Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Core of the Gospel 1

The story of Jesus is "good news."  It is the "gospel" that God has enthroned Jesus as king of the universe.  A gospel in the time of the New Testament was extraordinary news, like the birth of a successor to the throne or a key military victory. In the preaching of Jesus, the image of "preaching the gospel" may have pointed directly at Isaiah 52:7 and the good news that God was restoring his people after a time of captivity. [1]

The sermons of Acts are all encapsulations of the good news as well, and almost all of them climax with the fact that God has raised Jesus from the dead and enthroned him as king of everything. [2]  They are all very similar, which probably shows that they are as much the handiwork of Luke as word-for-word transcripts of exactly what was said on each occasion. [3] But they nevertheless give us a clear picture of the earliest preaching of the church. [4]

The sermons of Acts almost all have a roughly similar outline. [5]  First, God had foretold his plan in the prophets of Scripture. He was now making it happen through Jesus of Nazareth. The people of Jerusalem had put him to death, but God had raised him from the dead. The resurrection is the climax of all the sermons in Acts but Stephen's. God installed him as king of everything and has now sent out his Spirit. In response, everyone should repent, be baptized, and they will receive the Holy Spirit...

[1] See Ken Schenck, Jesus: The Mission (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013), 22-23.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 for another narrative encapsulation of the gospel.

[3] We know from the Greek historian Thucydides that it was perfectly acceptable for a historian to compose speeches that fit the occasion about which they were writing (cf. History of the Pelopponesian War, 2.97.4). The sermon of Acts 2 gives us a hint of Luke's handiwork in that Peter seems to quote Psalm 16 from the Greek version, while Peter would have spoken Aramaic on the Day of Pentecost. Compare Acts 2:26 with Psalm 16:9.

[4] A classic here is C. H. Dodd's, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet, 1952).  You can read it for free online here.  I studied under Dunn who studied under Moule who studied under Dodd.  This basic gospel preaching is sometimes called the "kerygma."

[5] Arguably Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 would have ended up similarly, but he gets stoned before he finishes.


Anonymous said...

Whoa! (Sorry, that was a slip from my race horse days. Will you forgive me?). Although his 'official' sermon was interrupted for a moment due to his being moved to a new location and attacked, it seems Stephen goes one better at the end of his sermon. He covers the resurrection when he, full of the Holy Spirit, looks up at heaven and says, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." And then he goes one better by asking Jesus to receive his spirit. But a new worship style may have started when he, while being stoned, fell on his knees, and then cried out: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." With those words Stephen completed his mission on earth, and God brought him home.
It seems to me that the good news of the gospel is in the message and act of forgiveness. It seems, in my mind, that "You love because I first loved you" could also be said, "You forgive because I first forgave you." Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection would mean nothing if it had not been from a God who had emptied Himself of His glory and then spoke, while he hung naked on a cross, and forgave mankind for his rebellion. Stephen's words and death are seen evidence of the spiritual truth that God's words and works always go together. Jesus was fully sinless human and fully God. Christians are fully redeemed human and fully God-filled. Stephen, in his combined words and death, gave glorious evidence for the incarnate Christ. Thus he was hated.
Everyone knows the truth about God by seeing what He has made (Romans 1:20 paraphrased). Therefore, as Romans 1:18-19 explains, if we deny knowing the truth, it is only because we have purposefully suppressed the truth in a choice to be wicked. It is understandable, then, that the howling mob covered their ears as they rushed at Stephen. Because faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of God. They did not have faith because they did not want it.
Sorry, some of that is off the subject. I got excited. I don't have anyone to talk to like this about the Bible. It's difficult to find Christians who are provoked into worshiping and serving the Word. Many, instead, are offended or frightened by Biblical thoughts that seem at all different than what they have been taught by rote by other people. It makes me sad.

Ken Schenck said...