This is the day proclaimed by false teacher Harold Camping as the beginning of Judgment Day. According to him, May 21, 2011 begins a five month period in which earthquakes will destroy those of us who do not believe his false gospel of God’s wrath. But God will rapture those, and only those, believers in him who have believe that Satan is in control of all the churches (and has been since 1988), have left them and have embraced the message, not of Christ’s sinless life, propitiatory death and glorious resurrection for sinners, but of the coming of Judgment Day on this day, May 21, 2011. Camping and his followers see themselves, not as the apostles bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Christ and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith in his name, but as the Old Testament prophets, principally like Jonah, who are sent with a message of impending judgment, calling on all to “cry mightily unto God for mercy.”
This is nothing but a simple case of losing focus on the centrality of the cross of Christ in Christian proclamation. The apostle Paul writes that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Elsewhere, he writes, “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:8-11). What is the principal work of Christ in focus in this call to faith? His resurrection on the third day after his death for sinners. Verse seventeen of this very passage points out that it this word of Christ, his death and resurrection for sinners, through which faith comes, and no other. If we lose focus on the cross of Christ, even in favor of his other works, like his promised return in glory, we will not be preaching the message through which the Holy Spirit will impart faith, and those to whom we preach will not be saved. This is just one of Harold Camping’s numerous errors, not to mention heresies, in his so-called “radio ministry.”
For this reason, I want to survey the Acts of the Apostles and see how that they who were called to lay the foundation of the church (see Eph. 2:20) bore witness to Christ throughout the world in order to be reminded of the centrality of the cross in our testimony before the lost world.
In the first book [The Gospel According to Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart fromJerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11; emphasis mine)
With this introduction of Christ’s call to bear witness to him throughout the world to an ever-widening extent, our focus in this survey will be upon a selected few of the ten major speeches recorded in the Acts. Three are preached by Peter, one by Stephen, and six by Paul, of whose consist of one from each of his missionary journeys (the first addressing Jews, the second Gentiles, the third Christians, followed by three defense speeches before authorities).
Peter’s Witness (Acts 2:14-36)
In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost after Christ’s Ascension, he first explains how that the disciples’ speaking in tongues is a fulfillment of Joel’s apocalyptic prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) emphasizing not the coming of Judgment Day, but salvation through faith (Acts 2:14-21). In verse 22, he transitions from the miraculous to the subject of his sermon by the fact that Jesus’ miracles attested to his divine sanction, and immediately proclaims the death of Christ as being the predetermined plan of God (v. 23), and proclaims his resurrection, explicitly stating that it is this to which they bear witness: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
Stephen’s Witness (Acts 7:1-53)
After preaching Christ as the promised prophet who is like Moses in that he would mediate a better covenant than that which Moses mediated (Acts 7:37; cf. 2 Cor. 3), although explicit reference is not made to Christ’s death and resurrection, it is at least assumed (his audience were Jews who were well aware of the death of Jesus), and his resurrection and ascension are implied by his declaring his vision of the exalted Christ, sitting on the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56). Then Luke, the human author of Acts, portrays Stephen’s death as an allusion to the propitiatory nature of Christ’s crucifixion (that it renders God favorable toward sinners) as the martyr prays that his executioners’ sins would be forgiven, just as Christ also prayed (see Luke 23:34), and his very death is thus a testimony to the cross of Christ itself (cf. Col. 1:24). The word “martyr” in fact means “witness,” and such witness Stephen indeed bears to his death. Saul of Tarsus held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, but he would not come to faith until he himself would come face to face with the risen Christ.
Paul’s Witness (Acts 17:22-31)
Contrary to Harold Camping’s emphasis that the cross and resurrection need not be preached, but exclusively the coming judgment, Paul preaches God’s judgment as signified and assured to come due to Christ’s resurrection from death (v. 31). The response of the Athenians to Paul’s preaching of the resurrection shows its central character in his sermon (v.32) and we see that as a result of such preaching, faith was granted to Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris (v.34).
If I’ve learned one thing in my past teaching ministry, it is that the easiest thing in the world to do is to forget to tie that which you teach or apply to the cross and resurrection of Christ. We must redouble our efforts to make sure the gospel is kept central in all of our preaching and teaching because it, and only it is the message by which God promises to save those who believe (1 Peter 1:25; James 1:21). If we learn anything from the tragedy playing out before our eyes this weekend, let it be the importance of the cross of Christ. Pray for your friends and loved ones who may have been deceived by Camping’s false gospel of Judgment Day that they might lose faith in Camping, but that their faith in Christ crucified and risen for them may not fail.