I am under obligation to barbarians as well as to Greeks, you see; both to the wise and to the foolish. That’s why I’m eager to announce the good news to you, too, in Rome. I’m not ashamed of the good news; it’s God’s power, bringing salvation to everyone who believes—to the Jew first, and also, equally, to the Greek. This is because God’s covenant justice is unveiled in it, from faithfulness to faithfulness. As it says in the Bible, “the just shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:14-17)
The message of the Apostle may be condensed to a single word—
Εὐαγγέλιον! Gospel! Good news!
From city to city, village to village, Paul brought good news—good news that thrills the heart; good news that liberates human beings from the powers of darkness and violence; good news that creates faith and hope in souls where once there was only despair, bitterness, and fear; good news that converts sinners to the path of charity and holiness; good news that raises the dead and makes a new creation.
For this gospel Paul was set apart and consecrated. The gospel is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
“I am not ashamed of the εὐαγγέλιον,” Paul declares. I immediately think upon his words in 1st Corinthians:
The word of the cross, you see, is madness to people who are being destroyed. But to us–those who are being saved–it is God’s power. … Jews look for signs, you see, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we announce the crucified Messiah, a scandal to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, the Messiah–God’s power and God’s wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans. (1 Cor 1:22-25)
Paul knows all too well how frequently the good news of Christ is scornfully dismissed as blasphemy or hokum. How can a crucified rabbi be the Messiah of Israel? How can a Jew from Judea be savior of the world? But Paul is neither ashamed nor discouraged by the apparent implausibility of his message. Paul knows that which those who reject the gospel do not know: the gospel is the power of God “unleashed in human history” (Joseph Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible: Romans, p. 256).
Paul has experienced this power at first hand. He has witnessed the transformation of lives and the formation of vital communities of faith that transcend race, nationality, and social status. He knows that each time he preaches the good news of Jesus Christ the Spirit of the coming kingdom is made manifest. And he knows that when the gospel is received in faith, lives are changed, people are reborn, churches are created, and the charismata distributed. When confronted by the decision of the Galatian believers to submit themselves to Torah, Paul’s strongest rejoinder was appeal to the gift of the Holy Spirit: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:2).
The gospel is more than a human word, more than a transfer of information. It is truly God’s Word, the Word which spoke the world into being, the Word proclaimed by the prophets, the Word enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth. And because it is his Word, it is his power. The gospel of Christ pulsates with the recreative energy of the Spirit. In 1st Thessalonians Paul rejoices in the faith of the Thessalonians and notes the special character of the message that generated their faith: “for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:4). The kerygma unleashes the power of God because it trumpets Jesus Christ, “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4).
The gospel is God’s effective power active in the world of men to bring about deliverance from His wrath in the final judgment and reinstatement in that glory of God which was lost through sin—that is, an eschatological salvation which reflects its splendour back into the present of those who are to share it. … The gospel is this by virtue of its content, its subject, Jesus Christ. It is He Himself who is its effectiveness. His work was God’s decisive act for men’s salvation, and in the gospel, in the message of which He is the content, He presents Himself to men as it were clothed in the efficacy of His saving work. (C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, I:89)
“The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God” (The 2nd Helvetic Confession). I do not often quote Protestant confessions, but here Orthodox and Catholics have much to learn from the Reformation. The preaching of Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ present in grace, love, and transformative energy. Frank Matera describes the evangelical proclamation as “an apocalyptic event.” It reveals the righteousness of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Apart from the proclamation of the gospel,” Matera explains, “this saving righteousness is hidden. For how else can one ‘see’ the saving righteousness of God in what the world perceives as a crucified criminal? How else can one see God’s covenant loyalty in the shameful death of a crucified man, apart from the gospel? Thus the preaching of the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. The preaching of the gospel discloses God’s eternal purpose for Gentile and Jew. The preaching of the gospel reveals how God has justified and reconciled humanity to himself. The preaching of the gospel assures the reconciled and justified of the salvation that awaits them and the entire cosmos at the resurrection of the dead” (Romans, p. 38).
The preaching of the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Εὐαγγέλιον! Every Sunday every preacher needs to ask himself, Am I preaching good news?