A Lust For Scapegoats

1 Samuel 14:45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. 

So eager was Saul to set himself in the right and gain God’s favor that he determined to put Jonathan to death. Ironically, without Jonathan’s heroics, there would have been no victory, and the rank and file, who had by their silence protected Jonathan, now take matters into their own hands and saved the one who had wrought salvation for the nation, in Hebrew he had wrought yĕšûʿâ, that day. He has wrought with God, they say, acknowledging that the whole episode had been a divine rather than a human deliverance.

The curse of a king, like every other royal utterance, is ultimately the word of a human being and mired in the frailties of creatureliness and the fall. It is not absolute. And we see here the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, for the royal curse is countermanded by nameless “men” (v. 45) who said “Far from it!” to the king’s demand that Jonathan die. The men thus “ransomed” the king’s son, from the king. Let the hearer understand, the authority and power of earthly kings is limited and bound. It is not absolute. “Shall Jonathan die…as the LORD lives…” The people use the same oath that Saul used in v. 39. They obviously think God spoke much more clearly in Jonathan’s victory than in Saul’s rash oath 

Jonathan’s faith and boldness brought about the defeat of two enemies of Yahweh’s purposes – one external, the Philistines, and one internal, a misguided Israelite king. After Saul was rebuffed by his soldiers, he ended the battle and let the remaining Philistines get away. Though Israel had won a victory on that day, Saul—and consequently kingship—had suffered a humbling defeat

Ultimately, though, this story is about more than human thrones. Saul was chosen king by casting lots, an echo of story about Achan. The process of determining a king and a thief is the same. The other time Israel used the casting of lots, was on the day of atonement to identify the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16. The priest was to cast lots for two goats. One of them was sacrificed for a sin offering while the other was driven out of the camp after the priest laid hands on it, confessing over it the sins of Israel. 

The motif of a creature chosen by God to carry the sins of the people out of an inhabited place to face God’s judgment in the wilderness, reappears several times in the NT, though the image of the scapegoat is never directly applied to Jesus. Jesus is called the sacrifice for our sins (Heb 10:1–18). John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). And in Hebrews 13:12–13 the point is stressed that Jesus was crucified outside the city. 

Again, the disposal of sin is considered as an almost physical process: sin is loaded onto Jesus; he is driven out of town and given over to God’s curse.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” –  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith”(Galatians 3:13–14)

Jesus is more explicit when applying Psalm 118 to himself. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42). This verse points to the expulsion of a single victim and the later reversal that turns the expelled victim into the keystone of the entire community. 

Jesus is the great Scapegoat. The desire of fallen man’s heart. We see this symbolism in Jesus’ Passion.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation” (John 11:49–52).

Pilate’s offer of Jesus and Barabbas was meant to appease the mob, because the shrewd Pilate knew they wanted someone’s blood. Pilate’s trial of Jesus was a kind of casting lots for a scapegoat. And in this we come to the ultimate struggle of our hearts. Saul desired the complete destruction of the Philistines. In this he was denied. Saul desired Israel to deny its identity and not eat, even the honey flowing in God’s promised land, until Saul had vengeance upon Saul’s enemies. In this he was denied. Saul wanted a word from God. In this he was denied. Saul wanted someone to pay for all of this, under the guise of atoning for sins, he wants a scapegoat. He wants blood. And in this he was denied.

You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:2).

When we can’t murder the one who is withholding our desires we turn to others. To scapegoats. As philosopher Rene Girard wrote,

“The kick the employee doesn’t dare give his boss, he will give his dog when he returns home in the evening. Or maybe he will mistreat his wife and his children, without fully realizing that he is mistreating them as “Scapegoats.” Victims substituted for the real target are the equivalent of sacrificial victims in distant times. In talking about this kind of phenomena, we spontaneously utilize the expression “scapegoat.” The real source of victim substitutions is the appetite for violence that awakens in people when anger seizes them and when the true object of their anger is untouchable. The range of objects capable of satisfying the appetite for violence enlarges proportionally to the intensity of the anger.”

This is called the principle of transference. But this rarely leads to acts of physical violence, it does lead to Psychological violence that is easy to camouflage. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Hate is emotional and psychological. Jesus told us that we can commit violence toward one another within our hearts.

