In my reading today, I was reminded of the importance of using scripture to refresh what it is in my mind when I think about the gospel message. I’m concerned that we condense the gospel in our minds in unhealthy ways that diminish our grasp of the gospel and our wonder in it. I’ve memorized and used a number of gospel presentations over the years and these can be helpful summaries. But it is critical for anyone who wants to grasp he gospel to examine how the apostles themselves preached it. Peter’s message to Cornelius is one of the most complete instances we have a what Peter said when he preached.
If you have not I urge you to read from the beginning of Acts 10 to catch the full story of Cornelius, and of the men he sent to Peter, and of the vision Peter had while waiting on lunch. You don’t want to miss these “delicious” details. Peter traveled to Caesarea to preach Cornelius and his family. This story also reveals the only reason we have hope that people will come to faith in Christ when we share the gospel. That is that God is already at work, drawing people to himself. That is made very clear through the words of Cornelius recorded in Acts 10:30-33.
Acts 10:34-43 records Peter sharing the gospel. What elements would you say that he lists here? I see eight.
- God shows no partiality
- Jesus lived as a man doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil.
- We apostles are eyewitnesses to these realities
- Jesus was put to death by being hung on a tree
- God raised him from the dead on the third day
- He appeared to us who ate and drank with him after the resurrection.
- He commanded us to preach that Jesus is the Judge of the Living and the dead.
- The prophets bear witness that everyone who believes receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
This is not the only way the gospel is shared in the N.T. Later in Acts 17 is an example of how Paul shared the gospel with a pagan audience that had far less background than Cornelius had. We often will need to start further back as Paul did then with many who we talk to now. But in our hearts and minds, we need this much richer version of the gospel that Peter uses here embedded within us. When asked what is the gospel in a nutshell it is not wrong to say that, “Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.” But that is a dangerous shortening of the message if it is not richly grounded in the fuller message of the gospel the way the apostles preached it.