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What is the Gospel?

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

INTRO

Pop quiz time! 🙂 Take a minute and write out a summary of the Gospel message. Don’t worry, there will be no grades. I’m not going to ask you to share with anyone. And just to defuse any of you who are more like me, I can imagine myself in your seat, with Brad or Paul asking us to do this, and being a little grumpy and eye-roll-ish about it. So lets just get that out of the way. Seriously take a minute and give it some thought. How would you explain the gospel message? You have 60 seconds. Go.

I don’t know about you, but I had a hard time doing this myself. It took me some time to get warmed up and sort through all the dozen things I wanted to say all at once about it. 

My purpose in this is not now to lay out an explanation that I had hours and hours to craft, in order to make you feel insufficient in your answer. I’m just trying to get you to warm up to the idea here. Call it a pre-game stretch.

THE SERIES:

Four the next four weeks we are going to have a short series called “The First Principles”, covering the some of the very basics of what every Christian ought to have down in their hearts and minds in order to be firmly established in the faith. And today we’re beginning at the very ground level. The “101” of the first things: The Gospel message itself. 

Summaries and receptions

Minimalist Christianity – vs. maximalist Christianity. – 

I heard a comment recently, I think it was during a panel session at a conference, that over the past few decades, out of a good-hearted desire to get the church more involved in evangelism, to see the church sort of revive and grow and make mission more accessible and easier to train people in, there was a drive to a “minimalist” Christian message. “What is the minimum set of things a person needs to know in order to be saved?”

And so you have a number of rather popular Gospel tracts or summaries that exist out there to try and “get people saved”, get them to consent to a very minimal number of truths about Jesus, and then pray some sort of prayer to “accept” these things.

But is there a way that the Bible models? That’s what I’d like to look at. There are several very clear Gospel-announcing sermons recorded for us in the book of Acts, to several different kinds of people, and the contents of these, I think, are very instructive for us.  Let’s turn to one of them now, in Acts 10.

As we study these examples given to us, along with the other things said about the Gospel message in the new testament, we find that: The Gospel is an announcement, with a context and a result.

The Biblical Presentation

Several gospel sermons recorded, details vary, but core is the same.

36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 

40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word….  

47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:34–48 (ESV)

THE GOSPEL: ANNOUNCEMENT

Not advice. Not a philosophy. Not an esoteric spiritual principle.

It is news. Good news, in fact. Gospel, most of you know, literally means “good news”.

This passage, and the others like it, show that this news is an announcement about Jesus, who was sent by God to live a perfect life, die in our place, and be raised to through resurrection, so that we can be forgiven of our sins through belief in him. That much is pretty simple. 

THE GOSPEL: CONTEXT

Like all news, the Gospel comes in a context, and that context is important for understanding the news.

Acts 10:37 says “you yourselves know what happened…” They were eye-witnesses, and were aware of the man Jesus from Nazareth who performed miracles, claimed to be God, was executed very publicly by the Romans, and was reported as having come back to life by hundreds of eye witnesses.

1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV)

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was witnessed in real space-time by most people in the region, including especially the Apostles and first believers after his resurrection. It was also predicted & promised by the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It is important to understand that “This thing did not happen in a corner” (as the Apostle Paul put it.) This is not an obscure, made up, myth. This was a public event. As big a spectacle as a presidential election (though far less ridiculous). The historic fact of the claim the Gospel makes is beyond refutation.

Our personal experience and story of how following Jesus has changed our life can be a powerful and compelling thing to help people get to know you and see that this whole thing has affected you personally, positively, and powerfully. But the historic facts and the claim of the eye-witnesses, those things are the proof that the claims of the Gospel are actually true.

There really was a Jesus who really did perform miracles, claimed to be one with the God of the Hebrews, the only God who has ever proved His actual existence.

When a man claims to be God, does helpful miracles in front of multitudes including the healing of an entire town’s sick people, he literally cleared out their hospitals, is killed for that claim of God-hood by professional executioners from one of the most powerful empires in the history of the world, and then comes back from the dead… you should pay attention.

