In Acts 2, Peter ‘focused on Christ and told his story in six stages.’
- ‘he was a man, though divinely attested by miracles;
- he was put to death by wicked hands, though according to God’s purpose;
- he was raised from the dead, as the prophets had foretold and the apostles had witnessed;
- he was exalted to God’s right hand, and from there poured out the Spirit;
- he now gives forgiveness and the Spirit to all who repent, believe and are baptized; and
- he thus adds them to his new community.’
But how can we today remain faithful to this apostolic gospel, while communicating it effectively with modern men and women?
John Stott suggests that what might be called a ‘gospel quadrilateral’ (not his expression) emerges:-
1. Gospel events – Christ’s death and resurrection.
‘It is true that Peter referred to Jesus’ life and ministry (v22) and went on to his exaltation (v33), and elsewhere to his return as judge. The apostles felt free to rehearse his whole saving career. Yet they concentrated on the cross and the resurrection (v23–24), both as historical happenings and as significant saving events. Although a full doctrine of the atonement is not yet developed, it is already implied by the references to God’s purpose (v23), to the suffering servant passages (Acts 3:13, 18), and to the ‘tree’, the place of the divine curse (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). The resurrection had saving significance too, since by it God reversed the human verdict on Jesus, snatched him from the place of a curse and exalted him to the place of honour.’
These gospel events are attested by
2. Gospel witnesses – prophets and apostles.
‘The apostles did not proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus in a vacuum, but in the context of Scripture and history. They appealed to a twofold evidence to authenticate Jesus, so that in the mouth of two witnesses the truth might be established. The first was the Old Testament Scriptures, which he fulfilled. In Acts 2 Peter appeals to Psalm 16, Psalm 110 and Joel 2 in order to illuminate his teaching about Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation and gift of the Spirit. The second was the testimony of the apostles. ‘We are witnesses’, Peter kept repeating (e.g. Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39ff.), and this eyewitness experience was indispensable to the apostolate. Thus the one Christ has a double attestation. We have no liberty to preach a Christ of our own fantasy, or even to focus on our own experience, since we were not eyewitnesses of the historical Jesus. Our responsibility is to preach the authentic Christ of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The primary witnesses to him are the prophets and apostles; ours is always secondary to theirs.’
On the basis of this witness God makes two
3. Gospel promises – forgiveness and the Spirit.
‘The gospel is good news not only of what Jesus did (he died for our sins and was raised, according to the Scriptures) but also of what he offers as a result. He promises to those who respond to him both the forgiveness of sins (to wipe out the past) and the gift of the Spirit (to make us new people). Together these constitute the freedom for which many are searching, freedom from guilt, defilement, judgment and self-centredness, and freedom to be the persons God made and meant us to be. Forgiveness and the Spirit comprise ‘salvation’, and both are publicly signified in baptism, namely the washing away of sin and the outpouring of the Spirit.’
These promises are made on two
4. Gospel conditions – repentance and faith, with baptism.
‘Jesus Christ does not impose his gifts upon us unconditionally. What the gospel demands is a radical turn from sin to Christ, which takes the form inwardly of repentance and faith, and outwardly of baptism. For submission to baptism in the name of the Christ we have formerly repudiated gives public evidence of penitent faith in him. Additionally, by this same repentance, faith and baptism we change allegiance, as we are transferred into the new community of Jesus.
‘We have no liberty to amputate this apostolic gospel, by proclaiming the cross without the resurrection, or referring to the New Testament but not the Old, or offering forgiveness without the Spirit, or demanding faith without repentance. There is a wholeness about the biblical gospel.
‘It is not enough to ‘proclaim Jesus’. For there are many different Jesuses being presented today. According to the New Testament gospel, however, he is
- historical (he really lived, died rose and ascended in the arena of history),
- theological (his life, death, resurrection and ascension all have saving significance) and
- contemporary (he lives and reigns to bestow salvation on those who respond to him).
Thus the apostles told the same story of Jesus at three levels—as historical event (witnessed by their own eyes), as having theological significance (interpreted by the Scriptures), and as contemporary message (confronting men and women with the necessity of decision).
We have the same responsibility today to tell the story of Jesus as fact, doctrine and gospel.’
Stott, The Message of Acts (emphasis and formatting added)