Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Gospel According to Peter

We all know what “the gospel” is, don’t we? Or at least we think we do.

If we searched the internet for a summary of the gospel, we might come away a tiny bit confused. John Piper, for instance, presents his gospel in six points. Bible Gateway reduces Piper’s six points to five. Phil Johnson goes with four, not one of which is identical to any of Piper’s, but all of which come directly from the apostle Paul.

For the new Christian, these differences in content and emphasis may be a bit hard to process.

A Well-Stocked Armory

With such a variety of teaching on the subject, it is not a simple matter to discern which ingredients are necessary to a faithful presentation of the good news, or to determine whether the gospel should always be presented exactly the same way.

We may observe that different apostles use the words euaggelion (the noun, meaning “good tidings”) and euaggeliz┼Ź (the verb, meaning “to declare glad tidings”) in slightly different ways at different times. Their emphasis shifts as required by the type of audience they are addressing and the context in which they use the word. Any aspect of the gospel may turn out to be critical to a particular apostolic argument, but not dwelt on extensively — or even mentioned — in another.

Peter, for instance, mentions the gospel a total of four times, all of them in his first epistle. He is not preaching the gospel here, only referencing it, so we would not expect him to cover the sort of territory he covers in Acts 2 or 3. All the same, each reference has some things in it you won’t find elsewhere in his writing, and each omits certain things some might feel are absolutely necessary to a comprehensive exposition of gospel truth. At no point does Peter attempt to work his way down a checklist, and at no point does his singular focus weaken his arguments.

When addressing saved men and women, the gospel served as something like a well-stocked armory of divine truth from which Peter could draw any weapon he needed to make a particular spiritual point.

Here are three aspects of the gospel he explores:

The Gospel as the Answer to the Prophetic Word
“It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
In 1 Peter 1:12, the apostle’s point is that the good news which had reached his readers was the fulfillment of predictions made by certain Old Testament prophets entrusted with divine hints, shadows and pictures connected with the sufferings and glories of Christ, though they did not always understand them as such. The gospel is the answer to the prophetic word.

These Hebrew sages could not have known to whom their revelations referred or when the events they depicted would finally take place. They even searched and inquired to find out. This is an indication that it was the spirit of Christ in them who made the predictions, not the prophets themselves. That is important, and I intend to come back to it tomorrow.

The prophets raised the questions and hinted at the answers. God would provide himself a lamb. He would be a descendant of David. He would be rejected. He would suffer. He would also reign. He would shepherd not only his people but the nations as well.

The gospel takes these hints and many others, and fills them out with the historical detail and theology necessary to fine-tune the hazy Old Testament picture to the satisfaction of the most eager investigator of truth.

The Gospel as the Answer to Death
“And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
Illustrating his own point, in 1:25 Peter then reveals that one aspect of the good news is that it provides God’s response to the problem of death as articulated by Isaiah:
“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The perpetual crisis of the human condition is that it is terminal. The grass withers. The flower fades. In our current form we are not eternal beings. We are exceedingly temporary and, among living beings, uniquely and painfully conscious of it. This is not, as some would have it, the natural “circle of life”, but rather a violation of God’s original order and a problem in dire need of resolution.

In Isaiah’s original prophecy, the prophet draws a contrast between the relatively brief existence of men and the absolute solidity and permanence of God’s word. Peter then takes up Isaiah’s prophecy and explains that it is fulfilled in Christ. He finishes with this, from Isaiah’s last line: “This word is the good news that was preached to you.”

The gospel, Peter says, is God’s answer to the problem of death.

The Gospel as Dividing Line
“What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
Finally, in 4:17, Peter makes the point that the gospel is the line that divides the entire world in two. Or as Jesus put it, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The gospel sorts the citizens of this planet into two classes: those who obey it … and those who disobey it: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” The obedient believe the message of Christ and respond with repentance and confession, the disobedient do not.

The term “good news” seems insufficient to fully describe such a thing. The gospel, after all, contains a fair bit of bad news too. Judgment is coming. It is inevitable. Nobody is exempt, and no one alive has the ability to give an account that will satisfy the Judge. To make things worse, or at least considerably more direct, the “good news” is not offered as an optional treatment regimen one might choose to pursue, but in the form of a command to be obeyed or refused.

The gospel draws a line right down the middle of the world, and it does not leave the would-be fence-sitter anywhere to sit.

In Summary

Whether we look at the gospel as an intellectually satisfying explanation of how God chose to reveal himself to mankind and draw us into relationship with him, as a spiritually sustaining confirmation that God has dealt once and for all with the curse of death, or as a challenge to greater obedience in view of a coming day of judgment, it remains the very same gospel. All these things and more are essential aspects of it. The very same truths meet multiple needs and serve multiple purposes.

In between these second and fourth references to the gospel is a famous third, which opens a can of worms requiring its own post. More tomorrow.

2 comments :

  1. Naww, would be nice if the problem could be compartmentalized that easily, but it can't. E.g. you must have (faintly?) heard if Hinduism? (Scenario:) The other day someone came to my door and tried to convince me that Hinduism was the actual religion everyone must follow, or there would be serious consequences. I refused that and told him/her otherwise. Turns out I now have died and found out that they were correct and as punishment I will now be returned to live as a lowly ant.
    I protested of course because Hinduism was so far removed from what I was taught and grew up with that one could not possibly have expected me to drop everything I had considered as important and normal and, human beings just don't work that way, intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically. But, it was to no avail, and now I am an ant.

    Got the point?

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  2. BTW, if you haven't seen the movie AntMan yet you may want to do so. It's actually very good and riveting :-D.

    ReplyDelete