Fear Not! We Need the Bad News First.
By Jane Tawel
December 9, 2017
There is much bandying about today of words like “Christian” and “evangelical”. I refuse to join the current dumbing down of the meaning of words – especially these two. The meanings of words are an integral part of the meaning of reality. This is a time of year when some of us believe God came to this planet as The Word. Sometime after the birth of The Messiah, a man who wholeheartedly and sacrificially followed the Babe become Man, ended up being known as John the Evangel. He might have been nicknamed John the Image of God. Because Evangelism should be a word associated only with those who want to be born again into what they were created to be before The Fall – creatures who act and speak and think like God. Not like gods. If you look to the Judeo-Christian worldview for what this life should look like you would see: A God who is completely good, completely love, completely truthful, completely just, completely consistent with righteous holy creativity. Just as random examples of what this does not look like: The God of the Man, whom we celebrate at this time of year, never, ever, ever, ever, ever – had to choose the lesser of two evils. He never, ever, ever, ever needed any one to support His causes by supporting people who abused women or children. He never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever died for a person who didn’t think they in turn had to die to their self-centered sins. And He never, ever, ever, ever, ever stopped loving the world.
It breaks my heart today to hear this important word – evangelism – being used for evil and gain. Evangel = Gospel = Good News = Revelation of True Triune God from the Genesis of the Planet Begotten in True Saving God-send in The Christ. I am privileged and humbled and frightened, to get to teach the Bible at this time of Advent. This week I began my teaching right at the beginning of the book of Luke. I have noticed this is most unusual. The book that tells our Christmas story begins with the author stating that his testimony to Jesus as God’s Way is written at the request of a man named Theophilus. Theophilus was, in all probability, a Roman Government employee, who quite possibly was one of the types that helped put Jesus on the cross. The Good News of Luke, however, was not just for a rich ruler, but for all who wanted an historical account of God’s latest attempt in a long, long His-story of His trying to help us live as we were created to live in relationship to Himself.
I fear that as with so many Biblical stories we like to pick and choose the parts we want to read. As Americans, we seem to somehow have re-cast the Nativity so that Mary and Joseph are white folks on holiday rather than enslaved minorities being used for political gain by Roman rulers. We have incorrectly added the fun fancy bit about the rich EU and Asian Kings being present at the birth, so that they could be giving Jesus financial incentives right there at the start.
But when we opt to use this word “evangelistic” today we seem to use it more like a good luck charm or a trump card (oh, the ironic words we live with today would not be lost on The Word, I think). We like to give the gods credit for our choices and lifestyle and our gambling with other people’s lives. We stick God’s name on ungodly decisions, like putting a sticker on a rotten apple. Much as Adam’s first rotten apple was easily pulled off the Tree, we quite easily justify our own rotten apples but still want the God-sticker on them. It is quite easy to pull off a sticker called God. It is not at all easy to live a life called God. And that is what Christian means – little God, little Christ, little life lived in the character of God Three in One. Oh, I love my stickers called God. It is much harder for me to daily “go back into the womb” and be re-created as we were meant to be before the one rotten apple spoiled the whole bunch.
The story of Christmas begins with Advent. In its entirety, the story that we should be reading at this time of year, should at a minimum start with God saying (as He usually does if you read the whole book): “I Am going to give you peoples and tribes the Bad News first; then the Good News.”
We seem to have sunk into a moral morass of thinking that Christianity starts with grace and forgiveness and someone out there saving my own personal self by something He did a long time ago. It does not. This cannot stand alone as Good News. It cannot support itself alone. It is an incomplete worldview.
The Worldview of True God from True God begins with the Bad News of John the Baptizer. It starts with humankind’s need for an admission of shame and repentance. The story of God helping us and allowing us to use His Holy Name, begins with our need to be able to, with eyes downcast, come before a God at all, let alone use His name for His glory or in vain for my personal ends. Before we got the “Good News” of Jesus, God had to re-send the diagnosis. It is a diagnosis The God of Noah and Abraham and Moses and Ruth and Isaiah and others, had been sending this bad news diagnosis for centuries. In various ways and through various people who were truly evangelicals, God has been telling us: Bad News –You’re dying.
Before He could send His only begotten Son, God had to show us the shadow on our moral
x-rays. So right before the time was right to come Himself as King (which is what Advent means by the way), Jehovah the Father, miraculously created in two old folks a man named John the Baptizer whose sole job in life was to proclaim that we needed to “Repent”. Definition:
Repent =Regret =Penitence of one’s sin. Because without our sin, the world’s sin, we have no need for a Savior. Without my personal daily need to recognize my sin, I have no need for Bethlehem’s story. Without repentance, there would be no Christmas.
God could send Himself as His Son bringing Good News to our planet because of the Bad News of Repentance. And that makes our need to feel shame, remorse and repentance, Good News! My coming to a reckoning of who I really am, is the way to knowing who God really is. And it is the only way to truly know who I can be and what lies ahead in an eternity that begins with my repentance and never ends in my worship of my God.
Repentance is what makes the Judeo-Christian worldview the most coherently sane and healthy one by which a person can live. Grace and morality will not result without it. But there are so many who teach this better than I ever could. So for a definition of evangelism at this time of year, when many of us believe that The Center of humankind’s history was born as a human, I would like to extract some of the words of an evangel named Francis Schaeffer.
