Are We Preaching the Apostolic Gospel?

What is the apostolic gospel?  I suggest it is the good news that was proclaimed by the apostles of Jesus in the first century.  The word "apostle" comes from the Greek meaning "sent one."   The apostles were the messengers chosen and sent by Jesus to proclaim the message of good news. 

I received much of my inspiration for this study from Scott McKnight's excellent book, "The King Jesus Gospel." I highly recommend his book for further study.

We can get a glimpse into what the apostles proclaimed by reading their sermons as recorded by Luke the physician in the book of Acts in the New Testament.  According to many scholars this book was written around AD 63.  It is a companion volume to Luke’s gospel, and it describes the development of Christianity in the first 30 years of its existence.   Dr. Luke focuses on the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas into present day Turkey and Greece, as they carried the good news of God’s Kingdom to the Jewish synagogues and to the interested Gentiles in those areas.

There are 20 preaching messages recorded in the book of Acts.  These messages were presented to Jewish audiences and Gentile audiences.  These messages were not presented to believers. While the epistles in the New Testament contain instructions for people who are already believers in Jesus the Messiah, the book of Acts uniquely contains the earliest sermons preached to non-believers.

I thought it would be interesting to analyze these texts and to see what the major themes were in these messages.  Then we can compare our own presentation of the gospel in 21st century America and see how the two messages differ.

Here is a summary of the texts, who was speaking, and to whom the message was addressed:

  • Acts 2:14-36, Peter to the assembled Jewish worshippers at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 3:12-26, Peter to the Jewish worshippers in the Jerusalem temple, following the healing of the lame man.
  • Acts 4:8-12, Peter speaking to the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 5:30-32, Peter speaking to the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 7:2-53, Stephen speaking to the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 8:12, Philip preaching to the Samaritans in Samaria.
  • Acts 8:27-39, Philip sharing with the Ethiopian eunuch along the road.
  • Acts 9:20, Paul preaching in the synagogues in Damascus, Syria.
  • Acts 10:34-43, Peter speaking to a group of Gentiles at Cornelius’ home in Caesarea.
  • Acts 13:17-41, Paul to the Jewish synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia.
  • Acts 14:8-18, Paul and Barnabas to the people of Lystra.
  • Acts 17:3, Paul to the Jewish people in the synagogue at Thessalonica.
  • Acts 17:17-31, Paul to the gentiles in Athens.
  • Acts 20:20-21, Paul recounts his preaching to the Ephesian elders at Miletus.
  • Acts 22:1-21, Paul to the Jewish people at the temple in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 23:1-6, Paul to the Jerusalem council of high priests.
  • Acts 24:10-21, Paul speaking before Governor Felix.
  • Acts 24:25, Paul speaking to the Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla.
  • Acts 26:2-23, Paul speaking to King Felix and Governor Festus.
  • Acts 28:23-28, Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome.
So what are the common themes found in these 20 messages?
I have listed the themes in their frequency of occurrence.  I did not consider something a theme unless it appears in at least three of the twenty messages.  Here they are:
  1. God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that He is the Messiah. (10x) 
  2. God has exalted Jesus and made him Lord and Messiah. (8x) 
  3. Jesus is the promised Messiah, foretold by Scripture. (8x) 
  4. Forgiveness of sins comes through believing in Jesus. (7x) 
  5. The religious leaders put Jesus to death by crucifying him. (7x) 
  6. God commands people to repent of sin and turn to Him. (6x) 
  7. The Old Testament Scriptures predict that the Messiah must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. (5x) 
  8. God’s Kingdom has come to the earth through the work of Jesus. (5x) 
  9. Salvation (healing from sickness and deliverance from demons) comes through Jesus. (4x) 
  10. Jesus was vindicated by God through the signs and wonders he performed. (3x) 
  11. When people believe in Jesus they receive the Holy Spirit. (3x)   
I find it striking that there is no mention of any of these things in the gospel preaching in the book of Acts:

  •           No mention of Hell or eternal punishment
  •         No mention of Heaven or life after death with God in Heaven
  •          No mention of the Divinity of Christ
  •          No mention of the wrath of God
  •          No mention of the wrath of God being poured out on Jesus at the cross
  •          No mention of Jesus bearing our sins or sicknesses on the cross
  •          No mention of the defeat of satan at the cross
  •          No mention of the believer’s position in Christ
  •          No mention of righteousness set to our account when we believe
  •          No mention of having a personal relationship with God
  •          No mention of The virgin birth
  •          No mention of Mary the mother of Jesus
  •          No mention of a second coming of Jesus to earth [note: this is spoken of by the angels to the apostles in Acts 1, but never again mentioned in any of the preaching in the book of Acts]

These missing themes are touched on in the four gospels and in the epistles, but it is interesting that in the earliest recorded Christian sermons, there is no mention of any of these.   Just to clarify, although the concept of the punishment of the wicked in hell is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Acts, there is the proclamation that God has made Jesus the judge of all humanity and there is coming a day in which Jesus will judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).   

The gospel message as recorded in the book of Acts brought explosive growth to the church.  Multitudes of Jewish and Gentile people became believers in Jesus as Lord and were added to small communities of faith meeting in homes throughout the Roman empire.

Here is my summary of the apostolic gospel message from the book of Acts:

God vindicated Jesus of Nazereth by performing signs and wonders through his life.  The religious leaders killed Jesus by crucifying him.  God raised Jesus from the dead to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah - the Anointed One of God.  Jesus' death and resurrection were predicted by the Old Testament prophets.

God has now exalted Jesus to his right hand in heaven and has made him Lord of all.  God's Kingdom has come to earth.  God commands all people everywhere to turn away from their sins and to believe that Jesus is Lord of all.  When people do this they receive forgiveness of their sins, healing of their bodies, the empowering presence of God's Holy Spirit in their lives and freedom from demons. 

That's a pretty simple message, but a very powerful one.  Let's examine where we may have strayed from the simplicity and power of this apostolic gospel.  Father help us to grow in  our understanding of the gospel and in our ability to faithfully live and proclaim this message to all those who are hungry for truth.


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