If I asked you the question “What is the Gospel?” and gave you 30 seconds to answer, what would your response be? Take a moment right now and jot something down.
I imagine someone might say something resembling the 4 Spiritual Laws. I myself would say something like: “Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven. Our sin seperated us from God, but now, because of the death of Jesus, we can be in relationship with God.” I asked a friend this question early today and he said: “Reconciliation between God and man.”
But if we go back to the source, we discover something quite different. If we look at Jesus (and he would certainly know what the Good News is, if anyone did), we get a different picture. In Matthew 4:17, we read the words which describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Two things to note here: (1) This statement is likely a summation of Jesus’ message, a distillation of what he said into its purest essence — first and foremost, Jesus’ message was about the Kingdom; and (2) it says Jesus began to preach this message. In other words, this was not the only time he said these words. Likely, these words were part of many sermons and teaching he delivered. And remember, the Kingdom of God/Heaven was a favourite topic of his in his teaching. Numerous times we hear Jesus saying “The kingdom of heaven is like….” as a way of introducing a parable.
So if we take Jesus’ word on things, the most important concept for us to absorb is the imminence of God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to say that the new world order, far from being a distant future to he hoped for, is here now. Though the kingdom does not yet exist on earth in its fullest expression, the startling reality is that it is much more available than we typically think. Jesus has come to offer us entrance into a new reality — those we follow him are in this very instant kingdom people, marching to the beat of a different drum, operating under different rules, and living different lives.
There is space within this for the “traditional” notion of the Gospel, which is still 100% true. We are invited into this kingdom through the deah of Jesus, who takes away the sin which separates us from God. But the Good News goes beyond you and beyond me. It is not merely that our personal invidual sins are forgiven, but that when Jesus set foot on this earth in the flesh, the forces of Sin began to retreat, and at at the cross were vanquished. And the territory which has been reclaimed from the realm of darkness is what we call the Kingdom of God. Here on earth. Right now. Today.
NB: This is essentially my own paraphrase of the second chapter of The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith. The chapter is called “The Gospel Many Have Never Heard.”