provides evidence that the kingdom has come upon you). Jesus believes he is the actual manifestation of the long awaited kingdom of god.

Jesus declares a new society in the land and a new citizenship.

Who Am I? Who are you?

Others thought Jesus was one of Israel’s great prophets. Others thought John was a prophet like Elijah or even the Messiah himself. John thought he was “the voice” calling out in the wilderness which prepare the way for the appearance of God himself. John thought Jesus was the one more powerful than himself. Perhaps even Elijah himself (the one who is coming). Jesus thought John was Elijah. This all brings to mind Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 15 that all of this was taking place according to the Scriptures. Jesus and John both knew they had a role to play and that role was found in Scripture.

Now, who did Jesus thing he was? Jesus preached that he was the center of God’s plan for Israel. Jesus went to the Bible to define who he was and what his mission was. Jesus believed he was completing scriptural passages. Jesus predicted and embraced his death and resurrection. Jesus therefore preached the gospel because he preached himself. Jesus preached the gospel because he saw himself completing Israel’s story.

Three “Look at Me!” Passages

The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus saw his teaching as the consummation and completion and resolution of the OT Law and the Prophets. Jesus claims that everyone’s morall life is to be measured by whther they live according to his moral vision.

Jesus and the 12 – Jesus appoints 12 that will sit on the 12 thrones that represent the covenant people of God. Yet Jesus stands above the 12, he is the Lord or King of the 12. Jesus chooses 12 to embody the hope for a reunited 12 tribes; he sees the 12 as embodying the fullness of the people of God, and he sees himself above the 12. He sees the Story of Israel coming to its completion in the 12 apostles, and he sees himself both as appointer of the 12 and the Lord over the 12.

Jesus and his death – Jesus saw himself as the Son of Man figure of Daniel 7 who suffered and was exalted. He reenacts the royal entry predicted by Zechariah the prophet. He “stages” a Passover-like meal during which time he declares his body and blood will liberate. God will protect the followers of Jesus if they will drink of his blood-cup and eat his body-bread.

When Jesus talks about moral vision, he sees himself completing the Torah and the Prophets. When he summons the twelve to be his apostles, he is summing up Israel’s hope and Israel’s covenant community as its Lord. And when Jesus speaks about his premature death, he sees it as fulfilling Scriptures, especially Passover.

So, did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes, he preached the gospel because the gospel is the saving Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and Jesus clearly set himself at the center of God’s saving plan for Israel.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kingdom of God - It starts small

The Kingdom of God starts small (Matt. 13.31-33)

When we look at the earthly ministry of Jesus, it was relatively unsuccessful, numbers wise. There were around 120 followers of Jesus immediately following his return to heaven after his resurrection. And of those 120, they were really not very powerful or even have much status in their society. But within a little more than 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, this movement that he started grew to almost half of the population of the Roman Empire (or around 32 million people at some estimates). How did this happen?

Exposition Matt. 13.31-33

Jesus told many parables to explain the Kingdom of God. These were little word pictures of concrete examples from their everyday life to explain various aspects of the Kingdom, what it would look like, how one entered it, what one must do when they encountered it, what it would ultimately look like. We will look at several of these as the semester goes along. Now we are going to look at a couple of short parables where Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as something very small and seemingly insignificant to the naked eye, but it turns out to be quite impressive as it works toward its goal.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…In the ancient world, the mustard seed was known for its smallness. Later Jesus would say that faith the size of a mustard seed would be able to move mountains (that is, such small, pure, concentrated faith would be able to accomplish the seemingly impossible.) It is from this “smallest” of seeds that a very large bush like plant eventually emerges, large enough to accommodate the nests of birds.

It is similar with the yeast. It has this gradual, almost unobservable fermentation process that makes it a good simile for the impact of the kingdom. What we have is the dynamic power of yeast where a small amount (almost imperceptible) when first mixed into a lump of dough has an eventual, astonishing effect on the whole. When Jesus says that a small amount of leaven goes this dough, he is describing a very small amount that mixes with three measures of wheat flour. That is about 40 liters (or about 10 gallons) producing 50 kilograms of bread (or 110 lbs). Enough to feed 150 people.

The point that Jesus is making here is that in spite of the expectations of many (a grand entrance by God the King who would usher in a military victory and establish a physical kingdom on a real throne), the kingdom has begun. It is very inconspicuous but it has begun. In the end the greatness of the kingdom in size will provide a contrast as that between the mustard seed and the tree. You wouldn’t think that such a great tree could come from such a small source. So it will be with the kingdom. As is with the yeast, that what at the beginning looks unimpressive will have an effect that is out of all proportion with that beginning. The kingdom’s coming did not overwhelm the world, as expected. Yet it is destined to become a tremendous entity, in spite of its small origins. The Kingdom’s growth can only be attributed to God. It has always been this way. God uses such insignificant people and instruments to expand his kingdom and give glory to him. Since it starts so small, its success can only be explained by God’s power.

This is the way God has been doing things since he began his plan of redemption. The Bible begins with God creating a good creation and the first humans who had this unbroken and free relationship with the Father. Their disobedience ruined it all. It unleashed the power of sin in that things seemed to spiral out of control as we see in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Then, God begins his plan of redemption. Who does he choose as his agents of redemption? A tribe of great warriors? A tribe who was advanced in creating tools for advancement? A tribe of artists and poets who could praise him? No, he chooses a childless old man and old woman to begin his plan to redeem all people. He chooses Abraham and Sarah. God makes a promise to him:

Genesis 12.1-3 – I will make you into a great nation…I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

This man was 75 years old, his wife 10 years younger who was not able to conceive. That is what God does. He begins his plan of salvation with these seemingly insignificant people and plans to redeem all humanity through their offspring.

