Dear 5pm Church Family,
What is the gospel?
This seems like a basic question to ask such a learned group that we are at 5pm Church! I ask, not because I fear that we have got it wrong, but because I fear we are a risk of putting the cart before the horse!
Acts of the Apostles
We have started this ministry year with the Acts of the Apostles. There appears to me to be four overlapping themes underpinning the first section from Chapter 1 through to 6:7 – they are:
- The ascension of Christ – now ruling at the right hand of God.
- The coming of the Holy Spirit – enabling the apostles to proclaim Christ.
- The witness of the Apostles – continuing on the ministry of salvation.
- The growth of the Church – as many respond to the gospel.
The 5pm Church sermons over the last two weeks (and the next two) have/will touched on the sermons of the Apostle Peter – Chapter 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:30-32. Allow me to make two quick observations.
1. What Peter does is preach the Gospel.
This may sound obvious, but let me highlight how I think Luke is recording these sermons. Any one of the sermons in and of themselves is actually quite short – much shorter than what they would have been ‘live’. In fact Luke says as much when he says ‘With many other words he [Peter] warned them…’ (Acts 2:40).
And what he is doing is ensuring that across the fours sermons the gospel is being proclaimed – in each sermon, but also collectively. You may notice that in each, the basic facts of the gospel are stated – Jesus, killed, raised, for salvation (c.f. 2:23-24, 31, 38; 3:13-16; 4:10; 5:30-31). You might also notice that in each, the sermon gets shorter!
What Luke is doing, is making the gospel facts very clear. It is the gospel which saves and those who heard those first sermons are testimonies to the wonderful work of the Spirit. Instead of recounting every word that Peter preached, he simply offers the basic gospel facts in each sermon, and then chooses some element to develop a little further so that by the time we leave Peter we have a good grasp of the basic gospel facts and the significance of those facts.
So, in the Acts 2 sermon, it is longest and most developed.
The Acts 3 sermon is shorter, it covers the basic facts, but also highlights that this gospel was a long before planned work of God – it involved Israel’s forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:12). Further that Jesus took the place of the guilty in that he was killed while a murderer was released (3:15).
The Acts 4 sermon is shorter again, it covers the basic facts, but also highlights the judgment that is now in store for those who reject the gospel (4:9, 11).
The Acts 5 sermon is shorter again. As with its predecessors, it covers the basic facts, but highlights that Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of God to give forgiveness of sins to Israel (5:31).
The gospel is preached.
2. Facts before response
The second observation is that each sermon calls for a response, but not before the facts are offered. This is a great principle to observe. Put the horse before the cart!
It is obvious that Luke in his two volumes (Luke and Acts) wants people to repent and believe. He is careful however to ensure that his readers know that they must repent and believe in response to the gospel. That is, they must know Jesus, recognize that he was innocent when killed, understand that God raised him from the dead, in order to save sinners. Only then is it appropriate to ‘repent and be baptized’ (2:28), or ‘repent and turn to God’ (3:19).
Contrast this with the worldviews that we live amongst. Do in order to receive is the mantra. Be that our secularism (e.g. work hard and you will succeed), or our ethics (e.g. be good and you will be right), or other world religions (e.g. devote in order to impress). This, friends, is a ‘cart before the horse’ danger.
A mark of evangelicalism is that we hold to the gospel first and that is in response to the gospel that we live – under the watchful eye of our ascended Lord, enabled by the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of the gospel, calling the world to Jesus.
Bring on Easter! We have work to do.