Believe it or not, The Table has a webpage. It's pretty sparse (and thus infrequently visited). It does, however, tell you three important things about our ministry. According to our webpage, we value,
- The gospel.
- The church
- The city.
Put differently, we care about gospel, community and mission. Why do we value these things? And how do they relate to one another? Over the next few weeks, I will answer these questions. My hope in doing this is threefold;
- I hope that we will better understand the gospel, and live in light of it.
- I hope that we will better understand our identity as God's people, and love one another well.
- I hope that we will better understand our mission, and recommit ourselves to it.
Let's begin with our first value; the gospel.
What is the gospel?
There are two ways to answer this question; there's the simple answer, and there's the complex answer. Let's start with the simple answer. Simply put, the gospel is good news. That's what the word, "gospel" means. The gospel isn't a lifestyle. It's not a way of thinking, or a 5-step process. It is a message. The gospel is good news concerning Jesus. That much is straightforward. The gospel, however, is a complex reality. And thus our question deserves a more complex answer.
The gospel is the message of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return. We can understand this message by looking at it from two different, yet complementary perspectives. In the words of Matt Chandler, we can view the gospel "in the air," and "on the ground." Let's look at the latter perspective first.
The Gospel "On the Ground"
The gospel speaks to us as individuals. It hits us at ground level. The gospel is for each of us, and each of us must respond to it. You've probably heard a gospel presentation that goes something like this;
God created humans to live in fellowship with him (Genesis 1-2). But humans have rebelled against God's good reign (Genesis 3). God is just. He stands in judgment over us (Romans 1:18-32). But God is also loving (1 John 4:8). Therefore, he sends Christ to bear our judgment (John 3:16; Galatians 3:13). Jesus dies as our substitute (Mark 10:45), paying the penalty for our sins. He rises from death as our representative (Romans 4:25), that we too might rise to new life (1 Corinthians 15). When we repent of sin and trust in Jesus, we are saved from the penalty of sin, and restored to fellowship with God (Romans 10:9-10). That's the gospel on the ground. God is my creator. I am a sinner. Christ is my savior. He lived for me. He died for me. He rose for me. I must repent of sin and trust in Jesus.
That's one way to view the gospel. But there's another (and equally important!) perspective we must consider.
The Gospel "In the Air"
The gospel changes me. But it also changes the entire universe (see Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:15-20). God created the world. He said it was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Humans, however, have vandalized God's good world. We have thrown in our lot with Satan. We have joined the rebellion. As a result, creation is broken. The world is under a curse (Genesis 3:17) and suffers decay (Romans 8:21). Satan rules over the world (John 12:31). But God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). He is establishing his kingdom on earth. Heaven is breaking through. Satan's kingdom is being overthrown (Mark 3:27). In order to defeat evil and reassert his sovereignty, God established a nation called Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). God commanded Israel to be a light to the nations (Exodus 19:1-6). He set Israel apart as his special possession. By looking at Israel, the nations were to catch a glimpse of God's character, and God's kingdom (Isaiah 49:6). They would thereby be drawn to Yahweh, the one true God.
Israel failed to carry out her God-given vocation. But Jesus has succeeded where Israel failed. Jesus is the promised Messiah and King (John 4:25-26). He is the perfect Israelite (Matthew 1-4), and the perfect human (Hebrews 2:10-18). He is the light to the nations (Luke 2:32). In the ministry of Jesus, God's kingdom breaks through (Mark 1:15). Sickness is healed (Isaiah 35:1-7; Matthew 11:4-6). Demons are cast out. Satan's kingdom is plundered. Jesus rewrites humanity's story as humanity's representative. At the cross, he defeats Satan, the ancient foe (Genesis 3:15). He bears the curse that had fallen on creation (Genesis 2:17; Hebrews 2:14-15). Through death, he exhausts the power of death and triumphs over demonic forces (John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:15). Through his resurrection, Jesus bends the arc of history back towards God. Jesus' resurrection is the firstfruits of a coming harvest. In Christ, we catch the first glimpse of new creation. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Colossians 1:18), along with the renewal and healing of all creation (Romans 8:18-25). Jesus has ascended to heaven, and has been installed as the true ruler of all (Psalm 110:1; Ephesians 1:19-23).
The curse has been lifted, creation can be restored to God, and God will dwell with humanity on earth forever (Revelation 21-22). The decisive battle has already been won. Jesus will one day return to claim his victory, and establish his heavenly throne on earth.
As you can see, the effects of the gospel are far reaching. The gospel can be viewed from 20,000 feet in the air.
Here's a simple way to remember these two perspectives. Borrowing again from Chandler, we can summarize each of these perspectives under four headings:
1. The Gospel on the Ground:
- God (God created us)
- Humanity (We rebelled against him)
- Christ (Jesus restores us to God by living, dying and rising)
- Response (We must trust in Jesus to be restored to God)
2. The Gospel in the Air:
- Creation (God created a good world)
- Fall (Humans vandalized this good world)
- Redemption (Jesus defeats Satan and restores the world to God)
- Consummation (Jesus will return to take his throne on earth; all things will be reconciled under his rule).
To understand the gospel, we need to appreciate both of these perspectives.
This is just a brief sketch. I haven't covered a host of pertinent issues (e.g. the story of Israel, the work of the Holy Spirit). I'd have to write about 654 more blog posts to "adequately" explain the gospel. But I hope this gets the conversation started. The gospel is important. Paul says it is of "first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3). The gospel isn't just the "basics of the faith." It is the faith. As Christians, we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, embrace the gospel, and learn to live all of life in light of the gospel. I'll talk more about how we do that on Thursday, in part 1b.
Here are some additional resources that should be helpful.