Fine Preaching At The Carey Conference
There were 130 people present at the annual Carey Conference in January. There was much said that was helpful and the session at which delegates from different parts of the world spoke of the work that they were doing was particularly moving. Each conference needs one session in which a new dimension of the Word and Spirit brings fresh encouragement and motivating energy to the hearers. This occurred at the Carey Conference in the two sessions at which missionary Andrew King of Brazil gave the following messages.
“THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL PREACHED IN THE ACTS.” 
25 per cent of Acts is taken up with sermons. There are also the New Testament letters whose design is to bring churches back to gospel preaching and living, but we find what the gospel is in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts. In Acts 2 Peter is explaining things to the people – an outside alternative community is asking a question and the church is answering, but the response is not being dictated by the world’s agenda. Something has happened within the church by God and this is creating the question. What is the Spirit doing in the church? Of course there were unique elements present, but the pattern itself of an aroused and curious world when the Spirit is working in men’s lives is not unusual. When the world sees transformed people it will ask questions. Peter exhorts them years later in his first letter that when the world asks them about hope – and they are being persecuted – that the church be ready to give an answer meekly.
What is the answer Peter gives? The answer is focussed on the Lord Jesus, and that is the focus of any answer worth giving. There are not two answers here, as if Peter answered the question and then went on to speak about Christ. The church often does that – gives an answer to a contemporary question on moral or ecological or political issues and then brings in the gospel. All Peter’s answer is about the Son of God, one united explanation. “This is the Day of the Lord, who is the exalted Christ. This is the beginning of the end, the heart of the Day of the Lord which is upon us already. “It all has to do with Jesus and I am speaking about him to you.”
Peter preaches the historical facts, what had happened, and that they were all witnesses of the fact. The facticity and the testimony are the key elements. John elsewhere says, “I really saw the water and the blood pour out of his side.” Christ was truly dead. In Acts 2 the basic theme is, “You killed him, God raised him and we saw him.” Then when the gospel moves beyond Jerusalem the theme slightly but significantly changes, “They killed him, God raised him and we saw him,” and later Paul says, “They killed him, God raised him, and they saw him,” and that is the gospel until today. The heart of the gospel is an objective historical past event.
It is not a subjective experience. Truth in terms of historical event is harder to preach than preaching feelings. Our age is experience oriented, and men say, “What Jesus did for me he can do for you.” Is that the gospel? The prosperity ‘gospel’ has that message. Of course we recognise that there can be great transformation when a gospel comes into a community – families are sorted out, men are gainfully employed and there is a pay packet, children are educated. When a gospel comes to a town it is good news, but to say that the message of the gospel is that believing it changes your life that is simply the prosperity gospel by the back door.
The Christian faith is about what God has done, and that is why it is important. It is about what happened and a doctrinal framework is erected upon it. Mere religion is about “Do!”; whereas Christianity is about “Done!” So the gospel is not about philosophy or morality but it is rooted in a divine saving accomplishment. Something has happened and Peter declares what it is. One intrinsic aspect of the saving work of Christ is the saving word of Christ. The event was seen by the witnesses that he himself had chosen. Then they declared the word that he himself had given them. They saw, testified and wrote that men might believe. The finished work of Christ in history is wedded to this his finished word. The whole package and framework of the mighty work of grace in salvation is tied to the canon; the witness is there in black and white, definitively, so that people may believe. We are charged to pass on that word because Jesus did it. Finished work. Finished word!
Peter shows what these facts say about the person of Jesus in the light of the Old Testament. In other words we need to see the facts in the light of the Scriptures. Psalm 16 is quoted by Peter declaring to them that Jesus was the genuinely righteous man. He is really after God’s own heart, through and through – all his hope and strength and delight is in God always and only. Such a man cannot be abandoned to the grave, as the man of Psalm 16 was. Jesus of Nazareth is the real king, the authentic Christ. He is greater than David. Here is the man of Psalm 16; that prophecy could not have been fulfilled in David because we have his tomb until today. David was a sinning man who yet found his delight in the Lord, but there is no dud factor with sinless Jesus, and he is pouring out the Spirit – “that you both see and hear.” We are now in these end times, and Jesus is the authentic godly man. He is the mighty Christ and the archetypal man; more of a man than we have ever been. Peter is meditating on this theme.
