This post is part of a multi-part blog series called Preaching Principles. Click here to watch the introduction video.
At the end of his ministry, Jesus ascended to heaven, then the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, and the church era was born. But as the Holy Spirit was poured out on God’s people, those who were gathered from all nations had some legitimate questions about God, and faith, and what in the world was going on. So, the first instinct of Peter was to preach. Acts 2:12-14 says, “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words…
This very first sermon of the church era provides a model for answering some important questions about preaching. Let’s explore the Who, What, and Why of preaching using Acts 2:14-41 as our case study.
WHO is Speaking?
Even though Peter is the one delivering the sermon, there are many voices at work in his message. This is still true for modern preachers. We must be careful to weight the importance of stewarding the words of others, most importantly God’s voice through the scriptures.
Who is speaking in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2?
- Peter (:14) – Peter… lifted up his voice and addressed them
- Joel (:16) – But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…
- God (:17-21) – And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…
- David (:25-28) – For David says concerning him…
- Jesus (:32-33) – This Jesus that God raised up and of that we are all witnesses…
- Holy Spirit (:33) – Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you are seeing and hearing…
This is an example of the chorus of voices that the preacher represents in each message. Peter didn’t have access to CS Lewis or Tim Keller or TD Jakes quotes or he may have thrown them in there too. It is with great humility that the preacher must stand and steward the voices of others including his/her own voice.
But no responsibility is as great as being the mouthpiece of God himself to a group of gathered people. Paul said it this way in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. In preaching, we are not just talking about God, He is communicating himself through the act of preaching. No wonder it requires our best focus, our best preparation, our best spiritual surrender, and it’s also no wonder that it’s so exhausting and draining – it comes with incredible responsibility.
WHAT is being Spoken?
In very general terms, Peters message follows three different content movements.
In Acts 2:12-16 Peter takes note of the questions and concerns of the moment. The people who were gathered were trying to make sense of the new spiritual reality, namely the arrival of the Holy Spirit through tongues of fire and a rushing wind. They were amazed and perplexed. They were asking very valid questions, what does this mean? Some were filling in the blanks with their own secular theories, these people must be drunk, they are filled with the new wine.
One of the critiques I have heard in recent years, is the hardcore Christians saying, “don’t start with illustrations or talking about what’s going on in the world, I just give me the word!” However, most of the preaching and teaching the Bible was connected to real-life circumstances and addressing the needs or questions of the hearers in the moment. People are coming to church with real needs and questions. Our current situation needs explained through a theological lens.
So, in his ‘introduction’ Peter begins by addressing their questions, these people are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day… (2:15)
If we are speaking for God, we must go to where God has already spoken. So Peter gives the Bible a voice in his modern setting. Through Peter’s preaching, God brings his word to life in a new way for a new generation. In God’s word he never lies, his words are timeless, they apply to different situations and different cultures. So Peter goes to the scriptures and enters a sacred trust between he and God. Preaching is where God ‘manifests’ his word. Paul talks about this sacred trust:
Titus 1:1-3 – Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior
Notice, he says preaching is for the sake of the faith of people. It serves to increase their knowledge of the truth, and points them to hope of eternal life. But the key is God manifesting His word through preaching.
At the conclusion of Peter’s message in 2:37-41 we see him providing clear next steps for the people to pursue. A sermon is first indicative and then it is imperative. It is indicative in that the preacher points to God and what he’s done, but it becomes imperative when it moves form ‘this is what God has done,’ to ‘now this is what you must do.’
Peter lived every preacher’s dream in that the gathered crowd was so compelled by the sermon and the Spirit’s conviction that they were begging for application. In 2:37 they eagerly asked “what must we do?” So Peter provided them with clear next steps in :38ff, “repent and be baptized… save yourself from this crooked generation.” Which brings us naturally to our final question.
WHY is Preaching Necessary?
What was Peter’s goal? What is the purpose of the sermon? The purpose of every sermon is life change. The message is meant to affect the whole person. It is to call people to walk differently, to follow Christ wherever he might lead. A successful sermon will specifically change at least one if not all three of the following: our convictions, our character, or our conduct. The scriptures are clear that it is not enough to just hear the word, but hearers must also do something about it.
- John 13:17 – If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
- Matthew 7:24 – Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
- 1 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
Consider John Calvin’s perspective. He said, “The Word of God is not to teach us to prattle or be eloquent and subtle… It is to reform our lives, so that we desire to serve God, to give ourselves entirely to him, and to conform ourselves to his good will.” Or the great D.L. Moody, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” So, the preacher stewards the very words of God, speaks to a specific cultural moment, brings the scriptures to bear, and provides clear next steps in order that the lives of the hearers might be transformed forever. Challenge accepted.