GOS'PEL, n. [L. evangelium, a good or joyful message.]
Matthew chapter 3 begins with John the Baptist preaching to crowds of people in the dessert. It says "His message was simple...'Change your life. God's kingdom is here.'"
His message was simple.
That is so encouraging to me. Later in Matthew Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
But John also says "change your life". I don't know about you, but that doesn't feel simple to me. When I think about changing my life so many things come to mind; eat better, exercise more, give more, buy less, be more kind to my kids, be more thoughtful toward my friends, pray more, etc. Those things feel heavy to me. Similarly John was preaching primarily to the Jews, who at that time were required to observe over 600 laws in order to be considered righteous before God. No wonder John's and Jesus' message was considered simple. It distilled those hundreds of laws into something simple: confess your sin and believe in Jesus. Let him do the rest. And it says, "those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life."
I think about what it must have meant to these Jews to "change their life". I'm sure most of them were "good, upright" Jews who where doing their best to follow the law. How would they change? Could it have been, simply, stop trying to carry the heavy weight of the law? Stop trying to please religious leaders? Acknowledge that you've missed the mark, repent, and be washed clean.
Next the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders) start to come out for the baptisms, apparently because "it was becoming the popular thing to do." They were concerned with how they looked before men. John rebuked them because God is concerned with a changed life, not appearances. "It's your life that must change, not your skin...What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming?"
John then shares that his baptism is only the precursor to Jesus' real work, "The main character in this drama...will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out...He'll place everything true in it's proper place before God."
It's a job that only Jesus can do. Changing our hearts. But that's what makes it a joyful message, a simple message. What we must do, is let him in and stop carrying the heavy laws of change we put on ourselves.
"Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”