Something happened on that memorial Pentecost of A.D. 30 that separates religion from gospel. After the Holy Spirit had connected all the dots in the minds of the apostles through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were ready for the world (At 2:1-4). Even after Jesus had graduated them from His final “school of prophecy,” the Spirit had to connect the eternal incarnation of the Son, to the eternal offering, resurrection, ascension, and reign of the Son of God to the right hand of God. It was then that they were ready to stand up and go to work before the multitudes (At 2:14).
It may have been about midday when Peter finally stood up with the eleven and unpacked the gospel with only a few words. He first revealed that all the rushing “wind storm” that had transpired at the beginning of the day was actually prophesied (At 2:14-21). And then he got down to gospel business in the reign of Jesus who was now both Lord and Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth was miraculously proved to be the One sent from God. He was miraculously validated to be the Christ of Israel. However, the confirming miracles that validated His Messiahship were not the gospel (At 2:22; Jn 3:2). Neither was the gospel the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at the beginning of the day, for it was the mission of the Spirit to glorify the Son, not Himself (Jn 16:14).
Those who exalt miracles and the Holy Spirit invariably minimize the power of the gospel. Their obsession with miracles and the Spirit diverts their attention away from the power of the incarnational gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of exhaling and focusing on the resurrectional ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God, many obsess over those beliefs or ministries that are important, but not primary. Instead of focusing on the power of the gospel, they are searching for some power in the Holy Spirit to somehow confirm their own faith. We must never forget that the power to both save and transform lives is in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It takes no diploma in theology to know enough about the work of the Holy Spirit to conclude that in His work in our lives, He would never seek to displace or minimize the transforming power of the gospel of the Son of God. If He did, then He would fail in His work to glorify Jesus (Jn 16:14). Gospel-living Christians must always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit will do His work regardless of our understanding thereof. Though we may not understand all of the Spirit’s ministry for the saints, one thing is definitely clear: The Holy Spirit would never do anything to divert our attention away from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would claim that the Spirit must insert in our lives more power than the gospel, then we have asserted that the power of the gospel to transform lives is limited. It was never Jesus’ intention to send the Spirit in order to subsidize the power of the life-transforming gospel.
The personal ministries that later came into the organic function of the church was not the message of the apostles on Pentecost. Later discussions in the epistles that emphasized corrections in dysfunctional behavior between the disciples was not the message. When churches become sectarian, and thus competitive for members, they often use their uniqueness as a message to “convert” others to their particular sect. But the uniqueness that later characterized many autonomous groups of Christianity was not the message of Peter and the apostles. That which cuts religious people of faith to the heart was the message of the gospel of King Jesus. This was the apostles’ message to the Pentecost audience.
We cannot overemphasize this point for many have used the epistles to construct a systematic theology that has become their identity, and subsequently, their evangelistic message. Their supposed doctrinal purity is used to approach other religious people in order to convert them to one’s own particular sect. A theological message has thus replaced gospel preaching.
The crucifixion of God’s gospel Messenger in the flesh was not a subpoint of the apostles’ message. Because the cross was in the eternal plan of God, it was the core of the gospel message (At 2:23). “But God raised Him up,” was the confirming proof that Jesus Christ was the One about whom the prophets had spoken. And not only the resurrection, but there was an ascension to the throne of David in fulfillment of promises to David that One would reign upon his throne of authority (At 2:25-32). And then Peter revealed more: “This Jesus God has raised up, … being exalted at the right hand of God” (At 2:32,33). “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36).
We must keep in mind the spiritual situation of those who heard this first announcement of the gospel. These were the “elite” of the representatives of the Jews’ religion. They knew their Old Testaments better than most people today. But when Peter was making these statements about the Man whom God had miraculously proved to be the One who fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah/Christ of Israel, they were overwhelmed. They were stunned.
Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and a host of other prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah became reality. They did not need to return to their synagogues after Pentecost in order that a Rabbi read again to them the picture that God had painted for Israel throughout 1,400 years of history. They could quote all the prophecies by memory, for they were all as the two men on the road to Emmaus. The One that God said He would send was beyond the misguided hope of a restoration of national Israel. He was the One who “was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5).
The Jews’ murderous tragedy was turned to grief because they realize that they had become servants of Satan to lay the stripes on the back of the Suffering Servant by delivering Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. There were certainly tears of grief as they mourned over their participation of laying the stripes on the One who was sent to restore them again to an eternal fellowship with the God they had worshiped since before the days of Abraham.
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart” (At 2:37).
This is the emotional impact that the gospel should have on every sincere heart. If it does not, then one either does not understand the gospel, or he understands, but with a hardened heart, walks away. In walking away he has judged himself unfit for eternal dwelling in the presence of the loving God who gave His Son for them. He does not, therefore, know God.
[Chapter from the forthcoming book, RESTORING THE LOST LOVE.]