In Scot McKnight’s excellent book, “King Jesus Gospel” he asks a question that is so simple but so profound – Did Jesus preach the gospel? This is an intriguing question because we typically think of the gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that gives us future hope in heaven through our promised resurrection. But during Jesus’ ministry these things were not on the table in such a nice, neat package. That either means Jesus didn’t preach the gospel, as we define it, or the Gospel isn’t defined as we define it (it is bigger and inclusive of more things than the above summary).
The temptation is to say he didn’t teach “the” Gospel (as summarized above) as we understand it today rather Jesus just preached “Gospel” (lacking the definite article). So what is THE Gospel and did Jesus preach it?
The Bible itself tells us that Jesus taught the Gospel. I will dive into the Greek in a future post but for now let’s look at a thumbnail of what we have.
Matt 4:23 & 9:35 – “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and every disease and sickness among the people.”
Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Mark 1:14-15 – “After John was put in prison, 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!'”
Clearly, Jesus preached the gospel (good news). He did so without preaching it as we are accustomed to hearing it and he did that because his Gospel included more things than what we often include in our understanding of gospel. What were the components of Jesus’ gospel in these verses (we will cover more later)?
- It had something to do with healing
- It had something to do with Jesus being Messiah
- It had something to do with Jesus being the Son of God
- It had something to do with the kingdom of God.
- It had something to do with repentance
Before I go any further, I want to establish the idea that Jesus did preach the Gospel and that anything Jesus includes in the Gospel should be included in our understanding of the Gospel. That means Jesus’ circle of what is included as Gospel was both wider than ours (included things we don’t include) and, ironically, more narrow than ours (including some very specific items we often overlook or leave out). This means we include things as Gospel that aren’t and that we miss things as Gospel that are.
What are some things that we include as gospel that aren’t? Wright and McKnight both talk about our obsession with individual salvation – dying and going to heaven as the great gospel hope. That is close but doesn’t quite give the same emphasis as the biblical gospel. What are some things the New Testament (Jesus) includes as Gospel that we don’t? We often miss his being Messiah and how important that is in continuity with the Old Testament and we also miss the fact that when Jesus taught about the kingdom (often in parables) that he was preaching Gospel. So take the contents of the parables and put them in the circle of what is included in the Gospel. We also don’t associate healing with Gospel but Jesus did. I want to talk more about that in the next article.
The death, burial and resurrection of Christ simply left to itself as a “confession” of faith, falls greatly short of the gospel. What we see at the base of Jesus’ life, teachings and healings, was a “dying to self in order to live”. And this means more, much more, than simply saying “no” to specific sins. It is the looking and thinking beyond self as we face God and people each day. Abraham J. Heschel stated that the “religious man”, as he states in many of his writings, or “the prophet” as he states in others, is the one who can “…keep God and man in the same thought at the same time…”, and in order to do this, self has to move out of the way, has to fall aside. Its not a perfect practice, but a higher reach each day. Sometimes we grasp it and become the gospel…other times we forget and slip; but holding it in a yearning mind becomes our confession of faith that is worked out in our face to face meetings each day.
I think the gospel is the good news, meaning that it wasn’t doctrine, as we like to think of it.
It was Jesus…the man…the Son of God…the word…the light…the door…the way…grace and mercy…the Savior.
And then the gospel was anything attached to Jesus.
The gospel wasn’t a set of rules, but rather that which Jesus espoused for His followers in the way of the Great Commands…Love God, the love your neighbor as yourself.
Not so much as things to do or not do, but rather about the heart, which was also espoused in the Sermon on the Mount.
In regards to healing, we often argue that this was to show Jesus power, but while it did that, it was to also show Jesus love and compassion.
Jesus came to help man out of his poor condition and what greater reflection of love and compassion than to heal and feed another.
We often remark Jesus came to “seek and save the lost”, yes he did, but “saving” is mercy and so is healing and feeding another.