Saturday, July 29, 2006

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.

7 Comments:

At 6:58 AM, Blogger KMiV said...

Amen John Mark. I did 3 years through Luke here at Metro a few years ago. It was still hard for folks to understand that call to social justice.

I like Luke 7 where Jesus tells John's disciples--"Go and tell him what you see and here..." as if Jesus says, "Tell John I'm doing what I said I would in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-19)." I also noticed the phrase (in 7:19-21) blessed is the one who is not "offended" (better translation of skandalon than stumbles) which suggests that true devotion to Jesus ministry is an offense to some. So often we are offended that this is what Jesus called to do--we doin't like social justice.

 
At 4:27 AM, Blogger majuzo said...

John Mark, weil Du bald in Wien bist, hier ein deutscher Post. Alles Liebe für dich und deine Familie von Markus, Julia und Emma Minou Zobec

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

For my other readers.... :-)

"since you will soon be in Vienna, here is a German post. Love to you and your Family from Markus, Julia and Emma."

Thanks, Markus...and I look forward to seeing you all in Germany sometime during the Fall!

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger Alan said...

I sometimes think we are so concentrated on doing things right about church and what it means to get "me" into heaven, that we have missed Jesus' call to spread the kingdom to the oppressed in the here and now.

I am with you John Mark

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger Jon Blevins said...

Greetings. I strongly agree (per the post above) that the Restoration Movement has drawn a false line of distinction between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the Apostles beginning with Acts 2. (Though this is, admittedly, what Alexander Campbell taught and one of the key principles upon which the Restoration Movement was founded).

But I have to just as strongly disagree with your sentiments in this post.

You wrote "The good news of the kingdom is that the people of God, as the body of Christ, go about “doing good” as Jesus did." This is not the "good news", nor the gospel. The ministry of Jesus was an evangelistic ministry. The prophecy from Isaiah 61 concerned the spiritual ministry of the Messiah as well as the physical. In fact, I would say that it is primarily concerning the spiritual ministry. The message Jesus came to proclaim was this: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

You can't socialize the gospel by saying that Christ came to introduce a "kingdom" of people doing good works. Jesus came to proclaim the good news of freedom to those who are captive in sin, sight to those who are spiritually blind. He came to free us from the wrath of God, from sin and death and Hell. That is the gospel. Men are dead in sin. They can be made alive through faith in Christ.

Doing good works can't reconcile anyone. It certainly can't reconcile men to God (the whole book of Galatians was written to this end). It is only the cross of Jesus Christ that can reconcile people -- that can give freedom and strength and sight and life. Jesus speaks in Luke 4:18-19 of His cross, of the work of atonement He has come to accomplish and of the declaration of the reconciliation which comes through Him.

I must admit that I have not seen this attitude of good works being used only for pragmatic purposes (ie. gaining converts) and perhaps you are coming from a totally different direction than I can understand, but the fact remains that a good work is not an end in itself because those works which are pleasing to God are those which are done through faith in Christ. It is the fruit which testifies to the "goodness" of the tree.

Jesus came to proclaim the good news of salvation, the kingdom which is composed of those who savingly believe in His atoning death. Good works are a characteristic of Kingdom people, but they are not the mission or focus or end of Kingdom people.

 
At 4:41 PM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

Jon,

I think it is both/and, and not either/or.

But in terms of Luke 4 and the "good news" of Luke 4:43, that "good news" is the message of reversal of the curse. It is the good news that the kingdom has broken into the world to heal. It is not the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus since Jesus does not even begin to talk about that till Luke 9. Atonement is not a subject of discussion in the preaching ministry of Jesus in Luke 4-9.

But I would rather leave it as the both/and level, and recognize that good works (the healing of the world through participating in the ministry of Jesus) is an end. Indeed, the atonement of Jesus (death and resurrection) is the means to that end.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger Elwood J. McDowell said...

I would agree as well that it is both/and. While it is true that chronologically in Luke's Gospel the atonement is not directly mentioned until Luke 9, it is also true that the kerygma (the death and resurrection) is implied in Luke 4. The Gospels were written with apostolic influence after Pentecost and after the death and resurrection of Jesus and I believe that C. H. Dodd's study of apostolic preaching is relevant here. The apostle's always mentioned the kerygma in their preaching. As an African American who grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950's, I know how easy it is for people to emphasize an overindividualized salvation via the atonement with no emphasis on the ushering in of the kingdom through the power thereof. The power of God's love in Christ to lead us into nonviolent confrontation with demonic brokenness in the world is part of the witness to the atonement! It includes not only healing spiritual blindness and accompanying denial of one's own individual sin but also unconscious corporate sin that infects the soul of a particular community. I also believe that Jesus still does heal physically sometimes but that such healing is also representative of His own death and resurrection which manifests itself in our lives when we are delivered in various ways. Empty good works are too self-conscious and intellectually derived but good works flowing from faith and more importantly, love, not sentiment, are indeed part of being a witness. He said in Acts that you will BE my witnesses when the Spirit has come upon you, not do witnessing. Evangelism that is too consciously derived is also problematic. Forgive my opinionated rant. Much love to all!

 

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