The men of the city had gone off to war. The women and children and elderly remained back home, anxiously awaiting word of the results of battle. Good news would mean great joy and celebration for the people, while bad news would mean distress and despair. Finally, the scout spotted a lone figure running over a hill toward the city. It was the herald bringing news from the battlefield! As he approached, the townsfolk began to hear his proclamation, “Good News! Good News! We have overcome the enemy! We have won the victory!”
This is the original usage of the word gospel in the ancient Greek world. A herald or messenger (keruks or angellos) would bring a message from the front lines of battle back to those awaiting word on how things were going. A “euangelion” was the good news message that the victory (nike) had been won, which was followed by great joy and celebration. Whether it’s greek, latin, or english - euangelion, evangel, good spell, or gospel - it all means a good report or a good message.
Today the word gospel is used in all kinds of different ways, often as an adjective. There’s gospel music, gospel tracts, gospel projects, gospel cruises, gospel churches, etc. There are all kinds of gospel things out there in our world today. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that there is really only one true gospel, and that is the good news gospel message about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his death and resurrection for us in our place.
It’s a delivery of historical facts that tells us who Jesus is and what he has done for us through his dying on the cross and his rising from the grave.
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel, you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor 15:1-8).
As Dr. Rosenbladt is fond of saying, there’s not a single thing about us in that entire passage. It’s mainly objective truth and not subjective experience. Although we are involved in the process of hearing and believing the gospel, it’s ultimately something that is done to us and for us from the outside. It’s a delivery of historical facts that tells us who Jesus is and what he has done for us through his dying on the cross and his rising from the grave.
St. Mark begins his book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s what it’s all about. The titles of the four books we know as “Gospels” in the New Testament bear this out. The Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are four books - but not four different gospels. There is one good news gospel message witnessed and testified to by four different people.
Paul goes on to explain the meaning of this gospel in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God - the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord...” For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘the righteous will live by faith.” (Rom 1:1-4, 16-17).
The gospel is the dynamite power of God in Christ for you. The gospel says that it is finished, that the devil is defeated, and that death is destroyed. The gospel says that Christ is risen and Jesus is living and that in him, you have free forgiveness and full salvation forever. Not because of anything you have done, but simply because God loves you enough to come save you and rescue you. That is the greatest good news the world has ever known. And it’s not just any good news; it’s good news for you. “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
In ancient times, after the herald would bring his message of good news to the people, they would often go out to meet the conquering leader as he came back to the city. After they all went out to meet him, they would return to the city to continue the victory celebration. This is a picture of what Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looked like on Palm Sunday, as well as his return on the last day when he comes again as our conquering king, bringing the heavenly Jerusalem with him in the new creation.