During my visit to Singapore earlier this year to take part in Aldersgate SG, it once again struck me how radically our worldview has changed. A journey that used to take months by land and sea was accomplished in hours by air. We have also seen Planet Earth photographed from outer space and know that it is indeed round. Even more astounding is the discovery that the sun is only one of billions of stars in a galaxy called the Milky Way, which in turn is one of billions of galaxies.
These cosmic revelations make the coming of Jesus Christ to Planet Earth infinitely more awesome, in the fullest sense of the word. That the Creator of billions of stars and galaxies had actually come in person to this small planet 2000 years ago is truly earth-shaking news. It is also wondrously good news.
The word gospel, from the Anglo-Saxon god-spell or ‘god-story’, is a translation of the Greek word euangelion, meaning good tidings, and those of us who have been entrusted with this gospel should make sure that we know why it is good and why it is newsworthy.
Of course, the good news begins with the bad news. Planet Earth, this blue and white jewel in God’s Creation, has gone terribly wrong. While there is much about our world that is good and beautiful, a great deal of nature is hard and cruel. Much worse, there is the scandal of human sin and evil, as the past hundred years of our history have made all too clear. In spite of remarkable scientific and cultural progress, this has been the century marked by world wars and holocausts as never before. We are indeed the fallen planet.
All of this makes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ a cosmic drama that the rest of the universe is waiting to see unfold (Rom 8:18-25).The announcement of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth made clear that in his incarnation, God is giving birth to a New Creation:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour … Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:18-19, 21
This is a message that cannot be left only to our preachers. ALL Christians must announce it, and while there is something deeply personal about our witness, we should be clear that the gospel is not about us. It is about the New Creation, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and there is no better way to proclaim it than to practise the craft of journalism – something we find in each issue of Methodist Message.
An article by a good journalist begins with concise and accurate headlines that capture the essence of the news. Then follows an opening statement explaining the headline, followed in turn by paragraphs that expand on the explanation. All of this is governed by the space available so that the essentials are not lost, whatever the length of the article.
Presenting the gospel this way is a craft that every Christian should learn as we take the good news of the gospel into the world. We should be ready to share this good news in five minutes if need be, as well as being ready to expand on the headlines whenever we have the opportunity. One thing is for sure: we cannot regard this good news as a personal possession. The gospel is for everyone. Christians are merely the messengers and the journalists, privileged to announce and report it.
The father of Methodism, John Wesley, spent his whole ministry doing just that, making clear that God’s New Creation calls the world, and especially the human race, to repent and turn away from the sin and evil that Jesus came to expose and defeat.
Moreover, Wesley was in no doubt that this New Creation would one day come to pass. In one of his later sermons, ‘The General Spread of the Gospel’, he declared: “ ‘They shall all know me,’ saith the Lord, not from the greatest to the least (this is the wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God) but ‘from the least to the greatest’ (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:8-12, KJV), that the praise may not be of men but of God.
“Before the end, even the rich shall enter into the kingdom of God. Together with them will enter the great, the noble, the honourable … Last of all the wise and learned, the men of genius, the philosophers, will be convinced they are fools; will be converted and become as little children, and enter into the kingdom of God.”
There’s no way we can keep such good news to ourselves!
The Rev Dr David Lowes Watson is an eminent Wesleyan scholar, author and Methodist minister of the Tennessee Conference, The United Methodist Church. He was keynote speaker at the Aldersgate SG 2014 Convention in May.