An Unpopular Gospel
By Stephen Jones, Student Ministries Advisory Team Leader
“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”
WHAT teaching, exactly?
If you read the last post in this series, you might recall reading about the common threads found in all of Peter’s messages delivered after the Day of Pentecost– how Peter emphasized the sins of the people, the sacrifice and resurrection of the Savior, and the single path to salvation, and how all the apostles spoke with a specific message.
You might also remember the responses of the people who heard the apostolic messages. The crowds who gathered outside the Pentecostal worship service were “cut to the heart,” repented of their sins, and launched the very First Church of Jerusalem with more than three thousand people. Oppositely, while the religious leaders in the temple who interrogated Peter and John were equally convicted by Peter’s words, their response to the message was to double-down in their own doubt.
Isn’t it amazing to see such a different response to the same teaching? How the Good News was life-transforming for some and completely offensive to others? How entire households were won for the Kingdom in a single decision (Acts 16:31-34), while other communities roundly rejected their teaching? (cp. Acts 13:44-52) How even though the “whole world had gone after Jesus” (John 12:18-20), for others the Good News was quite an unpopular Gospel?
Interestingly enough, it was indeed a both-and kind of message. The Gospel was both life transforming and unpopular and for all the same reasons. Consider the primary talking points of the apostles’ teaching.
- You have sinned.
“In each circumstance, on every occasion, Peter took the opportunity to boldly remind the people of how Jesus had been innocent, attested to them by God with miracles and wonders and they still chose to execute Him. On every occasion, once-timid Peter detailed how they had chosen a murderer in place of Jesus, how they had turned one of their own over to the Roman authorities to be nailed to a cross, how they had rejected the true Servant of the Living God. He was frighteningly sharp with his indictments of both laypeople and the religious leaders. There could be no doubt—every single person stood under judgment on the basis of how they responded to Christ.”
There is tremendous freedom that comes from acknowledging our failures. Being confronted with the truth often opens the door for reconciliation, for peace, and for course-correction. The crowds gathered in the temple and on the street, heard the truth, felt the weight of their poor choices, and repented of their errors.
Yet, when was the last time you wanted to be shown your mistakes?
How often do you enjoy being corrected or found to be completely wrong?
When Peter indicted the religious leaders for their complicity in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution, they became defensive. “You nailed Him to a cross,” Peter said, perhaps even with a finger pointed in their faces. Imagine their response. No one likes having their mistakes pointed out. No one wants to be corrected or disciplined.
“You asked for a murderer,” Peter reminded them. Imagine their response. No one likes to be told they’ve chosen poorly. No one wants to admit they’ve put their hope in a failure. No one likes to be wrong.
- God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
“The core of the Gospel message was that even though Jesus had been crucified, He was no longer dead or laying in a tomb. The central focus of EVERY SINGLE SERMON was that Jesus was alive and well, that God had raised Him from the dead, and that the apostles were all witnesses of His resurrection. Whether the audience was a group of on-lookers in the temple courts or the temple leaders themselves, there was no ambiguity or hesitation. Jesus was alive! Moreover, by virtue of His perfect life, sacrificial death, and documented resurrection, God has made Him Lord and Savior over all humanity and the created order. The man who had once been attested by God (by His miracles) to be an authoritative teacher had now been validated and verified to be the Son of God by His resurrection!”
Death is the great equalizer, the final enemy to be overcome. The news that a Savior has come, who has defeated death and risen again to life, is unbelievable news—a sure sign that nothing is impossible for those who follow that Savior!
Oppositely, life has trained many of us to be skeptical, to be cynical, and to place more faith in our own experiences than the reports of eyewitnesses who have seen otherwise. It’s far too easy to dismiss the incredible in favor of the predictable. No one wants to be taken for a fool. Dead people don’t just rise from the dead.
- Salvation is found only in His name.
“Despite the bold, finger-pointed truth of Peter’s indictment, he still offered to every single crowd a tremendous hope of forgiveness and restoration. In a historic, unprecedented, and wonderful irony, the man whom they had turned over to Pilate for execution was the very same man in whom they would find forgiveness—not only for their rejection of Him, but also for every single mistake they had ever made against anyone else, and every way they had ever rejected God and His commands, both past, present and forevermore. No other name, no other god could offer clean-slate forgiveness like the One they had rejected. …and there was no wait-list, no probationary period, no reason to delay accepting that free gift He offered.”
