Part 1 – The Gospel
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare. Juliet’s famous balcony scene dialogue in Romeo and Juliet is an interesting argument. Juliet says that what we call something is not as important as what that thing is. So what exactly is the Gospel? What is Justice? What is Initiative? And just why did we choose that name? This is the first of a three part series to explore those questions.
What is the Gospel?
Some would say the word refers to the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – often called “the gospels”.
Others would quote Paul – “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… 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” I Cor. 15:1-4. So the gospel is the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.
Still others would point to Jesus and his decision to read from Isaiah and proclaim its fulfillment – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19. So the gospel is the good news of the present and coming Kingdom.
Everyone would agree the gospel is “good news” which is what the word means. In the Roman world the word gospel was used of a herald who proclaimed glad tidings of great joy. Rather like the birth of Jesus.
Our church tradition often focuses on the gospel in terms of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. One of the earliest church creeds developed in the 7th century was the Apostle’s Creed which begins: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead…” This emphasis on the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection are seen in our church calendars as we celebrate Christmas and Easter as the high times of the church. We frequently say Jesus was born to die. Or use phrases such as – from the cradle to the cross. But I think something is missing in our concept of the gospel.
I think we are missing 33 years of Jesus life! If Jesus only came to die he didn’t need to be born. If the cross was the sole destination then he could have made it there without three years of ministry. No, I think Jesus was born to live and to die. His life sets an example for us on how we should live. That life was spent in the service of others – particularly the poor and vulnerable. And Jesus continually asked us to do as he had done.
“A new commandment I give to you,” Jesus told his disciples hours before his betrayal and death. And what was new about the commandment? To love others was a primary command of Scripture. Nothing was new about that. However, to love as Jesus loved – that was new. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jn. 13:34. That loved sacrificed all of glory to get in the dirt with Samaritans, sinners, the poor, oppressed and marginalized. If we are to love as Jesus loved then we must live as He lived.
So the gospel is good news for everyone. Good news found from Genesis to Revelation that God is about restoring all things to himself. The work that began at creation, was redeemed at the cross, and will be completed in a blazing return of glory as Christ returns to rule with a scepter of justice on a throne of justice and righteousness. On that day Jesus told us how we would be judged – not by whether we said a prayer or went to church – but whether we really believed in Him as evidenced by how we followed His example in serving the least of these. Mt. 25: 31-46.
The gospel is good news that God through His justice is restoring all that is broken. He is bringing Shalom to the earth. While that will not be fully realized until Jesus’s return, we can share that hope and good news with those who are poor, oppressed and need to find justice in a world of injustice.
Let’s share that good news. Let’s dare to be called Christ followers and follow Him to the poor and the broken. Let’s hear his commands and then – Go and Do Likewise.