Kerygma in Acts
Lecture 3: Kerygma in Acts
This is the 3rd lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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I. Gospel Proclaimed to the Jews, Proselytes and Interested Gentiles
Today, I want to talk about the Kerygma in Acts. This is the proclamation of the Gospel to nonbelievers. In this section, I am focusing on the speeches that are given to the Jews, proselytes and interested gentiles. These proselytes are converts to Judaism. To be a proselyte as a gentile requires circumcision. Woman had to undergo baptism which is debated as to when this came into being. Then there are interested gentiles who are often called God fearers. These were gentiles that were attracted to Judaism but had not become converts and thus had not been circumcised. These people knew to a certain extent the Old Testament Scriptures and believed them. When we see the speeches in Acts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10, they were given to those who already knew the Bible. They have this kind of background. So what Gospel did they preach? It wasn’t that it was a different Gospel but a different emphasis. Before we get into specifies, you see that I quote Mark 1:14-15, ‘The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ C.H. Dod, a famous New Testament scholar came up with this parallel and I think it is basically correct.
The Age of Fulfillment has dawned
God is fulfilling his promises and the age of fulfillment has dawned. You see this again and again in the speeches. Acts 2:16 when they are speaking in tongues, Peter says ‘this is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel.’ God has fulfilled what he spoke through the mouth of all the prophets (3:18). So we have a covenantal scheme here in the Scriptures with the promise to Abraham and even back to Genesis 3:15. We have the promise through the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant and then we learn that the blessings promised will come through a Davidic ruler and then we have the New Covenant promise which is an elaboration on the Abrahamic covenant. All of those promises are fulfilled now. And this is what Peter and Paul and the other Apostles are preaching.
The Age of Fulfilment is through Jesus Christ: Secondly and not surprising, the age of fulfillment has taken place through the ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures. When we talk about the Gospel, it focuses on the work of Jesus Christ and we see different features in regards to him. He is the Son of David. He is the Davidic king and fulfills the Davidic covenant which we see that in Act 2:30-31. David being a prophet and knowing that God had sworn to him with an oath that someone from the fruit of his loins would sit upon his throne. This is the fulfillment of the covenant made with David. Jesus was appointed by God and anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power by means of miracles, wonders and signs. This is a nice summary of the Gospels. These validate him as the Messiah. In Acts 10:38-39, we see Jesus of Nazareth and God anointing him with the Holy Spirit and power who went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. In Acts 2:23 we have in regards to the death of Jesus, ‘this one, by the determined will and foreknowledge of God was delivered up by the hands of lawless men, and you killed him by nailing him up.’ It was God’s determined will which is the word for predestination. God had planned that Jesus would die. It is not an accident and for the Jews, the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die. But predestination is put right there with human responsibility. This is reinforced in 4:10 which says, ‘whom you crucified’ and 5:30, ‘whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.’ Yet, God works all things according to his will and at the same time human actions are real. Jesus’ death was the height of human evil. Nothing compares with it and they were guilty for doing it. They were all guilty and yet it was predestined. The disciples don’t shrink back from saying to the Jews that they put Jesus to death which was a great evil.
By Virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection
The emphasis on these speeches is on the resurrection. Everybody knew that Jesus was put to death. So they emphasized that God raised him up from the dead. We have a lot of support for the resurrection especially from the Old Testament Scriptures. We see that this is validated by Psalm 16 where it says in Verse 10, ‘because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.’ By virtue of his resurrection Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. Jesus was the stone that the builders rejected in Acts 4:11. And in Acts 5:31, ‘God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.’ Jesus is reigning now as the Messiah and sits on the right hand of God’s throne. He has been vindicated by the resurrection. So we see that the Davidic covenant has been fulfilled because Jesus is reigning right now. The promise that the Son of David would sit on God’s throne and reign forever is now true. Jesus has been installed as the Messianic king. Acts 2:36, ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ Something different happened at the resurrection; Jesus will never encounter sin again and never encounter death again. He now triumphs over all of this. When he died, he died for our sin only once, never to die again Paul says. He conquered and now he reigns and rules.
