In preparing for the last of the "Awake and Alive 2014 Summer Series" messages, we wanted to focus on the prayer that Paul had in his letter to the churches, specifically to Ephesians. In it he asks them to pray for him that he would declare the Gospel message faithfully as he should. I asked one of my pastoral mentors about the original Greek language translation and how we might better understand it. It is pronounced "Oi - Angelian", (don't ask me to spell it) and the general translation looks like this. Oi - is the word for "good", Angelian - is the word that is more like an angel, which in bible language is also a "messenger" of God. A translation might then read "The Good Message"
If you are like me and you were raised in the church all your life, you came to know the Gospel to mean "The Good NEWS". This deeper look really made me wonder at how I had grown up with it and something struck me. Perhaps a couple generations ago and even in older days beyond that, communities, families and individuals were really craving news. It was the lifeblood to understanding what was happening and what might be coming. You think about Paul Reveere's ride with the news that the colonies would be called to arms. You think about people in the 1940s huddled around radios that were almost as big as pianos to catch some of the news about the war going on in the greater world. You think even back to these original letters of Paul, NEWS of his well being and his encouragement.
But today, I don't think we value news. News is negative, it's polarizing, it's a sham, it's communicated in a way to draw viewers, often through sensationalism as much as its desire to inform people for the well being of community. You can get it on demand, you can get it on a billion channels, you can get it online, you can get it on your phone. We don't trust it, because it is increasingly done with lower journalistic integrity in an effort to beat the other network to the punch, even if it means we don't get all the facts right when we go to press... News is typically not good, even though we still want something.
That has got me thinking about the way Christians translate "The Gospel" and what it means and I think it's a problem for two reasons. 1. As I mentioned, news typically is not viewed as good anymore, nor is it trusted. And then 2. We can get it when we want, we control it, what we read and how it's read to us, so there isn't much urgency to it and it's really not all that personal. Perhaps this is a cultural reason why people don't want to hear about Christian "Good News". We don't have an appetite or respect for NEWS. Times have changed.
This is where I think the original meaning has so much more value, especially in our culture today and in our church today. This is not just The Good News, the Gospel is The Good Message! And there is a difference today. A message conveys that the content is personal. A message contains information with an expectation that the receiver of the message will respond to it. In other words, a MESSAGE will have personal impact and will demand personal response to it. NEWS is something that you can pass on, turn off, tune out and get someone else's interpretation on. NEWS is academic and often impersonal. NEWS says "take it or leave it", but a MESSAGE says "Respond to this".
I think there is some real power in understanding The Gospel in this light. That it is not simply news, it is, as translated, a message. That the God of heaven has a personal message for the receiver of the message. The message is related to things that are extremely personal and eternal in nature. That they are, above all, GOOD things for the individual recipient of the message. That good message is this. That when you and I dare to be honest and look at ourselves, you know you aren't perfect. You know there are flaws. Your life is filled with "shoulda's" and "coulda's". You have caused harm and you have caused pain and there is pain in our lives that we cannot understand. Even if you only did one thing wrong/bad/not right and otherwise led an awesome, kind and helpful life, that one thing sits lurking in the background diminishing joy. The reality that we all carry guilt and we all walk in pride and neither of these things lead to good things. In fact they tend to ruin things in the end. Even our greatest strengths often become our greatest weaknesses.
The good message starts with this reality, it doesn't hide behind self help books and positive personal empowerment. It says what it says. The message is that You and I are dead. We have no relationship that we can create with the God who created us. We are in essence, zombies... walking dead (Ephesians chapter 2). That is what we are on our own and our culture overwhelmingly confirms this - when we care to be honest. The good message has to start there, because otherwise there is no good in the message. The Gospel helps us affirm that we have no relationship with God, but that God wants relationship with us. In fact, while we were dead in sin and relationship, God made us ALIVE through Jesus (that's what the cross and resurrection are all about)! He breathed life into a heart that would never beat for truly right things. With a new heart, he has opened up our minds to what the bible calls "The renewing of our mind" that we would think correctly as true human beings. With new thinking he has enabled renewed living, living for right things, living for things that matter most. The good message says then that he has brought us to a place and a path that leads to what Jesus called "Life to the full".
The Good message is personal - By Grace, God has given us a new heart, one that beats for a relationship with the God who loves us. This new heart gives us a new identity and a new eternity. This leads to changed thinking, which leads to changed living, it leads to a new purpose and that purpose is to FEARLESSLY make known the mysteries of this GOOD MESSAGE, that even while we were sinners, while we were dead in relationship with God, Christ died for us and raised us to life - no matter how far from God you may think or feel you are.
So one last thought. Studies are being done on this idea. Do you have a smartphone? Ever watch someone with a smartphone? He'll casually check email, she'll look up the news, we'll look to see what's going on when we have a free moment. BUT... when that phone vibrates and indicates that you received a text or a facebook message... people tend to stop what they are doing and all focus goes to that message. Why??? BECAUSE IT'S PERSONAL... and it demands our attention... RIGHT NOW! And even if we don't respond to it right away, the moment that we know there is a message waiting for us, much of our thought goes to it, demanding we take action.
The Gospel is more than good news. It's personal, it demands attention and it requires action. The Gospel is the best good message we could hope for, because the sender of that message wants you and I know where life comes from, what it is and how it lasts forever.
For a great starting point, consider reading the book of Ephesians in the Bible. You won't be disappointed!