I want to thanks some very kind folks who collated the Gospel series we did and here is the whole thing.
by Scot McKnight
We begin a new biblical study on the word “gospel” today. We will
start with some references in the Psalms and then tomorrow in Isaiah
before we turn to the New Testament.
What these texts reveal is that “good news” or “glad tidings” or
“gospel” are expressions for verbal declaration of the act of God.
Notice also what they declare:
4. His marvelous works.
5. The Kingship of God and his imminent judgment that will bring justice.
Psa. 40:9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD.
Psa. 68:11 The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
Psa. 96:1 O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the LORD; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
We turn [now] to Isaiah in our study of the word “gospel.”
We notice [. . .] once again that “good news” is a verbal announcement; it is announced to those who are awaiting on God for justice; and it declares such things as “Here is your God!” and peace and salvation; and it focuses on the poor and marginalized.
Is. 40:9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Is. 41:27 I first have declared it to Zion,
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings.
Is. 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Is. 60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
Is. 61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
Any searching of the meaning of “gospel” in the Bible will find rich fertile ground in the glorious infancy chapters of Luke 1-2. So, I begin with one such text in Luke 1 – this one about Gabriel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John Baptist.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”
What is the good news/gospel news that Zechariah hears?
1. The prayer of the aged priest for a child has been heard by God.
2. They will give birth to little Yohanan – who will be a delight for all.
3. The good news includes Yohanan’s Nazirite-like vows of asceticism.
4. Yohanan will be filled with God’s Spirit.
5. Yohanan will lead many Israelites to repent.
6. He will be Elijah-like or the second Elijah.
If I chose one expression for the gospel Zechariah heard it would be: the advent of Israel’s restoration through his about-to-be-born son, Yohanan.
A second glorious text about “gospel” in the Lukan infancy stories is found in Luke 2, but this one concerns Yeshua (Jesus) and not Yohanan (John). It is found in Luke 2:8-14.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
1. This is a gospel for “all the people” – maybe Gentiles, but probably a reference to Israelites.
2. This gospel is a cause for great joy.
3. This gospel is something declared.
4. This gospel’s content is that Jesus is Savior – that Jesus is Messiah – that Jesus is Lord. Hence, the gospel involves the declaration that Jesus is Savior, Messiah, and Lord.
5. This Savior, Messiah, Lord is at the time of the angelic declaration a baby.
6. This gospel is cosmically significant.
7. This gospel involves “peace on earth for those upon whom God’s favor rests.” (Hence, an implicit ecclesial body is at work.)
We live in an age that seems intent on narrowing the gospel to even singular issues. What I find in these discussions is not that the person who argues for a singular issue (as central or the most important element) is wrong but imbalanced. To reduce the gospel to a singular issue runs the serious risk of missing the expansiveness of the gospel as it is presented in the Bible. Not only do we have to examine texts like those in the Psalms or Isaiah, but also those in Jesus (and the Evangelists) and Paul and Peter and James and Hebrews – and not let any of these take total control. Which leads us [. . .] to Luke 3:18.
John the Baptist was also a gospel preacher:
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Not only do we know that Jesus was a gospeler and that he got himself imprisoned for gospeling, but we can jump back and see what he preached to see what the g
ospel was for John the Baptist. I have the text below, but I give the big picture first:
1. His message was shaped by Isaiah’s prophecy of the return to Jerusalem by the Babylonian exiles: his gospel announced some kind of “return.”
2. His message was shot through and through with a sense of God rectifying wrongs, and this rectification was salvation.
3. His message involved the call to repentance and the turn to good works.
4. His message involved the threat of judgment on Israelites who did not repent.
5. His message saw repentance as economic justice.
6. His gospel message pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, who would baptize with more than water. He would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” (I take this to be a purging empowerment for repentance and moral revolution.)
Luke 3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Following John was Jesus, and he too was a gospeler, one who preached the gospel. [. . .] I want to begin with some general summary passages that set up Jesus as a gospel preacher.
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Matt. 4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Matt. 9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
Mark begins his Gospel with the word gospel; in fact, it is entirely possible that Mark’s Gospel was called a “gospel” because of Mark 1:1. The whole of his book is the narration of the gospel in Jesus Christ, and a good way of summing that up was done by the one who followed Mark: Matthew.
Matthew frames the Sermon on the Mount and the miracle/discipleship passages of Matthew 8-9 with 4:23-25 and 9:35. These two passages are literary markers for us to see that Jesus’ teaching on righteousness and his acts of power and summonings to discipleship are his gospel preaching.
Furthermore, we learn that Jesus’ gospel is a “kingdom gospel.” Kingdom must be defined, and that is no easy task, but whatever you decide there is inherent to what gospeling was all about for Jesus. I take “kingdom” to refer to the society in which the redemptive power of God becomes manifest, in which and through which Gods’ will is done on earth as it is done in heaven, and which is now only partially manifest. Its fullness awaits the Eschaton. That kingdom society is the society that sits at the feet of Jesus, that trusts in/believes in, that loves, and that follows Jesus.
Jesus’ gospel is the announcement that the long-awaited redemptive act of God – seen in Psalms and Isaiah and expected for all those centuries – has now arrived in him and in those who are connected to him.
Let me then put it this way: Jesus is gospel, everything about Jesus is gospel, and gospel isn’t gospel until it is all about Jesus.
We look [now] at two formative texts for seeing what Jesus means by “gospel.” [. . . W]e begin with Mark 1:14-15, a text that is comprehensive.
Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
1. The gospel is something announced: “preached.”
2. The gospel is a statement about time and history: the long-awaited promises and expectations we find in the Torah and Prophets have reached their intent and their realization. (Analogy: the way manual typewriters reach their intent in – not a PC [who is John the Baptist, the bridegroom] but an Apple.)
3. The gospel is about the kingdom of God being near or in the process of realizing itself or on the verge of arriving . . . however you read this. One of the big issues here is the partial but not complete arrival of the kingdom in Jesus.
4. The gospel implies two kinds of response: turning from sin and self to Jesus and believing in him and his message about the good news of the kingdom.
5. Once again: Jesus’ gospel is a kingdom gospel.
We come to [. . . ] a potent passage, one dearly loved by liberation theologians and justice workers and one of which many reducers of the gospel today are fearful. Here’s my opinion on this matter: liberationists tend to reduce the gospel to this text while the traditional evangelical tends to mitigate this text. Let’s embrace it and all the other gospel texts.
Luke 4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
These verses and those that follow clarify what Jesus’ gospel is beginning to look
1. Jesus’ gospel is about Jesus: the “egocentric” element of this text is palpable. Jesus preaches a gospel that is a gospel about Jesus.
