I will be in India next week, paying a fraternal visit on behalf of ICOMB to our largest Mennonite Brethren conference. I look forward to having Bible studies with pastors in some of the villages.
Together with others from MB Mission, we have been working on themes out of Romans: faith, hope and love. I have been deeply moved again by the centrality of the work of Jesus Christ for our faith. Though we concentrate on the cross in the North American context, his work is complex and has many elements. This makes the gospel powerful in many cultural contexts.
I invite you to meditate on this “gospel-set” that comprises our belief structure and faith in Jesus and his work. It’s not even nearly the totality of Jesus’ work, but it’s some of the core set pieces, in my view:
Jesus is God incarnate. God entered our world as a man to demonstrate his love for us; his willingness to experience our lot in life. Phil 2: Jesus did not grasp onto his equality with God, but became a man – a servant of humanity. This says a lot about the nature of the gospel itself – about emptying, weakness, and coming from a point of powerlessness.
Jesus Lived an Exemplary Life – demonstrating love for his fellow man; care for the outcasts; touching the untouchables of his society. He healed people with leprosy and who were blind by touching them. This was unthinkable for his day. No religious leader did that – it would make them unclean, and unable to lead religious activities.
Jesus Provided Exemplary teaching – his teachings supported his life choices. He called his followers to care for the downtrodden and to touch the untouchables. The early church showed this by rescuing babies thrown out to the garbage dumps – these were typically female babies – unwanted in Roman society in the first century after Christ.
Jesus Suffered and Died on the Cross – Jesus suffered the whip, the crown of thorns, and the agony of crucifixion. He also suffered alienation from God the Father when he said “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Our scripture tells us that his death was the covering for the sinfulness of all humanity and even creation before God.
Jesus Rose from the Dead – Jesus did not remain dead but was raised to life. Romans 4:26 tells us that Christ’s death accounted for our trespasses and sin, and that the resurrection was the key to our justification. So Christ’s death and resurrection go together – you cannot have one without the other. Salvation holds both the covering of our sins and our justification before God. Justification simply means that we stand before God as righteous and clean. Paul teaches that the resurrection accounts for the possibility of justification.
Jesus Ascended – Jesus returned to heaven. This made way for the Holy Spirit to fill his church completely and everywhere in the world. If Jesus had remained on Earth, his presence would have been limited. The ascension was how he made it possible for the Holy Spirit to live in each believer, and guide all believers into being the church and doing his work. Thus the ascension is a critical component of the gospel story as well.
In summary, when we speak of the “work” of Jesus Christ, let us have this “gospel-set” in mind. And as Romans 4:2 says, “Let us rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”