If God gave you the opportunity to share the good news about Jesus with someone, what would you say?
One of the best ways to ready is to clarify our understanding of the good news. And one of the best ways to gain clarity about it is to carefully explore the good news that was told in the book of Acts. There, again and again, we see followers of Christ speaking the gospel to non-Christians.
This series of posts will examine seven samples of telling the good news in Acts (Acts 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 13, 17), as well as a number of short summary statements we find there. There are more than seven speeches in Acts, but those not included here were either interrupted before completion or had a different purpose besides telling the good news. Since our purpose is to clarify the message we are to speak to non-Christians, we will focus on those occasions when that was the primary focus.
Even though the seven samples of telling the good news are longer than the short summary statements Luke gives us, they are nevertheless summaries too. More was said on those occasions than Luke recorded (cf. 2:40). My understanding of the nature of inspiration leads me to conclude these are truthful summaries of what was actually said on each occasion.
Audience: Jews from all of the world (Acts 2:5)
Occasion: Day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival that celebrated harvest. The Holy Spirit had descended with a sound audible to the crowd (vv. 2, 6) and the effect of the twelve apostles (cf. 2:1 with 1:26) speaking in other languages (2:4-11).
Result: 3000 received his word and were baptized (2:41).
God created this opportunity for telling the gospel by pouring out the Spirit and gathering a crowd (Acts 2:1-11). We’ll see that God was involved in creating the opportunity to speak for all seven of the longer summaries of the message in Acts, a point worth pondering. Peter recognized and made the most of the opportunity (cf. Colossians 4:2-6) by explaining to the people what they were seeing and hearing. He said it was the fulfillment of a prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit in the last days (Acts 2:14-21; quoting Joel 2:28-32).
Then, in a manner typical in Acts, Peter accounted for the marvelous event that just occurred in terms of Jesus. This is where his actual presentation of the gospel begins. He begins by briefly telling about the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Notice this is “story.” It is something that had happened. It is “news.”
Concerning the ministry of Jesus, Peter emphasizes that God attested to him by miracles, wonders, and signs that God enabled him to do (v. 22).
Concerning the death of Jesus, Peter emphasizes that the crowd gathered had killed him by lawless men (the Romans) but that this happened according to God’s foreknowledge and plan (v. 23). This is not what I formerly assumed Peter would have said about Jesus’ death. Particularly, there is no mention here of him dying for our sins. It is true, of course, that Jesus died for our sins, and Peter may have even said as much on this occasion. But since our purpose is to explore the presentations of the gospel to non-Christians in Acts to help us clarify the message we are supposed to speak to them today, it is best for us to focus on what Scripture actually tells us, not what may have been said.
Concerning the resurrection, Peter emphasizes that God raised Jesus up because it was not possible for him to be held by death (v. 24).
Luke’s summary of Peter’s message so far contains one verse each in our Bible about the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Next, however, he spends eleven verses of space on the resurrection (vv. 25-35). This emphasis is not a fluke. The resurrection of Jesus is prominent in the preaching in Acts (Acts 17:18).
In this part of the message, Peter quotes two Old Testament passages to this Jewish audience to show that the Messiah was to be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:8-11; 110:1). Concerning the first, he reasons (Acts 2:25-28) that the passage couldn’t be talking about David himself because David died, and his the location of his tomb seems to have still been known at that time (v. 29). Instead, David was speaking about the resurrection of the Messiah (vv. 30-31). If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have seen that in Psalm 16 on my own. Remember, though, Jesus had opened the minds of Peter and the other apostles to understand the Scriptures about him (Luke 24:45-47). His sufferings, resurrection, and the need to proclaim the Messiah are all included in what Jesus opened their minds to see. Psalm 16 shows that God has indeed raised Jesus from the dead. Peter adds that he and the other apostles were also eyewitnesses of all this (Acts 2:32).
Peter also states that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God and is the one who poured out the Holy Spirit whom they were seeing evidence of (Acts 2:33). Proof of this is found in Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35), a passage that Jesus himself had quoted and applied to the Messiah (Matthew 22:41-46).
After eleven verses of citing and explaining Scripture and also giving eyewitness testimony about the resurrection, Peter is ready to make his conclusion. That conclusion is stated in v. 36 and is indicated by the word “therefore.” It is based on the account he has given of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. The conclusion is this, that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah (or Christ). Note well that the purpose and point of this message is to tell Jesus’ true identity as Lord and Christ.
The word “Lord” has several connotations. It is used regularly to refer to God the Father, and so applying it to Jesus here indicates his divinity. The New Testament word means “master” and is also used regularly to describe masters of slaves. And, similar to the practice of referring to kings as “my lord,” the word is also used in the New Testament to refer to the Roman Emperor (Acts 25:26; see NASB or ESV). All this indicates that Lord is a term of utmost authority.
