It is not at all uncommon for one to hear words like “Gospel”, “joy”, “celebration”, or “blessing” while attending a Church service or dialoguing with fellow Christians. We would like to discuss the first word in this list, for it is often one of the most misunderstood. For some time now, “Gospel” has come to be understood and used by Christians in a way that is quite unlike the usage we find in the New Testament. We hope by the end of this entry, we will come to use this term properly.
Christians regularly use the term “Gospel” in reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection and the fact that by means of this, we as Christians have our sins atoned for and stand in a right relationship with God. Rarely, however, do Christians move beyond this narrow definition. Because of this, we miss central aspects of our Christian faith, aspects emphasized throughout the Gospels and by Jesus himself.
According to Luke, following his baptism and temptation, Jesus, being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, returns to Galilee and begins teaching in the synagogues (Luke 4.14-15). One particular Sabbath Jesus was given the honor of reading from the Scriptures. He was given the scroll of Isaiah and he turned to a specific passage that would not only demonstrate who he was, but that would also demonstrate precisely what he came to do and to bring:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news (euangelidzokai) to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Isaiah 61.1-2)
He then explains that this scripture is fulfilled in him.
Matthew tells us that Jesus went through the crowds in Galilee “proclaiming the good news (euangelion/Gospel) of the kingdom and curing every sickness among the people” (Matt. 4.23-24). Matthew makes it clear here, and the rest of the Gospels demonstrate this beyond question as will be shown below, that for Jesus, spreading the Gospel is directly connected to the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read, that is, the Gospel is caring for the poor and vulnerable, healing and helping the sick, releasing the captives (the issue of captives could be a blog entry in itself, but we will save that for another day), and setting the oppressed free.
Jesus’ teachings and actions confirm this beyond any doubt. First, a bit of background information: In the 1st century, the sick, those with diseases such as leprosy, the blind and lame, the poor, and the tax-collectors were among the lowest and most despised in society. They could not enter the Holy Temple to pray or offer sacrifices. They were, essentially, not allowed to be involved in religious and/or social life, and were made to feel as though they were cut off from God because of this. If one associated with these people, he or she would be viewed in the same light. This is why Jesus was accused of being a glutton and sinner when he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. Now, with this in mind, let us just glance quickly through Luke (and point out a few particular teachings in Matthew) and see just what Jesus’ mission of preaching and bringing the good news, the Gospel (euangelion), looked like. After he begins his Galilean ministry, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law and numerous sick people (Luke 4.38ff), he cleanses a leper and a paralytic (Luke 5.12-26), he heals a man with a withered hand and others (Luke 6.6-11, 17-19), he explains that when we have parties, we are not to invite our wealthy neighbors, but the poor, crippled, lame and blind (remember, these were the ones who were cut off from God and society) (Luke 14), he explains who his true followers are in the teaching of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25.31-46), he amazes people when he tells them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (and no, there is NO SUCH THING as the “Needle’s Eye Gate”) (Matt. 18.23-24), and he tells us just what happens to those who neglect and oppress the poor through the story of the poor, neglected Lazarus who inherits blessings upon his death while his oppressor faces terrible punishment (Luke 16). These should be enough examples to demonstrate just what was this “Gospel” that he was spreading. He surely, and in the greatest way possible, fulfilled the qualifications of a great king:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. (Psalm 72.1-4)
How then are we to preach the Gospel? Like all questions, we should look to Jesus for the answer, and imitate him as best we can. We must spread the whole Gospel, and not just offer someone a prayer of salvation. Our Churches must make the whole and true Gospel the purpose of their existence. We must reach out to those who are rejected in society, who are, essentially, cut off from God because of the way the world treats them: The elderly, who are left alone in nursing homes and hospitals, the orphans who aren’t experiencing worship, the homeless, whom people pass and then forget after a second or third thought. If we or our Churches happen to live in affluent areas (notice I didn’t say they are blessed to live in these places. Again, that’s another blog.) then it is OUR responsibility to go out and search for people to whom we can bring the Gospel. Simply because we live far away from the poor and oppressed, does not mean we do not have a responsibility to care for them and bring the Gospel to them.
Finally, we must be sure not to be second hand Disciples of Christ. While donating clothes and money is an amazing act that glorifies God, we must go first-hand to the poor and oppressed. If one is unable to for whatever reason, then directly help and enable others to do so. When we talk about spreading the Gospel in the usual sense, that is, preaching to people and bringing them to salvation through Jesus, we do not settle for simply making a donation to print Bible tracts, do we? No. A disciple goes and preaches the Gospel, and as disciples, we must preach the WHOLE Gospel. After all, Jesus did not say, “When I was hungry, you gave a donation and the Salvation Army fed me.” Let us spread the Gospel! Blessings, Kristellys Estanga and Michael Zolondek