The Gospel According to . . . ?

what is the gospelIn 1972, Bruce Anderson arrived at Fort Hood after a tour in Vietnam.  He was from Toledo and went outside of the base to a nearby gas station to see if he could get a ride.  A man named Larry Johnson was a traveling salesman who happened to be gassing up at the station and upon seeing the approaching young man in an army uniform carrying a duffel bag asked where he was headed.  Anderson replied that he was heading home to Toledo and Johnson said he could get him as far as Chicago.

As they headed northeast, Bruce, who was a devout Christian, kept feeling a nudge to tell Larry about his faith.  He kept fighting it because he didn’t want to upset his ride and wasn’t sure how his kind driver would take it.  Finally, at about St. Louis, Bruce began to talk about his faith with Larry and explained to him that Jesus had died for his sins and by simply believing in the fact he could avoid hell and have eternal life. After about an hour, Larry pulled over the car and the two prayed.  Larry dedicated his life to Christ there on the side of that highway.

Larry dropped Bruce off at the bus station in Chicago and left to make the short drive home.  Roughly five years later Bruce was in Chicago on business and decided to look Larry up.  With a name like Larry Johnson, he wouldn’t have been easy to find, but Bruce remembered that he said he lived in the Western Roger’s Park area of Chicago.  Bruce parked his car across the street from the simple brown brick bungalow and trudged up the sidewalk and steps to the front door.  A tired looking woman came to the door and after Bruce asked for Larry, the woman informed him that she had been Bruce’s wife.  Bruce had been killed in a car accident not far from home on his way back from a business trip to Texas.

Bruce’s widow invited Larry in for tea and he explained that Bruce had given him a ride from Texas and dropped him off at the bus station on that fateful day.  He explained how Bruce had pulled over the car on the highway outside of St. Louis and given his life to Christ.  The widow began to weep and said that she could finally have peace because she had always been trying to get Bruce to accept the gospel.  Finally, at the bidding of a stranger, he had accepted his Lord and Savior as his own before meeting his death.

Phew!  Thank goodness.  I hope that in hearing this story not too many of you are feeling moved.  This story didn’t happen.  It’s a made up tale on a website on the internet for pastor’s to find sermon illustrations.  Apparently when you’re not preaching what Jesus actually said, you have to find cute little made up stories to make your point.  It’s a terrible example of what the church calls the gospel.  It may have happened in some form or another at some time or another, but it didn’t happen like this.  Neither did the gospel, not the church’s version anyway.  This story is supposed to be a warm fuzzy example of someone being saved by the gospel.  But it isn’t.  If we are to go along with what the church has painted as the gospel over the centuries, then Jesus is the most divisive, condemning person who ever walked the face of the earth.  And I’m here to tell you he’s NOT!  As a matter of fact, when Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, he purposely left out the last part of verse two – “and the day of vengeance of our God”.  See?  That wasn’t Jesus’ message.  He intentionally shows that condemnation is NOT his game.  The idea that everyone has to believe one specific way wasn’t and still isn’t the gospel.

It is no accident that Jesus starts off his ministry with this speech.  He comes and tells people what he has come to proclaim, not do.  And then, the funny or sad thing, depending on how we want to look at it, is that Jesus says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Nope.  It wasn’t.  Yes, in one way he was saying that the reading of this scroll fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, but two thousand years later the church has forgotten what the gospel is and is preaching a warped version.  This is not to say that all churches are this way, but one doesn’t have to go far to find Christians who think that John 3:16-18 is the gospel.  Well, ain’t that good news?  So, the church is left making stories like the one that I told to make the gospel what it means – good news.

Imagine with me, if you will, that the church one day decides it’s going to rediscover the gospel and be honest about what it means.  Imagine that the church takes Jesus seriously when he says that the kingdom of God is within us.  Everything that Jesus teaches points to us doing things.  When I was hungry, you fed me.  When I thirsted, you have me drink.  These 5,000 people are hungry?  You feed them.  Seriously.  Just take a moment to imagine hundreds of thousands of churches with billions of members actually doing the gospel as Jesus described it.  This means that the gospel is a verb.  It’s about the doing, not about the believing.

In my typical sermonic form, this would be the spot where I insert an illustration of what the gospel according to Jesus would look like.  I was going to tell a true story about someone who actually brought freedom to the oppressed, release to the captives, sight to the blind or good news to the poor.  There are in fact many stories like this, but I don’t think Jesus said and did what he did just for us to sit around and talk about them.  So I’m not going to give an example.  Instead, let’s go out and make some stories of our own.  Not fake ones to match up with a fake version of the gospel, but real ones to reflect the real gospel based on acts that we actually do.

I still have faith that some churches are starting to get it.  I maintain hope because some churches, like this one, are willing to go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and find what the gospel really is.  I am convinced that some day we will wake up and realize that the Kingdom of God has come, not because of some supernatural or cataclysmic event, and not because the church decided to agree on a particular view of Jesus, but because the church decided to take Jesus seriously and start doing the gospel instead of arguing about what it is.

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