The gospel (literally the good news) of Jesus Christ in its simplest explanation is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-8). But the good news doesn’t stop there. The reason why Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is “good news” is that the same hope of death to an old life and the resurrection of a new life is extended to all through the man who did it first (Rom 6:3-7; 8:10-11). This means that addicts, prostitutes, murderers, and all who are likewise sinners (every accountable person, Rom 3:23), can have the hope of a new life through Jesus (2 Cor 5:17). This is what Jesus promised—not only in his life but in his death.
Many who have accepted the good news understand why it is called good news. But, what about those who are outside of Christ? If the news is so good, why do many dislike Christians and not want to be around them? Why were known sinners thankful to be in the presence of Jesus, but today the same people are uncomfortable in the presence of Christians? Some may claim that such is the case because of bias, or an unwillingness to change. This may be true in part. But maybe, sometimes we make the good news seem less good than it really is. Perhaps, we forget what the good news is all about and turn it into bad news.
What Was Jesus’ Purpose?
To understand the good news, we must understand Jesus’ purpose. Jesus made it clear that his purpose on this earth was to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). On one occasion, Jesus was reclining at a table (which was a symbol of social camaraderie) with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 9:10). The religious elite saw this and questioned Jesus’ disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt 9:11).
Before Jesus’ followers could answer the exclusionary religious leaders, Jesus stepped in and explained, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12-13). Jesus didn’t come to give the well-dressed religious elite a pat on the back. He came to help people like me—people who are sick with sin and looking for a fresh start.
In Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-31), Christ gives the example of two sons who were asked to work in the vineyard of their father. The first son told his father that he would not go, then changed his mind and went to work. The second son told his father that he would go, but never did. The Pharisees agreed that the first son did the will of his father and not the second. Ironically, the first son was symbolic of those who spend their life living contrary to God, then change their mind and obey God.
The second group characterizes the false righteousness of those who “outwardly appear righteous to others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28). At the end of this parable, Jesus told the swanky Pharisees, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31).
Why were the tax collectors and prostitutes more Kingdom-fit than the Pharisees? Because they fulfilled Jesus’ purpose. They were lost, and they knew they needed to be sought and saved. They were sick, and they knew they needed the great physician. Those seen as the scum of first century society were attracted to Jesus because he offered them what nobody else could: a fresh start and life eternal. Two-thousand years later, the hope of a fresh start and eternal life through the gospel hasn’t changed. But its reception has. Why?
What Is Our Purpose?
Are we Christians, like Jesus, seeking the lost to share the message of His reconciliatory death with them? Do we look at individuals who dress shabbily, who come to our assemblies dirty and poor and think that they are too far gone for the gospel? May it never be! The good news isn’t only for the polished, young professional with a good job and perfect family. The good news is for the broken, the poor, the rejected, the sin-soaked and lost. The individuals who are seen as the dregs of society. Jesus is a physician. He’s looking for the broken to fix and the sick to heal.
Why do the people who felt comfortable around Jesus often feel uncomfortable around his modern-day followers? Maybe our suits and ties make them feel uncomfortable in their nicest t-shirt and pair of jean shorts. Maybe their reflection in our polished dress shoes reminds them of how much they stick out in our assemblies. Maybe it’s because “you are heading to hell in a hurry” doesn’t sound as loving as we think.
The good news for the addict is not that he is too far gone for Jesus’ blood. It’s that he can change; because of Jesus’ resurrection, he can be born again to a new life without the enslavement to substances. The good news is that the prostitute can change. The tax collector can change. The sinner can change. The dejected of society—the people most looked down upon—all can have unfading hope because of the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection.
We turn the gospel into bad news when we neglect to offer the hope, reconciliation, and new life that Jesus offered. The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes wanted to be around Jesus because he was willing to help them work in the vineyard even though it was late in the day. If we offer the same hope (not because it is ours to give, but because we have received it), the same people will want to be around us. And that is a good thing.
We turn the gospel into bad news when we forget where we came from and expect others to fall in line with our perceived righteousness. We were the invalid who needed the great physician. We were desperately lost, wallowing in the mire and eating our own vomit. But Christ reached down and pulled us into his grace. He remains willing to do the same for all—the sicker the better.
I know many Christians who don’t turn the gospel into bad news. But, the temptation may remain for some. Do not turn the gospel into bad news. Do not establish unnecessary hurdles on the narrow path. Do not look down upon those rejected by society. Jesus is waiting to receive all as he received us. Are we willing to share this good news? Are we willing to look past the grime, poverty, and stigma? I know we are. I know we can. Jesus would. Jesus did.