‘The Gospel’ is bigger than you think
What if Jesus’ mission was even greater than what you have been told all your life?
What if his message held more radical implications for your life than you have been taught?
Would you want to know?
Would you be willing to listen?
Many, if not most, conservative evangelicals would say “the Gospel” is that Jesus’ mission in life was “dying for our sins” and his message was “You must be born again.”
As great as that is, there is more to it than that — much more.
Jesus’ mission and message were about justice.
This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him: “Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:17-21 NLT)
Don’t you think that’s striking? This is Matthew’s longest citation of the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. He uses a quote from one of the best-known Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament — Isaiah 42. A clear echo of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, in which the Father declares from heaven that Jesus is his “beloved Son.” (Matthew 3:16-17) A foreshadowing of Matthew’s account of Jesus being transfigured before Peter, James, and John, in which the Father again declares from heaven that Jesus is his beloved. (Matthew 17:1-8)
And the passage says Jesus’ message was justice and his mission was to cause justice to be victorious.
Where’s “the Gospel” in that?
You would think the importance and uniqueness of this passage would make it the focus of many sermons. But of 138,000 sermons in the archive at sermoncentral.com, not a single one mentions the phrase “proclaim justice.” Those sermons that focus on the passage seem to place their emphasis on the gentleness of Christ in relation to the “weakest reed” and “flickering candle.” Many of them zero in on Jesus’ name being “the hope of all the world.”
All very important and entirely appropriate sermon topics — but how do you preach this passage without mentioning the phrase “proclaim justice,” without engaging the question of how this relates to our understanding of Jesus’ mission and message?
When I say Jesus’ mission and message were about ‘justice,’ I mean something very different than what conservative evangelicals usually think of when they hear the word. The Bible is the story of God making his glory known by advancing the kingdom of shalom through his people to all the nations of the world. Jesus came to deliver the good news that lost and broken human beings can be liberated from sin’s captivity to experience lives of wholeness and peace — then to pay, on the cross, the price of that freedom, and to prove, by his resurrection, God’s power to keep his promise of new life.
Many of our churches, however, have preached Jesus’ good news as if it is only about “getting saved” and “going to heaven when we die.” Many preachers and evangelists seem to think the church’s mission is to win converts, and then go win some more. Many have ignored what the Bible has to say about discipleship — the necessity of obedience, endurance, and perseverance in salvation. Even more church leaders never so much as utter the word ‘justice’ from pulpit or lectern, unless it has something to do with punishing evildoers.
We are utterly clueless about how the Gospel relates to justice, and we are loath to admit that “doing justice” has anything to do with being God’s people and receiving salvation in the day of judgment.
If you haven’t seen the connection between the Gospel and justice, then you haven’t yet understood either one.
Justice is the result of salvation. An individual is set free from the captivities of sin, and the Holy Spirit begins a process of restoring that person’s life to the shalom God originally intended him to enjoy, before sin enslaved him. The miracle of salvation sets off a shalom bomb in our lives. The shock waves reverberate throughout every aspect of the individual’s entire life — from his mental outlook and spiritual disciplines to the way he works and keeps his home. They sweep out into his relationships — through his family, into his community, and on to the rest of God’s creation. God appoints that person as an ambassador and assigns him the ministry of reconciliation. He is sent out, just as the Father sent Jesus, “to preach Good News to the poor … to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:17-19 NLT)
God’s justice explodes from our lives, driving us into the homes around us, the businesses we frequent, the alleyways of our slums, and the marketplaces of every last people group on earth. Ambassadors of reconciliation pursue peace in every quarter of life, confront injustice wherever it is found, and make it their mission to mentor others in how to live and share this abundant life of peace and justice. They will not just explain how to have peace with God, they will demonstrate to others how God’s people live in the world. The cycle of poverty and captivity — spiritual and material — is broken.
Like Jesus, the Spirit of the Lord will be upon them, and they will proclaim justice to the ends of the earth, until the day Jesus himself causes justice to be victorious — bringing down a new Jerusalem where God’s will is completely done on earth, as it is in heaven.
We wonder why more church members don’t “share the Gospel.” Perhaps it’s because they haven’t heard justice proclaimed.
Cross-posted from kainos.