The Gift of the Spirit
The Gift of the Spirit is due to Jesus’ exaltation. Acts 2:17 says, ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’ ‘Because Jesus is exalted; he can pour out the Holy Spirit. We see that in a number of passages. The gift of the Spirit is part of the new age, the gift of the new covenant. We think of Ezekiel 11:18-19, ‘They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.’ There are so many promises in the Old Testament that the Spirit would be poured out in the new age. This has been happening since Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father.
The Messianic Age
The Messianic age will reach its consummation in the Return of Christ. There is an already and a not yet. We see God fulfilling his promises; Jesus has died and has been raised and the Spirit has been poured out. You might think that everything is finished and that is it. In these Old Testament texts, there is no clear distinction in time between the gift of the Spirit and the end of all things. We see this again and again in the prophets. So when Jesus says I going to give the Spirit in a few days; they ask are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel. They think that when the Spirit comes, that is it. That is the wrapping up of everything. But Jesus simply doesn’t answer their question directly, does he? However, it was a good question, but they are not ready to understand everything yet. What we see is an already, not yet tension. They already have the Spirit but it is not yet the end. And we are still living in the tension, two thousand years later. Jesus was resurrected and he is reigning and the Spirit has been poured out and yet is not the consummation of all things. We still await the coming again of Jesus, the Messiah and it will happen and then all things will be restored. One of the great surprises of the New Testament, not everything was fulfilled, hence all of the things we struggle with until he returns; with sin, with disease, with death. But we have the ultimate promise and victory over all these things in Christ.
An Appeal for Repentance
An appeal for repentance, offer of forgiveness and Holy Spirit to those who receive promise of salvation by baptism. We see this in a lot of places as in Acts 2:38 says, ‘repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Peter says, ‘repent.’ In 3:19, it says, ‘repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’ In the first two sermons, Peter doesn’t call on them to believe but only to repent. But repentance and belief belong together. So we would not want to argue that you don’t have to believe to be saved but you do have to repent. Some think that you don’t have to repent to be saved which is a strange sort of exegesis. Some will just quote Acts 16:31 where the Philippian jailer is told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you and your whole household and you will be saved. Of Acts 2 says just repent because it doesn’t say you have to believe. Of course we have to put this together. All those who believe, repent and all those who repent must believe. I am not denying that true repentance comes from faith but there is no such thing as authentic belief without repentance. Furthermore, it is very clear in the New Testament that those who became believers did so by baptism. They got baptized. Of course, you don’t have to be baptized to be saved in a sense of a strict legalistic requirement, yet there is no such thing in the New Testament as an unbaptized Christian. But this debate is still going on today in regards to baptism. Yet in New Testament times, everybody got baptized and this happened fairly quickly after conversion.
So that is the pattern. I think today, we need to discern where people are. For us the idea of conversion to Christianity is not as dramatic as it is for a Muslim converting to Christianity. A Muslim really believes that you are a Christian once you get baptized. What we don’t think about is the idea of election of God and whether or not you are in that inner circle. Of course another difficulty, we are said to be anti-Semitic in terms of saying that the Jews killed Jesus. They say that one of the Jews killed Jesus and put the blame on someone else. It is true that Christians have done this in history saying, yes the Jews killed Jesus. But theologically, we agree that we all killed Jesus and I don’t think that Peter and Paul are denying that. Even though the Epistles don’t point out who killed Jesus exactly, but they do confirm that it was due to our sins. They just don’t deal with the historical question. As far as salvation is concerned, they lived in a unique period of salvation history, moving from the old covenant to the new covenant. In the old covenant, those who had and earnest faith in God saved them. We see this realized through Moses and other patriarchal fathers and this was up until the time of Jesus. But even today, we still have things in our life that we need to repent on. So now it is a belief in the fulfillment of revelation. They were not concerned like some today of who was responsible for Jesus’ death.
