The Message of Jesus: Your Invitation to the Kingdom of God
Everyone has some concept of right and wrong, and everyone has done something wrong even by his or her own definition. “To err is human,” says a common proverb. Everyone has betrayed a friend, broken a promise or hurt someone’s feelings. Everyone has experienced the feeling of guilt. People therefore want God to stay away from them. They know they cannot stand before God with a clear conscience. They know they should obey him, and they also know that they have not. They are ashamed and guilty.
How can their guilt be erased? How can the conscience be cleared? “To forgive is divine,” the proverb concludes. God himself will forgive. Many people know the proverb, but somehow do not believe that God is divine enough to forgive their sins. They still feel guilty. They still fear the appearance of God and the day of judgment.
However, God has already appeared — in the person of Jesus Christ. He did not come to condemn, but to save. He brought a message of forgiveness, and he died on a cross to guarantee that we may be forgiven. The message of Jesus, the message of the cross, is good news for all who feel their guilt. Jesus, the divine human, has died for us. Forgiveness is given freely to all.
We need this message of good news! Christ’s gospel brings peace of mind, happiness and personal victory.
The true gospel is really good news. It’s the gospel the apostles preached: Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus Christ is our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27), the resurrection from the dead, the message of hope and salvation for humanity — this is the gospel of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached!
Good news for all people
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
This good news Jesus Christ brought is known as the gospel. It is a potent, life-changing and life-transforming message. The gospel not only convicts and converts, it will eventually confound all who stand against it. The messenger not only brought good news about salvation—by his death on the cross, he brought salvation itself. Then, the announcement was not just about the future—it was about something that had already begun.
The gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is our invitation from God to live on an altogether different plane. It is good news of a future inheritance to be given in full when Christ returns. But it is also an invitation to an invigorating spiritual reality that can be ours here and now.
Paul describes the gospel as “the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12), “the gospel of God” (Romans 15:16), “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Paul took his cue from Jesus and began to redefine the Jewish view of the kingdom of God around the universal significance of Christ’s first appearing.
As the New Dictionary of Theology explains, in the writings of Paul, “the preacher [Christ] becomes the preached one” (page 278). The Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Judea and Galilee, Paul taught, is now the resurrected Christ who sits at the right hand of God, and who is “the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:10).
In the gospel according to Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were “of first importance,” the key events in God’s plan (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). The gospel was good news for the poor and downtrodden. History was going somewhere. Right, not might, would ultimately triumph. The pierced hand had triumphed over the iron fist. The kingdom of evil was being
replaced by the reign of Jesus Christ, an order of things that Christians already experienced in part.
Paul stressed this aspect of the gospel to the Colossians:
Giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12-14)
For weary Christians in all ages, the gospel is both a present reality and a future hope. The resurrected Christ, who presides over time, space and everything that happens here below, is the Christian’s champion. The One who ascended into the heavenly realms is the ever-present source of power (Ephesians 3:20-21).
The good news is that Jesus Christ triumphed over every obstacle during his earthly life. The way of the cross is the rough but triumphant road into the kingdom of God. That is why Paul could summarize the gospel: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The great reversal
When Jesus appeared in Galilee earnestly preaching the gospel, he expected a response. He expects a response today.
But Jesus’ original invitation to enter the kingdom was not received in a vacuum. Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God, accompanied by impressive signs and wonders, electrified a nation chafing under the Roman Empire. This is one reason Jesus had to clarify what he meant by the kingdom of God.
The Jews in Jesus’ day were looking for a strongman to restore their nation to the glory days of David and Solomon. But Jesus’ message was “doubly revolutionary,” in the words of British scholar N.T. Wright. For one thing, Jesus took the popular expectation of a Jewish superstate throwing off the Roman yoke, and transformed it. He turned the widespread hope of political salvation into a message of spiritual deliverance: the gospel!
“The kingdom of God is here, he seemed to be saying, but it’s not like you thought it was going to be” (Wright, Who Was Jesus?, page 98).
Jesus shocked people with what his good news implied. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first,” Jesus emphasized (Matthew 19:30). “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth,” he told his own people, the Jews, “when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (Luke 13:28). The great banquet was for everyone (Luke 14:16-24). The Gentiles were invited to the kingdom, too.
And one thing more, something just as revolutionary. This prophet from Nazareth seemed to have a lot of time for the disenfranchised — from lepers and physically disadvantaged folk to money-grabbing tax collectors — and sometimes even the hated Roman oppressors.
