Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Believe the Good News, 5

Sorry for the gap in posts here, but I've been otherwise occupied. But if you'll remember...

We have seen from both Paul and Jesus (via the gospel of Mark) brief statements about what constitutes gospel. And we have noticed that for both, the gospel is the announcement of an event. In 1 Cor 15, Paul describes that event as the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Mark 1:15, Jesus announces that event as the coming near of the Kingdom of God. At first glance, these announcements don't seem to be exactly the same. And I want to honor that distance a bit, let each have their own unique claim to the definition of gospel. We would find neither of these emphases in the Gospel of John. The diversity of the New Testament is part of its genius, and also part of what makes what Christians bring "good news."

While these statements are not exactly the same, neither are they opposed to one another. And in fact, they carry many shared commitments. I will argue in a later post (its not like I have a plan here, but the nature of a blog is bite-sized portions and so there's always left-overs) that the announcement of the Kingdom in the synoptic gospels necessarily points us to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul's emphasis. But first, I want us to notice the eschatological dimensions that Jesus and Paul share.

in Mark 1:14-15, Jesus comes proclaiming the gospel of God, and the first bit of that gospel is "the time is fulfilled." This is an announcement of a dramatic turning of the ages. The great day of God's salvation is coming into view. Now we can see a world not given to us by the reign of Herod or Caesar or even Moses. This is a world not given to us by the principalities and powers of this age, but a world according to the ultimate purposes of God. With the announcement of the fullness of time, it is possible in the present age to participate in the realities of the age to come when God's reign will be complete and fully enjoyed.

It is this perspective, that the coming of Jesus marks a dramatic turn of the ages, that may hold the diverse literature of the NT together more than any other. For Paul, the eschatological announcement is not so much in the language of the Kingdom of God, but the new creation. Christians for Paul are "those upon whom the end of the ages has fallen" (2 Cor 10:11). As Richard Hays puts it, "(Paul) believes himself, along with his churches, to stand in a privileged moment in which the random clutter of past texts and experiences assumes a configuration of eschatological significance, because all has been ordered by God to proclaim the gospel to those who read what Paul writes" (Echoes of Scripture in Paul, 165).

We see this sense of eschatological privilege in other NT texts as well. The familiar opening words of Hebrews tell us that God spoke previously in many and various ways, "but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son" (1:2). Or, we read in 1 Peter about the salvation now being revealed specifically to us, "things in which angels long to look" (1:12). The coming of Jesus has inaugurated a new age.

And this new age is not simply the logical outcome of everything that has gone before. It is not simply a matter of human enlightenment, the God-inspired culmination of the best of humanity. This new age is an alternative to the one offered by the principalities and powers of this age. It is an invasion from the future, a dramatic reordering of life. The Kingdom of God is about a reign, a way of life, an alternative to the status quo. Jesus' announcement of the fullness of time bears the possibility of life under new management, of regime change, of a changing of all the labels. The first will be last, and the last first. The hungry will be filled, and the satisfied sent away.

Because our life is always negotiated in relation to powers, the effective reign of God can only come in God's power, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. Salvation is the offer of God to belong to his future reign, and to live in it now through the power of the Spirit.

This announcement is not always easy to believe. Mark let's us know that Jesus makes his announcement of God's Kingdom in the backwaters of Galilee (not in Jerusalem or Rome) while John the Baptist is shut up in Herod's prison. It takes a different way of seeing to discern the presence of the Kingdom. After all, the victory of God is hidden in the death of a peasant on a shameful Roman cross. And we cannot recognize the way of God's alternative future if our lives are facing in the opposite direction. This is why Jesus' announcement of the good news includes the words "repent and believe the good news."

All this to say, eschatology is an essential aspect of anything that passes for gospel in the New Testament. It is at the heart of both Jesus and Paul's notions of the gospel. The gospel is the announcement of a dramatic turn of the ages, and we have the opportunity in light of that announcement to belong to God's glorious future. The implications of this are numerous. At the very least, we have a dynamic sense of salvation. It is not simply a status, but an ordering, an unfolding, a way of life. We have salvation as a participation in the life and pusposes of God.

1 comment:

III said...

I remember you presenting this material at the Hazelip Lectures on Preaching at Lipscomb University about 5 years ago. I still have those tapes & enjoy them. Glad to have found you on the blogosphere.