II. Preaching the Gospel to Pagans
These people didn’t know the Scriptures. In Christian based countries such as the America fifty year back, many would have known a lot about the Bible as in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa etc. But today it is different, people no longer know the Scriptures. When I was converted I was a Roman Catholic; I believed a lot of things already. They were just sort of there being a Roman Catholic. I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, that he died on the cross and also I sort of believed in the trinity. This is a lot different from someone who doesn’t know anything. Now is our culture there are people who know less and less about the Bible and Jesus. Today there are many people who are now pagans in our society. We are sort of back to those in the Book of Acts, preaching to those who have no background. In Lystra and Derbe the people starting to worship Barnabas and Paul for the miracles they performed but Barnabas and Paul assured that they too were only human and that they should turn from idols to the living God and repent. This was in Acts 14:14-18. Then in Acts 17:22-31 in Athens Paul went to the meeting at the Areopagus and explained Jesus to them. This was what the Athenians were accustomed to, talking and listening to the latest ideas.
So Paul cites the point of contact with the people there in Athens. Paul acknowledged that they were very religious. I see that you have an altar to the unknown god and that God I want to tell you about today. In verse 28, ‘for in him we live and move and have out being. As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring.’ So Paul cites a Greek poet here. We see that when Paul saw all their objects of idol worship, it irritated him. He was provoked and irritated by what he saw. It is instructive for all of us that he didn’t tell the people what he felt and preach directly against it. This is not a way to start a conversation with people is it? Instead, he tries to relate to them and their interest in religion. Today Francis Shaffer related to people like this by reading what others were reading. So we have good Biblical justification for contextualizing, relating to people where they are and that is exactly what Paul does. What Paul says here was not wrong.
Paul emphasizes that God is the Creator. In 14:5 again, Paul relates to them the living God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In 17:24, he says that the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temple built by human hands. But now-a-days, people need to learn again that God is the Creator of all things. I am not an evolutionist but I think in our context that there are people who come to faith like I did believing in a form theistic evolution. I don’t think we should immediately focus on the evolution thing even if people are mistaken and believe in theistic evolution. I just don’t think that is where we are to go today in witnessing for God.
We Need God
God does not need us; we need him since he is creator and Lord. He doesn’t need these temples nor does he need to be served by human hands. He gives to us life and breath and everything. God doesn’t need us, but we need God for everything. We see in Romans 1:20 that people are not without excuse. Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities and his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen. People cannot deny this. We know in apologetics that the truth of God’s revelation is written on every heart. Even though they may deny it and they may kill us for it but the truth is in them. It was them who exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. God made from one person, everybody and every nation. Every human being is made in God’s image. God is our creator. God is our Lord and it may take a long time to people to understand this. They can’t grasp the point. Many will accept Jesus along with their other gods but Jesus is one God and one Lord, there are no other gods. One way that some missionaries present the Gospel is through stories. This enables people to adapt a Biblical world view in order to accept Christ as their savior.
Food and Joy
God has shown his goodness in providing food and joy. Act 14:17 ‘yet he has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ Interestingly in verse 16, ‘in the past, he let all nations go their own way.’ Even though this is not salvation, Paul says that food and gladness is a gift. It is not something we deserve. Most of us in this world will get mad and angry if we don’t have food to eat. We think that God should give us food; we are entitled to it. And if we don’t get it, what is wrong with god, he is not good. But Paul realizes that food and glad is a gift of God and thus shows his love even to unbelievers. Paul recognizes that unbelievers have times of gladness and joy. The Bible doesn’t say that unbelievers are miserable all the time. In theology, this is called common grace. God’s grace is also bestowed upon unbelievers. That’s his gift.
We are Made in His Image and We Should Seek Him
Paul says that since we are god’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Therefore, we don’t make God in our image but God made us in his image. Human beings are of significance because they are made in the image of God to rule the world for God. We are all important in this sense. We often emphasize the doctrine of sin that we fail to see this teaching. Therefore, every person is to be treated with dignity. But of course, this is becoming less so with violence in the world and people saying that animals are the same as we are. God made us to rule over animals, not to abuse them. We should seek God; repent for there is a Day of Judgement. The speech in 17:27 would only take about twenty-five second to read. ‘God did this so they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have out being. As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring.’ Verse 31, ‘for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ So Paul does mention the resurrection and he probably talked about the Cross also. Interestingly the resurrection bothers them the most. He is not just talking to please people here as such.
Jesus’ Resurrection and Christ Crucified
Jesus resurrection proves the world will be judged by him. Verse 31, ‘for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ In Acts, the resurrection is fundamental. It validates the Gospel of Christ. 1st Corinthians 2:2, ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’