GSE4 Thematic Address 1: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” - Abp Nicholas Okoh

Abp Nicholas Okoh, the new Primate of Nigeria gave the opening thematic address at the New Sanctuary at St Andrew's Cathedral.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS

The broad theme for this Encounter is: “Gospel of Jesus – Covenant for the people; Light for the Nations” (Isa 42:6; 51:4, 52:13 – 53.12; Mt. 26:26-29’ 28:16-20).


Introduction:

This paper will concentrate on the first part, the gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is Euangelion (Goodnews), Gospel.  Euangelizo, means bring or announce good news, proclaim, preach.  Evangelistes, is proclaimer of glad tidings or of the Gospel, ie, an evangelist1. The Gospel as we have come to know it in Christianity is that God has acted for the redemption and salvation of the world in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  Certain scriptural passages may be helpful here.

St. Paul writes,

“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the goodnews that I proclaimed to you which you in turn received in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you unless you have come to believe in vain.  For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received; that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures ..” I Cor. 15:1ff.

Elsewhere Paul states the Kernel of the Gospel this way:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”. (II Cor. 5:18-19). 

In all this one thing is clear: the Gospel is centred around the activity of God in Christ as the way of redemption and salvation for humanity and indeed for all of creation (Rom. 8:19ff). “Christ or God is both the content and author of the Gospel”2. In other words, the Christ – event is the Gospel; and Jesus Christ is the messenger, the author and the message itself. Here the initiative to reconcile is God’s and

“As a result of Christ’s undoing the damage caused by the primordial rebellion, trespasses are cancelled” (Rom. 4:8).

And spreading the message of reconciliation with all its attendant imperatives in the area of human need becomes the mandate of the ministry of the new people of God.

I intend to say something about the Gospel by way of introduction, touch on the theme of the suffering servant visa-vis the nation, and isolate certain motifs of the Gospel for comment.  The advantage of this approach is that it will give more opportunity/space for the Gospel to critique the old and new Israel, the latter the Anglican brand of it. Originally, euangelion means the reward received by the messenger of victory.  Then, it came to mean the message itself, the message of victory.  It is however in the imperial cult that euangelion acquires a religious meaning, for instance, the decree of the Greeks of the Province of Asia in c.9 BC marking the birthday of Augustus (23 September) the beginning of the civil year3. The proclamation heralds:

i) A new era

ii) Brings it about also.  There is therefore a very strong connection in between this Hellenistic usage, especially in the imperial cult and its usage in the New Testament4.

The Gospel, the goodnews has roots on the Old Testament – 2 Sam. 4:10 “reward for good news”, 2 Sam. 18:20, 22 (glad tidings). 

More significantly is the Hebrew bissar, (the verb euangelizomai to announce, tell, publish, eg. I Kg. 1:42, Jer 20: 15).  We learn that this verb is the term used in the Pss. 40:9(10); 68:11(12); 96:2ff and Isaiah 41:27 and 52:7 to herald Yahweh’s universal victory over the world and his kingly rule, and so begins a new era “This ‘Gospel’ is effective speech, a powerful saying, a word which brings its own fulfilment.  In the mouth of his messenger God Himself speaks: He speaks and it is accomplished; He commands and it is done”5 Ps 33:6

THE GOSPEL, THE COVENANT AND THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY:

Israel is the covenant people of God.  But Israel has rebelled against God and broken His covenant.  Like its relation, the Northern Kingdom, led away by Assyria (c, 721 BC), Judah has forgotten Yahweh and the Babylonian exile is not a demonstration of Babylonian military might, but God’s judgement on His covenant people for their sin of rebellion (cf. Isa. 47:6).  This is why Babylon’s arrogance shall not go unpunished.  cf. Isa. 37:22 – 29.  Through the exile, God passed judgement upon Judah; it was not through the efficacy of Babylonian magical and astrological practices) Isa. 47:12 – 13).  Is the Anglican Communion going through a captivity experience as a result of stepping aside from God’s will?  Today, we are grievously disunited; other denominations mock and ridicule us.  They invite us to leave our sanctuary and find a new home in their dilapidated spiritual strongholds.

The Servant of Yahweh:

In Isa. 42:6; 49:6, 51:4; 52:12 – 53:13.  We have the servant passages. 

