We have seen that the one predominant message that Jesus proclaimed, in His time among us, was centered in the simple and succinct: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” We have discovered that “to repent” means to change our way of thinking about things (it is not about feeling sorry for our sins or to make a concerted effort to do better). We have also found that “to believe” means to act upon our new way of thinking (not just to accept, or agree with, the facts about something). According to Jesus, true repentance and true belief are the prerequisites of becoming a true Christian.
But what, exactly, should shape the basis of our new way of thinking? And what should be the foundation for the actions that flow from our belief? Jesus’ proclaimed message was centered, and focused, upon something He called “the gospel.” Today, our task is to gain a clearer understanding of what Jesus meant when He called people to “repent and believe in the gospel.”
If you were to ask most Christians to define “the gospel,” you would probably get an answer something like this: “The gospel is the message of the fact that Jesus came to this earth to die for all our sins – so that we might all receive God’s forgiveness.” Although this is certainly a part of the gospel message, it is not the fullness of the understanding we need. In fact, it might surprise most of us that a message of sacrificial death and forgiveness was not Jesus’ primary focus at all! How can we make this assertion? Because Jesus went everywhere proclaiming His gospel message before He ever went to the cross! He was calling people to repentance and belief in the gospel before His atoning death had even occurred. This tells us that Jesus’ focus, in His gospel message, must have been on something else. Something of which His atoning work would be an important part – but something that was somehow beyond the issues of our sins and our need for forgiveness. What could this possibly be?
Scripture provides ample evidence for the answer we seek: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news (or gospel) of the kingdom…” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35) And (Jesus said) “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations…” (Matthew 24:14) and “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…” (Luke 4:43) And also, “The law and the prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached…” (Luke 16:16) From these Scriptures (and others) we learn that Jesus’ message, Jesus’ gospel, and Jesus’ consuming passion was for proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to announce to all humanity that the One True King was making a way for every human soul to enter, and become an active participant, in this True King’s Kingdom. He came to announce a liberation from this world’s oppressive systems of rule, and to immerse all who would enter, into the rule (and compassionate care) of the Great and benevolent King of Heaven.
If we really think about it… all our sin problems come from our own desire to rule over our own lives (do what we want, when we want, as we want). We are all naturally self-centered. We are also subjected, and prone, to the “kingdoms” of others who are seeking to rule over their own lives (and whose self-serving desires spill over into, and negatively impact, our own lives). Our brokenness, our addictions, our shame, our prejudices, our guilt, and all the other markers of the dismal state of the human condition, are all indelibly tied to our innate inability to order and shape our lives. In short, we all desire to be king over our lives, but we are all totally inadequate. We seek power because we are powerless. We seek independence because we are enslaved. We seek deliverance because, deep down, we all know we are despondent captives. We are saturated with the desire of the hope to rule our own lives, but in the end we find that we are utterly hopeless, powerless, and helpless to do so.
It was into this condition that Jesus came bearing the Heart of the True King. He looked upon our state, He saw that we were “harassed and helpless,” (Matthew 9:36) and He proclaimed to us a message of truly wonderful news. There is hope. There is help. There is power. But it is ever beyond your human ability to grasp it. But if you will fix your minds on ending all hope in your own ability to rule over your life… there is a Ruler that will help you, empower you, and Who will adopt you into His own Family and teach you what it means to be an heir (a child!) of the King. This gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel that Jesus came proclaiming.
To receive Jesus’ message we must change our way of thinking from self-service to entering the King’s service. We must believe in the Character of the One True King – that He is Good, loving, and giving, and that He is willing to pour out His goodness upon those Who have submitted to His rule. This is His Kingly promise to us! The message (the good news!) Jesus came to tell us is that, through devotion to Him, we can all live life under the rule of the One True King (who loves us, who seeks to give us good things, who orders/conforms things to His will; and who will lead us into the fullness of the King’s purpose for our lives). This is what we are all really seeking in life!
What humanity is seeking can never be found until we end our foolish notion that we are capable of ruling our own lives. But there is a Ruler, with open arms, seeking to show us the wonder and goodness of what His Kingly rule can do in us and through us.