The following is the manuscript from a recent sermon I delivered at Oasis Community Church. Some portions are in outline form rather than full manuscript form. One should have his or her Bible close by while going through the expository section. The podcast link above is a recording of the actual sermon as delivered.
Before we consider Peter’s presentation of the gospel, we need to understand that this wasn’t the only gospel in circulation at the time. There was a very pervasive gospel proclaimed by the Roman Empire, which represented a complete merging of religion and politics. That is to say, the Greek and Roman mythological deities played an important role in support of Roman power. The gods supported the empire and the empire had a gospel to proclaim, ironically considered a gospel of peace known as Pax Romana. It went something like this, “The Lord, Caesar Augustus, son of god and savior of the world, brings you peace.” This gospel was carried by evangelists ahead of the Roman military with the implication being, accept this gospel of peace or we will force it upon you through warfare. Either way, the people who heard this gospel were ultimately oppressed by the Empire.
- Shows no partiality / no respecter of persons. This seems intutitive to us today; of course God shows no partiality between persons. But for Peter, Paul, and other 1st century Jews this news was somewhat earth shattering. Jews were the people of the covenant, God’s chosen people, His special treasure. Gentiles were untouchable, unclean, godless. In fact, it was common to refer to Gentiles as dogs. Now Peter has had an epiphany, he says now I understand (καταλαμβάνομαι – grasp, comprehend). All of a sudden Petr gets it: God’s program for salvation is not limited to any people group or nation. God has a global agenda that doesn’t require Gentiles to become Jews before they enter the kingdom.
- There is such a natural tendency toward prejudice and ethnocentrism that I think from time to time all of us are tempted to see the people group or denomination with which we most closely identify as occupying a privileged or at least preferential place before God. When you imagine life in eternity, what is the racial/national/denominational makeup of that crowd?
- The one who fears Him and does what is right. This doesn’t mean what is right in the eyes of one’s society or culture. It is actually the one who does righteousness, what is right in the eyes of God. The one who follows God to the best of his ability to the degree of revelation he has received.
- This is the one who is acceptable (pleasing or favorable) to God. Peter is not preaching justification by works here. The point is, God does not favor one race or nation. It is those fear Him and do righteousness who are favorable or pleasing in His sight. (Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile).
- “…preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ…” or “preaching the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ.” Why does Peter call it the gospel of peace? Because apart from the work of Jesus Christ, we are not at peace with God, we are at war with Him. The Bible says that before we come to faith, we are enemies of God because of our sin. But through Christ, this state of enmity is changed to a state of peace, a state of holistic shalom. Not only an absence of conflict, but an overall sense of peace and wellbeing with God that leads us to peace and wellbeing with our fellow man.Or as Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10)
- “He is Lord of all” – now this was a controversial claim indeed.
- A Jewish audience would hear the title Lord and equate it with God. A circumlocution that persists to this day.
- A Gentile audience would here the title Lord and equate it with Caesar. πάντων κύριος – this title was widely used for Caesar, in fact it was a standard element of Roman Imperial propaganda. In the Aneid, Virgil’s preeminent work of Roman imperial propaganda, the will of Jupiter is stated at the very beginning of the story, in the mythological god’s own voice: “On these people [meaning the future Romans] I place neither boundaries nor periods of empire; I have granted them dominion without end.” Thus Caesar was fashioned as the Lord of all.
- The proclamation that Jesus is Lord is a fundamental element of the gospel. And if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar isn’t! See why the gospel was considered subversive? Might I just suggest that the real gospel still is? Or at least it should be. The real gospel lays claim to our exclusive allegiance and that is very threatening to the human political structures.
- Even more importantly, if Jesus indeed is Lord of all things, and I accept Him as such, there is no aspect of my life that He does not lay claim to; no element of my being that does not need to come under submission to Him.
- “You yourselves know…” Peter’s audience had some familiarity with the historical events surrounding the life of Jesus, but they don’t really understand the theological significance nor the existential implications. In other words, they don’t understand how these historical events impact their lives.
- It is not so very different today. Most people in our culture are familiar with the historical events surrounding the life and death of Jesus. Although they have been emptied of much of their theological content, the events of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are widely celebrated in this country and through those celebrations, the majority of Americans have become familiar at least with the general story line of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nonetheless, many of those who are familiar with the historical events fail to comprehend the theological and existential significance of them.
38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth…” The Greek word is χρίω (I annoint). This is where the word Christ comes from (meaning annointed one) it is a direct translation of the Hebrew word Messiah and you may recall that this is one of the titles used for the King of Israel. Notice how this works. The operative agent in this annointing is God. The people didn’t annoint Jesus as King, a prophet didn’t annoint Jesus as King, it was God Himself who annointed Jesus as King of His kingdom with the Holy Spirit and with power. But notice what Jesus did with this power: unlike earthly kings who use their power to dominate and oppress their subjects (e.g., Caesar), Jesus used His power to heal and resore all who were under the oppression and domination of the devil. Rather than an oppressor, Jesus is a liberator.
