The Gospel Jesus Preached
Updated: Feb 26
When I was young, I spent a lot of time across the street at my grandma’s. It seemed I was always at odds with my older brother, and he was bigger than me, so…
I liked being at Grandma’s house. I knew where her candy was and she never questioned why I was there. While she was busy in the kitchen, I would lay on her living room floor and watch television. There I was introduced to Rex Humbard and Oral Roberts, and as a result, to the wilder side of Jesus.
I was raised in a good Lutheran family, in church every Sunday. I don't know how much influence those afternoon appointments with Pentecostals had on me, but I actually liked reading the Bible, and when it was time to go to Confirmation class, I didn’t mind at all. I liked challenging what the pastor was teaching. Not much has changed.
Somewhere along my journey through the various expressions of Christianity, I was introduced to gospel tracts. To prove your devotion to Jesus, you hid them in places where people could find them, and if you were really brave, you placed them in their hands, then hurried away, hoping it would scare the pants off them and they would accept Jesus. It was the duty and privilege of every serious Christian to distribute gospel tracts, and we were sure to get credit in heaven if someone prayed “the prayer.”
I never liked them. The God Mr. Chick introduced, the one stoking the fire, was a God I never knew. But since my Lutheran upbringing had been pretty low-key, and I was hanging out with the fiery Christians now, who was I to argue? Only so much information can fit on a 3” x 5” pamphlet, after all, and Mr. Chick and company evidently felt the most important information was the imminence of hell.
As time went on, I got increasingly irritated by the things. Their emphasis seemed out of step with the message of Jesus. I knew you could make a case for fire and brimstone, but in my mind, larger truths should occupy center stage.
Like the gospel Jesus preached. He called it “the good news of the kingdom” (Luke 4:43).
The nation of Israel had been waiting on the kingdom of God for centuries, looking forward to the time when their messiah king would take his throne and break the backs of every foreign power. Since the time of Solomon, Israel had been under the thumb of one oppressor or another; during Jesus’s time, it was Rome. Israel’s king was a puppet, the Romans were in control, and the Jews were sick and tired of it. Their great hope was a king who would come and restore Israel to its former glory. So when Jesus said the Kingdom of God was at hand, people listened.
And watched. Often as Jesus went from place to place proclaiming the kingdom (Matthew 4:23), people approached him for healing and deliverance. He hadn’t put out a sign: “Demons Cast Out Here!”, he just talked about the kingdom of God.
People heard; they were amazed; they were healed and set free. People followed him; he didn’t have to chase them down. The good news he preached drew them, and they sought him out wherever He went. They gave him little rest. Eating was an afterthought. Though the masses were fed a time or two, they weren’t at his feet for the food. They wanted to know about the kingdom.
It’s like a mustard seed, he said. Though it starts small, it becomes large. It’s like yeast, affecting everything around it. It’s like a farmer who plants a field, like a pearl of great price, like a search for treasure, and a net catching all kinds of fish (Matthew 13). He said the kingdom’s citizens were like salt and light, humble and generous. He taught them what kingdom people do and what they don’t. He said there was a price and a reward for being a part of the kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is yours,” he assured them. “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom“ (Luke 12:32).
When his disciples asked him how to pray, he said they should ask the Father to change the world: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
When one of the rebels crucified at his side said, “Remember me in your kingdom,” Jesus said, “I’ll see you there” (Luke 23:42-43).
After his visit to hell and his ascension to heaven, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). When he left, those he left behind did the same (Acts 8:12).
While in Corinth, the apostle Paul spoke in the synagogue for three months, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8).” And in his last days, he proclaimed the kingdom while teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).
Sidewalk evangelists today, though, are more familiar with “the Romans Road.” Before you can share the good news, you have to convince people how bad they are. “There is none righteous—no, not one.” “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” And “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” All true! All written to people already in the kingdom! Seldom have I seen mention of the gospel Jesus preached.
What, then, shall our gospel tracts say? (Romans 8:31)
What if they talked less about man’s sin and more about God’s promise? What if they focused less on the power of evil and more on God’s goodness? What if, instead of offering a “get out of jail free” card, they proclaimed the freedom of God’s kingdom? We might be hard-pressed to keep people out (Luke 16:16).