The descendants of Abraham become the people of Israel. After a few generations, we find these people not in the land that was promised to them, but in Egypt working as slaves. Yet, God hears them in their distress, remembers his promise to their Father, Abraham. He delivers them. He calls them to be a light to the rest of the world. And yet, in spite of their failure over and over again to obey the God who rescued them, and their failure to be a blessing to all the nations, God still uses them. He comes as one of them. He doesn’t come as a royal figure from an earthly perspective. He doesn’t come from a wealthy or important family. He is born to a small town carpenter and his fiancĂ©e. This family even has to flee the country after the birth of this child because important people are threatened by him. This son lives in obscurity for thirty years and announces that the king is near. And he doesn’t do this by raising an army or revealing himself to the powerful. He hangs around insignificant people like fishermen, and hated tax collectors and sinners like prostitutes. To them he reveals his kingly credentials. And it is among these “insignificant people” that Jesus resumes God’s plan of redeeming and blessing all of the nations. Through these “mustard seeds” and through this seemingly insignificant amount of yeast that needs to ferment a huge amount of flour. It was from this beginning that the Roman Empire was over half Christians in about 300 years. How did this happen?

We have to start with God’s power. As we talked about last week, God pour out his power on his people starting with 120 followers of Jesus who were gathered together and praying for Jesus to make something happen. Jesus kept his promise to come back to them through the presence of his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 we see the Spirit empowering these men and women, who previously were in hiding after Jesus’ crucifixion. Now they are boldly proclaiming what they have seen and heard. And they are speaking to a large crowd and telling them to change their way (repent) and follow Jesus. They would receive forgiveness for their sins and receive this same power (Acts 2.38). At this point we see 3000 people receive this message. The next few verses give us a clue as to how this community began to grow.

Acts 2.42-47:

They were devoted to proper teaching of the Bible (or doctrine); they were devoted to fellowship (eating together, worshiping together, praying together), basically loving each other (which Jesus commanded them to do). The Spirit enabled them to perform great signs and wonders. They became generous and shared everything. They met together in some form or fashion worshiping, praying, eating every day. And God continued to allow them to grow.

So the next element of growth was they were committed to each other. They were committed to community.

Looking back at that passage, we see that they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They were committed to orthodoxy (or proper doctrine). They were extremely devoted to preserving the teaching of Jesus and devoted to passing it down. We see throughout early church history challenges came to the apostles’ teaching. We have groups like the Gnostics, Marcion, Arius and many others who tried to divert the mission of the church to follow human perversions of Jesus’ words. At each instance, the church came together to meet these challenges head on. These challenges made these early followers examine which of the great writings of the apostles were actually inspired by God. That is why the church developed many of the great creeds and statements of the faith.

One of these, the Apostles’ Creed, developed out of a formula that early Christians would recite before baptism to affirm that they stuck to the true teaching of the church.

Do you believe in God the Father almighty?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended into heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh?

How did this movement spread? Was it due to some more of these big meetings like we see in Acts 2? Was it due to the work of missionaries like Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Peter and others? Somewhat, but most of the spread of the church came from normal everyday believers. Most were not esteemed in the eyes of society. In fact, one opponent of Christianity pointed out that Christianity spread in the kitchens, shops, markets by the uneducated rabble. It seems that Christianity spread through the great cities of the Roman Empire by normal people who traveled for commercial or personal reasons and as they went, they shared their faith with their family members and with coworkers and/or clients.

This movement spread in spite of brief, but at times intense, periods of persecution. Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus Severus, Decius and Diocletian. These are some of the emperors who enacted state sponsored persecution over the first 300 years of the church’s life. How did the church survive times when there were forces actively trying to stamp it out? They kept their eyes on the end. They kept their focus on the final reward. I don’t think you can properly understand the book of Revelation without keeping the issue of persecution in your minds. There is a constant call from Jesus to “the one who is victorious” or “to the one who overcomes…” Revelation shows what the scene in heaven looks like, a portrait of praising the lamb who was slain (who also has experienced what they’ve experienced). This same lamb is the one “who sits on the throne” and to him be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever (Rev. 5:13)! There is even a scene where those who have been killed for their faithfulness to Jesus are shown to be serving Jesus day and night in his temple and experiencing his presence. Rev. 7:16-17. Earlier, these martyrs were asking how long until God would avenge their blood? They were told to wait until the full number of their brothers and sisters who were to be killed first (Rev. 6.9-11). Then, God would pour out his wrath on the wicked and judge the evil ones and avenge those who were killed for their testimony. This book was to assure those people who were suffering that Jesus was on his throne now and that he saw it all and was waiting, but that he would act.

How did this movement spread in spite of attacks on its beliefs and attacks on the believers? It continued to follow Jesus and obey his commands. One of the strongest statements come from a pagan emperor who wanted to stem the growth of Christianity. Emperor Julian tried to revive paganism in the Empire after the rise of Christianity. He wrote to a prominent pagan priest: “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans (Christians) observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.

Rodney Stark wrote a book on the rise of Christianity and made this observation:

"The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperative such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”…”When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created “a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.” Support for this view comes from the continuing inability of pagan groups to meet this challenge."

What does this mean to us? I hesitate to compare Missio Dei to the early church, but it does cause me to think what this small group of people could accomplish through the power of God. In the big picture of this campus, we are just a speck, 20+ people surrounded by 30k. We have some people who are with us in other campus ministries and churches, but we face a large task: to share with those around us what we’ve experienced in Jesus. I hope your experience with Jesus has been good news to you. Hopefully you constantly reflect on your experience and you seek to share it with those you know need to experience the same good things you’ve experienced.

It is my hope that we model those elements of the early church: devotion to the Word of God, to fellowship and community, to prayer, to worship and generosity and service. Even with such humble beginnings God can accomplish great things and perhaps even inaugurate a movement that we might get to be a part of.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 4)

How Did Salvation Take over the Bible?

In this chapter, Scot makes the argument that the ancient creeds of the church were actually expositions on Paul’s gospel from 1 Corinthians 15. The creeds seek to bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel. He walks through some of the writings of the apostolic fathers to show how this was the same in them as well. He shows many of the similarities in the language of the creeds and Paul’s gospel serves as an apt outline for them, most specifically the lines about Jesus.

So what happened? How did we transition from a gospel culture to a salvation culture? This began in the Reformation. The Reformation has brought us so much good, but the Reformers did not frame things through Paul’s gospel or even the creeds, they framed their great statements of faith around justification by faith. The gospel became about personal salvation and was cut off from the grand story of Israel and Jesus. The gospel became God loves you, you are messed up, Jesus died for you, accept him and (no matter what) you can go to heaven. We shifted from a Story to a system.