Peter continues to speak in terms of the future work of the Lord Jesus in the light of the OT. He brings in another quote from Psalm 110. Christ is the true man who delights in God, but also the authentic warrior King more fearful than David. His enemies are God’s enemies and the wrath of God comes through him and the agency of wrath is by him. So Peter’s hearers have Psalm 110 running through their heads. These two familiar psalms are vividly bringing to bear on them this image of the Son of God.
The gospel is written in splattered blood, and the two psalms most quoted in the New Testament are Psalms 2 and 110, which are amongst the most blood curdling. The Lord will bring all to submission. He will make his enemies his footstool. When he comes he will destroy his enemies and Peter is confronting his hearers with this reality. He is courteous, but he is not polite, not trying to skirt around giving any offence. He is very blunt indeed. The issue he is pushing is that they are the ones who killed Jesus. He is passionately proclaiming their guilt. Do you see what Psalm 16 means? Therefore let all Israel be assured that this Jesus is Lord and Christ, and they have killed this Son of God. Peter is not afraid to cause offence; “you are the enemies of God, not the Romans, but the ones who loved the thought and promise of the coming mighty Messiah – they killed him when he came. They murdered the one they are waiting for, and now He is on the warpath. He is looking for you.
Future judgment and victory have this present impact on the congregation. This conviction results in a crying public appeal; “What shall we do?” It comes from them; it is not an appeal to them, and they are in panic because they have murdered God’s beloved one, the one who created the universe. Who could have a worse enemy? What could they do when their appalling guilt was going to meet omnipotent justice? Who will help me against my adversary? To whom can we go? Is there some great name I can appeal to? Who will plead my case? Who will protect me from the terrible day of wrath? Who can we go to?
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ,” says Peter. In the same name there is forgiveness and shelter. There is full inclusion in this community. The murdered one offers forgiveness for murdering him to the murderers.
The big problem of the world is Jesus. He is the mighty ruler who will condemn men. What shall they do? In this Jesus Christ is found forgiveness; it is even for the sin of killing the Messiah. What love is shown, that those who killed the mighty wrathful ruler receive total pardon in him.
To understand the love of God is to take a long look into hell where there is no love. That is what we have been spared from. The cross is what we deserve, yet the King has come and spoken and acted in pity. This world will meet its God, yet this Judge forgives me and I know what his verdict will be in the last day. No condemnation. The pardon is fully offered to us. So Isaiah 53 meets Psalm 110- that is the gospel. The matter of preaching judgment and being under judgment and being delivered from judgment should be considered by all preachers. What pressure there is to avoid any form of confrontation in the name of love. We need to speak the truth in love. We need to come back to this New Testament declaration of the gospel again and again. Real love does not keep its mouth shut when there is danger. Love makes every effort to save from sin and death and hell. Love speaks of wonderful forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our greatest need is for the church to be really convicted afresh of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. No one can truly speak with conviction unless there is conviction within. The great need of the church is that the people of God look forward to his coming on tip toe and so speaks with conviction in the present.
“THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL PREACHED IN THE ACTS” 
The great theme of Acts is the continued preaching of the gospel moving forward and out from Jerusalem from Pentecost onwards. This gospel offers forgiveness of sins for murderers of Christ. This movement has a forward impetus as that the apostles go out to the ends of the earth. The Pentecost sermon has such seed in it for all who are far off, even to all those whom the Lord calls. As you move on in the early chapters of Acts the gospel spreads and there are springboard sections, such as Stephen and his speech. He is utterly respectful of the temple, but God is meeting with men miles from the temple throughout the OT and is changing men everywhere. That is what happens in Luke’s narrative, Saul of Tarsus is converted on the road, Cornelius’ household in his home, the Ethiopian is changed on the way back to Africa. All are far from the temple of Jerusalem as the gospel is being preached all over the world.
