“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” (Luke 2:10b, NLT)
One of my favorite stories that my dad (professional golfer Larry Nelson) tells is about the best advice he ever got from his father. As the PGA Tour came through Atlanta in 1974 in his rookie season, my grandfather was able to watch him play in a tournament for the first time in his life, as it was being held only 30 minutes from their home. My Pa Pa followed my dad around for two days, watching very attentively. My dad recalls that he played awfully and missed the cut by about 10 strokes. As they were driving back home, his dad, who was sitting in the backseat, reached forward and tapped him on the shoulder, saying, “Son, I don’t know much about this game, but if I were you I’d start hitting the ball closer to where they put those flags in the ground.”
Without knowing much about golf from his own experiences, my Pa Pa was still never short of giving advice. Later, we often caught him using golf terms he’d heard on TV, though he didn’t really know what they meant.
In a different way, I have to admit I have this tendency too. What makes it worse is that I do this with my faith.
How about you? Do you ever use Christianese words and not even know what they really mean? I used to do this all the time with the word “Gospel.”
So I’ll ask you, do you know what the “Good News” is?
Ask your family around the Christmas table, and I bet you’ll get as many answers as there are people (minus the blank stare from Cousin Eddie).
I used to think the Gospel was in essence the summation of all the things I needed to believe about Jesus to be a Christian so I could go to heaven when I died. Because of that I pursued, and at often times argued and taught, good theology. I have come to understand that this was a limited understanding of the gospel, and the consequence was that I and those I interacted with were missing out.
The Good News is Jesus! It wasn’t anything about him; rather, it was and is him. It is his presence in our lives.
The Gospel is not theology, but it is the person of Jesus. The Good News came before Jesus went to the cross and well before the Bible was put together and taught. If you want to know how to explain the Gospel, then get to know the character and person of Jesus. Get to know how he led and what he actually taught.
In his telling of the Gospel (Good News!) of Jesus, Matthew noted that it was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be called Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” And as the angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, they announced “Good News” because God in the flesh was just born. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, he introduced him as the “Good News,” because he was going to immerse us with the Holy Spirit and take away the sins of the world. And when Jesus introduced himself in Luke 4:18-19 he quoted the prophet Isaiah by claiming to be the “Good News” and that “the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
John’s Gospel telling sums it up best in its opening chapter, which introduces the story of Jesus by saying that God “became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness… He has revealed God to us.” This means that the Gospel (the Good News of the Bible) is first and foremost an understanding of Jesus, and that he is God’s way of being relational with us so that he may have a habitational presence in our lives.
That is really, really GOOD NEWS!
By the way, my Pa Pa ended up becoming a good golfer that I played with many times as he broke his age in his seventies. I miss him very much, but don’t really miss his golf advice. I miss his love and his presence and I’d give so much to have more time with him. Now my understanding of the Gospel and relationships like I had with my Pa Pa give me such a desire to spend time with and know Jesus, because he’s God and he is here!