The identity of the servant is said to be probably the most difficult question in the whole of Old Testament study6.   The servant has been identified as the real Israel, the ideal Israel, or a part of Israel.  Others have identified him with a historical figure of the past, such as Moses, Jeremiah, or Jehoiachin, or of the prophet’s own day, such as Zerubbabel or the prophet himself (Deutro –Isaiah, whoever he was!), or the Messiah. Israel and the Messiah are often called servant. Israel as God’s servant was to help bring the world to a knowledge of God.  The Messiah, Jesus, would fulfil this task and show God himself to the world.  The servant of Yahweh in 49:3 is plainly identified as Israel.  In verse 5, the servant is called and commissioned to do certain things namely: (Isa. 49:6).

i)       To bring Jacob back to him;

ii)      That Israel might be gathered to him.

iii)     Bring my salvation to the ends of the earth, i.e.,

iv)     The mission is enlarged subsequently to include mission to the whole world – all nations.  God who initiated the exile, who chose the instrument to execute his plan will in his own way and at his own appointed time, occasion another exodus experience. 

Meanwhile, the punishments of the people’s rebellion against God include:

i)       Breakdown of fellowship with God and with one another (is this not our experience today, reflecting orderlessness, emptiness and drift.

ii)      False security, false prophecies (today in grandiose philosophical constructions and argumentations).

iii)     Loss of nationhood and identity. (Our identity as Anglicans now is, putting it mildly, confused and confusing).  Life in exile was the crucible which brought out the folly of abandoning the covenant relation into which God most graciously called Israel, just as the miserable life outside the father’s care and protection brought the prodigal son to his right mind, when “he came to himself”. (Lk. 15:11ff).  In Israel 52: 7 we see the approach of the great ruler.  The basic metaphor is of the triumphant approach of a king to a subject Kingdom. 

His coming is announced by lookouts on mountains along the route and eventually by sentinels on the walls of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Sam. 18:25 – 27; Neh. 1:15)7.

Good news is coming: God’s goodnews of the end of captivity, redemption, salvation, peace, freedom, restoration, and even rehabilitation of others.  Now the servant suffers for the sin “Like a leper, he suffers painful loneliness and rejection by the community” (TNOAB). This is certainly no longer referring to Israel.  The servant afflictions were caused by the sins of others; it is vicarious and makes atonement for sin (Lev.16:7 – 9).  The  goodnews is that God has forgiven his people; that fellowship is restored, God has returned to Zion, and God reigns!  This is the way of escape, this is the way of life, it is the way forward; it is new life. Is the Covenant the instrument and vehicle for this goodnews?  

Is it going to serve as one drug for every ill? Something or some people put a knife on what unites us; now “Things have fallen Apart”8.  Is Anglican problem not deeply theological, and ecclesiological? Can one drug effectively cure all the clearly manifest ills?

MOTIFS OF THE GOSPEL

1.       Evangelism:

A very important element of the Christian faith is the “mandate and responsibility”9 to evangelize. Any living Church must evangelize. The Great Commission must be pursued vigorously, in spite of deliberate obstacles being erected by some states and cultures against the spread of the Gospel.  In some part of our Communion, some Church leaders are known to have apologized for doing evangelism. The Global South Provinces must trumpet it loud and clear that evangelism is a mandate and a responsibility of any Christian community. 

This is not only the verbalizing of the Gospel message in order to get unbelievers to believe, but includes also a crucial aspect of teaching and discipling those who have professed the faith.

In this regard, the Global South is to be commended for the Global South Catechism in outline which is recommended to the provinces for further work and adaptation.  The work of mission in a suffering world cannot be overemphasized.  Mat. 25:31ff makes it clear that meeting human need, be it social, economic, health, etc is an essential part of the Gospel message.  The church in Sudan, the victims of Jos religious crises, Nigeria and other such places where people are being harassed because of their faith and race deserve the attention of Global South as part of their evangelical outreach programme.    

2.       Suffering:

From Isaiah 52:12 – 53:13 the portrait of the suffering servant is awesome.  There we can identify innocent suffering; this unmerited suffering is vicarious and atoning; we identify the purpose of God and the mission of the servant to be clearly universal10.  This passage clearly anticipates the Passion of our LORD, with the cross at the centre.  Suffering therefore, is an essential part of the Gospel message which God has utilized as a divine instrument for the training of his servant in Egypt, Babylon and on the Cross in order to learn obedience.

We need to ask God to raise prophetic voices in our different contexts, who are not afraid of the attendant persecution and suffering.  Politicians, journalists, pressure groups now decide and define what is acceptable and unacceptable in Church and society!  Does the Church still possess the rugged Gospel, the Cross, foolishness to the Greeks and stumbling block to the Jews?        

3.       Obedience:

This is of the essence of the Gospel.  God entered into a covenant with Israel, a suzerainty covenant.  Israel was required to obey God and serve Him in return for divine protection, prosperity and other blessings.  But unfortunately Israel invariably disobeyed God, first the Northern Kingdom and then Judah.  This is why they were taken to foreign lands, out of the presence of the LORD.  The prophets drew attention to these failures e.g. Elijah, Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.  But Israel remained unrepentant. Hence the exile came upon it as God’s judgement.  Abraham obeyed God when he offered Isaac.  But Saul the King did not, and he lost the throne.  In the New Testament we have: “If you love me, keep my commandments”.