2. Jesus’ gospel brings justice: to the poor, to the captives, to the oppressed.
3. Jesus’ gospel brings healing to the blind and marginalized.
4. Jesus’ gospel is Jubilee-like (Lev 25; Luke 4:19a).
5. Jesus’ gospel is so stubbornly about himself that folks want to do him in (Luke 4:28-29).
6. I take this gospel about Jesus to be central to defining what kingdom gospel is: kingdom gospel is Jesus gospel. Justice gospel without Jesus is not kingdom gospel or Jesus gospel. Jesus gospel is kingdom gospel is justice gospel. Any gospel that does not have those three words – Jesus, kingdom, justice – is not a biblical gospel. We’ve seen this straight through from Psalms to Jesus.
Luke 4 shows that what happened in Nazareth was Jesus’ task:
43 But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.
The passage about the gospel in Luke 4 is breathtaking; in some ways it sums up and carries through everything Jesus says about “gospel.” But there are other texts that need to be discussed as we ponder the meaning of “gospel” in a world obsessed with truncating it to one or two or three or four simple ideas.
The next text builds directly on Luke 4 but extends it because it moves beyond Isa 61, which was the text behind Luke 4. That text is Luke 7:18-23:
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” 20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
First, Jesus is in the middle of it: John wants to know if Jesus is the “one who is to come,” which could refer to “Messiah” (in which case Jesus says indirectly “yes” to the question) or to the figure of Malachi 3-4 (in which case Jesus indirectly “no, tell John he is; I’m someone else”). And v. 23 makes himself the middle of it all.
Second, Jesus appeals here to Isa 29, Isa 35, and to Isa 61 when he lists what it is that reveals who he is and what his gospel is. He’s God’s Agent of the Kingdom.
Third, the gospel – good news – is for the poor. The poor, the marginalized, are the ones at whom Jesus directs his gospel. This could be “inclusive” – his good news doesn’t exclude the poor but includes them – or this could be a massive warning – his good news is aimed at the poor -and in this case “poor” probably includes each of the people/sick groups mentioned in v. 22.
In Luke 7 the following events are reported: Jesus heals the centurion’s son, he raises the widow’s son, he has words for John the Baptist about who he is and who John is, and Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman – and it set off a firestorm by a Pharisee and Jesus explained what forgiveness and love were all about. Then Luke says this:
1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
First, the “proclaiming of the good news of the kingdom of God” was what Jesus did wherever he went, which means the stuff in chapter 7 is “gospel” work. His gospel was the gospel of the kingdom: that is, the proclamation of the society in which – through him – God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. As his teaching unfolds, that kingdom is both present in Jesus and yet to be consummated gloriously in the future.
Second, also then is the inclusion of the Twelve and the liberated women in his entourage. Gospel work for Jesus involves expanding those who can extend his gospel to others.
Third, immediately after this passage Jesus tells the parable of the sower about his preaching and the four kinds of responses to his gospel preaching. Parable telling and gospel preaching are connected intimately. That is, the “secrets” of the kingdom of God in Luke 8:10 and the “gospel” of the kingdom need to be connected: gospel preaching is attended by the goodness of God to awaken folks to respond to the gospel.
The gospel of the kingdom can take on “happy” tones if we are not careful. Notice this “gospel” text:
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The gospel is something that summons a person to the core of that person’s being. It summons that person to die. “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die” – so the famous (paraphrastic) translation of Bonhoeffer.
Gospel preaching or gospel summoning here is the summons to a cross.
Jesus summons through his gospel to give it all up for the gospel (v. 35). Losing one’s life for Jesus, or for the gospel – which are nearly the same thing here! – is the way one “saves” one’s life.
Giving it up for the gospel means surrendering one’s opportunity to “gain the whole world” (36). The “soul” is what matters here.
And giving it up for Jesus means Jesus will honor and own that person at the Final Judgment; holding it back means Jesus will be ashamed of that person at that Day.
To embrace the gospel is to embrace Jesus; to embrace Jesus is to embrace the Cross; to embrace the gospel means we embrace the Cross. There is no gospel without the Cross of Jesus. None. Gospel response is death to self. No to self and Yes to Jesus, the Jesus who painted the way in the Cross.
[This] text [. . .] on gospel [. . .] is [a]potent one:
Luke 16:16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
Here’s the Matthew 11 parallel:
11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who wa
s to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear.
There’s a basic timeline here:
Law/Prophets -> John and Gospel of Kingdom: Met by opposition
We learn something here: the “gospel” is something Jesus sees originating in some important sense with John the Baptist, which draws us back to Luke 3, where John’s preaching and calls to repentance (concrete economic transformation) are sketched. This gospel in some sense turns history from the adequacy of the Law and Prophets.
Kingdom gospel preaching encounters opposition by those – like Herod Antipas who decapitated John – who hear it and resist it. That preaching involves economic justice and moral transformation (Torah observance is what John used against Herod Antipas).
Some of the texts in the Gospels about the “gospel” don’t tell us enough to help us define what how the NT authors understand the “gospel.” So, I’ll gather together three texts (and their parallels) because each assumes we know what it means.
1 One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
First, we are to assume the meaning of this term: gospel means in each of these texts what readers of these texts and what Jesus meant by the term up to this point in his earthly life.
Second, what was that? That the long-awaited covenant promises of God were now becoming reality, that Israel’s God will be what YHWH said he would be: “I will be their God, they will be my people,” that the kingdom of God – the restoration expectation and making the world right and creating the society in which God’s will is done – was now at work, and that Jesus himself is the door into this society.
This is what Jesus was preaching, this is what the followers/disciples were to announce to the Gentiles, and this is what was to be announced when people told the story of the woman who anointed Jesus.
From the Gospels we move [. . .] to the Acts of the Apostles on the meaning of the word “gospel” or “preach the gospel.” The first text is Acts says it all:
Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
The gospel of the earliest apostles was:
1. That Jesus, the one they knew and walked with, was the Messiah.
2. That Messiah means long-expected king of OT promise and expectation.
3. That Messiah means the one who lived, died and was raised – and who sent the Spirit.
4. That Messiah was the real king and no one other king was king.
5. That this Messiah, upon repentance, grants forgiveness to all (Acts 5:31).
The gospel, then, was a message that the Story of Israel had come to completion in Jesus and that means that the gospel is a declaration about not just conditions on earth but about a specific person: Jesus.
The gospel moved from Jerusalem and a gospel-shaped message for Jews to the Samaritans. When it did, this is what we read in Acts 8:
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon . . . 25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
What do we learn?
1. Gospel preaching is “word” preaching (and not just missional lifestyle) (v. 4). This word must at least be connected to the preaching of Stephen in Acts 7 – and his preaching is a narrative unfolding of Israel’s history when it becomes shaped as the Story that finds completion in Jesus as Messiah.
2. The “word” is also about Christ (v. 5) and it is attended by supernatural power.
3. The “word” of the gospel preaching is also about the “kingdom of God” and “the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 12) – it leads to baptism for both men and women (a sign of incorporation and gender reconciliation).
4. We can assume the gospel Peter and John preached is the gospel in Acts 8:12 – the story of Israel come to completion in Jesus as Messiah and attended to by the Holy Spirit. So, we are not surprised to see “word of God” and “Holy Spirit” when we hear they are preaching.
