“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Acts 13:48,49)
Before getting into the point of this blog, I think it’s important to unpack these 2 verses a bit.
I’d like to do that by making some statements and asking some questions:
- The Gentiles had, most likely by word of mouth heard something different, something they had not heard before, and did not have a context for. Why was the ‘whole city’ gathered at the synagogue? I can only assume that they (the gentiles) had heard previous Sabbath gathering messages and encouraged other gentiles to come and listen. I am very curious to know what gentiles were doing at the synagogue anyway? (If you have an idea, leave it in the comment section)
- The gospel was understood by the Jews, but rejected. Makes me wonder how the gospel message changed when the audience switched from mixed crowds to those comprised mostly of gentiles.
- ‘Word’ or ‘Logos’ in this passage seems to be synonymous with ‘Gospel.’
- They ‘believed’ the message. How did those delivering the message know that ‘they believed?’
If you have a comment to any of these, please use the comment section below.
When we look at how the Gospel was presented to a specifically Jewish audience vs. how it was presented to mixed audiences or specifically gentile audiences, we see ‘different versions’ of it. Perhaps ‘different versions’ isn’t quite the most accurate way to say that. What I believe we see, as the gospel is communicated to various groups in various ways under various circumstances, is the ‘filling in’ of holes, the correction of false assumptions, and the outright rebuke of counter or false gospels.
In the verses above, the immediate context in verses 14-41 is critical.
14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.”
16 So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said, “Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, (Deuteronomy 7:1) he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’ 23 From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24 Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’
26 Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ (Psalm 2:7) 34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ (Isaiah 55:3) 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ (Psalm 16:10) 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you.’” (Habakkuk 1:5)
One thing that has been tough to pin down is an example of a gospel communication event in the New Testament that was targeted towards a purely Gentile audience. There are very few of us who know anything other than presenting the gospel to purely gentiles audiences.
But, is our gospel too Gentile-ish?
Much of the criticism of today’s evangelism centers around it being too salvation focused. Scot McKnight calls those who have placed an overemphasis on the salvation aspect of the Gospel “Soterians.” Scot’s basic premise is that the plan of salvation is not the principle message of the Gospel. He says in his book The King Jesus Gospel,
“We have succumbed to the Plan of Salvation gospel, in a reduced soterian form, as the one and only gospel.”*
Exactly how much of the Gospel is needed for a person to receive Christ?
Scot also says;
The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story. Just as we dare not diminish the importance of this Story if we wish to grasp the gospel, so also with the saving effects of the story. But equating the Plan of Salvation with either the Story of Israel or the Story of Jesus distorts the gospel and at times even ruins the Story.**
I have seen hundreds, yes hundreds… of story ruiners. Likewise I have seen many instances where the shortest and most poignant Gospel presentations have had life changing results. I remember sharing the Gospel with a woman who knew nothing of the Gospel moments before her death. Her last words spoken with severe injuries and collapsed lung were “Jesus save me, Jesus save me, Jesus save me.” I still think about it, and recognize that it was a unique situation. Does it justify the use of quick and dirty gospel delivery systems? No, but it doesn’t necessarily negate them either.
I also remember ‘canvasing’ a community with the Gospel where 6 of the people spoken to were killed the next day in a bus accident. Situations like these tend to redefine ‘urgency’ as commonly understood amongst those who go on mission trips, street ministers, and the like. Ultimately, and while ‘the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation’ (Romans 1:16), these methods can be arrogant, insincere, and shoddy attempts at self-glory. Further, it tends to make you want to be the one who harvests, seals the deal, or ;beings it home.’
What ever happened to just planting seeds?
In almost every case where the Gospel is presented in the NT, we find either Jews, Non-Jewish Gentile proselytes, or those gentiles that have at least a basic understanding, ‘an open door context’ if you will, by which they can begin to understand the Gospel message. In my years on the mission field, I have encountered numerous people who have had no prior knowledge of God, Jesus, or His Gospel. In dealing with those folks I have learned that overarching concepts of grace and peace, the character and nature of God, and inner convictions are much more effective than recounting the entire story of Israel and her development as ‘The people of God.’
I’d like to propose that in most of our contexts today, in dealing with people who have never really heard the Gospel, the story of Israel, Old Testament history lessons, doctrinal development, or other complex historical backdrops are unnecessary. I know I have seen people come to faith with no mention of Israel or anything that predated Christ’s coming, living, dying, and resurrection.
Does it mean that providing that context is always unnecessary? No. I’d be overstepping and end up contradicting the point I’d like to make after all of this. Namely, that the Gospel is fluid and expansive. The message doesn’t change, it envelops. The gospel consistently and persistently presented over time prevails. (Acts 6:7, Acts 12:24, Acts 13:12, Acts 19:10, Acts 19:20, Isaiah 55:11)
Our task as ones who would seek to share the good news with others is to be well lived in it; but even an inexperienced and choppy relaying of it, as long as it holds true to God’s revelation, is effective because “it is the power of God unto salvation.” Yes, even a bumbling idiot can communicate the gospel and get results because it is not our power that brings others to faith. It’s God’s. That doesn’t, however, excuse us to be ill-prepared or over reliant on form. Methodology never saved anyone. The messenger and His message do.
If you want to learn a method, learn 20. Never allow yourself to be driven by your script as opposed to being moved by the Spirit. Don’t insist that others listen until you’re done talking, or think that life interruptions are ‘attacks of the devil.’ Be disposed to say “I don’t know,” and return again to eat together and talk further. If you’re on a mission trip, realize and embrace the idea that God doesn’t have to work within your itinerary to bring someone to Himself.
Can’t we just get them the rest of the story after they get saved?
There might be some merit to that idea, but when ‘getting them saved’ as opposed to making them disciples becomes the primary goal, you get all sorts of weirdness and very little steadfastness.
I suppose there are two extremes here. The first is to so shorten the Gospel message that it inoculates people against further openness, breeds error, or creates false converts, and the second is that it is made so complex that it requires a bible degree to share it, postpones a soul in need, and might well jeopardize someone’s eternal state. (Another blog post)
I’d appreciate your thoughts on any of the questions I asked in this post or related matters in the comment section.
*McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 145). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
**McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 37). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.