What is the Gospel Message According to the Early Christians and to Christians Today?
Table 1: Core Gospel Elements Common to all the Selected Six Pauline and Petrine Passages.
|Passage||Core Gospel Elements|
|1 Cor. 15:3-8||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Christ died (v.4).- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Christ from the dead (v. 4).- Forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ resurrection and name (v. 3). – Apostles are witnesses to the resurrection: Jesus appeared to the living and departed (dead) witnesses, including Cephas (v. 5) and Paul (v. 8).- Reference to external authority, tradition or source: Scriptures and apostolic preaching—handing on from apostles to others (v.3, 4).|
|Acts 2: 14-39||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Jesus is crucified (v. 23, 36)- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Christ from the dead (v.24, 32).- Apostles are witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (v. 32).- Forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (v. 38).- Reference to external authority: Prophets and psalms (v. 16, 25, 29).|
|Acts 5:30-32 (Our Reading is5:27-32)||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Jesus died (v. 30).- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Christ from the dead (v.30)- Forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (v.31).- Witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus: apostles are the witnesses (v.32).- Reference to external authority: Jewish ancestors and the preaching of other apostles that Peter references in his speech (v. 30, 32).|
|Acts 10:34-43||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Jesus was crucified (v. 39).- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Christ from the dead (v. 40, 41).- Forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ (v. 43).- Witnesses are apostles and those to whom God reveals Jesus (v. 39).- Reference to external authority: prophets’ testimony about the message of peace through Christ and repentance through John’s baptism (v. 36).|
|Acts 4:8-12||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Jesus was crucified (v. 10, 11).- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Jesus from the dead (v. 10).- Forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (v. 2, 4).- Apostles are witnesses of the resurrection of Christ (v. 13, 20).- Reference to external authority: Jewish Scriptures and lineage (v. 10).|
|Acts 3:12-26||– Affirmation of the death of Jesus: Jesus died or was killed (v. 14, 15)- Affirmation of resurrection: God raised Christ from the dead (v. 15, 26)- Apostles are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 15)- Forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (v. 19)- Reference to external authority: God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other ancestors and prophets that prophesised Messiah would suffer (v. 18, 21).|
Table 2: Supplementary Core Elements from 1 Cor. 15 and Selected Passages from Acts.
|Additional Core Gospel Element||1 Cor. 15||Acts 2||Acts 3||Acts 4||Acts 5||Acts 10|
|Resurrection of Jesus on third day.||v. 4||v. 40|
|Exaltation of Jesus as the Messiah, Saviour, Judge and restorer of the kingdom of God after his resurrection.||v. 24, 56||v. 30, 33, 36||v. 21,||v.11||v.31||v. 41|
|Jesus’ resurrection validates the resurrection of the dead in Christ.||v. 20, 21.||v. 2|
|Baptism is a response to the gospel. Believers identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus.||v. 29||v. 38|
|Salvation comes through faith in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord||v. 2, 24.||v. 38||v.16||v. 10, 12||v.31||v. 43|
|Birth of the church, a distinct community of believers set apart from the rest of the world and who demonstrate their distinct identity through faith in Jesus Christ.||v.58||v. 39||v. 23||v.35|
Christ is risen! … I hate it when my sermons sound like classrooms. However, as priests and teachers of the faith we must recognize that there are core Christian teachings that must call for extensive discussion. Our faith depends on such teachings as the resurrection. The above (attached) two tables demonstrate the preaching of Apostles Paul and Peter is grounded in the affirmation of the death (1 Cor. 15:4; Acts 2:23, 36; 3: 14, 15; 4: 10, 11; 5:30; 10:39) and the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:4; Acts 2:24, 32; 3: 15, 26:4:10; 5: 30; 10:40, 41) of Jesus. This message has significant implications in the life of the believers who hear the gospel through the witnesses to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5, 8; Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:13, 20; 5:32; 10:39) and receive hope for the forgiveness of sins in Christ (1 Cor. 15: 3; Acts 2:38; 3: 19; 4:2,4; 5:31; 10:43) in accordance with Jewish Scriptures which governed the worldview of apostolic preachers, audience (1 Cor. 15:3,4; Acts 2:16, 25, 29; 3:18, 21; 4:10; 5:30, 32; 10:36).
Specific details, such as the precise time of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day (1 Cor. 15: 4; Acts 10:40), the resurrection of the dead as a direct result of Christ’s resurrection through God’s power (1 Cor. 15: 20, 21; Acts 4:2), and the birth of the church as a distinct new community of the believers in Christ (1 Cor. 15:58; Acts 2:39; 3:23), affirm that the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ require response in faith in Christ in whom we have hope, not only in this present life for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor. 15:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 4:2,4; 5:31; 10:43), but also in the future life after death. Jesus’ resurrection authenticates the resurrection of the dead in Christ (1 Cor. 15:20, 21; Acts 4:2), signifies baptism for the forgiveness of sins (1 Cor. 15:29, 33, 34; Acts 2:40), and provides hope in the reign of Christ over everything because Christ will come again as the judge and Saviour to restore everything to God who raised and exalted Jesus (1 Cor. 15: 24, 56; Acts 2:36; 3:21, 4:11; 5:31; 10:41).