Desire is the source of sin; whose wage is death (Romans 6:23). Our fallen desires lead to death. They require death. There will be blood. But whose blood? The injustices we commit, our quarrels and our conflicts are a matter of the heart, and unchecked they lead to homicide. And all homicide is actually deicide, for man is the image of God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). When our desires are unfilled who is ultimately thwarting us? But we can’t kick God, can we? Like Saul, our desires are unsatisfied and this leads for a lust for a scapegoat, someone who will pay. Saul could get his hands-on innocent Jonathan, but who was his hate and rage really directed toward?

Ultimately, we want God to pay for his will, his providence, his autonomous sovereignty. Who bestows on us our body type? Our quantity of children? Our vocations? Our temperaments? But we can’t get our hands on Him, so we murder those to whom he erroneously bestowed his gifts instead of us. Our bodies deteriorate. Our bodies can’t carry babies to full term. We aren’t what we want to be.  Life is harder than it should be. We are broken and so we want to break. But God’s neck is too big to fit our hands around. So, we go to work on one another.  And then God descended from heaven amongst us. And what did we do to Him? What we do to one another every day. We murdered him. Our utmost desires grew up to maturity and when God came in the flesh, within our grasp, we went to work on Him.  And like Jonathan, Jesus said “Here I am, I will die.” 

Our desire for this violence, this punishment for our unmet desires is death – our eternal death and until that desire is satisfied, man will remain in his sins, dead. This is a simple truth, which once accepted, sets us free. Jesus fulfills the deepest desire of our heart to murder God for what he has denied us and what he has done to us. For that thing we want and can’t get – an apple, a slim waistline, a promotion, sex, respect, more children, tenderness. For His telling us no. For his silence in the face of our desire. For this, He will pay. And so, He did. And thereby secured our freedom from these desires. 

We no longer have need to murder one another, the mere image of God, for we have murdered God Himself. There is no one left to blame, there is no one left to punish. Be free. When you covet or lie, or your anger breaks forth, when we fear man more than God, when we lust and unsatisfied, loathe. When we steal and bow down over idols to whore with them. We know the filthy desire of our hearts. We must confess it. We must Cry out to God that murder lies in our hearts. 

And from this, our only hope is to look upon his Son on the cross and be satisfied. There is no one left to murder. The Lord Jesus has fulfilled the one desire at the center of our hearts that keeps us from Him. Because His will is greater than ours. He rose up form what we did to him that we might be free for new desires, holy desires, that we might be his today, forever.

You Are Not Christ’s Plunder

Christ’s present role in glory is referred to as his “heavenly session.” Session means “sitting.” Presbyterian churches have a form of church government led by elders, who collectively constitute the session. The body of elders is known as the session because when they meet to deliberate, to establish policy, and to give supervision to the spiritual lives of the Christians under their care, they sit down and discuss these things. Likewise, when we say that Congress is in session, we mean that our representatives are assembled, and in their seats, ready to transact the business of the United States. The word session is appropriate to describe these situations because it is derived from the Latin sessio, which simply means “the act of sitting.” The most important session of all is the session of Jesus Christ in heaven.

In Psalm 110 God sets the Messiah at his right hand as king and priest—as king to see all his enemies under his feet, and as priest to serve God and channel God’s grace forever. This picture is applied directly to Jesus Christ, who since the Ascension actively reigns in the mediatorial kingdom of God. This was the early church’s confession and framework for Jesus’ rule.

Ephesians 1:20–23 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Acts 2:34–35 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Hebrews 1:13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 1 Peter 3:21–22 through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In the NT world the triumphal procession was developed by the Romans to celebrate the occasion of a major victory. The victorious general or ruler in ceremonial dress would drive his captives – usually those of high status – and the spoils of war before him through the outer districts and into the very heart of Rome. When the victor arrived at the god’s temple, the prisoners, or representatives of their number, would be executed. In this processional the glory and power of Rome was celebrated, with the triumphant general playing the role of Jupiter, the god who had blessed the warrior with victory in battle. Then distribute the wealth to his followers. Paul employs the image of the Roman triumphal procession to depict the victory of Christ on the cross. Ephesians 4:7–8 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

How does Paul understand his own Christian life amidst these realities? 2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. Continue reading “You Are Not Christ’s Plunder”

An Object of Scorn

Jeremiah 6:10 To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.

