-- Ronald Reagan, The Shining City Upon a Hill, 01/24/74
How many times have we heard lines like the one above from U.S. Presidents? I remember the first time it really struck me. I was sitting on the couch in my shared apartment in Silver Spring, MD during the 2000 presidential election season. I heard George W. Bush say something like, "America is the greatest force for good in the world". My friend who I was living with at the time was not a Christian, nor was he a U.S. citizen. It struck him as a bold comment to make. I was wondering, "Isn't the Church the greatest force for good in the world?"
But today, I'm pretty sure that both candidate Bush and I were wrong. America isn't "the greatest force for good in the world". Neither is the church. Nor is it free elections, a laptop for every child, universal healthcare, reversing global warming, the free market, a return to traditional values, etc. All modern U.S. presidents at one time or other have put forth some grand statement that puts individual freedom, international cooperation, or America itself as "the greatest force for good. So what's the right answer? It's the gospel.
But which one?
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of God in power the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We all know that the word gospel means, "good news" and many have heard that the Greek word itself is euangelion. But what many don't realize is that the first century readers of the New Testament would have recognized euangelion or gospel from a completely different context: Roman imperialism. Yes, the term was a familiar one that would have indicated any of the following among other things:
1. Yet another victory for Caesar or his agent over a military enemy or new conquest
2. The arrival of Caesar to your hometown or region
3. The crowning of a new emperor which would mean that the previous Caesar was now divine
So the gospel of Rome was fully and firmly founded in the faith that her emperor was godlike and had power to not only preserve the empire, but to extend it. And that extension was certainly for the greater glory of Rome to be sure. However, it was also for the betterment of mankind. You see, the Romans saw other peoples as barbarians and savages who needed to be conquered so that they could learn the ways of enlightened Rome. Sound like anything you've heard over the years?
Caesar Augustus, who had one of the longest and most peaceful reigns over the empire had coins with his face and this inscriptions on those coins like: The Savior of the World, Augustus- Son of God, Salvation is in no Other Name, etc. When you compare this to Acts 4:12, you come to some shocking conclusions about the counter-cultural, in-your-face nature of the Apostles' preaching and teaching.
So this isn't just about Rome and the USA- but the truth is that every nation, has a "gospel". The goals of every administration in government and the platform of every political party- all of them are announcing what they believe is good news for all people. It's the gospel of the City of Man- humans and the nations they build are exalted above and independent of the sovereign God- the only true God. They may never say so openly, but what else can we conclude when national leaders point to their country as "the greatest force for good"? Oh yes, be assured that the City of Man speaks of god, but it's a god who helps them, serves their purposes, and never rebukes but always rewards the City of Man with divine "blessings".
But Paul brought forth a totally different gospel. It's not the gospel of Rome, not Caesar's gospel, not the gospel of Athens and Greek wisdom, not even the gospel of Moses and the law- but the gospel of God. And that gospel is not without a King. It is completely consumed with Christ- the true Israel and thus, the true Son of God. Eternally existing in the form of God but born as a man and now revealed as divine via resurrection. This King also conquered-- not by killing others, but by dying to self and denying His rights. He was glorious but lived for the glory of another- His Father. He was ruler of all but came not to be served, but to serve for the benefit of His servants.
That's good news!
The gospel in our Christian usage has simply swallowed up the Roman version of it. And no wonder, for it is the Father's announcement entrusted to believers to declare the rulership of Christ over sin and death via the cross and now among His people/Bride, through the Holy Spirit. Think about what kind of boldness was necessary for Paul to write a letter to believers living in Rome- the very heart of the empire- announcing the gospel of God, not the gospel of Caesar. What are the implications for believers... especially those living in capital cities today?
In closing, I know it's Election Day 2012. And I'm not here to diminish what goodness there is in the relatively peaceful transition of power that takes place every four years in this country. It is, in fact, something to celebrate. As one who has lived overseas, I have a very special appreciation for this aspect of American living. But I do want to encourage you to consider how important it is not to be deceived into embracing Americanism, one-world globalism, the world is getting better through scientific advancement-ism, we can solve our problems by working together-ism, etc. as the "gospel" of what will make the world better. The promises (electoral or otherwise) made by the City of Man may be well-intended but are ultimately empty and doomed to failure. It is the City of God that we look to as the "best hope of man on earth".