Many religions begin by telling people what they should do; Christianity begins with what God has done.
“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!”
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!’
And that, right there, is what the gospel is all about – not a set of good instructions or a piece of good advice, but the good news of what God himself has accomplished, for us and for the world, in Christ.
In the Roman Empire of the first century, heralds would spread the ‘good news’ of military victories or an emperor’s coming to the throne. But for Christians, the word ‘gospel’ also came loaded with Old Testament promises of salvation. Isaiah, in particular, declares the ‘good tidings’ of God coming in power, exercising his reign, saving his people, and establishing peace. Indeed, the closing chapters of his prophecy describe how God’s reign will be universal in its scope, embracing all nations, even renewing the whole cosmos. No wonder it’s described as ‘good news’!
It’s in this light that Mark describes Jesus preaching the ‘good news’ of the arrival of God’s reign – as the culmination of a story which reaches back into God’s dealings with his people. But as the account moves on, as Jesus walks the path to death and resurrection, it becomes clear that the promised salvation will come about through the servant promised by Isaiah who would suffer and die on behalf of others. Kingdom and cross are bound together in the gospel.
It’s often tempting to reduce the gospel to a personal transaction between me and God in which Jesus dies for me, I repent, and God forgives my sin. Certainly, the gospel is not less than that. But it’s much more, involving not only the rescue of men and women from judgment, but the renewal of God’s relationship with his people, and the restoration of creation itself. The good news of what God has done in Jesus carries zoom-lens implications for the redemption of individual sinners and wide-angle implications for the reconciliation of all things.
On this understanding, a commitment to the gospel is significant for the whole of life. At home and at work, in the art gallery and the sports arena, in business and in politics, walking the dog and washing the dishes, there is no place the gospel does not touch with its implications because of the comprehensive nature of God’s saving work in Christ, his rule over every aspect of life.