I have, like many, always been intrigued by the New Testament writings that account for the earliest days of the Jesus Movement - what we could also call ‘the Church.’ Found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts, for short), the writings highlight Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the spreading of The Gospel, and so much more. The entire book from start to finish is an exciting journey that, is still unfolding, if you think about it…
At the time of this writing, I am one week removed from celebrating the opening Sunday of a new church that I pastor, and planted alongside a wonderful team. This new church - Reachway Church - exists because people haven’t stopped believing in the local church and its God-given mission in the world. We realize that Reachway Church falls into the traditions laid out in the book of Acts!
New church, new movement, new thing…and yet, I can’t help but look back at how the first Christians talked, lived, and navigated the world around them.
Now That’s What I Call Good News
The Gospel - also referred to as ‘the good news’ - is the cornerstone of any local church that claims that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah. It also was, as it were, the single most important message that the disciples of Jesus could have ever shared- because it was up to them to get the word out!
If I were to ask you what The Gospel of Jesus Christ was, what would you say? How would you answer that question? If it was up to you to share The Gospel for the first time ever, how would you go about doing it? Where would you begin?
Odds are that if you are reading this, then you’ve heard the good news of Jesus presented in some way, shape, and form. Perhaps you’ve heard it presented in multiple ways. Maybe what you’ve heard before seems a bit ‘diluted’ from…whatever you think it should be. Other times, maybe just plain off, or even uncomfortable to listen to.
The news that Jesus lived, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and what that now means for humanity was not delivered through any media outlet, but from the mouths of bold, convinced, and sold-out men and women who wanted everyone to know that new life [on earth] was now possible. But consider the fact that those earliest message carriers didn’t have the resources that we have today: a Bible (umm hello) and the example of other message givers!
What they did have, however, was actual life experience with Jesus Christ. And it’s for that reason alone that I think we should observe what is going on during the first sharing of The Gospel to shape how we should not only think of the good news, but share it with others as well.
That One Time When 3,000 People Were Baptized
We find the first message given after Jesus ascended into heaven in the fifth book of the New Testament - the Acts of the Apostles. Acts, chapter two, verses fourteen thru forty-one account for the Spirit-filled Gospel presentation of Peter, fresh off of Pentecost. I would encourage you to read it really quick, and then keep reading this post.
If I’m being completely honest, this presentation of The Gospel is unlike most that I have ever heard. A bulk of my listening experiences of ‘good news’ messages in the past have a lot to do with sin and heaven/hell, which Peter barely mentions (in fact, he doesn’t bring in up in the actual message portion).
Allow me to outline, at least, what I’m seeing in the first presentation of The Gospel:
Restating what has been said (v. 16-21, 25-28, 34-35)
Declaring what has happened (v. 22-24, 32-33)
Announcing the now (v. 36)
That’s it. And wouldn’t you know it, about three thousand people got baptized as a result!
A Gospel Proclaimed
I would contend that what differentiates Peter’s Gospel presentation from countless presentations I’ve heard over the years (and some I’ve given myself) is his efforts in proclamation. He simply announced what was true about what God had done. End of story.
When you read this portion of Acts, do you quickly feel guilty? Bad? Sorrowful? Or do you feel intrigued, captivated, and compelled to your core?
I believe the original hearers experienced the latter list of emotions, because their response was for more- more of this good news- when they asked, “What should we do?” (v. 37).
In his book, Faithful Presence (InterVarsity Press, 2016) author David Fitch refers to the proclamation of The Gospel as “description…[where] the proclaimer describes the world as it is under Jesus as Lord and then invites the person into it.”
Proclaiming The Gospel is to declare what has happened, and invite people in to what is now possible.
Persuasion, convincing, evoking of emotions [on purpose] - they all take a back seat to the declaration of what has happened and the announcement of what is now made possible as a result - the old passing away and the new arriving on earth as it is in heaven.
This Good News is also good news to the preacher, the Bible study leader, the light-shining neighbor or co-worker: your task is to simply declare what God has done- through Christ, in the world, and in you. God calls people to Himself.
So go, proclaim. It’s a good enough message.