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What is the Gospel?

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Romans 1:1-7.

You hear it all around, “We are a gospel-centered church,” or “I preach the gospel.” But have we ever stopped to ask ourselves, “What is the gospel?” We talk so much about it, but few of us have a clear understanding of what the gospel is. Most of us would say, “The gospel is: Jesus died to take away our sins so that we may go to heaven when we die.” Well, that is an important part of it, yes, but it’s not the gospel.

It's not surprising though, because while the gospel is preached, it usually focuses on one part of the gospel on one Sunday, and another on the next, and so on. Rarely do we get the big picture.

Although we talk a lot about the gospel, you are hard-pressed to find any books on it. They are there, but they are few. Once I walked into the largest Christian bookstore in my city, looking for such a book. You would think that if you wanted a book that told you what the gospel is, that would be the place to go. After 30 minutes of searching the bookshelves, one of the employees approached me with a lovely Christian smile, “Can I help you?” “As a matter of fact, yes. Where can I find a book about the gospel?” Her eyes squinted, “Um, let me check the computer system.” After searching her catalogue franticly, “Sorry, sir, we don’t have a book about the gospel in our catalogue.” “Well, that’s a rather odd thing for a Christian bookstore, isn’t it?”

We Christians are quick to tack on “gospel-centered,” to our brochures, websites, and straplines because it sounds good, but do we know what it means?

Let’s get back to basics and answer the question, what is the gospel?

Quite simply, the gospel is Jesus!

He has many titles; Saviour, Redeemer, Bread of Life, Lord, Creator, Son of the living God, the Only Begotten Son, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counsellor, King of Kings, Alpha and Omega, Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, and the Chief Cornerstone, and so the list goes on. I want to focus on three of his names, those that focus on the Christmas season, and help us articulate the meaning of the gospel. They are Immanuel (God with us); Jesus (Joshua; God is salvation); and Christ the King (Son of God—Son of David).


Let’s begin by going back to the ancient kings of Judah. One of these kings was Ahaz, a descendent of king David. Ahaz was an evil man. He promoted the worship of the false gods, Molech and Baal, as well as human sacrifice. He had a pagan altar built next to the bronze altar in the Jerusalem temple. He also adopted policies in favour of Assyria, North of Israel, and refused to join an anti-Assyrian allegiance with Israel and Syria. So, they invaded Judah and Jerusalem and threatened to dethrone Ahaz and put a puppet king in his place.

At this point, Ahaz and his subjects were utterly terrified. God sends Isaiah together with his son, Shear-jashub to go out and meet king Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.

Isaiah gives two messages, the first is that Ahaz’s enemies will not stand, but he must stand firm in his faith in the Lord God.

In the second message, Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask God for a sign, but de declines, “I will not put the Lord to the test.” So, God himself gives the sign, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10–14).

And so, the great prophecy is born!

Immanuel is a form of address and means “God with us.” God promises to be with his people guiding and helping them fulfill their calling.

This was the symbol of Judah’s hope amid adversity. God would be with his people, even though the Assyrians had wreaked havoc in Judah.

Some scholars suggest that this prophecy was fulfilled by Ahaz’s son, king Hezekiah, or by another boy mentioned in Isaiah 8:1–3, called Haher-shalal-hash-baz. While this may have been fulfilled in part, Isaiah writes in chapter 9 about this child, one who is far superior to any of the ancient kings of Judah or Israel, he says:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).

This prophecy comes into full bloom with the coming of Jesus. Matthew sees this coming child as the hope for restoration through the house of David (Matt. 1:23).

You might wonder why a holy God would give such an evil king, one who worships false gods and promotes infant sacrifice such a hopeful message. God does not accept this kind of evil and rebellion; his hot anger burns against it. Yet, he wishes to preserve king David’s dynasty so that he may bring about Israel’s mission in the person of Jesus Christ to its glorious fulfillment not only for Judah and Israel but for the entire world. God uses whatever means he may. This prophecy of a child born is also a rebuke to Ahaz because he has failed as Judah’s king.

The gospel is this: Jesus has come into our world as the new king, he is the cosmic King. He has come to set things right and undo the work of evil. Ahaz promoted the sacrifice of others, but Jesus sacrifices himself on a Roman cross so that he may absorb all our sin and so conquer its power over us. Jesus dies, rises again, and then leaves us with these words, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). He came into this world as Immanuel, meaning, “God with us,” and then before he ascends tells us that he will be with us always.

The very nature of God is Immanuel. God always desires to be with us. Remember God walking in the cool of the evening with Adam until Adam and Eve are later cast out of Eden because of their sin. God’s presence fills Moses’ tabernacle, and later fills Solomon’s temple. Jesus comes and dwells with us, he ascends and sends his Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost with tongues of fire. Incidentally, every time God dwells in a tabernacle or building, he shows up in fire. And we are his temple, aren’t we? Lastly, he will come and dwell among us again in the new Jerusalem.

This is the context of Jesus being the gospel. He is God with us—Emmanuel.


