In my personal conservative (white) background the mission of Jesus was understood in almost entirely private and individual terms. We were called to preach the gospel to the lost and then to call on them to come to Jesus personally. That was it. Everything else was just an "add-on" (not part of the gospel or necessary) since this private spiritual message is what really mattered. Over the last several decades I have come to question this assumption very deeply. I question it because it simply doesn't fit into the narrative of the four Gospels, the message we see in the life and mission of Jesus. Recently a story in Luke 4 reminded me of this point afresh.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I believe we need to find our way back to the mission of Jesus. This plainly includes announcing good news to people as individuals. But notice who is in view when the "good news" is proclaimed in this story by Jesus. It is the poor! And notice that prisoners are also in view here. Plus, verse 19 mentions "the year of the Lord's favor." This is Jubilee. The concept of Jubilee is almost entirely missing in the gospel that I have heard over the years from white evangelicals like me. Jubilee has implications for all of public life. I have begun to rethink all of this very deeply. If Luke 4:18 is not a mission statement then I do not know what one is.
The gospel does proclaim forgiveness of sin but it also proclaims release and renewal. It focuses the good news on the poor and those in prison; i.e. the weak and powerless. Jubilee is a time when old debts are canceled and people are given the chance to start over. (If America wanted to really help poor and hungry nations in bondage we could proclaim a Jubilee year and give them a new start!) This good news just cannot be limited to private spiritual needs if this text is read canonically; i.e. in the light of the whole Bible.
It is time for us to find our way back to the gospel mission of Jesus! Let the conversation begin by addressing the inequalities that permeate our churches, towns and nation. If we remain silent the stones might cry out the true good news since we have hidden it for so long. Makes you wonder doesn't it?
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Thank you for this insight, John. Now that I now longer adhere to my legalistic definition of Jesus’ mission, I am seeking to properly define Jesus’ mission without binding it to some sort of legalistic work or idea.
And I’m finding that the “online world” really needs to hear more of the kinds of thoughts you are expressing. Much of the online material I read doesn’t ring true with Scripture and merely supports denominationalism.
Having been raised on Billy Graham’s tract, Steps To Peace with God , it took some doing to realize that this was not as you wrote a “private spiritual message is what really mattered.” Again as you wrote, “. I question it because it simply doesn’t fit into the narrative of the four Gospels,”.