What is the Gospel?
The gospel is hard to distill down to its essence. Lots of things could be said about the Gospel and its implications. But how does one summarize it into a forceful, hopeful, prayerful, encouraging statement?
Before the word gospel referred to a book of the bible, It was a Greek word that referred to a message of good tidings issued from the lips of an appointed messenger.
We are accustomed to using the word all the time. Gospel worship. Gospel community. Gospel preaching. Gospel music. We know the first four books of the NT belong to a literary genre called gospel.
Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” So, here Mark is referring to the document He is writing, right, the Gospel according to Mark?
But that word referred to something before the four evangelists’ books were designated with it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote accounts of the Gospel.
One Gospel. Four accounts. The Gospel according to…. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Accounts of what? The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense. A Gospel is a proclamation. A proclamation of what? By whom?
The distinction I want to make is that the Christian Gospel was originally a message delivered by an appointed messenger and the four books that begin the New Testament are hand written accounts of that one messenger and His message. The gospels, plural, are a literary genre – a gospel is a message of good tidings proclaimed by an anointed messenger.
The original anointed messenger of the Christian Gospel was Jesus. And His Gospel was that He, Jesus, the son of God, is king. Not just of heaven, but of earth.
The Christian Gospel is that Jesus is King.
This is an earth altering, worldview altering, cosmic message of joy. It’ what the Apostles were proclaiming in 2nd Corinthians 4:5–6 “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Those living in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light and that light is the king, the son of God – Jesus. Jesus was the first messenger of this good news and He was the message.
Before we continue, let’s review this word Gospel that we know so well. Like I said last week, the words the NT authors chose to use had a context in the original Hellenistic culture. Understanding how the words were used before and outside the NT can help us a great deal in our understanding of their use in the NT.
It was a strategic move to incorporate this specific word into the Christian message.
The word gospel, or evangel among the Romans, meant “joyful tidings,” and was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose ascent to the throne or great military victory was accompanied by a gospel proclamation.
A calendar inscription from about 9 B.C., found in Priene in Asia Minor, says of the emperor Augustus: “the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings which have been proclaimed on his account.”
This inscription is remarkably similar to Mark’s initial line and it clarifies the essential content of an evangel in the ancient world: a Historical event which introduces a new setting for the world.”
Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of His kingdom in this world is the Christian Gospel.
Mark is writing one account of this world shattering news. The Roman world would have understood Jesus and then Mark’s use of this word, as both controversial and weird.
A poor Jewish on-time carpenter, traveling rabbi is a God? What affect could he possibly have on the world?
The use of the word Gospel by Jesus, is a tacit statement that His coming is an event that brings about a radically new state of affairs for mankind.
As biblical and historical scholar N.T. Wright sums up the evidence, “in the Greek world… a Gospel, is a regular technical term, referring to the announcement of a great victory, or to the birth, or assent of an emperor.” The point here is that a “gospel,” refers to a public announcement of glorious news about an emporer.
The gospel is not primarily about salvation. It’s not primarily about going to heaven. It’s not primarily about adoption as God’s children. All of those things are the fruit of the Gospel.
But the Gospel is not about you and your salvation. It’s about Jesus.
The Hope of the OT was that God would come and install David’s son upon the throne of Israel. The Jewish expectations tended to be worldly and political in a way that God did not intend. But the Kingdom of God played a major role in the early preaching both of Jesus whose message is: “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:14-15). The same message characterized the content of the apostolic preaching (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
In the Bible, the idea of good news is found originally in the book of Isaiah, chapters 40 and 52, which is why Mark quotes from these sections in Mark 1:2-3.
In Isaiah the good news is not simply about a coming king.
The good news is about Israel’s God himself, the God they knew as YAHWEH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the creator of the world.
Isaiah’s good news is that the one true God is on the move! Isaiah’s message is about the end of Israel’s exile but ultimately is about the Messianic kingdom.
Which include prophecies about the end of the dark powers that enslave and corrupt and destroy genuine human life. Promises that the Messiah will overcome every obstacle that stands in the way of his people being restored to their land and their status as his people.
And that means nothing will stand in the way of his long-planned new creation. Finally, all the ancient promises are going to come true. And in the middle of it all, at the heart of the good news in Isaiah, stands this promise: God is coming back in person, and all nations will see his glory.
This good news isn’t about a mere human emperor. It’s about the return of the true king, the God of all creation.
So, what are we saying? Jesus applies this message to Himself using terms that, in his hearers’ minds, will resonate with language they associate with Caesar. If we can get our minds around that idea, we will be well on our way to understanding what is meant by the gospel.
Jesus was claiming to do things through which the world would be healed, transformed, rescued, and renewed. He was, in short, announcing good news, for Israel and the whole world.
; Luke 4:16-21 summarized in Matthew 4:23 “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”
Jesus is proclaiming that God has entered human history to lead a new Exodus for the whole world.
Mark 1:14-15. The gospel is not about you. It’s not a personal message to you. It’s a message for the world. Believe and you enter the kingdom in which salvation, restoration and eternal life are found.
