The Gospel or not the Gospel?
In the Spring of 2011, a friend and I we’re driving home from a Passover Seder that was led by Rabbi Marty Waldman at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. My friend and I had purchased our tickets separately and were assigned to different tables. He was telling me about some of the discussions he had at his table with a couple of guys who felt that the “gospel” wasn’t being presented explicitly through-out the evening. This discussion was perplexing to my friend and I because we felt that nothing but the “gospel” had been presented through the telling of the Passover story. The story told at the Seder related to the Exodus from Egypt; about God’s redemption and calling out of His people Israel as well as Yeshua’s (Jesus) Last Supper and sacrificial death on the cross. Both stories being about God redeeming His people. Sounds like the Gospel to me.
Last week I was listening to an audio teaching by D. Thomas Lancaster on Evangelism. Lancaster is the congregational leader of Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI as well as the Educational Director for FFOZ. In this audio lecture, Lancaster said that from time to time he will have listeners come and ask him why he didn’t preach anything about the “gospel” during his sermon that week. Lancaster says this question of not preaching the “gospel” is perplexing to him as well. From his perspective his message is always about the “gospel” and nothing but the “gospel” so help me God.
So what is the common denominator for the discrepancy of the Good News being presented or not being presented accurately in these two stories?
More than anything it comes down to definitions. What is the Gospel?
Do you have to say the word “Gospel” in order for it to be about the Gospel?
Is the Gospel more than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? More than the Letters of Paul & the Apostles?
If you don’t mention explicitly Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection, has the Good News been proclaimed?
Most importantly, our definition of the Gospel and its corresponding goal must be reached from Scripture. Naturally, we are all influenced by what our Pastor or Rabbi teaches, what we read in commentaries and books, and what our home group and family/friends discuss. All these things and more will shape and fill in the spaces of what the Gospel means in our lives and how we live it out. Still though, our foundation for what the Gospel is must be built upon what Scripture says it is. We must take into account the whole counsel of God for us to have the most complete answer and scope of the Gospel.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)” Romans 1:16
For starters, let’s talk about the terms and word origins. The most commonly used term “Gospel” literally means “Good News” and is derived from the old-English word “God-spell” which literally means “the good (true) story”.
In Hebrew this word is “Besorah” such as in Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news (besorah), who publishes peace, who brings good news (besorah) of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
In the Greek the word is “evangelion”. This is where we get the word “evangelism” which literally means “the proclamation of good news”.
The Gospel message is paramount! You could say that the Gospel message is the primary focus of the entire Bible, the meta-narrative and should be of primary importance in how we think and express those thoughts in actions when we’re alone and to the rest of the world. I’ve become increasingly convinced that the majority of us (myself included) have restricted the Gospel message (along with the Scriptures that gives it) and we have a much too small view of the Gospel with its implications and potential than we can even fathom. Still, we all agree the Gospel is important, but what exactly is it?
Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, who were a young congregation in the Lord, in chapter 15 that of “first importance“, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”. This is a fundamental “gospel” truth that most would probably think a “gospel” message should include. To complement this passage, Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,”. In his letter to the Galatians chapter 3:8, Paul broadens our scope a bit about what the “gospel” message is when he says “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify  the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The “gospel” was that in Abraham’s seed, one would come (Yeshua) who would take away the sin of the world and offer relationship with God through himself. In Yeshua there is blessing for all the nations-that is a “gospel” message. In Acts 14:15, Paul broadens the definition of “gospel” once again when he says to the people of Lystra who were trying to worship him and Barnabas as “gods”, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” This sounds identical to the “gospel” ministry of John the Baptistl and was Yeshua’s first public sermon about the “good news”, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. This one verse is the “gospel” in a nutshell and yet widens the scope even further. As D. Thomas Lancaster said in “What about Evangelism?”, “Where is the Torah found in the Gospel message? In the word “Repent””. For it is the Torah that teaches us what is right and wrong (sin). Torah also defines what it is we are repenting from and furthermore Who it is we are turning to. A “gospel” message is that The Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) has come, The King, Son of David has started building His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth but it’s not finished yet. Still, we don’t have to wait for its completion, we can enter this Kingdom now and get a foretaste of what this Kingdom will be like when it’s brought to its sure perfection soon.
Going back to the TaNaK (Hebrew Scriptures), Isaiah 52:7 proclaims one who brings the “gospel” as he who “who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Also, in Isaiah 61:1, which is a passage Yeshua applied to himself, we also get an explanation of what the “gospel” is and what it “looks like” when it says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;  he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; . The prophet Isaiah definitely proclaimed the “gospel”. See also Isaiah 53 (what many call, The Gospel of Isaiah).
In 1 Peter 1:23-25, Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8 which says “the Word of the Lord lasts forever”. Then Peter says “this Word is the Good News which has been proclaimed to you”. This Word that Peter is talking about is the Word that became Flesh as spoken about in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” On another level, this Word is also what makes up our Scripture as recorded in Genesis through Revelation. It’s what we call “The Word of God” which is indeed “Good News” as well.
In the Book of Revelation chapter 14:6-7, we get another glimpse of the “gospel” defined. Except this time there is an adjective before the word “gospel”. In this passage an angel of the Lord has come to proclaim an “eternal gospel”. What is the “eternal gospel”? And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
So, What is the Gospel? To quote Matt Chandler from The Village Church “it’s about pushing back the darkness” with the light and testimony of Yeshua for God’s glory to all of creation!
The Scriptures quoted above are just a sampling. For there is much more height, depth and width that make up this “Everlasting Gospel” message. Would you have it any other way? Something so grand, mysterious and holy to search out and learn about for “eternity”! Yet you don’t have to wait for “eternity” since you can start right now – sure sign me up for the Kingdom!
May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!