A Connected Gospel
By Scot McKnight
April 6, 2012
Anyone who has gone to church for any amount of time has likely noticed a strange phenomenon around Good Friday and Easter. Depending on what kind of church it is, one of two things probably happened.
One, at a Good Friday service, which is supposed to be a somber reflection on the death of Jesus, the minister instead figuratively winked at the congregation and ignored the pain and humiliation of the cross with a proclamation of, “Jesus died ... but the story doesn’t end there!” before a choir burst into a giant chorus of “Up from the Ground He Arose.” The meaning was clear: Sure, the death of Jesus was important, but there’s no point dwelling on it. After all, He rose again!
Or two, the church emphasized the crucifixion and its meaning to the point where the resurrection became an afterthought. What Christ did on the cross and how His sacrifice saves Christians from the wrath of God became the primary lens through which to understand faith. The resurrection becomes an almost forgotten, if pleasant, afterthought.
But neither of these is the Gospel. The full Gospel of Jesus Christ is an intertwined story of life, death and resurrection. Easter Sunday is meaningless without Good Friday, but Good Friday is equally as meaningless without Easter Sunday.
Perhaps one of the most befitting images for the Gospel story is that of a Celtic knot. In a Celtic knot, every strand is completely interlaced with every other strand. There is no beginning or ending to a Celtic knot.
Until we see the Gospel as a Celtic-like knot—completely interwoven with no definitive start or finish—we will always have an incomplete picture.
Reclaiming the resurrection
In particular, today’s Christian has a tendency to reduce the Gospel to Good Friday. The result? Grace is also reduced to one theme: atonement—to Christ shouldering and then reversing the wrath of God.
But the Gospel knot must include Easter Sunday—there’s no Kingdom without resurrection. Jesus’ life leads to crucifixion, which leads to the resurrection, which leads to exaltation, which leads back to His life with a new view of the whole.
So central to Paul was the resurrection of Jesus that he even says without it, our preaching is a waste of time, our faith is useless, our message becomes false witness, our hope is disastrous and our sins are not forgiven!
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:13-17, NIV).
The Gospel is a knot of events, but we need to remember the Apostle Paul was obsessed with the resurrection: no resurrection, no Gospel, no grace.
Of course, many affirm resurrection. But few Christians absorb resurrection. Which is odd, considering Jesus and the early Christians absorbed resurrection so much it began to usher them into the Kingdom of God—in the here and now.
Death gives way to new life
In a Good-Friday-only view of the Gospel, the cross does everything. In that old Gospel, both forgiveness and justification are the result of Christ’s death only, and the resurrection (along with the other parts of Jesus’ life, past and future) are just “extras.” But this is not what Paul says: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
So redemption, too, is like the cord in a Celtic knot. Jesus’ life and then His death have brought forgiveness, but that death cord morphs into the resurrection cord, and it is the resurrection that brings “justification.” This term refers to God’s declaration that Christians are right with God, accepted, on good terms and reconciled to Him. But what creates the very possibility of a relationship with God is Jesus’ death that was overturned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, the problem is death—and the solution is life. Jesus entered death and came back to life, and Christians can climb on His back into a new life.
One of the best verses to describe this is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ordinary translations insert some words here to make it sound right. Thus, the 2011 NIV says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.” But the original Greek was sharper—it read something more like: “If anyone is in Christ … NEW CREATION!” There is no “the” or “has come” in Greek. All Paul has are two words: new and creation. He then explains new creation with this double-barrel two-liner: “The old has gone, the new is here!”
The claim is altogether revolutionary. What the Bible anticipated and what thoughtful, hopeful Jews had absorbed was that when God finally brought the Messiah, when God finally was ready to establish His own rule once and for all, when those things and others like them occurred, creation would be renewed or creation would begin all over again!
But the claim is even more astounding for this reason: Paul thinks new creation is already working! When? When a person is baptized into Christ.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
In a person's union with Christ, dramatically enacted in the body at baptism, they enter into the death of Christ and into the resurrection of Christ and it brings them into a “new life.” The cord of resurrection means Christians begin a new life in the here and now.
A new kind of community
It’s not just Paul who talks about the interconnectedness of the various strands of the Gospel knot. The Apostle Luke also talks about it in Acts 4:33-34 when he writes: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” Luke says the resurrection unleashed the grace of God and that Christians were losing their grip on their selfishness and beginning to live for one another.
The knot entangles all of it: the life of Jesus morphs into the death of Jesus, the death of Jesus morphs into the resurrection of Jesus, and all of this and more will morph into the new heavens and new Earth. Until that happens, Christians are able to—through the Spirit—lose their grip on selfishness and instead share a common life with others who are on the way with Jesus.
Now for perhaps the most astounding claim of all, one that ties the knot tighter: God made His people to rule over His creation—the point of Genesis 1. But they failed, and God sent Christ to rule. Astoundingly, Paul says both that Christ now rules and that Christians have joined Him in that rule (Ephesians 1:20; 2:6).
What this means is so vital for life in this world: Christians do not see the president or prime minister as the one who rules for them. The Christian's ruler is Jesus Christ, and our destiny is to rule with Him. That rule has entered into this world in the power of the Spirit, and Christians are called to name those powers and to speak victory over those powers by denouncing false rulers and establishing through the political Body of Christ a whole new way of ruling.
Pretty much every Christian today calls for “social justice.” But ... why? Why is this so important (and is it)? The answer: the resurrection. Because Christ has been raised, His rule is now the only true rule. Because Christians have been raised with Him, they are summoned to live under that rule and to extend that rule to others in this world—to oppose injustice and fight for those without power.
The full “knot” of the Gospel connects the entire life of Jesus, from birth to teachings to miracles to death to resurrection to ascension to the second coming and to the End of Ends when God is All in All.
The Gospel has a goal—to create the Kingdom of God—and one element of that “good news” is that it begins now. With you and me. In the here and now. It is all tied into the Gospel knot of grace.