THE GOOD NEWS (1) – 1978 LENT SERIES – St Peter’s Wellington – Godfrey Wilson
What is the Gospel … ‘the Good News’?
It seems a rather superfluous question, doesn’t it? I mean, we are all Christian, members of the Church. Surely we must already know what the Good News is? After all, the Church’s life and mission are a result of it, are based on it …
Well, I am not so sure that it is a superfluous question.
Q 1. What do you think about the question – “What is the Good News?” Superfluous or not?
One of the things each member of our Lent study group had to do for last Wednesday’s meeting was to find a passage in the New Testament in which someone was stating what the Good News is.
The results of this research were extremely varied. Some produced passages from the Gospels, others from the Acts or the Epistles. While most of them had some bearing on the Good News, they tended to stress particular aspects of it, rather than be complete statements in themselves. In fact, we began to feel that the various passages were rather like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle which, only when put together, gives a full picture of what the Good News is.
And of course, even when we began to see the full picture, the full statement of the Good News, we still had the problem of understanding just what it means.
Well, the study group is going to dig deeper into this in coming weeks – trying to arrive at an understanding of the Gospel which makes sense to us here and now; which we can say with confidence relates to our experience; and which we can therefore communicate to others with some authenticity.
I think that what is likely to be happening in the Sunday morning sermons is a kind of picking up of the threads of our weekday discussions and weaving them into something which you – a larger audience – may find helpful to your understanding and sharing of the Good News.
This morning, I want to try to lay out, as simply and briefly as I can, what the Good News is in the New Testament. Without worrying at this stage about its meaning, for us, in our lives today.
Let us just try to get clear what people were talking about then, when they proclaimed or preached ‘The Gospel’.
A few points to note.
First: the English word ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament, comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘godspell’ (meaning ‘God-story’) and is used to translate the New Testament Greek word ‘ouangelion’ meaning ‘good tidings’ or ‘news’.
A second point: the New Testament books are all, in one way or another, the product of people’s response to what they perceived as the ‘good news’ in their time and place.
- The Gospels present the person who is at the heart of the Good News.
- The Acts of the Apostles gives an account of what happened as the Good News was spread.
- Most of the Epistles show people who have already responded to the Good News now wrestling with its implications for their daily living and thinking and so on.
A third point is that the word, Gospel, does not refer everywhere in the New Testament to the same message. The easiest way to appreciate this is to compare two verses at the opening of Mark’s Gospel.
Chapter 1, verse 1, says: “Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” In other words, ‘here is the good news about an historical person whom God sent’ … Good news about Jesus Christ.
But, at verse 14 we read: “After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel’.” Here Jesus is not saying ‘listen to the good news about me!’ He is saying ‘listen to the good news from God … his Kingdom is being established and here is what you had better do: repent and believe!’
Jesus’s ‘good news’ was about the Kingdom of God. The early church’s ‘good news’ was about Jesus, the person in whom the Kingdom came.
Q 2. Have you ever thought of the Good News in this way? Is it helpful?
Now of course the content of those two messages is closely related, but … it is not the same. So let us look at them both in turn.
First, Jesus’s good news of the Kingdom.
For generations, the Jews had been expecting God to establish his ‘Kingdom’ … his sovereign rule in the world – through a sudden dramatic initiative.
They had visions of glory for themselves when this happened. God would vindicate his people and they would be at the top of the heap.
It was a spiritual vision of a new dispensation which had got all mixed up with nationalist longings and ambitions.
The good news Jesus brought, and which (as Mark tells it) he came into Galilee proclaiming was that the time of God’s dramatic initiative had come … right now he was acting to establish his Kingdom, his rule in the affairs of human beings, beginning with his ancient people, the Jews.
But it had nothing to do with their nationalistic hopes.
It had to do with the territory of the human heart and mind, with spiritual rebirth from our existence crippled by selfishness and sin, in to a new life controlled by the Spirit of God who is love.
