What comes to mind when we hear the phrase “the good news”? Generally we think the gospel, yes. But what gospel? A set of beliefs including the virgin birth, incarnation, death, atonement, resurrection, repentance and salvation? Yes. What else?
As I looked to the gospels—in the study of the incarnation of Jesus that I’ve been describing throughout my blog this week—I paid particular attention to the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. How did Jesus frame his own “good news”?
John the Baptist first announced the coming of the Kingdom of God quoting Isaiah the prophet:
As I looked through the gospels to learn more about what incarnational living out to look like, I noticed some glaring omissions. This is not the way we would write the gospels in today’s church.
Jesus didn’t say much or even model much behavior about church/temple attendance or religious duties. There was surprisingly little on drinking, swearing, or sexual morality, and he said nothing at all about abortion or homosexuality. Jesus did talk about giving and serving, but those activities were mainly focused on the poor and those in need rather than giving to and serving the church/temple.
Another surprise for me as I looked through the gospels is the amount of healing taking place. As Jesus lived on earth, he did a whole lot of healing. Not everyone, of course, but there is a lot more healing than my non-Charismatic background is usually open to seeing. And who did Jesus heal? The least of these. I was hard pressed to find a case of Jesus healing someone who was not in some way a member of “the least of these.” The lepers, the blind, the disabled, the poor, widows, prostitutes, women, Samaritans, Roman soldiers. It almost makes one wonder if Jesus didn’t care about respectable, healthy, middle-class people… or if they just didn’t know they needed healing. I rather think the latter.
As I mentioned yesterday, I recently went through the gospel accounts writing down specific things Jesus did during this time on earth. Several things surprised me as I then looked back over the list I had compiled. One was how pronounced Jesus’ emphasis was on the least of these—including the poor, the disabled, the uneducated, cultural or ethnic minorities, women, social outcasts. He was constantly hanging out with these people. He talked about them and to them. He highlighted them, bringing them to the center of public attention.
Much has been made lately of the phrase “living incarnationally.” The bedrock passage is John 14:12, where Jesus told us, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” We are to do the works that Jesus did. Jesus became incarnate to show us the kingdom of God; he lived on earth in a way that showed us what God is like. In the same way, we are to live in such a way as to show others what God is like. We to live incarnationally—living as Jesus did.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s incarnate him in such a way that others will experience the reality of Jesus… not only in this season but in the coming year. Pray that the reason he came would be increasingly realized in the lives of those around us, so that by next Christmas there would be more people following the king of kings.