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The Gospels and Acts and the Proclamation of the Gospels

Posted by on Jun 14, 2012 in scripture | 6 comments

The Gospels and Acts and the Proclamation of the Gospels

In my previous post “The New Testament Scripture and the Proclamation of the Gospels,” I wrote that I was going to consider the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers in the New Testament. Most “gospel presentations” that I’ve heard and read about rely primarily on the Epistles. However, the Epistles were all written to people who were already believers. I think we can learn more about proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers by studying the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and Acts.

When studying how Jesus first approached people or how he first “proclaimed the gospel,” we can begin with this passage:

From that time Jesus began to preach (proclaim), saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

Interestingly, when Jesus sent out the apostles for the first time, he also told them, “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” (Matthew 10:7 ESV) Later, when he sent out 72 others, he gave them similar instructions: “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:9 ESV)

Now, while each of these “proclamations” point to the nearness of the “kingdom of God/heaven,” that’s not what I want us to think about. Instead, notice the brevity of each proclamation and in the instructions of what those who were sent out should proclaim.

While the hearers would have some ideas about the kingdom of God, repentance, and good news, it is clear from later interactions that their understanding concerning these concepts were vastly different that what Jesus meant when he used the terms. But, he did not spend time explaining exactly what he meant. He made short and concise statements, and he told his followers to begin proclaiming the good news of the kingdom with short and concise statements.

When we get to the Book of Acts, we find something very similar when Jesus’ followers are first proclaiming the gospel to people. Even in the longest speeches (i.e., Peter in Acts 2, Stephen in Acts 7, or Paul in Acts 17), the disciples of Jesus do not spend much time explaining exactly what they mean. They make a statement about what has happened, and leave it at that.

I think this is planned, and I think we see the pattern through the Gospels and Acts.

Those proclaiming the gospel made a concise statement without getting into much explanation or argumentation. Then, they waited for their audience to respond. For those who responded positively or with interest, they spent more time explaining and teaching.

This pattern is seen clearly in several passages, but especially in this passage in Acts:

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34 ESV)

(By the way, this pattern also explains why Paul and others write so much about the gospel – explaining and teaching about the good news and the implications of the gospel. They are writing to people who have demonstrated an interest in continuing to grow and learn and follow Jesus.)

What do you think? Was gospel proclamation to unbelievers in the Gospels and Acts shorter and with less explanation? Do you agree that we see a pattern of increased explanation only to those who positively respond to that shorter proclamation?


6 Comments

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  1. 6-14-2012

    If I may, let me share how I witness. I ask a lot of questions. I want to know the mindset of the person to whom I am a witness so that I might impart something that will help them open their heart to the Holy Spirit. But, I do not try to “SELL” them anything. I try to show them that we all need Jesus and that He is capable of “saving” them. Hello, that is ALL I can do. But that is all I am told to do. I have learned to rejoice when God grants me the experience of someone coming to Him and I have also learned not be discuourage when they don’t. May I again remind us all of what Acts 1:8 says…

  2. 6-14-2012

    Jon,

    Yeah, the more I study this, the more I wonder if we tend to spend too much time trying to explain something to people who will never understand.

    -Alan

  3. 6-14-2012

    I think it’s interesting that Jesus responded to different people differently. He told Nicodemus “You must be born again,” but to the rich young ruler He said, “Go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.” To the woman at the well He said, “I AM the Messiah!” and He told Levi, “Follow me.”
    Others he asked questions: to the man born blind (Jn 9) He asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
    And others, like the paralytic, He saw their faith and were healed.

    Oh that we would have the eyes of Jesus to see the needs and challenge people where they’re at!!!

  4. 6-14-2012

    Hmmm… interesting thought. I’ll have to chew on that more, I’ll keep it in the back of my mind somewhere and see if it resonates as I study further.

    I have noticed that the gospels seem pretty brief in those passages that use the term gospel. I have thought it may be that the key concept was actually pretty simple. God’s kingdom is near. Jesus is King/Lord/Messiah. Let God reign and rule.

    Then I also recognized there are a lot of references to the kingdom throughout the gospels. And I notice passages like “He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you…” in Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:11 and Mark 4:11. I think Jesus did unpack a lot of what He meant by the gospel of the kingdom, but not in a nice catechism or statement of faith. It may be a process of discovery that He wants us to journey through.

  5. 6-14-2012

    MamaT,

    Yes, Jesus did respond differently to different people, and his followers responded differently to different people as well. In each case, though, it still seems that they only proclaimed a very short and concise message that was not meant to answer all the questions but to raise questions.

    Jon,

    Yes, the kingdom and king/Lord teachings in the Gospels and Acts are extremely important. If you chew on what I’ve said and come up with something (even if you disagree), I’d love to hear it.

    -Alan

  6. 6-17-2012

    Alan said to MamaT, “…it still seems that they only proclaimed a very short and concise message that was not meant to answer all the questions but to raise questions.”

    Excellent point, Alan! Questions like; “What must I/we do to be saved?” “What must we be doing to be doing the works of God?” “Where can I get some of this living water?” “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What prevents me from being baptized?” “How can we know the way?” Etc.