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 not approve.
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:
- Jesus declaring his deity as Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive history).
- 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.
- Jesus training and reproving his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic labor.
- 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.