Like Jesus, we have been sent to proclaim the good news. In addition to telling his disciples to wait for the Spirit to empower them, Jesus explained what the Spirit’s power would accomplish:
When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Even as the Spirit came upon Jesus in his baptism to anoint him for preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, so the Spirit empowers us to spread the good news about Jesus. Notice that the content of our good news is a revised version of Jesus’ own message. Whereas he proclaimed the coming of God’s reign, we bear witness to Jesus himself, to what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. We have the privilege of announcing to people that Jesus died for their sins so that they might be reconciled to God and therefore live forever under God’s reign, both in this life and in the life to come. Our good news is more than: “You can go to heaven when you die.” It is “You can be reconciled to God right now. You can begin to experience true fellowship with the God by living under God’s reign because of what Jesus has done for you” (see 2 Cor 5:16-21).
The language of the kingdom of God, so embedded within Jewish culture and Old Testament theology, can easily confuse us today. But this is nothing new. It was also confusing for non-Jewish people in the Roman world, the very people to whom Jesus sent his disciples with the good news. Therefore, the early Christians developed other ways to communicate the gospel so that their hearers might understand and respond in faith. Rather than announcing that the kingdom of God had come through Jesus, they proclaimed him as Savior and Lord. The salvation and sovereignty of God’s kingdom was now expressed with emphasis upon the salvation and sovereignty of Jesus. Same basic reality – new language!
This modified language, which also has its roots in the Old Testament, retains its power in our world today. Most of us became Christians because we realized that we needed Jesus to be our Savior, the one who delivers us from our sins and reconciles us with God. By trusting in Jesus, we also accepted him as Lord, the rightful ruler of our lives. Thus, through embracing Christ as Savior and Lord, we were reconciled to God and entered into the kingdom of God as his subjects, even if we had not yet heard those precise words.
In American culture, the good news of Jesus as Lord and Savior has lost some of its original meaning. One of the most powerful cultural forces in our country is individualism. We glorify the “rugged individualism” of our heroes, “Lone Rangers” who defeat the forces of evil all by themselves. (Though even the so-called Lone Ranger had his Indian companion Tonto! But think of more recent heroes such as Rambo, the Dark Knight, etc.) When the message Jesus as Lord and Savior gets pressed through the image of individualism, the result is a partial gospel: Jesus died for my sins so I can have a relationship with him and go to heaven when I die. Now this is true, but not complete. Jesus also died for the sins of the world. And God’s intention is not just to get us to heaven individually, but to form us into a transformed community that will be used by God to help transform this world.
Thus, many Christians today are discovering that the gospel of the kingdom of God communicates more fully in our culture. It calls us, not only to personal faith in Jesus, but also to be part of His kingdom community and to join him in his work of recreating the world.
Other Christians maintain the central message of Jesus as Savior and Lord, but make sure these terms retain their original, biblical flavor. Jesus as Savior not only saves individuals for life after death, but also is bringing wholeness to people, families, societies, and the whole world. Similarly, Jesus is not only my personal Lord, but also the Lord of the world, the One before whom every knee will one day bow. Thus the good news of Jesus matters, not just to individual souls, but to families, businesses, churches, and even nations.