On Good Friday, the Christian Church gathers to commemorate the murder her king. This is our unique calling as Christians, to be a very different kind of people, following a very different kind of King.

Jesus, the word of God, allowed Himself to be held up as an object of scorn so that we would have our ears opened and cease to hold His words up as an object of scorn.

Jesus descended from heaven to make a way back to God, the Father, for us all.

Consider the messianic promise of Isaiah 40:3-5 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Imagine the word of God booming out over a rough land and in response, the valleys rise while the mountains recede, as the great voice crushes every rough rock and levels every forest, creating a straight path back to the Father in Heaven.

I Thirst

The Theologian Fred Sanders explains in his book, How the Trinity Changes everything, this important aspect of Biblical interpretation;

“One of the most powerful features of the Trinitarianism of the New Testament is that it is revealed to us largely in the conversation between the Father and the Son.…Even in the darkness of the cross itself, the Son keeps up an intimate running dialogue with his Father. Jesus is confident that his prayers are heard and that the Father is with him, and in a few spectacular instances of a voice speaking from heaven we get to hear the Father declaring his attitude toward his beloved Son. All this inner-Trinitarian conversation is intentionally held in public, for our instruction….what they said to and about one another for us to overhear is not only a solid foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is also a marvelous invitation to us to be included in that conversation.

We see this dialogue at Christ’s baptism and at the transfiguration. We hear it in the prayer of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb:

John 11:41–42, So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus is talking to the Father, out loud, so that others may hear and join in the knowledge of the Father and the Son.

This is why the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray in Luke 11:1. The dialogue between Jesus and His Father is public and meant to draw us in.

So we turn to John 19:28–29 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

What we think is happening here is strictly an exchange between Jesus and His murderers.

Indeed, Jesus is fulfilling the scriptures, like Psalm 22:15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws.

But in this moment when Jesus speaks of thirst, as in His whole earthly ministry, He is misunderstood by His immediate audience.

Understanding what is being said, to whom and its meaning – is an invitation for us to join the inner life of the trinity.

Continue reading “I Thirst”

A Love Story

One of the central truths about the Christian life is that it consists of people who are of the Word, the book; the story. This requires us, then, to be people of words, books and stories. Stories shape our affections. This is why worldviews are always narratives. Darwin tells a tale of a “nobody,” pile of goo becoming, through resilience and self-will, something nearly divine. Marx tells a story of a garden of Eden lost to the greed and lies of the bourgeoise who must be brutally overthrown by the hapless proletariat to return the world to equitable safety and comfort.  C.S. Lewis said, “story always wins.”

This is why the stories we consume are so important. The stories we read, shape us. They inform our imagination, our intellect and our affections. In our hearts and minds; story always wins.

1 Thessalonians 1:6“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

You became an imitator of the Apostles and the Lord when you were converted. What were you imitators of before that?

Ephesians 2:1–3And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following thecourseof this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Sons of disobedience imitate the prince of the power of the air and the spirit of the age. As sons of obedience you are called to imitate Christ; to be Holy as He is Holy; to love as He loved.

To aid in this endeavor, Jesus provided His life to imitate, as well as, apostles and church officers to imitate. Paul says, “Be imitators of me…” 1 Cor. 4:16, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” Ephesians 5:1.  Paul says to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7.

But to the point, the Apostle John says in 3 John 11“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.”

