A Call to Citizenship

It’s interesting to observe the different ways people use and understand the word “Gospel.” How many of us, if confronted, could define the Christian Gospel? We could probably explain that gospel means “good news,” which is correct (*1), but doesn’t that immediately beg the question: “Good news of WHAT?” How would you answer? Most of my life I would have said something like, “Jesus died and rose from the dead to bring salvation to lost sinners.” That’s the Gospel, no?

Well, here’s the thing: If that’s the case, then what did Jesus mean by the word Gospel? Surely His hearers wouldn’t have understood it as the above definition three years before His crucifixion! Yet it’s true that Jesus Himself preached the Gospel. Mark begins his narration of Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God…” (Mark 1.14b)
Jesus often uses the word gospel in connection to the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God (*2) and He talks more about the Kingdom than any other topic (*3). As we know, Scripture rarely records events in chronological order, as the style of the day was to write in order of theme or importance. It’s no wonder then, that Matthew places Jesus’ sermon on the mount right at the beginning of His ministry. Matthew clearly sees this as Jesus’ main message. Let’s look at this:

Jesus begins His ministry proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom with a call for repentance. “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.“ (Mat 4.17 *4) He begins to build His Kingdom, choosing His first disciples, calling them to be fishers of men. He journeys through the region, proclaiming the Kingdom’s arrival and validating it with healings (Mat 4.23-25). As the crowd gathers, He sits down and begins to teach them what the Kingdom looks like.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“ The Greek word for “blessed“ is makarioi which literally means, “Possessing the quality of the character of God." In the nine Beatitudes, Jesus describes the personality traits of one with whom the Kingdom dwells (Luke 17.21). They are the characteristics of a Kingdom citizen. He goes on, “Blessed are those who mourn,… the meek,… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,… the merciful,… the pure in heart,… the peacemakers,… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

Notice that each one of the rewards coupled with the characteristics describe the nature of the Kingdom itself. Comfort. Possessing the earth. Satisfaction. Mercy. God’s presence. Sons of God. This language drips with allusions to the Messianic prophecies. (See Ps 37.11; Is 25.8; 61.1-3.) Would the multitude have picked up on this? Absolutely (Lk 4.20). All nine of these imperative declarations are implicitly announcing the arrival of the Kingdom Israel had awaited for centuries.

This is it.

In the following chapters, in what as been called the “Manifesto of the Kingdom,” Jesus goes into detail about how His Kingdom looks. The Kingdom is holy -- drastically set apart from the rest of the world. An outsider can identify a citizen of the Kingdom by his good works. Citizens are marked by righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees, obeying a Law even higher than the Torah. Citizens are humble; they give to the poor and to God in secret. They spend time before Him on their knees inside their homes; when they address their King, they call Him “Father.” They forgive those who wrong them. They fast regularly in dedication to their King. They care nothing for the treasures of other kingdoms; for the bounty of their own Land is everlasting. They answer to no one except their King.

Their King is kind to them and very powerful. He meets their needs each day. They desire nothing besides righteousness. Having been shown such great compassion, the citizens are also compassionate. They don’t judge others, but instead yearn for their own holiness. They treat everyone the way they want to be treated. Compared to every other nation, they are small in number. In their midst are false prophets and wolves, but such villains can be identified by their lack of fruit. In the times of storms, the citizens’ houses don’t fall, because they are built on the wise words of their King.
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7.28-29

Indeed, He is King. Amen.



Footnotes:

*1 - “Gospel” is derived from the Old English: “god,” meaning good, and “spell,” meaning tidings. The Greek word is euaggelion: Eu = “good;“ Angelion = “message.” It’s also interesting to note that euaggelion was originally the reward for the delivering of good news. As far as we know, it was actually the Gospel writers who first used it to mean the message itself. (See Strong’s Lexicon of the New Testament, entry 2098; D.A. Carson’s “For Such a Time as This” pages 75-85)

*2 - “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” are synonymous: Matthew uses the word “God” while Mark and Luke use the word “Heaven,” all in reference to the same parables. A very good article on the topic of Kingdom, including a table of its usage, can be found at http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/157.htm

*3 - “Basileia,” (Kingdom) is used by Christ 128 times, with the next closest runner-up for his message themes being “agape” (love), which he only uses 63 times. Observe the following "wordle" diagram of all Jesus' teachings:
*4 - The phrase “is at hand” is the Greek word eggizo. It has a reference to space, meaning something that is here. (Lk 7.12; 15.1; 15.25; 22.47; Acts 10.9)

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