“Preaching That Makes a Difference”
I remember my preaching classes in graduate school. We had to preach in front of our peers several times and prepare dozens of outlines for messages. Our professor took great delight in pointing out the various idiosyncrasies that we had that would drive others crazy. He taught us about posture, voice, and enthusiasm as well as content.
The story is told that in the Preacher’s College that Charles Spurgeon founded, each of the students was given a text and asked to preach on the spot. On one particular day a student was given the subject of Zacchaeus. The student stood before them and said, “Zacchaeus was of little stature; so am I. Zacchaeus was up a tree; so am I. Zacchaeus came down; so will I.” I bet that guy became a great preacher.
I must admit I’m not real big on the idea of being put on the spot and preaching without preparation. I think God expects us to prepare. God wants us to “study to show ourselves approved.” And sometimes, even after we prepare, the message seems to be flat and lifeless. That is what makes Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 so fascinating. He spoke without any preparation (He was prepared by Christ and the Holy Spirit but he did not have any notes or prepared message) and his message had a powerful impact. 3000 people were added to the church that day.
This morning I want to listen carefully to this message not only so we can learn the lessons Peter was trying to teach, but also so we can learn what elements a powerful presentation of the gospel should include.
PENTECOST SHOULD NOT SURPRISE THEM
The charge against the disciples was that they must be drunk. They were speaking like crazy men because they were all inebriated. This charge should not surprise us. People so resist the work of God that they will make all kinds of charges,
- Faith is for the emotionally crippled
- Faith is for the intellectually limited
- Faith is the opiate of the masses
- Faith is the result of conditioning
Peter addresses the charge head on (as we should). He points out that it was only 9:00 a.m. No one would be drunk at this time. They would either be sleeping it off from the night before or not yet have had enough to drink to be drunk.
Peter’s explanation of what took place was simple: “This is the fulfillment of prophecy”. He turned to the book of Joel and quoted the words of the prophet,
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [Joel 2:28-31]
In this text there are some key elements. The Spirit will be poured out, the common people will be filled with the Spirit, and there will be wonders to accompany the occasion. Obviously this whole passage is not fulfilled . . . yet. The sun was not turned to darkness and there wasn’t any blood and fire and billows of smoke. There is still more to come. These things will happen at the end of the “last days” I suspect Peter quoted the entire passage because he wanted to get to Joel 2:31 or our verse 21. He wanted people to know that Joel points to a day when the gospel will be opened to all people.
This was certainly strange teaching. I’m sure the people wondered how these things could happen and why. Peter is about to tell them. Please notice that Peter does not appeal to the people on the basis of the experience they have had. He doesn’t say, “Follow Jesus because ‘it works’”. Peter does not focus on the experience. He knows that you can get a good experience from all kinds of things. Today you could feel a sense of euphoria from: good music, a well-written novel, drugs and alcohol, a major purchase, a special relationship and from sin. Peter’s focus is on Christ. His appeal is that people should turn to Christ not because it will make them feel good . . . but because He is the way and the truth established by God for eternal life. Look at Peter’s arguments.
JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH
Every good Jew was awaiting the day when the Messiah would come to earth. Peter declared that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. Peter does more than just make a declaration; he gives evidence for his conclusion.
He was shown to be the Messiah by His Life. Peter reminded the people (remember, many of these people would have heard of or even seen Jesus.) that Jesus was not just a good teacher. He was not just a captivating speaker. Jesus was shown to be something more by the miracles, wonders, and signs He performed. Jesus gave evidence of His Messiahship by the signs He showed,
- He raised a little girl, a Mother’s son, and his friend Lazarus from the dead
- He multiplied the loaves and fish
- He delivered those who had been demon-possessed
- He gave sight back to the blind
- He healed lepers
- He made the lame to walk
- He calmed the raging sea
- He walked on the water
- He confounded the spiritual leaders
He showed he was the Messiah by His death The most difficult aspect of the life of Jesus for any Jew would have been the way He died. To die on a cross was the most humiliating and degrading way to die. Peter makes two assertions. First, his death was God’s plan all along.
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Jesus was sent to die. He was sent to pay the price for sin. He was given over the Jews because it was God’s will and not because He had done anything wrong. They had nothing on Him, and everyone knew it. Probably everyone in that crowd knew that Jesus was executed because the leaders felt threatened by Him.
