ACTS2v14to41: PETER'S SERMON
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)
I approached this first sermon of Peter with some reluctance. It is, after all, a summary of one man's sermon by another. Who wants to read the comments of a third man on a second man's version of the first man's message. However, it is important to make the effort if for no other reason than the remarkable number of converts to Christianity it produced.
I think Peter's address has four characteristics. It was: short, intelligent, disturbing, and positive. I will deal with each.
(B) The sermon was short.
Luke's summary only takes 2 or 3 minutes to read. Peter preached in Aramaic and Luke wrote his summary in Greek. He noted down what either his sources or Peter could remember. He did not record the sermon in the style of Peter but in his own style.
It is highly likely that Peter spoke for a lot longer than 3 minutes. Luke acknowledges this: With many other words, he warned them; and he pleaded with them... v40. Nevertheless Luke's summary conveys much information. It is a reminder that a lot can be said in 3 minutes. The Beatitudes can be recited in less than 3 minutes; so, too, can a hymn, pregnant with meaning, like: Oh love that wilt not let me go.
Most sermons are too long. Preachers should realise that when they are enjoying themselves in the pulpit their hearers are not necessarily enjoying themselves in the pew. When the preacher experiences liberty and freedom he may be rambling - wandering from one anecdote to another. The sermon lacks that vital ingredient - pace. Once a school inspector assessed a lesson I gave on population growth. I had some good stories and the children seemed to like them. I grew self indulgent and played to the gallery. At the end of the lesson the inspector said, "Your lesson lacked pace." He was right.
I have told a few of our visiting preachers to keep to time. The service is scheduled for an hour and that is long enough for our very elderly congregation. No speaker likes to be told his sermons are too long! Most are gracious enough to accept my mild rebuke. The fact is, that all those who have fallen into line have preached more effectively as a consequence. Their pace picks up and they concentrate on the points that really matter.
(C) The sermon was intelligent.
Peter wished to convince his hearers that Jesus was the Messiah. Every message should have an aim. The simpler the aim the better. I suppose you might ask, "Well what is your aim in expounding this particularly passage of Scripture?" It is to share the way an understanding of the Scripture helps me to live the Christian life better.
(b) His argument:
Peter considered that the miracles pointed to Jesus' divine origin. So they do. On another occasion when Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to desert him, Peter replied: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." John6v68. I, too, find the words of Jesus deeply impressive. They affect me like the words of no other. John sums up a peerless life by writing: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John1v14. There is something exquisitely attractive in the way Jesus dealt with women: the woman taken in adultery, Jairus' daughter, Martha and Mary Magdalene, the woman who touched the hem of his garment and the prostitute in Simon the Pharisees' house. The strongest argument for the existence of God is the remarkable life of his Son.
(2) The resurrection - But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. v24. Jesus is unique. God did for him what he has done for none other - raised him from the dead. Sin did not defeat him, death did not vanquish him instead:
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And He lives for ever with His saints to reign!
(3) His exultation - Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. v33. Jesus has been established in the place of power and equipped to pour out his Spirit upon the church. He is more than an historic figure. Jesus is alive and active today. He is in control and nothing could be more evident in many parts of the world than the continuing life giving quality of his outpoured Spirit.
(c) His evidence.
A lot of the arguments deployed by the opponents of Christianity defy common sense. Some scientists, who have an anti-Christian agenda, argue that because the processes by which the universe and life came into being are better understood this disproves the existence of God. I am not one of those who oppose the 'big bang theory' for the origin of the universe or evolution as a means of bringing about a diversity of species. These are just processes. A description of the process does not explain what lies behind the process.
Sometimes I come home and find a tin outside my front door. Inside the tin is a lovely sponge. Now it is perfectly reasonable to say that the sponge was made by mixing flour, eggs and sugar together and baking in an oven for 15 minutes at 375F. However, for me to give this process the credit for producing the sponge offends common sense and is plainly ridiculous. Dorothy made the sponge and her husband, Edward, delivered it to my door. They hoped it might cheer me up!
Attempts to explain away the resurrection of Jesus and conversion experiences are similarly flawed and can be rebutted by an appeal to common sense.
(b) His appeal to Scripture. Peter quoted from the Old Testament to confirm that the events between Passover and Pentecost - Jesus death, resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit - were anticipated in God's word and as such intended by God.
I think it is possible to question Peter's use of Scripture. He does replace, 'And afterwards', Joel2v28, with, 'In the last days, God says', Acts2v17. The second part of the quotation refers to the great and glorious day of the Lord - the day of Jesus second coming rather than the day the Holy Spirit was given.
The second quotation is from Psalm16v8to11. Peter considers the words: Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay, v26and27; could not have been written by David of himself because he died and remained dead. I think it very probable that the Psalmist was, by faith, writing of himself. If the rest of the psalm reflects his belief why should verses 26 and 27 be an exception? However, it is true that what David wrote in faith Jesus actually experienced. The realisation of David's hope is dependent upon what happened to Jesus.
I don't think it is possible to quibble about Peter's use of Psalm 110 because Jesus himself indicated it referred to the Messiah.
Peter may have used the Old Testament quotations rather clumsily but he was very wise to employ them. They worked. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to convince men and women of the truth of the gospel. The Bible has a power that no other book can boast. As the writer to the Hebrews put it: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword. Heb4v12. See exposition on God's Word.
(c) The appeal to experience. Peter reminded his hearers that they had witnessed the remarkable life of Jesus. He said, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." v22. Peter confirmed the truth of the resurrection with this assertion: "We are all witnesses of the fact." v32. Finally there could be no doubt that the Holy Spirit had been poured out because it was something: "you now see and hear." v33.
