There is a story about a tourist who talked with a resident of Manhattan. The tourist asked him if he had traveled outside of Manhattan. The New Yorker replied, “Why should I? Manhattan has everything and besides, I do not think that I have visited all the things that Manhattan has to offer yet.”
The Lord Jesus Christ commanded the disciples to become witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) Yet we find out that after the Lord Jesus Christ ascended and the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they really enjoyed their time in the Temple. They were very successful preaching there. The Jerusalem congregation increased in size, and they became a megachurch with over 3,000 people after one Holy Spirit-inspired sermon. God had to move them out of their complacency. A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and this forced the second generation of believers to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Preaching in new lands meant that the believers had to confirm the definition and authenticity of the gospel. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (other translations have the word anathema). Jewish believers saw a great distinction between themselves and the newer, Gentile Christians. They believed that they were now the people of God saved through the Lord Jesus Christ. But for the Gentiles to become a part of the people of God, they had to believe and then be circumcised. In other words, they had to become Jews.
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Conversely, Paul preached the authentic gospel when the Philippian jailer asked him what he must do in order to be saved. He replied simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (believe in the gospel) and you and your family will be saved.” From the Greek side came the reduction of the gospel. When Paul preached in Athens, we read, “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.” (Acts 17:32) They could believe many of the things Paul said, but they could not conceive of the resurrection—the crux of the gospel message.
In two thousand years of preaching, these two aspects have competed against the gospel. The addition has been a part of the more conservative or purist church, which often questioned the salvation of people if they did not do specific things. Sometimes we became like the Pharisees who laid heavy burdens on people that God never asked them to carry. On the other side, people want to make the gospel more palatable or acceptable, and they take away things that they think will be hard to accept. Sadly, at the top of these reductions is the resurrection of Jesus Christ; but without a risen Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins, no Holy Spirit, and no eternal life.
Ruth Tucker wrote a book detailing the history of missions, entitled From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. The title is very appropriate because it begins with the commandment of Jesus to start preaching the gospel in Jerusalem and Irian Jaya was the last missionary outreach established at the time Tucker finished her book. The book is an easy read, and my hope is that thousands of people will read the book and see what the church has done in the two thousand years since Jesus Christ came into our world. If one reads the book, they must be impressed by the commitment and sacrifice of the thousands of missionaries who felt the call and the obligation to preach about Jesus. They sacrificed their lives and the lives of their loved ones so the gospel could be known to the ends of the world.
This gospel was first spread throughout the Mediterranean world, which at that time was the Greco-Roman world. When the Goths and Huns conquered Europe, the gospel conquered them. Others took the gospel to the continents of Asia and Africa, so there were Christian churches in many of the nations on those continents before the end of the first millennium.
However, as Christianity moved into the second millennium, some missionaries shared more than the gospel. They wanted the new converts to become like them—to dress like them and behave like them. They tried to convince new converts that these things were a sign of their faith. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a movement called Missions Moratorium. In post-Enlightenment Europe, people in universities challenged the gospel and reduced it to a good Jewish teacher who lived long ago and gave us Matthew 5-7, also known as the Beatitudes.
Canadian pastor Oswald Smith asked this question in a Christmas sermon: “What can Christians give to the world, that the United Nations cannot?” His answer was the gospel, Jesus Christ! The angel says to Joseph, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) Peter presented this authentic gospel on Pentecost when he said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Paul wrote one of the most concise statements of the life of Jesus on this earth – his humility in incarnation, his humiliation in the crucifixion, and his exaltation in his resurrection and ascension. Then he concluded with these words: “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1-11)
At this Christmas and in the coming years, we shall proclaim the authentic gospel – God with Us. Jesus in his fullness was born, crucified, raised, glorified, and will come again as King. No more, no less—just the complete gospel.