With nearly 2000 years of the history of God as Father, it is difficult for us to imagine the impact the gospel had on the ancient world. Gospel means “Good News.” To us, it is so familiar that we cannot even see why they thought of it as astoundingly GOOD news. I hope to create in us the same viewpoint those ancient pagans had which will help us see why the gospel of Jesus exploded across the empire. And, maybe to open our eyes to another way to reach lost souls.
The pagan view of "god" was one reasoned by the philosophers such as Plato, Zeno, Aristotle, and others not so well known. They felt that god must be far removed from this corrupt world and indifferent to it. As a being of pure reason, how could god care what happened to men or even be aware of it. In fact, the philosophers held matter, and especially emotion, to be so evil in relation to the purity of reason that god himself could not have created it. The god was unemotional, implacable, and unmovable (hard not to think of Calvinisim/TULIP here which, in fact, stole this concept of God from the pagans via Augustine).
An emanation thousands of descents removed from god was the actual creator and even then not a participant in creation. Inasmuch as these lesser gods interacted with humans at all, they were capricious at best and vicious on a whim. The major goal of the pagan sacrificial system was to get god to leave them alone. A pagan’s life was spent hoping the gods never noticed him or at least did not care enough to lash out at him.
Into this world burst the gospel of a God who cares, a God who is good and sends good things, a God who loves and not only loves, but loved so much that he sent his Son. Gods coming to be among men was not new in the mythologies, but they came to satisfy their own lusts and to toy with men. God sent his son to rescue men and elevate them and give them hope. When this gospel was ratified by signs from heaven and not just magical wonders, but signs that healed and helped mortals, men flocked to the truth.
Further, the gospel offered hope: hope now and hope to come. What could an ordinary man be? He would live and work and die and, outside his city, who would know or care? The gospel offered meaning to life, a man could engage in cosmic warfare in the heavenlies. A Christian was a warrior known by name to his Captain who strengthened him and rewarded him in life. And in place of the dismal realms of the dead found in the mythologies, the gospel offered eternal life. To be somebody--even kings and presidents are not remembered long--but God knows your name. Men’s monumental achievements are forgotten in a generation and who cares anyway (except for the history test), but a man's righteousness and holiness is a victory written in the book of life before the Father’s throne.
That gospel is still good news to the nobodies, to the downtrodden and forgotten, to the everyday man who will never be the footnote to a footnote in history. Is that not who heard Jesus gladly?
The gospel they preached always held forth that hope of eternal life and being special to God as their motivation for purity and faithfulness. Are you preaching hope? Living hope? Do you even hear about hope?
Today, people are not concerned about sin, hence salvation from sin is a meaningless gospel to them. If we preach to them the gospel of love, hope and meaning, the God of all hope will draw them to seek to be holy as he is holy.
Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1John 3:1-3)