"New wave of attacks on Muslims in America."
"San Diego police investigating 'random' violent attacks on homeless people."
"Islamic State tightens grip on captives held as sex slaves."
That's not to mention all of the headlines about the patent falsehoods one of our major presidential candidates here in the US has been peddling for the last year, or the other candidate's stubborn insistence that an anti-Semitic image created by white supremacists is not, in fact, a racist image.
People talk a lot about all the bad news of horrible things in the world that gets coverage, but this morning I could really feel it. The headlines hung over me like a cloud. If anyone doesn't understand why the church talks about sin, just read the news. Our world is broken.
But, at the same time, to me all of this bad news just makes the gospel, the good news, all the more beautiful.
When I was growing up in the church, I wouldn't have seen that. Growing up, the gospel was all about an eternal life that meant going to heaven (and not going to hell!) when you leave this earth. That was it. It was about 'not perishing' (hell) but 'having everlasting life' (heaven), in the words of John 3:16.
If that's what the gospel is about, all of the mess here on earth doesn't much matter, because once you're dead and gone, it's a thing of the past, like you're waking up from a bad dream. Your only concern with the brokenness is not getting entangled in it, not letting it distract you or obstruct you from finishing the race and keeping the faith. You might also try to combat some of it, either because you feel like it's a Christian's duty (to feed the hungry, for instance), or because you don't want to kindle God's wrath (and so you might vote against things you think will anger God, like abortion).
But when you woke up and the headlines were just oppressive... on days like that, you just thought about how you can't wait to get out of here and leave all of this mess behind. The gospel meant that one day you'd get to escape the mess and go somewhere better. "Just a few more weary days and then I'll fly away. To a land where joys will never end, I'll fly away."
That's how I was raised.
But that's not what I think the gospel is about anymore. Now I know that the gospel isn’t about escape: it’s about healing.
In Luke, when Jesus first launches his ministry, he goes to his hometown of Nazareth and preaches a sermon that sets the agenda for his mission. Here’s what I’m going to do, he tells them: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18-19).
Jesus talks about repentance more in Luke than in any of the other gospels. He forgives sins; he promises paradise to the dying. But not yet. First, he talks about righting the wrongs in this world, for the poor, captives, the blind, those who are oppressed. First, he talks about bringing healing on the earth. That’s why the Messiah has come; that’s what he’s setting out to do.
The book of Revelation, in one of the most powerful passages in all the Bible, sketches the healing that God has in store for the world:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And I heard a voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." (Rev 21:1, 3-5)The gospel isn't an offer to escape this world. It's an offer to heal it and make things new. The promise of Revelation is that one day God is going to make everything right, to fix what sin and death have broken.
That’s why the psalms describe God’s final judgment as a time when the sea will roar, and all that fills it, when the field will exult, and everything in it, and when the trees of the forest will sing for joy (96:11-13; and see 98:7-9). The whole world is excited, not because God’s coming to take everyone away to heaven, but because God’s coming to set things right on earth, to make things new. (And, of course, the Lord wants to start with you and me! Ezek 36:26; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 4:22-24)
If your gospel doesn’t proclaim the healing that God is bringing to the world, the new creation that God will raise up out of our old brokenness, then your gospel isn’t whole. It’s a half-gospel that doesn’t do credit to the scope of God’s plans, and it probably leaves people confused about the place of service and justice in their faith. There’s no divide between evangelism (sharing the ‘evangel’, the good news) and social justice, trying to make the world a better place, because every step we take towards that better world, every healing word and act we can contribute, brings us one step closer to the world promised by the gospel. We can’t get ourselves there – only the new creation power of God can finally transform this broken world into a new heaven and a new earth. But we can make the good news visible and tangible as we show people what life can look like when Jesus is Lord: it looks like forgiveness; it looks like faithful marriages; it looks like the end of our prejudices and our wars, of terror, of abuse and neglect—because love and peace reign, and reconciliation; it looks like selflessness and human kindness, like supporting and nurturing children, ours and others’, feeding people who are hungry, sheltering the homeless, and caring for the planet and all the incredible biodiversity on it. This is what “Jesus is Lord” means in practice. This is what the good news we’re proclaiming looks like. These are the promises God makes us—and wouldn’t you like to be one of Jesus’ people in this kind of world too?
We need to remember and proclaim that gospel.
When the bad news overwhelms us, that’s the good news everybody needs to hear.
And when the church really commits to this, to the fullness of the gospel, then not only will people hear it, but they'll see it too. We'll tell them that Jesus wants to heal their hearts and lives and to heal all the mess that they see around them, but we'll also live lives that are a breath of fresh air in this suffocating world of bad news.