What is the Gospel? – 08 – Step 4 Look at the evangelistic sermons in Acts (Part 2)

104 question mark

In this post I will summarise my findings from the apostles sermons in Acts. It draws together the common elements of each. I will make some observations regarding what they do not say. Near the end I will discuss how repentance and forgiveness are referred to in the sermons.

Today we continue my series on – What is the Gospel? The series has several posts and it forms the biblical basis for my Gospel page. The first post has all the links for the series.

Summary

Table of the content of the evangelistic sermons

You might remember before I examined all these evangelistic sermons in Acts I used an example to demonstrate how we can look for repeated patterns in a series of messages. I did so to apply the same logic here.

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Click to enlarge

* The audience is implicated in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Narrative

Looking at the columns titled: ‘Jesus died’, ‘Jesus raised’ and ‘Jesus is Christ, Son of God’ reveals a high degree of repetition in the evangelistic sermons in Acts. This shouldn’t surprise us since they are the core elements of the summarised content of the gospel in 1 Cor 15.3-5. The narrative as I’ve noted before seems to take the basic form pictured below.

104 Gospel Proof

In addition;

  • Every evangelistic sermon to people educated in Judaism refers to Jesus fulfilling OT promises and prophecies.
  • Most evangelistic sermons present the apostles as witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Every evangelistic sermon in some way includes references to various effects associated with believing. Generally these effects are mentioned at the end of the message.

If we look for rows representing passages which conform the most to 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-24 and zoom in on those elements, we find Acts 2.22-36; 3.13-18; 10.38-42 and 13.27-33 show very strong sequential similarities.

1 Cor 15.3-5 Acts 2.22-36 Acts 3.13-18 Acts 10.38-42 Acts 13.27-33
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: [22] “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know [13] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, [38] how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. [39] And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. [27] For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath,
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. [14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, [15] and you killed the Author of life, They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, fulfilled them by condemning him. [28] And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree
4 that he was buried, and laid him in a tomb.
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … [32] This Jesus God raised up, whom God raised from the dead. [40] but God raised him on the third day [30] But God raised him from the dead,
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. and of that we all are witnesses. … To this we are witnesses. … and made him to appear, [41] not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. [31] and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.
… [36] Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” [18] But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. [42] And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. [32] And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, [33] this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus,

Table of checks against other criteria

Note: An exhortation is an address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something. For example;

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “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. (Acts 2.37-38)

The apostles are asked what they should do. The answer and exhortation is to ‘repent and be baptised’. Not to be confused with Mk 1.14-15. Peter gives the reason why they should repent and be baptised – for forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

This is an example of something which is not an exhortation;

43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10.43)

This statement says the prophets predicted beforehand those who believe in the Christ will receive forgiveness. The audience is not being instructed to do something.

Text and audience Convicted of sin? ‘Died for our sins’? Description of what Jesus death has achieved? Exhorted to trust or believe for some sort of benefit?
Acts 2.14-41 Jews in Jerusalem The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is convicted of sin – they crucified Jesus.
When asked what to do, Peter instructs them to repent. They should regret killing Jesus, and accept him as their risen Lord and Christ. They are to do this to receive forgiveness and the promised Holy Spirit.
There is no description of any benefits Jesus death has achieved. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
3.12-4.4 Jews in Jerusalem The hearers are not told Jesus died for their sins. Like the previous sermon, the audience is convicted of sin, they are implicated in Jesus’ crucifixion. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
4.7-22 Jews in Jerusalem The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. Like the previous sermons, the audience is convicted of sin because they are implicated in Jesus’ crucifixion. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
Acts 5.27-32 Jews in Jerusalem The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. Like the previous sermons, the audience is convicted of sin because they are implicated in Jesus’ crucifixion. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
Acts 10.27-44 Gentiles The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is not explicitly condemned of sin. In fact quite the opposite, Peter commends them for their righteous behaviour and acceptance before God (Acts 10.34-35). There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is told the prophets bore witness to the fact those who believe in him receive forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10.43). This is not an exhortation to believe. It’s a description of what happens to those who believe.
Acts 13.16-44 Jews The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is not explicitly condemned of sin. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit. They are told of the benefits of believing (manner-b implicit), but this is not an exhortation. Everyone who believes is freed from everything which they could not be freed from the law of Moses (Acts 13.39).
Acts 14.14-18 Gentiles The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is not explicitly condemned of sin. However they are exhorted to turn (or repent) from their gods to God (Acts 14.15). The audience is given no reasons why Jesus died. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
Acts 17.22-34 Gentiles The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is not explicitly condemned of sin. Paul mentions they worship God, but he is unknown to them. He does not explicitly condemn them for their ignorant behaviour. Rather he corrects them and instructs them in proper worship to God who he has made known. If they ignored this they would sin. Paul does not name Jesus or speak about his death. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.
Acts 26.4-29 Gentiles The audience is not told Jesus died for their sins. The audience is not explicitly condemned of sin. There are no explicit descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners. The audience is not explicitly exhorted to believe or trust in anything to acquire some sort of benefit.

