‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’
That was the assessment of the officers of the guard sent to arrest the Lord Jesus on the great day of the feast of tabernacles (John 7:46). Their exposure to His teaching may have been brief, but they quickly shared the astonishment of the crowds at Him who ‘taught them as one having authority’ (Matt 7:29). His authority derived from the conviction and wisdom with which He spoke, the signs which accompanied His teaching and the unfailing precision with which He carried out everything He taught. Yet, above all these things, the unparalleled authority which characterised the Lord Jesus had a more fundamental origin, for the one who enraptured the crowds and enthralled the guardsmen of His enemies was none other than the eternal Son of God.
The authority of God
The Scriptures consistently assert the authority of God. Its foundation is in who He is; its claim through His combined works of creation and redemption (Deut. 32:4,6,10-12). Today, the Lord Jesus bears this authority as ‘the heir of all things’ through whom God has effected His great creative and redemptive works (Heb. 1:2-3). His investiture with this supremacy occurred in the eternal ages before He was revealed in flesh, for by the time of His ministry ‘the Father had given all things into His hands.'(John 13:3) So He could declare that ‘all things have been delivered to Me by My Father'(Matt 11:27) and ‘all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’ (Matt 28:18). This was an authority He displayed over creation in His life, over death and Hades in His resurrection and which is now seen in the one who is ‘far above all principality and power and might and dominion’ with ‘all things under His feet’ (Eph. 1:21-22). The sceptre which He wields demands the obedience of those He now calls to Himself.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the word translated ‘to obey’ is closely associated with attentive hearing. In the New Testament, the word literally means ‘to hear under’. Listening is involved, and submission to the one whose voice is heard. The Lord Himself, as the obedient Man, daily engaged in attentive and submissive listening to the voice of God (Is. 50:4-5), for the law of God was in His heart (Ps. 40:6-8). What He displayed so majestically in His own life, He seeks in those He calls (Matt 7:24-27), that they too might have open ears, listening attentively to His word and practising its daily observance.
Preaching the kingdom of God
The authority of God and the call to obey Him was at the heart of the message. The Lord Jesus who, at the beginning of His public ministry, ‘came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God’ (Mark 1:14). This was the purpose for which He had been sent (Luke 4:43), which He fulfilled in earnest as He ‘went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God’ (Luke 8:1; 9:11; 16:16). His message concerned the good news of the prospective fulfilment of God’s purposes in Him, that God would gather together a redeemed people for His own possession and make of them a kingdom amongst which His rule would be acknowledged and His will given expression on the earth. This operation of divine rule would not be carried out within the confines of an earthly realm, as it had been in Israel’s day (1 Cor. 15:50); instead, it would be made known through the Holy Spirit to those born anew by redemption in Christ, that by obedience to the Word of God entry into this kingdom might be secured (John 3:3,5).
The message which the apostles received from the Lord also addressed this essential remit (Luke 9:1-2,60; 10:9), not only during the years of His ministry, but also in the witness of the early churches of God. The importance of ‘the things pertaining to the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3) was emphasised in the forty days following His resurrection, when this formed the basis of His teaching to His apostles. So, on the day of Pentecost when the harvest of 3,000 was gathered in, they were ready to act in accordance with the pattern they had received; but more particularly, the teaching of those forty days characterised their gospel preaching throughout the lands in which the churches of God operated as they ‘preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8:12).
Paul too, who had not been present when the Lord revealed to the apostles ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of God’ (Luke 8:10), preached this kingdom. In Ephesus, he spent three months ‘reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God’ (Acts 19:8), not failing to declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:25-27), which in coming days the Ephesians would have to defend against wolves creeping in amongst the flock.
Obedience and the call
So the pattern of Biblical evangelism centred on the authority of God and the necessary response it demands. The call of God requires obedience in two ways: first, the hearer must obey the call; and secondly, obedience to the call will bring the hearer into committed, life-long obedience to God. When the God of glory called Abram, ‘by faith Abraham obeyed’ (Heb. 11:8). This was Abram’s necessary response, but it was not an end in itself, merely the vital first step in a life-long calling to submissive and faithful obedience by which he would meet the desire of God, to ‘walk before Me and be blameless’ (Gen. 17:1). This pattern in Abraham’s experience was repeated in Paul’s. Saul of Tarsus was not disobedient to the heavenly vision by which he was called (Acts 26:19), but that initial step committed Paul to permanent allegiance to His Lord whose sovereign authority he now acknowledged, even above the value of his own life, that he might ‘finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:24).
The supreme authority of the Lord Jesus demands that those who respond to His call are obedient to Him who called them. Again, the obedience is two-fold. First, the Lord desires a personal obedience borne out of deep gratitude for the saving work of Calvary. The standard is high for it corresponds to an incalculable cost: ‘He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them’ (2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). This personal obedience must then be displayed in collective obedience which God seeks in a people gathered together and separated according to His will to be moulded by the pattern revealed to them in Scripture. In this, the saints in Rome were commended, that having once been slaves to sin they now ‘obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered’ (Rom. 6:17) The image used is that of the foundry, where molten metal is poured into a cast to take the shape of the mould. So they had been delivered into the apostles’ teaching, known also as the Faith (Jude 3) and firmly based in the Lord’s own forty-day teaching of Acts 1:3. As a cast, it had shaped them according to God’s consistent design to be observed throughout the churches (1 Cor. 7:17; 11:16).
The Gospel call today
Today, the gospel which the apostles preached is in our charge and we will do well to reflect the essence and conviction of their message, declaring at the heart of the gospel the sovereign authority of the Lord and His unanswerable claim on the lives of men. The day will come when the obedience of all the peoples shall be to Him (Gen. 49:10 RV), but until then we proclaim the Lord Jesus who was crucified and has now been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). In the gospel of God’s glory we find the loving invitation and the free gift, but it also comprises the command of a holy God (Acts 17:30) calling men to repentance and obedience. It is not open to us to tell of the loving Saviour, yet omit the conviction call to obedient service. We must declare the whole counsel of God who has invested His Son with unanswerable authority, issuing the call as He did, and the apostles in His stead, commanding men to respond in attentive obedience to the gospel of the kingdom of God, whereby they may be found under His beneficent rule as servants in the place where His glory dwells.