My purpose is to investigate the good news about Jesus Christ, in order that I may better understand it. What this purpose-statement implies about myself is simply that I am not so much a teacher as a student, and that therefore my posts to this blog are not to be considered the work of some sort of New Testament scholar who has mastered his subject. They are, instead, the notes of a believing disciple and halting follower of Jesus.
“The good news about Jesus Christ” is contained in the four Gospels of the New Testament. These are the texts in which I will spend most of my time. They are called “gospels,” and they are all about Jesus, and so I think it is safe to say—and also important to say—that the good news is the story of Jesus. This may seem an over-simplification to some, but our teachers have often taught us that the gospel—the good news—was some part of that story only, and this mistake has ramified in some very unhelpful ways.
But I don't intend to spend my time in long-winded critiques of views or perspectives that I disagree with. That's outside my purpose, and tiresome as well. But for the sake of clarity I would like to say that the fundamental starting point or “first thing” that lies behind these notes can be stated thus: Jesus is the gospel.
To put it this way, this simply and baldly, is for me a way of guarding against a tendency to make other things the gospel; things that are no doubt important, such as, for example, the doctrine of justification, but which standing alone do not exhaust the meaning of the good news.
I will certainly have an opportunity to say more about this in future posts, and one can also find excellent discourses on such matters in recent books such as N. T. Wright's How God Became King and Scot McKight's The King Jesus Gospel. I heartily endorse the perspectives that these authors bring.
But we come back to the starting point. I said that Jesus is the gospel. The good news is good news about Jesus, and it is good news for the whole world. Any even cursory reading of the Gospels will lead us to say also that it is good news about a kingdom. That is a challenging word and there will be much to say on this point, but we might boil it all down to this: not only can we state that Jesus is the gospel, but Jesus is the kingdom. Or, the gospel is good news about Jesus, and it is good news about a kingdom. The two, Jesus and the kingdom, are inextricably bound together. We cannot understand this New Testament kingdom-language apart from what we know about who Jesus is. What he has done, and indeed what he continues to do.
Ah, one could go on, of course, but this is supposed to be a brief purpose statement for this blog. I want you to understand where I'm starting from, and something about my methods going forward. This blog, being a Jesus-followers investigatory notes concerning the gospel, with necessarily privilege the Gospels. The four Gospels are our fundamental accounts concerning Jesus. And of these four, at least at the start, I'll be spending most of my time in Mark's account. The reason is simply that it is the account I love the most, because it is direct and simple, and it is the account I have of late been spending my time in. This is not to denigrate the other three or suggest that Mark's account is somehow superior to the others. It's just that one must start somewhere.
To end, I want to say something about the greater Biblical context of the four Gospels; or perhaps we might say, of the life of Jesus, that son of a carpenter who was also Son of God. At the beginning of the Scriptures we have Adam and Eve with God in a garden paradise. Soon, due to their disobedience they are excluded from that paradise and from the company of God as they had known it. The earth is not paradise, and its inhabitants do not “walk with God” as Adam and Even once had.
Then again, at the end of the Scriptures, we have a breathtaking picture of a “new heaven and new earth.' And of people, many people, enjoying the presence of God forever. The tragic conditions that ensued from Adam and Eve's disobedience have been reversed. We might speak of this new heaven and earth as the kingdom of God or of “the age to come.”
This reversal is a work of God in Christ. Or, in other words, it is “brought to you by” Jesus. It is made possible as a result of his work. So when Jesus begins his ministry in the region of Galilee, walking from town to town and preaching a message, that message is that in some sense this kingdom, this “age to come,” has arrived. Now, this is either a lie or a sort of mysterious truth, because in many very real ways we can sayy with certainty, this world is not a paradise, even despite all we might say about Jesus and the restoration of creation.
And yet, that is where Jesus begins his explication of the good news: the kingdom is near, is at hand, is in some mysterious sense which his own life and death and resurrection will explicate, here. In Christ something has been accomplished which makes the vision of a new heaven and new earth (for which God's people have always longed) an inevitability. The is what makes the good news good. The curse of the Fall has been removed!
But there is at least one thing more to be said. Remember that in the Fall Adam and Eve and all who would come after them were excluded from the presence of God as they had experienced that presence. But now flash forward to the birth of Jesus. In the first chapter of Matthew an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that the child in his wife Mary's womb “will save his people from their sins.” And Matthew adds, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which name Matthew promptly translates as “God with us.”
So at the beginning we have humanity excluded from God's presence, and here in Jesus we have God's presence restored. So we are not simply looking toward a wonderful future of restoration, but in Jesus we might somehow regain that lost with-God-ness. The last chapters of the Bible describe that reality, but in Christ now, somehow, it is a fact. This with-God-ness is close to the heart of all the kingdom-language of the New Testament. The kingdom has come insofar as Jesus has come.
All of that is good news. It has everything to do with salvation, with saving people from their sins, and with restoration of a new heaven and a new earth that is filled with the presence of God. It's impact on lives and even whole cultures is momentous, and it is the subject of the four Gospels. It fills me with wonder—and it makes me wonder. This blog is simply a way for me to chronicle that wonder.