The disciples were to teach believers to observe and to obey Christ’s teaching and commandments (Mt. 28:20).  Jesus Himself obeyed the Father when He denied Himself, His own will and did the Father’s, even when that led Him to the Cross (Mt. 26:42; Phil. 2:8).  Like the Messianic servant in Isaiah 53:1 – 13 Jesus suffered willingly in obedience to His Father’s will.  In ways more than one the Anglican Communion has disobeyed God, and spiritual captivity is inevitable.  In our relationship with God obedience is non-negotiable.  We have disobeyed and influenced and taught others to disobey God.  This is a very serious sin.  But do we have the humility to hear this Gospel?  Do we have the patience to ponder it?  Are we not more knowledgeable than the Holy Spirit!  Aren’t we living in a pluralistic society with post-modern culture!

4.       Repentance:

The Israelites broke the covenant with God, and this broke fellowship, resulting in self-alienation from God.  The exile, spiritually and even physically, is the proof of that fact.  What then does it take to rejoin, or return to the original home of mercy, favour and divine blessings?  The Gospel everywhere calls for repentance.  The Old Testament proclaimed it Isa. 1:18ff; Jonah 3.  In the New Testament Lk. 15 makes the same point.  A joyful reception awaits whoever repents and returns.  The honour and privileges of sonship and the covenant family and community earlier taken away by self-banishment are automatically restored.  And what is more, for such, earth and heaven rejoice!  We in the Global South and the Anglican Communion have sinned.  We are deeply estranged one from the other.  What we are doing is essentially outward and cosmetic.  It lacks power, and loyalty to God.  We must pray for a new exodus.  Everyone thinks it is the other person who needs to repent; but it is all of us.  Maybe the Anglican Communion needs a Truth and Peace Commission, the south Africa version in other to engage with its past and present as an aid to total repentance towards God and one another.  But it cannot be done until we return to the Faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Philip King writes:

“Where there has been estrangement and alienation there has to be reconciliation and forgiveness before there can be welcome and acceptance.  The focal point of our forgiveness is the cross, where Christ welcomed the penitent thief and prayed for forgiveness for those who had crucified him: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them”11 (2 Cor. 5:19).

5.       Transformation:

Philip King quoted an evangelist who captures the fact of transformation thus:

“Christ is willing to accept you as you are but he won’t let you stay as you are”

The journey to heaven, to God’s presence must consist of justification by faith alone, sanctification and eschatology.  St. John’s Gospel calls it being born anew.  St. Paul calls it a new creation. We must not cling to the old life of rebellion which occasioned the exile; the world urges us to do so.  There must be new life I Peter 1:23 - 25.  The gospel makes it clear that the state of sin and death is not a permanent one; we can pass from death to life (John 5:24). 

II Cor. 3:18 says that Christians are being transformed from one degree of glory to another of God’s image.  In Romans, 12:2 St. Paul spoke of transformation in this way:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.   

Unfortunately, today people are being encouraged to remain in a state of sin and refuse spiritual progress.  This type of “Gospel” is untrue and lacks biblical warrant.  The Gospel transformed the disciples; it transformed Kingdoms and Empires; it transformed my own people; it is still transforming me and our people. 

We must reject the so-called “Gospel” which encourages a man or woman to remain and feel good and fulfilled in a state of sin from which he/she should seek gracious escape in Christ.  But it must be emphasized that this transformation is not just a matter of personal devotion and piety.  It must be made to affect individuals, building families and societies especially fighting corruptions, poverty, despotic and greedy Government, polygamy in Africa as well as serial monogamy elsewhere, some of whom make profession of Faith.  It also can help to transform the stay-in-one-place movement attitude of the West to climate change.  And not less relevant is transformation to the crushing problem of refugees, hunger, disease and population explosion.

6.       Peace:

Peace is another intrinsic mark of the Gospel message.  In both Old and New Testament, peace is the focal point of the Gospel.  In Isa. 52:7 the beautiful feet on the mountain who proclaim the Goodnews announce the arrival of peace.  This peace is related to justice and righteousness Isa.42:1, 3, 6.  It is a sign of the Messianic age and a Prince of Peace who will reign endlessly cf.  Isa. 9:6; 2:4.  In the beatitude (Mt. 5:9) Peace markers “shall be called the children of God”.  The Gospel itself is in Acts 10:36 called “Peace through Jesus Christ”.  This peace is unlike the world’s peace.  It takes away fears and neutralizes the sense of anxiety. Jn. 14:27. 