Again, Scot invokes the words of Dallas Willard. He feels our gospel as a system of personal salvation makes Jesus only a sin remover and not necessarily a King to submit to. Our salvation instead comes down to a right decision, not necessarily to becoming a disciple in its fullest sense. We inherit a Gospel of Sin Management and “presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind…and they foster “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.”

The Gospel in the Gospels?

Scot lays out here that Paul’s gospel was not only the outline for the early church creeds but perhaps the gospels themselves.

There seems to be a dichotomy between the messages of Jesus and Paul. Jesus preached the Kingdom while Paul focused (at least in Romans) on justification. If we twist things a little, we can find Jesus preaching justification (a la Piper) or Paul preaching the Kingdom. McKnight wants us to look at the gospel as being bigger than both terms. As we have seen, the gospel is declaring that the story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus. That was Paul’s gospel and the apostolic tradition. Was this Jesus’ gospel as well? He did if we see that Jesus made his kingdom message center on his own role in the Story of Israel.

And besides all of this, the books of the four gospel writers were called “gospels” for a reason. These books are called gospels because in story after story they show Jesus and the power of God at work through him. Paul’s gospel was the Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and the reason the early Christians called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “The Gospel according to…” was because those gospels told the very same story. The early church wasn’t saying there were four gospels, they were in effect saying that there was one Gospel, but it was written down in four versions. The Gospels are about Jesus, they tell the Story of Jesus and everything in them is about Jesus. Scot quotes Pope Benedict XVI: To call the four accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “Gospels” is precisely to express that Jesus himself, the entirety of his acting, teaching, living, rising and remaining with us is the ‘gospel’. Since Easter, the method of evangelization has been to tell men what we now read in the Gospels. Again, the gospels narrate the Story of Jesus in a way that shows that Jesus completes Israel’s Story in a way that the story is a saving story. They are lopsided in that they focuse on the death and resurrection of the hero more than any story in ancient history. Which comports nicely with Paul’s gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.

Two NT scholars comment on this full gospel. Hengel: Mark calls hearers to belief in the person who is described in it, Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, and thus to eternal life; in other words it seeks to be wholly and completely a message of salvation. Marshall: Luke’s purpose is not merely to narrate the deeds and words of Jesus but to show how these did in fact lead to the experience of salvation and to the formation of the community of the saved.

Dead, Burial and Resurrection

Mark’s gospel is almost 50 percent focused on Jesus’ last week. Which is very Paul like (from 1 Cor. 15). That Mark is narrating the saving, forgiving story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story. Israel’s story is coming to its resolution in John and Jesus. See if this sounds familiar, the gospels declare the story of Jesus according to the apostolic script: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – all this according to the Scriptures.

According to the Scriptures

All of the gospels (especially Matthew, Luke and John) see the Story of Israel completing itself in the Story of Israel.

For Our Sins

Matt. 1.21 – he will save his people from their sins. Luke has Mary son rescuing Israel by saving them from the burden of their sin. Mark has John the Baptist coming in fulfillment of the OT (Mark 1.4-5). John portrays Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29). Jesus himself passes the cup at the Last Supper and proclaims “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26.28). Scot wants us to make sure that we remember that Christ’s death became effective over sins because of the resurrection of Jesus himself from among the dead. We need to remember that death and resurrection are bound together to unleash an entire new world order, the new creation.

So…in summing up, the apostolic gospel, which is embedded in 1 Corinthians 15, announces the Story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story in the Scriptures in such a way that Jesus saves people from their sins. The gospels do this because they are all about Jesus. They are all about Jesus being the completion of Israel’s story. They are all about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, and future coming. They reveal that this Jesus saves people from their sin.

I like how McKnight frames this: On the one hand, the gospel preaching of the apostles could be reduced to 1 Corinthians 15.3-5, and, at the same time, we could say that 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 was expanded and expounded into the first four gospels.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 3)

Chapter 4 - The Apostolic Gospel of Paul

Scot begins his exposition of “the gospel” where many people would, 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul lays out his gospel. For many, this is a springboard to their version of the gospel, Scot thinks it is the outline of the gospel of the apostles. I enjoyed this chapter because it stuck firmly to the text. This chapter will prove pivotal throughout several of the next chapters. This outlined form of the gospel is the basis for the creeds, the four "gospels" and the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts.

The Apostolic Gospel Tradition

Scholars think that this may be the earliest link to the oral tradition of the apostles, before the NT, before any letters, before the Four Gospels, the gospel was outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Scot makes eight observations about this passage and its connection to the oral tradition of the apostles. Of those observations, Scot remarks that Paul is passing on the authorized tradition of the apostles which Paul received (15.3). The gospel is the authentic, reliable gospel of the apostles – he both received that gospel and passed it on. It concerns these four events: that Christ died, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised, and that Christ appeared. So as far as “good news” the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.

The gospel story of Jesus also resolves or brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures (thus, the events of Jesus story occurred “according to the Scriptures”. The Story of Jesus Christ only makes sense as it follows and completes the Story of Israel. The gospel is the resolution and fulfillment of Israel’s Story and promises. The good news of this gospel is that Israel’s Story has now reached its resolution in Jesus Christ. It is not the gospel if we extract a “Plan of Salvation” from this completed Story.

Here is where I think Scot is the clearest and rightest. The salvation that God provides is the intended result of the gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the Story of Israel in the OT. The gospel needs to tell the story about how Jesus saves us from our sins. We need to go back through all of the Scriptures and pointing to the sacrificial system before we leap ahead to Isaiah 52-53.

The gospel was more than just a story about Good Friday (although that is a huge part of the story). It is a complete story. If we pick the story up in 1 Corinthians 15.20-28 we see that the gospel included the ascension of Jesus, the second coming of Christ and the final consummation of the kingdom when God becomes all in all.

The gospel Story of Jesus Christ is a story about Jesus as messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Savior, and Jesus as Son. These titles give weight to the fact that Jesus was the anointed King of Israel. The gospel must include Jesus’ triumphal victory over “all dominion, authority and power.” Jesus is the king who saved us from our sins.