But let’s be clear. The Gospel is that the kingdom of God is here because Jesus is here. Believe it and repent and enter His kingdom. The Gospel is: Jesus is King. Bow. Praise Him. Obey Him.
This is the great exodus of all mankind, deliverance from the kingdom of Darkness and entrance into the Kingdom of light.
The original exodus, many centuries before, had been what we would call a political revolution. In the old stories, it had involved Moses leading tens of thousands of slaves to escape into freedom.
God [led Israel] through the Red Sea, through years of wandering in the desert, until they finally inherited their promised land. The exodus remained central to Jewish life and thought.
It shaped how Jews understood all of God’s promises.
God would not remain in Heaven but would come Himself in power, defeating the powers of evil, and rescuing his people. Isaiah promises the coming of the kingdom of God. In other words, Isaiah is speaking of God becoming king of the world in a whole new way.
The one true God was always the rightful ruler of the world, but he needed to reclaim his kingdom after the power of evil had usurped it.
When man fell from Eden, the throne room of the true King, God withdrew and cast man out, placing an angel at the door to work it and keep it in man’s place.
But the fallen Angel has taken the world for Himself. Satan owns the world and all her nations by the time Jesus is born. At Jesus’ birth where is Yahweh’s kingdom? All the nations, at Jesus’ birth, are under the dominion of Satan. That’s why Satan can offer them to Jesus in the wilderness and it’s a real temptation. But Jesus came to take by force in obedience to His Father. He wasn’t going to take the easy road to the throne.
Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
Jesus plunders the Earth, adding to the treasures of Heaven, because He has come into the world to commit a political coup d’etat. He throws down Satan, the strong man, who has enslaved the whole world under sin and death. By destroying the kingdom of darkness, Jesus ushers us all into the kingdom of light.
Jesus came preaching the Gospel in word and deed – and that Gospel is that Jesus is the King, the LORD, and this is joyous news for the whole earth.
Divine Lordship is the key theme of the bible. Over and over, we are told that God performs his mighty deeds, so that people “shall know that I am the LORD.” This is stated 31 times throughout the OT.
Why? Exodus 9:16 as quoted in Romans 9:17, that “my name may be declared in all the earth,” says the Lord.
God performs mighty deeds to establish His Lordship over the whole earth. This is why the Great Commission is formulated the way that it is.
Phil 2:5-11. In our reading today, Jesus comes as a servant, is obedient unto death and is raised above all authority so that the cosmos will bow and call Him Lord.
The Gospel is that the Kingdom of Heaven has come to earth because Jesus has come to earth. He was claiming, in effect, to be the good news in person.
Israel had been waiting for a new Exodus. A remaking of the world as a demonstration of power that would destroy the nations. A new David, not to restore just the kingdom of Israel, but to conquer the world.
In Luke 19:11, it says the disciples thought the “kingdom of God was to appear immediately,” because they were approaching Jerusalem. They tried to make Jesus king by force…..In Acts the disciples are still asking when Jesus is bringing the kingdom because they still don’t get it. They are waiting for Heaven’s grand assault on the fallen kingdom of earth.
If you are anticipating armies and conquest, just think, if Jesus can feed five thousand with a few loaves and fish, if he can raise the dead, heal people with a word, calm the stormy weather, travel huge distances by walking on water – could you imagine the war that He could rage on the Romans? Endless numbers of healthy well-fed troops? The Roman Legions would finally meet their match.
This is what the Jewish people are waiting for.
The Jewish people of the first century were expecting their God to come back in person to rescue them, revealing his glorious presence, defeating their enemies, and reestablishing them as his people once and for all.
But they got Jesus.
They were hoping for a new exodus—that is, a repeat performance of what had happened fifteen hundred years earlier, when the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt and their God came to rescue them. He had overcome the powerful Egyptian rulers, liberated his people, and led them in person through the Sinai Desert to bring them to the promised land. Many prophets had said that one day God would do something like this again. Many people were hoping it would be soon.
But they got Jesus.
They were hoping for a new age of justice and peace. Ancient scriptures had spoken of a time when the wolf would lie down with the lamb, the mountains would drip sweet wine, and the earth would be full of the knowledge and the glory of the one true God like waters filling the sea.
But they got Jesus.
Is it any wonder they were puzzled? On the road to Emmaus, two of his disciples, not knowing it was Jesus, explained sadly that they had hoped Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. But the Romans crucified him, so he can’t have been the one to do it after all.
Remember when John and His brother came and asked Jesus boldly that they could sit on Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom?
Jesus gave a crisp answer to James and John: The rulers of the world run things one way, but we’re going to run things another way. Ordinary rulers do it through ordinary power. They give themselves airs and get their way by threats and bullying.
We’re going to do it, he said, by loving and serving. This is how it had to be, he went on, because “The son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve, to give his life ‘as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah, from the heart of the good news passages.
