What is a "Gospel"?
The word "gospel" means "good-news" (coming from the Old English "god-spel"). In the New Testament we have four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But when you read them, what kind of book are you actually reading? Is it a history? A biography? A newspaper account? An essay?
A Gospel is a little bit of all of those combined. It is a description of events because it is “news” but its not just a description of events like a history or a newspaper article. It is shown to be a description of good events, or good news! As such, it has a specific agenda to tell you what the news is and why it is good for you and for everyone else who reads it!
So when you read a Gospel, read closely all the stories and signs the writer has placed in the book, pay attention to what the writer is trying to show about Jesus, and reflect for yourself what this means for you and your faith in God.
The Gospel answers the Christian's three questions
A Gospel answers three questions. These three questions are the same questions that everyone seeking to follow Jesus will have to answer:
- Who is this “Jesus”?
- Why do I need this “Jesus”?
- How do I believe or follow this “Jesus”?
Note that these questions are consecutive. You first need to know the “who”, then you need to know “why” this “who” is here. And lastly, if you’re convinced with the “why” then you’ll ask the “how” question.
That’s why this Gospel was written, to answer these important questions about Jesus.
John wrote the “thesis” or “purpose” of his book at the end!
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:31
The famous verse John 3:16 also answers these three important questions. Note that these questions have not changed from the beginnings of Christianity, and that is why this book is as relevant 2,000 years ago as it is today! And in fact, the Gospel of John is one of the most widely distributed Gospel book for evangelism today, because it beautifully presents the good news of Jesus.
Chapter 1: Prologue and John the Baptist
The first chapter begins with the most magnificent openings in a book:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Rather than beginning with a genealogy (as in Matthew), or with a history (as in Luke), or beginning somewhat abruptly (as in Mark), John begins with a cosmic, abstract (mystical?) introduction about God and a being called the Logos (the "Word" in English translation), who is identical, yet distinguishable from God, and is Creator and the source of Life and Light. From hereon the words "life" and "light" are central to understanding who this Jesus is and why he has come.
The second half of the first chapter then provides the early testimony to Jesus' identity. John the Baptist's testifies that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who has come to bear the sins of humanity. When Jesus calls his first disciples, one of them, Nathaniel, declares "You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" The irony, of course, is that the next chapters will show how the Jewish leaders will fail to see what these first witnesses have seen.
All of the primary and main teachings of Christianity are beautifully outlined by John in the first chapter!
- Jesus is God, creator of heaven and earth, taking on human form (John 1:1-5)
- Jesus came to be the savior of all humanity (verses 9-10)
- Jesus was to be rejected by the people (verses 10-11)
- Salvation is offered to everyone without distinction, Jew or Gentile (verses 12)
- Salvation is by faith and through being born again to a new way of life (verses 12-13)
- Salvation is by the amazing grace of God, apart from works and obeying the law (verses 16-17)
- The way to God the Father is only through Jesus Christ (verses 18)
- Jesus will send the Holy Spirit (verse 33)
- Jesus will build a church on the foundation of the apostles (verses 35-51)
Chapter 2: The Wedding, Temple and the Book of Signs!
John first tells the familiar story of Jesus turning water into wine. He describes it as "the first of his signs". So a few pointers on how the Gospel of John is organized:
- The first half is often called "The Book of Signs" because here John selects 7 "signs" that point to Jesus' identity as the Son of God
- The whole Gospel contains 7 "I AM" statements by Jesus which are Jesus' own revelations of himself to his disciples, as the Source, Giver, and Sustainer of Life
Next, John describes Jesus in the Temple, cleaning the house of God which has now become a marketplace, telling everyone "Do not make my Father's house a house of trade!" Jesus then speaks of the temple of his body, how if it were to be destroyed he will raise it up again in three days. The Jewish authorities, of course, failed to understand and thought that he was referring to the Temple building.
The two incidents: Jesus providing a newer, better wine than what has been given, and Jesus' cleaning a corrupted temple, to be replaced by the new temple of his body, are both meant to point to Jesus' ministry as a revolutionary change in how God deals with his people. The Old Testament Law (old wine, old temple) are to be replaced by Jesus through his death and resurrection into something better (new wine, new temple).
John is showing how Jesus is to be the bringer of a new and better covenant, not based on works of the Law but on the grace of God through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
"Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." Hebrews 9:15
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:1-4