So we’ve briefly looked at the gospel Paul preached. We’ve seen that the gospels themselves tell the gospel (duh?). We’ve even seen that Jesus himself taught the gospel. Throughout, we’ve had to keep in mind what the gospel actually is, in biblical terms. The gospel is not the specific message of salvation, nor is it the way in which believers attempt to get others to believe a message of salvation, but the gospel is the actual story of Jesus and how that specific story brings to its climax the story of Israel and Israel’s God.
Scot McKnight’s task now is to ask a similar question of the apostles in Acts. The question is this: How does Peter (along with other apostles) preach this gospel? To answer the question, McKnight buzzes through what he identifies as seven distinct evangelical messages in the book of Acts (2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31).
The basic conclusion comes rather quickly (and by this time, we should really expect that). McKnight writes,
Peter and Paul framed their gospeling through the grid of Israel’s Story coming to its destination in the Story of Jesus. Neither did they frame their gospel from the perspective of an atonement theory – whether the ransom theory or the penal substitution theory. Salvation and atonement flow out of the gospel, and Paul can call his gospel the “message of salvation” (Acts 13:26), but neither atonement nor salvation was how the apostles framed the gospel. (117)
It’s true, the apostles preached a gospel that was squarely rooted in the history of Israel. In fact, it seems somewhat astonishing to evangelical Christians today that the various sermons in Acts look nothing like our evangelistic efforts. Rather, they read much more like brief summaries of the history of Israel, with an emphasis on Christ at the conclusion. Furthermore, the focus on Jesus is not on the cross, as is so typical in the 21st century, but on the resurrection and what that means about Jesus.
And this leads to McKnight’s next big point in the chapter. The apostolic sermons all conclude their histories with a pair of titles for Jesus. As a result of the resurrection, they all say, God has made Jesus both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Highlighting this fact, I believe, is extremely important, though unfortunately I don’t think McKnight does the best job explaining why. Let’s take them in reverse order.
“Christ” is, of course, the Greek word for Messiah. This, specifically, is all about Jesus’ place in Israel’s history. The Christ was the one long awaited as Israel’s good and godly king. This is a royal title among the Jewish and Israelite tradition to be placed alongside “son of David.” To declare Jesus as “Christ” is to declare him as the one the Jews had been awaiting to represent the Creator to the world and restore the prospects of the nation of Israel.
“Lord,” on the other hand, is a much broader term, but no less regal. We may be tempted to interpret “Lord” as “God,” but this is not the intention of the apostles. No, when the Father appoints Jesus as Lord through the resurrection, He is placing Jesus as king of the entire earth – God’s representative governor writ large.
Both “Lord” and “Christ” are royal titles, and both were meant to be placed together throughout much of Israel’s literary history. You may want to peruse, among other passages, Psalms 2 and 110 or Daniel 7 to see this connection.
But back to McKnight. It is out of this declaration of who Jesus is as a result of his resurrection that the apostles then call people to faith (faith in Jesus’ place as Lord and Christ), repentance (a turning away from ways of life that are contrary to the ways of that crucified Christ), and baptism (an identification with this dead-and-raised Lord).