Monday, April 25, 2011

Andy Stanley is "Big" on the Gospel

What is the essence of the gospel? What's the take away? What's the bottom line? What's the irreducible minimum?

Andy Stanley, senior pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia, discusses these and other questions in his dynamic message "Big Church, Part 4: Big Audience". Notice what he says:

"The apostle Paul was a very educated, probably wealthy man. Because he was a Roman citizen he had access to things that even some of his brothers in Jerusalem did not have access to. He had access to education they didn't have access to. And because of his brilliance he was able for our benefit to extrapolate from Christian Judaism what needed to be transferred to the Gentile world. In fact, he continually got into trouble, as we'll see next week, with the Jews in Jerusalem because he had a Gentile version of Christianity. But the thing that God raised him up to do was to help those of us who don't have an Old Testament background, who weren't looking for a Messiah, for the people in his day that weren't looking for a Messiah, to understand: What is the essence of the gospel? What is the essence of this message? What is - what's the take away? What's the bottom line? What's the irreducible minimum? And over and over and over the apostle Paul would go into Gentile regions - especially in Athens and Ephesus - and say: 'Even if you're not Jewish, even if you never understand the Old Testament, here's the thing you have to understand. Here's the new thing that God has done in our midst.'

In the book of 1 Corinthians he [Paul] gives us the synopsis of this message, the take away for all of us who are Gentiles, who are non-Jewish people, who don't have an Old Testament background, who weren't raised to be on the lookout for a Messiah, and in this passage he defines as clear as anywhere in the Scripture exactly what the gospel is, exactly what the message is that had to be transferred from generation to generation. Here's how he describes it in 1 Corinthians. This is a letter that he wrote during that time when he was traveling around the world to the ekklesia, the gathering, the church, in Corinth. Here's what he says to them: 

'Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you' [1 Cor. 15:1a, TNIV] - because he's already been there, now he's writing to them - 'I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you' [1 Cor. 15:1a, TNIV] - so now he's about to define for us what is the gospel - 'which you received and on which you have taken your stand' [1 Cor. 15:1b, TNIV] - and now he gives it to us in no uncertain terms, skipping over to verse 3, 'for what I received' [1 Cor. 15:3a, TNIV] - and that is, received from God and received from the disciples, the apostles, and received during all that time of preparation for his ministry, 'for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance' [1 Cor. 15:3a, TNIV] - so here is the most important thing, if you forget everything else, if you lose sight of everything else, if you don't understand anything else, here's what is of first importance: 'that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried' [1 Cor. 15:3b-4a, TNIV] - that's how we know He died, that's what you do to a real dead person, you bury them, okay, this is important: 'and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas' [1 Cor. 15:4-5a, TNIV] - and who's Cephas? Anybody know? Peter, that's right - 'to Cephas/Peter and then to the twelve' [1 Cor. 15:5b, TNIV] - the twelve disciples. 'After that He appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time' [1 Cor. 15:6a, TNIV] - you didn't know that, did you? That Peter, that Paul rather, realized and discovered in talking to all the people in Jerusalem that there were points after Jesus' resurrection - He didn't appear just to one here and two there and three there that thought they had some kind of, you know, mysterious vision of a resurrected Jesus. [Paul] said: 'No, you need to understand, you Corinthians, there was a time when the resurrected Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the same time!' And then listen to this next part: 'most of whom are still living' [1 Cor. 15:6b, TNIV]. Now this little piece of document [i.e. the book of 1 Corinthians] was written probably in the early 50's A.D. or 55 [A.D.], about 20 or 20 something years after the events. And [Paul] says to the Christians in Corinth: 'Look, this resurrection - I know that's hard to believe, it's hard to get your arms around that, it's hard to embrace that fact that somebody would rise from the dead, but you need to know that there were over 500 people at one time who saw the resurrected Jesus, and if you want to get yourself a boat ticket and go to Jerusalem, you can find most of those people, they are still alive and walking around today' - 'though some have fallen asleep' [1 Cor. 15:6b, TNIV] - some of them have died in the ensuing years. 'And then He appeared to James' [1 Cor. 15:7a, TNIV] the brother of Jesus, 'and then to all the apostles' [1 Cor. 15:7b, TNIV]. And then listen to Paul now as he brings it back to his personal ministry: 'and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born, for I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle' [1 Cor. 15:8-9a, TNIV] - now Paul why would you say that? You spent, you know, 10 or 12 years of your life traveling around in a dangerous part of the world proclaiming the message of the Messiah, that the Messiah has come - 'because I persecuted the church of God' [1 Cor. 15:9a, TNIV]. There's our word again. 'I persecuted the gathering, the ekklesia, the movement of God. I persecuted it. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not without effect' [1 Cor. 15:9b-10a, TNIV]. Isn't that powerful? He says to the Corinthians: 'I don't know why God chose me to bring this message to you. I don't know why of all the people that should have been chosen to make a difference, to plant these ekklesias, these gatherings - I am the least of everyone that God could have chosen, but He chose me and He chose me by His grace!' And that was central in the message of the apostle Paul.

