By James Cornwell

Reading from Acts, 13:26-43

26 “My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead; 31and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.’
34 As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’
35Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’
36For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
41 ‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’”

42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next Sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Meditation

A once-popular bumper sticker states simply, “Jesus Saves.” There is something wonderfully straightforward in this distillation of the gospel message. The idea behind this (perhaps Protestant American) impulse is that the gospel ought to be accessible to the average person, and so, made as simple as possible.

And yet, in today’s story, we do not see this simplifying attitude. As St. Paul proclaims the gospel in the synagogue, he could cut to the chase: “There was a man who was also God, Jesus the Christ. Believe on him and be saved!” But instead, he unfolds the history of the Jewish religion, chapter by chapter, and culminates in the personhood, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. The crowd is not left scratching their heads: in fact, they ask him to come preach again next week!

It is essential that the gospel be preached using language an audience can understand, but there is a danger in oversimplifying. If we just focus on the bare facts of things, we risk cutting them off from the details that give them meaning. It is a fact that Jesus died on a cross, was raised on the third day, and ascended into heaven. But the meaning of these events is lost when we sever them from the rich past that produced them, and the present and future significance that they point to. Truths thus severed may retain temporary cultural force, but only for a season. In our efforts to make the gospel accessible, let’s not render it meaningless. Let’s give people the full story, and leave them asking for more.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.

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