If you have been a follower of Christ for any time (a born again Christian), you've heard the term "gospel" mentioned a time or two. What do you envision when you hear the word "gospel"? I will venture to say most Christ-followers envision a short presentation about Jesus, and His finished work on the cross. One that makes most believers nervous. Some would similarly get a picture of someone (perhaps one's self) handing out tracts in public places. How about standing on the street corner, preaching at the top of one's voice! For some it might be a vision of someone praying a very short "sinner's prayer", while actually repeating the words after another person. All of the above could be visions of the gospel, but not the whole gospel. I want to submit to you that the gospel (good news) is a whole lot more than what we have made it through the past few centuries.
First, the gospel is more than a short presentation; a tract; a short prayer. It is more than "How to miss hell and hit heaven". The gospel is good news of a new kingdom, ruled by a new king. The gospel presentation should always include how to enter this kingdom and come under the sovereign rule of this new king, Jesus Christ...today!
The gospel of the kingdom was first preached by John the Baptist. Jesus said, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it." (Luke 16: 16) John preached a powerful message designed by the Holy Spirit to turn the hearts of Israel back to their Father, so that when Jesus came they would recognize Him as God's Son. Many of those who received John's message a bit later believed in Jesus; left all, and followed Him. Some of those were Andrew, Peter, James, and John.
Jesus also came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. "Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness." (Matthew 9: 35)
To more clearly understand the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God we must understand the message of John the Baptist. John's message establishes the true significance of water baptism. More on than a bit later.
First of all, John himself was a foreshadowing of what a member of the body of Christ would look like. Here are just a few of his characteristics that point us to the characteristics of the ekklesia, the called out ones (the church). He lived a life separated from the ways of the world, especially the religious ways. Yet when he preached the gospel of the kingdom, it was always where the public would hear him. He dressed differently and he ate differently. John did not conform to the world. His message was subversive to the current religious, political, and social systems. John's message astonished many, and offended others. He eventually lost his life because of his calling and message.
John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was a powerful message. In essence he was saying "Turn 180 degrees away from your sin. This will point you to God, our Father. Make your hearts ready for the coming of the King, the Son of God. He is where you will find not only eternal life, but freedom from the guilt of all your sin." His message was about water baptism. In other words, the baptism that John was preaching (and preforming) was an outward declaration of an inward decision to turn back to God. This baptism declared that "I am through with this world. I am now dead to this world's religious, social, and political systems. I await the coming King, who sovereignly rules over my life as well as the entire universe." The only difference is that today, one says, "I give my life to serve the King of Kings who sovereignly rules over my life and the entire universe."
John's baptism of repentance should shed new light on our own view of water baptism. Is it not an outward declaration of being dead to this world, but alive to a new King? As we are submerged in the water, we are being buried. When we are brought up out of the water, we are alive to a new King, and a citizen of a new Kingdom! Today water baptism is simply a formality. When one prays the sinner's prayer they are usually scheduled to be water baptized at some convenient, later time. It was not that way with the early church. When a person entrusted their entire being to Jesus, they immediately sought out water to be baptized in. Why? Because it was an outward declaration/demonstration that they were through with ALL of the world's systems. They were dead, being buried, and severed from the world. But almost simultaneously they were being raised alive to new life, in a new Kingdom, serving the King of Kings!
In Acts Chapter 8 when Phillip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian he (the Ethiopian) immediately saw some water and said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And Phillip said, "If you believe with all your heart (in Jesus) you may." His response, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." He had just heard the gospel of the kingdom of God. Water baptism was essential in declaring outwardly and immediately what he believed on the inside. This is the message John the Baptist and Jesus preached. This is the message Paul and the Apostles preached. This is the gospel of the kingdom, and it must be preached today, not just by pastors and preachers....but by all of us! This is the message that changes the world!
In Summary, the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God is this: Sell all! Sell out! Forsake the world, and follow after Jesus. Can you imagine what would happen in our world if just Christians would get hold of this message! It would literally change the world! Matthew Chapter 16 asks you and me two very vital questions. "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? The answer is nothing. The second question: "What will a man give in exchange for his soul? The answer: EVERYTHING! This is the true message of the gospel of the kingdom. We find our soul when we give up everything and follow after Jesus. (See the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark Chapter 10) Until John the Baptist God's requirement of righteousness could only be attained to by keeping the whole Law perfectly. The rich young ruler actually believed he had kept the crucial commandments and was in right-standing with God. But since John had preached his message of repentance, and since the King had arrived, and the gospel of the kingdom was now being preached, he lacked only one thing. Sell everything. Give the proceeds to the poor. Come and follow after Jesus. There's where you'll find your soul! The Scripture says this rich young ruler went away grieved (and lost) because he couldn't give up everything for the sake of the gospel (Jesus).
Could this be you? Are you so friendly with the world you would struggle to give up everything simply to follow after Jesus? Are you so tied to this world that you are not really following hard after Jesus? Could this be a reason why so many Christians look no different from the world? What would happen if people who claimed to be followers of Christ, forsook the world and started following after Jesus? Wow!
I have committed to preaching this message wherever God opens the door. I truly believe it is crucial in these last days. John's message, Jesus' message, the Apostle's messages where a demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God. Should we be any different?