The Gospel according to Acts

Posted on Apr 18, 2015 in Engagement, Theology blog | 0 comments


If we are commanded to read and know scripture and to teach and spread the Gospel, is it not critical to answer: “What is the ‘Gospel?’” If we teach, preach, talk and spread the wrong Gospel, isn’t that a big problem? By the same token, if we teach, preach, talk and spread the correct Gospel, then aren’t we fulfilling our role as agents in God’s plan of salvation and restoration? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)

Because we are studying Acts, we should realize that Acts is one of the richest sources in the New Testament for discovering what the Gospel really is—that and 1 Cor. 15. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles follows the Gospel itself (from four perspectives) like glory follows child-birth or growth follows the rain and sun. It is all that more significant (and providential) because Bill is following Easter with a series on Acts.

1 Corinthians 15 led to the development of the Rule of Faith which led to the Apostles’ Creed which led to the Nicene creed which was essentially a Gospel statement—and all of which guided the early church and church fathers, and is supposed to still be guiding us today. (But do we think it too incredible–as Paul asked? Too silly? Too nonsensical? Too foolish—again as Paul asked? After all, we are Children of the Enlightenment, the glorious heirs of the Age of Reason, the beneficiaries of the scientific method, graduates of the finest institutions of higher learning with degrees to prove it– and not superstitious bumpkins. Perhaps it’s just easier to say we let Jesus into our hearts and hope to go to heaven when we die. At least that sounds respectable—respectable and safe.ds)

I believe this because the eye witnesses and church fathers believed it, taught it, preached it and gospeled it to the early world and because it became the foundation of the early creeds—all before the Roman Church and the Reformed Church (in reaction to the excesses and ant-biblicism of the Roman Church) imposed their own culture, biases, corruptions, arrogance, intrigues, exploitive motives, over-reactions to exploitive motives and desires to preserve (and rebel against) existing power structures onto scripture. In other words, I don’t ask “What would Jesus do?’ I ask “What did the early church believe?”

Here’s what I currently believe the Gospel is and is not, with reference to the nine Gospel sermons I see in Acts and Paul’s stunning and staggering summary statement of the Gospel from his Corinthian correspondence:

The Gospel is:

  • The story of Israel is completed and fulfilled in the story of Jesus.
  • The narrative proclamation that Jesus is King, that the crucified and risen Messiah is Lord (i.e. the announcement about the true God as opposed to false gods).
  • The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated (but not completed)—New Creation (irrevocably promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:13) started on Easter and will come in fullness when Jesus returns bringing heaven to earth and God, living among us once again, will be all in all.
  • Jesus was resurrected from the dead as the first fruits of our own resurrection from the dead when the new heaven and new earth are merged and restored to perfection when Jesus returns in glory and total victory.
  • Kingdom work (resurrection work) and following Jesus (discipleship) should start today.
  • Open and available to everyone.

The Gospel is not:

  • Going to heaven when we die.
  • A plan or system of personal salvation. Announcement of the Gospel results in God’s people getting saved, but the good news is the declaration that Jesus has become King and that all of God’s promises will finally come true and are coming true.
  • Letting Jesus into our hearts. Instead, Paul talks incessantly about us being “in Christ.”
  • Justification by faith alone through grace.
  • Any “right” or “orthodox” system of belief—including mine.
  • Reserved for an exclusive minority.
  • A decision we make but who we follow.

I now hope to demonstrate all of this through the following teachings from the Book of Acts (all NSRV):

Acts 2:17-39: Peter’s Gospel Sermon on Pentecost

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,…. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved….This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses….Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.…. the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

Acts 3:12-25: Peter’s Second Gospel Sermon (The Lame Beggar)

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant–Jesus, … you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah….Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. ….You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Acts 4:9-12 (Peter’s Summary Gospel Statement)

Jesus Christ of Nazareth,–whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus–is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”*–There is salvation in no one else, ….

Acts 10:4—43 Peter’s Gospel Sermon At The Behest Of Cornelius

… Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. … They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, …He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him .

Acts 13: 17-33     Paul’s Gospel Sermon in Antioch

The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with–them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; …. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus….

Acts 23:6b and 11 Paul Preaches the Gospel Before The Sanhedrin

‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection–of the dead.’[ie the general resurrection—the resurrection of all of us Messiah people] …. That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’

Acts 24 14b-16 and 21b     Paul Preaches the Gospel Before Felix

I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both–the righteous and the unrighteous…. “It is about the resurrection of the dead [i.e. the general resurrection—the resurrection of all of us Messiah people] that I am on trial before you today.” ’

Acts 26:6-8 and 26:22b-24    Paul Preaches the Gospel Before Festus

And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency,–that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead [i.e. the general resurrection—the resurrection of all of us Messiah people] ?

I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah–must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.’ While he was making this defence, Festus exclaimed, ‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!’

Acts 28:23b-23 and 31 Paul Preaches the Gospel From Prison in Rome

From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets…..

He lived there for two whole years at his own expense–and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Paul takes all of this and crescendos his theology (Paul was the first and greatest Christian theologian) into his triumphal and glorious Summary Statement of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 (and Romans 8). I believe it’s important to appreciate that, before Paul gets to his famous (yet utterly ignored by much of the western church for a thousand years) sermon on the Gospel and its centrality to the Faith, the Church and us, he sets it all up by addressing the divisions in the badly fractured Corinthian church and by exhorting them to let go of these divisions. He tells them they are getting it wrong on the Christian message, wrong on Christian ministry and ministers, wrong on the conception of the Christian and then provides them with rather specific (specific to the problems the Corinthians were experiencing 2000 years ago) guidelines and advice on various issues, including lawsuits, laxity in the church, sexual immorality, marriage, questionable practices, public worship, the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts. This then lets him flourish into his famous exhortation on Love in chapter 13 (not just love in marriage but love as used in the Shema and as re-worked by Jesus in the New Covenant). Now that all of this foundation has been laid, the master Pharisee specifically lays out what the Gospel of King Jesus is all about. And, you will notice, that it has little semblance to what is generally assumed to be the Gospel in our country and culture (and in most churches outside of ours). Notice the ABSENCE of atonement theories, a plan of or formula for salvation (as developed by the Reformers), justification by faith through grace, going to heaven when you die, the destruction of earth or the separation of body and soul. He certainly mentions the crucifixion as forgiveness of our sins but it is part of, not the centerpiece of, Paul’s Gospel. Here it is:

I Corinthians 15   Paul’s Majestic Summary Of The Gospel To A Divided And Wayward Church

“Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters,–of the good news–that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to [many witnesses].

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died–in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end,  when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death….When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all….  If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’

But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body…. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown [now my translation:] a body animated by mortal life, it is raised a body animated by the Spirit of God

…. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’ “

Now, Romans 8:11 and 16b-25

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ–from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through–his Spirit that dwells in you.…. we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him…..the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Here’s what Calvin’s followers resoundingly got right: sola scriptura—by scripture alone.

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