Perhaps when you saw the title of today’s sermon you thought, “Finally, the pastor is going to give us a good sermon!” First sermons have been known to have some funny outcomes. I heard of one preacher whose first sermon so terrified him that he thought, “If I can preach about a strong man in the Bible that will give me courage.” So he decided to preach on Samson who was so strong he could pull down a building with is bare hands. He got almost to the end of his sermon and realized that he had made a terrible mistake. He had called him “Tarzan” all the way through. There was another fellow who put his intellectual genius to work on the story of blind Bartimaeus. He had three points: First, he was blind. Second, he was blind as a bat. Third, he couldn’t see a lick.A first sermon is a memorable experience for a preacher. I preached my first sermon at a youth rally one summer evening in 1953. It was at Evergreen Baptist Church in the Mercer Association in South Georgia. When I gave the appeal for commitment to Christ many of the teenagers responded. It was a high holy moment for me as a sixteen year old kid who had received the Divine Call to be a preacher. After that beginning, I was invited to preach at various churches in the area. I really didn’t know anything about preaching except what I had observed in my pastors at First Baptist Church in Quitman. Dr. Thomas Field was my first mentor and later Dr. Gerald Martin. These two men made a powerful impact on my life. My first sermon was simply a statement of the facts of the Gospel of Christ and a testimony of the change that it was making in my life. And now fifty-nine years later, I have the sense that there is so much more of the Holy Book that I would like to preach that I will never have time to do.
We are going to look today at the very first Christian sermon and its contents. It was preached by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the church. Early Christian preaching had four basic elements which we see in this sermon by Peter. First, there was the statement of the facts about what God was doing. Second, was the teaching element that explored who Jesus is and the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. Third, was exhortation for people to invite Jesus into their lives. Fourth, was the life application of the various teachings of the Christian Faith. Let’s follow this outline in the very first Christian sermon.
I. WHAT GOD IS DOING (vv. 14-21). “Then Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.’”
It was the feast of Pentecost which occurred fifty days after Passover. Jesus was with his disciples for forty days after the resurrection before he ascended back to heaven. He had told them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before they tried to spread the good news of redemption. Ten days after the Ascension many thousands were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost and then God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower the believers for the work of the Kingdom. The effect was that they began to proclaim the good news of Jesus so that people from sixteen different places heard the gospel in their own language. They said, “Those speaking are Galileans. What does this mean?” Others made fun of them and said that they were drunk. Peter said, “This is what the prophet Joel said would happen.”
Peter then quotes from the Book of Joel Chapter 2 verses 28-32. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Peter said that it was a spiritual miracle of grace. On God’s timetable the church was born, commissioned, and empowered to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. That is what God was doing!
II. WHO JESUS IS (vv. 25-36) “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. 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…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Peter indicates that the death of Jesus was planned in the mind of God and was foretold by David in Psalm 16:8-11. It was no accident that happened outside of God’s control. It was a fulfillment of prophecy, but at the same time you are responsible for this wicked crime. If you knew the prophecies about Jesus you would understand that he is the promised Messiah. It is because you have a different idea about who the messiah would be that you can’t conceive of him dying on a cross. But the proof of who he is comes from the fact that he was resurrected from the grave and is alive today and is coming back again. “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.”
This is the very heart of our faith and belief. It is the core of our Christian message to the world. There are those who make fun of it today just as Peter heard them in his day. This week, billboards that American atheists put up in Charlotte, North Carolina to make fun of Christianity so that the attendees of the political convention would see them were taken down due to the outrage and protest of Christians. The billboard had an artist’s drawing of Jesus and beside it were the words “Christianity – Sadistic God – Useless Savior – 30,000+ versions of “Truth” – Promotes Hate, Calls it Love” Satan really showed his hand in this didn’t he? This is mild compared to the opposition that the early Christians faced as they tried to convince the pagan world that God loved them and would save them if they would turn to him. Peter and thousands of others were crucified because the world hated them so much.
We will keep on proclaiming that Jesus is the only way to God and the only hope of mankind. In a time when everything is tolerated and every sin is blessed and a crumbling society is dehumanizing the sanctity of life, the storm of God’s judgment is brewing and will hit full force at some point in the future, and then it will be too late for those who love their own way and their own sin so much that they chose to continue in their unbelieving path of rejecting who Jesus is. They said it is “hate” but does the doctor hate you when he tells you that you must change your diet or you will kill yourself with you knife and fork? It is not hate to warn people that judgment is coming and that you will die in your sins if you are not forgiven. Our loving God wants to forgive and make people whole, but he will not tolerate man’s defiance of him.
Peter said that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ.” Notice that there is a connection between the exaltation of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Any time Christ is exalted in our midst the Holy Spirit opens our understanding so that we may see more clearly who he is.
III. WHAT YOU MUST DO (vv.37-38) “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
A characteristic of a good sermon is when you ask, “What must I do about what I have heard?” That was the response to Peter’s sermon. Then Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter gave them the four essentials of salvation:
First, Repentance – this means to turn away from a life without God and turn to a relationship with him. This is brought about by a conviction of sin –“they were cut to the heart.” Unbelief must be confessed and trust must be embraced. This is far more than just confessing specific sins and vices that are common to life. You confess that you are lost, hopeless, facing a life and an eternity alone and that you turn to God in faith accepting his love expressed in Christ.
Second, Forgiveness of Sin – the past is forgiven and the future opens a whole new life for a new person.
Third, Baptism – the forgiveness of sin is the pre-requisite for baptism. In the English the phrase reads, “…baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins.” In the Greek the little word “eis” that is translated “for” means “because of” “on the basis of” which means that you are qualified to be baptized because you have trusted Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. We do not say that “water baptism” is essential to salvation, but we do say that the spiritual meaning of baptism portrayed in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ must be resident in the believer in his dying to the old life, burying it, and being raised to walk in the new life. When one has experienced this in the deepest parts of the soul, the desire to be baptized is evident.
Fourth, the receipt of the Holy Spirit – The Scriptures make it very clear that only those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit are Christians. Paul says in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
IV. YOU MUST APPLY THIS TO YOUR LIFE.
(vv 40-41) “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”
Of the many thousands who were in Jerusalem for the observance of Pentecost, 3,000 accepted his message and were baptized. These constituted the first membership of the church along with the 120 who had met to pray in the upper room.
That is our clarion call to people in our time, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” I am convinced that the only hope for our society is the people of God will boldly live and proclaim their faith so that many can be saved from this corrupt generation. Beyond that, the only hope is the return of our Lord who will then be recognized and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
“If you had not told me
About a man who died for me,
How he walked the road to Calvary,
Then where, in the world, would I be?
If you hadn’t showed me
The words that he spoke to me,
The love that came so easily,
Then where, in the world, would I be?
If you hadn’t loved me
Enough to witness to me,
How Jesus died to set me free,
Then where, in the world, would I be?
If you hadn’t told me
How his blood was shed for me,
How from sin, I am set free,
Then where, in the world, would I be?
(by Judy Crowe)
Peter’s sermon that told them these things was “A REALLY GREAT SERMON!”
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!