Sunday, July 5, 2020
Watch here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv4QS34cu2I&t=7s
The word ‘Gospel’ literally is “good news.” We need good news.
Chaos reigns. Have you seen what’s happening in Seattle? CHOP – the capitol hill organized protest – has marched, night after night to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. The standoffs with police have resulted in “officers using tear gas, flashbangs, and pepper spray to disperse hundreds of people demanding change.”[i] Maybe the crowds feel like quiet, peaceful protests don’t get results. People are frustrated. Maybe good officers who have never exhibited prejudice or bias in their work now feel tired, persecuted, and maybe a little scared. However you see it, you hear “tear gas, flashbangs, and pepper spray,” and you know things have gone crazy. We need calm in the face of the storm.
Most of us are unaffected by events in Seattle, but we deal with different disruptions in our own lives here. The Gospel is reassurance that God, not chaos, rules the world. The gospel is the best news for our time. For racial healing, for political polarization, for identity politics, for hedonistic materialism; the promise that Jesus is Lord is the word of healing that delivers us from every modern threat.
What was so good about Jesus’ words and actions in Matthew? Matthew 9:5: Jesus reassures a paralyzed man. “Your sins are forgiven,” he tells the man. An offended group of scribes whisper to each other that Jesus is a blasphemer. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus heals the man of his paralysis (9:6-7), and thus establishes his divine authority to forgive. Then in chapter 10, he imparts the power to heal to the 12 disciples. They travel throughout Galilee, healing diseases as he did.
Why did Jesus use heal illnesses? This was Galilee in 30 AD. They didn’t have hospitals; no 9-1-1 service. A common sickness easily treated today could end in death in that day. Why heal and give the disciples the power to heal? Society needed it. Why not grant disciples that power today? Our needs are different. What wonderful things did Jesus do that we need today?
In Matthew 9:33, crowds are amazed when they see Jesus drive a demon out of a man. In chapter 10, he granted the disciples the power to cast out demons and then sent them to go do it and they did! I am not here to debate the existence of demons. Matthew 9 says Jesus drove evil spirits out of people, freeing them from bondage to Satan. Matthew 10 says he empowered his disciples to repeat this work.
To me, the interesting question is what does Jesus need to drive out of us? Defensiveness? Self-righteous outrage? Unwillingness to be generous toward neighbors holding views different than our own? For us a pressing question is what are the things Jesus is calling the church to drive out? In Galilee, 30 AD, exorcisms were good news because demons possession was a real problem. In our community, the year 2020, exorcizing hate speech, racism, impatience, outrage culture, and identity politics is good news because all of these evils set us at one another’s throats and prevent us from giving each other the love God commands we give.
The parallels from Jesus’ actions in Matthew 9 to his disciples repeat of those actions in chapter 10 indicate the direction his movement took. The disciples didn’t just watch Jesus, learn miracle-working as a skill, and then employ that skill. They went because he sent them. They acted in power that he gave them. The did exactly what he instructed them to do.
This commission to go out to the world repeats to every generation of believers who commit to following Jesus. In Matthew 10:5-15, we hear something that sounds unwelcome and odd to our ears; the restriction that this announcing of and enactment of good news is for Israel and Israel only. It’s an unwelcome limit from our point of view, but only if we isolate Matthew 10. If we see it as a part of the larger story, we are free to fast forward to the last chapter. In 10:23, Jesus says, “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Then comes the crucifixion. Then Jesus is dead in the ground, and the dream seemingly dead, the good news ended.
Then, in Matthew 28, his followers discover the empty tomb and meet the risen Lord. The promise from 10:23 is fulfilled. Jesus has come. Now, he doesn’t say anything about keeping this good news of the Kingdom to Israel. He says just opposite. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (28:9).
That commission continues from generation to generation. We today are to do our part in making disciples of all nations. The beginning of our proclamation is “Jesus is Lord.” It’s a Christian’s core confession. Jesus is Lord. In him, the kingdom of God has come near. A definition of the Kingdom is “the rule of God.” So the good news is that in Jesus we have forgiveness of sin, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to remove whatever blocks the way and prevents someone from living under the rule of God. We go out, tell good news, specifically that Jesus is Lord, and we help people we meet live under the rule of God.
