Matthew 9. The Gospel Jesus Preached
One more reflection on chapter nine is worth considering before moving on to the tenth chapter. In Matthew 9:35, we’re told that Jesus was preaching the gospel of the kingdom throughout the cities and country villages of Galilee – but a reasonable question would be to ask just what that gospel consisted of. Unlike the preaching of the apostles, who could look back to Christ’s saving work on the cross, Jesus had no such message. Occasionally, He could hint at what was to come, as in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, but the New Covenant in His blood was still in the future. In John’s Gospel in particular, Jesus speaks to His disciples of the life in the Spirit that they will encounter in the New Covenant. However, in His public preaching during this first phase of His ministry, little of that is to be seen. So … what did the Master preach?
The Greek word for “gospel” in this passage is euangelion, which translates into modern English as “good news.” According to Kenneth S. Wuest, “the word was commonly used for good news of any kind. The proclamation of the accession of a new Roman emperor was entitled ‘good news’ (Wuest, p. 11).” The word can be found regularly in Greek writers such as Plutarch or Flavius Josephus in that common sense – that such-and-such turned out to be good news or good tidings. In other words, the message of Jesus was a message of hope, of promise, and of reconciliation. This good news He preached certainly contained the idea that the good news and its messenger were one and the same. As Jesus would tell Nicodemus in John 3:17, “… God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus stood in an interesting place in history during His earthly ministry, with one foot firmly planted in the Old Testament, and the other foot resting on a future of His own making. Much of His early preaching can be reconstructed through the themes found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7. He gave hope and a real sense of God’s benevolence to the oppressed, the weary, the mourning, and the disenfranchised (Matt. 5:1-11). He emphasized the importance of setting a positive example (Matt. 5:14-15). He also emphasized the vast importance of the Law of Moses and His relationship with it (Matt. 5:17-20). Continuing to teach on the Law of Moses, He encourages a living faith that combines the Law with a receptive heart that loves both God and neighbor (Matt. 5:21-48). In Matthew chapters 6 and 7, Jesus encourages a spiritual life free from pompousness and vainglory, and He does this with an eye on the Pharisees and scribes, who say all of the right words, but who lack the best motivations. His message is not so much one of restoration, but one of revival – of encouraging the Jewish people of His time to passionately live the faith they profess. By doing so, they are preparing themselves for the new things God is doing. His God has a special affection for the poor. His religion – for a religion it truly is in these chapters — is not just for the theologians and the specialists.
Wuest, Kenneth S., Mark in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1950.