"Good Tidings of Great Joy...to All People"
By Dave Hunt
Those of us old enough to have lived through World War II remember the ebb and flow of anxiously awaited "good" news and fearfully anticipated "bad" news. After the attack on Pearl Harbor precipitated America's sudden entry into the conflict, it was a long time before Americans had much to cheer about. As the battle in Europe and then in the Pacific finally turned in favor of the Allies, in the United States one particular radio commentator, Gabriel Heeter, endeared himself to listeners with a welcome phrase that became his famous trademark: "Ah, yes, I've got good news tonight!"
"Good news" for one side was, of course, "bad news" for the other. The end of the war was, in a sense, good news to both sides, even to the losers, because it ended the destruction, maiming and death. But there was no consolation, even for the "winners," whose loved ones had become part of war's lamentable statistics. In war there are no winners.
Even in times of what this world calls "peace," eventually everyone runs out of whatever good news an earthly life can bring and becomes at last part of the statistics marking the sorry history of mankind caused by sin and its penalty. God alone offers enduring "good news" of a unique nature—always good to everyone who hears it. That news concerns the eternal remedy for the sin which has separated man from God, brought the horror of evil and suffering plaguing man ever since his rebellion in the Garden of Eden, and ultimately brings eternal doom. Tragically and inexplicably, this best news of all brings joy to so few because it largely falls upon deaf ears. And even more tragic, many of those who say they have believed the gospel have little enthusiasm in sharing the joy with others.
When his parents gave the future radio commentator the name of Gabriel, little did they realize how fitting it would be one day. The angel Gabriel is predominantly associated in Scripture with good news, especially concerning the Messiah. It was this special messenger from God who told Daniel the very day on which the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, then to die for His people's sins (Dan 9:25-26). It also was Gabriel who told Zacharias that his wife would give birth to the special prophet who would prepare Israel for the Messiah. And again it was Gabriel who announced to the virgin Mary that she would be with child of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Messiah. It therefore seems likely that it was also Gabriel who, when the time came, announced that miraculous birth to the shepherds. This was the beginning of the gospel on earth.
The gospel is a New Testament term which never occurs in the Old Testament. It is translated from the Greek euaggelion, meaning a good message or good news. There is no indication, either from the word itself or from its usage, that this good news from God is for certain people only and not for all. The gospel is to be preached in "all the world...to every creature [i.e., every created person]" (Mk 16:15). Therefore, by very definition of the word itself, it must be good news to every person in the world who hears it.
Thus the "angel of the Lord," in announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds, declared, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10). All people! It could not be more clearly stated, and that by an angelic messenger from God, that the gospel is a bona fide offer of salvation to all mankind and to which all may respond. How else could it possibly offer "great joy...to all people"?
There are those who attempt to make "all people" mean "all kinds of people," but that is not what the angel said—and if it were what he meant, he would have said so. In agreement with the angel of the Lord's announcement of good news to all people, we are told repeatedly that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son...that the world through him might be saved" (Jn 3:16-17); "God our Saviour...will have all men to be saved...the man Christ Jesus...gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:3-6); "he is the propitiation...for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:2); "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 Jn 4:14), etc.
Nowhere in all of Scripture do we find a clear statement to the contrary: that the good news of salvation in the gospel is not for all. That unhappy theory was arrived at by speculation, not from any direct statement in God's Holy Word. To know that a Savior was born to save only a select few would hardly bring "great joy" to those who were excluded (if indeed there were such) from the salvation procured by His death, burial and resurrection for the "sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). And yet there are some who insist that the "good tidings of great joy" are only for a select few and in so doing sincerely believe they are honoring God and His Word.
Paul declared that the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom 1:16). There is no clearer statement that salvation through being "born again" into God's family as His children comes only by believing what Paul called "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph 1:13) and "the gospel...by which also ye are saved" (1 Cor 15:1-2). Paul defined that gospel as "how that Christ died for our sins according to the [Old Testament] scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the [O.T.] scriptures; and that he was seen [alive by many]..." (1 Cor 15:3-5).
Believing this "good tidings" is the prerequisite to regeneration, i.e., being born again (Jn 3:3-7) into God's family.
It is right here that many stumble over the gospel's simplicity. "All you have to do is believe?" they demand incredulously. Yes. The gospel is not about what we must do, but what Christ has done. Furthermore, what could man do to obtain forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God? Let us be honest: nothing!
It is only pride of Himalayan proportions and fiercely stubborn unwillingness to face the horrible truth about ourselves and the glorious truth about God that could possibly foster the delusion that we could do anything at all to contribute to our salvation. Does God need anything from us? Could we give God anything that did not first come from Him? Have we not corrupted everything God has given us so that returning it to Him as though it were of value would only be an insult?
The issue is not only God's love but His justice. Love and the desire to forgive cannot remove the penalty God has pronounced upon sinners. He cannot go back on His word, but the penalty must be paid in full for anyone to go free. God himself cannot adjust heaven's books (Rev 20:12), which record each sin and spell out each one's eternal doom. The "ticket" for violation of God's law has been written out on each one of us and it must be paid. That payment was made for all by Christ on the cross.
