The Gospel of Luke is Stuck in My Head #1
I can’t seem to get it out of my mind, and I’ve tried. After working through Luke as preacher, Bible class teacher and small group leader for eleven months, I have found myself profoundly convicted. Over the next few posts (however long that takes me, and my track record on posting is not laudatory), I will reflect on some of these convictions that have disturbed me and my relationship to “church”.
Students of Luke recognize how programmatic Luke 4:18-19 is for his gospel. The announcement of Jubilee—the in-breaking kingdom reversing the curse of fallenness, healing the brokenness—colors almost every word in Luke. It is the broad context of the story of Jesus. Indeed, it is his mission.
The mission is quickly embodied in the story. Luke’s summary in Luke 4:40-44 is particularly helpful. Jesus heals varies diseases and casts our demons. As he begins to move on to new villages, the people seek to dissuade him. But Jesus announces his mission—the reason he was sent. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
What is the “good news of the kingdom”? What was the content of Jesus’ preaching at this early stage? It was not his death and resurrection since he will not begin to speak of that until chapter 9. What is the good news?
The good news is concrete, and it is for the poor (economic, social, relational—the poor in the widest possible sense of people oppressed by the powers). The good news is that the “kingdom is near” and this is good news because it means God is at work to heal the brokenness in the world. He heals the sick, raises the dead, cast out demons, includes the outsiders, breaks down the walls, releases the oppressed, frees the captive, and reintroduces shalom into God’s creation.
The church has too often focused its message on the soteriological implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus and has not proclaimed the “good news of the kingdom”. This has turned the gospel into an individual application of the atonement of Christ rather than the social and corporate introduction of the kingdom that transforms the world. It ignores the “good news” of the gospel in the Gospels for the individualist, perhaps even modernistic, (mis)interpretation of Paul’s gospel. It exalts the individual over the social, the spiritual (defined in some quasi-Platonic way) over the material and evangelism (defined in the narrow sense of “soul-saving”) over good works.
The good news of the kingdom is that the people of God, as the body of Christ, go about “doing good” as Jesus did. They are a people dedicated to good works. But the church tends to think that good works only serve the end of evangelism (narrowly conceived), but actually good works serve the kingdom of God. They are moments of redemptive in-breaking that bear witness to the kingdom. Good works are an end in themselves and not simply the means of evangelism.
Good works can stand on their own and the church should not delimit them because they cannot explicitly produce “baptisms” or assured evangelistic results. Jesus went about “doing good” but ended up with only a few disciples. Doing good is a kingdom end in itself because it glorifies the God who seeks to heal the brokenness in the world. It bears witness to God’s love and compassion. God heals brokenness toward the end of reconciliation such that “doing good” is a reconciling act in the world. “Do-gooders” are ministers of reconciliation.