First Mennonite Church
June 12, 2016
The Whole Gospel
Main Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
I want to finish this series by reflecting on two key elements involved when preaching the gospel. These two key elements are: word and deeds. I want to make it clear: one of these two elements is dependent on the other.
First, let us refresh our memory regarding the meaning of the word “gospel.” In the Old Testament the Hebrew word that would translate in Greek as euaggelion—good news, appears only twice in Isaiah. But the word euaggelion appeared in inscriptions in reference of imperial worship even before Christ was born. For instance at the birth of Caesar Augustus (9-10 BC) an imperial edict announcing his birth reads:
Our most divine Caesar, his birth spells the beginning
of all things, the beginning of life and real living; for he
gives a new look to the entire world. The birthday of our
God signaled the beginning of Good News (euaggelia—the
plural of gospel).
In this context the word “gospel” was for the most part not a religious word. The word was commonly used when announcing the birth of a new heir to the throne or in the context of imperial worship in the cities of Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the BC era and the beginning of the AD era. It was also used when Eastern Mediterranean kings wanted to announce to their subject the good news of their victory when returning from war.
Considering the common use of the word during the time of the New Testament, it is pretty interesting that when Mark wrote his gospel (he was the first to write one of the four gospel) he declares the following about Jesus’ ministry: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God . . . . (Mark 1:1). And again, Mark describes Jesus’ proclamation as the “proclamation of the good news of God” (14). In other words Mark considers that in the same way, the Caesars announced the birth of a new heir to the throne, or their victories at wars, or the beginning of a new era of government, God’s gospel is the annunciation or proclamation that Jesus is the new heir to the throne. Mark is not ambiguous about God’s intention of sending Jesus. Mark declares that Jesus is the Messiah of God; that is, Jesus is the newly appointed king. Therefore the message of the gospel is that through Jesus God was beginning of a new era of his reign. It is no wonder why Jesus used royal language when he preached and taught. In his opening sermon Jesus announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
In a nutshell, the gospel message is the good news of God. The gospel is the good news of God’s new era of his working plan in Christ Jesus. It is the message that God has handed power and lordship over to Jesus, his Messiah. Therefore, we when or someone accepts the gospel we accept the lordship of Jesus by receiving him as Lord and Savior.
The Apostle Paul had a concise yet very encompassing way to describe what the gospel is when he wrote to the Corinthians. In 1Corinthians 15, verses 1-8 we read:
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. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul wanted to remind his fellow brothers and sisters in the Corinthian congregation that the message they had received and on which they took a stand, and by which they were saved is the gospel. But Paul goes on to clarify what the gospel is. The gospel is in Paul’s definition, the message: 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.
The gospel of God is that through the saving work of Jesus Christ, mankind, you and I, can experience the good will of God salvation. The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has overcome death by being raised by the Father. The gospel is the announcement of the victory of Christ on our behalf. We do not need to live under the slavery of sin. The gospel is God’s good news that we can be free through the forgiveness of our sin, because Jesus was raised from the dead. By receiving the gospel of God, we enter into a new relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. By believing the gospel we become member of the kingdom of God that is to come, but as of now we receive the lordship of Jesus, God’s anointed one. In this case, repentance is turning away from sin and returning to God who calls us through the message of his Son. In this case, accepting the gospel is not the affirmation of a list of truths about the Bible. Accepting the gospel is accepting God’s good message of a new relationship with him and the establishment of new life in the kingdom of his Son.
Any effort to proclaim the gospel apart from what God did in Christ is a false gospel. And this is where I want to talk about the other element used in the proclamation of the gospel: the use of good deeds.
There has been constant debate among evangelicals as to whether churches should get involved in doing community outreach. Community outreach is considered good deeds, and some examples of these are: helping the needy, having after school programs for at-risk kids, establishing food pantries, setting apart a benevolent fund, etc. Many churches consider these good deeds as part of their proclamation of the gospel. Some Christians call these activities “social gospel” and they call it false gospel. So the question, should the proclamation of the gospel only concern itself with telling people Jesus died and was raised for our salvation?
The other day I read an article which dismisses Christian social relief altogether. To the author of that article, the work of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) would not only be a purely human endeavor in mitigating pain and suffering, but it would be wrong to called it an integral part of sharing the good news. To the author of that article, every effort to assist others in need is labeled “social gospel,” which in his view is nothing different than socialism.
Did Jesus only teach and preach when he proclaimed the good news of God? Was Paul’s preaching and ministry to the churches void of concern for the needs present in those churches? Was Peter’s proclamation unconcerned for the needs of those he ministered to?
Mark calls the coming of Jesus as “the gospel of God.” The Old Testament witnesses an overly concerned God for the full wellbeing of his people. God not only called them to be his people. He saved them. He provided them water, clothing, food, and ultimately a land.
When Jesus came, he had to power to heal the sick. He could also multiply the loaves and the fishes. He could also cast out the demons and bring back to life the dead. Jesus did not only teach about the kingdom of God. He embodied the good news of God by ministering to the physical needs of those who came to him.
Paul was concerned for the church in Jerusalem that he called for a collection to be made in order to ease the needs in the church of Jerusalem. Read this in 1Corinthians 16. He also instructed the Galatian church: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10). In the letter to Timothy Paul calls Christians to provide care and for the needs of their elderly parents (1Timothy 5:4).
As for Peter, he is very clear with his instruction on godly living. Peter calls for humility, hospitality, endurance, and readiness to give witness. Peter calls his beloved brothers and sisters to love one another, and he repeats himself by saying, “have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart (1Peter 1:22, 4:8). But then he gets more specific when he gives this instruction:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (4:10).
We have already seen what James has to say about Christian service and concern for the needy. James considers dead a faith that is inactive and unconcerned for the needs of others. He also considers as “true religion” the one which helps those in need.
The gospel cannot be gospel if it does not have a social aspect to it. We should not fail to proclaim the work of Jesus as the good news of God. Good deeds without the message of salvation in Christ is charity at its best. But a gospel message that is unconcerned for the needs of those around, is incomplete as well.
In this regard, I want to encourage you to be more proactive in sharing the good news. Tell others that in Jesus God invites them into a personal relationship with him and his people. Tell them that in Christ, God offers them freedom from the sin and the promise of an abundant life. I also want to encourage you to continue bringing in food items for Loaves and Fishes. I want to ask you to be aware that with your offering we are also helping those who come to ask for help. I want to invite you to open your heart to those who you know are in need. Offer to pray for them. Send then a note of encouragement.
To all of you who in one way or another share the love of Christ in any way, I want to thank you. Please know that your labor of love is not in vain.
Let us therefore share the whole gospel in words and deeds of love. Amen!
 Paul’s Gospel, Graham N. Stanton, The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul, James D. G. Dunn editor, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 2003, p.173.