Talking about the Holy Spirit filling us, he fills the womb of the Virgin Mary. She conceives, and a child is born. The angel Gabriel pays a visit to Joseph, son of David, and tells him that Mary’s son is to be called “Jesus”. “Jesus” is the anglicized version of Joshua in Hebrew, which means “Yahweh is salvation.” While his name is to be Jesus, Matthew, in his gospel, also identifies the child, as Immanuel, from Isaiah’s prophecy hundreds of years before.

The child was to be called Jesus because he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Imagine it, John the Baptist turns and sees his cousin, the Messiah, walking towards him along the water’s edge. His face lights up with joy-filled delight, and he bellows out the redemptive and victorious proclamation, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). For the Judaeans of the day, John’s proclamation was unforgettable.

There were many lambs for sacrifice, but Jesus is the ultimate, superior lamb, who, unlike other sacrificial lambs, “takes away” or “blots out” the sin of the world. This is the utter removal of the totality of the world’s sin as well as its underlying power.

This sin is an active, malevolent agency bent upon despoiling, imprisonment, and death, seeking to utterly undo God’s purpose. Jesus himself tells of the power of sin when he says, “I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). Likewise, Paul writes, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” (Romans 3:9b). Sin is our cosmic enemy! To be sure, individual sins are a grave matter in the New Testament (see Mark 1:4-5; 2:5; 1 Cor. 15:3). And yet, it is not enough for us to say that we are held in bondage to sin, for the result is that we were active, enlisted agents of sin.

Before the atoning work of Christ, all humankind was enslaved by the strange power of sin, which had to be destroyed, liberating people from its control. Sin is more than wrongdoing or grievous actions, it is an infectious illness that has enslaved us in its dark grip, and so sin is not ultimately something we commit, but rather something that we are in. And yet there is no escape from this deathly power, apart from the atoning work of Jesus Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. Moreover, as God’s Lamb, Jesus takes upon himself the sin, not merely of Israel, but of the entire world. The idea that the Messiah would suffer for the totality of the sins of the world and overcome sin’s power, rather than merely Israel’s sin, was foreign to Judaean first-century ears; but John makes clear that Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:17; 1 John 2:2) and that he is its Saviour (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14).

The Passover and its sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament extend towards its fulfilment in the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus holds up the cup of wine and says, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-29).

Here we have the good news that Jesus comes into our world to save us from our sins so that we may be forgiven and reconciled to God.

Christ the King (Son of God—Son of David)

While Jesus certainly dies for the forgiveness of our sins, John the Baptist’s proclamation is so powerful because it describes humanity’s dreadful predicament under the dark power of sin and the indescribable power of Christ’s sacrificial death.

At the start of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). Now, just before this Lamb is to be sacrificed, Pilate brings him out, having been flogged, dressed in a thorny crown and a purple robe, and proclaims, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Nine verses later, he proclaims to the Judaeans, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14). If only Pilate had understood what he declared in jest! Jesus is both the Lamb of God and the victorious King (Revelation 5:5-13).

It is this great gospel message that the Apostle Paul says he was set apart to proclaim, as we read in Romans 1:1–7.

Jesus Christ comes to us in his incarnation, this is what Christmas is all about. He comes to us as the Son of God, the King of high heaven, but he also comes to us as the son of the great earthly king, king David. Jesus is rightfully king, both in his humanity and in his divinity. The eternal son of God is born into our world so that he may become the Messianic King.

The gospel is not merely about going to heaven when we die, it’s about God becoming King in the person of Christ. The word euangelion, “gospel,” is usually translated as “good news.” The idea comes from ancient Rome during the time of the New Testament. Rome would send out good news proclaiming some saving message that would bring about change for the good of the Roman people, like an announcement of victory, or a new Caesar.

Jesus’s kingdom was established through his life, death, and resurrection and has infiltrated our world. This royal announcement of good news is that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, has now been enthroned as the new ruler of this world. The power of God’s kingdom comes upon us and begins to work in our lives when we put our faith in Christ and his saving work. Indeed, Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). At the consummation of all things, God’s reign through Jesus will be made complete, bringing about his perfect justice and peace upon a renewed earth.

Salvation is not the gospel itself; the gospel is the power for salvation (Romans 1:16–17). Jesus conquered sin by living a righteous life and dying a substitutionary death on our behalf. He overcomes death in his resurrection, thereby dethroning Satan and setting himself up as the legitimate new Ruler of the world. While our rebellion and sin against God resulted in our alienation from him, those who believe in the gospel and Christ’s work of salvation have no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and may experience everlasting joy and fellowship with God. This gospel demands a response from us—sincere faith and repentance, without which we would experience eternal death.

Concluding Thoughts

The gospel means the “good news”, and the good news is that Jesus Christ has become King. It’s not just about the initial saving faith and the salvation of souls, instead, it’s about Jesus Christ and how Christ’s saving activity transforms all of life and all of history. It’s about God coming into our world in the person of Jesus Christ and setting himself up as the new king, the one who calls all of us, Jew and Gentile alike to worship the one true God and to be reconciled and united to him, by sacrificing himself on the cross and rising again in resurrection glory so that we may join him in resurrection life.

Ahaz and his evil exploits are the very opposite of the gospel, but Jesus Christ is the gospel embodied!


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