He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
-Luke 4:16-21 (HCSB)
What is the gospel? The gospel means “good news”. We are supposed to follow Jesus and preach the gospel, right? We preach it with our lives, ministering to a lost world that needs life.
Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.
Some people take a part of what Jesus did and make that the gospel. The common one is, “Justification by faith”. We have heard of the “health and wealth gospel”, or the “God loves a winner gospel”, and there is the “gospel of baptism”, that says you have to link immersion in water by man with God’s work in Christ for the message and the work of salvation to be complete.
Most all evangelicals (people who proclaim the good news) can probably agree that justification by faith is important, but is that the gospel or is that part of the gospel?
The “justification by faith” gospel message, it seems to me, is the message (good news) that folks need to realize they are sinners and to see the cross as the way to be saved.
But, do you imagine that this is the message that Jesus spoke and the message that he taught his first disciples to speak and that they passed on to the next generations, all the way to today? When we look at the gospel Jesus gave, his good news, in Luke chapter 4, does he articulate justification by faith, or something else?
And hold onto your hats: Did Paul, Peter, and the Apostles preach justification by faith, or did they preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus preached? Is it possible that since the reformation, we have taken something from Paul (justification by faith) that is part of the gospel and made that part the whole or centerpiece?
And if the good news we are calling people to is not the person of Messiah, Christ Jesus who is Lord; but something he did, then we are saved, but kind of left, waiting to die and go to heaven. And that is what is wrong with making an important piece the centerpiece and forgetting or being ignorant of the whole package.
Have we made the gospel, “The plan of salvation”, and narrowed salvation as to mean justification by faith?
In wrestling with these questions, I have tried to figure out what the message, the gospel, the good news is today that the church is supposed to offer. And I have wondered if Jesus preached anything like we do today, telling about how he was going to die for all the sins of the world to save us and reconnect us with God. I know that Jesus spoke about these things, but I cannot find him proclaiming them as his prototypical message, as the good news.
Jesus did go to the cross and he did pay for the sins of all and he did rise from the dead and he was fully human and fully divine, having set aside his divinity during his earthly life. All that is true, but what was his message and what was the main message that he taught his first disciples to proclaim that they have passed on all the way through time to today?
When I grew up in the evangelical church, my young understanding of the gospel was having my sins forgiven by God through Jesus Christ and having a ticket to heaven. I made him my personal savior. I resisted the Lord part. I heard this message (“get forgiven so you can go to heaven and also be in the rapture”) hundreds of times, and raised my hand or stood or bent the card many many times, to make sure I was saved, and I was emotionally thrilled with this and wanted all my friends and family to be saved too.
But, I have come to understand that the message, the gospel, or the good news is more than this. First and personally, I had to incorporate the “Lord” part and make Jesus my Lord. This gave me a big clue about what was missing from the gospel message, from my own experience.
I have tried to imagine Jesus getting up on some rocks, standing above a crowd, or at the front of a synagogue, saying, “I am going to die on the cross for your sins and rise on the third day! You must ask me into your heart to be saved! Then go into the world and tell others about how I will be dying on the cross for their sins and they also need to ask me into their hearts! Be saved! Be saved by me! I will save you if you ask me into your hearts!” Did he say, “Make me your personal lord and savior”? I don’t think so.
What Jesus did say was, “give up everything and start your life over in me”, and “continue giving up everything for me throughout your lifetime”. Jesus said to his original disciples, “come follow me”.
If you follow him, he will take you to his cross and your cross. If you follow him, he will take you to death and resurrect you. He will take away your fears, he will comfort you, and he will empower you to let him live his life through you.
He is the good news. He has come, he is here. God has fulfilled his will to redeem humans and the whole creation through him. He came to give us life and to empower us, his followers, to change the world through him.
He forgives our sins and heals our diseases and delivers us from all bondage. He came to transform, renew, and redeem every aspect of our lives. He did not come to hand out tickets to heaven for those who “get” the justification message, and say, “see you later… it’s gonna be great!”
A mistake we have made is to make the Christian, evangelical message about something (justification by faith) that he accomplished, rather than about him. And we have ended up leading people to a doctrine rather than a person. We end up with people who are “saved”, but don’t know the savior. We end up with church members who are not disciples. We have pastors who are not disciples, teaching people how to talk about the life, but not live it and then come back and talk some more…
But the good news is not just that your sins are taken care of on the cross and you will go to heaven when you die. It is so much more.
One aspect of Jesus coming is that it (he, his coming) heralds (proclaims) jubilee for the time or age of salvation, like a door that is open. That door stays open until this age is over.
We are now in an open season of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee happened every 50 years in Ancient Israel. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord’s Servant would bring a permanent Jubilee (Isa. 49:8-9, 61:1-2). Websters dictionary states that Jubilee is:
…a year of emancipation and restoration provided by ancient Hebrew law to be kept every 50 years by the emancipation of Hebrew slaves, restoration of alienated lands to their former owners, and omission of all cultivation of the land…
Jesus announced that Isaiah 61 has been fulfilled in his life, and his life still goes on today, through our lives. We have been in a time of God’s redemption, “the year of God’s favor, since Jesus began his ministry.
