Meditations in Colossians: 41. The ever-spreading Gospel
Col 1:23b This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
This is one of those verses that you have to point out to those who say we have to take the Bible literally throughout and say, no, the apostle Paul was not meaning for every word to be taken literally; he was using hyperbole, which is overstatement to make a strong point. He does that here when he speaks of “every creature under heaven” in the same way as in verse 6 he used the expression “all over the world” referring to the spread of the Gospel, Perhaps we might say, in his shoes, this Gospel has been shared far and wide all over the known world. In the eleventh study in this series we tracked the spread of the Gospel.
I suspect we take for granted the concept of this particular body or piece of knowledge that Paul shared that we call ‘the Gospel’, but there is specific content although that was not always completely shared when Paul referred to it. In an earlier study we summarised it as, ‘Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins.’ The other side of the verse about conditions that we previously just studied, Paul had outlined the Gospel: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.21,22) These are the words he refers to when he now says, “This Gospel….”
It is interesting that although the word Gospel is used nine times in the four Gospels, it is rarely given content. Mark refers to it as, “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mk 1:1) and a few verses later says, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.” (Mk 1:14,15) At its most basic it was that Jesus , the Son of God had come and was revealing the kingdom of God, but of course at that point he had not died for our sins. That was remedied by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost where he spelled out who Jesus was and what he had done when he had died on the Cross (Acts 2:22-24, 36-39) where he also speaks of the required repentance which will bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When he shared with Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends, he began by speaking of, “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36) He then spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him,” (Acts 10:38) explaining Jesus’ earthly ministry, and then added, “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen,” (v.39,40 explaining the Cross and resurrection. He concluded with, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (v.43) When he got that far the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on them as if to say, “That is enough Peter, and because they believe what you are sharing, here is my Spirit for them too.” So there is was: Son of God incarnate doing wonderful things, crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. ….. that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-3) That is perhaps the briefest version of the Gospel. There is more that can be added, as we’ll see when Paul continues, but these are the basics. This is the basic body of information that has been conveyed down through history to tell us what God has done.
This body of information, we saw earlier had gone with new believers from Jerusalem out to many other parts of the world. Philip preached it in Samaria and then Gaza (Acts 8:5,40) as did Peter and John in Samaria. The word spread and spread. In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green highlights various factors that made it possible for the Gospel to be spread more easily: Roman peace and rule and their excellent road system opening up travel, the common use of the Greek language making communication easier across a big area and the widespread Jews who made the early link for such Jewish evangelists such as Paul. But it was the power of the Gospel that transformed lives together with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the good news, and the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, that really catapulted the good news across the world.