What is the Gospel?
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ... Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mar 1:1, 14-15 ESV)
The question of the Gospel is one that is easy to take for granted. Believe in Jesus and be saved! That's it, right? I've got my ticket to heaven, so nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, this shallow version of the good news is not all that uncommon, even within the Messianic movement. On the other hand, some Messianic circles have created a reactionary Gospel: Repent, and turn back to Torah. Sure, the whole salvation thing is in there too, but Messiah's primary purpose (they say) was to bring us back into proper Torah observance. This too falls far short of the depths of the good news.
If we truly want to know the depths of the Gospel, we have to immerse ourselves in the life and words of our Messiah as recorded by the Apostles. What was Yeshua's primary message? What was His mission on earth? If I were to sum it up, it would be in the words of Yeshua Himself: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand." Or to put it another way:
Consider the beginning of Yeshua's ministry. The gospel writers tell us that He came preaching the Gospel. He came preaching "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Repent is the preparation; the Kingdom of God here on earth is the Good News. It is the fulfillment of all the prophecies, including perhaps most centrally the promise that David would never lack a man to sit upon his throne. That is who the Messiah is—
the promised King.
Or consider the works of Yeshua: healings and casting out of demons. According to Matthew 12:28, these serve as evidence that the "Kingdom of God has come upon you."
Or His parables, which over and over again reference the Kingdom of God. It is like seed scattered or wheat among the tares or a mustard seed or like the king's wedding feast or like the wise virgins with their oil lamps. He rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for shutting the door to the Kingdom. He teaches on and answers questions about who will enter the Kingdom. Certainly salvation and repentance are a part of Yeshua's teaching, but the announcement of God's Kingdom on earth is much more prolific throughout the gospels (indeed, both repentance and salvation fall out from this core teaching about the Kingdom).
Even in His suffering and death we see His reign being proclaimed. Before the High Priest, Yeshua declares, "from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64). As He is taken out to be crucified, He is mocked with a crown of thorns. Upon the cross on which He is hanged it was written "King of the Jews." Indeed, it because of Yeshua's humble obedience even to death on a cross that "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phl 2:9-11).
Those who promote repentance or salvation as the Gospel are not wrong. The reign of Yeshua surely commands repentance to His ways and assures salvation to all who come under His protection. But neither of these things in itself is a complete picture of the Good News that Yeshua brings. That is because the Good News is centered fully on the person of Yeshua Himself. Yeshua—King of heaven and earth.
What does this mean for us?
I have often wondered what was meant when pastors emphasized faith not just in some particular creed but in the "person" of Yeshua. Now, I think I get it. If Yeshua is King, that means that heaven and earth come under His power and all creation will be aligned according to His vision. Everything is dependent upon who Yeshua is—His person and His character. Indeed, for those of us called by His Name, our very identity is subsumed in the person of Messiah.
At this point I must step back a moment, for I'm afraid I may have oversimplified the whole matter. I mean, what's the big deal with Yeshua reigning anyway? Hasn't God always reigned? I've assumed the problem when the fact is that those of us in western society have all too often blinded ourselves to the problem. You see our world is full of injustice and tragedy. Starvation, sickness, bitterness, hatred, deception, selfishness, oppression, infidelity...the list goes on and on. It's always there—we've just closed our eyes to it. What's more, we are responsible. As mankind, we were given charge of this earth, we were it's kings and queens, and we abused that power in rebelling against our Creator. We rejected the reign of our King.
The Gospel speaks hope to those who have suffered under the oppression of sin. It is more than just God reigning in heaven, for indeed, He has always reigned in heaven. What's different is that in Messiah, His reign and His Kingdom has drawn near to us. It is "at hand." He has drawn near to us. Immanuel. In coming to earth and suffering with us, God took on the identity of a man so that we might find our new identity in Him. At the cross, He asks us to die with Him (our rebellious nature) that we might be raised with Him to new life. Not merely by following His example (that is the fruit), but because of Christ in us. We are transformed. Our hearts are made new. Our relationship is restored. And thus is fulfilled one of the most central promises of all Scripture: He will be our God, and we will be His people.
It is a mysterious process and there are various theories on how it all works. What's important is that it does work. To borrow an analogy from C. S. Lewis, it doesn't matter so much the science of how food and water refresh the body—what matters is that you eat and drink and are refreshed. So, too, it is with the body and blood of Messiah. And this we do through faith. That is believing in the saving work of Messiah through His death and resurrection (regardless of how exactly that might be accomplished) and accepting our new identity in Yeshua.