Taking all this together, we need to place before our eyes stories and biographies full of goodness, worthy of imitation. Good stories are soul food. And for our lack of appetites and for our gluttony for junk food, we need to do a lot of repenting. Continue reading “A Love Story”

Being and Doing

Comment on Mark 1:35-39

Amid a whirlwind of activity, Jesus seeks a still point in prayer with the Father. There is a suggestive parallel in wording between Jesus going out to pray (v. 35) and his going out to preach and expel demons (v. 39). The work of the Son of God is both an inward and an outward work. Jesus cannot extend himself outward in compassion without first attending to the source of his mission and purpose with the Father; and, conversely, his oneness with the Father compels him outward in mission. The significance of Jesus’ ministry consists not simply in what he does for humanity, but equally in who he is in relation to the Father. Jesus is, according to Mark’s narrative, neither contemplative ascetic nor social activist. He does not promote an agenda but derives a ministry from a relationship with the Father. He is the Son, one in being with the Father; and the Servant, one in purpose with his will.

 Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 66). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

Serving Like the Servant King

Mark 1:30–31 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

There is no other remedy like this one. Without a doubt, in emergencies the means God has provided should be pursued; doctors in times of sickness, lawyers in legal disputes, the help of friends and family. But the first thing and throughout, we should be crying out to the Lord. No one can heal us as effectually as Jesus can. None are as compassionate or ready to aid and relieve us.

Philippians 4:4–6 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

When Jacob was in need, he first turned to his God (Genesis 32:11). Hezekiah knew the only one capable to aid Israel, so he spread the letter of Sennacherib before the Lord (2 Kings 19:19). As soon as Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent immediately to Jesus (John 11:2). This is the response of faith. When troubling circumstances befall us or our loved ones, turn to the one who has the compassion and authority to respond.

1 Peter 5:6–9 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

We are sinners and sufferers. The days of darkness are many and the valley of the shadow of death is long. Its no prophesying to say that our tears and doubts will be many before we die. But we are armed against despair before the day of trouble comes. Remember that in sickness, bereavement, loss or disappointment oppresses us that the deliver is at hand. Before the crown is the cross and we follow the Lord of Life, the nourishment of heaven; our daily bread.

Let us respond as the believers in Simon’s house at Capernaum, let us tell Jesus at once. Continue reading “Serving Like the Servant King”

Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live

John 12:24- 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Luke 9:51 “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and didn’t look back. He went towards danger. Towards loss and affliction, persecution and pain. He knew the only way to return to the Father was through death. He couldn’t return to heaven and leave the mission undone. He knew the only way to provide eternal life to His brothers and sisters was going towards the danger – towards death.

On D-day, as the men came off the boats they were ripped up with machine gun fire. Their only option was to press forward and keep moving – toward the machine guns. There was nothing behind them but the sea.

They could run back to the sea and drown or run towards the machine guns and maybe… live. It was counterintuitive to every self-preserving cell in their bodies but the twisted logic was run toward the guns to live. Run toward the impregnable defenses.

Run toward death to live.

But moving forward they could survive and liberate a continent. And the miracle was as each man ran toward death and did his part, Normandy was conquered by the allies.

We need this kind of example. The army has grown lazy and fat with inaction or it cowers in the trenches with now will to move forward.

But Jesus went ahead of us to show us how, to make it possible for us to follow.

By Laying down one’s life in obedience to the Father – dying for righteousness – is eternal life, glory and joy.

You know you lie. You know you covet. You know you curse. You know the loneliness of sin; the despair and the pain of sin.

You know that loving your wife as Christ loved the Church, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD, making disciples of the nations, being Holy as God is Holy – it’s an impregnatable fortress.

You can’t scale its high walls. You are too weak and feeble to claw that elevation.

Getting out of bed, going out the front door, facing your loved ones – it’s like a machine gun of failure and despair. Continue reading “Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live”

A Ministry of word and deed

As we see in the opening chapters of Acts, the Apostles could care for the spiritual and physical welfare of their community.

The true ministry of the church is not gnostic, but grounded in the real-life circumstances of believers. The fallout of sin has real consequences. Dealing with poverty, addiction – all the practical and real-world circumstances of a fallen person, is as equally as important as renewing the mind and walking by the Spirit.

But neither is the ministry of the church what many have falsely deemed the “social gospel.” The problem with mankind is not merely circumstances. Poverty, a lack of education and economic inequality are not what ails mankind – they are the fruit of what ails mankind.

Jesus said in the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Teach them to observe, he says. Discipling the nations is about what is to be believed and what is to be done. Jesus says teach them my commands so that they can do my commands.

