The essence of Christianity is not good advice, but good news. And there is a big difference. This was the theme of Pastor Josh Pfeiffer’s wonderful Easter Sermon at Bethlehem Lutheran Church here in Adelaide, Australia.
Many people assume that Christianity, like other religions, is primarily about offering good advice. That is, what we should do in order to get to Heaven or solve our problems or live a happy life. To be sure, the Bible does offer lots of good advice, as well as good commands. But the foundational message of Christianity is good news. That is, a factual report of what happened.
Specifically, the good news–the Greek word for which is evangelion (hence, “evangelical”) and the Old English word for which is godspell (hence, “gospel”)–is that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.
The twelve Apostles were specifically chosen to be eye-witnesses to these facts, though there were other witnesses as well. (See Acts 1:21-22; Luke 1:2; 2 Peter 1:16.) Our Scripture readings for Easter clearly set forth what the good news is, then attest to the factuality of that good news by citing witnesses.
From Peter’s testimony to Cornelius:
And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (Acts 10:39-41)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:1-10]
We’ve been posting about the second-generation Christians, also known as the Apostolic Fathers, who were converted by the Apostles and their contemporaries (their belief in Christ’s deity, their attitude towards martyrdom, their focus on the Cross. That means that they came to faith from hearing people who actually knew Jesus in the flesh, saw His death, and saw Him alive again after His death (in some cases, they “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”).
What about us? Christians sometimes proclaim the gospel as if it is advice–what we must do–rather than news. But we can still hear the good news from the Apostles themselves when we read the New Testament, in which they record what Jesus did.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is at work when we hear and tell people about this news. Now, as it was then, the good news “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Painting, “The Resurrection of Christ” (1611-1612) by Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons