When Jesus was alive, his message was considered good news. For example, the Gospel of Luke describes one day when Jesus taught in the synagogue. In what could be thought of as his mission statement, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19).
After he read the passage, Jesus sat down, and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
So Jesus brought a message of good news. What did this mean?
News generally refers to newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events. So Jesus was bringing some new information to the public discourse.
But it wasn’t just any news. It was good news. Think about the news you watch on television in the evening. Usually it’s bad news. Someone got shot and killed. A tornado just destroyed a town. Someone put a razor blade in a kid’s Halloween candy. Unless your sports team is doing well (which happens rarely for my Chicago Bears) it’s mostly bad news.
What Jesus had to say was different. It was good news. It was exciting news. It was news about something Jesus called the Kingdom of God, which was a new reality characterized by love for God and others, justice, and life abundant. The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness (Mt 9:35). In addition to just talking, Jesus healed people. He gave people food when they were hungry. He ministered to both the body and the soul.
People were excited to hear this good news. Crowds followed Jesus wherever he went. People were curious and interested. Not everyone responded to Jesus, but that was okay with him. Jesus kept doing his thing, and focused on the people who did respond.
Sometimes I wonder if the Christian message nowadays is mostly bad news.
What comes to mind when you think of Christianity? David Kinnaman wrote a book recently called unChristian in which he asked young people what they thought of Christianity. Here were the major themes: Hypocritical. Only focused on getting people saved. Anti-gay. Sheltered. Too political. Judgmental.
That’s a tough list, but I think if we’re honest, we have probably experienced religious people who exemplify the characteristics on that list. I know I could have described myself that way at various points in my life.
What is it about Christianity and the life and teachings of Jesus that is good news for people living today? How does religion contribute to experiencing a full and joyful life? How does faith enrich our lives, and enable us to better love and serve a world in need?
If Christianity is bad news, I don’t want to be a part of it. And other people won’t want to be a part of it either. But if Christianity is good news–if there is something good, beautiful, and healing about the life and teachings of Jesus–I want to focus on that.
Discussion: What do you think of religion and the idea of ‘good news?’ Has religion been more good news or more bad news in your life?