8 Jul 2021

The Gospel is about the Stuff of the World

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Amos, Christian hope, Church, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Ephesians, Gnosticism, Kingdom, Mission, Politics, Race Relations, Salvation, Unity
The Gospel is about “Stuff”

We, north American Christians, are are a peculiar lot.

Yesterday, I had at least two rebuke me because I wrote about what they called “political” matters. One claimed that I hate Donald Trump. The other was offended that I addressed racism and the Confederate Battle flag. Neither provided the slightest evidence for the claim that I hate Trump (I do not) nor that race is outside the pale of Christian doctrine. (On the Battle Flag see: The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands). I prayed Psalm 72 for Donald Trump when he was President almost every day, just like I do for every politician (including President Biden and Vice President Harris).

I freely admit that I have much (much) to learn yet in life. But I am absolutely certain the Bible, and the Gospel, actually speaks (not by mere inference) by its very nature to every aspect of life “under the sun” to steal a phrase from another preacher named Qoheleth (=Ecclesiastes). The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, deals with every aspect of life in God’s creation. The Bible teaches us what it means to live now – right here and right now – not merely how to go to some platonic heaven. Some examples relating to my critics.

Stuff of Race Matters: Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Why did Jesus come to earth and die on the cross? Would we not admit this is a question about the Gospel? The answer is not merely so, when we die, we go to heaven. The answer according to Paul is that the “blood of Christ” was shed to heal the racial and ethnic division that exists on planet earth. The first half of Ephesians is about this but especially 2.11-3.13.

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our [Jews & Gentiles] peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you [Gentiles] who were far off and peace to those who were near [Jews]; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints [Jews] and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you [Gentiles] also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2.11-22).

Paul continues in 3.1-13. The Gospel, the message of the cross, restores God’s creational intent in the Jewish Messiah/King named Jesus. I quote from verse 6.

that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ/King Jesus through the gospel.”

In the King the wisdom of the Creator God is proclaimed in its “rich variety” in the restored, reunited, reconciled “one humanity” in King Jesus (3.8-10; 2.15).

The cross has a direct impact on the social relations between human beings right now. Atonement is not, in Ephesians, merely vertical or effecting our relationship with God. The Cross does not simply span the gap to God, it bridges the Sin caused fractures of the human race. The entire doctrine of salvation by grace through faith is about healing the divisions of God’s world. The Pauline vision of the church is that the church is the new creation here to show the rest of the world what healed creation looks like in all its glory. The “our” in these passages is not merely plural, but ethnic referring to both Jews and Gentiles.

Since I just mentioned “Jews” and “Gentiles,” we Bible students surely know these terms are as much as a racial or ethnic designations in the first century as white and black in north America of our day. If we do not know this then our Bible study has not gone very far. The New Testament is littered with references to race/ethnicity. Paul can hardly speak without mentioning it. Paul uses the term “Gentile” 45 times in his epistles. The book of Acts has an additional 30 references to Gentiles. That is no less than 75 references to “Gentiles” between Acts and Paul alone. Now suppose every time you see the word “Jew” in the NT you substitute the word black and every time you see the word “Gentile” you substitute the word white. How often would we be seeing white and black across the pages of the New Testament. Substitute the words ‘black” and “white” in Ephesians and be prepared to have your world rocked. The Gospel is a direct assault on any racism and ethnocentricism. We cannot preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus without talking about racism. Racial reconciliation is at the heart of the Cross of Christ.

For more on Ephesians see: Worshiping Through Ephesians: Dwelling in God’s Temple

Stuff of Justice & Righteousness

There is not much left of the Bible if we take out the verses, chapters and indeed entire books that address the fundamental issues of justice, righteousness and faithfulness. Jesus himself – in full continuity with the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible – that the essence of walking with God is “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23.23; Amos 5.24; Micah 6.6; etc etc).