End of all Ends

In looking at 1 Cor. 15.28, we see that the story will end with God the Father being God for all and in all and through all, and his Son will be glorified as the One through whom God is glorified. When we go back to Creation, we see that Humans were given just one command, to govern this world as God’s representatives. In 1 Cor. 15.28, when we are finally connected to God in this eternal union with God through his Son, humans will be doing exactly what God intended for his creation.

Pastor Tom

Scot defers to NT Wright here and his discussion of the Plan of Salvation versus the Gospel of the Kingdom. And similar to McKnight, Wright lays out what he hears in the gospel as plan of salvation: a description of how people get saved; of the theology whereby in some people’s language, Christ takes our sin and we take his righteousness; in other people’s language, Jesus becomes my personal savior, in other language, I admit to my sin, believe that he died for me, and commit my life to him. Wright doesn’t deny any of these things (or claim they are awful or wrong) they are just mislabed as the gospel.

To Wright, the word gospel in Paul is connected to the Story of Israel/Bible in his Roman context. The word gospel in the first century context was an announcement: “To announce that YHWH was king was to announce that Caesar is not.” The gospel is not a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people getting saved…it is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus.”

Greg Gilbert and his take on gospel: he gets his understanding of gospel from Romans 1-4 (but it really boils down to the plan of salvation again). For Gilbert, first humans are accountable to God (Romans 1). Second, the problem humans have is that we have rebelled against God (1.23; 2.1; 3.9, 19 and 3.22). Third, the solution to humanity’s rebellion problem is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 3.21-26). Fourth, humans can be included in this salvation by faith alone (3.22). Four points: God, man, Christ, response. It is the plan of salvation, but not the apostolic gospel.

McKnight believes that Gilbert has not giving enough attention to the Story of Israel as yearning for resolution in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord as the framing story for resolution in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord as the framing story for how to understand gospel; and this Story of Israel is the driving focus of the book of Acts’ sermons and 1 Corinthians 15. McKnight thinks that the problem in Romans is that Paul is showing how God joins together Jewish believers and Gentile believers into one church of Jesus Christ (not simply providing the plan of personal salvation). Where Gilbert errs, according to McKnight, is that he does not see the fundamental gospel to be a declaration about Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s story. (Scot sees that 1 Cor. 15 processes the gospel through the lens of Israel’s story, finding its resting place in Jesus Christ, but is Scot seeing too much in that one phrase “according to the Scriptures”?)


To “gospel” is to declare this story, and it is a story that saves people from their sins (the absolute key to McKnight and to the gospel). The one holy and apostolic story is the Story of Israel. The gospel cannot be limited to or equated with the Plan of Salvation. The gospel of Paul is four lines and they are about the Story of Jesus (75 times). When he mentions his gospel he always means this: the gospel of the full, saving Story of Jesus resolving the Story of Israel. When the plan gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We turn it into a system.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 2)

Here are my summaries and comments on chapters 2 and 3 of Scot McKnight's very helpful book, The King Jesus Gospel.

Chapter 2 - Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture?

A precious conviction of evangelicalism is that each person must be born again or be saved. Personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable. Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Scot thinks evangelicals are more soterians than evangelical (the root of the word gospel). Evangelicals mistakenly equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Our instinct when we think of gospel is to think (personal) salvation. Scot wants us to go back to the NT to discover all over again what the Jesus gospel is and that by embracing it we become true evangelicals. Instead we have created a salvation culture instead of a gospel culture.

A Salvation Culture

Our culture focuses on the experience of personal salvation as the decisive factor, “Are you in?” A salvation culture is not the same thing as a gospel culture. It betrays a lack of awareness of what gospel means and what it might mean for our world. We need to go back to the Bible to discover that culture and make it the center of the church.

Evangelicals have struggled with moving “The Decided” to become “The Discipled”. This is because we are obsessed in making the right decision so we can move from being unsaved to saved. In a gospel culture, it means moving the Members into the Discipled.

Scot points out another pastor and “his” gospel. “The gospel is the good news that God offers us salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.” Christ saved us from our sins, by his death and resurrection. Scot looks at what Eric left out – The gospel is not a call to imitate Jesus. It is not a public announcement that Jesus is Lord and King. It is not (directly) and invitation into the church. It does not involve a promise of a second coming. For Eric, making a decision involves a decision of the mind, heart and will. Salvation is by faith alone, and that leads to discipleship. But if one presses too hard, then one might make the mistake that works are involved in our salvation and that may compromise justification by faith. Thus a salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book, Scot wants to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be the “Discipled”.

Chapter 3 - From Story to Salvation

Scot puts forth four categories that need to be defined and distinguished in order for us to proceed: The Story of Israel/the Bible, The Story of Jesus, The Plan of Salvation, The Method of Persuasion. Scot believes that these categories are connected to each other and ought to build on one another. For him, the Story of Israel is the foundation, upon which the Story of Jesus makes sense. The Plan of Salvation flows out of this Story of Israel/Story of Jesus and the Method of Persuasion flows out of the Plan of Salvation.

The Story of Israel – Adam and Eve were created as divine image-bearers to represent God, to govern for God, and to relate to God, self, others, and the world in a redemptive way. This task was distorted when Adam and Eve rebelled. Some of us skip right to the book of Romans in the stage to flesh out the plan of salvation, but Scot lets us know that the rest of the story is important as well. It is important for us to see how God chose one person, Abraham, and then through him one people, Israel, and then later the Church to be God’s representatives. But like Adam, Israel and all of its kings fail. So God sent his Son to do what Adam and Israel and the kings did not (and could not) do and to rescue everyone from their sins and systemic evil and Satan. What God does in sending the Son is to establish Jesus as the Messiah, which means King, and God established in Jesus Christ the kingdom of God, which means the King is ruling in his kingdom. And this is connected to the original creation. As his original representatives failed, so God sent his son to rule. As its king and messiah and Lord, the Son commissions the Church to bear witness to the world of the redemption in Jesus Christ, the true King, and to embody the kingdom as the people of God. The story has a climax, that is when God remakes everything at the end and sets up his once for all kingdom on earth. The gospel only makes sense in that story. Without that story there is no gospel. If we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation culture.