Notice how rarely, though not entirely, the “benefits” of this gospel are mentioned. Instead of saying “for salvation” they say “Christ” and “kingdom.”
The gospel that went from Jerusalem to Samaria had the same “content,” as we saw yesterday: it was about Israel’s history, about Jesus as Messiah, and about the kingdom of God. We might then say it is about a Person and the Society around that Person. Now we turn in Acts 8 and Philip and the Ethiopian:
32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Phi
lip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
1. The gospel is about Jesus – again.
2. This Jesus was anticipated in Isa 53’s suffering servant who was treated unjustly, kept quiet in his suffering, and was raised by God.
3. This passage is a bridge to the gospel itself – the gospel then is about the suffering servant Jesus.
4. This gospel was spread by Philip by preaching the Mediterranean coastal plain.
Our next text in our survey of “gospel” texts is a long one, but it needs to be read in its entirety. So here is Acts 10:34-48:
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
First, the gospel is universal: it is for all (10:34-35). In fact, Peter says more than this after his encounter with the faith of a Gentile, Cornelius. He says that the faith of Cornelius is evidence that “in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (35).
Second, to Israel God has sent the message/word.
Third, the “word/message” God has sent to Israel “announces” or “declares the good news of” peace (10:36).
Fourth, this gospel of peace is “through” or “by” Jesus Christ: he is the mediator of the gospel of peace.
Fifth, this Jesus is the Lord of all (not just Israel, so also of folks like Cornelius).
Sixth, the “message” (the word here is rhema) spread like wildfire from the time of John on.
Seventh, the message’s content is a narrative arc:
1. God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power.
2. Jesus did good – healing and exorcising.
3. We are witnesses of these facts.
4. Jesus was put to death but God raised him to life.
5. We ate with him.
6. He commanded us to preach this good news about him: Jesus-centered.
7. The prophets testify about him.
8. Those who believe in Jesus will be given forgiveness through his name.
Eighth, Peter’s gospeling is followed by the Spirit’s descent on these people.
Ninth, Jewish believers were astounded that this gift was universal: Gentiles got it too.
Tenth, they baptized the newly-empowered Gentile believers.
Acts 10 is one of the most important gospel texts in the New Testament. That text is followed by Acts 11:20 where, after rehearing the Acts 10 episode with Cornelius, Peter says:
Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Persecution pushed the earliest Jewish Christians out of Jerusalem and it led to some spilling over with the gospel to “Hellenists.” Problem: “Hellenist” might more naturally mean “Greek-speaking Jews” (6:1; 9:29) but that would not form a decent contrast with v. 19 so most interpret this to mean “Greeks” or “Gentiles.” The non-Jewish Greek-speaking inhabitants of Antioch.
Their message? They “gospeled” the Lord Jesus. That is, their message was that Jesus was the Lord. This is short hand at a major level for what we read in Acts 11: the narrative arc from Israel to Jesus.
If Acts 11 records the gospel preaching of Peter, Acts 13 records the gospel preaching of Paul. So here’s the long text:
13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” 16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20 for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’
26 “My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27 Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fu
lfilled those words by condemning him. 28 Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead; 31 and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.’
34 As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’
35 Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’
36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
41 ‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.'”
First, Paul, too, has a narrative arc to his gospeling:
Captivity, exodus, Land, King David, Jesus Messiah as Israel’s Savior who was anticipated by John Baptist, Israel’s descendants and those who fear God can hear this saving message, those who don’t believe put Jesus to death but God raised him from the dead, he appeared, and this has all been fulfilled in Jesus.
Second, the gospel is about Jesus who is the fulfillment of Davidic expectations: Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10.
Third, through Jesus one finds forgiveness upon belief and this is the kind of forgiveness the Law could not bring.
Fourth, respond to this message because this is the day! (citing Hab 1:5)
Acts is a rich source for “gospel” and we turn [now] to Acts 14:
1 The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers.
Here we see Paul and Barnabas “gospeling” and the result is that many – both Jews and Greeks – become believers. The goal of gospeling is believers. This preaching led to opposition.
3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them.
Gospeling involves bold speech (parresiazomenoi) about the Lord and Luke tells us that the Lord responded to this preaching of the “word of his grace” (a definition of gospeling) with signs and wonders. This, too, led to opposition and they moved on to Lystra and Derbe “and there they continued ‘gospeling'” (14:7).
In Lystra Paul was used by God to speak a word of healing (not far from the word of grace) and the crowds overdid it, thinking Paul and Barnabas were gods. Paul’s response:
15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good – giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul’s gospeling: the good news that they should turn from idols to the living God. Again a narrative arc to explain it all follows. Nature reveals this good God. Opposition again and Paul was stoned, apparently to death. Disciples nurtured him to health evidently and he and Barnabas moved on to Derbe.
21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
The issue of whether or not to circumcise Gentile believers led to the first church council, establishing as I think it did a precedent for leaders to gather to discern the mind of God, and a ruling that Gentile converts needed to show some respect for Torah observance. (Incidentally, time wore this ruling down for Gentile Christians and I take this issue up in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.) After this event, Paul and Barnabas deliver the letter to the church at Antioch.
Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.
A brief note [. . .]: Paul’s message was “the word of the Lord”. It was verbal; it was about Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul’s gospel is no different, then, than the message of Peter and the early Christians for whom the gospel was “Jesus is Lord.”
It can be inferred, but it is no more than an inference, that “Jesus is Lord” means “Caesar is not Lord.” But the big point I’d make is this: Caesar is only one of the many, many “lords” who cease to be “Lord” when “Jesus is Lord.” So, I take this to be as anti-empire as it is anti-everything-else-that-could-be-Lord.
More importantly, I think, is to see in “Jesus is Lord” a comment that the Lord who was anticipated in the OT and the Lord is who is seen in the OT, namely YHWH, is Jesus.
Paul keeps on gospeling and we turn [now] to Acts 16 and 17.
Acts 16:6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. . . .
13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Soon some opposition and persecution. In prison . . .
29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your househo
ld.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
That’s gospeling for Paul. Salvation offered and responded to in faith in the Lord Jesus. On to Thessalonica . . .
17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”
Off to Berea . . .
10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.
Now to Athens . . .
Gospeling, gospeling, gospeling . . . that’s what Paul does. And [now] we look at his great address on the Areopagus in Athens:
Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Paul’s gospeling involved: Jesus and the resurrection and the Gentile philosophers think he is talking about foreign gods (revealing, in part, how Paul spoke of Jesus in exalted terms).
Paul’s gospeling involved “touchstones”: he started where the audience was. What those gods were pointing at Paul knew: the one God created it all, this one God made all humans to search for God and is not far from any of us – in fact, we dwell in God – but idols are not God.
Paul’s gospeling involved the call to repentance in light of God’s judgment. And the Judge will be Jesus Christ.
