I was talking to a contractor responsible for installing all the granite countertops and sinks in one of the largest high-rise hotels in Austin. He was telling me what a nightmare the job had been.
He had ordered and cut all the countertops to the specs on the plan, but when they began to install them, nothing fit right. The countertops all had to be re-cut, the plumbing wasn’t coming out of the walls to line up with the holes in the marble. It was a mess! It was costing money and causing tension between workers because fingers were pointing about who was right or wrong, and no one could work together.
Finally, they discovered the problem—the centerline in the building was marked one inch off true center. He explained that they build the shell, then mark the centerline on every floor, then the contractors build out the interiors according to plan off that center line. Until they got the centerline right, they couldn’t really work together to build what the architect intended.
Jesus gave us his Centerline from which everything else must be measured. Remember when the religious leader asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer: “Love God…and love people” (Luke 10:25-28, my paraphrase). This is the Centerline of the gospel (or good message) of Jesus. God invites us into Life—“to live” an eternal kind of life that centers on learning to truly love God so he can lead us to truly love others. If we fail to convey this clearly, we are clearly missing the point! The gospel is all about restored relationship that restores relationships. And that starts with God.
The Good News About God and Life
If you study Jesus’ encounters telling the “good news of God,” he offered an open invitation to Life with God. His message was less about salvation from sin, death, judgment, hell–though these are real and he talked about them (but when he talked about them is critical—only after protracted resistance to the good news). But his main focus was salvation into Life in God’s Kingdom, now and forever. We can live within the good reality of God. The invitation is to everyone who will come. We cannot make the good news sound good enough.
Listen as I paraphrase where Jesus talked about the goodness of God and his invitation to Life. And notice how Jesus spoke to the head (giving understanding about God’s ways) but even more to the heart (with word pictures, stories, and analogies that connect people to the heart of God). If you reach people’s minds but not their hearts, they will have understanding without motivation. If you reach their hearts but not their minds, they will have passion without direction in how to grow. Jesus spoke to both.
To Nicodemus, a Pharisee, Jesus invoked curiosity by talking about a Life that comes from God’s Spirit like a new birth, truly coming alive. “You can’t see this life of the Spirit physically just like you can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of it.” Then Jesus told him, “God loves the world so much, that he gave his only Son so that people would not perish without God, but live now and forever with him in his kingdom (the realm in which God’s will and ways are done). God does not stand ready to condemn, but sent the Son to save (to restore all willing people in right-relatedness to their Creator). All who trust in God’s Son will not be condemned but will live eternally.” (John 3:1-21, my paraphrase)
In his second encounter, Jesus told the woman at Jacob’s well, “If you only knew the gift God wants to give you, and who I am, you would ask me and I’d give you living water–a water so good, you will never thirst again! If you ask me, I’ll give you something that will become like a natural spring in your soul, welling up and bubbling over with Life—not just any life, but life of an eternal quality.” Jesus indicated that this life of love that comes from true worship of God in spirit and truth will satisfy her soul’s deep craving that her serial broken relationships will never satiate. “The love you’ve craved is the gift God wants to give you!” (John 4 paraphrase)
Even when speaking to those “wanting to kill him,” Jesus offers Life! “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed from death to life.” (John 5:24) He offers this Life to his enemies saying, “yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:40) No one seems out of reach of God’s good invitation, even those who hate Jesus and want to kill him, still Jesus implores, “I say these things so that you may be saved.” (John 5:34 NASB, italics mine)
In his final year, Jesus invites people to feast on a spiritual Life that’s so good; it satisfies our deepest spiritual hungers and quenches our parched souls like living water (John 6:27, 35). This offer of Life comes from living by his Spirit (a critical point often missed—it’s the point of the gospel!). At the last Passover before his crucifixion, “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:36-39)
Paul explained later that this Life welling up from God’s Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) The whole world runs after these things. But they think external plans, or possessions, or people will quench this thirst and satiate this gnawing hunger for a Life that only comes from within by God’s Spirit. Do you see? That’s what we must help people understand.
God invites people into the very Life they grope and grab to possess from external things that only leave them empty handed. Life only comes by his Spirit from the inside out—this is the “so what” of the gospel in relation to us all. God freely gives us the very Life we long for, and it comes in relationship with His Spirit. Is this the “good news” you convey to people you encounter?
*For more on this, read Mud and the Masterpiece, chapter 8.