What Is the “Gospel”? The “Gospel” According to Luke, Part 1

emptytomb2Luke is a monster of a book. It’s just chock full of challenging texts. And one of the truly challenging parts of Luke is his presentation of the “gospel.”

John’s  birth announced

“Good news” first appear when Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to his father, Zechariah,

(Luke 1:13-19)  But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”

What is the good news announced by the angel?

  • John will bring many within Israel back to the Lord
  • John will go before the Lord to “to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John will heal families, restore obedience, and prepare the people for the Messiah

Notice that of the promises made, Gabriel begins with the restoration of relationships in the family — which is, of course, part of the Story of the Bible. God works to restore relationships.

Good news announced to shepherds

“Good news” is next announced when a host of angels appears to shepherds —

(Luke 2:10-14)  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

“Good news” is —

  • The birth of the Savior
  • The Savior is Messiah and “the Lord” — meaning God and King.
  • The promise of peace to men because of God’s favor to men

John preaches good news

Next we find John preaching “good news” —

(Luke 3:9-18)  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

Now, notice, that John was not preaching salvation by faith. He wasn’t speaking of how to get to heaven. But he was preaching gospel. What did he preach?

  • A high standard of ethics, including sharing with those in need.
  • Baptism with the Spirit
  • Burning up of the chaff

The good news is built on bad new. John’s sermon begins with “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” and ends with “he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” But for those not consumed by fire, John promises the Holy Spirit and gathering into the Messiah’s barn.

Jesus in the synagogue

Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of good news —

(Luke 4:17-21)  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Good news is good news for —

  • The poor
  • Prisoners
  • The blind
  • The oppressed

(We sneak a look ahead to Acts and notice that Luke repeatedly makes a point of how the converts cared for the poor, shared their possessions, etc. and stood firm against governmental oppression.)

Jesus preaches good news

We are later told that Jesus’ preaching was “the good news.”

(Luke 4:40-44)  When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Now, up to this point, the only content of Jesus’ preaching reported by Luke is his reading from Isaiah quoted above. But we see that Jesus accompanied his preaching with works of compassion.

Whatever he was preaching, it was most definitely not that he is the Messiah, as he prevented the demons from making this statement this early in his career. Jesus went to some trouble early on to delay the making of this claim.

John’s disciples

Later, John the Baptist’s disciples approach Jesus to ask whether he is the Messiah. Luke writes,

(Luke 7:20-22)  When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

Rather than answering directly, Jesus points to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.

Jesus’ feet anointed

Later, we are told that Jesus preached the “good news of the kingdom” immediately after this exchange following having his feet anointed by a sinful woman at the home of Simon, a Pharisee —

(Luke 7:48-50)  Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

(Luke 8:1a)  After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ willingness to freely forgive based on faith is surely a part of the “good news.”

Jesus sends out missionaries

Jesus later sends out missionaries to “reach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” and so they went out “preaching the gospel and healing people.”

(Luke 9:1-6)  When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

We are forced to conclude that “the kingdom of God” and “gospel” are near synonyms.

People forcing their way into the kingdom

Indeed, Luke referred to as “good news of the kingdom.”

(Luke 16:14-16)  The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

Jesus describes people as “forcing” their way into “the kingdom of God” as a result of the preaching of the good news. And in the kingdom, values are being turned upside down.

Jesus preaches in the temple courts

The final mention of “gospel” in Luke is simply the mention that Jesus preached the gospel in the temple courts.

(Luke 20:1)  One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him.

Now, there’s much more to say, but we can draw a few important conclusons here.

  • Jesus and John preached “gospel” long before the people were told that Jesus is the Messiah. Obviously, the Messiahship of Jesus is central to the gospel, but it’s not the entirety of the gospel.
  • The gospel is deeply entwined with the kingdom.
  • The gospel has an undeniable social justice element. It was prophesied and announced in terms of its impact on the poor, the oppressed, and the diseased.
  • Luke does not directly tell us what Jesus preached when he preached gospel. However, as we’ll see, he tells us quite a lot about the preaching of the kingdom.
  • The gospel is not first about going to heaven when we die. It’s undeniably a part of it, but that’s not the emphasis we see in Luke. Rather, the emphasis is somehow tied to the kingdom.

In the next post, we’ll consider Luke’s teaching on the kingdom.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to What Is the “Gospel”? The “Gospel” According to Luke, Part 1

  1. nick gill says:

    I remember Ray Vander Laan teaching how the angels appeared to Zechariah, a poor old priest, on the best day of his life; to a seemingly irrelevant little girl, Miryam; and to a bunch of kids out herding livestock.

    Didn't he mention that the annunciation to the shepherds was in the form of an old childrens' chorus?

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