‘For our sins’

I mentioned previously I would specifically look out for instances where;

  • a) the hearers are told Jesus died for their sins (as we saw in 1 Cor 15.3-5),
  • b) the hearers are explicitly convicted of sin,
  • c) there is an explanation given for why Jesus died,
  • d) there is a description of any of the benefits Jesus death has achieved.

Here is a summary of my findings.

There are no instances in Acts where the listeners are told Jesus ‘died for their sins’. None.

The Jews at Jerusalem are repeatedly accused of crucifying Jesus (Acts 2.23,36; 3.13-15; 4.10; 5.30). In each of these cases the accusation occurs in the context of the narrative describing Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the remaining sermons we surveyed, the Gentiles are not convicted of sin, nor are the Jews outside Jerusalem convicted of sin.

The only reasons given by the apostles in their sermons in Acts why Jesus died are;

  1. It was God’s set plan predicted in various Old Testament promises and prophecies (Acts 2.23; 3.18; 13.27),
  2. The Jews at Jerusalem delivered Jesus up to Pilate and asked that he be crucified (Acts 2.23; 3.13-15; 4.10; 5.27-31; 10.39; 13.27; 26.19-21).

There are no descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the cross has achieved for the listeners in any of the sermons.

For example, no one in Acts says, ‘Jesus’ death on the cross has paid the penalty for your sins’. It is true, but no one says it. The apostles did not think it was necessary to say this in the gospel.

The apostles in Acts obviously do not feel the need to convict their audiences of sin and then explain how Jesus’ death on the cross secures forgiveness of sins. They never say ‘Jesus died for your sins’. Since the apostles do not always condemn sin or provide a description of how Jesus’ death on the cross secures the forgiveness of sins we cannot say these elements are part of the content of the apostolic gospel we’ve seen in 1 Cor 15.3-5.

If it was, it would be a repeated aspect of all their gospel messages.

The narrative (Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared) is clearly very important. Paul uses the gospel message (Acts 13.27-31; cf 1 Cor 15.3-5) to prove Jesus was the promised Christ fulfilling God’s promises (Acts 9.20-22; Acts 13.32-33). But Paul’s emphasis on ‘for our sins’ in 1 Cor 15.3 is absent, even in the closest match with 1 Cor 15.3-5 in his Acts sermons. Consider Acts 13.27-31 compared with 1 Cor 15.3-5.

Acts 13:27-31 1 Cor 15:3-5
[27] For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. [3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
[28] And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, Paul describes the death of Jesus, but does not mention Jesus died for their sins. It can’t be that important to him if he neglects it. He otherwise captures the key aspects of 1 Cor 15.3. i.e. Christ died according to the scriptures by saying ‘written of him’
and laid him in a tomb. [4] that he was buried,
[30] But God raised him from the dead, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
[31] and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

I don’t mean to deny Jesus died ‘for our sins’ or Jesus’ death on the cross has secured forgiveness of sins. Rather I deny it was part of the gospel message the apostles proclaimed in their sermons in Acts. There is simply no explicit evidence.

Summary

1) Only the Jews involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are explicitly condemned of sin. The sermons to everyone else in Acts do not involve condemnation of the hearers. This represents a departure from the idea that ‘Christ died for our sins’ in 1 Cor 15.3 represents part of the content of the gospel message. There are no sermons in Acts stating ‘Christ died for their sins’. As I’ve noted condemnation of sin is generally absent from the sermons in Acts. This is apparent when we examined the sermons to Gentiles and the Jews outside Jerusalem.

If we looked for other sin related themes;

2) The wrath of God and eternal punishment in Hell are never mentioned in the sermons in Acts.

3) There are no sermons in Acts where the listeners are explicitly exhorted to trust or believe in Jesus for forgiveness of sins. They are told the prophets predicted in advance those who believe will be forgiven, but this is not an exhortation. They are told the benefits of believing, but this is not an exhortation either.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins

A fair number of evangelistic sermons in Acts I have surveyed do mention repentance and forgiveness of sins. So in light of what I just said above I will scrutinise how the apostles spoke of these.

Acts 2.14-41 (Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost)

In the narrative sequence the audience is accused of crucifying Jesus (2.23,36). Therefore they are exhorted to repent. They are also instructed to be baptised.

[38] And Peter said to them, “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. (Acts 2:38)

In the context of this message the repentance and forgiveness seems associated with the story where they are involved in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Baptism however, signifies their initiation into the new faith.

Acts 3.12-26 (Peter’s Speaks after Beautiful Gate Healing)

In the narrative sequence the audience is accused of denying and crucifying Jesus (3.13-15). The same Jesus whom God raised from the dead. Therefore they are exhorted to repent.

[19] Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, [20] that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, (Acts 3:19-20)

In the context of this message the repentance and blotting out of sins seems associated with the story where they are involved in the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Then Peter says,

[26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3.26)

Here it carries a similar idea to that of Acts 5.31. Jesus was sent to the Jews first to turn them from their state of sin and rebellion against God,

Acts 5.27-32 (Apostles before the Jerusalem council)

Audience is accused of crucifying Jesus in the context of the narrative about Jesus (5.30).

