4 Jesus: Keep the Christ in Christianity

The Message

Let’s return to that seemingly simple man addressing the crowd of pilgrims, Peter on the day of Pentecost. What was his message?

First, Peter quotes a passage from Joel to explain that his friends’ strange behavior is due to an outpouring of God’s Spirit. Then he begins his proclamation: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purposes and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” (2:22-24)

Peter quotes another passage, from the Psalms this time, supporting the resurrection. He continues: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear....Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” (2:32-33,36)

Peter’s message was a proclamation of Jesus! It was a testimony delivered with simplicity, sincerity, and boldness: “You know you killed a good man when you crucified Jesus. What you don’t know is that He’s alive! What’s more, He’s exalted to the right hand of the very Creator of the Universe, and He’s reigning over creation as Anointed One even as we speak! By the way, we are witnesses—we know for a fact these things are so.”

What cut thousands of hearers to the heart was a proclamation of Jesus from the lips of one whose life had been radically changed by His resurrection. A living, exalted Jesus was the very heart of the message!

And what of that man who infuriated his debaters—Stephen before the Sanhedrin?

After a summary of Israel’s persistently rebellious dealings with God, Stephen concluded: You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him!” (Acts 7:51-52)

The leaders were furious, to the point of gnashing their teeth. Yet at this point, even after holding them directly responsible for the crucifixion, Stephen might still have escaped with his life. But he poured fuel on the fire with this explosive statement: “Look! I see heaven open, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (verse 56). The leaders went ballistic at that phrase! Within minutes, Stephen’s body was lying broken in the street, and his spirit was resting unharmed in Jesus’ arms.

Again, what was the heart of the message? What was its power? A man, “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6:5) and “full of God’s grace and power” (6:8), proclaimed that the crucified Jesus was now alive and exalted to God’s right hand.

And what of that persecutor turned apostle, Saul of Tarsus? What was his message? How did he raise such wonderful churches on the one hand and such an awful ruckus on the other? The events in Lystra, where Paul was trying to convince the citizens he wasn’t a god one minute, then dragging himself back into the city after being stoned and left for dead the next, were a direct result of his testimony in Antioch and Iconium. Jews from those towns followed Paul to Lystra and “won the crowd over.”

In Antioch, Paul had stood in the synagogue and proclaimed: “The people of Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in the tomb. But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now His witnesses to our people....Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:27-31,38)

Some of the people of Antioch “were glad and honored the word of the Lord;” others “talked abusively” and “stirred up persecution.” So Paul moved on to Iconium. His message there? “Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord.” Throughout the book of Acts, the apostolic testimony could be summed up in those words: speaking boldly for Jesus. And the response in Iconium sums up the response everywhere: “The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.” (13:4) And so Paul soon found out how Stephen had felt when the stones began to hit!

Next Page
Back to Contents