Do you remember the first time you spoke in public? Perhaps you experienced those sweaty palms and shaking knees. Frankly, public speaking is one of the most common fears among adults today, ahead of fear of heights and even the fear of death!
The first time I preached a sermon was at Teenagers Sunday Night Live, when my local church allowed teenagers to conduct the entire worship service. That might sound like a rather risky proposition! I remember preaching on Nehemiah building the walls of Jerusalem. People were kind to me after the sermon—pity perhaps!
It is no accident that early in the book of Acts, Luke recounts the first church sermon preached in public. As far as God is concerned, the preaching of the gospel is the foundation of the church. Preaching is the mystery-work of God’s Spirit as He opens the eyes of those blinded by the god of this world. The unapologetic preaching of God’s Word was the foundation of the 1st century church and is for the 21st century church.
I want to emphasize the unapologetic preaching, because I’ve discovered in recent decades that so many churches and leaders seem to be apologizing for the truth of God’s Word. Recently, I read this from the website of one of them:
“There is no fire and brimstone here. No Bible-thumping. Just practical, witty messages. Our services have an informal feeling. You won’t hear people threatened with hell or referred to as sinners. The goal is to make them feel welcome. … Call it Lite Gospel. It has the same salvation as the Old Time Religion, but with a third less guilt.”
That’s the formula today: more wit and informality; less hell, sin, and guilt. A church like this might as well be using the Thomas Jefferson Bible, with everything they don’t like cut right out of the pages of Scripture.
The apostles wouldn’t be impressed with today’s apologetic, politically correct, spineless sermons.
The apostle Peter’s first sermon, recorded in Acts 2, was not only the template for preaching the Word in 33 A.D. in Jerusalem, it can be an effective template for churches today. So, as we seek to model our churches on the example found in Acts, let’s observe the outline of Peter’s sermon, and seek to replicate it in our own gospel presentations.
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak to the crowds in Jerusalem. Miraculously, every person in the crowd, no matter where they came from, could hear the spoken words in their native language.
Then Peter stood to preach.
THE FIRST SERMON EXPOUNDS THE SCRIPTURES.
Peter had walked with Christ, witnessed miracles, visited the empty tomb, and seen the Lord ascend into heaven. Peter had even seen Moses and Elijah appear on earth to commune with Jesus during the Transfiguration.
But in this sermon, Peter doesn’t begin by recounting his personal experiences, or sharing his personal insights, as compelling as they may have been. He begins with the foundation of God’s inspired Word. He says, in Acts 2:16, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: …”
One of the hallmarks of godly preaching is to make God’s Word preeminent, put it in the spotlight, and elevate it as the highest authority.
What Peter does in verses 16-21 is expound on the Old Testament prophet. He reads this prophecy that all Jewish scholars at the time would have been intimately familiar with. Not only that, he quotes twice from King David—two passages from the psalms where David speaks of a coming Messiah. Then, in verse 22 and again in verse 32, Peter connects the dots between these prophetic truths and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
An expository sermon does not expound on what you think, but what God says. So yes, pastor, do your study, interpret carefully, and offer insight whenever you can. But remember Peter’s example, and let Scripture interpret, enlighten, and inform the passage you are preaching.
THE FIRST SERMON DELIVERS THE VERDICT.
Peter reminds his audience of their own guilt. He says, “This Jesus, … you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). He does not shy away from the hard truths he must deliver; he boldly pronounces the verdict—guilty.
This fear of “fire and brimstone” preaching I see in so many churches is nothing more than a cowardly attempt to appease an audience rather than challenge them; to sooth a guilty conscience rather than let it be convicted and confronted by God’s Word.
Keep in mind that while good preaching does not mince words and dodge sin, it does not stop with judgment. Just as preaching without an acknowledgement of judgment is wrong; preaching only judgment is equally wrong. Peter concludes his sermon with the words “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
Do you hear the gospel preached at your church? The hard edges of the gospel? The guilt and coming judgment and the offer of restoration and mercy? Any church that compromises on either of these elements is frankly preaching a false gospel.
For pastors, congregation members, and every Christian called to share the gospel with the unsaved, let’s not forget this model sermon from the first century. Elevate the Bible as the highest authority, and unapologetically preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. As His followers, we can do no less.