What is the Gospel?
We use the word “gospel” a lot! We talk about being “gospel” people, about being “gospel” centred, we want to teach “the gospel”, live “the gospel” and have our lives shaped by “the gospel”. “Gospel” becomes a bit of a bucket word—a word into which we pour everything we like or believe about Christianity.
But what is the gospel?
You see, “gospel” in the Bible is not so much a bucket word as a technical word. It doesn’t have a big, elastic meaning, but quite a specific, focussed meaning.
A Gospel is a Big News Announcement.
A gospel is a big news announcement. That’s what the word means – “big news.”
The word, if you’re interested, is a compound of the Greek word for “Good” (“Eu”) and the Greek word for message (“Anggelion”). We see the word “Eu” in English a fair bit, in words such as “euthanasia” (literally “good death”) and “euphoria” (literally “good feeling”). You can see in the word “anggelion” the word “angel” (which means “messenger”). Because of how the word has been put together, we sometimes translate it as “Good News.”
But that’s not quite right. You can’t just work out a word’s meaning by how the word is put together. You’ve got to pay attention to how the word is used.
We noticed this tension on Sunday in the passage from Luke 3:
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
Is John’s message “good” news?! Well, it depends on whether you’re wheat or chaff! His message is good news for wheat, but bad news for chaff.
You see, “gospel” doesn’t mean so much good news as big news. “Gospel” is important news, significant news, non-trivial news. In the ancient world, it was almost always reserved for the actions of kings and emperors.
A runner (an “evangelist”) would come into the middle of your town and proclaim a “gospel” such as “Caesar Augustus has conquered the invading tribes from the North.” That would be gospel.
A Gospel is big news with implications
A gospel is news with implications. A gospel is not a technique, a theory, an idea, or a course of action.
Come back to the ancient world. Imagine another runner comes into town, gathers a crowd, and starts selling cleaning products, or tupperware, or essential oils.
His message might be: “Guys! Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to keep food stored in safe and airtight conditions? Well, do I have something for you…!”
That person is giving a sales pitch. They are offering a service to solve a problem.
That is not a gospel. Gospels are not “if-then” statements. They are not “if you avail yourself of this product or service, things will go better for you.”
A gospel is not a sales-pitch. It is a declaration. Gospels are not about what could happen. They are about what has happened or will happen.
We saw that in Luke chapter 3. John the Baptist is saying that God is coming! Whether you want him to or not, God is about to send his Messiah, bringing salvation or judgement.
It’s not application. He’s not saying, “if enough of us vote for the Messiah, he’ll come!”
He’s saying, “He is coming. Therefore, amend your lives accordingly.” Gospels have implications, but they are not of themselves application.
The Big News that God has established his kingdom in Jesus.
What then is the New Testament Gospel. If I can put it in one sentence it is the news that God has established his kingdom in Jesus. Or, to get it down to three words, it is the news that “Jesus is Lord.” Consider these three examples of gospel summaries from the New Testament:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel… (2 Timothy 2:8)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)
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 Cephas, 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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
Do you see it? The gospel is the news about what God has done in establishing King Jesus. It’s news! Huge if true! And it’s news with implications. If it’s true that God has established his kingdom in Jesus, then—here it is: Adjust your lives accordingly!
Specifically, repent! Turn away from your own kingdom. This is exactly how John preaches the implication:
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Do you see? John declares God’s coming kingdom and coming king and the people ask “What should be then do?” And the answer is to amend your life in light of the coming regime change. To bring your life into line with the rule of King Jesus.
This is the gospel we’ll be diving into and living out of in 2023. It’s big news. But it is also good news, because Jesus is a good king.
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