Here is an interesting quote: ‘The ruler is divine by nature. His power extends to men, to animals, to the earth and to the sea. Nature belongs to him; wind and waves are subject to him. He works miracles and heals men. He is the saviour of the world who also redeems individuals from their difficulties (TDNT, volume 2, page 724).’
It sounds like the writer is describing God; it sounds particularly like he is describing Jesus. But this is a description of the Roman emperor. Now that is a scary thought. (And the thing even more scary is that, with the electronic games these days, people can imitate this kind of power.)
When a new emperor would go to the throne, that would be considered a new era and a time of peace to the world, and, strangely enough, that would be called a gospel, good news (TDNT, p. 725).
There are some striking similarities between the gods of this world and the one true God. They each have their own good news, and some of them are currently using the same word.
Who had it first? The word for a good news message started way back in the Old Testament, and its first appearance is in the book of Samuel, right before the time of David. That is way before the Roman Empire, but not before sin.
In the Gospel according to Luke, the word gospel—but only in its verb form (to ‘evangelize’)—appears many times in that account (which is described in many manuscripts as ‘according to Luke’—to avoid using that misused term). To look at all those occurrences and their contexts, see Luke 1:19, 2:10, 3:18, 4:18, 7:22, 8:1, 9:6, 16:16, and 20:1. There are also fifteen occurrences of this word form in Acts, but the first occurrence of the word in noun form in the WHOLE of Luke-Acts is in Acts 15:7.
The Gospel text for this Sunday may contain the first twenty verses of the chapter and not just the first fourteen [Luke 3:1-14]. And in verse 18 of that section, the verb form of the word appears: ‘So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.’
Some people have looked at that verse and what John the Baptist had said previously to some of the people: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance (3:7f).’ Some people have thought, and rightly so, that John’s message does not sound like good news. But it was a new era. It was still an important message.
Any important message from an important person is a good one; it is also a helpful one.
The message of the Law is a good example. It is helpful to give up on trying to be good. Dr. Martin Luther found that to be true. The message of the Gospel is an even better example. It is extremely helpful to know what God has done for us—instead of what we can do for him.
This week at church is the second part of our four-week series on the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther. We will be looking at the Creed, and the good news comes to us in three different themes.