[30] The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. [31] God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. [32] And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:30-32)

The use of repentance in this message suggests Israel is in a state of sin that needs repentance and forgiveness. Peters narrative of Jesus involves a description of him as Leader and Saviour. His role says Peter is to bring Israel to repentance and forgiveness. Like our study of repentance in the New Testament, this reference to repentance reflects the OT presupposition of the covenant relationship from which Israel had turned and to which they must return. (‘Repentance, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Loc 23940 of 55513)

Acts 10.34-44 (Peter speaking to the Gentiles)

Peter doesn’t say anything bad about the Gentiles he is speaking to, rather at the beginning he commends them. He ends his narrative of Jesus life and then discusses the commission Jesus gave him and the other apostles (Lk 24.47) that they proclaim him (Jesus) as the one appointed by God to be the judge.

[42] And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. [43] To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43)

Those who believe and respond to Jesus as the Judge of the living and the dead (content of the gospel), receive forgiveness of their sins through his name (effects of believing the gospel).

Acts 13.16-44 (Paul preaching at the synagogue at Antioch)

[36] For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, [37] but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. [38] Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, [39] and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:36-39)

As we’ve previously seen from this sermon Paul proclaims the gospel as the narrative of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (Acts 13.27-33). Here Paul describes the benefits of believing that Jesus is the promised Christ.

Acts 17.22-34 (Paul at the Areopagus in Athens)

Most of Paul discussion is devoted to establishing the reality and authority of God. As opposed to the false Gods the Athenians had been worshiping. Paul recognises their ignorance and after informing them of the one true God calls them to repentance.

[29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. [30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (Acts 17:29-30)

Repentance here seems reorienting ones life to worship the one true God.

Acts 26.4-29 (Paul speaking to Agrippa)

Paul describes his own commissioning from Jesus.

[16] But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose,

to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,

[17] delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you

[18] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,

that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16-18)

Breaking up this passage into parts reveals how forgiveness fits into Paul’s gospel ministry. Paul is appointed as a witness to the visions of Christ he has had and will have. This is his gospel message, not doubt is the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection (Gal 1.11-12,16; 2 Cor 12.1-7; 1 Cor 15.3-5).

Summary

None of the sermons are to existing believers. They are all to sinners (with the possible exception of the Gentiles in Acts 10) who do not know Jesus as Christ.

Three of the references to repentance in the sermons in Acts are associated with the audience being implicated in the crucifixion of Jesus. The narrative proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus actually involves the listeners because they were the ones who gave him up to be crucified. The narrative therefore is followed with a exhortation to repent of this sin.

Forgiveness of sins (in some manner) is mentioned in six out of nine evangelistic sermons in Acts. Sinners who are ‘dead in sins’ are enemies of God and need forgiveness. There are four sermons where the audience are explicitly convicted of sin. In each of these locations Peter is speaking to Jews who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus.

God as Creator

In Acts 14.14-18 and Acts 17.22-34 Paul is speaking to Gentile sinners. In both cases he describes God as creator. From the context of each of these passages it seems the Gentile audiences know very little about the God of the Jews. So Paul has to educate them in correct belief. In both cases Paul says little about Jesus and the sermons do not conform very well with 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-44.

We should assume on later occasions Paul would have gone into more detail talking about Jesus. These sermons do illustrate that some ground work needs to occur if the hearers no little to nothing about God. Starting with God as creator is a good place to start.

Step 4 – Summary

This completes my study of Step 4 – ‘Look at the evangelistic preaching in Acts and see if there are repeated patterns’.

What is present in the evangelistic sermons

  1. Every evangelistic sermon to people educated in Judaism refers to Jesus fulfilling Old Testament promises and prophecies.
  2. The clear majority of sermons emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus
  3. The clear majority of sermons declare Jesus the Christ or the Son of God.
  4. Most sermons present the apostles as witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
  5. Every sermon in some way includes references to the some effects associated with believing. Generally, these effects are mentioned at the end of the message.

The general form of the apostolic sermons in Acts is thus;

  • a narrative proof that Jesus is the Christ (content of the gospel message – establishes Jesus’ authority)
  • a description of the benefits of being in his kingdom (assurance given for believers who come under his authority)

What is absent from the evangelistic sermons

  1. Only the Jews involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are explicitly condemned of sin. The sermons to everyone else in Acts do not involve condemnation of the hearers. This represents a departure from the idea that ‘Christ died for our sins’ in 1 Cor 15.3 represents part of the content of the gospel message. There are no sermons in Acts stating ‘Christ died for their sins’ and condemnation of sin is generally absent from the sermons in Acts.
  2. There are no descriptions of what Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved for the listeners in any of the sermons.
  3. The wrath of God and eternal punishment in Hell are never mentioned in the sermons in Acts.
  4. There are no sermons in Acts where the listeners are explicitly exhorted to trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sins.

From this we can say the general form of the apostolic sermons in Acts does not involve;

  • a description of the listeners as sinners under judgement
  • proclamation of Jesus death on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins
  • call to trust in Jesus’ death for forgiveness

In the next post we will review a list of significant passages that I think draw together what the scriptures say about the gospel.


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