If the Gospel is not an appeal to “choose Jesus,” as I proposed last week, what is it? I am going to propose this week that, in the Bible, it is an announcement or a proclamation.
It is interesting that as one reads through the book of Acts there is no initial appeal to believe in the sermons that are recorded. Read Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and later before the Sanhedrin in both Acts 4 and 5; Stephen’s sermon to the Council as he was martyred in Acts 7; Phillip’s sermon to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8; Jesus’ “sermon” to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9; and Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles in the living room of Cornelius in Acts 10; and Paul’s sermons on his missionary journeys.
Notice these were all announcements or proclamations, not appeals. Any directive at all was either a warning, as Paul’s at Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13, or an answer to a question–his answer to the Jews at Pentecost (“What shall we do?”) and to the Philippian jailor (“What must I do to be saved?”), but these answers were not appeals.
What were the disciples announcing? They were announcing the “good news,” the gospel! There are three parts to this announcement.
1) An announcement as to who Jesus is
The first aspect of the announcement of the gospel is who Jesus is and what He has done. This is typical of the gospel as proclaimed in the above verses to the Jews: “Jesus is the one of whom the prophets spoke, the Messiah, the Savior. He proved to be such by miracles, signs and wonders. God, who delivered Him up to death by your wicked hands, has gloriously raised him from the dead, has exalted Him to His right hand in power, and made Him both Lord and Christ.”
Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17 was basically the same, though tailored for Gentiles—“Jesus is the creator and judge of all the earth, affirmed as such by His resurrection. Therefore God is calling all men to repent and believe in Him to avoid the coming judgment.” There was not an arms-length discussion about the validity of the virgin birth, proof of the resurrection, the authority of the Bible, the reality of Hell, a personal devil, etc. There was not a discussion about belief in Jesus being a more logical, reasonable choice than unbelief. There was simply a proclamation about who Jesus is, what He did, and what He will do, with the implied conclusion, “Be afraid; be very afraid!”
2) An announcement as to who we are
Who we really are in our hearts is the second aspect of the announcement of the gospel. This often infuriated those who heard it, as is still the case today. The flesh, striving so hard to be good by being obedient to the law, does not want to hear that it is not good. This announcement will invariably draw a line between those who genuinely recognize their depravity and those to whom depravity is a theological idea only, and it may be dangerous to do so. You may lose a friend, a congregation, your reputation, or, as in the case of Stephen, maybe even your life. Typical announcements as to who we really are in Acts are phrases like “whom you took with wicked hands and killed,” “whom you murdered,” “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” etc. The response to this announcement as to who we are is always one of two options (and only two)—resistance or repentance.
I am not talking about the response to seeing my sin as an abstract, arms-length idea that I can decide to believe or not, like a conclusion to which I might arrive as a result of an experiment in the chemistry laboratory. There is nothing really infuriating about that. Certainly I am a sinner, as all Christians understand. The Pharisees all knew that they were all sinners—that’s what the sacrificial system in which they were so involved was all about–but in their minds they were sure that God had chosen to save them anyway because they were privileged, upright Jews who kept the law meticulously. But I am speaking of the response to having to face what I have done in a specific situation.
The announcement proclaimed to the Jews was that they had killed Jesus, the Messiah whom God had sent, just as surely as had the Roman soldiers, and they didn’t like hearing that. Sin is acceptable if it is a theological concept, but I, a real live, down and dirty sinner in a specific situation? I don’t like that and I will do everything possible to avoid facing it, even killing! Is that not what Jesus says we do when we get angry with a brother (Matthew 5:22)?
So, am I really any different than the Pharisees when I resist the announcement that exposes my heart as deceitful and desperately wicked, and I can’t even fully know the depths of the sin that is in it (Jeremiah 17:9)?
How different is the response of repentance, the response of the tax-collector in Jesus’ parable—“Oh Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” I have nothing to say. All that you say of me is true and it’s even worse than you know. How can I defend myself, how can I excuse myself, how can I blame others?
I have nothing to say but to repeat with Isaiah, Job, Peter and others all through the Scripture when their true state is proclaimed and that proclamation is heard with spiritual ears—“Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5); “I abhor myself and repent in sackcloth and ashes” (Job 42:6); “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, Oh Lord” (Luke 5:8). Those are the words of true repentance.
3) An announcement as to how we relate to him
The third aspect of this announcement is how I relate to God—only by grace through faith. Ladder thinking is over. The cross has taken its place. That is the meaning of the Christmas season. Christ has come “announcing peace, good will to men.”
It is an announcement. Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief, not by empowering me to save myself by mustering up the faith to exercise my free will to choose to believe. When the announcement is heard with spiritual ears, two things are automatically believed, without a choice, without a decision, without any effort whatsoever. I see and believe both 1) and 2) above! I see that Jesus loves me, wicked sinner though I am, and He decided (chose, exercised His free will—the prerogative of God, the Judge) to save me. It is finished, case closed. Now my life consists of continuing to believe and doggedly hold to 1) and 2) by faith, on a daily basis—who Jesus is and what He has done, and who I am.
“What must we do to work the works of God?,” the people asked Jesus in John 6:28. This is the #1 question asked by all ladder-climbers. “How can I be good? How can I please God by what I do?” Jesus’ answer in John 6: 39 was profound—“This is the work of God (the only one!): believe on Him whom He has sent.”
Therefore, Jesus’ answer to me today is the same: “Robert, you can’t do anything on your own.” I can believe, trust, walk by faith, only as God opens my eyes. “It is finished,” said Jesus on the cross. There is nothing left for me to do, but every day I can’t wait to see what He will do—naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously—through me!