The deeper concept of peace in Shalom is pointed out by Philip King12, to be much richer and wider than just the absence of conflict.   Harmony and completeness, may we add fulfilment, in relation to God, neighbour and environment are covered. cf.  Isa. 11:6, 35:6.  What role can the Global South play to achieve the shalom concept of peace in the Communion with the truth of the Gospel as its foundation and anchorage?  For real peace, the Truth, Jesus, the Christ, must be allowed by man to rule and reign as Supreme in Church, family and society.  Plurality must not be allowed to develop a new religion and a new Gospel.

The materially wealthy North must not equate their affluent context with the paradise of God.  Material wealth is necessary, where it is absent, the work of God will suffer, even the message will be distorted; but wealthy condition and affluent lifestyle do not necessarily amount to peace with God, and attainment of heavenly qualities.  The peace we seek must have in it fairness (righteousness) a justice towards Africa and the rest of the South, in view of new post-colonial realities.  This is not a new problem.  It took two Pentecost experiences before the Jews conceded that gentiles also are accepted by God, and even then the issue of gentile Christianity and Jewish circumcision continued to rob the Church and the apostles of peace (Acts 2 and 10:44f; 15, Gal. 1 – 3).  To achieve this new peace let is examine afresh the message of Eph. 2:14 – 22; 3:5ff cf. Gal. 3:28, to the New Testament Church.

7.       Love:

Love could be said to be the theme of the life (incarnation and ministry) death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.  We do know that the fruit of the spirit is Love.  We do know also that this is the cardinal virtue where we stand or fall in our assessment of ourselves and one another or any institution for that matter which make the claim of being Christian.  But it has degenerated to a shouting match!  Love must be anchored on the truth of the Gospel, where the truth of the Gospel is devalued, or reshaped with philosophical and cultural veneer, the love that emanates from that is untrue and insincere.  It is tainted and poisoned with unaltruistic motives.  Those who give and those who receive must be mindful of this.

8.       Conclusion:

In concluding, I wish to make two points:

a)       The absolute necessity for economic empowerment in the Global South and

b)      The treachery of another Gospel which is afraid of and denies the deity of Christ. 

The first point: We in the Global South must realise that God has not cheated us in the area of natural and human resources.  It is God’s will that we grow economically, to provide for our needs for the work of God and give to those in need.  It is not God’s will that we remain perpetually dependent on the handouts from the sacrifice and self-denial offerings of other people.  More so, when sometimes these handouts are given with strong strings attached to buy loyalty or compromise on critical issues of faith.  We should dig deep wherever we are, and educate our members of the grave danger of living on other people’s resources.  We must work together on equal partnership in the fellowship of the gospel with those who are sincere, and who live according to the truth of the Gospel.  Grants, donations, gifts and any form of assistance given rather patronizingly should be rejected.  We must relate and negotiate from the point of strength rather than a beggarly position.

In Being Faithful13, this idea is captured this way:

“...but there are ways of providing support and showing concern that are ultimately irresponsible, even if well-intended.  We think, for instance, of the way that support to the poverty-stricken, both within individual nations and between nations, has sometimes helped create a demeaning culture of dependency and perpetuated problems of vulnerability and indignity rather than solving them”.

The LORD also gave us some talents (Mt. 25:14 – 30).  We must not condemn ourselves by sheer lack of enterprise.  Secondly, the deity of Christ is increasingly becoming offensive in some quarters in our communion.  For others the uniqueness of Christ cannot be taught in our pluralistic society.  But pluralism was there, in the first country.  The Jewish religion was there, so were the Greek Philosophies and religions, hence it was said that the cross was foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews.  The creeds, the 39 articles (see 2, 3, 4) and the Holy Scriptures, all uphold the deity and uniqueness of Jesus, the Christ.  To deny these fundamentals is to abandon the way; it is apostasy; it is “another gospel”, which is condemned in scripture.  


NOTES

1.       Colin Brown, Gen Editor, (1977) DNTT, II, Zondervan, 107.

2.       Ibid, P.111

3.       Ibid, P.108

4.       Ibid, P.109 (see also TDNT II 725)

5.       DNTT II 109

6.       G.W. Anderson, (1974) Gerald Duckworth Critical Introduction to the OT. P.117.

7.       The Oxford Annotated Bible P. 1052.

8.       Things Fall Apart is the title of a widely circulated novel by Chinua Achebe.

9.       Being Faithful, (2009) A Publication of TRG GAFCON/FCA (The Latimer Trust) P. 109.

10.     Peter R. Ackroyd - Israel under Babylon and Persia (1970) OUP 117 – 141.

11.     Philip King -  Good News For A Suffering World (1996) SCB Publisher, P.43

12.     Ibid, P. 45

13.     Being Faithful, (P. 116).