In the introductory article in this series we reflected on some of the preaching activities and methods used in our community over the past 50 years to proclaim the gospel. This was done for the benefit of those younger in the Truth who may be unaware that commitment to virile and proactive preaching has been part of ecclesial and personal life in many areas over that period. In this article we will go back to the beginnings of Gospel Proclamation in the first century to ensure we are actually following the pattern set by Christ and continued by the apostles as they preached the gospel of salvation to all who would hear.

It may be a bold question to ask, but is it possible that over the years our public preaching may have moved away from the main thrust of what we should be presenting? I am not concluding that this is so, but it is worth considering. Though times have changed dramatically, the fundamental doctrines of Scripture as set out in our Statement of Faith have not changed. Therefore it is a profitable exercise to review the message we preach at lectures, seminars and other presentations to ensure we are maintaining the fundamental thrust of the gospel message. To do this we do not need to become involved in detailed biblical exposition but rather simply look at the key elements of the message that was proclaimed in the first half-century of the Christian era.

Christ’s instruction to preach

We are all familiar with the instruction Christ gave to the apostles as recorded in Mark 16:15–16. Sometimes familiarity with a quote may cause us to gloss over what is being said. Christ said to the eleven: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The gospel here is seen as a message of life or death for the hearers. Their understanding of what was presented and their response to it led to either life or death.

This is the way Luke expresses the commission given by the Lord to his disciples: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47). What a wonderful sweep of Scripture the Lord must have expounded as he showed these disciples where the prophets had foretold his suffering, his resurrection on the third day and that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”.

If we are involved in organising preaching work for the ecclesia or reviewing our own personal preaching we need to have a clear understanding of what the fundamental planks of our message must be. We see Christ’s instruction to his disciples was that they were to preach “the gospel” or “repentance and remission of sins” in the name of Jesus Christ. Our familiarity with this word “gospel” may have dulled us to its meaning and therefore to the way we should be presenting this message. The Greek word for gospel is euangelion meaning “good message” or “good news”. The word is compounded from two Greek words, eu meaning “good” and angelion meaning “message” which is derived from angelos – “a messenger” or “angel”. So in preaching the gospel the disciples were presenting “good news” to the people.

What are the key elements of this “good news”?

If you were brought up through Sunday School then you will readily recall the answer you learned from the Instructor. If you came to the Truth later you will have been shown the clause in the Statement of Faith: “That the Gospel consists of ‘the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’.” Both places give as proof for this Acts 8:12. The esv rendering of this verse is: “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news [Grk euangelizo] about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Philip was preaching the good news and we correctly identify the two elements of the gospel as

the things concerning the kingdom of God
the things concerning the name of Jesus Christ.
The effect of Philip’s message was that mature men and women, on hearing this good news that forgiveness of sins was available through Christ, believed and responded in baptism. They realised that this good news provided the answer to their most desperate need. Here we have a text book example for all presenters of the Truth to consider and implement.

Let us pause here for a moment and reflect upon the lectures or presentations we have heard over the past six months. We all know the excited and enthusiastic way a person will come to tell us good news. Before they speak you can see they have good news as it is written all over their face. Have the presentations you have listened to over the past six months portrayed that the presenter is telling some very important and exciting good news that we want our listeners to absorb? So, as speaking brethren, we should consider if we are showing our listeners this conviction and enthusiasm for the things we believe. If we are not, then we can hardly expect them to be moved or excited by the “good news” that there is a Kingdom soon to come and they can have their sins forgiven through Jesus Christ to share in that Kingdom.

Textbook examples of Gospel Proclamation

Let us look at a few further examples of preachers and the good news message they proclaimed.

The message of John the Baptist – “Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2).
Our Lord’s message – “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 4:17), or as Mark put it: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15).
Peter, on concluding the first public address – “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). This is exactly what Jesus told the disciples to preach in Mark 16:15–16, and Luke 24:45–47. You will recall that Peter in this address also spoke about Christ returning to sit on David’s throne, to set up the kingdom.
Peter, after healing the lame man, concluded his explanation of the event by saying – “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord [or the kingdom comes]” (Acts 3:18–19).
Paul on Mars’ Hill in Athens concluded his address with these words – “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31). Just as an aside, have you noticed that when this section is quoted in lectures it is normally only verse 31 that is quoted?
Paul, summarising to King Agrippa the commission given him by Christ, did so in these words – “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:19–20).
This brief list certainly shows that there was a consistency in the message preached. From these examples we see that the disciples followed exactly the pattern set by John the Baptist and the Lord himself in their preaching. The two pillars of that good news message centred on proclaiming the need for repentance and telling of the coming Kingdom of God. If we are to follow Christ’s instructions in our preaching then there must be a very definite emphasis on these two fundamentals.

