They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Gospel

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
– Isaiah 52:7

crossThe word gospel means, ”good news”. According to Isaiah 52:7, the gospel (the good news) is that the God of the Jews reigns. Contrary to our Christian slogans, the good news is not just, “Jesus saves”. God does save, but He also is reigning and taking charge over the universe. Our message as Christians should not be reduced to just, “Jesus saves” but that He is reigning and ruling in our lives and is King over the whole universe.

As our previous post stated, God told the Israelites at Mt. Sinai to be a ”Kingdom of Priests”; to represent our God. We learned that a priest is a mediator; he goes between God and the people to demonstrate what God is really like. Our job is not limited to just praying for others, it is to demonstrate what His character is like. A priest is to also be Holy (kadosh), set apart. Priests were uniquely set apart by God and were to live holy and righteous lives. The Gentiles (us) received this same mission as evidenced in 1 Peter 2:9-12:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

How are we doing in this regard? Do we want people to judge our God by what they see in us? Do our lives reflect the fact that He is ruling and reigning?

The church today often acts like their only mission is to proclaim that Jesus saves, that He gives salvation. There is no mention of or emphasis on the mission that God gave the Israelites and us today to live holy and separated lives. Yes, Jesus died to save us, but He also called us to bring the good news to the people around us that He is Lord over the way we live our lives. Their mission at Sinai and ours today is to be set apart and holy (wear the blue tassels) and to be the message that God is reigning in our lives.

He didn’t ask us just to bring the message, but to “be” the message. That is the Gospel.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son: Introduction – Luke 15

We now turn our attention to the most well known of the the three lost and found stories in Luke 15, the story of the lost or prodigal son. No story in the Bible, or any other sacred literature presents such a dynamic and compassionate picture of our Father. For hundreds of years the Latin tradition has called this story, “Evangelium in Evangelio”, which means the gospel within the gospel. However, as we have mentioned in our past posts, the more familiar a story becomes, the more it takes on its own interpretation and special way of seeing the story develop that then become part of the text itself. The basis used to interpret Bible metaphors comes from the cultural assumptions of the story teller and his audience. Often, their world view is the standard from which conclusions are drawn as to what the Bible writers meant. That is why it is so important to place Bible stories into the culture in which they were originally written. Let’s look at the story of the Lost Son in light of the middle eastern culture in which it was written and see if perhaps there is some different conclusions that surface and some new light to be shed on this wonderful story.

First, we need to identify some problems that seem to exist from a casual comparison of the Lost Son story with the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin stories that precede it in Luke 15. At first glance, the first two stories appear to be in conflict with the third. The parable of the prodigal son appears to have no savior! The prodigal , “came to himself”, in the far country and then went home. If God is the Father in the story, then it would seem that God passively waits for us to return home, but does not go after us like the good shepherd and the good woman went after their lost objects. In the first two stories the finder does all the work. The shepherd leaves the flock and goes after the lost sheep till he finds it. The lost sheep cannot find his own way home. In the same way, the good woman diligently looks for the coin until she finds it. The coin can do nothing to be found on its own. Yet, on his own, the prodigal comes to or finds himself and then heads home from the far country. Could this be correct?

How can this be the gospel within the gospel as has been thought for centuries? Do these three stories conflict with each other? Can we come to God, unaided? Where is the seeker and saver of the lost, the ”word becoming flesh”, the heavy price to be paid, the mediator between God and humans and the savior that make up the “gospel” of the New Testament? More than a casual reading is needed if we are to unlock the hidden manna in this wonderful parable from our Messiah, Jesus. So, let’s get our spades and dig into the word and see what shows up. We will break the story into three parts and look at one part for each lesson. In the first lesson we will look at the, “Request for the Inheritance”; the second, “Returning Home”; and third, “The Banquet and the Older Son”. Then we will try to draw some conclusions. Stay tuned for Part 1 next week.

When the Rabbi says, “Come” and When the Rabbi says, ”Go”

”Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” – Matthew 4:19-20
”Go make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19-20
“You will be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8

Paul in Ephesus

Paul in Ephesus; Acts 19

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called twelve disciples to follow and learn from Him. He spent three years teaching them to be just like Him. They followed him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and watched him do everything; from simple, mundane things, to healing sick people and even raising the dead.

When the end of this three year training period had ended and Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, His call to His disciples changed. He had finished teaching them to be like Him and now they were ready to go out on their own to spread the gospel that they had witnessed for those three years. And, they went! These eleven former trainees went literally to the ends of the earth to spread the good news about their rabbi. Jesus didn’t spread the gospel; he had his disciples do it! They went to far away, pagan cities such as Ephesus, Pergamum, Collosae, Corinth, Athens, and Rome to carry on the training that they had received from their rabbi.

One striking example, that I had never noticed before, that shows how Jesus’ followers tried to be just like their rabbi is found in the book of Acts in the 19th and 20th chapters. The story is of Paul, in the city of Ephesus, and says in verse 19:7 that Paul had about twelve disciples, and in 20:31 that he taught those disciples for about three years! That is following the outline pretty closely!

We don’t often think about why we have Christianity in America in the twenty-first century. It is because of the discipleship training model of Jesus and his disciples’ determination to follow their rabbi’s instructions down to the last jot and tittle. Those eleven men (and women) followers changed the world forever because of their training and their commitment to their rabbi and His message. We are being challenged by Jesus in the same way today. He asks us to follow Him and to go and make disciples. Are you up to the challenge?