How does the gospel change with this forward movement? As we move into the market place from the holy city there are shifts. Are there two gospels? When Paul arrives in Lystra and later in Athens it seems such a different locality. There is no exposition of the OT. There is little focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. How are we to understand the gospel in those places? Is it the same gospel as Acts 2? The answer is yes indeed, but what are the differences?
The first thing to notice is the importance of real communication. Preachers start where people are at. As Paul arrives in those places he is meeting pagans with no knowledge of Scripture, and so it is not the same approach in both places, but all preaching always has to be expository, but some is explicitly expository while another is implicitly expository. Everything Paul says is entirely consistent with the Old Testament. Lystra is a rural community and here Paul talks about weather and food – the sorts of things the people are obsessed with in any agricultural town. In Athens it is a religious university town and so he is speaking to them of their poets. That is where Paul is at in each place. The overall message is not fundamentally different from Acts 2 and Pentecost.
The rest of the NT presupposes one gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. Two different communities brought into one church and addressed as those who have received the same message; there is nothing about Message X and Message Y. Of course the accounts we have here are not exhaustive. Here are key discourses and there was much more said than the summaries we have here. We know Paul was preaching earlier in both places, and a group of people had been drawn together into a fellowship. The preaching in Athens follows teaching in the market place and the synagogue so that they ask, “What is this new idea that you are preaching?” So these messages are not the totality of the messages preached. The Lystra discourse is an occasional sermon belonging to a moment. Paul is not speaking to a ‘typical situation.’ It is atypical; the people are saying that the gods have come down and Paul’s aim is that they do not sacrifice to him and his companion.
Why is the gospel a different shape in Lystra and Athens from Pentecost? The starting point shifts as the audience changes. There is a journey, and the start is earlier in Lystra than it is in Jerusalem. Having first shown us the ridges Paul is showing us different routes to the summit. In Lystra and Athens the common point is that God is sovereign Creator, and we are human beings who receive his daily care. We acknowledge this is so in our practices and in man’s poetry. The preaching then moves on to be markedly confrontational – as much so as in Pentecost. You are idolaters because the God who has made himself known has given you all things. So the teaching is blunt, yet gracious. This whole idol system was worthless, and all of it has to be put behind the idol worshippers because there is a living God whom they have not acknowledged. By the end of the address, in verses 29 and 30, the application is clear and personal, that “we should not think any more in this way . . .” All their temples and altars are misdirected follies. We too need to find a confrontational bridge where we can begin to communicate, and there we also begin to dismantle man’s wrong ideas.
Something has happened, and is happening, and that something has to do with the Lord Christ, and that is what is seen in both sermons. In the past God has overlooked such things, and the implication is that now there is a new situation. But what is that? It is disclosed in Lystra and in Athens on the day the servant of God addressed those people. The arrival of the gospel in Lystra and Athens were immediate outflows of the work of Christ. They were an eschatological fulfilment of what Christ did in his life, death and resurrection. He has poured out this in Pentecost and also here, because he has guaranteed to pass on the saving word. This is the immediate fruit of the saving work of Christ. The world has changed, and the message is here. The first visible tip of the gospel iceberg is this man preaching to them and telling them of the Christ who died and rose, and that this was a saving act of God.
The arrival of the gospel in the city is a product of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Acts 26:23 Paul is speaking to Agrippa and he reasons saying that “the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” As Paul addressed Agrippa this was happening, Christ was proclaiming light to this Gentile, and he has been doing that until this very moment today. This is also the theme of Ephesians – Christ is the one who is preaching peace to those who were far off and nigh (2:17) Paul is saying that “surely you heard him,” and it is the same structure as in Romans 10 – we heard the voice of Christ through the preacher. In Ephesians 4:7-11 “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be pastors and teachers.” How is it possible that the mighty word of God should flow through sinful men, and that the ascended Christ can speak today? Because of his victory; he won the battle and he gives the triumph, and so Jesus is speaking through us. He is King and has the victory; he has overcome sin and he is really speaking. In the past God overlooked it, but now the Gospel is being preached in city after city. What a duty it is for us to preach the gospel. It is not something like passing on details about the second coming. Preaching is itself an eschatological event. You may be the teacher of a small class in a small church, but when you open this book and pass on the contents of this book something is happening that is more important than when George Bush speaks.
