The Gospel of God
Robert Bratcher grew up in Brazil with missionary parents. He came to the United States to attend college and in 1941—more than 80 years ago—graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky. He studied Greek in college, seminary, and graduate school, and went to work for the American Bible Society.
Dr. Bratcher was the lead translator on the most widely distributed modern English translation of the New Testament. It was known in 1966 as Good News for Modern Man. By 1976, the Old Testament was finished. Now, it is more commonly known as the Good News Bible or Today’s English Version. Dr. Bratcher died in 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the age of 90.
I use today a second edition of that testament, one owned by my father, G. T. Moody.
I quote from Philippians 1:27 and take as my text today: “Now, the important thing is that your manner of life be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that, whether or not I am able to go to see you, I will hear that you stand firm with one common purpose, and fight together with only one wish, for the faith of the gospel.”
It is interesting to note that, of the eight places in this short letter where this word euangelion, appears, it is translated “gospel” seven times and “good news” once: in chapter four, verse 15, which reads in the Good News Bible, “You Philippians yourselves know very well that when I left Macedonia, in the early days of preaching the good news, you were the only church to help me.”
Today, I ask this question: what is the good news?
What is the Good News?
I first search for an answer in the Bible; and in the Bible I began with Jesus; and as to Jesus, I begin with the story of Jesus written by Mark. We call it a gospel. So that immediately, the word gospel means both a message and a literature.
Here is Mark’s summary statement. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. ‘The right time has come, and the kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News.’”
The message of Jesus is this: the kingdom of God is near!
But the gospel from Jesus later became the gospel about Jesus. The disciple Simon Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and said, “You killed Jesus by letting sinful men nail him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead….”
Later, Paul the Apostle could write, in the famous chapter fifteen of First Corinthians, “I passed on to you what I received, which is of great importance: that Christ died for our sins…that he was buried and raised to life on the third day….”
Jesus said, “Here is good news: the reign of God is near, the rule of God is around the corner, the kingdom of God is about to break into human history.” His disciples restated it like this: “We killed Jesus. God raised him from the dead.”
Those first disciples had their own way of stating the good news.
But as we read the Bible, we might hear others give their own version of the Good News.
To Moses, the good news was, “I will let your people go to freedom.”
To Hannah, the good news was “You will have a child.”
To David, the good news was, “You will be king of Israel.”
To Isaiah, the good news was, “A light will shine in the darkness.”
To the psalmist, the good news was, “God forgives our sin, heals our diseases, rescues us from death, and crowns us with loving kindness.”
To Matthew, the good news was the words of the angel who said to Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”
To Mary and Martha, the good news was, “Lazarus is alive!”
To Zacchaeus, the good news was “Salvation came to my house.”
To John in exile on the isle of Patmos seeing visions and hearing voices, “The good news is that the new Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth and a river of life will flow from it to nourish the tree of life and provide leaves for the healing of the nations.”
Then Paul, in this Letter to the Philippians, quotes the early Christian hymn. It is a celebration of the Good News: “Christ was by very nature God. He took the form of a servant and was born as the man Jesus. Jesus humbled himself, even to the death on the cross. But God raised him from the dead and gave hm a name above all names. And one day all will proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the father.”
That is the anthem of good news. This is the gospel song sung by those first Christians, those first followers of Jesus
In all of these biblical examples, God is present in the dire circumstances, bringing life from death, victory from defeat, hope from despair, love from hate, and reconciliation from alienation. It is the resurrection power of God exerting itself in every circumstance of life.
This echoes what Paul wrote in this our letter, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” Or as it is stated in the New Living Translation, “I want … to experience the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.”
This is the power that brings babies to childless couples, that anoints the least likely to be the leader, that frees the slave and transforms the enslaver, that forgives our sin and rescues us from death.
This is the power that does more than we ask or think, that converts the sinner and changes the critic, that frees the addict and converts the racist, that makes a person both wealthy and generous, that opens our eyes to see the naked that need to be clothed, the hungry that need to be fed, and the stranger that needs a friend.
This is resurrection power, the power of the living God that created the world, raised Jesus from the dead, and that will one day make a new heavens and a new earth.
Jesus is alive. God is present. Spirit is moving. Miracle is possible. Life is good. “Bless the lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless your holy name.”
I have a friend in Gainesville, Florida. He and his wife were in college with me. He just retried after a long career as a minister and pastor. Like me, he has a son that has struggled with addiction. His name is Andrew. He left his family, fled to Ohio, ended up in Asheville, North Carolina, all driven by his addiction.
What is the gospel to such a person?
This week Andrew posted this on his Facebook page:
One more day, one step closer. Almost two months sober. Thank you, Lord.
Sobriety is tough, tougher than I would have ever imagined. But it is not as tough as wearing the mask behind addiction and saying everything is Okay.
The nights I spent alone drinking myself to sleep while I cried because hurt so badly or the days I would go without sleep because staying high suffocated my inner self crying out for help.
I was a fool, a man of folly, a coward, wicked and wretched, seeking the approval of worldly peers, while my father in heaven turned his face in shame because He knew he had great things in store for me.
60 days. 60 days of walking the path God has been waiting for. 60 days of showing me his love and compassion for his prodigal son’s return. 60 days I have been a light to this dark world of addiction. My next 60 days will show the glory of God and his wonderful blessing he graciously floods upon my life.
But just for today, I’ll take it one step at a time, with my head held high and walk side by side with Christ.”
This is the good news to an addict, that Jesus Christ the risen Lord walks side by side with us, through addiction and denial, around tragedy and trauma, over failure and frustration, in the midst of grief and loss. Jesus died, God raised him from the dead, Jesus lives to help you, save you, redeem you, guide you, protect you, strengthen you, heal you, and prepare you for your high calling in life.
What good news do you need to hear today?
That God lives and cares about you?
That God forgives and cleanses you from all sin and unrighteousness?
That God empowers you to love God and love your neighbor?
That God can use your life, your gifts, your talents, your failures to bring hope and healing to somebody?
That God is at work in the world, in the most surprising places, with the most amazing people, to bring reconciliation and righteousness and joy?
That God gives you the power to sing for joy and live with hope?
All of this is the good news of God, the gospel of God, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today I have woven this “whole cloth” of the Gospel, the Good News, with strands from Torah, Prophets, Psalms, Jesus, Paul, and Apostles.
Here is the way I say it, listening to Moses and David, Isaiah and the Psalmist, Jesus, and Paul and Luke and John, to the women and the men, the young and the old, the saint and the sinner:
This is the Gospel of God, the Good News of Jesus: God raised Jesus from the dead: affirming his life and ministry of unbounded love; offering this same Spirit of unbounded love to everyone; and promising a future of beloved community to the whole human race. Believe this good news and live in it.
This is the Good News!! This is the gospel of God.
This is good news to the addict, to the homeless, to the refugee seeking a new life.
This is good news to the cancer patient, the Ukrainian soldier, and the senator trying to serve a very diverse country with faithfulness and courage.
This is the gospel for you and me today. Hear it. Believe it. Live it. Rejoice in it.