We looked at how the term is used in two Old Testament texts, then at how it is used in the Gospels, and this is [the last in] our last series on how it is used in the book of Acts.
17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
First, Paul embodied his gospeling by the way he lived (v. 19).
Second, Paul’s gospeling was a public act of summoning folks to turn to God by repenting from sin and by faith in the Lord Jesus (v. 21): and this summons was for all – Jews and Greeks.
Third, Paul’s life was at stake in gospeling – but he trusted in God’s Spirit for guidance (vv. 22-24).
Fourth, Paul’s gospel was about the “grace of God” (v. 24).
Fifth, Paul sums up his gospeling in the word “kingdom” (v. 25) and that means all of the above and some details that follow are about “kingdom” – that is, repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus and grace and the blood of Christ and the whole will of God.
We turn [now] to how Paul understands the word “gospel” and I will begin with Galatians, since I think it is the earliest letter of Paul’s. The moment we enter into Paul’s use of “gospel” we also enter into a web of thoughts. I will do my best to stick to what the text says in its context but it may involve pulling in other Pauline texts to make sense of what Paul says.
We begin with Galatians 1:6-10:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you b
y the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
1. The Galatians are abandoning – or in danger of abandoning – the gospel of Paul for “a different [kind of] gospel.” Paul says this “gospel” to which they are turning is not really a gospel at all. Why? They are turning to a faith + works response to God and Paul says in this letter that if you “add works” to “faith” you “subtract” salvation, justification, Christ, and grace.
2. The opponents of Paul are perverting the gospel when they add to the gospel. The gospel is Christ and Spirit and not Moses and Law.
3. Paul condemns those who preach a gospel other than the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ.
Galatians has three sections: autobiography (chps 1-2), theology (3-4) and praxis (5-6). Simplied of course. The opening section of the autobiographical argument for Paul’s gospel has several references to “gospel” and “gospeling”:
11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
First, Paul’s gospel is not man-made but comes “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (v. 11-12). This means he thinks his opponents’ gospel is man-made: the Christ + Torah observance (or commands within the Torah) is a man-made gospel.
Second, Paul’s task is to “gospel” to the Gentiles (v. 16). And he didn’t need authorization from Jerusalem – the man-made approach – to preach this gospel.
Third, Paul sums up his opponents attitude to his task with this: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching/gospeling the faith he once tried to destroy” (v. 23). The word “faith” is central to Paul’s gospel.
The apostle Paul gets pushed around a bit by many who aren’t willing to read him carefully. Paul stood in the line of thinkers in the Bible who might be called “liberation gospelers.” We have to think of Moses and the Exodus and we have to think of Isaiah and the return from Exile. We have to think of Jesus and liberating people from all kinds of problems – and Paul is in that line. He believed deeply in freedom. So deeply he defined the gospel by the word “freedom.” [In this] series on the meaning of the word “gospel” [. . .] we are now into Paul’s letter to the Galatians, his Magna Carta of freedom.
In Galatians 2 Paul uses the word “gospel” a few more times.
1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.
Here we see that Paul’s gospel is not something that involves circumcision; here we also learn that circumcision is the (or one of the) issues for the opponents. Paul thought imposing circumcision on the gospel was to enslave the gospel.
4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Paul’s gospel creates freedom – from sin, from obligation to certain laws (like circumcision). This freedom from such restraints Paul calls the “truth of the gospel.”
And we see in 2:6-10 that Paul’s task is to preach this gospel to the Gentiles. Gentile inclusion is central to Paul’s understanding of the gospel. For Paul, the freedom-shaped gospel was expanding.
The apostle Paul had a major toe-to-toe with Peter in Antioch, a city north of the Land of Israel. Here is the passage and it reveals Paul’s gospel:
11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
The situation and the details cannot be examined in this context: Paul and Barnabas had evangelized Antioch; a church had formed; the church was a fellowship of Jewish believers and Gentile believers; they ate with one another; Peter ate with them when he was there. Then the “men from James” [brother of Jesus, leader of the church of Jerusalem] arrived in Antioch and Peter slipped into another space so as to avoid the appearance of confusing the men from James by his behavior. The men from James were Torah observant and must have understood Peter’s behavior as non-observant behaviors.
Paul tells us that Peter’s behavior was eating with Gentiles.
Paul also tells us that Peter’s separation led to others doing the same thing.
And Paul tells us that this behavior of separating from Gentile believers was hypocrisy and . . .
[In] Gal 2:14 [. . .] Paul says that Peter’s behaviors were contrary to the gospel.
What does the word “gospel” mean in the New Testament? My experience with good Christian folks reveals they think of the gospel in very simplistic terms. Simple is not bad.&nb
sp; My experience also shows that many don’t think of the word “gospel” even in biblical categories. So this series is devoted to sketching what the New Testament says. It can surprise many folks today. This is the 30th post in this series and [now] we look at 1 Thessalonians 1:
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
I put in bold the use of the term “gospel” and we make the following observations about how Paul understands the gospel in this text:
1. He doesn’t tell us its exact contents here so we have to infer it from the other passages we have looked at: it concerns the declaration that God has acted for redemption in Jesus Christ, who brings the Story of Israel to its Telos point, and in whom all – both Jews and Gentiles – can find redemption by faith.
2. In our text Paul emphasizes the attending power of the Holy Spirit.
3. That attending power of God’s Spirit created a compelling lifestyle in Paul that led to the Thessalonians having a compelling lifestyle.
4. That lifestyle on their part involved turning from idolatry to the one true God, to the Son who was coming again from the heavens, the one who was raised, and the one who rescues from the coming wrath (perhaps his anticipation of the destruction of Jerusalem).
What do we mean by “gospel”? This question shapes the current Bible we are discussing . . .]. We are not offering (right now) a definitive answer but looking at all the major passages and sketching observations. These are the steps we have to take to build a comprehensive understanding of the word “gospel.” We look [now] at several important passages in Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 2:
1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
(See 3:2 as well.)
Another important passage:
1. Paul’s gospel preaching created intense opposition.
2. Paul’s understanding of “gospelers” is that they need to be entrusted by God to carry out this gift, which leads to a direct responsibility to God for the gospel. (Too many people abuse this by not being responsible to churches; too many people also abuse this by not being responsible to the God of the Bible in how they frame their “gospeling.”)
3. Paul’s manner of life made the gospel more compelling. His wasn’t a strike and fly away method; it was a gospel in the context of living out the gospel with others.
Yes, Paul lived before God because he had been entrusted with the gospel but he did not use that entrust-ment as an excuse to be mean-spirited. Instead, Paul’s gospel had a life that backed it up and made it more compelling. Gospeling needs good gospelers.
