A wooden nativity in front of a christmas tree with coloured lights

What is the good news?

This blog post is based on a sermon I preached in November 2023. The readings for this sermon were the Benedictus (or Zechariah’s Song) Luke 1:67-80, and Peter’s address to the crowd after the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost in Acts 2:22-39.

The good news

In our readings today, we see two examples of people sharing the good news. In many ways, with these two passages we have a before and an after. The passage from Luke brings us Zechariah, speaking of the good news to come – the good news that he knows his son, John the Baptist, will be preparing the way for.

Then in Acts, we read of Peter preaching the good news following the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost. Here, he is speaking of the good news that has happened – that the disciples themselves have witnessed. You could even argue that we have a before, an after, and a way, way before – because in this Acts passage, we see Peter quoting David way way back in the Psalms, as he prophesied about the good news to come.

Sharing the good news

And in each of these passages we also see the great need to share this good news. Zechariah had been unable to speak for pretty much all of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Now, his son has been born – God has released him from this silence, and this passage is the first thing that we hear him speak.

If you weren’t able to speak for nine months, I wonder what would be the first thing you wanted to say? I think we would probably have a long list of things we wanted to get off our chests, but Zechariah’s first response is what we read in this passage – to praise God and share this good news. We know it as Zechariah’s song, or the Benedictus.

And for Peter in Acts, he has just experienced Pentecost – the wind blowing, the flames resting on the heads of the disciples, people speaking in all different languages. Now, here he is addressing the people who have witnessed this – explaining to them what this all means and why this is important. From this message, we read that around 3,000 people came to faith.

Two very different situations, but united in their need to express not just their own experience, but actually – what is the good news.

The good news of Christmas

I think especially at Christmas, we can fall into the trap of talking a lot about good news, about great joy, without ever really explaining what is the good news and why it is a great joy.

If someone came up to you this Christmas, and asked you: what is the good news that I keep hearing about? What would you say?

For many of us, I think we perhaps turn to our own experience. Our testimony. Sharing what this good news has meant in our lives. And this, of course, is very powerful. But, do we also get across the simple facts of what the good news is? What the gospel is? Because I think that is often a harder challenge to put into words that we feel comfortable explaining to someone else – but it’s so important to pass on that knowledge that we have, so that other people are able to respond to this good news and experience the great joy for themselves.

Maybe we too need a song. Not Zechariah’s song – but our song. Jenny’s song. Arnold’s song. Your song. A message just waiting to be shared that gives glory to God and explains the good news to those who have not heard it.

What is the good news?

So, what is the good news? What do we learn from Zechariah and Peter about what we should include in our song?

Zechariah’s Song

Let’s have a look at Zechariah’s song first:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”

Luke 1:68-69

This horn of salvation from the house of David that he refers to here, is Jesus – here horn means strong king. God has given us Jesus, a strong king, brought him to his people – to redeem them. Just as had been promised and prophesied so long ago.

And he also prophesies about his son, John the Baptist, that he will prepare the way for Jesus:

“to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:77-79

Here he explains the salvation he mentioned previously. God has given us Jesus, a strong king, to save his people through the forgiveness of their sins. Because he is a good and kind God. And this salvation will be a light in the darkness, guiding us out of the shadow of death.

Peter’s Message

And then let’s turn to Peter’s message in Acts. He says about Jesus:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Acts 2:22-24

Here we’re learning more about what this good news actually looked like in reality. A man killed on the cross. But a God that could not be defeated by death.

When he’s quoting David, he says:

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.”

Acts 2:26-27

He explains that David is not talking about himself, but about Jesus:

“Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

Acts 2:31-32

And it may feel like we’ve veered over to Easter, rather than Christmas. But the good news is these two events. Is this story that sits between Zechariah’s song, and Peter’s message to the crowd.

The gospel in four stages

And I think from these two passages, we can explain the gospel in four simple stages.

Firstly, we needed redeeming. Since the fall, humans had been living in darkness – in the shadow of death. Because of our sin, we were far from God.

Secondly, God sent Jesus. A strong king. His own son. The baby we celebrate at Christmas.

Thirdly, Jesus was put to death on a cross but rose again because death could not hold him there.

And finally, because of what Jesus has done, we can receive forgiveness for our sins and be reunited with God. This light shines on us, in our darkness – it means that we will not be abandoned; we are no longer in the shadow of death.

Four simple steps: We needed redeeming; God sent Jesus; Jesus died and rose again; we can be reunited with God. This is the good news, the great joy, that we want to share.

What is your song?

As we return to thinking about our own songs, how can we capture these four elements? And I don’t think this is straightforward or easy. The gospel is complicated and vast and mysterious and in reality – the whole story is captured in the 66 books of the Bible – of course it’s not easy to get across everything we want to say in a simple way. But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be prepared with an answer when people ask us about this good news we talk about. It doesn’t need to answer all the questions – it just needs to share the gospel.

And just like Peter’s message saw 3,000 people come to faith – we pray that through our sharing of the gospel, more people will come to faith. So I would encourage you to take some time today, this week to reflect on how you would answer that question we posed earlier. How would you explain the good news? What is your song? And how could you share it with those around you?

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