|Posted by thethousandmarch on February 23, 2011 at 9:05 PM|
There's a lot of Christians working hard, or at least told that they should be working hard, to spread the gospel. But, before we go too far we might want to make sure we know what exactly the gospel actually is. Otherwise we end up, as we have, with a lot of people who think the gospel is some variant form of moralistic therapeutic deism – 'Good news, God just wants you to be successful and feel good about yourself.' As well, there are still a few people out there who seem to think that the gospel is – 'Good news! God gave us a big list of things not to do, be good relative to all the sinners around you (as determined by your own conscience, of course) and you'll get to go to heaven; and you better hate gay people.' However, I think if we look in the Bible we might find out what the gospel, as proclaimed by Jesus and his disciples, actually is.
First of all the gospel is 'good news'; that's what it literally means. That may be common knowledge, but I've talked to some pretty smart Christians who don't seem to keep it in mind. Whatever the news may be, it's supposed to be good for the hearer. If the news is bad news, or irrelevant news, then it's not the gospel.
Jesus in many instances proclaimed the good news of the kingdom (Matt 4:23, Luke 4:43 being examples). What's the good news? The Jews knew what he was talking about, they'd been waiting for the king and kingdom foretold of long before by their prophets. Jesus expounds in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The coming of God's kingdom was and is good news because it means judgment of evil, which means justice. The coming of God's kingdom means redemption and salvation for the Earth and God's people. It means God is coming to restore his creation. This is the good news Jesus proclaimed. But, then he was crucified, rose from the dead and commissioned his disciples to “ . . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20a). Did the gospel then change?
Jesus' disciples refer to the gospel as “the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1); “the gospel of his son” (Rom 1:9); “my [Paul] gospel” (Rom 2:16); “the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:19); “the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thes 1:; “the eternal gospel” (Rev 14:6); and most predominately simply “the gospel”. Paul very nicely sums up what he proclaims to be the gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-8. He says:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Nothing about the kingdom of God, just the story of Jesus' death and resurrection and that this leads to salvation (1 Cor 15:57). However, this does not exhaust what Paul believes and teaches that the gospel is – it sums up what he feels is of first importance; it is belief in this which leads to the rest. In Rom 2:16 Paul says that God will “judge people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” So, we see just from this one example that Paul proclaimed a gospel which included more than just the death and resurrection of Jesus, it also included, among other things, God's judgment which precedes the establishment of his kingdom.
Peter never says “this is the gospel . . .”, but I'm going to assume that his first public sermon – which we find in Acts 2 – is at least one way in which he would sum up the gospel. He says in verses 22-39:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
'. . . you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. . . .'
Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
We see here that the good news proclaimed by Peter includes: the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which fulfills Old Testament prophecy (with which Paul agrees Rom 1:2), because Jesus is the promised messiah and king who will conquer evil and bring salvation and blessing to the world. So the Christian gospel, the good news proclaimed by Jesus' disciples, which they sometimes called the gospel of Jesus is the same good news proclaimed by Jesus and foretold by the prophets.
Jesus proclaimed the good news that the promised, long awaited kingdom of God had arrived with its blessings and salvation in him, its anointed king. He warned of the coming judgment of those who remained in rebellion, and called all to repent so that they may be among those who enter into the kingdom. Jesus as the Messiah made our redemption possible by his death, and has conquered death, becoming the first fruit of the new creation, by his resurrection. Jesus stated that the “. . . gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Then justice will be established, creation will be restored, and God's people will receive the full blessing of the kingdom. Jesus' disciples took this good news and proclaimed it after his ascension. They called it the gospel of Jesus, because he is the Messiah and king of the kingdom. He inaugurated the kingdom, he was the fulfillment of prophecy, he brought the blessings of the kingdom especially the forgiveness of sins leading to salvation and the indwelling of the Spirit. He is the central character of the good news, his actions are the news, and make the news good. If he did not save us from our sins we would all fall under the judgment of God. Jesus' disciples passed on to us his teachings concerning his kingdom and the story of his redemptive work which is the good news; it is the story of God saving and reclaiming this world.