“I don’t that word means what you think it means” is one of the funnier moments in the Princess Bride film. This statement humbled someone who incorrectly use a word because he lacked a full understanding of the what it meant.
Likewise a term like gospel can be used too lightly or wrongly. Incorrect or shallow meanings can be dry information, politics, morals do’s or don’t’s, a specific culture’s paradigm or esoteric philosophy. The Roman “gospel” was definitive, authoritative and expected to bring clarity in the world per a specific world view.
“The term [Evangelion] has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world. The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful or pleasant . The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better. “When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pp. 46-47).
There is a higher declaration in the message of Jesus. We are told from the Bible that Jesus means “God saves”. How does God save? What does God save in us? This gospel speaks of transformation and not only of mental assent nor limited to only a personal paradigm.
First, we should address it with a proper anthropology of the person. A way to describe my physical existence is that I am physical and not that I have a body. But I also have a mind, a heart, a soul and strength under the same view. I am called to love God with all of them. But without the grace of God, I cannot do that. Jesus means “God saves” because we are saved by grace through faith in him connecting to his divine life. “The word of God is quick and powerful, to the dividing asunder between soul and spirit, joints and marrow and thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word is Jesus and he became flesh (John 1:14) to be the Way.
Divinity is key to understanding Jesus as Lord. Isaiah wrote the Messiah would be “God with us”. Jesus saves fully for those who receive him because he is fully God. If Jesus was only 99% divine then the cross would not work because it would be an intervention of a finite being into finite material.
Thus Jesus saves the whole person. The Greek word for save is sozo. That word is used for so much more than avoiding hell. It is for all of the parts of the person and is ongoing. When a woman with hemophilia was healed by Jesus the Greek word for healed was also sozo. Several times in the Bible someone receives God’s touch on any dimension they are “sozo’d” or made whole. The demonstration of the gospel of Christ is a declaration of freedom from oppression (Acts 10:38). Jesus so wanted to emphasize this that he said that to have true life one should eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6).
One can see Jesus’ salvation through foreshadowing events in the Old Testament and into the New. Jesus is bridegroom, overseer of our souls, shepherd, servant, healer, forgiver, deliverer, living bread that comes down from heaven. There would need to be a natural habitat of these aspects of Jesus to be nurtured and allowed to grow in being understandable as channels of grace and by no means obstacles or else it is just more law. But how it begins is with the anointing of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son (Council of Nicea 325) flowing in sacraments such as “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Nicea).
Early Christianity broadened from the Greek word for covenant, diatheke, to Latin expression of the word sacramentum. As actions speak louder than words, Jesus articulates salvation with the sacraments. They are fruit of the cross which Jesus initiates in love to the world through words and form by his people.
I will now repeat the biblical themes above shown in the sacraments. A common criticism is they are a “sacramental system” and “manmade traditions”. I would respond the kingdom of God is familial. It is kinship by covenant and not any more “system” than the joy of gifts being unwrapped by children on Christmas morning. They are centered on Christ.
Bridegroom- – Matrimony. Holy matrimony speaks to Jesus who is returning at the end of the age for a pure and spotless bride.
Overseer of our souls- Holy Orders with a bishop (episcopi). This is a matter of a bishop being a sacramental sign of Jesus who watches over our souls (1 Peter 2:25).
Shepherd- Holy Orders with a clerical priest (prebuteros). This speaks to the priestly ministry who is also a doorkeeper in the local assembly of good or bad doctrine. Ultimately Christ is the Apostle and High Priest of our good confession. A local priest is an extension and not a hurdle. At the local level he is on the front line of dispensing the sacraments of Holy Unction and Penance (see below). This does not take away from the priesthood of all believers.
Servant – Deacon (diakonos). Christ was a servant of the world.
Healer- Sacrament of Healing or Holy Unction. Christ is healer and at times uses this sacrament to communicate that.
Forgiver- – Sacrament of Penance/ Reconciliation. Jesus was able to say that someone’s sins were forgiven. He passed this on to his apostles who have passed that on to others (John 20:22-23).
Deliverer- Baptism which is the initiation of the priesthood of all believers. It is the normative way that we are saved (John 3:3). “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). There was a baptism in Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) for the exodus (exhoda) from Egypt. Jesus said he was the Way (hoda) which plays in words that he was the way out of the slavery of sin.
Living bread that comes down from heaven- – Eucharist (eucharistia— thanksgiving). Jesus gives us the means through his flesh that is made real in the Eucharist. Jesus in communion is the “engrafted word of God that can save your souls” (James 1:21).
But God is not bound to sacraments. My conversion to Jesus on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon was with the Protestant tradition“The Sinner’s Prayer”. It but it is not something that one can point to in the scriptures nor anytime before the 19th century. We are called to Jesus but ideally expressed as together through the authoritative, universal, “according to the whole”, called out and together Catholic Church (ecclesia katholikos) which is the “church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
The gospel can be articulated more holistically when applied sacramentally. This is not dependent on the individual holiness of the instrument he uses but by grace (ex opere operato). Next is only how receptive we are (ex opere operantis). God has something to say of all of us and to all of us but never forcing us.