Wednesday, August 10, 2011

News - It's the Message, Not the Medium

The apostle Paul, by his own admission and others (ask Eutychus, e.g.), was not a good public speaker. He was not a media person. "The Apostle Paul Show" would not have done well on TV. No one was saying, "Hey, the Apostle Paul is in town. Let's go hear him preach!" But when all you are is a newsboy, you don't have to be a good speaker. You just need to deliver the news. In an oral culture like the first-century Middle East and around the Mediterranean, this meant opening your mouth and stating it.

News, by itself, is intrinsically "good," "bad," or neutral. Let's say your child is hospitalized and undergoing life-or-death surgery. You are in the waiting room. The receptionist says, "The surgeon is ready to see you." Anxiously you go to the little room to hear the news. How the surgeon delivers the news in the sense of oratorical ability means nothing to you. But what is about to come out of his mouth can change your life forever. Should he say "We lost her," this is, understatedly, bad news. Should he say "We saved her. She will be all right," this is good news. This is life-changing news.

All that "news" needs is stating; it needs no persuasion. Merely stating news moves people. Persuasive speeches, rhetorical skills, and a charismatic personal presence are not required. Actually, such things can detract from the news.

I remember sitting in an 8th grade geometry class when over the school's P.A. system came words that caused some to openly cry: "President Kennedy has been shot. He is dead." I will never forget that moment. All it was was words, two sentences, passed on to us by our school principal. This news was shocking.

"News" is something that, if it is relevant or powerful or important, gets shared. "News" gets passed around, preceded by the words "Did you hear that... " The apostle Paul was the bearer and sharer of news. He passed "good news" on to others which he had received. The biblical Greek word for "good news" is "gospel." The word "gospel" means: "good news," or "good message." The word is euangel. This is a put-together of a Greek prefix (eu-) and a Greek noun (angel). "Angel" means: message. An "angel" is a spiritual agent bearing a message from God. The prefix eu- means "good." In english we have a bazzilion words beginning with this prefix, such as: "euphoria" (good feeling), "euphonic" (good sound), and "eulogy" (good word). Paul brought "good news" (= Paul brought "the gospel") to, for example, the new Jesus-followers in Corinth. It is here that we have one of the clearest, if not the clearest, biblical statement of the nature of the good news.

1 Corinthians 15:14 states: "Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."

Paul "preached" or "proclaimed" "the gospel" to the Corinthians. They complained that Paul was not a great speaker, and could not compare to the Greek sophist-orators they were used to hearing. Apollos, probably, came close. But Paul was a long way off the Greek expectation when it comes to public proclaiming. He just carried and shared the gospel. And that gospel was:
  • Christ died for our sins
  • Christ was buried
  • Christ has been raised from the dead
Look at the first part of this good news: Christ died for our sins. This, says Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-2), is "of first importance." This is a "bedrock confession." This is Paul's "One Thing"; viz., "Christ crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2) New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes: "'Christ died for our sins' is the primary tenet of the Christian faith." (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 723)

“Christ died for our sins” is the language of “atonement.” This presupposes alienation between God and humans because of human rebellion and sinfulness. “Sin” always separates. The “just” penalty for this is death. I.e., “justice” must be done. To die for someone else’s sins means to die on behalf of another, to satisfy the penalty, and to overcome the alienation. This is the idea of “substitution.” Christ died in our place because of our sins to reconcile us to God. He paid the penalty so we don’t have to.

Therefore, our great indebtedness is gone! This is good news to every person who is troubled by their own sin. This is "gospel" to all of us who have looked inside and seen our own brokenness and failure and woundedness. This is "gospel" to we who have seen the inner, Mertonian "seeds of destruction" or the Tournier-esque "violence within."

I first had ears to hear this news when I was 21, and dwelt in the land of alcohol and drugs. It happened one night when playing in a band somewhere in the Chicago area. I was on stage, and thinking about my self and my life and how screwed up I was. "I have a problem." Those were the words that began to open my diseased heart to receive the good news. I was so opened up that all it took was one person to tell me "God loves you." I had heard those words a zillion times. Now, they hit me as "news." Headline news!

I embraced this good news. It was the message, not the medium; the present, not the presenter. I think the message is intrinsically more powerful than the messenger, even if the latter is an angel who appears and announces "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

The source of joy here is the news, not the angel.