Everybody loves to share good news.
When it’s really good news—big news, headline news—it’s almost impossible to get people to hold back on the details. Me? I’m more of a bottom-line-kind-of-guy. I like a quick summary, boiled down to the essentials. Get to the point and spare me the nitty-gritty details.
Years ago a man entered my office almost hyperventilating and exploding with enthusiasm as he shared details about his young son’s recent victory in the local soap box derby. I will never forget the total transformation of this once quiet, introverted father who hardly ever spoke more than the basic Sunday morning greetings. News about his son’s soapbox triumph was too good to keep to keep to himself, so I got the whole story.
That’s the way we ought to feel about the wonderful news of the gospel. Our English word gospel comes from a compound Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, consisting of an adjective εὐ (good) and a noun αγγέλιον (word or announcement). In the New Testament it is usually referred to as the gospel or the good news about Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the core, the beating heart, of our Christian message. It’s the good news from Jesus and about Jesus that we have been entrusted to share with the entire world. That is the mission of the Church and of each follower of Jesus Christ.
So then, if spreading the good news is our mission, wouldn’t you assume that we would have the message down pat?
In a word, yes.
After nearly 2,000 years of sending missionaries and planting churches and writing theology books and distributing the Bible in almost every language on planet earth, we should have a handle on the gospel. We may not agree on details about baptism or church government or some finer points of theology, but we know all about the gospel, don’t we?
Or do we? Perhaps not. At least not the complete story. If you were to have asked me 20 ago, after already serving as a pastor for over 25 years, “what is the gospel?” I would have dived into 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. That’s the passage where Paul declares that he had personally received the gospel from Jesus Christ and adds, “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.” To authenticate the truth of the resurrection Paul lists eyewitnesses, including himself.
Consider these statements in 1 Corinthians:
- Christ died in our place, for our sins! The debt has been paid in full so I can be forgiven and be declared righteous in God’s sight. That is good news!
- Christ was buried, but the grave could not hold Him. Having conquered death, Jesus departed the tomb and was seen by more than 500 eyewitnesses over a period of forty days. Death is now a vanquished foe. Jesus lives and so shall we. Good news? Exceptional!
I don’t believe Paul was claiming that the above truths are all there is to the gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection were essential facts to support Paul’s message that death has been defeated. Paul also offered plausible explanations as to how dead, decaying bodies can live again. But his main point to the Corinthian believers was driven home in verse 58. “Therefore, my dear brother, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Paul shared enough of the good news to encourage his readers to hang in there through thick and thin, because everything they did had eternal value. Nothing was insignificant. Every good work would be rewarded someday.
Now, let’s consider the rest of the story. The resurrection provides motivation for living godly lives, but also gives us the strength to endure adversity and to accomplish the mission Jesus left for His followers. We have been commissioned to be His witnesses by taking the good news to the rest of the world. To appreciate the full story of what happened after the resurrection stop and read Luke’s description in Acts 1:1-5.
Even the words, “what Jesus began to do and to teach” are significant. Jesus may have completed His redemptive mission and may have shared His last public discourse, but the work had just begun. The mission would continue without His physical presence.
Vital truths are imbedded in the first few paragraphs of Acts. Jesus “was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:2). Jesus spoke to them about “the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3) and instructed them to “wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4, 5).
Let’s unpack those truths.
His ascension back into heaven is described in verse 9, “before their very eyes.” The author of Hebrews wrote, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). Taking this seat of honor displayed the Father’s complete satisfaction in Jesus’ finished work of redemption. Nothing more needed to be done or could be done to please God. That’s good news! That’s gospel truth.
During those forty days Jesus continued to teach His disciples about the Kingdom of God. I believe we have essentially deleted this from the gospel. We tend to focus on the personal aspect of salvation, our relationship with God including the new birth experience. Of course that relationship is significant. It includes the assurance of spending eternity with God. No need to fear hell anymore. That is wonderful, life-giving news. According to the Synoptic (first three) Gospels, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. The question is, do we? Or, have we settled for only a part of the good news?
What is this kingdom gospel? At the risk of sounding too simplistic, it is submitting to the reign of God in our personal relationships. Instead of following my natural “self-first” attitude, it is putting others first. Instead of retaliation for perceived offenses, it is turning the cheek. It is valuing what God values. Things like justice, mercy, grace and love. These are the very reasons post-moderns often choose to reject or to welcome our message. They care little about our dogma (as important as it is) but value acts of mercy and compassion in our broken world.
If and when our belief in the gospel transforms our lives so that we impact our culture, critics will take note of us as they did the first century Christians who were recognized for serving the sick and dying in time of plague, and for rescuing abandoned (usually girls) babies in the back alleys of Rome.
Finally, one more piece of the full gospel message is vital. Jesus ascended to heaven and He and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to indwell, empower and encourage Christ-followers to live out the gospel of the Kingdom in this broken world. Jesus told His disciples to wait until the Spirit came to “baptize them.”
Consider Jesus’ promise (not a command), “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Without the Holy Spirit as part of the good news we are left to carry out a humanly impossible mission. Jesus encouraged His disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of His crucifixion by sharing something that must have sounded almost ludicrous at the time. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Jesus came to earth to die in our place. He rose from the grave and returned to the Father and has sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to continue His kingdom work. That’s the gospel truth.
The rest is history. One-hundred-twenty ragtag followers were empowered with the Holy Spirit to unleash the gospel message and, supported by their transformed lives, to turn the world upside down. That is the power of the gospel. The full gospel.
And if there is better news on earth or across the galaxies, I haven’t heard about it.