39: “they put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree…” the cross is always an element of the apostolic gospel. It is the cross that is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. It is at the cross where Jesus’ life was given as a ransom for sinful man. it is at the cross where God’s wrath and justice coalesce with His love and mercy.
- “but God raised Him on the third day…” likewise, the resurrection of Jesus is always a central element of the apostolic gospel.
- “who ate and drank with Him…” This was a bodily resurrection. Jesus was not and is not a disembodied Spirit; He had a material body.
- “preach to the people”: the function of the apostles was to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God to the people.
- “testify that He has been appointed by God to be judge of the loving and the dead” (cf. Dan 7:13-14). This is one of the basic elements of the gospel that is so frequently omitted by Christians today. We don’t want to talk about a coming judgment because that just sounds too… judgmental… to harsh. I think it is tempting to distance ourselves from terms like judgment and sin for two reasons:
- 1) Because the church broadly has a reputation for being judgmental and we certainly want to distance ourselves from that.
- 2) Because words like judgment and sin can be offensive and they just don’t sound very loving.
- Although I sympathize with those ideas, if we omit the coming judgment of Christ from the gospel, we find ourselves on a genuine slippery slope, and a short one at that.
- Example: Conversation with PhD theologian.
- Talking about tendency in the church to pick certain pet sins like homosexuality. Leader in a large urban church, heavy emphasis on outreach and being seeker-sensitive. They don’t talk about sin because that is unloving. They simply preach the love of God and the gospel. A homosexual couple that were two of the most committed followers of Christ in his church.
- Is it loving to edit out large sections of Scripture because they might offend someone? Is it loving to edit the gospel, to make it less demanding and thus more appealing to the masses? This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In the cost of discipleship he wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (47).
- All of us have different forms of sin in our lives and all of these sins are equally heinous before a holy God. But the gospel never leaves us where we are. It always changes us, and leads us into a deeper union with a God who loves us too deeply to leave oppressed by an in bondage to sin.
- All of this is supported by Scripture
- Everyone who believes receives forgiveness of sins through His name
- “believes” (πιστεύω – to trust oneself in someone or something to complete confidence.
- this is the invitation
This is the way the gospel was presented by the apostles. Tragically, however, this is not the gospel that is proclaimed in many quarters of the church today. Just as there were competing false gospels in Peter’s day, so there are competing false gospels in our time. Perhaps this is due to a desire to make the gospel less offensive or more palatable to the world. It is one thing to contextualize the message of the gospel for a new culture, it quite another to relativize it to my culture or philosophy and thereby transform it into something altogether different; something devoid of power.
Here are a few of the false gospels I am familiar with, perhaps you have heard others:
- Prosperity gospel: health and wealth gospel. Your best life now… This false gospel has been fabricated to suit our cultural preoccupation with materialism and it is rampant today.
- First, materialism is rooted in covetousness, which is idolatry (Eph 5:5, Col 3:7). The prosperity gospel is an idolatrous gospel.
- Second, the kingdom is not entered through comfort but through tribulation and suffering (Ac 14:22).
- Third, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Lk 9:57-58). The truth is, as followers of Christ, we are not promised material comforts but persecution.
- Constantinian gospel: a slight modification to the gospel of Rome. Not only do the Roman mythological gods support the agenda of the empire, but Jesus does too. This is easily seen today in the American Evangelical church’s preoccupation with politics, whether it be on the left or the right. At best, this is a misled attempt to bring about the kingdom of God by the power of the state; at worst it is simply a claim of mythic support for one particular political agenda.
- Problem: the Bible shows no interest in transforming the state but in creating an alternative social reality.
- Social gospel: focused on the transformation of society and culture – social justice.
- Problem: social justice is important, but social justice is a natural byproduct of a community of Jesus followers who are living out the implications of the gospel, it is not the gospel itself.
- The gospel of good deeds: summed up in this quote frequently and errantly attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” That sounds good doesn’t it? Just go love people and they will see the gospel in your life?
- Problem: this is utter nonsense. There is no gospel without words. What is the difference between philanthropy and Christian charity? Simply this: the latter is done explicitly in the name of Jesus. Really just another version of the social gospel.
- Four spiritual laws: particularly insidious because it is so close, yet it has the potential to be very misleading.
- God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
- What a coincidence, I love me and I have a wonderful plan for my life!
- God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.
- Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
- We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord;
then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.
- We Receive Christ Through Personal Invitation: repeat this prayer after me.
- Problem: the gospel is not about you and your life, it is about Jesus Christ and His kingdom. And His kingdom is not entered by simply repeating a prayer but through faith in Jesus.
Gal 1:6-9: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Characteristic of these false gospels: anthropocentric
Characteristics of the apostolic gospel: Christocentric
- Jesus Messiah is Lord of all
- Jesus was put to death by being hanged on a tree
- God raised Jesus on the third day
- Jesus has been appointed by God to judge the living and the dead
- Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name, just as the Scriptures say.