Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Tree Grows from the Seed

Could you summarize Jesus’ ministry in one sentence? Be careful--your answer will say more about you than it will about him. The Apostle Peter (my friend Pete) gave a one-sentence summary in Acts 10:38:
"You know . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
It’s a fascinating account. Peter has a remarkable encounter with God, filled with revelation and mystery, and before he has time to sort it out he is called upon to share the gospel of the Kingdom to a roomful of people who are completely foreign to him. This passage is pivotal to the growth of the church; it’s the moment when Peter’s experience overwhelmed his theological understanding of the gospel; it’s when the Holy Spirit sovereignly decided to demolish the walls and renovate the church.

Peter's response is instructive because it not only gives the essentials of Jesus’ ministry, it provides the essence for us as followers of Jesus. Peter was after more than a mere presentation of gospel message, he was out to make disciples. First impressions, as the saying goes, are lasting ones, and I suspect Peter wanted his hearers' first idea of Christianity to include the notion that they were called to be just like Jesus. The tree will grow from the seed, and Peter sowed the seeds of the divine nature becoming flesh--not only in Jesus, but also in us.

What kind of tree will grow from the seed we plant? Perhaps we should measure our summary against Peter's inspired example. He are five points of comparison:

  • Peter’s gospel message includes Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together.  (“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit”) The tree will grow from the seed. Do we present the full picture of God at work in the earth, or limit the image of God to only One Person? Peter’s example is instructive. A “full gospel” requires the presentation of the full Godhead.
  • Peter’s gospel message doesn’t point to heaven as a future event. He paints a picture of heaven and earth linked together through the work of the Holy Spirit, who spans the divide and pours the stuff heaven into the words and works of Jesus. In one simple sentence, we get to see how “Let-your-Kingdom come-let-your-will-be-done-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” works.
  • Peter’s gospel message does not limit Jesus’ mission to redemption only. We see Jesus going from place to place, “doing good and healing.” We see God in action, expressing his goodness and power. How many gospel presentations affirm his essential goodness as well as his power to express that goodness. True, redemption is part of the story, but Jesus embodied a much bigger “good news” than we dare to imagine.
  • Peter’s gospel message reminds us that we are called to conflict. Those who are in need of healing are “under the power of the devil.” Even the most “Missional Churches” of the western world fail to highlight the nature of spiritual conflict. His intent was not to win an argument, his intent was to win freedom for the captives.
  • Peter’s gospel message presents the presence of God as a necessity for ministry. This final point is worth of a separate post (or a book). Jesus--Immanuel--operated in the presence of God. That presence was essential, not optional. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we?

Verses 39-43 indicate that Peter had more to say, but the Holy Spirit had heard enough. He was ready to harvest. He was ready to start a wildfire. Even those who were strangers to the Jewish covenant flooded into the Kingdom of God. The church would grow from pagan soil. The barbarians in Europe were about to see the light. If we were only dealing with church history this verse would be interesting enough. Strangely, God’s not into church history, and certainly he didn’t inspire the book of Acts merely to interest us.

How we summarize the gospel is the seed of our expectation. The tree grows from the seed. Peter called the seed “imperishable” because he wanted us to become partakers of the divine nature. Do we partake? Isn't it time to revisit the gospel Peter preached?

6 comments:

  1. Great stuff, Ray. Thank you, especially, for the reminder that as "missional churches" our focus needs to be just as much on the spiritual conflict as the visible needs we see. This is spot-on for our work with our boys getting out of prison. Spot on, Ray.

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  2. Jesus' missional statement in one sentence.

    "For I have come down not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me." John 6:38

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  3. My thanks to each of you.

    Grant Dawson--it's encouraging to hear that this post has some "practical value" in the very "real" work of helping set prisoners free.
    韋志, I'm glad you liked it.
    Anon: Of course, quoting Jesus is a worthy thing to do. I'm afraid, though, that I didn't get my point across: namely, how do we evaluate *our* understanding of the gospel. Certainly Jesus came to do the Father's will, but I think a more pressing question is whether we've heard what he said.

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  4. My thanks to each of you.

    Grant Dawson--it's encouraging to hear that this post has some "practical value" in the very "real" work of helping set prisoners free.
    韋志, I'm glad you liked it.
    Anon: Of course, quoting Jesus is a worthy thing to do. I'm afraid, though, that I didn't get my point across: namely, how do we evaluate *our* understanding of the gospel. Certainly Jesus came to do the Father's will, but I think a more pressing question is whether we've heard what he said.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great stuff, Ray. Thank you, especially, for the reminder that as "missional churches" our focus needs to be just as much on the spiritual conflict as the visible needs we see. This is spot-on for our work with our boys getting out of prison. Spot on, Ray.

    ReplyDelete