“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”” (Mark 1:14–15, ESV)
If we are to understand what it is that Jesus was publicly proclaiming, then we need to understand the gospel, or rather what Mark meant when he referred to “the gospel.”
Perhaps one of the most systematic [and simple, Yay!!] descriptions of the gospel is from the pen of the apostle Paul:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that 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,” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, ESV)
We might sum Paul’s words up even more simply by saying, the gospel means that Christ died for our sins. This is the message that every New Testament author communicated. This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans:
“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.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)
Another way of working out the gospel is to frame it in terms of reconciliation with God:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19, ESV)
Paul is pretty clear here:
- We need to be reconciled to God
- We can be reconciled to God through Christ
- When we are reconciled to God through Christ our trespasses are not counted against us.
- When we are in Christ we are a new creation.
It is certainly true that when Jesus began to proclaim the “gospel of God” neither those in his audience, nor even his closest followers fully understood what he meant. It wasn’t until after Christ’s death and resurrection that they began to fully grasp what Christ had been saying all along. John puts the change in stark and beautiful terms when he describes his reaction to the empty tomb:
“Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple [most likely John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:6–10, ESV)
John Newton, who was a slave trader and sank so low in life circumstances that he was once the slave of a slave trader before he came to faith in Christ, captured the essence of the gospel quite well at the age of 82 when he said: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
And that is the gospel.
Newton’s tombstone reads: “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”