Jesus practiced what he preached, perhaps the greatest understatement ever made, and of course what he preached was the Gospel. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Mark 1:14-15
Jesus preached the Gospel.
Let’s deconstruct that passage. Jesus said “the time is fulfilled.” His first century Jewish audience would have been familiar with the many messianic prophecies. Jesus didn’t spend a great deal of time trying to convince people he was the Messiah; by contrast he told his disciples to keep to themselves even as they began to figure it out. Without announcing that Messiah (or Christ in the Greek) was present he began his first sermon by declaring in effect “now is the appointed time, today is the day of salvation.”
“The Kingdom of God is at hand.” More than at hand, the Way the Truth and the Life was standing among them. Those listening to his sermon that day were arms’ length from the gates of Heaven. We deal with the coming kingdom in a fashion of already but not yet. His Kingdom has come and is coming. The Church Age began with the earthly ministry of Jesus and continues with us this day as we go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in. The Kingdom will be made and is being made of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Jesus’ first sermon bore witness to the start of that movement.
“Repent…” Jesus did not merely travel around the cities and villages of Palestine saying nice things about loving your neighbor. Jesus was not Mr. Rogers. At the end of every episode of Mr. Rogers neighborhood he would say “I love you just the way you are.” My dad really had issues with that statement. Some people are vile and perverse, guilty of terrible things, while others are arrogant or hateful. So let’s try this: Jesus loves you just the way you are but doesn’t want you to stay the way you are. He preached a message of repentance, literally turning away from those things we did before we met him. I saw a poster just this morning that said if you’re not preaching a gospel of repentance then you’re not preaching the Gospel. For the record, Jesus did.
“…and believe the Gospel.” Gospel is a borrowed Greek word that means good news. The bad news is obvious. Pretty much every religion and culture recognizes there is something wrong with us at an inherent, spiritual level. The remedies range from bathing in the Ganges River to offering children in a fiery sacrifice, but the idea that we need to right ourselves in some way is universal across time and geography. How many self-help books have been published in the last hundred years? The Gospel of Jesus Christ of course preaches that we cannot help ourselves, as demonstrated pretty much in the entire Old Testament. What we need is an all-sufficient savior. In his first sermon Jesus did not begin a series on how to have a happy marriage, or share 7 secrets of a successful business. He preached the Gospel.
Jesus taught the Gospel in word and deed.
Matthew 5-7 is what we call the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes, Lord’s Prayer, loving your enemies, the Golden Rule and much more are all in one sermon that takes 15 minutes to read. There’s some pretty radical stuff in there. But Jesus was more than a great teacher, he put his words into practice. There were times that Jesus and the disciples had to withdraw from the pressing multitudes and simply rest. But Jesus never walked away from those in need of healing, or food, or even desiring to learn. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:35-36
Even on the cross his ministry continued.
As the Roman soldiers were nailing him to the tree, and the Jewish Sanhedrin looked on and even mocked him with contempt, Jesus prayed for them. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Luke’s Gospel one of the thieves recognizes that he and others are guilty and deserve crucifixion but Jesus is not like them. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his Kingdom and Jesus replies “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Hanging on the cross and about to die Jesus is still winning souls. He truly came to seek and to save the lost. It was like a prime directive, given to him by the Father. He was seriously a man on a mission.
There were other things Jesus did, but preaching the Gospel (and teaching, demonstrating, and equipping others to do the same) was always at the forefront of his earthly ministry. Jesus did some things that only Jesus could do. Our Great Commission is to preach the Gospel to all nations. Our directive is to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything else is second.