The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus came “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 4:43) Several years ago I decided to study the gospels exclusively to determine the gospel that Jesus came to share. It occurs to me that for most of my life I was taught a theology of the gospel that was mostly determined by the writings of Paul the apostle. It seems that we developed an understanding of the gospel according to Paul and then we laid that understanding over the teachings of Jesus like a filter. So when we read the gospels we hear them through our pre-established Paul filter. I’ve come to the place where I am not satisfied with the Paul filter. I want to reverse the process. I want to understand the gospel according to Jesus and then I will lay that filter over the rest of the New Testament. I’m a follower of Jesus first and foremost. I want the gospel that I preach and practice to be the same gospel that Jesus preached and practiced.
In his book A Community Called Atonement Scot McKnight refers to the kingdom thread in the gospel of Luke. Luke records for us Mary’s song The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) and Zechariahs song The Benedictus (Luke 1: 47-79). McKnight says that “for them the atoning, kingdom, saving work of God is justice and peace and a society wherein God’s loving will is lived out.” McKnight then refers to the inaugural sermon of Jesus (Luke 4:16-21) In Jesus’ first sermon he reads Isaiah 61:1-2. (McKnight P. 11) “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (NLT) “Jesus is saying, ‘The words I just read are about me and my mission.’ “Jesus sees his kingdom mission to be good new for the poor, and release for the captives and sight for the blind and liberation for the oppressed – that this is the Year of Jubilee!” (McKnight P. 12)
“As with Mary & Zechariah, Jesus maps for his listeners a society in which the will of God against oppression & domination finally finds it s way into the fabric of government…” “That is Jesus maps out a society of justice & peace.” (McKnight P. 12)
David Bosch says some very similar things in his book Transforming Mission.
“Luke 4:16-21 has, for all practical purposes, replaced Matthew’s ‘Great Commission’ as the key text not only for understanding Christ’s own mission but also that of the church.” (Bosch p. 84)
This is a jaw dropping statement for someone who was raised as an evangelical in the U.S. Even though the Great Commission tells us to go and “make disciples” – I was taught that it really meant to go and win converts. It means to go and present a plan of salvation that keeps individual souls out of hell and assures them of a place in heaven. For most of my life this broader understanding of the ministry & message of Jesus wasn’t even on my radar.
“The entire ministry of Jesus, and his relationships with the poor, with women and with other marginalized people witness, in Luke’s writings, to Jesus’ practice of boundary-breaking compassion, which the church is called to emulate.” (Bosch p. 86)
For Luke, salvation means acceptance, fellowship, & new life. “Whatever salvation is, then, in every specific context, it includes the total transformation of human life, forgiveness of sin, healing from infirmities, and release from any kind of bondage.” (Bosch P. 107)
“For Luke, salvation actually had six dimensions; economic, social, political, physical, psychological, and spiritual.” (Bosch P. 117)
Salvation has six dimensions – really? I thought salvation only related to the spiritual dimension? But wait a minute – if God’s mission is to restore all of creation to wholeness – could salvation be about restoring wholeness in these six areas of life? Do you remember that one of the definitions of sozo the Greek word translated salvation in the N.T., is “to restore to health & wholeness”? (Expository Dictionary of Bible Words P. 541) If that is true – what would restored wholeness look like in each of these six dimensions?