When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
I Corinthians 13:11
It’s fun watching a baby grow in awareness of self and the bigger world. At first a baby makes little sense of the big world around him, but soon learns mother’s smell, voice, and touch, and that with her comes feeding, comfort, and being held. In time a baby will discover that mom is not an extension of self but a separate person. Baby later becomes aware of dad and those others who impinge on his universe. Most definitely he will learn his likes and dislikes, needs and wants, and how to make them effectively known. He will learn a social smile, his own name, and recognize his face in a mirror. His excited first step will come in time, his first Christmas, first sighting of a dog, and first wondrous taste of ice cream. It’s a big and astounding world to become aware of and learn.
I think of a baby growing in awareness of the world and wonder if a Christian’s awareness of the world of the Gospel isn’t similar. With my first awareness and belief in the Gospel I thought it was pretty much about me, and God loving me, and Christ dying for me. Great truths to be sure, but it all revolved about me. I knew my likes and dislikes, my needs and wants and how to make them known. But over time there is coming an awareness that the Gospel is about something far bigger than me, and God’s wonderful plan for my life. I’m seeing that this is not the Gospel that Peter and Paul proclaimed, nor found in any book of the Bible.
The apostles shot like a rocket into the world proclaiming the Gospel, the Greek word, euangellion. They learned the word euangellion from their Greek translations of the Old Testament. Those who spoke Latin called it the evangelium, and much later the English called it the evangel. However you say it, it all spells incredible, breathtaking Good News of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ!
In the Book of Acts the apostles pull into a town and immediately start preaching the Gospel, how Jesus is Lord over all, and that the world has turned a corner in Him. Because their contemporaries used the word Gospel for the message that Caesar is lord, the apostles delighted in using the word Gospel for proclaiming the contrary message that Jesus is Lord over all! The Old Testament’s use of Gospel, or euangellion, formed their understanding of what God is doing in Christ Jesus. See for instance how the ancient prophet Isaiah foretold God’s new world coming in Christ:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news (euangellion),
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”…
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
(Isaiah 52:7,10 )
The Gospel is about something huge! Momentous! The New Testament theologian N. T. Wright examines all the usages of the word, Gospel (euangellion), in the Bible and defines the Gospel like this:
Since the gospel is the heraldic proclamation of Jesus as Lord, it is not first and foremost a suggestion that one might like to enjoy a new religious experience. Nor is it even the take-it-or- leave-it offer of a way to salvation. It is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedience takes is of course faith. (N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, emphasis added)
A generation ago, J. B. Phillips wrote the wonderful bestseller, Your God is Too Small. He might well have written a companion volume just for me, Your Gospel is Too Small!
My Gospel is much too small when I think it’s about me and God having a wonderful plan for my life. The Gospel is way bigger than God wanting me to have a good and happy life. That message preaches well in America’s consumer, therapeutic culture, but all of Jesus’ apostles, except John, died a martyr’s death.
We’ve got an exciting, amazing message for our pluralistic, relativistic world, not unlike the world of the apostles and Book of Acts. The Gospel we proclaim is that the crucified Jesus is risen and Lord over all! All authority in heaven and earth is in His hands, and He will gather all things in heaven and earth to Himself (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:11). This is God’s Good News, and you and I can get in on the action!
Becoming aware of God’s bigger Gospel leads to awareness also of a bigger way of praying. Prayer in Jesus’ name is about a lot more than my likes and dislikes and making them known. It’s about God’s wondrous eternal plan to bring in His new world. Early Christians never thought they had prayed unless they had prayed for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child.”
Lord, by your Spirit, help me put away childish, small ways of thinking about the Gospel, and help me be done with my too small prayers! Jesus is King and Lord over all!
Grace and peace,