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The Gospel

Well, I finished off reading the sermons from Acts and Bishop Wright was correct. Every sermon was based on the OT. It saw Jesus as the climax to the story of Israel. Even Paul's message in Athens hints at this. So, this is the question: How do we present the gospel today? How do we summarize that story? Our story? Which parts do we put in the story and which ones do we leave out? It is a very complicated and multilayered story but it is one I think that needs to be told from the beginning. So? How would I present Jesus? I would say something along these lines (and mind you this is just a first draft)...

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Creation – YHWH created everything, including people and it was all ‘very good’. People were to be the priests of creation. YHWH did this so that all peoples could find ‘him’ though ‘he’ was not far from them.

Fall – However, people rebelled and all creation suffered. Injustice, hatred, death and many other things are all outcomes of this chaos.

Israel – So, YHWH chose Abraham and made a covenant, a kind of contract, with him. ‘He’ told Abraham that through his family YHWH would put the world to rights; that through this covenant with Abraham’s family YHWH would rescue all of creation. Abraham’s family became the nation of Israel.

YHWH re-established his promise, his covenant, to Israel. Israel was to be a nation of priests for the rest of humanity and all of creation and that through them the world would be put to rights. YHWH gave the nation of Israel ‘his’ law and leaders and judges and kings and prophets that governed the people for many, many years. Sadly, in many ways, Israel became like the rest of humanity. They continually rebelled against YHWH and were sent to exile because of it. So, YHWH chose the family of Levi (who were also Israelites) to be the priests for the nation of Israel. But, like Israel and all people, they were part of the problem. And yet, they would bring the sacrifices that were contained in the Law (the Law YHWH gave the people) and would plead for forgiveness for themselves and the rest of the nation. YHWH, being full of mercy, grace, and love forgave them and brought them back to their own land.

During this period, one of the greatest kings Israel ever had was a man named David. YHWH continued to promise to deliver Israel from it’s exile and promised David that someone from his family would actually be the king of the world. Of this person, David wrote, ‘I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is filled with joy, and my mouth shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave’.

Israel’s prophets had a special name for this future king – Messiah. They talked a lot about him and what would happen ‘in that day’ when he became the rightful king. They described a ‘new covenant’, that is, a new agreement between YHWH and the rest of creation. This would include a ‘new heaven and earth’ and the faithful people of YHWH would be ‘resurrected’ or ‘raised from the dead’ in a ‘spiritual body’ or a ‘body’ that could exist in the ‘new creation’. Many Jews (people who are Israelites) believed that this would happen at the ‘end’.

During this time, however, Israel, as a whole, became more and more like the rest of the world. They became very inclusive and saw the rest of the world as nothing more than ‘beasts’ and deserving of punishment. The began to read the ‘law’ through these lenses. Even though they were in their own land they were ruled by the Romans – the ‘Gentiles’; the ‘beasts’. Because of this, many Jews still thought of themselves in exile. They saw the only way to bring about this ‘new creation’ was through the means of the world – violence. For years there was a charge of revolution was electric in the air. There were factions within the Jewish hierarchy and without. People of various groups were jockeying for leadership. More and more people began to believe that YHWH was about to do something within history. That the long awaited Messiah was to come and crush the enemies of Israel and establish themselves as the rightful world super-power.

Jesus – It was in this climate that Jesus of Nazareth comes on the scene. He came declaring that the long awaited ‘kingdom of God’ was ‘at hand’. But it wouldn’t be like most people expected it. Jesus talked about ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘walking the second mile’ and peace. Of loving your neighbors and your enemies. To become the greatest, he said, a person would have to become the servant of all. He told them that, if the nation of Israel continued in the way they were going, the way of violence, they would bring judgment upon themselves. To save themselves, Jesus told people to put their trust in him; in his way of being human; in his way of the kingdom. If people trusted in him and his Way, YHWH would forgive them of their sins. Jesus said that this was the true way into the kingdom of God. He talked about how he and ‘the Father’, i.e., YHWH, were ‘one’. That he was the true Temple. He healed many people that were regarded as outcasts and unworthy of healing by the authorities of his day – leapers, the blind, the mute, the deaf, the demon-possessed, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.. He even raised the dead on different occasions! He also elevated those who were counted as nothing to respectable places within the community, namely women and children. Some women became his disciples. There were even some women who were studying to be Rabbis, something that was unheard of in the first century. Many people within Jerusalem and the surrounding areas believed that he was the Messiah. Through his vocation, his life, teaching, and healings, he was upsetting the social order of first century, traditional Jewish life.

