Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Good news, then and now

The Apostle Paul kicks off 1 Corinthians 15 by reminding them of "the gospel I preached to you," and that this is the good news by which they were saved. (By the way, "gospel" simply means "good news.")
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time.... Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also....
1 Corinthians 15.3-8
I find this really interesting but also a little puzzling. It's interesting because to me it's very good news that Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by 500 people and by the twelve, etc. As a 20th century kind of guy, it's important to me to have a solid starting point -- the resurrected Christ -- upon which everything else stands. Because if Jesus indeed rose from the dead on the 3rd day (that is, the first Easter) as he predicted, then everything else he said pretty much has to be true. I mean, it would be just dumb in my view not to believe him. He predicted his death and resurrection and that all came true, so everything else he said is more trustworthy than anything any college professor ever said.

So that's why the resurrection, and its witnesses, are good news to me. But they're not the essence of what I consider the good news to be. The resurrection provides evidence that backs up what I consider the real good news, which Jesus summarized like this in Mark chapter 1: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1.15) Our long wait is over, and the kingdom of God, a kingdom of kindness and justice and righteousness, is coming into this sorry, dark world. And not just into the world out there, but also into your life and mine.

So as a 20th century kind of guy (yes, I know we're in the 21st century, but most of my life was lived in the 20th) the resurrection is very important. But why would it be important to these 1st-century Corinthians? Were they a lot more focused upon the resurrection, on the question of "What happens to me after I die?" than we are today?

Let me read a little further... ah-HA! Now I see it: ... how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (15.12). Okay, so some were saying there wasn't a resurrection. And, Paul goes on, if there's no resurrection, then not even Christ was resurrected, and so Paul and the others have been lying. And if they were lying about that, then couldn't everything else be a lie too?

I guess this is why Paul says in verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are above all men to be pitied." Not by the fact itself, but because of the implications -- viz., that the whole gospel is suspect.

OK, I guess that makes sense. Because many people today might turn verse 19 on its head:
If Jesus only makes a difference after I die, why is it good news before I die?
21st century people are interested in the here and now, and after reading this I think the Corinthians weren't necessarily different. The good news of Mark 1.15 isn't fundamentally different to the Corinthians in the 1st century or to us in the 21st, but the things we focus on to get there, to invite people to consider the gospel, are probably different.

What should those things be? When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

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