How are we to preach to pagans today? How are we to think in terms of their starting point?
1. Creation and providence. When we start in terms of men’s needs, it is extremely easy to compromise because we want to attract, and we can make false promises to people. We do not start with perceived needs in the people. It is not, “Your life is tough and so come to Jesus.” No, because there are many who are prospering and healthy today, as then. We must not think that there were no people who are poor and sick and in need in Lystra 200 years ago. Every society has these things. Paul speaks to these people in terms of creation, providence and blessings. Even in terrible situations there is much to thank God for. There is the rain and seed time and harvest; our hearers also are people with food and family and sleep and music and all kinds of possessions and relationships and joy in their hearts. People rejoice in the birth of a baby and they stand in awe of a sunset. The standard preaching is that “your life is miserable and you need Jesus” while in Lystra Paul said, “Your life is wonderful and you are giving thanks to the wrong one.” How on earth can we reach the comfortable without such a message? “Say thank you. Don’t be rude. You have never given thanks to your Creator. You had better start now.”
2. The theme of resurrection and judgment is also significant. In Acts 10 vv.39-43 Paul says, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Here is a reference to prophets and respect for the Old Testament, but here is also this emphasis on judgment. The apostles as the recipients of revelation are the preachers of judgment. The prophets of the Old Testament were already saying that there is forgiveness of sins. Apostles preaching Judgment while Prophets were preaching forgiveness!
3. The Lordship of Christ needs to be seen in order for there to be repentance. God has given you so much and yet you are not giving thanks. He will judge you for this. All gospel preaching is eschatological. You are going to come to Jesus and he is your judge. You will meet him and he is the great holy One. All the people you see are all going to be judged when you meet them again on that day. Our preaching is a little slice of the eschaton and there is a link between resurrection and judgment. The resurrection proves that there will be a judgment. Why? Because at Christ’s death the wrath of God fell on the Son and he was in our place. Also the wrath of God found its focus on him and simultaneously the wrath of man against God found its focus in the Son. Both found their focus in the Son. As we head in the gospel narrative to the cross we meet the hatred of everyone to Christ. Then the Father too turns his face away, and the Aaronic blessing is utterly reversed and the full force of the curse falls upon him and he bears that for us. He is the loneliest man there has ever been. Jesus is under the wrath of man. Psalm 2 says that the heathen rage and there is human rebellion against the Lord and his anointed. The Jews and Gentiles conspired together to kill Jesus. Do you want to know what force drives mankind? Psalm 2 says hatred of Christ. We sinners would certainly do it again.
How does our Lord react? He scoffs and laughs at them and puts his Son on Zion. There is all the rebellion and confusion in the world, and what is God doing? He is not cowering behind the throne or sending for an imperial helicopter to get out. He laughs! A child has a tantrum in church and the father carries him out and everyone smiles, and we all smile because it is utterly puny to think the child can hurt the father. So all that man does against Christ does not affect him at all. He laughs and says, “I am carrying on.” It is the first glimpse of the last day. It is God’s great rejection of man’s verdict on his Son. “You don’t want him, well I do,” says God. All sin will be thrown into the dustbin of hell and Christ rules. He is the Judge of the final day. We glimpse the eschaton and the final day. Psalm 2 says he is the judge in whom there is refuge. The verbal visual is the best of all. Jesus is the great threat; he is coming . . . coming . . . coming and there is no protection. Where can I run in order to escape from the judgment of God? Go to the place of judgment itself – the cross. Stand on the burnt over ground and you will escape the coming judgment. Faith is obeying the Lord and standing on the burnt ground. There on the cross he died for me. The final Judge speaks today through you and me and may his mighty voice be heard through us before the final day when that voice will wake the dead.
Every Christian a Publisher! 27 February 2024
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