This realization significantly transforms the witnesses (1 Cor. 15:8; Acts 10:34) whom Jesus helps overcome their unbelief and fear. Even in times of persecution, they cannot help but proclaim the gospel because the resurrection is their ‘proof’ of the power of God. It is from this gospel proclamation that the church is born (1 Cor. 15:58; Acts 10:35; 3:23; 2:39) because the believers have entered into an everlasting covenant and communion with God and each other through a distinct community to hear the gospel and learn to live by the command of Jesus, and reap the benefits of salvation in the name of Jesus, the risen Lord and Saviour raised and exalted by the Father (1 Cor. 15:2, 24; Acts 2:38; 3:16; 4:10, 12; 5:31; 10:43).
The final core gospel element worthy of our attention is the source of external authoritythat places great emphasis on the Jewish eschatological context and prophecies about Israel’s covenant relationship with God and its consummation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15: 3; Acts 2:16, 25, 29; 3: 18, 21; 4:10; 5:30, 32; 10: 36). Peter and Paul are preaching the gospel commonly understood by their audience because it streams from the teaching from the Old Testament regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus. For example, Paul introduces this tradition with technical Greek words for receiving (paralambano) and handing on (paradidomi), the traditions that constitute part of Paul’s original proclamation to the Corinthians because in both instances Paul says that he handled them on earlier, a testimony that Paul is an integral part of the apostolic community that bears witness to Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3).
The core agreements from the preaching of Paul and Peter are striking, indicating the apostles have similar conceptions of the gospel, particularly God’s distinctive power to raise Jesus from the dead and forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3, Acts 2:38). This is a great hope to us. Jesus is the crucified, risen, ascended and glorified Lord, in whose name the believers find salvation through the forgiveness of sins and participate in the death and resurrection through baptism in Jesus. This hope ignites the birth of the early Christian movement and is the same hope that keeps us in the church today.
Our readings today provide some ‘proofs’ of the resurrection of Jesus as the first witnesses knew and understood it. However, we cannot understand the significance of Jesus only through either the historical events, such as birth and earthly life ministry of Jesus, or post-Easter experiences of the apostles and early Christian community. Jesus is not past and historical. “The Lord is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and his living presence through the Holy Spirit guides the life and practices of both the early Jewish and Gentile Christians, whose eyewitness accounts have given birth to the New Testament canons, and continue to inspire contemporary Jewish and Gentile Christians, who continue to live according to the apostolic faith handed down to us through the witnesses chosen by God (1 Cor. 15:3, 8).
Our Christian faith has some spiritual, historical and eschatological components to it. Dr. Terry Donaldson observes, “there is no direct evidence for a form of Christianity that located the significance of Jesus solely in his teaching with no reference to his resurrection and personal identity”. Donaldson’s interpretive model attempts to preserve the interconnectedness between the role of history in the life and ministry of Jesus and the significance of the Easter experience that so radically motivated the apostles to write down what they had witnessed and rid their conscience of the crisis from the resurrection event.
In other words, the earthly life and ministry of Jesus are beyond time and space, and cannot be confined to only historical explanation of the empty tomb. They are also beyond cultural divides and boundaries since they result into the reconciliation and affirmation of the blessedness of different nations, both Jews and Gentiles. Understanding ‘otherness’ of Jesus is significant because it is the main trigger for the Easter experience, which is continuous with the explanation that the narratives that illustrate the historical events in the life of Jesus are simply affirming that the Christ of our faith to whom millions of believers praise together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever, is the same Jesus of history whose continuous livingtransformed the apostles to become the witnesses to the gospel story of Jesus, with added pillarsto explain the delay of Parousia (Second Coming) and the Gentilization of the church.
What turned the apostles into witnesses was the fact that beginning with Moses and all the prophets, the risen Lord interpreted to the disciples the things about himself in the scriptures— it was “necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26, 27). They recognized that what had happened in Jerusalem was necessary for Jesus’ messianic role. In John’s reading, the resurrection presents the context for evaluating Jesus’ identity. Jesus is the Son of God, who gives life to those who place their faith in Him: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (vs. 31). John links “Messiah” to “the Son of God” to dispel the popular expectations that the Messiah would be a king who would reign in Jerusalem. He also identifies Jesus’ authority with reference to the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection, Christ meets His disciples, commissions them, as the Father had commissioned Him, and breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (vs 22). The Spirit is a witness to Jesus and remains with Him, indicating Spirit’s definite, ongoing and permanent association and relationship with Jesus.
The description of Jesus’s breathing on the disciples, which occurs only here in the New Testament, is suggestive of the action of God in breathing life into Adam (Gen. 2:7) and life into the dry bones in Prophet Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 37:9). This image of new life signifies Jesus’ importance as someone with authority to impart the Spirit and give life to whoever He chooses.
Are game for this new exciting journey? Do you believe in Christ and his death and resurrection that has brought you to the special place in God’s heart in the new covenant?
Glory and honour be to Christ, the risen Lord and ever living God, who was, who is and who is to come, who has made us a new kingdom and priests to serve God, who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, who will come in the clouds where every eye will see him, and whom God raised from the dead and exalted to his right hand as Prince and Saviour to bring Israel and the world to repentance and forgiveness of sins. Amen.
Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!