James makes the point well in James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The word of God teaches us what is to be done. The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of words and deeds. The Son of God came into the world to teach us love and to show us love. He calls disciples to observehis commandments– to obey his teaching.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus traveling incognito asks his two disciples what this Jesus had done – Luke 24:19 And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.

Luke 4:16. Jesus opens the word of God and then expounds its meaning, teaching about Himself and His ministry from the word of God. Jesus preaches. Then what does He do? The things Isaiah says the messiah will do. Luke 4:31-41 goes on describing Jesus’s fulfillment of that teaching in real action.

Jesus preaches, and Jesus works out that message amongst the people. He says come to me all who are burdened and heavy-laden and then He relieves their burdens. Their spiritual burdens and physical burdens. He forgives sins and feeds five thousand. He declares sinners clean and raises the dead. He gives sight to the blind and instructs the masses on the mount. His ministry is a ministry of word and deed. Continue reading “A Ministry of word and deed”

The Gospel in the Gospels

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is hard to distill down to its essence. Lots of things could be said about the Gospel and its implications. But how does one summarize it into a forceful, hopeful, prayerful, encouraging statement?

Before the word gospel referred to a book of the bible, It was a Greek word that referred to a message of good tidings issued from the lips of an appointed messenger.

We are accustomed to using the word all the time. Gospel worship. Gospel community. Gospel preaching. Gospel music. We know the first four books of the NT belong to a literary genre called gospel.

Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” So, here Mark is referring to the document He is writing, right, the Gospel according to Mark?

But that word referred to something before the four evangelists’ books were designated with it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote accounts of the Gospel.

One Gospel. Four accounts. The Gospel according to…. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Accounts of what? The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense. A Gospel is a proclamation. A proclamation of what? By whom?

The distinction I want to make is that the Christian Gospel was originally a message delivered by an appointed messenger and the four books that begin the New Testament are hand written accounts of that one messenger and His message. The gospels, plural, are a literary genre – a gospel is a message of good tidings proclaimed by an anointed messenger.

The original anointed messenger of the Christian Gospel was Jesus. And His Gospel was that He, Jesus, the son of God, is king. Not just of heaven, but of earth.

The Christian Gospel is that Jesus is King.

This is an earth altering, worldview altering, cosmic message of joy. It’ what the Apostles were proclaiming in 2nd Corinthians 4:5–6 “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Those living in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light and that light is the king, the son of God – Jesus. Jesus was the first messenger of this good news and He was the message.

Before we continue, let’s review this word Gospel that we know so well. Like I said last week, the words the NT authors chose to use had a context in the original Hellenistic culture. Understanding how the words were used before and outside the NT can help us a great deal in our understanding of their use in the NT.

It was a strategic move to incorporate this specific word into the Christian message.

The word gospel, or evangel among the Romans, meant “joyful tidings,” and was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose ascent to the throne or great military victory was accompanied by a gospel proclamation.

A calendar inscription from about 9 B.C., found in Priene in Asia Minor, says of the emperor Augustus: “the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings which have been proclaimed on his account.”

This inscription is remarkably similar to Mark’s initial line and it clarifies the essential content of an evangel in the ancient world: a Historical event which introduces a new setting for the world.”

Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of His kingdom in this world is the Christian Gospel.

Mark is writing one account of this world shattering news. The Roman world would have understood Jesus and then Mark’s use of this word, as both controversial and weird.

A poor Jewish on-time carpenter, traveling rabbi is a God? What affect could he possibly have on the world?

The use of the word Gospel by Jesus, is a tacit statement that His coming is an event that brings about a radically new state of affairs for mankind.

As biblical and historical scholar N.T. Wright sums up the evidence, “in the Greek world… a Gospel, is a regular technical term, referring to the announcement of a great victory, or to the birth, or assent of an emperor.” The point here is that a “gospel,” refers to a public announcement of glorious news about an emporer.

The gospel is not primarily about salvation. It’s not primarily about going to heaven. It’s not primarily about adoption as God’s children. All of those things are the fruit of the Gospel.

But the Gospel is not about you and your salvation. It’s about Jesus. Continue reading “The Gospel in the Gospels”