The Gospel of Jesus

Ever notice that the gospel of Jesus that we find in the New Testament is not the gospel that is being preached in most American churches?

Jesus came to Israel proclaiming a very concise but powerful message. Let’s read it in Mark’s gospel, the first chapter:

“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching 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)

For the sake of brevity let’s focus on these two questions:
a. What is the Kingdom of God?
b. What is the gospel?

The Kingdom of God

What is the Kingdom of God? Jesus told us many parables to describe the Kingdom. The essence of these parables is that God is now actively working in the world to reconcile it to himself and to bring all things under his direct authority. Paul tells us of a time when this “kingdom project” of God’s will be fully realized:
“…having made known to us the mystery of His [God’s] will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Even though Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand, He also told his disciples to pray that the Kingdom of God would come (Matthew 6:10). In his parables Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God on earth is something which grows over time until it reaches its full measure. Therefore even though we have a measure of the Kingdom in us and among us now, we are to pray that the influence of God in men and women’s lives will continue to grow throughout the world.

Here are two of the parables that Jesus spoke to describe the process of Kingdom growth over time:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."”
(Matthew 13:31-33)

The scope of God’s Kingdom extends beyond human society to the entire created order. Paul tells us in Romans 8:19-21 that the entire creation will be liberated from bondage to decay and brought into a glorious freedom at some point in the future.

The Gospel

What was the gospel or good news that Jesus preached? Was it essentially “I am here to die for your sins so that you can be saved and live forever in heaven with God when you die?” No. This is the gospel of modern religion. The good news that Jesus brought to the Jewish people of 1st Century Israel had to do with the authority of God being available here in this life to bring healing and wholeness to their lives and communities.

Jesus chose a passage in Isaiah 61 to amplify and explain the message of good news that He was bringing. He quoted this passage in the synagogue in Nazareth as recorded by Luke in Luke 4:18-21:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

The gospel of Jesus was a message intended to impact and transform people’s lives here on earth. It was a message of hope and freedom directed toward those who were in despair and spiritual bondage. Jesus came to encourage the poor. He came to release people from the prison of sin and despair and to give them spiritual vision. He announced to them the year of the Lord’s favor – the jubilee year in which all the debts were canceled. What does this mean for us 2000 years later? Our debt of sin has been canceled by God! We have forgiveness of sins, freedom from the oppressive, enslaving power of sin, and a recovery of spiritual vision. Recovering spiritual vision allows us to see ourselves as God’s sons and daughters and to communicate with Him.

Life after death is rarely mentioned in the gospels. There are a couple of references to it, and Paul in his writings does assure that as believers we will be with the Lord after we die, but the heart of the gospel is focused on the healing and transformation of individuals and communities in this life. I believe we need to emphasize this in our communication of the message of Jesus. The message of the Kingdom is the message of wholeness in this life.

The Harvest

When Jesus spoke of the harvest being plentiful and the laborers few I think he had in mind a harvest of people oppressed by disease, demons and sin – not just lost souls in need of heaven. The laborers Jesus is calling for are those whom He has equipped with authority to heal the sick, cast out demons and to extend the offer of God’s forgiveness. Notice the progression of these verses in the gospel of Matthew chapter 9 and in the beginning of chapter 10:

“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” (Matthew 9:35- 10:1)

I see a progression in that passage:
· Jesus sees the masses of people distressed and without a shepherd
· Jesus prays for laborers for this harvest field
· Jesus equips the disciples with authority to cast out demons and heal sickness
· Jesus sends the disciples into the harvest field

This is our calling as well as agents of the Kingdom: we are called to heal the sick, deliver the oppressed and tell them the good news that God’s Kingdom is here now. This should drive us to our knees to receive the authority and power that we need from Jesus to live out this commission. May the Lord of the Harvest equip us to be people who live out and proclaim this gospel of the Kingdom.

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