“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 ESV)
Bob Woods tells the story of a couple who took their son, 11, and daughter, 7, to Carlsbad Caverns. When the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to show how utterly dark it was underground. The little girl, suddenly enveloped in utter darkness, was frightened and began to cry. Immediately her older brother spoke up. “Don’t cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights.”
That’s what the gospel is about: the announcement that Somebody has come who knows how to turn on the lights when we’re enveloped in spiritual darkness. The only one who can do that is Jesus Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). When we were lost in the darkness of sin and death, he turned on the light of hope through his life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, the gospel is good news about a person.
Why is it important to know that the gospel is good news about a person? Think about it this way: every other religion and philosophy teaches you what to do. There are rules and rituals you follow in order to get closer to God, or to enjoy some kind of spiritual experience. By contrast, only Christianity teaches that God came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. In other words, the gospel is not about how hard we work to get close to God. The gospel is good news because it is about God getting close to us in Jesus Christ.
The gospel, then, is about a person. It is about Jesus and what he came to do. That’s why Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection the way he does. He tells us three things about Jesus right at the start. First, Jesus’s name in Greek is itself a translation of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “Yahweh will save” or “Yahweh saves.” Yahweh is the covenant name of God (translated by all-capital LORD in our Bibles). Jesus’s very name reminds us of God’s constant faithfulness. Second, Mark tells us that Jesus is the Christ, another word which comes from the Greek word for “Messiah.” So it is a title, not a last name. Jesus is the one who fulfills all the prophecies of the Old Testament about a coming king, whose kingdom and rule would have no end. Third, Mark tells us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. To be the son of someone in this culture meant to have the same nature as one’s father. Thus, Jesus is Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, come in the flesh to rescue lost sinners like us.
Once again, we see that Christianity is unique. Every other world religious figure points away from himself to a god above or a god within. Buddha taught that the good life was a life free from the suffering of this world. Muhammad taught his followers to reverence Allah. Eastern spirituality teaches us to look to the god within, which is simply our union with the universe itself. In Christianity, Jesus neither points away from himself nor tells us to look within. Rather, he points us to himself and bids us come and rest (Matt. 11:28). This week, remember that Christianity is not simply a collection of rules and rituals. It’s about a relationship with a person, Jesus, who is God himself, who is alive and ready to meet us whenever we come to him. That’s good news!