There is a movement afoot today, trying to return us to the faith once delivered by the apostles. Let’s see if I can help with that during this advent season, and yes, bring glory to this newborn king.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark 1:1 ESV
The beginning of the actual first gospel written. I know, our bible is arranged Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but Mark was the first to put pen (??) to papyrus and record these things. But if we are going to understand anything about the gospels as they are written, we are going to have to understand what the word “Christ” means. Most of us, until we are taught otherwise, somehow think (assume) this is Jesus’ last name. You have Joseph and Mary Christ, and their son, Jesus Christ. Of course, that’s not at all what it is.
“Christ” means “king”. But, specifically, the Jewish king. It means “anointed”, it means God’s choice for the Jewish king. For example, what is a Pharaoh? A Pharaoh is an Egyptian king. What is a Caesar? A Roman King. What is a czar? A Russian king. What is Messiah? It’s a Jewish king, but not just any Jewish king. It’s a Jewish king of God’s choosing.
N.T. Wright, viewed by many as the pre-eminent New Testament scholar of our day, in his translation of the New Testament, often translated Christ Jesus as “King Jesus”, Jesus Christ as “Jesus the King”. If you read your Bible that way, you’ll be surprised how it opens up new dimensions of understanding.
What is the Gospel? In its simplest form, it’s the story of how Jesus of Nazareth became King of the world. This is the story Mark tells us, along with Matthew, Luke and John. It’s the story of how this particular Jew, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, begins his ministry in Capernaum, and is crucified in Jerusalem. The Gospel is the story of how this man, Jesus of Nazareth, becomes King of the world.
The Gospel IS NOT primarily about going to heaven, or personal self improvement, or even personal forgiveness of sins, though these things are related. The Gospel IS primarily the royal announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is now the Christ of the world, or the King of the world. That Jesus is in fact the King of the Jews, and now the great prophecies from all the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the rest are coming true. They envisioned the day when the King of the Jews, the King of the Judeans, the King of Israel, the King that God chose to be King, would be King not only over the Jews, but over the Gentiles too. The effect would be that the glory of the knowledge of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the true God, would cover the earth as the waters of the sea. In other words, the God of Israel would become the God of the nations through the Jewish King that God appointed and anointed.
The announcement that this has happened in Jesus is what we call the Gospel. Peter and Paul and the rest of the apostles went throughout the Roman Empire preaching the King Jesus gospel. And it is this King Jesus gospel that turned the world upside down durning the first three centuries.
Why do I say first three centuries? Because the first three centuries of the church is the time before the church compromised its radical gospel to become a chaplain to the Roman Empire, and then the successive empires. The church then settled into its long, sleepy chaplaincy role, and the King Jesus gospel got muted. Jesus during this time got demoted from being King of the World to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. In other words, if you want your afterlife to be good, if you want to go to heaven when you die, check in with the secretary of afterlife affairs, that’s Jesus Christ. But the world is being run by Caesar, thank you very much. That’s what happened…
With the fall of Christendom, the gospel became increasingly private, about what we might call personal spirituality. So instead of boldly announcing this Gospel – the outlandish claim that there was a Jew from Nazareth, who was conceived of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, who announced the government of God, who went to the capital of Jerusalem, who was condemned by both the Jews and the Romans, who was nailed to a tree, but on the third day, God raised him from the dead, and there is now a new Emperor, there is now a new King over all the world, believe this, rethink everything, begin to live accordingly, and get baptized into the community of people who are living this new way!!!! That was the gospel. It’s radical, it’s challenging, it’s thrilling.
All of that got reduced to, If you want to go to heaven when you die, receive Jesus into your heart as your personal lord and savior. That way, we didn’t challenge the principalities and powers that were running the world the same way they’ve always run the world. That’s when we increasingly said things like “Receive Jesus into your heart as your personal lord and savior.” Because that’s non threatening to the principalities and powers.
This way the left and right could argue about whose politics Jesus would endorse. The left says, “We emphasize social justice, Jesus is all about social justice, so Jesus is on our side.” The right says “no, we’re all about personal morality, Jesus is all about personal morality, so Jesus is on our side.” But neither side could imagine that Jesus, in fact, has his own politics!! Both the left and the right say endorse our man for president, Jesus says “I’m king! I’m not endorsing anybody for president. I’m king, I have my own politics, they’re called the kingdom of God, they are outlined in a sermon I gave upon a mountain one time. You may have heard about it!!!”
The left says, “Social justice, Jesus on our side!!” The right says “Personal morality, Jesus on our side!” But they’re both wrong, because Jesus has his own politics called the Kingdom of God outlined in the Sermon on the Mount!!