The Social Gospel
John Telgren

Jesus came to "save" people. Most of us understand this simply in religious terms. He came to save people's souls being lost in Hell.

I have recently discovered something interesting. The language that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John use for Jesus healing is not always therapies or iaomai. Though these two words mean "to heal" or "to cure," they often use the word, sozo, "to save," for the healings and miracles of Christ (Mt 9:21-22; Mk 3:4; Mk 5:23, 28, 34; 6:56; 10:52; Lk 6:9; 7:50; 8:36, 48, 50; 17:19; 18:42; Jn 11:2; Acts 4:9; 14:9)! Some English Bibles render this verb "made whole, made well, healed," or something like that, which obscures that this is the same word, "save."

This suggests that there is no tension between saving someone from the oppression from sin or from physical ailment. They are part of the same package. Jesus was not merely interested in the salvation of souls (as a disembodied entity), but the whole person.

When Jesus first announces that the Kingdom was near in both Matthew and Mark, He begins an assault on evil, sickness, demon oppression, religious oppression, and everything related to sin and oppression. In Luke's account Jesus begins his ministry with a quotation from Isaiah 61, indicating that He was anointed not only to announce the good news to the poor, but also to free the captives and the oppressed, which He begins to do after leaving the synagogue that day.

Jesus preaches the "Good News of the Kingdom" with ministries of compassion, healing the sick and the demonized, feeding hungry people, touching the outcasts, and getting involved in the lives of the marginalized. The purposes of His miracles appear to be much more than merely confirming His message. He could have done wondrous feats, such as making the temple disappear and reappear, but He didn't. He was demonstrating what the Good News of the Reign of God was all about. God was bringing wholeness to broken people. His holistic ministry incorporated a fractured people into a beautiful patchwork that He called the body of Christ.

This ministry does not end with Jesus. He commissions the 12, and later 70 to do what He had been demonstrating. In the end, He sends out His disciples into the world to do as He has done, to engage people with ministries of compassion. Jesus is our model. This demonstrates a clear social dimension to the Gospel. The Good News of the Kingdom is proclaimed not merely by profession, but by practice. It is to do as Jesus did, and get involved. It is to walk as He walked, and be willing to get our hands dirty. It is to act as He acted, and be willing to take risks. Jesus does not call us to something "safe." We are sent as sheep in the midst of wolves. But the image of the slain lamb that rose from the dead and was exalted in Revelation 4-5 gives us strength, because in God's kingdom, sheep are stronger than the wolves and are victorious.