February 9, 2009
[Editor's Note: This article first ran in the February edition of Tabletalk magazine. See original column here.]
I've got great news--I just saved a bundle on my car insurance. This pop-cultural punchline might just expose a real problem we have in our Christian sub-culture: we don’t know what the good news is.
The confusion, from one perspective, is understandable. God is good. God is gracious. We move from grace to grace, receiving gifts from Him all the time. God is in turn sovereign. He controls all things. When He tells us, therefore, that all things work together for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), we can learn that it’s all good news. His coming, that’s good news. His dying, that’s good news. His ascending, that’s good news. His sending the Spirit, that’s good news. The Spirit applying all these things to His people, that’s good news. Even the trials we go through here and now, they are good news as well. We are, after all, to count it all joy.
That everything is good news, however, does not mean that everything is the good news. The authors of their respective gospels were not merely publishing everything they came upon. While each had their own peculiar focus, each of them together, on the other hand, were seeking to make known the good news. These four men, however, were not the first. Two other men before them labored diligently to make known the good news. One of those two was called the greatest man born of a woman by the Lord (Luke 7:28). The other was the Lord of glory Himself. If we would understand the Gospels, we would be wise to understand that the good news they were reporting was the good news proclaimed not just about Jesus, but by Jesus. The good news is that the kingdom has come. This is the message of Jesus: the kingdom of God is here.
On the other hand, the bad news is that the kingdom has come. The life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ is to us who have been called, the very aroma of life. To those who are still outside the kingdom, it is the stench of death. It is the same kingdom either way, but for the seed of the woman (Christians) it is blessing, and for the seed of the serpent it is cursing. That this one kingdom can mean one thing for one group and the opposite for another can help explain how we have come to conflate some terms over time. That is, the difference between seeing the coming of the kingdom as an event of joy or of dread is found in one simple distinction--do we trust in the finished work of Christ alone or not? The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent began in the same place, as enemies of the kingdom. We are all by nature children of wrath. But it is as we are gifted with repentance and believe that we move from darkness to light, that we are adopted into the very family of God. That’s good news. Better still, the king who has adopted us, He is now king indeed. That’s very good news.
Our gospel is a truncated shell of this great reality if the good news is merely that we don’t have to go to hell. It gets only slightly better if it means that our souls go to heaven. The fullness of the gospel is found in the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus is about the business of remaking all things. He is, after all, the first-born of the new creation. He is remaking all the created order that groans under the burden of our sin. He is remaking all the political order, as all kings everywhere learn to kiss the Son, lest He be angry (Ps. 2). He is remaking the church, His bride, removing from us corporately every blot and blemish. And He is remaking every one of us, reshaping us pots into vessels of grace.
We are a part of this good news precisely because He came and lived a life of perfect obedience in our place. We are a part of this precisely because He suffered the wrath of the Father that is due to us for our sins. We are a part of this because He has given us each a new heart that responds to His calling with repentance and faith. We bring nothing to the table but our need. Jesus has done it all. We are His workmanship, judged innocent by His death, judged righteous by His life.
There is still more good news. We are not merely by the good news of His atonement made citizens of that kingdom we are called to seek. We are not merely judged righteous by His righteousness that we were called to seek. We are by the same Spirit made kings and queens with Him. We are not just subjects but rulers. We are seated even now with Him in the heavenly places. Our calling is to believe these promises. Our calling is to be of good cheer, for He has already overcome the world (John 16:33). We do not wait for His kingdom to come, for it is here. Instead, we strive to make it ever more visible, as we make all things subject to His glorious reign.