We should be telling of the coming kingdom and the blessings that this will bring to the world.
But more importantly for the individual we should impress the fact that unless they acknowledge their sins and repent, demonstrating their belief by baptism, they will not enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus – our example in preaching

This may seem just too obvious to state, but it is a truth – “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. He was given the name Jesus by his Father “for he shall save his people from their sins”. Thus our Lord could state: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus knew that his preaching of the Gospel of salvation was clearly foretold in the prophets. Thus he cited Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19). In his parable Jesus spoke of the wondrous joy in heaven when a sinner who, acknowledging his sins, repents: “I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth”. There was a priority in the work of the Lord in his preaching – it was to make sinners aware of their state before God and repent, turning to God in obedience to Him.

It may be we have not consciously considered the number of times our Lord spoke of repentance; however it features strongly in his message. And it did for this simple reason – without repentance, acknowledging our sins and then turning to follow in a godly way of life there is NO HOPE.

I don’t know if you have thought about the deft way the Lord could bring current event disasters around to the real issue of man’s need of repentance. I think we have all listened to ‘current event’ lectures that deal with the dismal world situation of climate change, Russian Arms build up, Iran’s atomic capacity, the Palestinians and their threat to Israel and Israel’s retaliation, and for good measure the moral decline and the prevalence of violence and corruption. There is nothing wrong in dealing with such things so long as there is a very clear personal message in the talk. Our example could be well taken from the Lord. There was a massacre of Galileans – headline news for sure! When the Lord was spoken to about it he replied: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”. Then there were the eighteen who were killed by the tower falling on them – another headline for the paper and the TV crews if they had existed then. The Lord’s message again was: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”. Obviously those attending his comments on those current events came away with a clear personal message that they had to consider. Do we give such a clear message in such talks?

The Lord’s preaching of the Kingdom

Have you noticed the number of parables which commence with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto …”? Here we see the great Teacher’s preaching method regarding the kingdom. It was simple, clear and very serious for those who had “ears to hear”. He likened the kingdom to seed sown in four different soils, three of them useless and the fourth fruitful; to a great number of fish caught in a net, some kept and others rejected; to ten virgins, five wise and five rejected; to faithful servants rewarded and lazy ones rejected, and many other such examples. The destiny of each class was clearly told.

Jesus did not concentrate on the physical details of the kingdom as that was well known to the Jews of his day from the Old Testament. They knew the King would reign from Jerusalem as the parable of the Nobleman teaches (Luke 19:11). What Jesus did impress upon his hearers was the criteria for entering the kingdom. His preaching centred on people’s response to the message and their destiny. Today it is needful for us to give the physical details of the kingdom to our audiences as they know little or nothing about it. However we must not be satisfied with just listing physical facts about the actual kingdom but, following our Lord’s example, we do need to include the criteria upon which a person can find a place in the wonderful kingdom which we all daily pray will soon come.

We have briefly looked at the preaching of the Lord and the apostles and the question we must ask ourselves is –

How do we measure up?

At the beginning of this article we asked if it may be possible that we have moved away from the main message we should be presenting. In other words, do the two fundamentals pillars of the gospel form a solid place in the preaching in your ecclesia today? As we listen to presentations by brethren today, are these two core themes clearly evident? If not, then we may need to discuss how we can return to these basics being brought to the fore in our preaching. If we have moved away from the historic ways that we, as a community, have presented the Truth we must ask ourselves the obvious question, “If a person visits will they very clearly see the message we are presenting?” If not, then we need to seriously reassess our preaching activities.

It is relatively easy to present facts about the coming kingdom but we may feel a little uncomfortable telling people that they are sinners and unless they repent they will perish. Don’t let this deter us. Let us never forget this simple fact – our friends in the audience are headed for permanency in the grave. This is serious and through God’s grace we know the way of salvation for them. If we were on a sinking ship and had been trained to give instructions on how to use life jackets and board the lifeboats we would need to present these instructions in a clear, easily understood, uncomplicated manner, as to know these facts may mean the difference between life and death. To excitedly keep calling out the obvious fact that the ship is sinking, or to stand silently by and do nothing will save no one. Our task is to present to our listeners the fact that they face peril, but then to concentrate on clearly giving the simple steps to be followed if they wish to be saved. If they choose not to follow the guidance given, that is their decision. We are clear of their blood, to use the expression from the prophets.

In recalling attending lectures in my youth with my parents, the one passage that was etched into my mind was Mark 16:15–16. Invariably, it seemed to me, the lecturer would bring his comments around to these verses and give a very strong personal message to the hearers, urging them to respond to this good news message that was offered by God. I must say that this method has been a goal for me to endeavour to follow since those days.

Obviously in our preaching activities we will take up different themes in an aim to draw the friends’ attention. The addresses in Acts show the apostles did this too. Our themes may be on prophecy which has been a fruitful topic in the past, on current events, on catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis, or answering the erroneous doctrines held by Christendom or some other religion. However by the end of all presentations it is fair to ask ourselves, “Have I set before the hearers the very positive message of hope contained in the gospel in clear and understandable terms?” If we have not, then we have not fulfilled our responsibility.

In a later article we will look at such topics and methods of presenting our message that we may find helpful. We will also consider the question that is often asked – “Are lectures working or should we try something different?”