When Jesus began his ministry I have often focused on the very first “red letters” of Jesus’ public ministry that we get in Matthew and the very first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Here they are,
Matthew 4:17 – “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Both mention the kingdom. Both call people to repent. Only Mark mentions the “good news.” Matthew does give us that exact same word but not until after the next section which is the call of the disciples (4:18-22). After Jesus calls them we get this from Matthew,
“23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” – 4:23-25
There it is, the Gospel…the “good news”. Just as we have this one Greek word (euangelion) translated into two English words, the Greek word is a compound word of the word “good” (Eu) and the word “message” (angelion – you see angel in there or “messenger”). The Gospel of Jesus is a message. It is good news of some sort. What sort of good news is it? I believe the answer to that question comes in two forms.
First, as we see in Matthew 4:23 the Gospel is both proclaimed in words. Second, it is performed in Jesus’ actions including his miracles.
Let’s look at each of these.
The Gospel is proclaimed. That means there is a message that is spoken that reveal truths about something and that something is what Matthew and Mark both included, “the kingdom” of God or of heaven. Throughout the Gospels we have Jesus giving us more and more information on the kingdom. People talk about Jesus talking so much about money or about a number of other things. Jesus’ primary message was the kingdom. You hear it everywhere from the Sermon on the Mount to his parables.
Jesus & The Gospel writers use of “loaded terms”
Jesus was teaching about God’s kingdom at a time when kingdom was a big deal. Jesus and the Jews of the first century lived under kingdom authority of Caesar. He ruled the land and ruled the day from an earthly point of view. They were his subjects, basically his slaves…paying him homage and taxes, etc.They didn’t get much say in how things when in the Roman Empire. When Matthew and Mark use the word “kingdom” that is a loaded term more so in their world than in ours. When Matthew and Mark use the word gospel and proclamation those are words people in that day knew very well just like the word kingdom. All three of those words were words that were very readily used of Caesar as the supreme authority where proclamation was made of “good news”/gospel/euangelion of what Caesar had done for his subjects.
There are other terms used of Caesar that I won’t spend the time going into right now but they are important to be familiar with. Caesar, I believe starting in Rome with Julius but certainly having precedent in Greece, Egypt and other places, claimed he was divine and the son of divine parents making him a son of the gods. Caesar was seen as “savior” of Rome and as “christos”…the anointed ruler and “king” as well as “lord.” If you read Romans 1:1-4 you get Paul pointing all of those terms and ideas squarely on Jesus and you can bet in writing this to Christians in the city of Rome his underlying message without directly saying it is that Caesar is not.
The truth of the matter was that Caesar was not your friend and what he did for you was not truly “gospel”/good news. To a pagan world who were already polytheists what was one more “god” to worship who they knew wasn’t really divine? But to monotheist Christians worshiping Caesar was out of the question and led to a lot of misconceptions of Christians that ultimately led to a lot of persecution. That is another matter we can dive into another time if need be.
The Gospel is performed:
So the Gospel is proclaimed about Jesus by the Gospel writers and also by Jesus in his ministry through the spoken word. It was also shown to us in the actions of Jesus, particularly his miracles. Go back to Matthew 4:23-25 and see what I mean. Matthew lists off a bunch of miracles that Jesus did. The question is this, what were these miracles intended to communicate and accomplish?
For the vast majority of my life I thought Jesus did his miracles for two reasons. First, he did them because he was a nice guy, full of compassion for the people and who saw someone hurting and wanted to help. Second, in addition to his compassion I was taught that the purpose of the miracles was to demonstrate the truth of his teaching. I still believe that is true and is most fully demonstrated in healing the paralyzed man who he also forgave his sins. The reality of the miracle backed up his statement that he could and did forgive sins.
But there is a third reason that I think is foundational to the purpose of Jesus’ ministry that both communicates something about God and accomplishes something about God at the same time. Here it is. The miracles were just as much a proclamation and a partial glimpse into the kingdom that is “near” as were the words/proclamation of Jesus. His miracles and deeds communicated the gospel just as solidly and in some cases even as specifically as his words did. So Jesus can teach us about a God who is full of mercy but how much more do we get that communication than through Jesus’ healing someone? Jesus can teach us about his authority but how much more does he teach us that by casting out a demon or calming the sea by his command?
If you want some verses to drive this home read the “rest of the story” of Matthew 4:23-25 that Luke gives us in Luke 4:14-21. Here it is…
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Notice how the verbs “proclaim” and “set…free” are basically used the same way…Jesus proclamation, his words, are a setting free as are the actual deliverance (from sickness and demons) miracles. Jesus’ proclamation of freedom comes with the authority to actually free people and then people are actually freed by the words and deeds of Jesus!
The proclamation and the performance all communicate the “good news” that Jesus has come to the world to right the wrongs by his sovereign authority but first and foremost through his submission to the Father even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:5-11). Then just as Jesus is delivered and raised, so are we. That is good news. It is good news that the evil of this world doesn’t get the final say. It is good news that sickness and death and sin and corruption don’t get the final say. God does. You catch this reality in Revelation 21:1-5. Give that a read when you have a moment. God offers us forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, new creation, and resurrection life through His Son Jesus!
Caesar never offered that.
That should tell us something. We have no Caesar today but we all have things we are tempted to use to fill the Caesar role – things that make big promises that never pan out and that claim to be things that they are not. So let me close with this question, what sort of “Caesar gospel” are you following at times in your life? What kind of “faux Gospel” gets your attention more than the real one Last, in my best Dr. Phil voice, “How is that working for you?”