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023  The Gospels Are For Today

In the interim since my lest RfMemo, I got sensitized to the way Evangelical Christians think about the gospels, the four books in the New Testament describing Jesus' ministry. A really decent fellow teaching at a retreat center I visited made the painfully incorrect claim that the separator page between Old and New Testaments in our Bibles should actually be placed after the gospels but before the book of Acts. His notion was that all of Jesus' ministry took place under the old covenant, when men were expected to live up to the Law, a standard that no man could keep.

I used to think something similar, and I know that this thinking is common in Protestant circles, and maybe Catholic and Orthodox as well. So this week I want to adjust that way of looking at the gospels, because it robs us of clarity.

The truth is that the Old and New overlap. The Jewish nation was in its last days, but Jesus was introducing something new that still applies. Every word that we read Jesus saying in the gospels applies to us directly. And as I said in the last 2 memos, God still cares about righteousness, and we are still expected to live according to the reflection of His character that fills the universe. ("But we're saved by grace!" I hear people objecting. Yes, we are. It's His grace that enables us to live as He expects, and makes up for us when we fall short. See Romans 6-8.)

Let's take a look at Jesus' instructions after His resurrection but before He ascended into heaven, recorded at the end of Matthew's gospel. We call this the Great Commission.

"...Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'"  Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

The opening statement establishes His authority: "The world has changed. I now command all heavenly creatures, and I hold full authority over all human beings." What follows that declaration is His choice to be the new, established policy of His new kingdom: from then on, this is what His servants, heavenly and earthly, are to be doing.

The New Regime is straightforward: His followers are to make disciples, not just of the Jews, but of every nation, Jews and gentiles alike. 

Making disciples has two components, according to Jesus:

(1) Sign them up.
(2) Teach them.

Signing them up consists of baptizing them into name of the Trinity, the triune God who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That was remarkable at the time, but I'll leave the discussion for another day.

Teaching them consists of training them to do everything Jesus taught His disciples while He was with them.

Read that last sentence again. We are to teach our disciples everything Jesus taught His disciples. That is the New Regime.

Where do we get information about what Jesus taught His disciples? We get that information from the gospel accounts, as well as from the other instructions written by His disciples, which we have in the form of letters to various churches and believers. That's the New Testament--the whole thing. And we get instructions from Jesus, Himself, by way of the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us.

Very specifically, anything that you see Jesus teaching in the gospels is something we should also be teaching just like He did. Did Jesus teach the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples? Yes? Then we're supposed to be teaching it to our disciples right now. It's the New Order that He established when He began His reign. It's not Old Testament commands for the days when the Jews were slaves to the Law and the gentiles were slaves to the demons. It's how life is supposed to work in the Kingdom of God, right now.

By the way, this is also how you should answer anybody who imagines that miraculous works of power are not for today. Did Jesus teach His disciples to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, feed multitudes by miraculous multiplication, and even sometimes pay taxes with coins taken from the mouth of a fish? Yes, He did; and the Great Commission directs us to teach our disciples everything that Jesus taught His disciples. When did Jesus change the rules?

Reread the gospels with yourself in mind, knowing that Jesus intended His instructions for you today. I'll be back to add to this in a couple of weeks.


Phil Weingart


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