Reevangelizing the Church: What is the Gospel?
Now that we are standing at the “crossroads” (having returned to the point of our departure from the truth), we can now look to the ancient paths: the Scriptures. In doing so, we can find the right path and recover the broader meaning of the “good news” or gospel.
Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and message with the following words: “… Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17). In Matthew 24:14 Jesus himself describes the gospel in relation to the kingdom when he says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world …” Matthew again describes Jesus’ ministry by saying: “And Jesus went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom …” (4:23). Matthew reiterates this theme again in chapter 9, verse 35 when he writes, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages … preaching the gospel of the kingdom …” Our Lord told his disciples to “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 10:7). Mark writes, “after John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus came … preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God (1:14). Philip “preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). (Except where otherwise noted, scripture version used is NKJV, and emphasis is mine.)
Paul and Barnabas encouraged new believers to “continue in the faith … saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Paul appeared in the synagogue in Ephesus “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Paul, writing about his own ministry said, “I have gone preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 20:25). While under house arrest, Paul received many visitors to whom he “testified of the kingdom of God …” (Acts 28:23). Clearly, by Jesus’ own words and the testimony of the apostles, Jesus was preaching the good news that through him, God’s reign — the kingdom of God — has burst forth into the fallen world.
The gospel (or good news) is the fact that in Christ, the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking into the world. His redemptive kingdom, which has come, continues to come forth and will be fully consummated on the day of Christ’s return. This is the good news, which offers not only a future hope but also a present reality touching all of God’s creation. It is this kingdom reality that animates and directs the mission and purpose of the body.
Granted, this may raise more questions; most notably, “What, exactly, is the kingdom or reign of God?” A definitive answer to this question is not given in Scripture but we are given insight into the kingdom through the teachings of Jesus. First, Jesus makes clear that the kingdom has indeed come — when speaking to the Pharisees he said, “… the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). The commission given to the apostles was to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:7). This statement is taken to mean that the kingdom of the Messiah, who is the Lord, is now to be set up according to the Scriptures.
Throughout the parables, Jesus uses the preface “The kingdom of heaven is like …” Through parabolic teaching, Jesus is describing the character and nature of God’s ruling reign that is overcoming the fallen world. The kingdom of God is a present reality, inaugurated at the cross when Jesus broke the power of Satan. The King of Kings has entered the enemy’s house; he has bound Satan and robbed him of his possessions, including those enslaved to sin (see Matt. 12:29). This is good news!
He has set the captives free and given them power and authority to oppose evil — to usher in the kingdom of God and apply the kingdom principles of righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and peace to this world. Because, as the resurrection demonstrates, this world matters! It is this world that Jesus is making new. This is good news!
The message of the kingdom includes the remission of sin, the gift of eternal life, and the restoration of fellowship with God; the wall between man and God has been breached. This is good news!
The message of the kingdom declares Jesus’ authority over everything in heaven and on earth and the promise that Jesus is near to his people until the end of time, when all things are finally and forever made new. This is good news!
In Jesus’ very first sermon, recorded by Luke, he enters the synagogue in Nazareth where he had been raised and, taking the book of Isaiah, he reads the following passage:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19, ESV).
When Jesus finishes speaking, he closes the book, he sits down, and when every eye is fixed on him he says: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus is describing the kingdom of God in which all that has resulted from sin and the Fall is being restored by him, the Anointed One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords — this is the good news!
A pastor friend of mine described the in-breaking reign of God, or kingdom of God, quite well when he said the following:
There is a great conversation in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where Samwise is talking to Gandalf and he asks Gandalf a great question: “Will everything sad come untrue?” The Kingdom message is Christ (because of his death and resurrection) setting things right again — making everything sad come untrue.
In essence, the church bears witness to the in-breaking reign of God and serves as the instrument by which God is making “everything sad come untrue”!
The call upon humanity in the wake of this pronouncement is to repent, turn from your self and sin, and enter the kingdom of God, receiving salvation. It is the reign of God (or this full gospel) that the church is sent into the world to bring forth as God’s instrument and to which it bears witness. Again, we do not invite Jesus into our lives; he invites us into his! Jesus’ mission is the missio Dei or redemptive mission of God in which he is making all things new. And, this is the mission of every follower of Christ.
Next week we will examine how, practically speaking, the gospel mission in light of this kingdom reality is to be expressed.
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org. Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife, Carol, and their three children.
Original publication date: June 22, 2009