What is the Gospel? In my spiritual environment throughout my life I suspect that the correct answer would often be, “Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, be Baptized, Grow in faith”. However, I want to suggest that while all these items are important, they’re a response to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.
Since I’m preaching from Acts during June, I thought it would be interesting to study the preaching topics of the apostles throughout Acts. What did these first Gospel preachers emphasise? How does it compare to our emphasis today?
The apostle Peter gives the first “sermon” in Acts 2. From the list above we observe Hear (v37), Believe (v37), Repent (v38), and Baptism (v41). Many people understandably regard verses 37 and 38 as the climax of the sermon. But a close reading of the text reveals that the sermon concludes in v36.
The centre point of the sermon can hardly come after the sermon’s conclusion. Verse 37 actually describes the crowd’s response and v38 shares Peter’s answer to their question. So what is the climax of the sermon?
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Acts 2:36
Humanity killed Jesus. Sin and corruption caused Jesus’ death, “But God raised him from the dead.”
While Jesus’ resurrection gets a lot of attention each year when Easter rolls around, I was surprised to find that resurrection is a constant theme in the preaching found in Acts.
Here’s a list that I’ve compiled from a variety of sermons by various preachers. I may have missed some, but these seem sufficient to establish a theme:
- Peter – Acts 2:24-40 “But God raised him from the dead…”
- Peter – Acts 3:11-26 “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”
- Peter – Acts 4:10 “whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead…”
- Peter – Acts 5:31 “God exalted him to his own right hand….”
- Stephen – Acts 7:56 “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”
- Peter – Acts 10:23-40 “but God raised him from the dead…”
- Paul – Acts 17:16-34 “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead…”
- Paul – Acts 17:1-4 “The Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead…”
- Paul – Acts 23:6 “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection …”
- Paul – Acts 24:15 “I have … hope… that there will be a resurrection….”
- Paul – Acts 24:21 “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial…”
- Paul – Acts 25:19 “…a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.”
- Paul – Acts 26:8 “Why should you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
- Paul – Acts 26:22-3 “Moses said would happen – that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead…”
There are plenty of Biblical sermons that identify sin and call people to repentance, but they do so within a context of resurrection. Resurrection points beyond the guilt and shame to grace, hope and new life.
While the early preaching on the resurrection served an apologetic function, that wasn’t the sole purpose. Jesus’ resurrection proved that his death wasn’t an accident.
While we’re often tempted to stand at the foot of the cross and beat ourselves up in guilt and regret, Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that the cross is not the end of the story.
While the cross is vital to the Biblical story, it would be a sorry ending if not for the resurrection. By preaching the resurrection, the apostles presented a positive message that empowered people to move forward in relationship with a risen, Christ.
Jesus’ resurrection fulfills a much greater purpose than proving that life exists after death. If Jesus has been raised, then God’s new world, God’s kingdom has indeed arrived. The resurrection provides a whole new way of viewing the world and life itself. It gives purpose to our lives as we move toward a better tomorrow. If God can overcome death, He can overcome obstacle that confronts His kingdom.
God offers forgiveness of our past. He offers His presence in our present. And he offers us a new, resurrected life in our future.
Because we live in the kingdom of God: a kingdom of life, not death; of light not darkness; of hope not despair. Because we live as priests of God indwelt by the Spirit of God we participate in the mission of God, a mission of bringing new life, new creation to a lifeless world.
Making the resurrection a central element of the Gospel changes the entire story that we present to the world. Choosing to focus on our response to the Gospel, rather than the power of God, dilutes the wonder of the resurrection.
Let’s give the last word to Paul:
Acts 26:20-24 (VOICE)
20 I began in Damascus, then continued in Jerusalem, then throughout the Judean countryside, then among the outsiders—telling everyone they must turn from their past and toward God and align their deeds and way of life with this new direction. 21 So then, this is my crime. This is why my Jewish opponents seized me that day in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 God has helped me right up to this very moment, so I can stand here telling my story to both the humble and the powerful alike. I only say what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Anointed One must suffer, and then, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to both Jews and outsiders.
Festus (interrupting): 24 You’ve gone crazy, Paul! You’ve read one book too many and have gone insane!