Something I thought about, reading and re-reading this account of Jesus sending his followers throughout Galilee. Galilee was not the most important part of Israel. Israel was one of the weaker areas of the Roman Empire. The real action was in the great ancient cities – Alexandria, Athens, Corinth, and especially Rome.
Moreover, the disciples Jesus selected to carry out the work were average people. Several were fishermen. One was a tax collector, a dubious profession in the first century. Another, Judas, was not a tax collector, but behaved as dishonestly as people expected tax collectors would. Simon the Zealot had been attached to a violent revolutionary group. Have we seen any violent revolutionaries in the news lately? Think about your own feelings as you watch someone you assume to be a part of Antifa. You watch him on the new toss a Molotov cocktail in the direction of the police. Jesus called that guy – the 30 AD version of that Antifa guy - to be a disciple; Simon the Zealot. The 12 were not remarkable or particularly likeable. Furthermore, after this mission in Matthew 10 we continue reading until we get to chapters 26 and 27. Jesus is betrayed, arrested, beaten, denied, and crucified.
So, through average people in a backwater section of a poor, occupied nation, Jesus thought he was going to bring good news to the world; news of forgiveness of sins, salvation, and God’s rule. His master plan seemed to hit a snag the moment he died in the most shameful of ways, on a Roman cross. Sure, the resurrection was awesome, but then what?
For three hundred years after the resurrection, Christians in the Empire were a powerless, oft persecuted minority. Never mind asking how the faith spread. The bigger question is how did the Jesus movement even survive? It did and then in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine came to faith. The empire was baptized. The Jesus movement was coopted by those power and the gospel subsequently watered down. In spite of the initial weakness, and then the corruption under Constantine, the way of Jesus spread in all directions until there were Christians all over the globe. Jesus sent his followers out and the word did not come back empty.
So, what about today? We’ve touched on the fact that we are every bit as sent by the same Jesus as the original 12 disciples were sent. Some of our tasks will be different than theirs because the needs of the world in 2020 are not the same at the needs of 30 AD. As an expression of who Jesus is, we fight racism, we band together in the face of disease and divisiveness and identity politics. We care for the natural world, God’s glorious creation. In all these specific manifestations of good news, we repeat the core message: Jesus is Lord. In him the Kingdom of God has come near. The kingdom is the rule of God.
What does sharing good news look like for us? We live in Rome. In Jesus’ day, the greatest human power was the Roman Empire. The United States of America is bigger and more powerful than Rome ever could have hoped to be. Being in the belly of the beast, we see the reduction of God’s church. Churches of all stripes are in dramatic decline in Europe and church attendance in America is dwindling. In the West, the seat of human power, Christianity is shrinking. In the global South – across Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin American evangelical movements, and throughout Asia – among poor, politically powerless people the church is exploding with growth.
OK. We recognize we’re at the heart of a power-obsessed, self-serving, God-ignoring culture. Our community needs good news just as much as Galilee did when Jesus sent his disciples there in Matthew 10. So, we go. We are sent with good news to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Pittsboro, Hillsboro, and Durham.
We go because we have news. Jesus is Lord, and people around us don’t know that. New is only new when people share it.
We go because the world needs this message. People are lonely and need love, so they turn to porn. We help them meet God, the giver of perfect, healing, endless real love. People are empty, so they turn to alcohol and drugs, or become addicted to destructive websites and fallacious online relationships, they become slaves to television or the internet. We show them Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills their emptiness. We don’t go to save America. We don’t save anyone. Jesus is the Savior. We are witnesses. We go to help lonely people in empty lives see what we’ve seen and experience what we’ve felt.
We go because Jesus sends us. To walk the way of Jesus is to obey his commands, receive his power, and bless people. Or, as we say at Hillside, we follow Jesus, love others, and share hope. We go because that’s who we are, disciples on mission.