Gospel Makes Life
Singer and songwriter Rich Mullins once said “If you want a religion that makes sense then I would suggest something other than Christianity. But if you want a religion that makes life then I think Christianity is the one.”
Jesus said a lot of backwards sounding things: Those who mourn are blessed. Do not resist an evil person. The greatest leader among you must become your slave. It seems that Jesus invited people into a world where up is down and out is in. It is sometimes said that we should read the bible for answers. This is not bad advice. Just so long as we understand that the answers we find are going to make us trip.
Jesus claimed to be God’s true and rightful king for God’s people, and he proclaimed a very different vision for living than is often pursued in our world.
This strange vision didn’t stop with Jesus. The leaders of the earliest Christian churches also picked up these backwards sounding ideas, and embraced them, and proclaimed them. Take this statement from the book of First Corinthians for example, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the very power of God.”
This ‘message of the cross’ is as counter-intuitive as it gets. The cross that is being referred to here is the cross that bore Jesus of Nazareth when he was crucified, executed by the Roman state as a criminal. As for the message of that cross? The early Jesus followers believed that it was this act of death that God used to enthrone Jesus as the Messiah, the king of God’s people. Again, here is the message of the New Testament: God used a state execution to enthrone our King.
The message of the cross get stranger still. Not only was Jesus executed by those who wanted him dead, Jesus willingly offered himself to those who wanted him dead. This sort of action by a king is simply absurd. What king learning of an assassination plot willingly and intentionally walks straight into the trap? Yet, this is the message of the cross of Jesus.
Jesus believed to his core that by offering himself in this way to those who despised him, he would bring about God’s reign into our world. Jesus believed that it would be this act of sacrificial love for those who hated him that would usher in God’s Kingdom. Jesus was to reign as the king of God’s people, and that meant dying on a cross.
This message is not what most would call savvy or sophisticated. Madness is what it is. The earliest Christian leaders knew this. They heard the mocks and the ridicule each time they shared this message in a public square or in the debate arena. “The king of the universe died on a rubbish heap!” How does that message sound to you?
For as far back as recorded history goes, there is a truism about kings and queens: regardless of how powerful they are, once they are dead so is the power. And here is where the message of Christianity takes an other-worldly turn. The same Jesus who arrived as the king of the Jews, and who died on a Roman cross, is the one that God raised from the dead to reign as king of all creation (see, for example, Ephesians 1:19-23). This is the gospel. This is the good news about Jesus. This is what Christians the world over trust to be true as they live, and bring shape to their lives. Jesus is alive. Jesus reigns as king.
Strangely, as this message is announced, and its contents believed, people discover to their astonishment that things change. Lives change. Hearts change. Relationships are mended. Healing takes the place of pain and evil. New beginnings that seemed impossible suddenly are brought to life. In fact, it is discovered that all things become new. People become grasped by this message, trusting in its truth. They fall in love with the God they find in Jesus, experiencing this God’s very spirit. In short, this message makes life.
If you want a religion that makes life, then I think Christianity is the one.