With the tremendous diversity of religious ideas floating in the ether, there is a comforting sense of security in an absolute truth. For those who desire clarity and want a logically-coherent time-tested faith, Peter’s assertion that Jesus is the only way to the Father leaves no room for confusion or uncertainty. Even if you don’t believe him, you don’t have to wonder where he stands on the issue.
However, the rebellious, self-starter in me refuses to settle for only one option, one path, and one answer. The willful, stubborn side of me will look for every other imaginable solution when someone says, “There’s only one way.” Too often the creative, manipulative, self-assured qualities in many of us look for other answers to our own brokenness. We’d rather spend our energy proving ourselves right, than humbly admitting we’re wrong. That’s the opposite of the apostles’ teaching.
While we’re looking at a different perspective, the unpopular Gospel, do we really believe that faith in the name of Jesus brings healing? As it relates to our own health, are we more often found searching for cures than pursuing the promises of scripture?
Are we convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus will one day return? Are we living in such a way that we expect His imminent return, or are we operating as though tomorrow has been guaranteed for us? Is there any fear in us that we will be punished for our wickedness on the day of judgment? Can it be said that our lifestyles align with our profession of faith, or have we grown comfortable conforming to this current culture?
All those ideas were key themes in the messages delivered by Peter and the other apostles– salvation, resurrection, healing, the Second Coming of Christ, judgment. All of those messages came with diametrically opposite responses from their audiences—enthusiastic repentance and vehement resistance. Such contrasting responses demonstrate how the Gospel is both a stumbling block and the chief cornerstone. Considering the apostles’ teaching from both perspectives opens the door for us to inspect our own responses.
Haven’t we all made the same choices? Haven’t we rejected Jesus, and chosen broken cisterns that can hold no water? Haven’t we chosen the foolish, corrupt elements of this world to find salvation, hope, pleasure, and peace instead of choosing Christ? Is that a form of rejecting Him?
Haven’t we doubted the resurrection and the power that raised Christ from the dead? Have we ever lacked the faith to pray for healing, for deliverance, for restoration? Is that a form of doubting the resurrection?
Haven’t we searched for salvation in a hundred other places? Have we devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching? Are there areas in our lives where we’ve chosen to reject or ignore the Good News for something easier, something more palatable, something less demanding?
WHAT teaching, exactly?
Peter’s first sermon
- “Jesus of Nazareth…attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs…” (Acts 2:22)
- Jesus of Nazareth… “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death…” (vs 23)
- Jesus of Nazareth… “God raised Him up, putting an end to the agony of death…” (vs 24)
- Jesus of Nazareth…”God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” (vs 32)
- Jesus of Nazareth…”God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (vs 36)
- “Repent and …be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (vs 38)
- “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (vs 40)
Peter’s second sermon
- “The God of Abraham…has glorified His servant Jesus…whom you delivered up…in the presence of Pilate.” (3:13)
- “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer… [and] God raised [Him] from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (3:15)
- “On the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man … and given him perfect health.” (3:16)
- “Repent, … and return that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord… and that He may send Jesus.”
- “Every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed.” (3:23)
- “God raised up His Servant, and sent him to bless you by turning everyone of you from your wicked ways.” (3:26)
- “…by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands before you in good health.” (4:10)
- “He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very cornerstone.” (4:11)
- “And there is salvation in no one else…there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (4:12)
- “And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” (4:33)
Peter’s Temple Teaching
- “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death on a cross…” (5:30)
- “He is the one whom God has exalted to His right hand…” (5:31)
- “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (5:32)
“They kept right on teaching and preaching that Jesus as the Christ.” (5:42)
The apostles appointed seven deacons to serve the widows, so that they might pursue their duty as the stewards of the faith—“It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2-4)
THE UNPOPULAR GOSPEL PRECIPITATED THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST MEGACHURCH.
It wasn’t a three-step strategy with branding, marketing, social media campaigns or events