How does Paul understand the “gospel”? We’ve looked at Galatians, where we saw an emphasis on the gospel declaring the inclusion of Gentiles by faith in Christ into the People of God. (Paul says more than this, but this was his emphasis.) Thessalonians has (perhaps rather surprisingly) emphasized the witness that Paul’s own behaviors had in making the gospel more compelling. We turn now to 2 Thessalonians:
2 Thess 2:3-12 reads:
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s gospeling involved lots of persecution; Paul explained that persecution as opposition to the gospel and to the God of the gospel. Perhaps most importantly, Paul comforted those who were being persecuted with the coming judgment when everything would be made right.
Jesus is the agent of this judgment. He will judge those who do not know God and who oppose the gospel. That judgment, Paul says, is everlasting.
Gospeling involves warning of judgment for those who opposed and do not obey the gospel.
The next passage, 2 Thess 2, says this:
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
What Paul teaches here is this: the gospel Paul preached led to “s
alvation” and this was accomplished through the holy-making work of the Spirit and belief in the truth of Paul’s gospel. The goal of that gospel preaching is to share in the glory that Jesus Christ has and deserves.
We are doing a series on the meaning of “gospel” – with a view to defining the term gospel in a way that is faithful to the early Christian faith. [Now] we begin looking at how the term “gospel” and “gospeling” (or “evangelizing”) are used in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Our first text is 1 Corinthians 1:13-17:
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
This text needs a few more verses to be clear:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
We begin with this observation: the gospel is something Paul preaches and it is not something Paul “does” (as with baptism).
Paul goes on: Paul’s gospeling is not rooted in his eloquence or the mastery of techniques but in the subject itself. What is the subject?
The subject of gospeling is the cross of Christ (I would want to clarify this “cross” as an “empty” cross – that is the Christ who was crucified and raised).
The gospel is foolishness to those who reject the message and delightful to those who believe that message. This could be too easily dismissed as a tautology; no, what Paul is getting at is that the gospel assaults the human ego’s inherent selfishness.
Gospel preaching invades the interior reaches of each person to make manifest selfishness and summons the person away from the clutches of selfishness into an identity shaped by God, in Christ, through the Spirit.
In our series on the meaning of the word “gospel” we are now looking at how Paul uses this great term in his letters to the Christians in Corinth. Today we look at 1 Corinthians 4:14-17:
14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
This text, too, is revealing of what Paul means by gospel.
And what it reveals is this: gospeling involves conversions and conversions involve spiritual relations to those converted. In fact, Paul saw himself as the spiritual parent of those who converted as a result of his gospeling. He saw himself as their spiritual father.
But he is their father with one big condition: he is their father “in Christ.” This is not something he did but something that happened as the converts were united to Christ.
This fatherliness leads to the moral injunction that Paul thinks his “in Christ” converts ought to imitate him! He wants them to imitate his life of service and of rejection and being the “scum of the earth” (1 Cor 4:13).
Conversion, in other words, entails relationship to the “converter.” Of course, this can involve abuse and control issues . . . but Paul is urging the Corinthians to live according to the gospel of Christ crucified and that means living like Paul.
We are looking at the meaning of “gospel” in 1 Corinthians. What does Paul mean by the word “gospel”? If we want to be faithful to the Story of the Bible it means being faithful to the whole Story of the Bible. Too many today want to be faithful to Jesus’ use of the word “gospel” and ignore Paul; too many also want to be faithful to Paul but ignore what Jesus said. Our hope is to frame the gospel in such a way that is faithful to both – and the rest of the Bible too. So [now] we are looking at 1 Corithians 9:11-23:
11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul preached the gospel free of charge. It is not clear from this text that he always preached free of charge. Instead, Paul chose against what he knew was within his rights – to be paid – to avoid being trapped into a relationship of indebtedness that might hamper his gospeling.
This cannot be taken as the norm: Paul says those who preach the gospel are entitled to live from the gospel. It would not hard here to venture into reflections on (1) the need for churches to pay their “gospelers” and (2) the need for gospelers to avoid the appearance of wanting more money.
Paul preached the gospel as a burden – as a necessity; it was in his bones to preach the gospel.
Now a point –
vv. 19-23 – that is the constant need of gospeler: to adapt and adopt the gospel to the context of one’s audience. This does not mean not preaching the cross and the resurrection of Christ but it means to speak the gospel into each context with clarity and relevance. Paul adapted himself to each context: Jewish and Gentile. Why? To win others into faith in Christ.
We arrive [. . .] at one of the most widely-cited texts on the meaning of the word “gospel” – to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
It would be unwise to read 1 Cor 15:1-8 without reference to what Paul has taught already in 1 Corinthians and the big picture includes his focus on the cross of Christ and on its capacity to invade the depths of human selfishness.
Paul says this gospel (and his gospeling of it) is capable of saving if the Corinthians hold fast – and here one could stop and have a conversation about the Calvinist-Arminian debate but we need not. Paul teaches that saving faith is persevering faith.
Then Paul basically outlines the structure of the gospel message he gospels:
1. Christ died for our sins according to Scripture; he doesn’t tell us how this works nor does he tell us which Scriptures he is talking about. He assumes his readers know.
2. Christ was buried – and the burial of Christ does not feature in the gospel preaching elsewhere in the NT but it could be assumed to be something like the descent into hades or the harrowing of hell or the proclamation of victory to the spirits in prison.
3. Christ was raised and appeared – and this is the emphasis of this chapter.
By resurrection Paul means more than the survival of the soul after death (that’s “freakin’ Platonism”!) and it means the reconstitution of the body after death. That means bodily resurrection – touching and eating. Yes, 1 Cor 15 shows this is a new body made for the new heavens and the new earth but it is a body, a gloried and spiritual body, but still a body. I heartily recommend Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.
Faithful gospeling preaches (1) the cross, (2) the entrance into the world of death by Christ and the coming out of that world into (3) the resurrection.
What this means is that the gospel deals with death and the gospel’s blessing is life.
Gospeling involves a gospeler, but the gospeler is not the gospel. In fact, the contrast between the gospel and the gospeler serves to highlight the power of God. Notice 2 Cor 4:1-7:
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Paul reflects here on the gospeler. Here are a few points:
1. The call to gospeling is an act of God and of God’s mercy.
2. The gospeler is called to honest communication. Plain preaching and teaching.
3. The gospel itself is “veiled” to those who are perishing – and the enemy blinds humans.
4. Gospeling means showing folks Jesus Christ – the perfect Eikon (v. 4) – and not the gospeler.
5. Gospeling means preaching Jesus as Lord and the gospeler as a minister. (Whatever became of the goodness of this word “minister” for what pastors do?)
6. The work of gospeling involves the work of God’s Spirit shedding light.
I like that last verse – the earthen vessel gets to gospel and the earthen vessel is in contrast to what God is doing.
Paul discusses in several places in 2 Cor 8-11 matters pertaining to supporting gospel work, gospeling itself, and striving for expanding the opportunities to gospel:
8:18: And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.
9:13: Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 17 But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5 But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6 I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. 7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?