And so he brings to us in no uncertain terms, those of us who don't have an Old Testament background, those of us who weren't raised to look for a Messiah, those of us who weren't well versed with the Scripture, he brings to us the bottom line - the thing you can't ignore. And here's what it is; it's four simple statements: 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. That's it. 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. Let's just say it together, say it with me. Ready? 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. Again: 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'.

Here's what he [Paul] was saying; he was saying: 'Look, I know, you know it was seven literal days of creation and what happened to the dinosaurs - don't worry about that. Here's what you need to know: Christ died for your sins, He was buried, He was raised, He appeared.' [Someone might object:] 'I know, but all the - I was reading like in Revelation and there was like all these horses and fire and the world comes to an end...' It's like [Paul's] going: 'Okay, we'll get to that. Here's what you need to know: Christ died for your sin, and He was buried - that's how we know He really died, and He was raised, and He appeared, and the way we know that He really rose from the dead is because He appeared. He died on the cross for your sins, and He was buried, and He was raised, and He appeared.' And yeah you got a lot of questions. And yeah you have never read the whole Old Testament. And yeah you can't really put together the way that the - all the different accounts of the resurrection, and there's lots of questions and you don't understand certain verses of the Bible and some of it's so complicated, and you think you have to go to seminary, and sometimes, you know, everybody else is to where they need to be in the Bible and you haven't even found your Bible yet, and there's just so much information - and the apostle Paul says: 'Okay, okay, okay, okay, let me just, here's the thing you got to know; here's the irreducible minimum, here's the part you just can't ever lose sight of: Christ died for your sins, and He was buried; He was raised from the dead, and He was seen' - and that's the gospel; that's the starting point. That's not the point you get to after you get all your questions answered. That's the thing you wrestle with. If you want to wrestle with whether or not Christianity is true, don't look at the Christians who disappointed you; don't attend a church that puts you to sleep; don't worry about the fact that your parents brought you up to be a Christian and then got divorced and your Dad ran off with somebody else. [Paul] says: 'Look, all that stuff is a distraction. If you're going to wrestle with Christianity; if you're gonna wrestle with the truth of the gospel - wrestle with this one thing: Did Christ die for your sins? And was He buried? And was He raised from the dead? And was He seen? That's it. That's the starting point. That's the stopping point. That's the gospel. That's the foundation. That's what it's all about.' And the message [Paul] took from Jerusalem after he disseminated through all the different stories, and all the things that he learned about Jesus, and of his Old Testament background, and all that he had been brought up to believe as a little Jewish boy - he would say to the believers in Corinth and Ephesus and all over that world, 'Here's what you need to know: Christ was sent into this world to die for your sins; He rose from the dead; He has been seen - He appeared.'

So you know what the challenge is for you and for me? Is to ask the question: Have you ever embraced that personally? You see, most of us as children, many of us as children, we - somebody sat us down, our parents sat us down, and they explained it to us, we don't know what they explained but at the moment in your life, at the moment in your life that you finally got it: Christ died for my sins and He rose from the dead - at that moment you entered into a faith relationship with your heavenly Father. For some of you it was at a camp, for some of you it was after a church service, for some of you it was at an FCA gathering or a Young Life gathering, for some of you it was at a church gathering, for some of you it was in a home, for some of you it was watching someone on television or online, for some of you it might have been at a Billy Graham crusade, but at some point the thing we all have in common is it dawned on us - not that we understood the whole Bible, not that we could work through all the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts - but it dawned on us: Jesus died for my sin, and He was buried - He was really dead, and He rose from the dead, and He was really alive, because somebody saw Him. Paul says over 500 people at one time, and if you don't believe me he would say: 'Go to Jerusalem, they are still there walking in the streets today.' That's what brings us together. That's the unifying theme. That's what we have in common with Christians all over this city, all over this country, all over the world: that Christ is the Son of God - the living Son of God, who died for our sins, was buried, rose from the dead, and was seen. 

So here's my question for you as we wrap this up: Has there ever been that time in your life, that 'ah ha' moment for you when you said: 'I see this, I believe it, and I embrace it'? Have you ever expressed to your heavenly Father: 'Thank you, that Christ died for my sin, He was buried, He rose from the dead, He lives today and I want to embrace Him as my personal Savior.' Has there ever been that moment for you? I know you have questions that are so sophisticated I will never be able to answer them for you satisfactorily - in a satisfactory way. But the real issue is: What have you done with the gospel that Christ died for your sin and rose from the dead? If there has never been a moment in your life where you have embraced that personally I want to give you that time, I want to give you that moment today. And today is the perfect day because you're in the gathering. This is part of the movement. This is the message that brings us together. And if during this message there was something that clicked and it dawned on you that somehow all the other questions kind of, you know, filtered away and there was just this one big thing in front of you and you think: 'You know what? I think I believe that!' Then perhaps this is the day for you to embrace this message and to join the ekklesia - the church - the movement of God."1


1 Andy Stanley, "Big Church, Part 4: Big Audience," January 30, 2011, [27:28 minutes - 38:41 minutes]. For additional information see the Free Grace Free Speech "What is the Gospel?" page.

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