Written in 1972, Francis Schaeffer could not have foreseen the extent of the need we would have for these words from his excellent book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.
To me, what Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus sets the world on fire—it becomes a great shout into the morass of the twentieth century. Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus. The One who claims to be God stood before the tomb, and the Greek language makes it very plain that he had two emotions. The first was tears for Lazarus, but the second emotion was anger. He was furious; and he could be furious at the abnormality of death without being furious with Himself as God. This is tremendous in the context of the twentieth century. When I look at evil—the cruelty which is abnormal to that which God made—my reaction should be the same. I am able not only to cry over the evil, but I can be angry at the evil—as long as I am careful that egoism does not enter into my reaction. I have a basis to fight the thing which is abnormal to what God originally made.
The Christian should be in the front line, fighting the results of man’s cruelty, for we know that it is not what God has made. We are able to be angry at the results of man’s cruelty without being angry at God or being angry at what is normal.
We can have real morals and moral absolutes, for now God is absolutely good. There is the total exclusion of evil from God. God’s character is the moral absolute of the universe. Plato was entirely right when he held that unless you have absolutes, morals do not exist. Here is the complete answer to Plat’s dilemma; he spent his time trying to find a place to root his absolutes, but he was never able to do so because his gods were not enough. But here is the infinite-personal God who has a character from which all evil is excluded, and His character is the moral absolute of the universe.
It is not that there is a moral absolute behind God that binds man and God, because that which is farthest back is always finally God. Rather, it is God Himself and His character who is the moral absolute of the universe.
Evangelicals often make a mistake today. Without knowing it, they slip over into a weak position. They often thank God in their prayers for the revelation we have of God in Christ. This is good as far as it goes, and it is wonderful that we do have a factual revelation of God in Christ. But I hear very little thanks from the lips of evangelicals today for the propositional revelation in verbalized form which we have in the Scriptures. He must indeed not only be there, but He must have spoken. And He must have spoken in a way which is more than simply a quarry for emotional, upper-story experiences. We need propositional facts. We need to know who He is, and what His character is, because His character is the law of the universe. He has told us what His character is, and this becomes our moral standard. It is not arbitrary, for it is fixed in God Himself, in what has always been. It is the very opposite of what is relativistic. It is either this, or morals are not morals. They become simply sociological averages or arbitrary standards imposed by society, the state or an elite. It is one or the other… It is this or nothing. (Francis Schaeffer Trilogy, 222-301 excerpts)
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Francis Schaeffer asks me: Is the God I believe to be revealed in His Son – enough?
Do I believe that my choices cannot be relativistic just as my Savior’s choices were never relativistic?
Do I believe that the character of God in Christ is “the law of the universe” to which I must live if I claim to live in Christ?
And as St. Paul believed, Do I believe that being an evangelical is to consider that “to live is Christ, and to die, is gain”?
God calls and calls, the Scriptures say, like a Lover, like a Father, like a Spouse, like a Shepherd. He also calls us to do likewise, and lead lives in His image, making choices as He would. He calls us to delight in others as we do when we first fall in love – loving a person whether in reality, we love or hate him. He calls us to love as a parent to those who are not our children using truth and love in equal measures. He calls us to give generously, selflessly as a spouse, to those who have no loving mate or friend to call their own. He calls us to provide and care for those who like sheep have gone off the path of a life worth living, and who cannot save themselves. He calls us to give and give and give to those least worthy, because His Son’s character is ultimately our judge and the judgement on our lives. Jesus is the judge who gave and gave and gave to all of us who are so unworthy.
The Greatest God of all gods, calls us to share His Good News:
God has Come to Us = Emmanuel.
But here is the truly mind boggling thing about the evangelism of our God –even God Himself, when He modeled life for us in Jesus, had to repent to John the Baptizer. Baptism symbolizes man’s need to be saved from something and changed into something else. It means I repent of my old life and enter a new life. The One who had nothing to repent of, did it anyway, because He knew how critical it was for us to see Him repent as we need to. The One who had no need to die, did it anyway because He knew how important it was for us to see Him die as we would. And the God who had no need to be born, did it anyway, because He knew how important it would be for us to see, that we can be born again, into a new life as Jesus is. And that is the Good News that evangelistic people should be living. And we shouldn’t be putting words on things they don’t belong to, including putting The Word on things He does not belong to.
The terrifying Angel of God, who actually was quite an important player in the story of “God Becomes a Human”, was personally acquainted with the True God. The Angels of God always say “Fear Not”, and the angels at the various scenes before and during the Bethlehem manger scene, are no exception. The Christmas Angel tells us that though the Bad News of The Operation of the Christ Child is that it will be incredibly and sometimes excruciatingly painful, the Good News is:
For your Unearned Salvation from your deadly sin has Come!
God Advents to Live With All People!
Joy to the whole World!
This is evangelism. Joy. This is being a “little Christ” or Christ—ian. Repentance. This is what in an upside -down worldview, makes our lives– plunged in repentance and daily self-administrations of the dosage needed of radioactive Bad News of our sinfulness– truly a wonderful, live-saving, joyful good news to the world, message. This is how we can defeat the cancerous invasion of evil that seeks to kill the Christ child and instead, open our hearts, minds, wills and souls to the eternal love of God. This is Good News.