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The First New Testament Sermon

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 2:14–47

The true measure of a church is its commitments. God’s favor rests on a church that is committed to proclaiming Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, teaching biblical doctrine, worshiping God in holiness, and pursuing fellowship and love among the members.


I remember as a teenager preaching my first sermon. I was terrified, and it lasted about fifteen minutes. No one responded to my sermon, but at least no one walked out in the middle of it. I remember a retired pastor telling me afterward it was a fine sermon. Well, he was a nice man who obviously had low expectations.

Now we are about to listen in on the very first New Testament sermon. It will launch the creation of the New Testament church. And I am quite sure the apostles will be stunned when 3,000 people respond in faith to Christ.  

Earlier in the morning, on this day of Pentecost, we watched as the Holy Spirit descended with supernatural power on these early disciples, who then delivered the gospel in various languages they had never learned. Peter now explains the miraculous tongues in verse 17 by quoting the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32):

“In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Some people teach that Pentecost fulfilled this prophecy of Joel and that we should be prophesying and seeing visions today. But Peter does not end his quote from Joel at this point, and what he goes on to say argues against the fulfillment on this day of Pentecost. Peter continues his quotation in verses 19-21:

“I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes . . . And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Joel is not describing Pentecost here; he is describing events related to the second coming of Christ. We know this because the book of Revelation describes these cosmic events taking place in the future tribulation period just prior to Jesus’ return (see Revelation 6:12-16; 8:6-7, 12; 9:18). We also know that even during the tribulation, all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

So, what is Peter saying here? Let me paraphrase the apostle’s words this way:

“This is the Holy Spirit Joel wrote about. He’s now here. And this same Spirit who has the power to perform all of Joel’s prophecy is empowering us now to speak in unlearned languages.”

Peter then announces the King who will sit on the throne of David when Joel’s prophecy is fulfilled—He will be none other than Jesus Christ, who’s described here in verse 22 as “a man attested . . . by God with mighty works and wonders and signs.” In other words, the miracles of Jesus confirmed that He was, as Peter says later in verse 36, “both Lord and Christ.”

However, He was rejected when He should have been accepted as the Messiah. With that, Peter now brings together the wonderful plan of God in spite of the evil work of man. Note his words in verse 23:

“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

The crucifixion was not a mistake—it was not plan B; it was God’s plan all along.

Yes, sinful humanity is held responsible for their rejection of Christ, but now Peter delivers the stunning news that the death of Christ was part of God’s plan of salvation from eternity past. 

Back in Genesis 50:20, Joseph expressed the same principle when he told his evil brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” That is, “God took your evil—your sin—and made it work out to rescue His people.”

Jesus’ death was in God’s plan, but listen to the rest of the plan. Peter says in verse 24, “God raised him up . . . because it was not possible for him to be held by [death].” Peter then quotes Psalm 16:10, where David wrote that the Lord would not let His “holy one see corruption.” In other words, the crucified Messiah would not rot away in a grave—he would be raised from the dead.

Now Peter evidently gestures to the disciples, who are standing around him there, and he says in verse 32 that they are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, he says that Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit, whose mighty signs Peter’s hearers have now witnessed.

And with that, Peter concludes his powerful sermon by delivering the verdict here in verse 36: “Therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now what? Verse 37 says, “They were cut to the heart and said . . . ‘What shall we do?’”

The first word from Peter is “Repent.” The Greek word here in verse 38 literally means “change your mind.” You thought Jesus was a crazy carpenter; well, change your mind about Him. He is the Messiah.

The rest of verse 38 has caused confusion and, unfortunately, led some to teach that salvation is by faith plus works. Peter says here, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins.” Now that sounds like baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sin.

But this little preposition translated “for”—“for the forgiveness of your sins”—can be translated, as it is in other passages, “on the basis of” or “because of.” You could write that little word because in the margin of your Bible here so that you read it, “Repent and be baptized because of the forgiveness of your sins.” Beloved, we are saved by faith alone, without works, as the Bible consistently teaches (see Ephesians 2:8-9).

Although baptism is not necessary for salvation, let’s not ignore it. It is the public testimony of your identification with Christ. That Greek word baptizō (baptize) means “to immerse.” In baptism you are put under the water, identifying with His death and burial; then you are pulled up out of the water as you identify with His resurrection.

The church is commanded to baptize every follower—every disciple—of Christ. There is not one verse in the New Testament that tells us to baptize our babies. Matthew 28:19 commands us to make disciples and baptize them.

Beloved, baptism is not something your parents are to do for you—well-intentioned though they are. Baptism is something you do for Christ to tell the world you belong to Him.

The response here is stunning! Verse 41 tells us 3,000 people believed the gospel. They repented and lined up to be baptized. Suddenly, a small group of disciples became a church with more than 3,000 new believers.

Now they don’t have buildings and Sunday school curriculum. So, what do they do? Well, let me tell you, they immediately dedicate themselves to the same four commitments we ought to pursue today.

First, there is a commitment to doctrine. Verse 42 says, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” The foundation of every church is her doctrines, not her programs. Today we have a lot programs but very little doctrine.

Second, there is a commitment to fellowship. The original word is koinonia, which means “partnership.” The New Testament never imagined a believer separated from a local church.

Third, they are committed to worship – the “breaking of bread” and prayer. They are remembering their Lord by observing communion and talking to Him through prayer.

The fourth commitment is love. Verses 44-47 describe their love for one another as they “were selling their possessions . . . and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Most of them immediately faced hardships, losing their jobs and their standing in the Jewish community for following Christ. So, they are taking care of one another’s needs.

Verse 47 states, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” It is no wonder they are so blessed; they’re committed to doctrine, worship, fellowship, and love.

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