Twenty five years ago when I was in the development phase of starting a new charity (Kingscare), the general mood among Christians was that helping people at a practical level, though fundamentally ‘a good thing’, was thought to be of secondary importance to preaching the Gospel and getting people ‘saved”. It was an ‘either/or’ thing.
The Gospel was seen as purely spiritual, and giving people ‘a ticket to heaven’ was sometimes seen as far more important than feeding the hungry or setting slaves free from people who would exploit them. But those days are ending and Christians are seeing that we need to follow the teachings of Jesus, not just see him as Saviour.
The good news of the gospel is for everyone, and for the whole person. Jesus came so that we could have life, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. We do not have to choose between a Jesus who died for our sins, and a Jesus who “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). It is not ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’. Pitting the spiritual against the physical and practical is a false dichotomy.
Jesus’ mission statement
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.
(Luke 4:18-19 NIV).
Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry. He had just come back from the River Jordan where he had been baptised and then had been tested by the devil who sought to divert Jesus from his calling. Now at his home town of Nazareth he stood up to spell out his purpose and calling which would be fundamental to all he did.
Many have tried to just spiritualise these words and rob them of their practical message. We could talk about ‘the poor in spirit”, being ‘spiritually blind’ and being held captive by Satan. Of course, these words can be applied in that way, but I am arguing for a broader interpretation which includes the whole person. Imagine the crowd who first heard these words from Jesus.
- Maybe there was a single mother, desperate to know where the next meal was coming from. When Jesus said “Good news to the poor”, no doubt she was thinking, “Yes, I need that sort of good news.”
- Maybe there was somebody who had a relative enslaved by the Roman Empire. When Jesus said, “freedom for the prisoners”, I am sure his thoughts would be with the slave, far away in another country.
- Maybe an old blind man was sitting at the back who had been blind for many years. When Jesus said, “Recovery of sight for the blind”, his heart could have jumped with hope as he thought, “Could Jesus do that for me?’
- Maybe some were farming a small patch of land owned by a ruthless landlord who trapped his tenants into a life of poverty and deprivation. They were oppressed and needed to be set free.
The start of a new Era
Jesus was called to proclaim the “Year of the Lord”. It was to be a new beginning. It was to be the start of God’s Kingdom being present in this earth, when the values that rule in heaven would begin to rule in the affairs of men. A new Era when the prisoner of oppression could be set free. An era when physical sickness and disease would no longer be inevitable. An era when oppression, exploitation, slavery and poverty could be eliminated. Jesus told his followers to pray,
“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NLT)
Is the Kingdom of God present in the earth today? I would answer “YES but not yet fully”. Will God’s Kingdom eventually rule everything on earth? “YES it will”. Whatever your eschatology there is a future when Jesus will reign willingly over the affairs of men. Oppression will cease. Exploitation shall stop. Slavery, poverty and sickness will be more. “Lord, may your kingdom come soon“
In the meantime …
So what do we do now? Many of us have found freedom in Jesus Christ and it only natural that we want others to share in what we have found. But as a Church, the representatives of Jesus on earth, we dare not stop there.
As we fight against injustice in the world, we are putting into action those words, “May your Kingdom come soon”. As we seek to help the desperately poor, or help to bring healing to a hurting world, we are saying “Your will be done here on earth”. As we ourselves experience God’s love we can shout out by our actions that God is good and that God loves the whole of humanity.
When God created us, “in his own image” he gave us free wills. God does not force himself on this world. He patiently waits for a time when mankind wakes up to the fact that God’s will for us is good.
To say that the Gospel is good news must surely be the understatement of all time.
The Gospel is:
- Good news for the economically poor.
- Good news for the slaves and people who are exploited by men.
- Good news for the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, the thief and the killer.
- Good news for the physically and mentally disabled.
- Good news for the deaf, the dumb and the blind,
- Good news for the thinkers, the atheists and the doubters.
- Good news for the children, the mature and the aged.
- Good news for the depressed, the worriers and the neurotic.
- Good news for the chronically ill and the dying.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV)
- Life NOW, not just when we die.
- Life, lived to the full.
- Life free from oppression, sickness and depression.
- Life in every way, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.