Gospel: Something More Than a Story
Gospel. What do we mean when we say that word?
Sometimes we mean:
- First 4 books Of the New Testament in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- Story of Jesus – his teaching, his death and resurrection
- Preaching – typically, preaching the way of salvation through belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
The word is derived from godspel – meaning good story. But that is old English. In the Bible it’s euaggelion (Greek). That’s the word from which we get evangelism. So what is evangelism?
Yeah, it’s a word we people typically use to mean sharing the story of Jesus with others in order to encourage them to believe in it and become Christian.
euaggelion: eu means good; aggelos means message; so, eu + aggelos = good message
aggelos: Does that sound like any religious or Christian word?
It should sound a little like angel. An angel is one who carries a message (usually from heaven to earth), that is, a messenger. So, you can kinda see the connection there.
You can probably also now see the connection of euaggelion (good message) to that old English word godspel (good story) and our modern word gospel.
So, gospel essentially mean good news. Which begs a question: Have you gotten any good news lately?
Maybe you’ve gotten a raise – good news. Maybe someone who was sick has been healed – good news. Maybe a friend finally got pregnant – good news. Maybe something else. There is all kinds of good news around us.
But we have, I fear, reduced the gospel from good news in all its forms to only the good news of Jesus Christ.
What you do mean by that, pastor? Isn’t that the only good news that we need?
Well, when you are starving to death here on earth, is Jesus the only thing you need? Or do you also need food, physical nourishment?
When you are homeless and it’s going to be below freezing outside, is Jesus the only thing you need? Or do you also need shelter from the cold in order to survive?
When you have wronged a friend, is Jesus the only thing you need? Or do you also need to go to that friend and work out the wrong with them to repair the relationship and become reconciled?
When you are cheating on your spouse, is Jesus the only thing you need? Or do you also need to stop cheating, take some specific and dramatic actions to turn your heart and your life back to your spouse?
Do you get my point?
Too many Christian have reduced good news to only Jesus and forgotten that good news is also healing the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, offering homes the homeless, welcoming the stranger, repairing the broken relationship, reconciling to a broken commitment.
After all, wasn’t it Jesus that defined the word gospel in his first sermon from the book of Luke (chapter 4) when he proclaimed in the synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
There it is. Good news. Gospel. And Christ is bringing it. But was is this good news? Well, Jesus tells us exactly what it is:
He has sent me to proclaim…
Okay so there is the messenger. What is the message?
…release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
By the way, the year of the Lord’s favor is a phrase which describes the Sabbatical Year in which everything gets released from the powers that push down, control, hurt, and oppress. So, in essence, Jesus gives us a portion of a list of examples (captives, blind, oppressed) and then he offers a catch all phrase for all wrongs in the world.
So gospel is something more than what we have made it. Jesus makes this clear. It is not simply believing a story about Jesus. Gospel (good news) is every story in which people are released and recovered and freed and fed and visited and housed and healed and reconciled and welcomed.
It’s not just talking about Jesus. It’s not just encouraging people to follow Jesus. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t seem to be about Jesus at all.
Wait, hold on again pastor. What do you mean by not about Jesus?
Well, let me explain with a story about a demon possession. The disciples were traveling with Jesus around Capernaum and they came across someone who was driving out demons from people.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us. I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded. (Mark 9:38-41)
So this man is driving out demons in the name of Jesus, but wasn’t one of the disciples. Maybe he did it in Jesus name, but he wasn’t following Jesus like the disciples. He wasn’t “one of us” the disciples said.
Jesus says, “don’t stop him because if he isn’t against us, then he is for us.” There’s that FOR US phrase we talked about a few weeks ago which is so helpful in identifying grace in our lives. If it’s not against you, then it is for you, and therefore it’s grace. And I’d say that being released from a demon sounds like a moment of grace. Amen?
In fact, maybe a good clarifying definition for gospel is that good news is grace news.
The bigger point I want to make here is that Jesus had to pull the disciples along. They had heard Jesus preach. They had seen the miracles. They knew that good news meant healing and feeding and visiting and helping. But the disciples were too caught up in the way they did it, in their own group, in their mindset. Too closed to how the spirit might be working through other people in other places. Too focused on this person following Jesus like they were following Jesus to pay attention to the good news that was right in front of them.
And the Christians still act like this today. Insisting that people follow Jesus like them and failing to recognize good news being done all around them.
We need to stop putting our way first and start putting God’s good news first. God’s good news is not always about you, your group, your people. God is doing things all over the place, through people you don’t agree with, people you don’t like, people who are different than you. Stop lookin at how they are different than you and start paying attention to the good news, to the grace news, to where people are being freed, and released, and housed, and healed and welcomed in, and helped out, and lifted up, and forgiven. All that is good news.
And here’s some more good news: Jesus is always gonna be ahead of you. Just like he was way ahead of the disciples in this story. Jesus is always ahead of us. Seeing what we can’t see. Recognizing the good and the grace in places where we are too focused on ourselves or what is different. Jesus is ahead of us and pulling us forward to see what we have not seen. And that is gospel.
Last week we recognized together that it is possible to believe one thing yet act in a completely opposite manner. It’s possible to believe in Jesus and yet work against Jesus, just like these disciples did by telling that man to stop driving out demons.
But some good news for us when we are working against Jesus is that Jesus is right there ahead of us pulling us forward to see, and hear, and do what he has commanded us.
Jesus is right there ahead of us when we fail to welcome the stranger. And he is pulling us forward to see the error of our ways, to change, turn in a new direction and start doing what we should be doing.
Jesus is right there ahead of us when we fail to visit the sick, treat the injured, cure the cancer or even when we fail to find a way to insure the uninsured. And Jesus is pulling us forward to see the good and the grace in those who are doing these things, to support them and begin to do what he commanded us all along.
Jesus is right there ahead of us when we fail to reconcile with people who have been harmed. And Jesus is pulling us forward to be the kind of people who take responsibility for reconciliation. Maybe you didn’t even cause the harm. But Jesus is pulling you forward anyway.
Because Jesus is always ahead of us pulling us forward to do good, to be better, to feed his sheep, to welcome the stranger, to have mercy upon the guilty, to be His hands and feet in a world that surely needs something good. And that is good news. That is the gospel.