The other term Peter used to describe the identity of Jesus is “Christ.” This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah. Both words mean “anointed one.” The words refer to the ancient practice of anointing someone with olive oil when they were appointed to a special role. In the Old Testament, more common than anything else, the one so anointed was a king (1 Samuel 10:1; 15:17). As a result, they became the “anointed one.” God’s involvement in this is indicated by the fact that the one who did the anointing was a prophet and also by the fact that the person was sometimes afterward referred to as “the Lord’s anointed (one)” (1 Samuel 24:6).
A variety of terms are used in the Old Testament to describe the One God said he was going to send into the world to deliver his people from their trouble and bring about better days. Some of these are King, Prince, Ruler, Servant, Son of Man and possibly Messiah (there is debate over whether “anointed one” in Daniel 9:25-26 is referring to the One God would send into the world or to an earthly king). By the first century, however, Messiah was a common word for referring to this One. It was something of a “catch all” for the various terms. So by calling Jesus Messiah, Peter was saying he is indeed God’s specially chosen agent who was to come into the world to deliver it. (For more on the meaning of Jesus as the Messiah see this post.)
Thus Peter’s conclusion and point in this message was that Jesus is the utmost authority in the universe (Acts 2:36). Is this the primary point you would make with someone interested in Christianity?
Peter also adds a contrast. He refers to Jesus, the one God has made Lord and Christ, as the one “you crucified” (v. 36). This contrast between their extremely low view of Jesus (indicated by killing him) and God’s extremely high view (indicated by raising him from the dead) is repeated often in Acts (3:15; 4:10; 5:30). They only used the word “you,” however, for those in Jerusalem who had actually called for his death (cf. “they” in Acts 10:39). Their point was not to assign blame for Jesus’ crucifixion to all humanity but to contrast the human view of him with God’s view.
I don’t know if the crowd interrupted Peter after he made this key point or if he paused. Regardless, they were so convicted by his message that they asked him what they should do (Acts 2:37). Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (v. 38). God has sent Jesus to save us, but it is necessary for us to respond to him. Various responses to the message are mentioned in the summaries of the preaching. Repentance, faith, and baptism are the most common.
Repentance and baptism are here clearly stated to be “for the forgiveness of your sins” (v. 38). This should be accepted at face value. At the same time, there is no hint that repenting and getting baptized earn salvation. Salvation is only possible because God has mercifully sent his Christ. We do have to respond to the Christ, though, and Jesus himself clearly taught this (Mark 1:14-15). Repenting and being baptized would also lead to their receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). This promise (v. 39) is an important part of the prophecies of better days that God had stated (Isaiah 32:14-16; Ezekiel 36:27; Joel 2:28-29).
As noted previously, Peter said much more on this occasion (Acts 2:40). He exhorted them to “save yourselves” from their crooked generation. Though that phraseology may make some of us uncomfortable, it is still clear that no one can be saved apart from Christ. They could save themselves only in the sense of it being their choice to receive Peter’s message by repenting and being baptized (v. 41). The effect of this message was that 3000 people did just that. There may have been some detractors also (cf. v. 13), but they are not mentioned here. It is fitting that this large spiritual harvest was gathered in at Pentecost, a feast celebrating harvest.
Verses 42-47 describe the fellowship that was birthed through this announcement of the good news. Those who receive the message are added by the Lord to his church (cf. vv. 41, 47).
A summary of the good news told in Acts 2, then, is
- Briefly telling the story of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (emphasizing respectively that God was attesting to him, humans killed him according to God’s plan, and God raised him from the dead).
- Reasoning for the truthfulness and meaning of the resurrection based on Scripture and eyewitness testimony
- Stating the conclusion that Jesus is Lord and Christ (in contrast to the human view of him that is suggested by their crucifying him)
- Urging people to respond to these truths with repentance and baptism, resulting in forgiveness of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit and being made a part of the church.
A couple closing thoughts.
Don’t forget it was God who gave Peter the opportunity to tell this message by pouring out the Spirit in a noticeable fashion which in turn gathered a crowd. Peter then saw the opportunity and made the most of it.
The use of Scripture was especially appropriate since the audience consisted of Jews who respected Scripture. The other main piece of evidence Peter referred to was that he was a witness (v. 32). We need to realize that being an eye witness of Jesus after he was raised from the dead like Peter is unique and different from how some believers use the word witness today. Even so, there is a sense in which we can testify (be a witness) to what we have learned and experienced about Jesus (2 Timothy 1:8).
You may want to ask yourself what you learn from this text about finding opportunities to speak. You may also want to consider what kind of evidence would be appropriate for you to use with the people you are most likely to get a chance to tell the good news to.
The main purpose of this series of posts, however, is to help us clarify the message we are to speak to non-Christians. So I encourage you to compare the message you speak (or would speak) to non-Christians to the message Peter spoke here, as outlined by the bullet points above. What do you conclude from that comparison? What questions do you have? We’ll build on this as we continue.