Mark summarises Jesus’ initial teaching this way (Mark 1:14-15):
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’ here clearly relates to the coming of the kingdom of God on earth, something that is much bigger than the individual. God is beginning to act in a new way to put things right, Jesus is saying, and this is good news if you are thinking rightly – and if you are not, you’d better re-think (‘re-pent’). Good news, especially for the poorest and the marginalised, those despised by the religious elite, because many who were last would be first, and many of the first would be last.
This fits with Jesus’ claim in Luke 4:16-21 that his ministry was fulfilling Isaiah’s words:
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Thus the good news was about God’s favour, his grace, and his determination to put wrong things right. Jesus’ hearers were invited to join him in the work and, eventually, in the proclamation. To be sure, this involved repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness, but the focus was on the good future.
However in modern christianity, ‘gospel’ generally has a narrower meaning: the message that all humans are sinners deserving punishment (the bad news), but Jesus’ death has purchased redemption and salvation for those who believe (the good news). This seems to be a narrowing of the original usage – we seem to have lost something. To many people it seems more grim news than good news.
I can’t help feeling we could improve our presentation of the good news to be more positive, forward looking and reflecting ‘God’s favour’ while not neglecting the necessary tough news. I’ll come back to this point again, but in the meantime you may wish to check out some more on ‘Paul’s gospel’ and ‘Jesus’ gospel, in What message?.
What do you think?