Why did Jesus come to earth? According to one formerly popular worship tune, the answer is this:
You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord, I lift Your name on high
And in these few lines, we have what most evangelical Christians refer to as “the gospel.” According to the song, Jesus came from heaven, to pay the penalty for sin, and to show us the way to the sky. But this is incorrect. The angel Gabriel said none of that when he appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. So, what did the angel say?
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1:31-33
These are astounding things that were prophesied over Jesus, when compared to what popular Western theology says about Him. It would seem as though the angel is interested in all the wrong things. All of this talk about a throne and a kingdom sounds so earthly and political. Where is the promise of an atoning sacrifice? Where is the promise that He would make a way to go to heaven?
Some will say that this kingdom referred to by the angel is a “heavenly kingdom” in the sense of being a kingdom in heaven. Many people talk about the moment of death being the moment when one steps through the pearly gates and enters the kingdom of heaven. But the angel’s wording is not like that. The angel says that Jesus will have “the throne of his father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob...and His kingdom will have no end.” The angel never suggests that this “kingdom” will be in another realm altogether. The specific references to David and the house of Jacob should tie us down to earth – unless we have already come to the text, determined to have it say what we think it’s supposed to say. Why should we assume that when the angel refers to a kingdom, it is a kingdom in heaven and not on earth?
I realize that considering the possibility that Jesus’ kingdom could be something on earth brings up all sorts of questions and puzzles to consider and work through, and we will not pursue that right now. The question for right now is, are we sure that we have understood correctly what Jesus came to do? Is it possible that we haven’t fully heard the Christmas story, or the Gospel itself? Might it be that we have received the love of Christ but haven’t fully comprehended His purposes for us or for the world? I think it is very possible and probable. The Gospel is far more earthy, earth-shattering, and earth-re-creating, than we in the West have known. I personally believe that if we can recapture the magnitude of the Gospel, we will also see a major revival in our Western countries and cultures. The West needs to know that the “good news,” the gospel of the kingdom of God, is good news for the entire planet, and not least for the life you are currently living. And that we are called to make this news a reality by announcing it in word and deed throughout the world!
This Christmas season, try reading the Christmas stories again as though you have never heard them before. Assume that you don’t know what they are about and try to hear them with fresh ears. You might discover that Christmas is not only more meaningful than you thought, but it is also far more revolutionary and dangerous. You might even find it scary, even as it is extremely invigorating and life-giving.
Receive the gift of purpose this Christmas and discover the radical, all-encompassing, upside-down, inside-out, Gospel for Planet Earth.