Thursday, August 09, 2007

The gospel: what is it? II

Your God reigns!
Yesterday I began a new series about the gospel, the good news, that lies at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be his church. The attempt to articulate this message to a changing world is one of the chief occupations of the Christian community. It has taken many forms. But each generation must return to the Scriptures to discover it again.

There is one image that consistently comes up when biblical authors speak of 'good news' or 'gospel'. Here’s a classic example in the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the time of Jesus:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news [or 'who tell the gospel'], who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings [or 'who tell the gospel'], who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

-Isaiah 52.7

Bringing good news, telling the gospel, is here parallelled with proclaiming peace or proclaiming salvation. But what is the message that promises peace? What is the announcement that will mean salvation? It’s there at the end of the verse: “Your God reigns!” The God of Israel reigns as king. This was the newsflash, the glad tidings, the joyful announcement that, according to Isaiah, lay at the heart of any hope for peace or salvation

God is king. God in charge. This was Isaiah's gospel. In our suspicious and democratic age, we mightn’t think of a power claim as good news. In fact, it might seem like bad news. Another attempt to take control, more fighting. Don’t we need less of this, not more? How can this mean peace?

In fact, the Roman emperors would send out their ‘gospel’ when they won a battle or fathered an heir: “Good news – there will be peace because I have secured my reign!” But, of course, it was only good news to some. Although Caesar may have been better than anarchy (and whenever the Empire dissolved into civil war, everyone remembered how much better Caesar was), God isn’t like Caesar, squashing all opposition into submission. His rule is not built on the edge of a sword.

Nevertheless, we're suspicious of power, having seen it all-too-often misused. Indeed, we're especially suspicious of religious people talking about power at the moment. Fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Christian, is the new 'f' word.

But we need to ask how God reigns. What kind of a king is he? How does he use his power? How did he rise to power? This good news, this gospel isn’t simply a general principle, always and everywhere true. It’s a specific and disputable claim. It is news, an announcement of a new state of affairs. Neither Isaiah (nor Christians) are simply saying: “Hey God is the king - accept it!”
Speaking of beauty and mountains, five points for each link to other pictures of beautiful mountains on this blog. No more than one attempt per person.
Series so far: I; II; III; IV; V.


Matthew Moffitt said...

What do you think of the way Nahum uses the Isaiah passage at the end of Nahum 1?

Hecta said...

Hecta said...

That didn't work - sorry

byron smith said...

Moffitt - interesting - hadn't really noticed that passage before. What do you think is happening?

Hecta - did you mean to do this? Five points anyway - and plenty more for others who want to look and link.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Would you consider this worthy of 5 points?

byron smith said...

Not quite - although technically that page is on my blog, I only meant to include links to other posts with pictures of beautiful mountains. Thus, you'll get five points if you link to the post that had that picture, rather than directly to the picture.

Matthew Moffitt said...


byron smith said...

Yeah, so that wasn't so difficult. Five points.

Anthony Douglas said...

Clearly, there are enough mountains to go around. (Pun intended)

byron smith said...

Yes there are. Five more.