Our redemption is entirely Christ's work. That there is nothing more even for Him to do He declared unequivocally and triumphantly from the cross: "It is finished!" (Jn 19:30). Every attempt to offer good deeds, prayers, penance, or sacraments in order to gain favor with God is a blasphemous denial of the sufficiency of what Christ has done. Our standing before God and all that we will ever be or do for Him or enjoy in His presence is only in Christ and because of what He has done for us in bearing the penalty for our sins.
While the word "gospel" does not occur in the Old Testament, the words Saviour and Redeemer are found frequently. Repeatedly the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob makes it clear that He is the One to whom these titles and accompanying responsibilities and glory belong. That the Messiah, the Savior of the world, had to be God himself, come as a man through a virgin birth, was made clear by Israel's prophets and rings true to the understanding and conscience which God has given to every man. Who else could be the Savior but God alone?
The declaration by Isaiah is unmistakably definitive: "For unto us a child is born [the babe in Bethlehem], unto us a son is given [the Son of God (Ps 2:12; Prov 30:4) who has existed eternally and can only be God (Mic 5:2)]: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David...even for ever" (Isa 9:6-7).
Israel's Messiah is the One who God has promised will reign forever upon the throne of David. Thus there could be no doubt that this prophecy refers to Him. Yet this child born in Bethlehem of a virgin was and is "the mighty God" and "the everlasting Father." Again, Israel's prophets could not have stated more clearly that the Messiah would be God himself, come as a man through a virgin birth. Who else, indeed, could save us from sin's penalty pronounced by God in righteous judgment!
Yet the rabbis and the people of Israel accused Christ of blasphemy and attempted to kill Him by stoning when He declared, "I and my Father are one" (Jn 10:30-31) and "Before Abraham was, I AM " (Jn 8:58-59). They knew exactly what He meant: "thou, being a man, makest thyself God" (Jn 10:33). Tragically, they did not know their own messianic scriptures that the Messiah could be none other than God himself.
As clearly and emphatically as Jahweh declares that He is the only true God, so He also declares that He is the Messiah, the only Savior and Redeemer. Here are only a few of such references: "before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour" (Isa 43:10-11); "O God of Israel, the Saviour" (Isa 45:15); "thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me" (Hos 13:4); "and thou shalt know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob" (Isa 60:16); "O LORD, my strength and my redeemer" (Ps 19:14); "And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer" (Ps 78:35); "As for our redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel" (Isa 47:4); "Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name" (Jer 50:34), etc.
Despite the absence of the word "gospel" in the Old Testament, the gospel is promised there in the prophecies concerning the Messiah who, as the Lamb of God (Ex 12:6; Isa 53:7, etc.) would die for our sins. As Peter told the first Gentile converts, "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). Paul explains further: "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
Paul declared that the message he preached was "the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1). And as absolute proof of the authenticity of that gospel, he pointed to the Old Testament prophecies identifying the coming Messiah and telling of His redemptive mission. The climax of Paul's message was the irrefutable fact (to which the Jews themselves were witnesses) that every messianic prophecy had been fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
This "gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy [Old Testament] scriptures,) concern[ed] his Son..." (Rom 1:1-3). "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son...to redeem them that were under the law" (Gal 4:4-5).
Paul's modus operandi was to reason "out of the scriptures" using the Hebrew prophets to prove that "this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ" (Acts 17:2-3). That proof is still valid today so that no one can honestly deny the truth which is in Jesus Christ. Yet so few Christians use the incontrovertible witness of prophecy in preaching the gospel. In our preaching and witnessing we need to return to the message of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth with which the Apostles "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).
Paul did not apologetically "dialogue" as though there were anything to discuss or some compromise to be made. He "disputed...in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily..." (Acts 17:17). Because he loved an argument? No, but because judgment lies ahead for unbelievers: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..." (2 Cor 5:11).
The prophecies are so many and so clear and so precisely fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth that no one can deny the evidence. Paul "confounded the Jews...proving [from their own scriptures] that this is [the] very Christ [foretold]" so "the Jews took counsel to kill him" (Acts 9:22-23). Likewise, he "disputed against the Grecians" who obviously could not refute the evidence Paul presented, so "they went about to slay him" (Acts 9:29).
"Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Is that great joy reflected in our lives and in our daily contact with others? Do those around us sense the excitement bubbling within us because we intimately know the infinite Creator of the universe as our loving, heavenly Father who guides our steps into the glorious fulfillment of His will? Has the exquisite wonder of sins forgiven and the priceless gift of eternal life as children in God's very own family gripped our hearts so that all else is nothing by comparison? Or are we so enamored with and entangled in this fleeting, failing, futile, finite earthly life that we have lost the great joy of anticipation of being in His presence at any moment and for eternity?
May we, like the angel, be the source of good tidings of great joy to all with whom the Lord leads us into contact. May our hearts overflow in love and gratitude to Him for who He is and what He has done in our redemption. And from that overflow may Christians by God's grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit spread this great joy to the whole world through the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. TBC