We often read today of a "gospel-centered"TM
ministry as opposed to a legalistic or otherwise sub-Christian approach to
salvation. When used in this
trade-marked sense, "gospel-centered" usually means that we must exclusively present God's forgiveness for sinners through
faith alone in the blood of his Son. We
must not emphasize (or perhaps even
mention) God's standards of conduct, methods for becoming more holy, or the
application of spiritual effort in Christian living.
Of course, there is an important and right sense in which we must be gospel-centered, wherein Jesus in his person and work is the center of our message. This will certainly lead to an emphasis on justification through faith alone and forgiveness through Christ's blood, but it will extend to include the entire scope of his redemptive work and will. It is in this sense that we may contrast a Christ-centered ministry to the kind of "gospel-centered"TM ministry that presents forgiveness + nothing as the gospel. This raises the question to me as to whether Jesus himself can be said to have a "gospel-centered"TM ministry?
To satisfy my curiosity, I
turned to the Gospel of Mark, which is currently being read during the morning
worship services of the church I serve. I
do realize that the Gospels are not given as a statistical sample of Jesus'
ministry day-to-day. Still, we should be
able to get a fair sense of our Lord's own priorities if we categorize the
types of messages recorded in his Gospels.
For simplicity's sake, I noted 4 main types of ministry emphases highlighted
by Jesus in Mark:
1. Jesus declaring his deity as
Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive
2. Jesus preaching the gospel: pointing out his
hearers' need to be forgiven and God's wonderful remedy through his saving
work. Included here would be calls to
prospective disciples to believe and follow Jesus.
3. Jesus training and reproving
his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic
4. Jesus exposing false teachers
and religious opposition. This includes
the confronting and correcting of false doctrine.
Armed with this grid, I worked
my way through the Gospel of Mark. Passage-by-passage, I asked what Jesus
was doing. His call to believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15) and for the
disciples to leave their boats to follow him (Mk. 1:16-20) were both put down
as 2. Preaching the gospel. His healing of a man with an unclean spirit
(Mk. 1:21-28) was 1. Declaring his deity as Messiah. The healing of the
paralytic in Mk. 2:1-12 was counted in three ways: 1. Jesus declaring his
deity, 2. Preaching the gospel, and 4. Exposing religious
opposition. I admit that these decisions are subjective, but I do think
they will give a fairly general summary of the content in Jesus'
ministry. So, working through the Gospel of Mark, how would we categorize
The answer is that Jesus'
primary emphasis was in 1. Declaring his deity as Messiah and teaching theology. Working through Mark, I made 30 tick marks
under this category. The next emphasis
was 3. Training and reproving his disciples.
I noted this emphasis 22 times.
Third was category 4. Exposing false teaching and religious opposition,
which occurred 16 times. The least
frequent emphasis was 2. Preaching the gospel, which was observed 8 times.
For ease of consideration, let
me put this in a table:
Revealing Self & Teaching Theology
Training & Reproving
Exposing False Teaching /
Presenting the Gospel to
I would invite others to
replicate this survey of Jesus' teaching in Mark's Gospel. Due to the non-technical nature of my
assessment, others will no doubt come up with different numbers. But the picture is likely to be the
same. As Mark records it, Jesus
primarily ministered to reveal himself as the Divine Messiah, he regularly
reproved and instructed his followers, he routinely confronted false teaching
and religious opposition, and he often presented to sinners the offer of a free
This brings me back to the
original question: did Jesus' have a gospel-centered ministry? The answer, it turns out, depends on whether
or not the trademark is applied. Under
the "gospel-centered"TM rubric, a true ministry must constantly and
almost exclusively hammer home the free offer of forgiveness through faith
alone in Christ's blood. Teaching
theology is deemed irrelevant, instruction is legalistic, and confronting false
teaching is ungracious. In this
approach, the biblical evidence shows that Jesus did not have a "gospel-centered"TM ministry. In fact, most of what Jesus did in Mark's
Gospel involves messages that a "gospel-centered"TM ministry does
How can this be? How can Jesus himself fail to be "gospel-centered"TM? The answer is that, biblically speaking, the
gospel does not have the trademark given to it today. Indeed, the Bible shows that Jesus is himself
the gospel, so that the good news involves all that he said and did. So, removing the trademark, we ask again: Was
Jesus gospel-centered? The answer is
Yes! But how was Jesus
gospel-centered? The answer is that he
revealed himself as the divine Messiah and enlightened man about God, he showed
the power and grace to live a new kind of life, he exposed darkness and
unbelief as false and ungodly, and he offered forgiveness to broken
sinners. This was Jesus' gospel-centered
ministry, and what good news it is! May
we, following our Savior, likewise present fully-orbed gospel-centered
ministries to the church and the world in Jesus' name.
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