Variations On the Theme of the Gospel

The angel said to them, “Don't be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.

Our reading from John 1 mentions the making straight of the way of the Lord. The passage from Luke 2, mentions the bringing of good news. How is the way of God and the good news related?

Well, the way of God is the good news. The way of God and the good news are in many ways interrelated terms. So, you’ll hear those terms interrelated in this reflection

A larger question is this what is the way of God? What is the good news?

If you look at the Bible both Old and New Testaments, there are variations, variations on how the way of God, the gospel is defined. That’s right, variations on the theme of the gospel.

There are three overarching variations.

The first variation comes from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament to Christians. This is the BC, Before Christ, variation.

In the Hebrew Bible, the OT, the gospel, the way of God, amounts to God’s covenant with an enslaved and oppressed people, Israel, a covenant where God promises faithfulness to and liberation for His people and hands down a way to follow.

Jeremiah lays it out beautifully in Jeremiah 7:23 –

But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”

This way of God here is the covenant and commandments preached and delivered by anointed ones – by law-givers and prophets… Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, etc. John the Baptist comes in this vein of prophets.

But the good news these lawgivers and prophets are preaching is not their way. It is not the gospel of a lawgiver like Moses nor the gospel of a prophet like Elijah. It is the gospel of God. Moses and Elijah and their ilk were merely the mouthpieces, megaphones for that gospel, that way of God.

What does this mean for us? In the Hebrew Bible, the good news is that God vows to be with us. We simply must trust that vow, and follow God’s way. If we do, we’ll know wholeness.

The gospel according to this variation, in a nutshell, is this: God is with us, follow God, and be whole.

The second variation on the theme of the good news comes to us in Jesus’ life. This is the DC, the During Christ’s life, variation.

The three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the DC variation on the gospel.

In the gospels, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. And in line with the Jewish understanding, Jesus teaches the way of God, which Jesus highlights as the way of the Father’s kingdom…

Jesus never refers to himself as the source of the good news or the aim of the good news. Jesus himself says in Mark, “only God is good.” When Jesus talks about the gospel, he talks over and over again about the Father and the Father’s Kingdom. Jesus points to the Father’s kingdom and says follow me there.

The Sermon on the Mount describes that Kingdom and how we get there. To be blessed, to be whole, to know the kingdom of heaven, be poor in spirit, be honest about your grief, be humble, be compassion-filled, hunger and thirst for justice, be pure of heart, and make peace. In other words, to be blessed, to be whole, to know the kingdom means being like Jesus. As Jesus said to those who’d join him, follow me.

So what does this mean for us living our lives? When it comes to Jesus and what he lived and taught, the way of God means following him in the way of doing justice, loving compassion, and walking with humility.

The last variation on the theme of the good news is the one found most clearly in the gospel of John and in the writing of Paul. This is the AD Variation on the gospel.

John 14 quotes Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me:

A little bit before this, Jesus also said, “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus is the way to the Father, yes. But he is also what awaits us when we get to the Father. Being one with the Father means Jesus is there when we get to the Father, at one with Him.

Here we have the gospel not just of God but of Christ, the crucified and resurrected one, who is also God.

In other words, Christ in the AD Gospel is the means and end of salvation. The crucified Christ saves us. And the resurrected Christ is what we are saved to.

Before, Christ was merely the means to the end of God, he was the way to God, the one who transforms us by guiding us to God. By following Jesus and his teaching, we got to God.

In the gospel according to John and for Paul, Christ, and his death and resurrection, is the means to God, yes. And Christ, the incarnate God, is also the end we get to. Jesus is the way and the truth that way leads to.

What does this, the AD gospel, mean for us? Well, trusting, having faith in Christ and in the saving grace of his life, death, and resurrection, this trusting in Christ makes us whole.

So three variations on the theme of the gospel: 

The BC variation where the good news is that God is with us and by following God’s commandments we are made whole.

The DC variation where the good news is Messiah Christ is with us and by following Christ we are made whole.

 And the AD variation where the good news is Savior Christ is with us and by our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection we are made whole.

The question is…

Is there a common denominator? Is there a common strand that unites these three?

Important question! With a common strand we have a more universal gospel, one that unites the gospel of the Hebrew Bible and of the Christian Bible, of the Jew and the Christian.

I say yes. We have a common denominator, a basic gospel. And it is pretty simple.

It begins with the simple faith claim that God is Love.

Love moved God’s covenant with Israel. Love moved Messiah Christ’s life and teaching. Love moved Savior Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection.

In Matthew 22, a Torah expert asked Jesus,

“Rabbi, which of the commandments in the Scripture is the most important?” Jesus “told him, “‘You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. And a second is similar to it, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ All of the Scripture and the Prophets are dependent on these two.”

So, Love.

Love God. Take God, take Love, into your heart.

And Love.

Love one another. Seek to love others as God who is love loves them.  

The good news is the good we effect through loving God and loving others

Love is the point. Love is the reason for the season.


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