The second assertion was that the death of Christ was the responsibility of those in the crowd. THEY put him to death. As harsh as it sounds the truthfulness of the statement needed to be seen by the Jews just as it must be seen by us. Jesus went to the cross because of our sin and rebellion. If we had lived at that time we would either have been in the group that abandoned Him or the group that called for His death. Jesus died because mankind would not receive Him! He died as a payment for our sin.
He showed He was the Messiah by His Resurrection Peter asserts that the resurrection is added proof that Jesus was the Messiah. He was unique in his resurrection. He did not rise because someone touched him or called out his name. He rose while in the tomb by God’s hand! He was a victor over the grave.
The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if the resurrection didn’t happen, then there is no Christian faith. This is the cornerstone event. This is what sets Jesus apart from all the pretenders. Peter asserts that the resurrection of Jesus was another fulfillment of prophecy. He quotes David in Psalm 16:8-11,
“I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:8-11, NIV)
Peter explains. Though these words are written by David, he could not have been writing about himself. Why? Because David did die, his body did decay, and anyone could go to David’s tomb and prove it. Peter contends that David was speaking of His descendant, the promised Messiah. Most likely this was a well known Messianic passage. Peter applies it to Jesus.
But Peter takes this a step further. He declared, “We are all witnesses”. Those who stood before the people (the 120) were all witnesses to the fact that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. They saw His wounds. They recognized Him. They talked to Him and ate with Him.
Certainly many in the crowd knew that these men had indeed “been with Jesus”. They knew that these men had been in hiding and suddenly were filled with new boldness. They knew that the men did not even put up a fight when their Lord was arrested and now they stand on the street proclaiming a message that could get them killed. What else would explain such a transformation?
He is proved to be the Messiah by His Exaltation. Peter continues,
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ““‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
Again Peter reasons with the people. The crucified, dead, buried and resurrected Christ is ascended to the throne of God. It is by His authority and work that the Holy Spirit they have just witnessed has come to them. It’s as if Peter was saying, “Where do you think this grand miracle has come from if it hasn’t come from the one who has been raised from the dead and now has been seated at the right hand of God.
Then Peter quotes from David. It is the most quoted Old Testament passage in the entire New Testament. Psalm 110 has David saying, The LORD (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai), “Sit at my right hand”. This was a position reserved for an equal. David is not talking about himself. The LORD was talking to David’s Lord. Peter says that “Lord” was Jesus. Peter makes the declaration everyone was waiting for, “Jesus is Lord and Christ”. He is God and He is the Messiah.
This is the gospel, my friends. Look at the evidence. Look at the prophecy that was fulfilled. These are just a few. The prophecies about His birth, His life, and His death are numerous. Every one of them was fulfilled in this one person. Look at the evidence of His life. Has anyone ever done what He did? Look at the evidence of His death. Why did He die? Why didn’t He fight? Look at the evidence of His resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, He is unique. He alone deserves the title Lord and Savior.
Do you see how reasonable it all is? Do you see how compelling a case there is for Jesus as our Savior?
IT’S TIME TO RESPOND
The people heard Peter’s words and were struck by the reasonableness of his presentation. His arguments made sense. The people were convicted and they asked, “What shall we do?” Hopefully, it’s the same question you are asking. “In light of the evidence, how do I respond?” Peter’s response was threefold. First, they were to repent. The word for repentance means to turn and go in another direction. True repentance means we recognize our sinfulness and the horror of what we have done.
Imagine two scenarios. A friend of yours hurts you deeply. Your friend comes to you and says, “I heard that I offended you, I’m sorry”. They said the right words but somehow you feel the offense was your fault and not theirs. They said they are sorry but you don’t really believe them.
In scenario two you are offended but this time your friend comes to you in tears. They confess that they never wanted to hurt you and their heart is broken at the pain they caused you. They confess that they would do anything to take the hurtful word or deed back. They look for a way to make things right. You find yourself throwing your arms around your friends and telling them your forgive them because you know if you don’t, their misery will break your heart.