Isaiah gave words to what Messiah’s Jubilee would look like. Messiah’s Jubilee is proclaiming good news. Proclaiming good news also means evangelizing or preaching the gospel. These words or phrases are interchangeable.
The gospel is good news
It is interesting to note that it is good news. The word good was not tacked on, but good and news is interwoven. Think of the worst sinners that come to your mind or think of your self. They and we need the good news.
Do we preach or proclaim bad news, just news, or good news? Our message, the message from God in Jesus Christ, is inherently good. Jesus did call for repentance and call people to believe the good news and that also is preaching the gospel:
After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news! ”
Jesus’ good news is for the poor. Everyone who does not have Christ is poor. Some know it and some do not.
Jesus comes to make an emancipation proclamation, announcing freedom to those captive. Some of us are captivated by something that we need to be set free of. Jesus is here to set you free.
Jesus still comes to heal blind people. This is a neglected ministry of his church today. Jesus also talked about spiritual blindness (Matt. 15). Paul wrote that the god of this world blinds unbelievers to the gospel message (2 Cor. 4:4).
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus recites Isaiah 61, unpacking what the good news, the gospel is, that he preaches that he is all about and what his disciples will preach about:
- Preach good news to the poor.
- Proclaim freedom to the captives.
- Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.
- Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
- To set free the oppressed.
We can deduce that “preaching the good news”, means the other three points above, plus the action of freeing the oppressed. Note that Luke strongly associates the gospel message with healing and deliverance.
Note also that Jesus’ audience would have in their minds the idea that the one whom God sends, does not just speak a message, but signs and wonders follow them. We should also expect signs and wonders to follow the proclamation of the gospel today. Why do we preach or share a powerful message and not expect God’s power to confirm it?
I am concerned that some among us still hold to an understanding of the gospel which is not adequate. The preaching of the gospel includes more than the fact that Christ is our Savior and that by believing in Him we shall have forgiveness of sins, salvation from hell to heaven, and regeneration. Actually, the whole book of Philippians is a definition of the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation of the move of God on earth according to His economy. This means that the gospel is the preaching of God’s economy. Thus, the gospel includes the matter of magnifying Christ and living Christ. It includes every aspect of the experience of Christ covered in this book. For the Philippian believers to participate with Paul in the furtherance of the gospel meant that they were partaking in the move of God’s economy on earth.
God’s economy is not simply to have a group of people who are forgiven of their sins, justified, washed by the blood of Christ, regenerated, saved from hell, and destined for heaven. Such things are just part of God’s salvation for the carrying out of His economy. The gospel includes the economy of God in its entirety. We should not try to define the gospel by taking a few phrases from Paul’s writings out of context. We need to consider the whole book of Philippians with all the major points. If we put these points together, we shall have the totality of the gospel, and we shall see that the gospel involves God’s move according to His economy. How blessed were the Philippian believers to participate in the furtherance of such a gospel! The gospel in which they had a share was not the low, narrow, superficial gospel preached by many Christians today. The Philippian believers had the privilege of sharing in the spread and furtherance of the gospel that is according to God’s economy.
The gospel is not just “God’s escape hatch”, but so much more. The gospel is the proclamation of the kingdom of God. The reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil. He reversed the curse of sin that Adam brought, but he also came to defeat the devil in every area of people’s lives.
Jesus came to break the curse of death and also to break every other curse and free us from every bondage and to heal us of every disease. This is the whole gospel, all the good news. Healing, deliverance, and salvation are in the gospel.
Remember the prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? There are no sick people, or bound people in heaven. The Lord taught us to pray that prayer and he meant it. “May your kingdom come” is God’s economy that turns the world upside down.
The gospel is a person.
The coming of Christ, the coming of Messiah is part of God’s story, His-story. God’s story, told in the Bible, has Messiah at the center. We Christians are in the story because we have come to and now are in Christ. He is the center.
We have distilled the gospel down to, “Jesus died for your sins”, and built on that to say, “Jesus died for you, so that you could go to heaven and live forever!” That is good news…. But, it is not the whole, and it is pretty “me” centered and it leaves out everything God wants to do here and now, before we die and go to heaven.
A better way to give the good news, the gospel, is to say that Jesus came and died for your sins to restore you and I to relationship with God, so that we can follow Jesus in our lives here and now, and go to heaven and reign with him in the future. Get the we part. We are corporate, a family, many tribes united in Messiah, God’s Christ, as his body, whom he is the head of.
For further study:
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, By Scot McKnight
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series), by Joel B Green (Editor), Scot McKnight
The Gospel of The Kingdom, by George E. Ladd