What is the Gospel?

A New Series Called ‘A People Made Ready’

I am so thankful to Pastor Julian for giving me the opportunity to teach a 10 week series on evangelism and apologetics! We started this past Sunday and I find myself humbled and sobered by the nature of the training. Just think about it, I will influence the way people understand the Gospel and how to share and defend it. Consequently, I will influence the way the Gospel is articulated to unbelievers. Indeed, this is a humbling task! (Please pray for me).

So, with much trepidation I proceeded to start the series with a lesson on the Gospel. The Series is called ‘A People Made Ready’ and the first lesson was on ‘The Gospel that Saves Us.’ We looked at the Gospel that has made us ready – ready for Judgement and ready to give allegiance to our King until then.

John Dickson’s The Best Kept Secret

Much of what I shared is what I learned from John Dickson’s insightful book, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than Our Lips (Zondervan: 2010). He has a chapter called, “What is the Gospel: The Message We Promote.” I strongly encourage you to get your hands on this book. But, until then, let me share with you what I have learned from him on the content of the Gospel (and what you will find in his book).

What is the Gospel?

Gospel language is used in the OT. One example is found in Isaiah 52:7,

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news (lit., “tells a gospel”),
who publishes peace, who brings good news (lit., “tells a gospel”) of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The man who has beautiful feet is the man who “tells a gospel.” Not just any gospel. This gospel is a gospel of peace, happiness and salvation, but its primary content is articulated in these three words: “Your God reigns.” This is the Gospel. Accordingly, when Jesus comes, he proclaims “the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus is saying that the reign of God is here, pressing and breaking in. We know that this reign came in the person of Jesus, God’s appointed Messiah.

So, the Gospel is the announcement of the Good News of God’s reign. Isaiah 52-53 is about real events that will actually happen – real achievements and accomplishments. In Greco-Roman culture gospels were announced. They were not merely the announcement of ideas, but actual deeds and accomplishments of Roman emperors. Accordingly, the gospel is the message of reign of God in the deeds and accomplishments of his appointed Messiah, Jesus. What what deeds are we talking about? Only the death and resurrection? Paul helps us here.

Three Key Gospel Summaries in Paul

1) According to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, the Gospel is the message of:

  • Jesus’ identity as the Christ (Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but refers to his office as God’s appointed Messiah/King)
  • Jesus’ saving death (for our sins)
  • Jesus’ burial
  • Jesus’ resurrection
  • all of this “according to Scripture”
  • Jesus’ appearances to witnesses

2) According to Romans 1:3-5, the Gospel is the message about how:

  • Jesus was foretold in the Scriptures
  • Jesus was born a royal descendant of David
  • Jesus was raised from the dead as God’s great Son
  • Jesus is both Christ and Lord
Interestingly, this summary focuses on the bookends of the Gospel, the royal birth and resurrection, as will the next summary.
3) According to 1 Timothy 2:8, the Gospel message is that:
  • Jesus is the Christ
  • Jesus was raised from the dead
  • Jesus was born in the line of David

It is important for us to see that these summaries are, well, summaries. Two of them reaching from birth to resurrection, thus highlighting the entire scope of what the Gospel truly is. Therefore, the Gospel is the whole story of the Messiah from his birth to teaching and miracles, his death, burial and resurrection that will establish Jesus as King, Judge, Lord and Saviour in God’s Kingdom.

The Gospels and Acts

No wonder Mark begins writing, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark wrote a Gospel. The content of the gospel is found in the Gospels. I asked the saints this past Sunday, “what is the Gospel?” I received a number of theologically correct answers, one of them being, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

Interestingly, listen to the way the apostles preached the Gospel in Acts; they included things like Jesus’ “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him” (Acts 2:22), the return of Christ “whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things” (Acts 3:21), and “the baptism that John proclaimed [and] how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:37-38). Of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of apostolic preaching, but biblical authors understood that focal point to be the climax of a gospel that is larger in its content.

Bringing it All Together: The Gospel

The Gospel is the announcement of the reign of God, though Jesus Christ, who is Lord over all. The core content includes:

  • Jesus’ royal birth secured his claim to the eternal throne promised to King David
  • Jesus’ miracles pointed to the presence of God’s kingdom in the person of His Messiah
  • Jesus’ teaching sounded the invitation of the kingdom and laid down its commands
  • Jesus’ sacrificial death atoned for sinners who repent and believe, and who would otherwise be condemned at the consummation of the kingdom
  • Jesus’ resurrection establishes him as the Son whom God has appointed Judge of the world and Lord of his coming kingdom (new creation)
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