We now turn to Romans in looking at what “gospel” means – and one thing ought to be clear by now. This word is not very often defined. We get things like the gospel “of the kingdom” and the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection, but more often we see things like “preaching” the gospel or just “gospeling” (or evangelizing). Romans 1 now.
1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared wit
h power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
The gospel is about Jesus Christ – and Jesus is “the Christ” (Messiah) and the Son of God (see also Rom 1:9). There is a powerful royal christology at the heart of the gospel. But we should not convert this into an idea; the gospel is about a Person: Jesus.
The gospel emerges from God’s Story of Israel – the Scripture’s Story.
The gospel involves the Spirit and the Resurrection.
The gospel declares that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Here we go. Romans 1:16-17:
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
One of the densest gospel passages.
What does “salvation” mean?
1. Common evangelicalism: personal forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ and very similar, then, to justification.
2. Fitzmyer: rescue in a comprehensive sense through the cross and unto the eschatological destiny. Parallel to justification.
3. NT Wright: not the simple notion of heavenly bliss; rescue from death and ultimate destruction and “from Rome” in a concrete sense.
4. Jewett: deliverance from the present evil age and restoration unto wholeness and preservation from the wrath to come and not present in Rome’s rule but in the powerless communities who believe in Jesus.
If there are front edges today in Pauline studies this is one of them: salvation is an assault on empire ideology.
First, the gospel is (1) God’s (2) power. The gospel is the work of God.
Second, God’s gospel power works toward “salvation.”
Third, God’s gospel power works toward the salvation of all people – Jew and Gentile.
Fourth, God’s gospel power brings salvation to those who believe.
Fifth, in the gospel God’s “righteousness” is made manifest: that is, God’s right-making work on earth (and in the future new heavens and new earth) becomes manifest.
So plain and simple.
Undoubtedly, the one passage in Romans that doesn’t seem to “fit” the standard Reformation explanations of both gospel and justification is found in Romans 2 and I am clipping a few verses to set our next use of “gospel” in context:
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Our concern is down in verse 16: Paul declares that God’s judgment will be based in several factors – Jesus Christ, the law, and the gospel. The Greek text here reads like this: “on the Day when God will judge the secrets of humans according to my gospel through Jesus Christ.” Scholars have not been able to determine convincingly what this expression means with clarity. What is clear is this: God will judge; God will judge according the Torah; God will judge through Jesus Christ – and this is all a part of Paul’s own gospel. In other words, the final judgment factors into what Paul means by “gospel.”
We skip in Romans from Romans 2 to Romans 10 to find the next use of “gospel.” There are two uses of “gospel/gospeling” in Romans 10:15-16 and I have provided additional verses to exhibit the context:
8 . . . the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Observations about gospel here:
1. The confession to gospel preaching is “Jesus is Lord.”
2. This confession emerges from believing in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead – resurrection is part of gospel preaching.
3. Anyone – Jew or Gentile – can make this confession.
4. These confessions follow from gospel preaching – and those charged with gospel preaching have “beautiful feet” or, better yet, “timely” feet or “opportune” feet.
5. The gospel preaching here is preaching “good things.” (The Greek text says “gospeling good things.”) The gospel is good news.
6. The elect people, Israel, did not all respond to the gospel preaching that called for the confession of Jesus as Lord.
No matter how you read it, the end of Romans 11 is tough stuff:
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Verse 28 is the focus: when it comes to the gospel preaching of redemption in Christ, the unbelieving zealous Jewish opponents of the gospel are “enemies” but that does not rule out their election. God’s gifts and God’s call – his gracious election of Israel from the time of Abraham and Jacob – are irrevocable. God must remain true to his promises to Israel, the nation.
The gospel Paul preaches elicits rejection, sometimes by the very people the gospel was designed to redeem – Israel. (There is a debate about the meaning of “Israel” and some think it refers to the scattered, dispersed, northern kingdom.)
We continue our series on the meaning of the word “gospel,” a word I think has been so reduced in meaning that it will take serious efforts
to recover a fully biblical perspective. Romans 15:14-20 reads:
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.
Paul’s gospel is the “gospel of God” (16) – it is the work of God to include the Gentiles in the gracious redemption of God.
The gospel is something Paul preaches – Jesus is Lord, redemption for all by faith, including Gentiles. Paul’s gospel involves powerful signs and miracles.
Our last reference in Romans is found in Romans 16:25. Fittingly it is part of a prayer, a doxology:
25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Paul’s gospel is the preaching of Jesus Christ – his life, his death and his resurrection. This gospel is something now revealed – a mystery now made known. This gospel involves including Gentiles by summoning them to faith and obedience.
We continue in our series on “gospel” and what it means by turning to the prison letters of Paul, and we begin with Colossians (1:5).
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world [this gospel] is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Now some observations:
1. Hope gives rise to faith and love in the Colossians; Paul heard about these things.
2. Paul’s gospel is about hope and Paul preaches this hope. This hope generates faith and love.
3. This gospel of hope is spreading . . . that is, making an impact by forming new communities shaped by this gospel of hope.
4. The Colossians experienced God’s grace and recognize the time when that grace came to them.
5. The gospel of hope is the truth.
6. This gospel is connected to Paul and to his extension/Epaphras.
Paul uses the word “gospel” one more time in Colossians (1:23) and once in Philemon 13. Here is the context for Col 1:23:
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Again, the gospel is connected here to hope.
There is a chain of connections here:
1. Alienation from God in mind and behaviors.
2. Reconciliation through Christ’s “physical body” in his death to God (in mind and behaviors).
3. The aim of this work by God is holiness.
4. The condition of this work is persevering faith.
5. All of this is Paul’s Gospel.
We turn now to Ephesians, a third letter of Paul’s from prison (accepting the Pauline authorship of the traditional letters). Ephesians uses “gospel” six times: 1:13; 2:17; 3:6, 8; 6:15, 19. We begin with . . .
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
Some today want the “gospel” to be no more than announcing “Jesus is Lord!” That’s not enough because that’s not how Paul used the term.
1. The gospel is the “word of truth” and it is also the gospel of “your salvation.”
2. The gospel is part of God’s plan for the world.
3. The gospel is hope in Christ.
4. The response to the gospel is to believe.
5. Those who believe are marked by the Holy Spirit . . . who is a guarantee of the inheritance.
Paul adds a “wrinkle” to the word “gospel” in Ephesians and it strikes me as very close to how Jesus used his favorite expression, “the gospel of the kingdom.” It is found first in Ephesians 2:17 and is also seen in 3:6, 8 and 6:15. The wrinkle is the concept of peace: the gospel is the gospel of peace. Of course, there is a tendency for some to think “gospel of inner peace with God” but that is not what Paul has in mind.
2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
There it is: Paul’s understanding in this text of the gospel work of Jesus is wrapped up and summed up in one word: peace. This peace is made:
1. In Christ (alone).
2. By reconciling Gentiles and Jews.
3. By means of abolishing that which separated them: the law “with its commandments and regulations.”
4. In order to create one people: the church.
5. So Christ, in effect and via the Spirit in the post-resurrection/post-Pentecost time zone, preached peace to Jews and to Gentiles.