The Story of Jesus – The Story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord resolves what is yearning for completion in the Story of Israel. This Jesus is the one who saves Israel from its sins and the one who rescues humans from their imprisonments. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s Story and because the Jesus Story completes Israel’s Story, it saves.

The Plan of Salvation – flows out of the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. In our salvation culture, the gospel plan is what we mean by how an individual gets saved, what God has done for us, and how we are to respond if we want to be saved. The problem has been that sometimes we are so singularly focused on the personal-Plan of Salvation and how we get saved that we eliminate the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus altogether. For some, the question arises, do you even need the OT for your understanding of the gospel? The plan of salvation, though extremely good is not the gospel. The Plan of Salvation includes God’s love and grace and holiness and righteousness. It includes our reaction as image bearers but our choice to sin leads to a condition of being under God’s judgment. The good news of the atoning death of Jesus Christ includes the news that he forgives us our sins and reconciles us to God. There is the need for every human being to respond simply by admitting one’s sinfulness, repenting from sin, and trusting in the atoning death of Jesus. Again, all of this is important and shouldn’t be dismissed. But it is not the gospel. The gospel is much fuller than the plan of salvation. It includes the plan of salvation, but it is much, much more. The plan of salvation does not lead to discipleship. It doesn’t lead to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness. But the gospel properly understood does lead to those things. We see that when we focus only on the plan of salvation, we have trouble moving the decided into the column of being disciples. (Again, Scot affirms that the kingdom vision of Jesus isn’t simply about the plan but without the plan of salvation, the kingdom doesn’t work).

The Method of Persuasion – this is how we have learned to “package” the Plan of Salvation in order to most powerfully and successfully to persuade people to respond. There have been several ways to “package” the message through church history. It seems that the Plan of Salvation and the Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. Our Method of Persuasion is shaped by a salvation culture and is designed from first to last to get people to make decisions so they can come inside the boundary lines of the decided (but not necessarily disciples)

What Scot sets forth in the following chapters is that the word gospel belongs to one and only one of our four sets of terms, and he will contend that it belongs to the Story of Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s Story.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 1)

I will be posting a series of reviews on Scot McKnight's book: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. This review will cover his introduction and chapter one. There have been many groups who have claimed ownership of the term “gospel”. There are several ways that it is defined. For some it “the plan of salvation”, for others it is simply “justification.” In recent days, there are those who try to define the gospel a little more fully by trying to tell it in terms of the grand narrative of the Bible couched in four basic terms: God, man, Christ, response. What Scot McKnight will do in this book is try to sketch the whole gospel according to 1 Corinthians 15. His basic outline of the gospel is that the Story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story in the Scriptures in such a way that Jesus saves people from their sins.


Scot McKnight begins his book on the gospel by recounting his upbringing in a typical, conservative (fundamentalist?) evangelical church. He discusses how this church did evangelism and “won souls” to the Lord through decisions. One incident caused him to be somewhat cynical because the focus was more on the “decision” instead of making disciples (which was Jesus command). His experience was confirmed by many of his students who have discussed the same cynicism after being raised in the evangelical culture. He points to statistics that most of the population of the U.S. has made some kind of “decision/commitment” to Jesus. And yet our society does not look like it has that many disciples.

What McKnight gets to is that our focusing youth events, retreats and programs on persuading people to make a decision disarms the gospel, distorts numbers and diminishes the significance of discipleship. His students back up his fears when they reveal that many of them came to faith in the heated moment of a decision-shaped, low lights, evocative music event, but also verbalized that many of their friends did too – and now they have nothing to do with following Jesus.

What McKnight is going to do in this book is pay close attention to the connection of gospel and evangelism and salvation and our methods of persuasion. His preference is working on incorporating “discipleship” into “evangelism” or “gospel”. This book is going to flesh out what the gospel is and what evangelism is – and perhaps most importantly, how to do evangelism in a way that leads beyond decisions to discipleship.

Chapter one - The Big Question

What is the gospel? In the ancient world it was used for declaring good news about something (like a wedding or the emperor’s birthday). (Aside, I wish he would have spent a little more time defining the term gospel, where it came from and how it was used in the Greco-Roman world). Scot thinks we’ve got the gospel wrong or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. Our current gospel isn’t biblical enough.

Three Exhibits

We are in need of going back to the Bible to ask this question all over again – as if for the first time, as if we were in Galilee listening to Jesus ourselves, or as if we were the first listeners to the apostles’ gospel in some small house church in the Roman Empire. McKnight thinks we may be shocked by what we find.

Exhibit A – this comes from an email from a student who wants to know what is good news about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the descendant of David. For this emailer, the word gospel is almost entirely about personal salvation. It is entirely divorced from Jesus within his own story.

Exhibit B – John Piper’s address “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?” Piper says yes, because Jesus spoke (in one place) about justification by faith. Piper (and many or the new reformers) assume that justification is the gospel. Piper and his followers have defined the gospel in a short formula “justification by faith.” But did the apostles define the gospels this way?

Exhibit C – Another pastor that Scot has a discussion with claims agrees that the gospel is “justification by faith.” Scot asks, “Did Jesus preach the gospel?” This pastor shocks Scot with his answer. No, the pastor replies, he couldn’t have. No one could have understood the gospel until Paul and until after the cross, resurrection and Pentecost. For this pastor, the word “gospel” means “justification by faith,” and since Jesus didn’t talk in those terms, he flat out didn’t preach the gospel.

Scot feels that the word “gospel” has been hijacked in a way that it no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles. For most American Christians, the gospel is about getting my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die. Scot quotes Dallas Willard several times in this boo and his quote on the “gospel” in our culture; it is “sin management”, not transformation and discipleship.

The Kingdom of God (you must be born from again/above)

In John 3, Jesus tells a man that in order to enter the Kingdom of God you must be born again (or from above). In a few verses later, he tells the same man that you must be born of “water and spirit.” We are going to look at how these two concepts are the same thing. More specifically, we are going to show how being born again (or born from above) is the same thing as being born of the Spirit. (We may even look at how being born of the Spirit is the same thing as inheriting eternal life. Or we may look at that next week).