As you can imagine, Jesus and his message, along with the droves of people who were following him, upset the powers that be. But this was the whole purpose. His goal was to be Israel. He was to be what Israel was supposed to be (but were unwilling to be) for the world. Jesus continued to push the buttons of those in power or those where were the next in line by the things he said or did. It finally got to the point that the Jewish authorities wanted him dead. They tried to trick him at every turn. In the end, one of Jesus’ closest followers betrayed him to the Jewish leaders. He was arrested and falsely charged. He was taken to the Roman government who had him flogged and finally, at the instigation of the Jewish people, sentenced him to death by crucifixion. He died and was buried. All of the followers fled and hid. They were afraid that they would be next. Many denied even knowing him.

But…

Early on Sunday morning, three days after Jesus’ death, some of his women followers went to his tomb. Since he was buried in haste, the Jewish customs were not administered properly. As they approached the tomb, the saw it opened! They went inside. There was no body. An angel appeared to them and told them that Jesus wasn’t dead but alive! The creator god, YHWH, their god, had raised him from the dead! They were told to go and tell the other disciples that he was alive! The women rushed back to where the men were hiding and told them all that they had seen (or didn’t see!)! A couple of the men raced to the tomb to find it just as the women had said. They went back to the room where the others were hiding and verified the women’s testimony. Then, much to their surprise, Jesus appeared to them. The door was locked and he just appeared! He truly had been raised from the dead! After 40 days of being with them, eating and drinking, and teaching them about the kingdom of God, Jesus ‘ascended to heaven’, i.e., he went to the realm of YHWH, to the creator god’s dimension. As he was leaving, he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them and grant them power to be his witnesses.

Church – The followers of Jesus, both the men and the women, did just that. The Holy Spirit ‘descended upon them’, in other words, the Holy Spirit broke into the earthly dimension from YHWH’s dimension. The disciples were filled with power; power to stand up to the powers of the day; power to heal people, to forgive their sins, to be and for the world what Jesus was and did for Israel. They realized that Jesus was the Messiah but that the new creation did not come in the way they had thought – it came within history. The new creation started the morning of Jesus resurrection. They began to realize that their understanding of the first parts of the story needed to be retooled around Jesus. Jesus was the climax of that story. The whole story pointed to him. They saw his death as the ‘true sacrifice’ for the ‘sins of the people’ and that trusting in his sacrificial death, would bring new life. They also realized that since Jesus was resurrected, that YHWH vindicated him and that he was the worlds true Lord; it’s rightful King. In other words, the Messiah was not just for the nation of Israel but for the whole created order! The began to see their vocation as reconciling creation back to its creator and to each other. Their message, though, was scandalous. They said ‘Jesus is Lord’; meaning he was the true king of the world. And if that was true, it meant that the reigning king was not. Their message was not about some inner, private, religious experience. It meant that the world, the entire cosmos, must be put to rights in light of the resurrected Jesus. For those who trusted in Jesus as the true King and Lord – those who believed that ‘he died for [their] sins, just as the Scriptures said, that he was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said – YHWH would ‘forgive their sins’ and give them ‘eternal life’ and they would become part of the new family and were seen in right standing within the new community. People could now be truly human beings. They could now be seen as equals. In this new community, ‘There [was] no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For [they were] all Christians – [they were] one in Christ Jesus’. They saw that through them, YHWH’s promise to rescue and redeem the ‘very good’ creation, had been fulfilled, was being fulfilled, and would one day come to completion. At that day, ‘heaven and earth’ would become one and YHWH would be their God and they would be ‘his’ people and ‘he’ would dwell with them forever.

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As you can see, this is a multilayered story with much that was left out and much left to tell. I’m sure that there are some things that need to be redone and seeing how this is the first draft, I’m sure revisions will be made. But, for the most part, I think that this is what we are to mean when we are talking about our story. You see, Christianity is not another religion, it's not a different faith. It is the climax of the story of Israel. It is the final act of the play. It is where YHWH has been going all along. And we are invited to join in the cast.

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