Good News Is Coming!
Anyone familiar with the famous modern hymn, Our God Reigns, has seen these words, which are originally from Isaiah 52:7:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
What is the good news?
Romans 10:15 applies this passage in Isaiah to the good news of the Gospel. But "what exactly is the good news of the Gospel?", as Nick Nowalk rightly asks in this article (https://strangetriumph.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/what-exactly-is-the-good-news-of-the-gospel/) and then begins to answer in this opening paragraph:
In my experience, most Christians would answer this question by mentioning either 1.) the death and resurrection of Jesus “for us”, or 2.) the “formula” of salvation/justification (i.e. apart from works, by grace, through faith, with redemption in the afterlife as the endgame), or perhaps both if they are more theologically sensitive to important nuances. Both are indeed aspects of the good news of the gospel, but when viewed in isolation like this, both answers forget the larger framework of the New Testament witness. What is the essential content of the good news that Jesus proclaims in the Gospels? That the kingdom of God has come! What is the core focus of Paul’s proclamation as an apostolic missionary? That the crucified and risen Jesus who saves us is now Lord over all (that is, the King in whom the kingdom has finally come)! How is it, then, that we are so comfortable proclaiming a gospel that seems to have no necessary, organic connections to the kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ over the world?
Like Isaiah 52:7, Isaiah 61:1 is a Messianic verse talking about the good news that Christ brings:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
This verse is also quoted in the New Testament to emphasize what marks the kingdom of God being at hand. Nowalk is right that looking at the sum total of verses talking about good news in Scripture, the biggest commonality is the connection to the kingdom of God. For example, in the synoptic Gospels,
Matthew 4:23: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."
Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
Mark 1:14-15: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'"
Luke 4:43: "But he said, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.'"
Moving on later to the rest of the New Testament, the "good news of the kingdom" and the "good news of the Kingdom of God" is shortened to simply, "good news," most likely showing that the authors are speaking to an audience familiar with the term. However, perhaps in our modern times we are overly familiar with the term. We've heard it and used it so much that we assume we know what we mean by it, but if pressed to define it, perhaps would struggle somewhat.
Nowalk's article continues (I've bolded and bulleted his phrases below for emphasis):
If we are faithful to the NT witness, we will ultimately distinguish between the
central content of the gospel (the return of God’s saving rule over the world through a faithful, image-bearing human being, Jesus, through whom God has dethroned the tryannical powers of sin, Satan and death),
and the means by which this good news was accomplished and made possible (the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus) and
why that is good news “for us” (because this is a King–in fantastic contrast not only to the Caesars and Hitlers of history, but also finally to the previous reign of Satan through sin and death–who loves us and uses every ounce of his authority and power to serve our good, and who relates to us by grace and not by what we deserve).
If we maintained these distinctions in our communication of the gospel, we would learn to read the Bible as a unified, comprehensive story so much more compelling and powerful than our reduced, “me-centered” versions of Christianity.
We could probably spend a lot of time dissecting what is meant by "'me-centered' versions of Christianity." Briefly, in the context of what Nowalk is saying, some important distinctives of the "unified, comprehensive story" are:
God is saving and redeeming the world, and not just ourselves.
Through Jesus' death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered definitively, and not just in my individual life.
The reason for this is to dismantle Satan's kingdom and to usher in Christ's--not just to make our own individual lives and future salvation secure.
This level of clarification was not necessary in the New Testament church, which was primarily comprised of middle eastern believers with a far more collectivist framework (vs. individualistic) than we have in the modern United States.
Emphasizing the collective good news of the Gospel doesn't mean we lose the individual, the particular. Both are true. Christ saves the many, one sheep at a time, although His great acts such as his death and resurrection bring about the salvation in one fell swoop. We are then told to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) through the work of the Holy Spirit. So, this is on an individual basis although, again, there are mass movements of the Spirit in which many at once have their hearts "strangely warmed" (John Wesley's words) and open to the Gospel. God saves us as individuals to become a community of people that belong to Him.
And what is this community called to, according to Isaiah 52?
The reign of God
It's a beautiful image of a watchman seeing someone running swiftly along the mountain paths. As the runner gets closer, the watchman can tell by the body language that it's good news that is on its way. Here is the response in Isaiah 52 to the good news:
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The news is so very good that the natural response is to just burst out in singing together! All will be made right, in our selves, in others, and in the natural and spiritual world. Praise the Lord!