Sunday, October 18, 2015

On The Gospel - History of the Gospel

This post is the second in the series, On The Gospel
The first century events that have come to be known as the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the first time God has come into the world. Called the Old Testament in Christian circles, the Jewish Scriptures are often over looked. In fact, the history of Christianity has had its share of what looks like anti-Judaism, perhaps best exemplified by Marcion who rejected both the Jewish Scriptures and a number of what would become New Testament books because they were too Jewish. While this seems odd to some Christians today, the impact of thinking like Marcion’s has resulted in an avoidance of the Jewish Scriptures or at least their sidelining in favor of a much restricted study of the New Testament documents, with Paul’s epistles forming the central teachings of the Christian community.

The Jewish Scriptures provide the history of the Christian gospel and it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we cannot fully understand the gospel unless we appreciate the revelation contained in the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish Scriptures provide the story, the narrative into which the Christian gospel fits. It is somewhat misleading to say the Christian gospel because the gospel is actually God’s gospel, effected by the incarnation and death of Jesus. Jesus’s life comes as the ultimate gospel, the ultimate Good News, but its core message hasn’t changed since Creation and is repeated and rehearsed throughout the Jewish Scriptures. In this sense, the gospel doesn’t represent a difference in God or His plan in the world. The book of Isaiah contains what is sometimes called the Gospel of Isaiah. This comes before the midpoint of the book when Isaiah reports that eventually YHWH will not only return Israel to Judea, but He will also welcome other nations into the people of God. The return of Israel will include the nations of the world. As ancient as Isaiah is however, it isn’t the first we have heard of God’s concern for either Israel or other nations. The founding promise of Israel, that to Abraham includes blessing for the whole world. Abraham was blessed, we’re told, to be a blessing for the world.

YHWH forms Israel from nothing, He retrieves her from Egypt and from Babylon. Throughout the Jewish narrative, YHWH pleads with Israel to be faithful to Him as He has been to her. Infidelity to YHWH is couched in two ways. The first is clearly when Israel insists on worshiping other gods, complete with household statuettes and idols placed in the high places. This infidelity is one of the categories YHWH complains about when withdrawing his protection from His people. The other category of infidelities too often listed by YHWH to be ignored by those who would be His people is the mistreatment of other Jews and even foreigners. Often, these two categories are listed in tandem as God pleads with Israel or presents His case against her to what is the entire creation.
Even so though, YHWH with every accusation, offers a way of return. YHWH even tells us that He will keep a remnant and will rescue that remnant, returning it to Himself in His time. YHWH will also tell us why these assurances of rescue are included. That answer also has two categories of reasons. The first is the faithfulness of God. The phrase comes to mind, if Man is faithless, YHWH is faithful. YHWH has chosen Abram and Israel to be His people and YHWH will remain faithful to that covenantal promise even if Israel rejects Him through infidelity. If we aren’t careful, that faithfulness might come to seem like a cold, dutiful burden that YHWH maintains because He has to. To make sure we don’t become jaded and cynically dismiss this divine faithfulness, the other category of reasons is also provided. Not only is God faithful, He is faithfully loving. YHWH’s steadfast love commits Him not just to fidelity, but loving fidelity to Israel no matter what.

When YHWH removes His protection from Israel, He always intends to restore her to Himself. It is important to understand here that when Israel cries out to YHWH, when YHWH decides she has suffered enough from affects of her own infidelity, YHWH comes to her. This even though she does not deserve this rescue; even though nothing can eliminate her past infidelity. Even so, YHWH remains faithful and He moves at His time to rescue and restore Israel because He loves her.
This is good news for Israel; it is gospel. It is the gospel found and narrated in Jewish Scripture. It is the gospel for which modern Jews are waiting. When YHWH comes to rescue Israel, He will also restore her purpose in the world to bless the world and to welcome all peoples to her God. This then has been the purpose of Israel. She is not to simply or only be the People of God for her own sake. Rather, she is to carry the message of God among the nations, for the nations. Her life with YHWH was intended not only to carry that blessing, but to model the life of God’s people for the nations. Part of that modelling was to trust YHWH no matter what, to entice the nations to trust Him themselves. What YHWH offered was the best life possible on earth; a planet of people living lives as followers of YHWH.
YHWH’s faithful loving kindness throughout the Jewish narrative forms the history of the gospel and tells us that a gospel theme of rescue and salvation is not unique to the Christian era but is rather a continuing theme in YHWH’s relationship with Israel and the world.

Next, The People of God

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