The gospel of Christ is the gospel of peace, the gospel of making two – Gentiles and Jews – one new community of faith. So Paul in Ephesians 1. We turn to Eph 3:6, 8.
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made kno
wn to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
This is an amazing set of lines by Paul and provides insight into what Paul’s gospel is all about:
1. It is the grace of God at work in calling him.
2. It is the grace of God at work to unite Jews and Gentiles.
3. It is the grace of God as a mystery now made known – to unite Jews and Gentiles by grafting Gentiles into the Jewish people of God.
4. It is the grace of God at work in Christ.
5. It is the grace of God at work in the Church of Christ.
Our next “gospel” text in the New Testament comes from the closing to Ephesians, in chapter six. It’s part of a longer text and I want to quote all of it:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
What strikes me about this passage is the image of gospel living as a war – a battle with the evil one and systemic evil, violence, and injustice. Some today want to reduce v. 12 to the political realms of injustice but Paul’s theology – and this specific text – show that it is the coagulation of the evil one, a supernatural spiritual realm, with the systems of this world that become the opponent.
The battle is won in this text by wearing gospel items: a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace at our feet, shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
Gospel battle involves truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Bible/Word of God.
And a yearning to preach it and a willingness to suffer for it and work at it ceaselessly.
Of the prison epistles Paul writes, Philippians has the most references to “gospel.” It is one of the central themes that hold this letter together.
1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
What does Paul mean by “partnership in the gospel”? It translates koinonia and refers, as Gordon Fee says in his commentary on Philippians, to a “partnership in the furtherance of the gospel.” Paul’s preaching, in other words, was aided and buttressed by his (economic and any other way) partners.
This gospel work – partnered – is the work of God. In my own works on gospel, including Embracing Grace and A Community Called Atonement, I have steadfastly fought for defining gospel in this way: “it is the work of God to restore cracked Eikons, in the context of the community of faith, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit, and this restoration is to both union with God and communion with others for the good of others and the world.” Too many define gospel today too reductionistically: it is more than forgiveness and more than propitiation.
And Paul suffers, defends, and confirms the gospel in his work.
Our next two references to “gospel” in Philippians are found at 1:12 and 1:16. Here they are in context:
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Two words coexist for Paul: gospel and Christ. Christ is the gospel and the gospel is Christ.
Paul is in prison for the gospel, that is for his preaching of Christ. And others are encouraged by his chains to preach the gospel even more.
Not everyone, Paul says, preach the gospel out of compassion and love; some do. And Paul is so confident in Christ and the gospel that he is happy when others preach Christ out of bad motives. Why? Christ gets preached.
The gospel is the work of God to restore cracked Eikons through Christ and any preaching that is not about the saving work of Christ is not gospel preaching.
[. . .] If Ephesians emphasized the word “peace,” Philippians emphasizes “Christ.” These are not alternatives but different ways of saying the same thing: the “peace” of Ephesians is the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ and the “Christ” of Philippians is the one who brings both Gentiles and Jews into fellowship.
Another text in Philippians is found at 1:27:
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel
28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
In some ways, Paul explained what a life worthy of the gospel is in verse 21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” A life worthy of the gospel is a life lived for Christ.
And Paul doesn’t know if his imprisonment will lead to death or to release; he may die, which for him is a delightful hope of being in the presence of Christ. But whether that happens or if he is released, he wants the followers of Jesus at Philippi to live a life worthy of the gospel/of Christ.
What does that look like? He says it in v. 27: it means striving together, in fellowship, in extending the gospel and preaching the gospel to others. A life worthy of the gospel is a life dedicated to that gospel – to living it and preaching it.
We need to string together a few texts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
2: 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4:15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
Clearly one of Paul’s emphases in gospel work is partnership. He found friends and supporters of the gospel he preached. Both men and women – and some simply refuse to acknowledge the equality he gives women in gospel work in this text. This included Lydia, Acts 16:13-15, who was herself a leader in the church at Philippi, and Phoebe (from Romans 16).
And Paul’s gospel work needed – and it still does today (support gospel work) – financial support. That is the point in the last text.
Paul’s Pastoral letters, those written to Timothy and Titus, contain references to the word “gospel” and we want to dip into 1 Timothy 1 [now]:
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers-and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
The Greek is not entirely clear. Literally, it says “according to the gospel of the glorious of the blessed God . . .” The best explanation seems to be the “glorious gospel.”
More important, the gospel itself contains within it and entails both sound doctrine and moral behaviors. In fact, Paul does something here that might make a Lutheran wince: the law is designed to point the sins of sinners since those behaviors do not conform to the gospel. The law reveals sin but the Law here gets closely connected to the gospel. Paul doesn’t define gospel here; he assumes we know whereof he speaks.
We can assume it refers to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, what God intends for each of those, and the blessed power of the Spirit to make God’s people what they are designed to be.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter one, he says this:
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
15 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
There are a few things to observe about “gospel” in this text:
First, when Paul says he is suffering for the gospel he probably means he is suffering for preaching the gospel or suffering because of his desire to keep on preaching the gospel.
Second, God is the Savior (not the gospel) and that salvation entails a calling to a life of holiness. We benefit from God’s saving work, not because we have done something, but because of God’s grace.
Third, Jesus has destroyed death and brought immortality and life into existence through the gospel. That gospel, then, is God’s saving work that destroys death and empowers us to new life.
Fourth, Paul is entrusted with this gospel and he is called to preserve it.
Paul offers us a near-summary of the gospel in poetic terms in 2 Timothy 2:
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Here is a fact: there is not enough resurrection in gospel preaching. Gospel preaching too often gravitates to sin as guilt and the cross as the only gospel day event. But Paul summarizes his gospel here as resurrection and Davidic descent. I’ve never heard a gospel message that gets to the resurrection except in terms of going to heaven when we die and I can confidently say I have not heard anyone speak of Davidic descent – which means Jesus is Messiah, the long-awaited and promised Messiah.
The resurrection message, as the poetic lines make clear above, entail the death and dying with Christ. The gospel response then is to die with Christ and to rise with Christ. It is to embrace the dead-and-raised Messiah.
This completes the references in Paul to “gospel.”
[Now] we turn to the two references to “gospel” in the book of Hebrews, and both are found in chapter four:
1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have
believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”
And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.
There is much about the book of Hebrews that is hard to understand, including the meaning of the word “rest.” To avoid a lengthy discussion, I will give my view: it refers to salvation as both a present experience but also a future completion. So, one both has this rest and can fall short of it.
Now what is interesting about this text is that it says the wilderness generation – think Exodus and Numbers and Deuteronomy – was “gospeled” or “evangelized” and they did not have a proper faith.
