Note from CM: This is my final full post on Internet Monk. I decided to devote it to what really matters. I’ve been happy to share my journey with you and to learn about the paths on which God has led so many of you. But in the end, it’s not just about my journey or yours. At the heart, it’s about the journey Jesus took for the life of the world.
Tomorrow, I’ll combine a final personal word with one from Michael Spencer’s writings. For today, let’s dig down to the roots of what Internet Monk and my life and ministry is all about: the good news of Jesus. Here is, as Paul might say, “my gospel.” This is my manifesto.
• • •
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of a messenger
who proclaims peace,
who brings good news,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God rules!”
• Isaiah 52.7 CEB
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.
• Julian of Norwich
The good news of Jesus is the message that brings life to the world, now and forever. Today, allow me to outline my understanding of what this good news entails.
The good news of Jesus is an announcement, a proclamation of something real that has happened, something which changes the world forever.
The good news did not simply introduce a new religious option into history. It is not an advertisement for a product that one might want to consider purchasing. As Tom Wright says, the good news does not offer a new religious path, urge a new kind of morality, or present a new philosophical system. It is, rather, the announcement that a long anticipated event has taken place. It is public proclamation of the audacious claim that in Jesus, God has done something that has changed the world and its course completely.
Wright illustrates the difference: “It isn’t difficult to see how this worked. When Roman heralds came into a city like Thessalonica announcing that a new emperor had been enthroned, they didn’t mean, ‘Here is a new sort of imperial experience, and you might like to see if it suits you.’ They meant, ‘Tiberius (or Claudius, or Nero, or whoever) is the Lord of the World. You are the lucky recipients of this good news; [and now] he demands your loyalty, your allegiance…’”
That’s the good news of Jesus. God’s King has come and he is Lord of all.
The good news about Jesus is announced in the light of two background stories and settings.
The first is the story of Israel. Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s story as told in the Jewish Bible. That story was written down in the wake of the Babylonian Exile and was designed to give the Jewish people a future hope.
The Jewish Bible presents it like this: God’s plan, as Bruce Waltke says, is for God’s people to dwell in God’s land with God’s words guiding them under the rule of God’s king, in order to bring God’s blessing to all the world. The actual story as it developed, long and complex for sure, takes the following general shape in various cycles throughout the First Testament:
- God chooses and blesses his people in the good land prepared for them.
- God gives them the vocation of being a light to the whole world.
- They fail to fulfill that vocation.
- They go into exile.
- God delivers and reestablishes them in the land.
This pattern begins with Adam, who represents Israel’s first covenant human, her first king. God tasked him with subduing evil and opening the way for all humankind to the Tree of Life. But Adam and Eve failed and God sent them out of the garden into exile.
At the end of the patriarchal era, the children of Israel find themselves in exile once more, this time in Egypt. God, through his chosen leader Moses, delivers them, calls them to be a “kingdom of priests” to all nations, gives them his laws, and leads them to the Promised Land.
Eventually, the nation is ruled by kings, epitomized by David. However, by and large, the kings fail to lead Israel to be a light to the nations and the kingdom splits, with the northern tribes eventually destroyed by Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah taken captive by Babylon.
It was in that setting that the prophets spoke, promising an end to exile, a return of Israel to her land, and the coming of a Davidic king (messiah) who would establish God’s rule of justice and shalom throughout the entire world.
The Gospels identify these promises with Jesus’ coming: first, when John announced, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” and then when Jesus came, embodying and proclaiming the good news of that kingdom. Jesus, the new Adam, the new Moses, the son of David, the true Israel, did what they could not do and became the light of the world.
The good news of Jesus must be understood in the context of Israel’s story.
The second is the rule of Rome. The New Testament also positions the good news of Jesus as God’s alternative to the claims of the Roman empire.
For example, Luke’s story of the nativity is replete with allusions to Caesar. In those days, Augustus was proclaimed as the savior of the world, whose rule brought good news of peace to all people. However, as Raymond E. Brown wrote, “The birthday that marked the true beginning of a new time took place not in Rome but in Bethlehem, and a counterclaim to man-made inscriptions was the heraldic cry of the angel of the Lord: ‘I announce to you the good news of a great joy which will be for the whole people: To you this day there is born in the city of David a Savior who is Messiah and Lord.’”
The rest of the New Testament echoes this as Paul traverses the Roman empire preaching that Jesus is Lord and that all things in heaven and on earth will one day bow to him. The NT concludes with the book of Revelation, which identifies Rome with Babylon, bringing together the stories of both testaments. These are the two great empires that typify the powers of sin, evil, and death holding the world in bondage. Revelation foretells the ultimate downfall of these powers as heaven comes to earth and a new creation is established, in which God dwells with his people in shalom.
The good news of Jesus is, therefore, to be understood as the coming of God’s rule contra the great powers of this world that advance the dominion of sin, evil, and death, as represented by Babylon and Rome. The good news of Jesus is the announcement that Israel’s promised Messiah has come to inaugurate God’s rule instead, to end human exile under the hostile powers, to overthrow those powers, and to establish God’s shalom in all the earth.
On Earth as in Heaven
The good news is not about how people can go to heaven when they die and leave this life. It is about how God’s rule has come to this world in Jesus, defeating death and bringing the promise of resurrection life and shalom to all creation.
The good news is not about how people can avoid going to hell when they die to be punished by God for their sins forever. Rather, the good news is that God’s judgment has already been pronounced on the powers of sin, evil, and death that enslave people, a verdict that sets them free from bondage to live in a new creation forever.
The good news announces that this judgment took place when Jesus died on the cross and rose again in triumph. Yes, there will be a future divine reckoning when God will judge people on the basis of their works. But the good news is that this judgment will not be retributive nor eternal, but purgative and restorative. Mercy will triumph over judgment. There will be an apokatastasis, a restoration of all things in Christ.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:22)
Making known to us the mystery of his will…to recapitulate all things in the Anointed, the things in the heavens and the things on earth… (Eph 1:9-10, DBH)
The good news is about what God has done in Jesus. It is not about what humans do or must do. When we announce the good news, we call people to trust what Jesus has done and reorient their lives to the new reality that God has established. This is faith.
Those who trust Jesus begin to taste newness of life. They become signs of God’s rule when they live lives of sacrificial love to help their fellow humans flourish, as Jesus did. The vocation God blessed humankind with at creation (Gen. 1:28) is restored. Each one may participate in the Jesus-shaped task of tikkun olam (repairing the world) by living the baptismal life of dying and rising each day, planting seeds of faith, hope, and love for a great harvest in the age to come.
This is the gospel of our Lord.
Go in peace, and share the good news!
Thanks be to God!