OK, which of these two people were repentant? It’s easy, isn’t it? It’s the second person. They recognized their offense and desire to undo the damage. That’s true repentance. The truly repentant person is sorry not because they don’t want to face the adverse consequences of their actions….they are sorry because of the offence that they have committed against a Holy God. Repentance leads to real change.
Next, Peter tells them to be baptized. This is a command that many people misunderstand. Some people have concluded that this shows that baptism is necessary for a person to be saved. They say that baptism washes away our sin. But I think the Bible is clear, baptism does not wash away sin; the blood of Christ washes our sin away. We are not saved because of some act we do; we are granted salvation by God’s grace extended to us through what Christ has done on our behalf.
I Galatians, Paul is angry because some are saying that a person must be circumcised before they can be saved. Paul says this distorts the gospel. It makes it a matter of man’s effort and not God’s grace. We see the same thing in Ephesians 2. Salvation is solely and wholly by God’s grace. When we say that a person must be baptized in order to get to Heaven we are saying that we are saved by Christ’s work on the cross AND our work in getting baptized.
So if Peter is not saying baptism is necessary for salvation, what is he saying? We must understand what baptism meant in the day of Peter. It meant taking a public and irrevocable stand with Christ. It meant making a break from their Jewish faith or their pagan rituals. When you were baptized you were making a decision that could cause you to be ostracized by your family and even killed. When you were baptized in Peter’s day you making a bold and public declaration of your faith. I believe Peter was saying that we need to repent and then we need to take our stand with Christ. We must put our hope in Him and Him alone. We must be willing to be damned by the rest of the world in order to be His.
Think about the President of the United States. They are elected and then they take the oath of office. Does the oath of office make the man the President? No, the people elect the man to be the President. The oath is a public symbol. It is a public promise to fulfill the trust of the office. Baptism is somewhat like the oath. It is a public symbol that defines who we are and who we belong to.
Unfortunately baptism today is socially acceptable. It doesn’t cost much to be baptized. Consequently, some get baptized because they hope they will get to Heaven, some get baptized to be accepted by friends, still others get baptized in response to an emotional appeal. We don’t have that same radical nature of baptism that people in oriental or Arabic countries know even today. It doesn’t mean baptism is unimportant, we just have to remember why it’s important.
Peter concludes by telling the people that everyone who is willing to turn from the life of sin to the Savior, Jesus will receive the same Holy Spirit they saw manifest earlier in the day. God will take up residence in anyone who believes. That last sentence may be the most radical statement of the entire message. This invitation of new life is open to anyone who will turn to Him.
Don’t forget who is doing the preaching here. The preacher is Peter. This is the same man who less than two months earlier denied knowing Jesus three times. This is the same Peter who abandoned the Savior in His hour of need. This same Peter had received and been transformed by God’s grace.
The story is true for Paul as well. This same Paul was responsible for the death of many believers. Before he was saved he went from town to town with warrants for the arrest and certain death of many believers. Paul hated Jesus! If anyone should have been disqualified from grace it would have been Paul. But grace was extended.
You may feel that you have waited too long, know too little, or sinned too much. You may have skeletons in your closet that would make our skin crawl. But, the message of salvation is available for you. You put Jesus on the cross, but He went willingly to set you free. He was the fulfillment of centuries of prophecy; He was God’s man for your sin! When He came out of that tomb His mission was accomplished. He opened the door of eternity to whoever would put their trust in Him.
On that day 3000 people were convinced by the evidence. 3000 people said, “I will stand with Jesus.” 3000 people started the day headed for Hell and returned home as citizens of Heaven. Can you imagine the baptismal service?
So, here we are at the end of the message . . . Peter’s message . . . God’s message. The question is now before you. What will YOU do in response to the evidence. Trusting Christ is not a choice anchored in feelings. It is a choice that should be based in the facts of fulfilled prophecy, the demonstrated deity, His sacrificial death and His victorious resurrection. The question is: In light of the evidence, will you turn toward Him or away from Him? Will you stand with Christ or will you turn away? Will you cling to your sin or run to the Savior? We are promised that anyone who will believe the evidence and put their trust in Christ; anyone who will seek forgiveness for their sin and be willing to stand with Jesus; will know forgiveness and new life. Having heard the message the question remains: Will you allow that message to transform you?