Merry Christmas Everyone!
It’ that time again when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. Two gospels offer a narrative about Jesus’ birth, Matthew, and Luke. Mark and John omit the story to focus on other parts of the gospel story. This year I am rereading the Gospel of Mark and looking at its telling of the Gospel story as we look toward the Christmas season. It’s important to look again at the story of Jesus and reflect on the question, what is the Gospel?
In the ancient story of the Israelites in the wilderness, the Israelites gathered heavenly bread each morning. In the record of the event, the bread they collected spoiled by the next morning so each day the Israelites gathered more bread for the new day. This is recorded in Exodus 16:21. It reads,
Exodus 16:21 “After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared.”
I once heard the author NT Wright make a useful metaphor for how every generation must continuously return to the gospel of Jesus and digest it for themselves. The Gospel message in his metaphor is Like bread that spoils each night. The gospel itself never spoils but a believer cannot rely on what the good news meant to someone else yesterday, a believer must venture out and discover how the Gospel feeds them today.
This metaphor has left an impression on me. The gospel of Jesus is found new and fresh in every generation, as it intersects a person’s language, their culture, and their specific needs. Developing this a bit further, I would add that while the Gospel is good news to every generation, the good news enters the personal life of an individual each time it intersects.
The Gospel is good news that works miracles in your life, in different ways, at different times, depending on your situatedness. Each believer goes out and collects, so we might discover just how wide, and how long, and how deep, God’s love is. (Ephesians 3:18)
What is the Gospel?
Before we look at the New Testament, we can call upon two other sources to shed light on its meaning. Gospel was a term familiar to both Greek speaking Roman and Jewish authors. The LXX uses it about good tidings, special announcements, and good news of peace and salvation. Isaiah 52:7 is an example that reads,
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”
Roman ruler-cult authors used the term gospel for the announcements of births, like that of divine Caesar, and the beginning of someone’s reign. There is a stone tablet called the Priene Calendar Inscriptionwhere Augustus Caesar is referred to as savior, benefactor, and the beginning of the good tidings or good news, of the world.
“Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him,” which Asia resolved in Smyrna.’”
In the New Testament, Jesus points toward an answer in how the word Gospel later came to be used. In the Gospel of Mark, Mark records Jesus as saying:
Mark 1:15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
What we read in this announcement is that something new has happened that is changing the whole world; the Kingdom of God has come nearby. In the opening of Mark, verse one reads, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” again the gospel is an announcement of good news surrounding the Kingdom of God and the life of Jesus.
If you have never read the gospel of Mark, I encourage you to read it. I encourage you to read it like it was meant to be read, out loud and all at once. You can do it in an afternoon. If you want, you can listen to the entire book in a dramatic scene with Max Mclean on Youtube.
As you read through the whole story of Mark, you will begin to see Mark’s account that this mysterious breaking in of the Kingdom of God, happened through the life of Jesus. In this new reality, God rescues the world from the power of death and decay, God rescues people from their own guilt and sin, and from oppression. The good news announces the breaking in of the Kingdom of God.
This is the unbelievable thing that Christians have come to believe; that while we still see death and decay in the world today, while we still see suffering, injustice, selfishness, and all kinds of evils, God miraculously triumphed over all these things through the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
It is unbelievable, and yet for those who believe it, they get a glimpse into how God is working in the world, and not only a glimpse but for those who believe, God opens the way to receive the Spirit of God and a life with God. All of this is something we see happening through Jesus.
One of my favorite passages from the NT is found in the gospel of Mark. It is a story about a father and son who approach Jesus’ disciples in hopes that the son would be healed of a terrible spirit that send him into convulsions tossing him into fire-pits to burn him and water to drown him. What interests me in the store is, first, the love of the father for his son; second, the compassion of Jesus when he heals the child; and third, the admission that the father needs help to overcome his own doubts about the power of God. The father says, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” Jesus replies, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” “Anything is possible if a person believes.” Then the father instantly cries out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24). This unbelievable thing, when believed, is reckoned as faith, and when faith is involved, anything is possible.
So what is the Gospel, what is the good news?
It is the announcement of God’s rule over creation that entered through Jesus’ life, work, death, and resurrection from the dead. When we put our trust in this message, we find it is bread that never spoils.
Merry Christmas everyone and may you find the meaning of the Gospel new again every day.
 Evans, Craig A. (2000). “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel” (PDF). Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. 1: 67–81.