An ancient Greek myth describes runner, Pheidippides, making the twenty-five-mile jaunt from Marathon to Athens with the message of Athenian victory over the Persian forces of Darius I. As the runner Lay breathless at the gates of the city, and breathed his last, he gasped these words - "nenikēkamen!"
“The battle is over and we won.”
That is when the Olympic event – the Marathon – was born. The first marathoner was also one of the first evangelists. He brought the gospel to Athens - the good news of the Greek victory.
Four hundred years later Jesus, walked into Nazareth, Capernaum, and other cities of Galilee with the same message. The battle has been won, the enemy is defeated, the kingdom of God is near. People from all over flocked to hear him teach and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Less than four years later - after Jesus had been crucified - His followers were in the upper room during the Jewish feast of Pentecost and were filled with the Holy Spirit.
When visitors to Jerusalem saw them they were confused. So Peter got up and explained what had happened.
“These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” [Acts 2:15-21 (NIV)]
Peter quoted the prophets of old and then told them, “This is that.”
As a result of Peter’s proclamation, three thousand people repented and were baptized.
Today we timidly try to share the Gospel with our neighbor and it becomes such a difficult task that we keep putting it off and putting it off. Then our neighbor dies and we condemn ourselves because we were never able to talk to him about Jesus.
Or we build up our courage and arm ourselves with Biblical apologetics so we can answer our neighbor’s questions about creation and why there evil in the world. Then we get in his face and tell him he will rot in hell if he doesn’t accept Jesus.
Pardon me, but that isn’t good news.
My wife and I were on driving on I-5 on our way from our home near Seattle to San Diego for a conference. As we approached Bakersfield, a troubling thought came to my mind. “What really is the Gospel? What is the Good News?”
The word Gospel means “Good News” but most of the time we don’t treat it as good news we treat it more as a spiritual discipline. We typically prepare our little spiel, memorize the four spiritual laws, the Roman Road, and several pertinent scriptures and set out to meet someone at Wally World or Micky D’s.
The first person who even acknowledges our presence becomes a target for our lead question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you will go to heaven.” Often we are so relieved when he answers, “Sure, I’m a Christian.”
We rejoice, satisfied that we have shared the Gospel and escaped rejection. We even made a new friend and could sit down and talk about Jesus without fear.
Somehow I don’t believe that is the way it is supposed to work. When the Greek evangelist left Marathon for Athens, he was bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm because of the message of victory he was carrying. As he fell at the feet of the crowd in Athens, he wasn’t concerned whether they would receive his message. With his last breath, he joyfully gasped out the news that Athens was safe, the enemy had been defeated.
When Jesus walked victoriously into the streets of Capernaum, He carried the Good News that the Kingdom of God was near. He was not concerned whether anyone would reject Him. Many did, but it did not reduce His enthusiasm for His Good News. When speaking to Jews from all over the world, Peter was not afraid of what the Pharisees and Romans might think of his Good News. And that former Christian basher, Paul, went throughout Asia and Europe proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles while being run out of town, beaten and stoned, and given up for dead. It did not keep him from sharing the good News.
Why do we hesitate, while these heroes of the past seem to thrive as they proclaimed the Gospel.
I believe that there are two reasons which are probably a condemnation of the church today.
First, I believe that we ourselves do not truly understand or believe the Good News. And Second, I think that most people believe that when they die, they will go to heaven, because they tried to live a good life.
But when I was in the car driving through Bakersfield the thought that hit me was that may not be good news to everyone. It’s great for the elderly and those who live in fear of dying, but young people in today’s world don’t have any concept of their own mortality. If they ever think about dying, they either believe they will go to heaven or they believe that death ends everything. Going to heaven when you die might be okay news but it does not impact their life today.
The Good News is summed by the Kerygma – the preaching of Peter in the book of Acts summarized below:
The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the "latter days" foretold by the prophets.
This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.
The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ's present power and glory.
The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.
The combination of all of these truths is the Good News. The battle has been won, the enemy has been defeated. The church has the power of Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ will return for His church.
Repent and receive forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.