In the middle of Acts 2, we find the first presentation of the Gospel message to come after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The Holy Spirit had just descended as Christ had promised, and the disciples were speaking in all kinds of languages. The Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost witnessed all this taking place and were curious about what was happening (vv. 2–13). After responding to the crowd and explaining what they had witnessed (vv. 14–21), Peter told them the essential facts about Jesus:
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—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22–24, 36)
In Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy offers a critical insight on this passage.1 Peter’s presentation of the Gospel wasn’t a presentation of a method. He didn’t yet lay out the steps that someone should take to be saved. (See Acts 2:38–39.) Instead, he taught about Jesus Christ—who He is, what He did, and why it matters.
This is an incredibly important reminder to us as we go about the task of evangelism. There are many important things to say about the Gospel as we share our faith, but it is essential that we remember always to tell the Gospel itself—the story of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, victorious resurrection, and eternal reign.
Sometimes we think that if we tell people simply that they need to trust in Jesus to have eternal life, we have told them the Gospel. Actually, we haven’t. Instead, we’re asking people to respond to a Gospel that they haven’t yet heard. We can only explain the process of embracing the Gospel, the benefits it brings, and the perils of ignoring it after we’ve explained the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done.
Other times, we may think we are sharing the Gospel when we merely tell others about our experience of knowing Jesus. Our experiences can be a wonderful testimony to what the Gospel does for a person. But if we don’t share the Gospel itself, we can leave people with the impression that Jesus is simply one more tool in our bag to help us through life. Instead, we need to clearly tell people the Gospel is a truth outside of us that, while it indeed benefits us, is not primarily about an experience inside of us.
If we were to ask someone, “How do you know that God will accept you?” many would be tempted to answer, “I have done good things,” or “I help the needy,” or even the seemingly right “I have Jesus in my heart.” But the right answer doesn’t start with I, me, and mine. It starts with He, Him, and His.
We need to clearly tell people the Gospel is a truth outside of us that, while it indeed benefits us, is not primarily about an experience inside of us.
The most fundamental truth of the Gospel is neither the prayer that we pray to receive it nor the experiences of conversion and transformations we undergo; it is the work of Christ that makes those things possible and meaningful. We must make it clear to unbelievers, then, that our assurance of salvation and our confidence in being accepted with God are based on the fact that God gave His only Son to die for us. It is only because of Jesus we can say with conviction,
Before the throne of God aboveI have a strong and perfect plea:A great High Priest whose name is Love,Who ever lives and pleads for me.2
We may be tempted to skip the story of Jesus for many reasons, not least of all because the story of a dying and rising Messiah is a strange one—a “stumbling block” and “folly” to many people, as the apostle Paul put it (1 Cor. 1:23). But it’s this story alone that God uses to draw people to Himself. It is the heart of the Gospel—the part that Peter didn’t leave out. And neither should we.
This article was adapted from the sermon “The First Christian Sermon — Part One” by Alistair Begg.