We cannot exhaust the beauties of the Gospel, but we can provide a bigger picture of the Gospel than what is typically presented in the Church today. The hope is that we would grow ever more grateful for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the Gospel?
First, the Gospel is about Christ. The clearest Bible passage is found in I Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul says, “The Gospel, which he preached, is about Christ and his death and resurrection.” In Romans 1, Paul says he declares a Gospel about the Son, who was descended from David. Later in Romans, Paul makes a powerful connection between the Gospel and Christ’s incarnation. The Gospel must be about Christ. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ embodies the Gospel in his life, death, and resurrection. Everything that makes the Gospel beautiful is beautiful because of Christ. So when we think about the Gospel, one fundamental facet of it, perhaps the most central of them all, is that the Gospel is about Christ.
Let’s unpack that a bit more.
The word “Gospel” is not just a word we use in the Christian world. In fact, the word was used in the ancient world for various reasons. For example, the word Gospel was used when Caesar would have a Son, or if he won a great military victory, or a new Caesar ascended the throne – the proclamation of that news was called gospel, and his heralds would announce the gospel in all the empire.
The Christian community adopted this language to proclaim a different message; not a message about Caesar, but a message about Christ. The Gospel is about Christ because Jesus Christ is King. The most basic confession of faith is Jesus is Lord. The Gospel is good news because it announces what God has done in Christ.
Secondly, the Gospel is about History. One pastor put it this way: “The Gospel was planned in eternity, and executed in history.” The passage we read today from I Corinthians 15 says that the Gospel is a historical event. The late Christopher Hitchens was once interviewed by a liberal pastor. The pastor asked him, “Christopher, why do you keep debating these radical Christians? “What do you mean by radical?” the famed atheist inquired. The liberal pastor said, “Well, I mean those Christians who believe the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. I am a mainline pastor. I don’t believe that Jesus rose literally as the Bible says.” This is where I think Hitchens shined. He told this liberal pastor: “The reason I debate these so-called radicals is because they actually believe in the historical claims of Christianity unlike you.”
If you do not accept that the Gospel is what God has done in history, then you might as well pack your liberal suitcase, close the church doors, and never again refer to yourself as a Gospel minister. Every time you come to Church on Sundays and confess the Nicene Creed you are making historical claims. What does the Creed say? “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” Now, Pilate was not a high-ranking political figure. He was a mid-level bureaucrat. The Creed and the Bible mention him because it’s a way of anchoring the Christian Gospel in history.
Thirdly, the Gospel is about the Church. In our definitions of the Gospel, this is one area where I am convinced many simply overlook or miss altogether, which means they are proclaiming an incomplete Gospel.
You see, the Gospel is never just Jesus and “me,” it’s Jesus and “we.” The Gospel creates a new community. The Gospel gives us a new way of being human. And the way we can be most human is by proclaiming the institutional Church as integral to the Gospel from beginning to end.
Far too many Gospel presentations leave the church out altogether. The Gospel becomes only about “How do I get saved’” So let me phrase this provocatively to make my point. It’s not, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” but “God has a wonderful plan for his Church.” If you want to be a part of that wonderful plan, then be a part of the Church. The Gospel is most clearly seen within the gates of Zion where we meet together as a people. It is in her that we hear the word and taste of the Gospel in bread and wine.
Therefore, when we talk about the Gospel, we are talking about a lot more than simply how I was saved or where I am going to go when I die, but we are talking about the Person and Work of Christ; we are talking about the historical realities of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and we are talking about the Church.
What we are trying to communicate as a Church is a powerful Gospel that encompasses so much more. We are teaching a Gospel that transcends the claims of Nero or Pilate. We are proclaiming a Gospel from another world; a Gospel that came down in human flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate and gave himself for the Church. A Gospel that says less than these things is still the Gospel, but it is a weak Gospel. Most of the problems we have with the Gospel today is that we have found our pet doctrine, and we tell the world, “Unless you believe that the Gospel is only about this, then you are forsaking the Gospel.” But the breadth and depth of the Bible teach us that the Gospel is more than one mere idea. The Gospel is the promise that our Lord and King, Jesus, is calling us to participate in something greater than ourselves. And this is good news! Believe this and rejoice!