‘God is calling on you to respond to his initiative’ said Jesus. ‘You have to act! To decide what you are going to do … believe that this is so, repent your sins, turn around and willingly accept his rule in your life … or … accept God’s judgement on your indifference to the good news or your rejection of it. This is a time of crisis for everybody … what are you going to do as God’s Kingdom comes?’
Q 3. What do you think about this summary of Jesus’s message to them, and us?
As you know, Jesus called a group of disciples to be with him to learn more of the implications of what he was saying, and to help him spread the message.
- In his teaching, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount and his parables, he described what human life is like when truly lived under the rule of God.
- In his acts of healing he became the means by which people experienced not only something of the wholeness of life in the Kingdom, but also something of the incredible power of God.
- In his challenge to the legalism and pietism of his day he showed that the goodness and greatness of God could not be contained within the religious systems of human beings.
- In his forgiveness of people’s sins he broke the vicious circle in their lives and pointed them towards the freedom and hope of new life in the Kingdom.
Good News, all of it, to those who saw and heard, and believed, and followed.
Q 4. Does this correspond to the understanding you had before, of what the Good News is?
But many did not see it or hear it as good news – only as a threat, indeed as blasphemy. They wanted him dead. And they got their way.
They thought they would put an end to both Jesus and his movement, and they would hear no more of this so-called ‘good news’ of the Kingdom which had been disturbing the status quo.
- 5 “Disturbing the status quo” – is this a good explanation of why many people wanted (and still want) Jesus out of the way?
But they were wrong.
And that brings us to the Church’s ‘good news’ – and the other main use of the word ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament.
The Church’s ‘good news’ focussed not on the ‘Kingdom of God’ that Jesus had proclaimed, but on Jesus himself.
The ‘good news’ now was about what God had done through Jesus.
First it drew attention to events concerning Jesus, as when in Acts Chapter 10 Peter relates to Cornelius and his friends who Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil … “ how “he was put to death by hanging on a gibbet …” “how God raised him to life on the third day …” how he appeared to “witnesses”.
Or as when Paul says in 1 Cor 15 how he handed on the facts as he had received them: ‘that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised to life on the third day, and appeared to a variety of witnesses.’
So at the heart of the Church’s gospel was the mind-blowing good news that the Jesus who had been crucified had been raised to life again.
But that was only part of the good news. There was also the claim that God was in these events, accomplishing a very special purpose for humanity, and that he had been preparing for it and dropping hints about it for a very long time. This is why the phrase ‘according to the Scriptures’ keeps recurring along with the recital of these events; they believed that God had foreshadowed in his dealings with Israel, the things he had now done through Jesus. Paul puts it quite bluntly at the beginning of his letter to the Romans:
“This Gospel God announced beforehand in sacred scriptures through his prophets.”
But just what did the Early Church say it was that God was doing in these events which involved Jesus and which the Church proclaimed as ‘good news’? They said he was:
- overcoming the estrangement between us and God.
- Bringing forgiveness of sins, and
- opening up a way by which we can be released from sin’s bondage and enter into our true inheritance – which is a life of love freely given and received.
Perhaps Paul puts it best in 2 Corinthians 5, when he says:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding men’s misdeeds against them … Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sins God made him one with the sinfulness of men, so that in him we might be made one with the goodness of God himself.”
The essence of the Church’s ‘good news’, then, was (and is) this:
God has shown who he is, and also who we are intended to be, in Jesus.
Q 6. Is this a good summary of the Good News?
Through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, God has shown that he rules, that evil is not able to overcome him. Through Jesus, he has broken the grip of sin on human life, and opened for us the way to a new life lived in union with him and our neighbour (not estrangement); a life rooted and grounded in love, and made possible by the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us.
- The invitation is: to believe this ‘good news’, to repent our sins and turn around and enter into our inheritance.
- And the way is: to be baptised into the fellowship of those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord over their lives and who are being changed through the power of the Spirit.
Now I guess what I have said needs quite a lot of “unpacking” when we begin to ask what it means. But let us get onto that next Sunday.