A preacher should always speak from, and appeal to, experience. I think a failure to do this is the greatest weakness among preachers. I have heard so many speakers say that God answers prayer without showing how God has answered their prayers. Others will tell us: God will provide - but signally fail to inform their hearers how God has provided for them. As a consequence many sermons lack realism.
I recently preached a sermon on the text: "Ask and it will be given." Luke11v9. I used an illustration that moved the congregation more than anything else I said. I had been taking a service at West Row on the edge of the Fens and was standing at the door shaking hands with the rather phlegmatic and undemonstrative country folk as they left, when an attractive women approached holding her young son in her arms. She said, "I just had to bring my boy to see the preacher." Needless to say this was a most unusual greeting. She then told me her tale. It was two years ago that I had last spoken at her chapel. She came into the church in a very bitter and resentful frame of mind. The woman and her husband had been trying for a child for ten years. As time passed she prayed more and more desperately to God for a baby. God did not answer her prayers and she grew increasingly uptight. That evening I preached on Hannah's prayer for a boy. My informant said that when she left the church that night she was a changed woman. She was no longer tense and bitter. All her pent up anger with God disappeared. The Holy Spirit used my message to give her peace and tranquillity of mind. She relaxed and didn't try so hard for a baby. A few weeks later she conceived. That lady knew that her prayers were answered - albeit in a strange way. God sent her a battered old preacher with a sermon on Hannah.
I discovered that my most successful school assemblies were those that resonated with the experience of the teenage listeners. I gave the the talk on Smicker's Christmas Card at a school carol service. I had a little group of 15 year old girls come along and tell me how much it had touched their hearts.
Peter's sermon was intelligent without being academic. He wasn't attempting to interest his listeners or stimulate debate or impart knowledge but produce an effect. Peter wanted the Jews to realise what a dreadful thing they had done - put to death God's chosen one. The people in Jerusalem had to accept responsibility for their behaviour. Peter does not pull his punches but says in accusation: "You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." v23. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." v36.
Peter's sermon was effective. His listeners were cut to the heart. How the apostles must have rejoiced to hear those wonderful words, "Brothers, what shall we do?" v37. They are wonderful words because they signal surrender. Just as Saul of Tarsus surrendered to Jesus on the road to Damascus when he said, "What shall I do, Lord?" so, too, did the majority of Peter's hearers.
There are some lessons to learn from this:
(b) Preaching should be more confrontational. Paul tells Titus, the leader of the church in Crete: Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Titus2v15. When I was a young man I was a firey preacher. I can recall an old lady telling me with great satisfaction, "You gave us a good whipping today." It is important to maintain a balance. God's children need to be encouraged but from time to time they should have a whipping.
(c) Everyone has to accept responsibility for their actions. Sinners ruined by the fall have excelled at making excuses. In the Garden of Eden, Eve blamed the serpent but Adam blamed Eve and by implication God, Himself. The man said, "The women, you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." This is by far a worse excuse than Eve's because there is already a hint of defiance and truculence about it.
We are amazing! We are quite prepared to hold others responsible for their actions but we find excuses for ourselves. What whimps we are!
(d) We need to accept that we could live better lives. Again Paul writing to Titus says: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. Titus2v11. God has been so good to us we should try hard to please him. I take an elderly lady to chapel each week. She reckons that I am good to her! I have to confess that I am only doing my reasonable service. Anyway, when it is my turn to provide tea for the Brockley cricketers Phyllis always makes the cakes. She says, "I like to do it." There is plenty to do for God in acknowledgment of his grace and we should like to do it!
(e) The most effective sermons are those that result in someone saying, "What shall I do." This indicates that a hearer is determined to change. I can remember my old friend Tommy Bamber sitting in an assembly at the County Upper School listening to a talk on the evils of smoking. I watched him - for he loved a ciggy. He turned grey and then almost green. He was seriously discomfited.. And he never smoked again. That was an effective assembly.
I have talked to my church about the importance of public prayer - and seen an increased attendance at the prayer meeting. That is effective preaching.
Peter called on his audience to: "Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins." v38. The result? Three thousand were converted. That is effective preaching.
(E) The sermon was positive.
The Jews had done a truly dreadful thing. They crucified the Lord's anointed. When Pilate asked: "Shall I crucify your king?" They replied: "We have no king but Caesar." John19v15. When Pilate said: "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Mt27v24and25. What a terrible, terrible, response.
The men and women who listened to Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost were cut to the heart and cried out: "Brothers what must we do?" What was the answer that they deserved? They deserved the chilling response: "There is nothing you can do. You must accept the consequences of your wickedness."
If I am foolish and drink too much alcohol, get in my car and get involved in an accident I might well be sorry. I might tell the magistrates that I am very sorry. That will not get me off. I will have to accept the consequences of my actions. There will be no mercy.
Jonah took to Ninevah the message they deserved. He delivered it in all its stark simplicity: "Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned." Jonah3v4 No doubt to Jonah's great surprise, particularly in view of his minimalist approach to preaching: The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. v5 Jonah did not hold out any hope for the Ninevites. He was in the whipping tradition of preachers. However, When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. v10. God's compassion greatly exceeds even the wickedness of man.
God's compassion meant that Peter did not deliver the message sinners deserve but the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. There was something his hearers could do: "Repent and be baptised everyone of you, in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
It is no good the preacher whipping his congregation to death. The emphasis of all gospel addresses should be the love and compassion of God - not the sin of man. It is not conviction of sin that saves us but the love that drew salvation's plan and the grace that brought it down to man.
A preacher of Jesus Christ has good news for sinful men. In the words of the old Sankey hymn:
Peter and all subsequent evangelists have been able to give sinful men hope. We will give the last word to the greatest evangelist of them all: But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us ....... so that, having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus3v4to7.