That proper faith is a trusting obedience, the kind of thing we read about also in the Sermon on the Mount and James: namely, true faith works. Hebrews says the wilderness generation, like the present church, was evangelized but did not have a faith that worked sufficiently to lead them to the final rest.
Gospel entails a response of faith that works.
Peter, too, talks about the gospel in his first letter. We begin in chapter one:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
The Old Testament prophets preached a glimpse of the grace of God in Christ.
They evidently sensed it was only a glimpse because they searched and yearned to discern what their grace message was ultimately pointing toward.
That search, prompted as it was by the Spirit of God, was pointing both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That search is now over: Jesus Christ has arrived.
The readers of Peter’s letter had heard this gospel, that is, they had been evangelized. The Spirit was on those preachers.
This gospel is called “salvation” to open up this paragraph: the gospel, then, is salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We continue in our series of the meaning of the word “gospel” in the New Testament with how Peter uses “gospel.” [Now] we look 1 Peter 1:25.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
And this is the word that was preached [gospeled] to you.
There is so much in 1 Peter chapter 1: there is the anticipation of salvation in the prophets and its arrival in Christ; there is the summons to holiness that is rooted in God’s utter holiness and in God’s redemptive ways – and he redeemed through the blood of Christ. And this redemption was to create a holy people and a loving people. This Christ was not only crucified; he was raised from the dead.
The gospel involves preaching of the word; this word creates the new birth. And Peter quotes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, to affirm the eternal nature of God’s word.
And then Peter simply says that it was “this” word that was “evangelized/gospeled” to you. Peter and Paul are on the same page: gospel involves Jesus – died and raised – and redemption in him in order to create a holy, loving people.
Peter says something in chapter 4 about the gospel that has perplexed many for centuries:
6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The NIV adds the word “now” before dead to clarify. The NRSV has just “the dead.” Which is the problem: Who are they? Three options: (1) those who were preached to after Jesus’ death who were in prison (1 Pet 3:18), (2) the spiritually dead who are now alive in Christ, and (3) those who were alive, heard the gospel, but are now dead. This third option seems the most persuasive to most commentators.
The big point here involves these observations:
First, that gospel preaching must be preached to all as the great Wesley did.
Second, that humans are accountable to God and gospel preaching “in the body” (during our earthly life) correlates with what happens in the new heavens and new earth (in the spirit).
Third, that gospel preaching judges sin.
Fourth, that a positive response to gospel preaching leads to life before God.
Does gospel preaching matter? This is a question that Peter answers. Here are his words, from 1 Peter 4:17:
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
What Peter says is this:
First, suffering is an indication that God may soon act in judgment.
Second, when God acts in judgment – and this need not be the Final Judgment but probably is – he will begin with the household of God (the church).
Third, from lesser to greater: if God is clearly just with the church then God will also be clearly just with those who do not obey the gospel.
Fourth, “gospel” is not defined but is assumed to have substantive content: and here we need to go back to the end of 1 Peter 1 where it dealt with the death and resurrection of Christ and redemption in Christ.
Fifth, the proper response to the gospel is to “obey” it. Why? It is a demand on us.
We finish our series on “gospel” [. . .], and we do so by looking briefly at three references to “gospel” in Revelation:
10: 5 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6 And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced [gospeled] to his servants the prophets.”
14:6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth,
the sea, and the springs of water.”
Two simple points:
1. The gospel was announced to the prophets in advance; the seer calls it the “mystery of God.”
2. The gospel is for all human beings and it is a summons to “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
We are to understand faith in the gospel and obeying the gospel and fearing God/giving God glory, and worshiping the God of Jesus Christ as overlapping elements of the proper response of humans to the gospel itself.
We shift now for a while from the word “gospel/gospeling” to “heralding/herald” (Greek word is kerusso/kerygma/kerux). We back up to the Gospels again, and we begin with John (Matt 3:1-2) and Jesus (4:17).
1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Very clearly, the gospel both John and Jesus preached is a gospel/preaching that involved these things:
1. The demand for Israelites (and anyone who listened) to repent, or turn from their ways, back to the God of the covenant as he makes his will known through John and Jesus.
2. The demand to repent derived from the sudden inbreaking and presence of the kingdom of God, and this must be understood as the long-awaited promises to David (and the prophets) that God would restore Israel, fulfill his promises, and create in the Land of Israel the People of God.
We can look at a slew of references for all say basically the same thing. We’ve had some early pushbacks here so I embolden the words that make our point: preaching/gospeling. Notice these references [where the word kerusso/preaching/proclaiming/gospeling appears]:
1. John preached about Jesus – so his preaching focused on God’s kingdom redemption in Christ (Mark 1:7).
2. Jesus preached the kingdom of God: Mark 1:38-39, 45.
3. Jesus shared the preaching ministry with, or passed it onto, his disciples: Mark 3:14; Matt 10:7; Luke 9:2.
4. Jesus told them to preach the gospel in public fearlessly and to all: Matt 10:27; Mark 13:10; 14:9.
5. Those who were healed did this [preaching] spontaneously: Mark 5:20; 7:36.
6. Jesus preached the good news to the poor: Luke 4:18-19.
7. This gospel preaching involved repentance and forgiveness of sins: Luke 24:47.
The “gospel” changes at Acts 1-2. One way of saying this is the proclaimer became the proclaimed one – but this misses that John preached about Jesus, too. And Jesus’ own message was self-directed. But, still, a good point to be made: the preaching shifts to redemption in Christ in a direct and clear manner.
Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
Acts 9:19 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
And this text by Peter says it all:
Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The gospel that was preached was a gospel about redemption through Christ.
Speaking of changes, here is the “gospel/kerygma” according to Irenaeus (from Against Heresies 1.10.1):
The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:
[She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them;
and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation;
and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets
the dispensations (6) of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” (7) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race,
in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” (8) to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” (9) and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
[Now] I want to observe that Paul’s gospel can be “gospeled” or “proclaimed” through the grid of several terms. We have seen that Paul preaches the gospel of the narrative of the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ. But Paul can also use the term “kingdom” (according to Luke’s narrative in Acts). Notice these verses, which form capsule summaries of Paul’s message:
20:22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
32 “Now I commit you to
God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
I’m impressed here with the variety of terms that can be used to express the gospel, leading me to urge us to avoid reduction to one set of words and to imagine ways to re-expressing this gospel in our day.
And . . . here’s how Luke sketches Paul’s time in prison in Rome, probably in that little hole off the Capitoline looking down on the Roman Forum . . .
28:23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” 30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul preaches the kingdom; he preaches Jesus; he preaches grace; he preaches the Old Testament coming to realization in Jesus Christ.
Here’s a crucial passage when it comes to “gospel” and “kerygming” in the New Testament:
Rom. 10:5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Paul’s gospel involves this:
1. Confessing verbally that Jesus is Lord.
2. Believing that God raised Jesus from the death (a bodily resurrection).
3. Anyone who believes this is saved.
4. God has chosen to proclaim this gospel through humans.