John 3.1-15

Context: In John’s account of the life of Jesus, Jesus has just been to the temple. He had just drove all of the money changers out of the temple courts because they were distracting the people from the true purpose of visiting the temple and that was worship and sacrifice to God. In 2:23, John tells us that Jesus had performed many miraculous signs and the people were beginning to “believe” in him. But Jesus knew that their faith in him was shallow. They only believed in Jesus because he was a miracle worker, not because he had come to usher in a new age of relating to God.

One man, however, wants a closer look and goes to meet Jesus and perhaps discuss the meaning of signs that Jesus was performing. His name is Nicodemus.

Verse one tells us that he was a Pharisee (explain). Not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee, but he was also a member of the Sanhedrin, which was sort of like the Supreme Court of the Jewish people in the days of Jesus.

For the most part, the Pharisees had a very adversarial relationship with Jesus. But this Nicodemus didn’t come to battle Jesus, he came to learn.

He calls Jesus, “Rabbi”. Rabbi was a term of respect given to the great teachers of Israel. Nicodemus even admits that because of the signs that Jesus was performing, that he has obviously come from God. Nicodemus is an interesting character. I think his interest in Jesus was legitimate because we seen him elsewhere in John’s gospel. In John 7, the religious leaders were wishing to have Jesus arrested. In verse 51, we see Nicodemus ask,

“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

He is immediately shouted down because Jesus doesn’t fit their mold of what the Messiah should be like. We later see Nicodemus in the story after Jesus’ crucifixion. He goes with a man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea to take the crucified body of Jesus and give it a proper burial. We get a sense that this Nicodemus was a man who is seriously intrigued by Jesus initially, is bothered by the opposition of the religious leaders and eventually risks his reputation amongst the religious leaders and his community by taking care of this condemned criminal.

Jesus’ reply is interesting. He does thank him or ask him questions as to how he figured out that Jesus had come from God. He doesn’t even want to know what N. means by it. Jesus begins the discussion by getting right to the point.

V. 3 – Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

How did Nicodemus think that he was going to see the Kingdom of God? The Pharisees believed that their zeal for the rules and laws of the Hebrew Bible would prompt God to act and usher in his Kingdom on earth. He would conquer the enemies of Israel and set up his throne in Jerusalem. Seeing the kingdom of God would mean participating in the final age, when God completes all things. This language of being reborn referred to those Gentiles who converted to Judaism. It was said of them that a convert “is like a new-born child.” Now that did not apply to Nicodemus. He was in. He was a member of God’s chosen race. Not only that, he and the other Pharisees believed that they were really pleasing God because of their zeal for his Law. (That is the problem; they had a zeal for following the rules, but not a zeal for loving God).

Jesus takes part of this understanding of entering the Kingdom of God as to participating in the resurrection life. (The Pharisees believed that God would raise the righteous dead people when he set up his kingdom).

Jesus affirms that part of Nicodemus’ understanding of the Kingdom of God is correct (when God renews all things, see Matt. 19.28), but Jesus is letting us know that we can enter into that experience, at least partially, here and now.

Now the word Jesus uses here in John for “again” can also be translated “above”, or unless they are born from above.

Nicodemus isn’t catching these subtleties. He doesn’t think he needs to be born from above, and he doesn’t need to convert, so he thinks Jesus is maybe playing word games.

Verse 4 – How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!

Jesus, making sure that he is understood here, rephrases things.

Verse 5 – Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

What Jesus is saying here is that there is no difference between being born from above (or again) and being born of water and the Spirit. This should have been a little more familiar to Nicodemus. This language recalls

Ezekiel 36.25-27: (When God sets to make all things right, he says,) “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

There are many views on what it means to born of water and the Spirit, but in light of what we’ve seen and what John’s gospel has contained so far, I believe Jesus is saying that being born of water is baptism as a symbol of your repentance. John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.

Mark 1:4 – John the Baptist appeared…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was a symbolic act, signifying that the people were ready to give up their agenda for God’s. But it was only a symbol. The Baptist says, “I baptize you (only) with water, but he (the one coming after the Baptist) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism and his preaching were to call people to get ready for the appearance of the King, of God himself.

Mark says that John the Baptist’s ministry was to be the messenger who would “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Mark was quoting OT prophecy that was expecting the appearance of the Father himself. John’s baptism was basically for the people to get into a mind of repentance, ready to give up their way of doing things and to prepare for the appearance of the Kingdom, because the King was coming.

So, being born of the water was the cleansing of John’s baptism, or in our case, it stands for our repentance, our giving up our way of doing things, turning from our sins, our possessions, our religion, turning away from all of the things that keep us from focusing on God. And that enables us to be born of the Spirit. (Or as John the Baptist phrases it, being baptized with the Holy Spirit).

Jesus is telling Nicodemus to accept the promises of God from the Hebrew Bible. The Kingdom that Nicodemus and all of the Pharisees were expecting was now here in the person of Jesus. And his participation can only take place by spiritual rebirth. Nicodemus would have to give up his agenda, his thinking of salvation, his thinking about how the Kingdom was to be entered. He would have to give up his understanding of who the King was. That would be repentance to Nicodemus (come back to for us).

Let’s skip down to verses 13-15. Jesus is going to give us more instructions about how to be born of the Spirit, how to enter the Kingdom of God and receive eternal life.

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.

What does Jesus mean by eternal life here? We, of course, think of eternal life with Jesus and God in heaven forever. And that is part of it. But what Jesus affirms is that we can enjoy this eternal life in advance because we have been united with the one who has already risen from the dead.

What in the world? What is this “snake lifted up in the wilderness”? While the people of Israel were leaving Egypt, they wandered in the desert of Sinai for years before God allowed them to enter the Promised Land. During this period, there were several rebellions and grumblings. In one of these episodes of unrest, God sent poisonous snakes into their camp to punish the complainers. The people replied with contrition and asked Moses for help. Moses interceded for them and God instructed Moses to make a snake out of bronze and place it on a pole high up in the camp. If anyone was bitten by a snake, they could then look up to the snake as a reminder of God’s mercy and they would be healed. Why would God craft such a seemingly crazy arrangement? It was one of those incidents in the OT that God used to point forward to what he would do through Jesus. It was the saving grace of God that healed the bitten Israelites when they believed his word and obeyed his command. Jesus himself would be lifted up. And this had a double meaning. He would be lifted up on the cross. But he would also be lifted up into heaven as a sign that he has completed his mission. He would from then on be at his right station, the right hand of God, the position of honor and authority. So, just as those people looked to the snake raised on the pole and would live, those who would look to the Son of Man (God’s royal representative on earth) and believed in him, believed in who he said he was, believed in his mission, those who turned from any other competing agendas or missions, turned from their sin or anything else that separated them from God, those who experienced being born of the Spirit, they would enter the Kingdom of God. They would gain eternal life.

