Instead, he was agonizingly uncreative, long-winded, and theologically taxing. It took him all day and at the end of his gospel sharing he did not even invite his hearers to pray the prayer of salvation by repeating after him. He even took them through Leviticus, for heaven’s sake. He did not share the grand narrative of God’s story with them. He talked only about himself. He did not mention God’s crazy love for them above all, or even at all. But he did call them fools.
Jesus, I mean. In his post-resurrection proclamations of the gospel.
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27, NIV).
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:44-48, NIV).
But surely this was not intended as the normative gospel proclamation; after all, these were Jews well-versed in the Scriptures with whom Jesus was sharing, not to mention their being his closest followers. Surely if someone were sharing the gospel with Gentiles, one would break out The Bridge, or rap The Gospel in Four Minutes, or spellbind people with The Story of God.
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31, NIV).
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, NIV).
Interesting: When you catalog every proclamation of the gospel in the New Testament, you quickly realize that it’s not only Jesus who didn’t use the Romans Road when he was on the Emmaus Road. As the folks at paul-timothy.net note, the way the apostles proclaimed was far closer to the way Jesus did it than the way we do.
That is, there really was common content in sharing the gospel in the apostolic age; it’s just that the sharing was more comprehensive, and deeper, and more Scripture-drenched than we would ever dare to do or perhaps even think necessary. Consider the ten common elements the paul-timothy.net brothers observe in the apostolic proclamation (and, for good measure, check out John Stott’s similar list in Christian Mission in the Modern World, along with C.H. Dodd’s grandaddy list in The Apostolic Preaching and Its Elements):
1. This is the Good News that Jesus commanded and that his apostles announced.
2. God has fulfilled all that his prophets foretold in the Scriptures would come to pass.
3. God sent Jesus to be his promised Messiah. God anointed Jesus with his Holy Spirit and with power. Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.
4. Although Jesus was the holy and righteous one, lawless men killed him by crucifixion. It was God’s plan for his Messiah, the Author of Life, to suffer and to be put to death, for human sins. Afterwards, men buried his body in a tomb.
5. On the third day, God raised his servant Jesus from death back to life, and Jesus appeared for many days to many men who knew him. God has given assurance to all men by exalting Jesus up into heaven as Leader and Savior.
6. God now commands everyone everywhere to repent from his wickedness, and to turn from the power of Satan to God. Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.
7. God will forgive you of your sins through Jesus’ name. All who believe in Jesus are freed from everything, and Jesus makes them clean.
8. God is going to judge all people everywhere, by Jesus whom he appointed Judge of the living and the dead. Jesus has commanded his followers to tell this message to all kinds of people everywhere.
9. After Jesus rose from death, he appeared to those who had lived with him and saw him being exalted to the right hand of God. God chose these men to serve as witnesses to these things.
10. God gives his promised Holy Spirit, with power, to those who obey Jesus.
The apostolic evangelists were convinced, perhaps even more than we, that they lived at the end of the age and that Christ would return in their generation. And yet in their proclamation there is no hint of theological shortcutting for urgency’s sake, no sense that evangelists focused on provisioning as many as possible with the minimum spiritual content or confession necessary to qualify for heaven. Instead, one gets the sense of the exercise of great care, of abundant theological provision, of urging hearers to count the cost before deciding to believe and follow. Evangelism as master craftsmanship, in other words. Stott quotes Hoekendijk:
To evangelise is to sow and wait in respectful humility and in expectant hope: in humility because the seed we sow has to die, in hope because we expect that God will quicken this seed and give it its proper body.
Our urgency, it appears, is one of time; theirs was one of faithfulness, e.g., were they faithful to share all they had received that was of first importance? Were they equipping hearers with what was necessary to make a decision that would turn their lives–and the lives of everyone around them–upside down if they made it?
When one contrasts modern methods of evangelism with the gospel proclamations of the apostolic age, one can’t help but think: Haste does not make disciples. Haste only ever makes waste. Have our evangelism strategies strengthened the church, or paradoxically laid waste to it? When those outside the church are just as likely to obey everything Jesus commanded as those inside the church, then maybe it is time to reassess who is the worst gospel proclaimer ever: Jesus or us.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
(I am sorely indebted to Chuck Huckaby at praythebible.net for midwifing this post. Blame me for any heartburn it induces and give Chuck and the Holy Spirit credit for any burning hearts.)