God’s kingship is a different sort of kingship altogether. There is a different kind of power, and it is the power of the gospel—the power announced by the gospel, the power wielded by the gospel. God came from Heaven as a Man and overcome evil with good. He laid down his life. Obeyed unto death.
It is the power neither of brute force nor of superior argument but of something that goes much deeper, into every area of human life. The early Christians called it the power of agape, love.
The clash between Jesus and the powers of the world—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans—was never about God simply having a bit more power than humans, so that he could manage to beat them at their own game. It isn’t that God has stronger tanks and bombs than everybody else.
That’s what people expected in Jesus’s day. It is also what people expect, and often want, today. (“Why doesn’t God do something to stop wicked dictators killing people?”) If we could just get more supreme court justices.
This is why the good news is so often misunderstood. This is why it continues to puzzle and challenge the people of God, as it always has. It’s also why people step back from the big claims in the Bible and turn the radical good news into something they find more believable.
Something about “me and my relationship to God” or about “going to heaven.” Something more like advice than news.
The good news is about the living God overcoming all the powers of the world to establish his rule of justice and peace, on earth as in heaven. And that victory is won not by superior power of the same kind but by a different sort of power altogether.
We know what the power of the world looks like. When push comes to shove, as it often does, it is the power of violence, using the threat of pain and death. It is, yes, the power of tanks and bombs, and also of guns and knives and whips and prisons and barbed wire and bulldozers.
Weapons to destroy people’s lives; machines to destroy their homes. Cruelty in the home or at work. Malice and manipulation where there should be gentleness, kindness, and wisdom. Jesus’s power is of a totally different sort, as he explained to the Roman governor a few minutes before the governor sent him to his death—thereby proving the point. The kingdoms of the world run on violence. The kingdom of God, Jesus declared, has come through His love.
That is the good news.
The true and living God, who is all grace and mercy, is now in charge. The gospel is that Jesus is LORD of heaven and earth.
Because Jesus has come, and He is the King, his kingdom has come.
Without Him there is no kingdom of heaven entering this world and we remain under Satan in utter darkness. And without that there is no hope, there is no life and there is no grace.
The original Messenger of the Gospel was Jesus. As Matthew Henry wrote “The Gospel of Christ. It is called his, not only because he is the author of it and it comes from him, but because he is the subject of it and is all about Him.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is recorded in Mark 1:14-15.
The Kingdom of Heaven has come to Earth through the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven has invaded earth and the conquest is complete and total.
And this is good news.
But this news is news, not a suggestion or a plea or a request. It’s not an op-ed. It’s not propaganda or the advice column. It’s not fantasy or the in the funny pages.
It’s front-page news. It’s fact.
N.T. Wright states “this is what Israel was waiting for. It wasn’t a new piece of good advice. It wasn’t a new political agenda. It wasn’t a new type of spiritually. It might eventually lead to advice, agenda and certainly to prayer, but it was itself something more than all of these. It was the good (and Extremely dangerous) news that the living God was on the move, was indeed now coming into his kingdom. And it demanded definite response. It was God’s good news.”
Jesus is not giving advice or issuing an invitation. He is proclaiming a new reality. A new order. A new regime. And it is either to be believed or not; obeyed or not.
One can debate the merits of a religion, moral system, or philosophy, but a news event is discussed in a different way. Either the event happened, or didn’t.
If it did happen, either it means what people say it means or it doesn’t.”
Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of words and deeds. He declares the glad tidings that the long-awaited ladder to heaven has arrived. Climb it or die.
How? Follow Him.
Jesus is declaring Himself to be the Son of God. Kiss him or perish.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him, for He is the long-awaited ark in which those who hide themselves are saved from the wrath of God, utter destruction.
Mark’s Gospel proclaims an alternative kingdom; the kingdom of God. It speaks of Jesus in terms associated with the Caesars, and, by doing so, proposes an alternative view of reality which offers an alternative set of hopes for the future. Mark’s Gospel was subversive because Jesus’ Gospel was subversive.
Is the Gospel we preach good news? Is it subversive? A joyous proclamation of fact, in word and deed?
The original Gospel message was subversive in that it undermined the claims of the imperial cult which proclaimed that the emperor is the source of life for the world.
Just like the modern state does. There is a modern secular gospel that the state is the source of life. That Life, liberty and happiness are equitably guaranteed.
What is our message? What are the weapons of our warfare?
Rome had extended the shadow of death across many nations. Jesus came into that empire and proclaimed that the true source of life, identity, goodness, fullness, joy, and hope for the world is Jesus Christ.
When Jesus comes, He brings life to those who find themselves living under the shadow of death.
That is good news, isn’t it?
The news that Jesus is King is good because Jesus is good.
Is God good? Believe it. Is God powerful enough to overcome the world? Believe it.
Take up and read the Gospel, all four accounts, and then read them again. Then sing the doxology.
Then read them again.
Repent accordingly. The gospel is to be believed and it is to be obeyed. And it is the good news that God’s Kingdom has come because God has come into the world in Jesus Christ.
And He is with us, always, to the end of the age.