So, what does this mean to me? How can I enter the Kingdom of God? How can I gain eternal life? You must be born of water and of the Spirit.

Being born of water refers to our repentance, which I talked about last week. It is very similar to the baptism that John the Baptist called people to, except for one thing, we now change our agendas to follow Jesus. But on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, our water baptism takes place after our Spirit baptism. Christian baptism emphatically symbolizes the new beginning for everyone who has been baptized with the Spirit. We are baptized by the Spirit when we turn in faith to Jesus, we pledge our lives and allegiance to him. Our water baptism symbolizes our union with him. We share in his death and burial (going into the water) and we rise with him from the death (we come out of the water with the promise of a new way of life).

What does this look like for us?

Jesus tells us later in the Fourth Gospel:

John 14.15-17 – If you love me, keep my commands (repentance). Now, how do I, a mere fleshly human being, keep the commands of a holy God? Jesus tells us that he will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth (or the Holy Spirit)… Jesus tells us that he lives with you and will be in you. In the next verse, Jesus says he will not leave us as orphans; he will come to us. He comes to us through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

All throughout this gospel’s account of Jesus’ last night on earth, he tells his disciples (and all of the people who would follow them) that he would remain in us and that we would be in Him. He is in us because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and that presence unites us with Jesus and God the Father.

At the end of John’s gospel (20.22) Jesus symbolically breathes on his disciples and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I say this is symbolic because this happens in the book of Acts. In Acts 2 God poured out his Spirit on his disciples and that emboldened them to speak the truth about what they had experienced with Jesus. One of Jesus lead followers, Peter, tells the crowd that all of this was foretold in the OT:

2.17-18 - in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…even on my servants…I will pour out my Spirit in those days…

Peter tells the people that this has happened because God raised Jesus to life and they were all witnesses of it. 2.33 – exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Peter goes on to tell them, that to receive forgiveness of their sins and to inherit eternal life and to enter the Kingdom of God, verse 38 – they must Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So what does the Spirit do?

The Spirit Empowers Us

Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Holy Spirit Teaches the Believer

1 John 2:27 - As for you, the anointing (the Holy Spirit) you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

The Spirit Sanctifies the Believer

Basically that means that the Holy Spirit is active in the continued transformation of the believer’s moral and spiritual character. The goal is conforming to the image of the Son.

Romans 8:8-11 - Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you…if Christ is in you…your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

The Spirit Bestows Special Gifts to Every Believer

1 Cor. 12:7 - Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The lists of gifts are found in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11 and Eph. 4.11.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Kingdom of God (is about repentance)

(Here are my notes from week 3 of our series on the Kingdom of God that I shared with Missio Dei)

The Kingdom of God is about repentance

The first words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark are “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” These are also the first public words of Jesus in Matthew. This is consistent with the words of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a figure like an OT prophet who was calling the people to give up their evil ways and return to a right relationship with the Father.

What we need to do is look back at what the people were hearing when John and Jesus called them to “repent”.

The Basic Definition of the word “Repent”

At its most literal definition, repent means to change one’s mind or, better, change one’s way of thinking. But it came to mean a bit more than just to change one’s thinking. It also implied a change of behavior prompted by your change of thinking. Josephus quote?

Old Testament Background

We most often see this term or concept in the OT in the idea of turning toward or away from something and also a sense of returning (mostly returning to God after periods of straying).

Just to get a fuller sense of this word, we see Moses asking God to turn his anger away from his people:

Ex. 32.12 - Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

But most of the instances is it a prophet or prominent figure calling the people to turn away from their sin.

King Solomon prays to God that he will respond with forgiveness when the people “turn” from their sin and pray.

1 Kings 8.35 - “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel.

Here are few episodes of the prophets calling their people to turn to God and turn away from their wicked ways:

Hosea 6:1 - “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

Jer. 26:3-5 - Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse[a] among all the nations of the earth.’”

Ezekiel 18.21 - “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.

The Kingdom of God and repentance

John the Baptist– our gospels begin with John the Baptist coming like one of these OT spokesmen, the prophets, with a similar message, turn away from your sins and turn to God. John was fully expecting God to come as king and judge to conquer all of Israel’s enemies and to rule from his throne in Jerusalem. John quotes OT passages where “a voice of one calling in the wilderness” prepares for the coming of God the Father himself. His role was foreseen by one of the OT prophets,

Malachi (4.5-6) who stated that the prophet like Elijah would come prior to the appearance of God. His message was to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents…

John was calling everybody to repentance that is to turn from their ways of doing things and calling them to new action. This repentance was more than just sorrow for their sins or even more than just mere confession. It was a call to a new way of life.

In Luke’s account of the life and message of Jesus (Luke 3:10-14), John tells the crowd that they need to be generous and share with those who are needy.

He tells the tax collectors (who were hated because they cheated the people) that they were not to collect any more than they were required to do (do your job honestly).

He tells the Roman soldiers of all people that they should stop taking bribes and blackmailing the people.

In Matthew’s account of the same thing, John tells the religious people they need to repent as well. He calls them a pack of snakes and tells them that they are not exempt from judgment. They were relying on their religious practices to make them right before the Lord. John tells them to

Matt. 3:8 to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. That is, you have to give evidence in your life that you are truly following God. It is more than just following a bunch of rules, it involves truly loving God and then, truly loving your neighbor. Jesus would later come and reveal to the religious people that their inner attitude of their hearts was keeping them from truly honoring God and keeping them from being accepted by him. John was warning them first that your religion (or the things that you do that you think make you right with God) were not good enough. They needed truly changed lives and changed hearts.

