The Gospel is more than just good advice
Well I would never want to suggest that it was the most mind-blowing of revelations although for some fans of "Toy Story" it seems to possess that kind of importance. If you're confused I am referring to the identity of Andy's mother. Andy, for the uninitiated, is the young boy who "outgrows, forgets and donates" his toys and in so doing has earned Pixar Animation Studios a tsunami of critical acclaim not to mention loads of money at the box office.
I have to admit that much as I have enjoyed watching the "Toy Story" saga but I had never given Andy's mother or her real identity a second thought until I began to prepare a Palm Sunday sermon last week. I did a quick internet search typing in the words "True identity revealed" and up popped a fascinating blog that assured me the clinching piece of evidence was a red cowboy hat! I had to smile because I have a red cowboy hat and it's left me wondering whether I should question my real identity ever since!
Seriously though, I can't help thinking that this phrase is a key to understanding the last week of Jesus' life. He knew who He was of course. He believed He was the Son of God and therefore the rightful king of the Jews. If He wasn't convinced of that before His baptism He certainly can have no doubts after the Holy Spirit spoke to Him. And yet the Gospel records show us that he was rather reticent to state that too clearly and unambiguously throughout much of his public ministry. Indeed there is a very telling moment when he actually warns his disciples that they were to tell no one that He was the Messiah (Mark 8).
This could seem puzzling until you realise that He did not want people to think that He was the stereotypical military Messiah who couldn't wait to teach the Romans a lesson. Jesus believed there was a greater enemy and that he could only be defeated through His act of heroic self-sacrifice. And, just as importantly He was determined that He would choose both the time and place of his inevitable execution.
Everything changed on Palm Sunday however for that was the moment when Jesus decided to reveal his true identity and stake his claim to the throne. And in the days that followed he did and said things that no one could fail to misunderstand. He pronounced judgement on the Temple and warned the religious establishment that they were about to murder Him even though He was God's Son.
And they did, just as He said they would. But thankfully, we now know that that was not the end of the story. History bears witness to the fact that over the next few weeks His small band of disillusioned disciples were transformed into a fearless band of followers who spent the rest of their lives telling the world that He had come back to life again.
A decade or so later a former rabbi turned Christian evangelist summed up the implications of that mind-boggling truth when he wrote: "This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David's family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit He is Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1 New Living Translation)
And that's why he went on to say that there is just one appropriate response to this claim: we are to believe and to obey. Consequently NT Wright has rightly pointed out that Paul would not have seen himself as a "travelling evangelist offering people a new religious experience" but as "an ambassador for a king-in-waiting, establishing cells of people loyal to this new king".
It seems to me that the British church would do well to remind itself of that truth this Easter time. The Gospel is not good advice. Nor is it an optional extra. It is an exciting if disturbing fact of life. This is not the time for reticence or hesitation. This is the time for illumination.