I must point out a common misunderstanding here. Salvation is not simply a free ticket out of hell. To be sure, we are saved from death and hell (a fact not insignificant in itself), but that is not the Scripture's primary emphasis. Rather, it is sin itself that is the primary focus of salvation. Hell is the symptom; sin is the disease. This means first of all that there is no salvation without transformation. Becoming a new creation is not simply a side effect—it is the goal of salvation. Secondly, we cannot relegate the function of Messiah to merely saving us from the penalty of sin while we attempt obedience and sanctification through our own power. Whatever good is in me, it is the result not of myself but of Messiah in me. Messiah does not simply reign over me, but within me, transforming my inward being into something new and good. And that brings us back around full circle. Yeshua reigns, not just in theory, but in the everyday lives of those who are called by His name.
For those following the "Roman road," this was the extended version of Romans 10:9,
For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved.
Yeshua is Lord. He reigns! Through the work on the cross, His death and resurrection, He has accomplished salvation, overturning sin and death and injustice and creating a new identity for us in Himself. God has drawn near to us. All things will be made new. Believe and be transformed.
Before I conclude, I want to address one more point. Too often in our movement, God has been reduced to the law of Torah. I cringe every time I hear someone say "Yeshua is Torah" because I know how some have used this to justify the way they replace the person of Messiah with the commandment of Torah. To be sure, the Torah is righteous and holy and gives us a window into the character of our God—but the law of Torah is not a person. The Lawgiver is. The law cannot speak to our need for redemption—it is not our Redeemer. Yeshua is.
I have met those who use the Torah as a shield to hide from the deeper issues of their heart: bitterness, jealousy, greed, loneliness, hurt. They convince themselves that as long as they are doing these rituals, as long as they are putting on the façade of righteousness, they are fine. They don't see the glass prison they've built for themselves that they must work so hard to uphold. Who will lift the veil that might see the hurt that needs healing? Only a righteous King can shake their world and bring them into the light.
I have met those whose Torah observance is tainted with fear. They walk in dread, trying to make sure their feast days are on the right calendar, that their Sabbath is kept perfectly, and that their homes are free of anything that might even remotely resemble an idol or pagan symbol lest God's wrath should come upon them. They even inspect their congregational members for fear that one man's sin will result in the corporate punishment of them all. Who will deliver them from fear's oppression? Only a merciful King can say “I have taken your sin” and give them peace.
There are those who suffer under the oppression of tyranny. There are those who suffer under the gravity of sickness. There are those who suffer under the burden of poverty. All day long they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, longing for freedom. They don't need another list of rules to follow; they need life. Who will lift their burdens and give them rest? Only a just King can understand their sorrow (because He walked in their shoes) and right the wrongs done to them.
Then there are those who are slaves to sin. Whether they want them to or not, their addictions control them. They cannot sleep till the ravenous appetite of their flesh is satisfied. Some don't realize the disastrous end their actions are leading them to. Others simply feel powerless to change their course. They may know the law backwards and forwards, but try as they might they continue to fall back into the same old habits day after day. Who will rescue these captives from the snare of death? Only a gracious King who has defeated death Himself can deliver them from sin and transform them into something new.
Righteous, Just, Merciful, Gracious...Faithful. This is our King. Our only response can be to humbly submit to His rule and to trust Him as our good and faithful Redeemer. Oh, and rejoice! Because our God reigns.
The Role of Parashah Messiah
When we dig into Scriptures with this conception of the Gospel in mind, it becomes quite apparent that this Gospel theme actually threads itself throughout all of Scripture. When Abraham is promised children and land, a reversal of the death curse brought in through Adam. When Joseph is rescued from death and made to reign in fulfillment of God's promise to him. When Israel is redeemed from slavery by the blood of a lamb. When Joshua marches into Canaan and establishes the rule of justice for even the outcast in a land once ruled by sin. When David is forgiven by the true King after falling farther than ever imaginable. Throughout the voices of the prophets who proclaim the kingdom of God, the reign of justice, the redemption of all things, the restoration of creation.
Our goal with the Parashah Messiah project is to restore a focus within the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement to the Gospel and the person of Messiah--to show the threads of this good news of Yeshua's reign threaded throughout our reading of the Scripture.
Several years ago, I started attending a small campus ministry where for the first time, I began to hear weekly the Gospel message preached in a way that was relevant to me as someone who was already a believer. There were no altar calls, no sinner's prayers. Just an open invitation to worship God. Just a reminder of the promise that He restores. Just a challenge to live in the reality of the Kingdom today. It was that small group of Christians that challenged me to rethink my conception of the Gospel message and rekindled my love for the hope we have in Messiah. My hope is that this work will do the same for you.