As a boy, church was a big part of my life. Not just any church, but HAWTHORNE GOSPEL CHURCH. It had been started in 1925 through a series of evangelistic tent meetings, which followed up on evangelist Billy Sunday’s Paterson, NJ, campaign a few years earlier.

The congregation was led for its first fifty years by my uncle, Pastor Herrmann (two-r’s, two-n’s) George (guess whom I was named after) Braunlin.

The word GOSPEL was the banner headline of what the church was all about. Of course, there were other trimmings, including some lifestyle legalism and an emphasis on end-times prophecy, which I have since discarded as not part of the GOSPEL. But I think Uncle Herrmann and the early leaders who worked with him made a good choice in embracing the word GOSPEL to define their mission.

In last week’s Messenger, I challenged myself to come up with a clear definition of what the GOSPEL is. I’ve spent a few days reviewing all the Biblical uses of the Greek noun behind evangel (gospel or good news) and its corresponding verb evangelize (preach or proclaim the gospel good news). This is something I’ve never done before. I found that the noun is used 76 times and the verb 53 times in our New Testament.

The first time we read the word in the Bible is in reference to the Birth of Jesus. The angelic announcements to Zachariah (Luke 1:19) and later to the shepherds (Luke 2:10) refer to the news about this Baby as the GOSPEL. This establishes where the focus of the GOSPEL is: In Jesus God was doing something radically new and something that would lift people’s spirits and hopes.

When, at the age of thirty, Jesus began his public ministry, he used the angels’ term to describe his own unique message. There are two aspects of how Jesus applied the word GOSPEL that are very important to our understanding. The first is his emphasis on the fact that this is especially good news to poor people, proclaiming new opportunity, liberty from oppression and salvation (Luke 4:18, 7:22). The second is the association of the GOSPEL with the Kingdom of God, the emergence of a new spiritual realm that has the power to revolutionize people’s lives (Matthew 24:14, Mark 1:14-15).

By the time the resurrected Jesus Christ sent out his followers to fulfill his Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the GOSPEL to every creature!” they apparently had a clear understanding of the Good News they were supposed to share worldwide.

As I understand it, the GOSPEL Good News is that God hasn’t given up on us, and he’s demonstrated this in the most striking way he could: by coming into this world as a helpless Baby human, by growing into a spiritually perceptive Person with an inspiring message for those around him, by submitting to the indignities we all have to endure, even to the point of dying, and then ultimately overcoming death itself, demonstrating that all of us can follow him into eternal life.

To make the GOSPEL even more personal and immediate, God hasn’t given up on YOU, and Jesus is the proof.

— Pastor George Van Alstine