So, for each group that John the Baptist calls to repentance, it involves the acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness as well as taking on a new pattern of behavior. The symbol of this new life was baptism. In Judaism, it symbolized that a cleansing was taking place and a new pattern of behavior was following from then on. And that was John’s major role, calling people to new lives and providing this symbol of baptism as a visible symbol that there would be change.

Jesus – Jesus continues to call people to repentance, though there was a slight shift in emphasis from John and Jesus. John was calling people to repent because he thought the end was near and that people needed to get right before judgment. Jesus however, saw that the kingdom that he was inaugurating was actually the beginning. God was doing a new thing through his people. He was ushering in, not judgment, but a new age of salvation.

Repentance to Jesus was a change in agendas. It was saying that my agenda and my way of doing things just isn’t going to work anymore. I need to trust God’s agenda and be committed to God’s way of doing things. Jesus reveals to us that God’s way of doing things is following Jesus. Repentance is more than confessing our misbehavior (or sin), or our rebellion against God, it is more than being sorry or remorseful for our sin. It is radically altering our lives to follow Jesus. Thankfully, when we commit to doing that, God gives us the power of his presence that is the Holy Spirit. That is why John says that the one who comes after him (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit

Turning away:

From sinful ways – this is the most obvious. We need to turn away from the behavior that alienates us from God and shows to the world that we do not reveal Jesus’ character in our lives. There is a wonderful story in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. In Luke chapter 7, a “sinful” woman interrupts a dinner between Jesus and a religious man. The woman cleans and anoints Jesus’ feet because he had shown kindness on her and offered her forgiveness of her sins. She, in turn, offers a great display of appreciation of Jesus for what he has done. (Discuss the alabaster jar from Luke 7). She is showing Jesus that she is giving up her former sinful way of life because he has offered her forgiveness. This is a picture of repentance.

Another picture of repentance also comes from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life in chapter 19. One of the tax collectors displays faith in Jesus. Tax collectors were hated by normal citizens because they would collect the taxes for the Romans, but they would at times collect more than what was truly owed. So they were seen as collaborators with the Romans and cheaters of their fellow countrymen. This sinful tax collector displays faith in Jesus. He displays his repentance in that he will now make amends. His behavior will now change.

Luke 19.8 – Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. Jesus replies that salvation has come to his house. Not because he believes the right things about Jesus now. Not because he promised to start going to church. Not because he feels bad about his sin. Salvation has come because he has repented. He is changing his behavior. He is putting his belief into action. He is getting right with God and his neighbors.

From wealth and possessions – It is easy to see how sinful people need to turn away from their evil deeds in order to repent and become right with God. But does Jesus call us to turn away our wealth and possessions in order to turn to him? Is that part of repentance?

One man wanted to know what he needed to do to gain salvation. He followed all of the rules but Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing:

Mark 10.21 – One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…

When the rich man went away sad, Jesus told his disciples that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The wealthy have less need of God than the poor or the needy. They can rely on their wealth. But repentance means that you turn away from your wealth as a source of security and salvation and you turn to God in faith and trust. Look at the disciples reaction:

10:28 – We have left everything to follow you…and Jesus tells them, because of their willingness to give up everything and follow him in trust and obedience that they would receive so much more in eternal life.

From religion – aren’t we pastors trying to get you to always do good and religious things? Isn’t that how we get saved? The more religious things we do like going to church and giving and stopping all of our “fun” things, isn’t that how we get into heaven? Not quite. There were a group of religious people who followed all of the rules and by doing so they felt like they were owed by God eternal life and blessings. They revealed selfish hearts. They didn’t serve God out of love but in order to get paid back.

Jesus confronts them in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life:

Matt. 23.23 – Jesus says to these religious leaders: Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisee, you hypocrites! Sure you tithe but you neglect the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. On the outside you appear quite holy, but on the inside you are filled with greed and selfishness.

Doing religious things does not save you. Jesus told them to turn from trusting in their religious duties for salvation and turn to more important matters like working for justice and showing mercy to your neighbor.

Tim Keller had a great quote about the difference between religion and discipleship. A religious person thinks, “I serve God, therefore I will be blessed by God.” The disciple thinks, “God loves me, therefore I will serve him.” The first performs in order to place God in their debt. The second acts because they have received the mercy of God.

Turning to – discipleship (or turning to Jesus’ way)

We see this played out again in Jesus’ relationship with a tax collector, a bad guy, a sinner. Jesus doesn’t tell him to get his act straight before becoming a follower; he just calls the man to follow him.

Matt. 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew then had Jesus and his disciples over to dinner and it seems that Matthew invited all of his “sinner friends”. Matthew understood repentance. He changed directions in his life and then went and invited his friends to learn more about this man who offers forgiveness and calls people to follow him.

Motivated by God’s grace (mercy) – as we have seen by some of the reactions of those who chose to repent and follow Jesus, they were motivated by his offer of forgiveness. And they were motivated to repent, change their agendas for his because he offered them a new life.

Result: rejoicing and celebration – what is the result of our repentance. Is it watchful eyes who can’t believe it took us this long to turn from our ways to God’s ways? Does God heap new rules on us to keep us in line? No, the response from heaven to our repentance is rejoicing and celebration.

A wonderful picture of how this plays out is in the parable of the prodigal son. A rich man had two sons. The younger one did not want to wait for his father to die to gain his inheritance, he asks for an advance. The story tells us that he wastes his father’s wealth on sinful living. When he comes to his senses, he hits rock bottom, he realizes that instead of making a living doing incredibly menial work, he could at least become an employee of his father. He treats his employees well. He decides to head home and he rehearses his apology to his father and his request to become a hired servant. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants…

If we could impose ourselves into this picture, we’d probably expect a lecture from our father, a strong speech of disapproval, anger and resentment. But he is surprised in that not only does his father take him in, not only is the father glad to see him, but the father throws a big party when his son returns home.

This is a picture of our God when we repent. We may be sitting here afraid to commit to God because we’ve been too messed up for God to use us. We need to get our act together, become holy, do all the right things first, and get cleaned up before we can approach our heavenly Father. But that is not the case. Repentance is turning to the Father. It is confessing our sins in humility. It is the action of changed life, but we need to realize that this ability to live a changed life comes from God after we turn to him in repentance.

Bestowal of his Spirit that enables us to follow Jesus which is true repentance.