A number of my colleagues recommended I read What is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ?*, delivered by David Suryk at the 2016 Midwest Faculty Conference (Cedar Campus, 6/19/2016). When I had opportunity to connect with David at this summer’s Midwest Faculty Conference, I asked him not only for a copy of What is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ?, but also the permission to share the sermon with the Emerging Scholars Network via a series on the blog. For Part 1 visit here. “Thank-you!” to David for the series and Hannah for editing. To God be the glory! ~ Tom Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network
WHAT IS “THE GOSPEL”? Con’t
The Jewish narrative comes from Isaiah, particularly chapters 40 and 52. These passages are about the Return-from-Exile and begin in Isaiah at chapter 40. John the Baptizer quoted from Isaiah 40 when he identified himself as the one whom God had sent to prepare the way for the coming Lord, whom he pointed out was Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, Israel’s King. (Mark 1:2-4) It’s interesting that right before the Gospel of Mark launches into John the Baptizer, the opening line of the Gospel is “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)—that’s our conference theme for today!
[ This notion of Return-from-Exile is key to understanding not just John’s ministry but also that of God and of Jesus. In fact, Matthew actually set up his Gospel in chapter 1 to show that Messiah Jesus was God’s answer to Israel’s Exile (Matthew 1:1-18). Isaiah 40 then begins a long section that speaks of Israel’s God coming to rescue Israel in Exile and to reign, not just over a restored Israel, but over the entire earth. ]
In Isaiah 40:9 we read:
You who bring good tidings [εὐαγγελιζόμενος] to Zion,
go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings [εὐαγγελιζόμενος]
to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up and do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
And in Isaiah 52:7 we read:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news [εὐαγγελιζομένου],
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings [εὐαγγελιζόμενος], who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Paul even quoted the first part of Isaiah 52:7 in Romans 10:15-16 – “How beautiful are the feet who bring good news.”
Notice the gospel root εὐαγγέλ—in these Isaiah passages.
The LORD, the God of Israel, sent his Son to save and reign as Israel’s King. Paul’s message about Jesus was about the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem not just Israel, but also the whole world. That’s the Jewish narrative understanding of Gospel. And the Jews of Jesus’s time looked for that same God to come and rescue them from Roman domination. It’s no wonder people flocked to John the Baptizer asking if he was the coming Messiah.
The other common understanding and use of “gospel” comes from the Greco-Roman narrative, and is a rival narrative to the Jewish Gospel. The Greco-Roman narrative had emperor worship at its heart. Richard Horsley in his Paul and Empire (Trinity Press, 1997) notes that this language was very common in Roman cities and usually applied to emperor worship, the imperial cult. When a new emperor ascended the throne, this gospel was announced throughout the Empire. A stone inscription in 9 BC praised Augustus as “god” and “savior” who brought “peace” and referred to his birth as “good news.” Paul knew very well that announcing as “good news” that the God of Israel had sent his Son to be the Savior and King of Israel and thus the world’s true Lord was a subversive challenge both to Israel’s King Herod and to Caesar, the Roman Emperor.
But we must note well—When the gospel of a new Roman emperor was announced throughout the land, it wasn’t the sort of announcement that someone in the Empire could take it or leave it. No. This gospel announcing the new emperor meant that their obedience, their allegiance, their worship and their taxes were to be directed to the new Roman Emperor. And that is the very context in which the Jewish leaders pressed Jesus to answer them whether or not Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. They wanted to get Jesus publicly to speak insurrection against Caesar (Matthew 12:9-17). Later, in Acts 17, Paul nearly provoked a riot because he had been announcing that there was another king named Jesus.
[ In the late 1930s in Germany when the Hitler cult and Nazism were on the rise, German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller wrote a book of sermons titled, Christus Ist Mein Führer (Christ is my leader) to dangerously counter the demand to confess Hitler as the ultimate allegiance for the German people and with his eye set toward world domination. Niemöller was imprisoned for many years for his public confession that Christ is Lord. ] . . .
For Part 3’s continued exploration of the Gospel, click here.
Texts for your prayerful consideration as you engage this series: Matthew 10:1-15; Matthew 28:16-20; Romans 15:7-13; and Philippians 2:5-11.
*Material in [ ] were omitted during preaching. Note: The picture is of the faculty, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA staff, and families involved in the 2017 Midwest Faculty Ministry Conference / Cedar Campus.