The good news Jesus brought upset everyone’s assumptions, even those of his own disciples (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus insisted that the kingdom they looked for as a future event was already dynamically present in his ministry. As he said after one dramatic episode: “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Those
who saw Jesus in action, in other words, were experiencing the presence of the future.
Jesus turned popular expectation on its head in at least three ways:
- Jesus taught the good news that the kingdom comes as a pure gift — the reign of God bringing healing in its wake. Jesus inaugurated “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19; Isaiah 61:1-2). But the people getting into the kingdom were the weary and the burdened, the poor and the beggars, repentant tax collectors and harlots, and children and social outcasts. To social outcasts and spiritually lost sheep, Jesus proclaimed himself their shepherd.
- Jesus’ good news was also for those willing to turn to God through repentance. They would find God to be like a generous father who scans the horizon for his wandering sons and daughters and spots them “while…still a long way off” (Luke 15:20). The good news of the gospel meant that anyone saying the words, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13), and really meaning it, would find God a sympathetic listener. Always. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). To those who believed, this was the best news they could ever hear.
- Jesus’ gospel also meant that, despite all appearances to the contrary, nothing could stop the triumph of the kingdom Jesus Christ had inaugurated. Though that kingdom would meet fierce and unrelenting resistance, it would ultimately triumph in supernatural power and
Christ told his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
Jesus’ gospel message had a tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” The gospel of the kingdom referred to a rule of God that was already active — “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5).
But the kingdom was “not yet” in the sense that its full consummation still lay ahead. To understand the gospel is to appreciate this twofold aspect — the interval between the promised presence of the King who lives inside his people now and his dramatic reappearance.
The gospel of your salvation
Paul the missionary helped initiate the second great movement of the gospel — its expansion from tiny Judea into the sophisticated Greco-Roman world of the middle first century. He focused the blazing light of the gospel through the prism of day-to-day living. He tapped into the practical implications of the gospel as he exalted the glorified Christ.
Paul shared with his fellow Christians the breathtaking significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Reconciliation. Without blemish. Grace. Deliverance. Forgiveness. Not just in the future, but here and now. That was Paul’s gospel. The resurrection, the climax to which the Four Gospels pointed their readers (John 20:31), released the power within the gospel for daily Christian living.
Jesus Christ’s resurrection certified the gospel. Therefore, taught Paul, those events in far-off Judea give everyone hope: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel
the righteousness of God is revealed —a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:16-17).
A call to live the future here and now
John brought another dimension to the gospel, presenting Jesus Christ as he was remembered by “the disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26), a man with the heart of a pastor, a church leader deeply concerned about people, their cares and fears. “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
John’s presentation of the gospel revolves around the thrilling phrase, “that by believing you may have life.” “John’s central theme is eternal life as a present possession” (George Eldon Ladd, “Eschatology,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, page 136).
John brilliantly enshrines another aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ in some of his most personal, intimate and up-close moments. John’s Gospel is a vivid account of the personal ministering presence of the Messiah.
In John’s Gospel, we meet a Christ who was a powerful public preacher (John 7:37-46). We see Jesus as warm and hospitable. From his welcoming invitation, “Come…and you will see” (John 1:39), to the challenge to doubting Thomas to put his finger in the nail marks in his hands (John 20:27), here is an unforgettable portrait of the One who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
People felt so welcome and comfortable with Jesus that they engaged him in lively give-and-take (John 6:5-8). They reclined next to him at a meal while eating out of the same dish with him (John 13:23-26). They loved him so dearly as to impulsively swim to shore at the very sight of him to enjoy a breakfast he had prepared (John 21:7-14).
The Gospel according to John reminds us of how much the good news revolves around Jesus, the example he set and the eternal life available to us through him (John 10:10).
It reminds us that preaching the gospel isn’t enough—we have to live it as well. John offers encouragement: Others may be attracted by our example to share the good news. That is what happened to the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well (John 4:27-30) and to Mary of Magdala (John 20:10-18).
The One who wept at Lazarus’ grave, the humble servant who washed his disciples’ feet, is alive today. He offers us his own presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).
Jesus actively leads his people today through the Holy Spirit. His invitation is as personal and as encouraging as ever: “Come…and you will see” (John 1:39).
Author: Neil Earle