We often hear great words of encouragement about being “gospel-centered” it sometimes leaves us feeling as if it might not be something we can do in the real world. But is this more about our own failure rather than the vision of kingdom life that New Testament presents? As you prepare to gather with God’s people tomorrow, consider this real world example of a gospel-centered life. It comes from Jonathan Leeman’s excellent book, Reverberation.
My friend Brad helped me to do a little reprogramming of my own heart. Brad was a fellow member of a former church of mine, and we met weekly for a season. I remember one evening driving up to his house to pick him up for dinner, and he was waiting for me on the curb. I reached over, opened the car door from the inside, and heard him immediately say, “Hey, Jonathan, have you ever seen a CD player this small?” He had brought his own battery-powered player and was intending to play it. But it wasn’t that small.
Brad is autistic and blind. Like most people with autism, he’s socially awkward, and makes strange bodily movements. For instance, he will squeeze his eyes shut, flap his hands in front of his face so that his finger tips touch, and then repeatedly wipe his face with both hands.
I turned my car radio off. Brad’s finger hit the play button.
We had not made much conversation at that point. We had not said hello. Still, it was time to sing. Not two more seconds passed and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus began filling the small cabin of my car with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” accompanied by Brad’s own sonorous vibrato. Brad may be blind and autistic, but he’s also a member of a professional chorus and has a beautiful voice.
“Hallelujah … Hallelujah … For the Lord God omnipotent …”
I began singing with him. My meager baritone was no match for his hardy tenor.
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” The cabin reverberated loudly with these words from the book of Revelation.
I began thinking about this King of kings who had established His kingdom in Brad’s heart. The song finished. Brad then asked me, “Do you know this one?” He punched the track button, and then he sang the following lines from Isaiah that Handel placed in part two of his Messiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
But Brad didn’t let the song finish. He stopped the CD in order to discuss the lyrics with me. “Yep, with His stripes we are healed. Do you know that, Jonathan? With His stripes we are healed. He was bruised for our iniquities. And with His stripes we are healed. He took the suffering we deserved. He paid for our sins. With His stripes we are healed.”
He talked this way for several minutes. Actually, he talked this way most of the evening. There was no pretense in his words. There was no fear in what I might think of him. He simply spoke gospel. Gospel words from gospel lips overflowing from a gospel heart. I wondered at several points if I was with a prophet. The clear ring of Brad’s heart was a sermon to me.
Make no mistake, Brad is lonely. He longs for more friends. He longs for a wife. He longs to see. He longs to be released from the ravages of a crumpled nervous system.
Yet, somehow, more than any of these things, he longs for the day when he will be released from sin and the ravages of sin. That evening, in fact, it occurred to me that Brad’s heart rang like a gospel bell, ringing this one sustained note. You know what a bell sounds like. There is no complexity, no dissonance, no conflict in its ring. A bell’s sound is not boastful. It does not presume to be an orchestra. A bell is single-minded and wills only one thing: to sing its one note clearly.
“By His stripes we are healed,” Brad kept saying. He told me that his mom tries to get him to stop talking about the gospel so much. I wasn’t surprised. This evening wasn’t unique. Brad often talks this way. He cannot help it.
I considered my own mind and heart: analytical, complex, fickle, double-minded, occasionally afraid. I wish the people closest to me got sick of hearing me talk about the gospel so much.