A look at Amos clearly reveals the meaning of these words. Amos chapters 1-2 are directed to “political” entities, that is actual nations and Amos certainly preached it. He addresses war crimes, selling humans into slavery, those eager for war, more war crimes, and how the poor is not protected by the powers that be and the culture around them (Amos 1.2-2.8). The prophet then turns his “guns” on Israel (ch 3) and excoriates those with wealth but use is only for their personal comfort. If you want to know what Jesus, Amos and Micah meant by the words “justice,” “righteousness,” and even “mercy” read the short book of Amos. (For more on Amos: Amos, the Crimes of the Nations, 1.1-2.5).

But we see the meaning of these terms with Moses. God sent Moses to Pharaoh and Egypt. God takes out Egypt (not just Pharaoh) because of its treatment of aliens (Israel). Is it not interesting that Exodus has almost zero condemnation of Egypt’s idolatry and esoteric religion but goes out of its way to stress the injustice of the enslaved situation of Israelites. God’s destruction of injustice is enshrined in the Passover that we continue to celebrate in the Lord’s Supper.

Half of Second Samuel is devoted to the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy against David’s use of power over a powerless Bathsheba. Elijah’s ministry was to torment Ahab and Jezebel for their gross injustice and unfaithfulness. An entire chapter is devoted to the rather “insignificant” detail of the powerful stealing from the poor in the story of Naboth’s vineyard. And it was this episode, not the epic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, that drew the promise of Yahweh that the dogs would lick up their blood (1 Kgs 21).

Isaiah confronts Hezekiah. Jeremiah confronts Zedekiah, and the rich, over their failure to set the slaves free. In fact, according to Jeremiah 36.8-22, this rejection of the Sabbatical year was the straw that broke the camel’s back and sealed the deal on the Babylonian Exile (go read it). Daniel confronted Nebuchadnezzar over his arrogance and his injustice (4.27) and God made him go insane having to eat grass like a cow (4.25ff).

The Lord’s brother, Jacob (James), certainly knew what the words “justice” and “mercy” meant. He castigates the wealthy for failing to pay a livable wage to the working class. Indeed he calls them murderers (James 5.1-6).

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you” (James 5.4-6).

Jacob/James is channeling the language of the Exodus, that he has learned through years of participation in the Passover, regarding the “cries” of the poor and oppressed and Amos (cf. Exodus 2.23; 3.7,9; 6.5; 11.6; 22.21-24; Amos 4.1-4; 5.10-15; etc.).

It is not “politics” to teach the Bible itself. Sometimes we throw the word “politics” around when we do not like what the Gospel and the Biblical text actually demands of us. It becomes a way to shield ourselves from the message of the Kingdom of God. But it is the task of the preacher teach us to pray and live the most radical prayer around …

Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored,
May your kingdom come,
May your will be done

on earth
as in heaven.”
(Mt 6.9-10).

The Gospel is not some neo-Gnostic or Platonic pipe dream. The Gospel, the entire biblical narrative in fact, is aimed squarely at the stuff of this world God created. It aims to heal the brokenness of creation. This is extremely concrete in the hear and the now and concerns the stuff of everyday life. It is about bringing God’s kingdom and God’s will here; it is not just something about what happens after you and I are dead. Salvation is the restoration and glorification of God’s wonderful, beautiful, diverse creation. The church is supposed to be first fruits of that grand redemptive, restoration, project. So yes, stuff about race, stuff about justice, stuff about righteousness is the stuff the Gospel is about.

I have never endorsed a politician. I have never endorsed a political party. I do not tell anyone who to vote for. But I will, to the best of my ability and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, teach and preach the message of the Gospel in “black and white” and the most important things … justice, mercy and faithfulness. This is not out of any claim of moral superiority (I have none). It is simply because this is what we are called to do.

I love yall with the love of the Lord. It is my prayer that the Lord may bless us, keep us, make his face shine upon us, that the Lord gives us grace and the Lord grants us shalom.

One Response to “The Gospel is about the Stuff of the World”

  1. Lupe Barrera Says:

    Very good message.

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