At the end of Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15, emphasis added). This is a command that Matthew also includes at the end of his Gospel:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18–20).
This passage from the Book of Matthew has come to be known as the Great Commission. Both of these passages drive home the importance of telling people about what Jesus has done. Mark communicates this command very succinctly. He wants us to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
But what does that mean? What do we need to understand about the gospel in order to communicate it effectively?
What exactly is the gospel?
There will always be those attempting to preach a different gospel from Christ's simple message. We need to be educated on what the true gospel is, lest we be distracted or deceived into championing a useless, watered down gospel.
The word "gospel" (euangelion in the Greek) literally means "good news." And it appears more than 70 times in the Bible. Let's look at a couple of examples:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23, emphasis added).
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1, emphasis added).
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe" (Acts 15:7, emphasis added).
For 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 (Romans 1:16).
The word gospel isn't unique to Christians. Throughout the ancient world, any positive announcement would be considered gospel. For instance, Rome might issue a gospel proclamation with the installation of a new Caesar. Or a young couple's birth announcement might be considered gospel. When Jesus begins His ministry, Matthew tells us that he was announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. Mark starts his account of Jesus's ministry by calling it the gospel.
But it's Paul that really cemented the term gospel as a way of explaining what Christ's death and resurrection achieved to reconcile lost and wayward humanity with God. To adequately understand the gospel, we need to be able to answer a couple of essential questions:
- Why are we here?
- What is humanity’s problem?
- How did God solve our problem?
- How can I be reconciled with God?
Let's look at each of these questions in turn.
Why are we here?
When it comes to how the world and everything in it came to be, there are a lot of conflicting reports. Some ancient religions attribute the world's creation to a huge cosmic battle between powerful deities that resulted in the accidental creation of galaxies and planets. On the other hand, many scientific explanations reduce the world's origin to a one-in-a-bajillion cosmic accident.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God intentionally created the world. And at every point throughout the process, the author wants us to know that God's creation was good (Genesis 1:4, 10,18, 21, 25). In fact, when God finishes with His creation, He reflects on it again and is satisfied that it is "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
The creation of humanity
The formation of men and women featured as a central part of God’s creation. Mankind wasn't simply a sub-species in the animal kingdom. They were unique:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
While there is some room for debate over what it means to be made in God's image, the clear, uncontested point is that humanity was special. We were created with attributes not found in the rest of God's world.
In this ideal state, humanity was prepared to fulfill its role in creation. Genesis tells us what that role looked like. Humans were to:
- Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)
- Rule over the earth as stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:28)
- Tend to the garden and care for it (Genesis 2:15)
These responsibilities were to be carried within a loving relationship with God—but then things went sour.
What is humanity's problem?
Genesis tells us of an act of disobedience so catastrophic that it threw all of creation out of alignment (Genesis 3). By disobeying God, Adam and Eve undermined their fellowship with their Creator and death entered the picture.
Mankind was thrown out of the garden and the seeds of rebellion were sewn into the fabric of humanity. It only took the space of one generation for murder to be introduced into the world (Genesis 4). And yet, we didn't lose that element that set us apart. We still carried God’s image within us.
Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind (Genesis 9:6).
This infection spread throughout humanity. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul says, "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).
This rebellious sin that infects all of humanity dethrones God. It causes humans to reject God’s authority—even though they have no power to consistently choose goodness. When we're being honest, all people will admit that they know both the unhealthy behaviors and choices they need to stop and the positive things they need to start doing, but they feel powerless to do so.
Humanity's rebellious and sinful state was not a condition that God could simply ignore. Not only does God's anger burn against sin and the damage it does, but His enemy, the devil, exploits mankind's weakness to sow more misery and grief.
Mankind's problem is not social injustice, racism, or political issues and how we can help deliver its victims out of oppression. Rather, these are only symptoms of the deeper problem of sin. The condition of one's soul is the important issue and we must not get sidetracked by current events that might distract from the real gospel message—Christ's work on the cross.
How did God solve our problem?
Our problem is severe. We're not just talking about sin as some bad behavior that we could potentially amend. We're talking about "Sin," a spiritual malaise that infected us down to our very core. The prophet, Jeremiah, summed up the situation well:
Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jeremiah 13:23).
And as Paul described it to the Roman Christians, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a). The only possible outcome for a humanity mired in sin was physical death, spiritual death, and complete separation from God. How could God ever solve this problem?
Thankfully, God has never stopped being faithful to His creation (2 Timothy 2:13). He loves us with a never-ending and unmatchable passion and zeal. So even though our condition was beyond our scope or ability to rectify, God had a plan that would allow humanity to experience forgiveness and eternal life.