At the end of my last column, I wrote, “to be an evangelist is simply to share the good news of God with the world.” But before we even look at how we do that sharing, what exactly is the good news? If we looked to the culture, if we tuned into any sporting event, the answer seems to be simple: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
But I want to take a step back. I do think that John 3:16 is part of the good news about Jesus and about God, but not the only part. If you were to do a concordance search of the phrase “good news” in the Bible – you would find about 40 different hits (try it out at biblegateway.com). Believe it or not, a third of them are from the Old Testament, sometimes using good news in terms of the Davidic Kingdom and deliverance from enemies.
The New Testament references to good news could easily be divided into two categories, or two different types of good news. One you could call the good news of Jesus or what Jesus came to proclaim and initiate. As Jesus begins his ministry, he enters the synagogue and reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Elsewhere it is referred to as the good news of the kingdom – a new order is to be established of the last and the least and the lost and that in and of itself is good news.
The second sort of reference to good news is the kind we typically think of: the good news about Jesus. Mark’s gospel begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and it is clear that what follows is good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts goes back and forth when it comes to the phrase, a tension caught in this passage from chapter 8, verse 12: “they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” It seems the good news is both that this new reign is to be established AND that Jesus is the one who has been sent to bring it about.
If we stick to simply a John 3:16 version of the good news, we find that we are missing half the picture. And from the way that we see that scripture used today, simply proclaiming the sentence is enough! Put it on a billboard, shout it from the mountaintops, knock on someone’s door, share that message and people will follow God. But evangelism will change when the message becomes about the kingdom of God and about the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The ways in which we become part of sharing that story… we’ll talk about that on another day.