People can ignore your personal story of how great your life now is. 

They cannot ignore the historical facts.

Interestingly and conversely, in our culture, people can and do deny historic facts, but they cannot deny your personal experience, especially if they care about you.

THE GOSPEL: RESULT

Like all important news, the Gospel must be responded to.

[Weird thing about today’s “news” is how little of it is actually relevant and important to our daily life.]

The Gospel is not advice that can be taken in part, or left 

The Gospel announcement contains a command.

The exhortation: a life lived in pursuit of God, through His Word, by the power of His Spirit, in the fellowship of a local gathering fellow believers in a church.

“What should I do to be saved?”

Acts 2:37–38 (ESV)

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • Believe, including public profession
  • Repent & be baptized

When Peter preached this sermon, the church was born. Acts 2:42, which is often seen as a model for the church, was a direct result of Peter’s exhortation. The Gospel results in The Church. The Church is the result of the Gospel. The church is a group of believers who gather together in a family, because of Christ’s command to be baptized, which means, among other things, to publicly identify yourself with a community of Jesus-followers. Jesus also commanded us to obey everything that he taught us, a great deal of which has to do with relationships 

The Gospel is not primarily about “Getting saved” but it is primarily about “Becoming a disciple”. The word disciple means student and follower. We are to become students of Christ’s teachings. Followers of His way of life. We cannot do this alone, and we cannot do this according to our own ideas. 

The Gospel command to repent means a commitment to quit doing things according to our own ideas, and instead learning to do them according to God’s ideas. Baptism means a commitment to quit trying to do life this on our own, but to do these things together with our brothers and sisters. 

And a word of encouragement here. I know how hard, and scary, and awkward, and nerve wrecking it can be to consider the idea of opening our life up to one another. I mean, it’s messy in there! But let me tell you, that in spite of the wreck that I am, and how humbling it is to open that mess up to my fellow brothers and sisters, there is so much freedom in that openness. There is such blessing in really being known. 

And the church is the one safe place on the planet to really be known. After all the very premise of the church is that we are great sinners in need of a great savior!  If that is not the premise of the group of people you are with, then those people are not the church! But I have found Stonebrook, over the course of the last 16 years of living this thing out, to be that safe place, and I commend it to you.

SUMMARY: THE GOSPEL:

The Gospel proclamations recorded in Acts 2:22-39, Acts 10:36-48, Acts 17:16-31 give us a summary something like this:

“As predicted long ago in the Hebrew scriptures, the One True God, creator and ruler of all things, sent Jesus of Nazareth to live a perfect, sinless life as an example to us, to perform miracles to show God’s power, to be killed, and to rise again, and who will eventually return to judge all men for their sin. Those who believe and confess that Jesus is God’s chosen savior and the Lord of all, should repent from their sinful life and be baptized into the fellowship of the church, and will be forgiven their sin and will receive the Holy Spirit.”

How does this square with what you have heard? How was it presented to you at first (if you’ve heard it)? This is one way of putting it, and I know people who would probably want to argue certain phrasings and comma placements, but how about the overall thrust?

Jesus told his disciples, those that believe him, to carry this message forward:

“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I commanded. And truly I am with you until the very end of the age.” Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20)

Quite apart from “figure out the very minimum set of things you should tell people about me so that they’ll get in to heaven”, is The Great Commission, a command to to make disciples, not converts. Instructing them fully in everything Jesus taught. This takes a life time.

Make the Gospel Explicit and central in life and ministry.

The Gospel includes a trajectory toward full obedience to the entire counsel of God. But with the Gospel always as the starting point, foundation, and center of that instruction. 

In the church, in our discussions with our friends, family, children, small groups, We must never assume it, we must always make it explicit, or we will lose it. There is a gravity in our soul toward self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. We must constantly remind each other where we would be without Jesus. Blind and lost, without hope.