Summary: What should be the vision for a congregation that is pleasing to the Lord? The answer is given in a study of the first message preached by Peter following the Resurrection of the Lord.
“And 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;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord
shall be saved.”
The text for the sermon was found in the prophecy of Joel. The message, delivered centuries after Joel had penned his prophetic words, was effective beyond anything the preacher could have imagined. The preacher was a fisherman; and curious Jews formed his audience. In fact, the sermon had an impact far beyond anything experienced to this day. The fulfillment of the prophecy is, for the most part, yet future. However, part of the text speaks of what should be the vision for every church.
THE SERMON WAS A MODEL FOR BIBLICAL PREACHING — Reading this sermon, I note that it is a model for preaching. Perhaps that should not be surprising since it was the first sermon preached during the church age—the “Last Days.”
Unlike sermons in this day, it is a complex sermon. Today, expository sermons usually present no more than three points as the preacher seeks to open the text and make application to the listeners. However, this is quite brief in comparison to the sermons of the great Puritan preachers. Spurgeon’s sermons usually had at least four points, and the sermons of Puritan divines that preceded him, such as Jonathan Edwards, would present ten or more points as they developed the message. In an earlier day, people were able to listen, balancing multiple thoughts as the message was developed.
Peter, however, did not have three points or four points; rather, he presented many points. He did not have one text; he had three separate texts. One text was not enough! He began his sermon by quoting JOEL 2:28-32. Then, he shifted attention to PSALM 16:8-11, before concluding with an exposition of PSALM 110:1. Homiletics instructors today discourage preachers from speaking from multiple texts, and with good reason. However, Peter was not educated in modern rhetorical technique, and, to appropriate a legal concept, the result speaks for itself (res ipsa loquitur).
As an aside of considerable significance, I note that we are not more intelligent than were those who preceded us. If anything, our ability to comprehend what is being said, our capacity to integrate intellectually as part of the community of faith is greatly diminished when compared to previous generations. Though we are more technologically advanced, I suggest that we are less able to communicate, to understand one another or to think logically. We bounce our feelings off one another, gauging veracity of what is communicated by how we feel. However, the Word of God will challenge us to think and to work to comprehend what God is saying.
I do want to focus on the message Peter preached that day in more detail. Undoubtedly, the message deserves more than a cursory look. None of us has seen the Spirit move in such power that three thousand people are converted as result of one sermon. We get excited when even a few people who have mulled the teachings of the Word for months or even years at last confess Christ. Perhaps we have been fortunate enough to be present when the Spirit of God moved in great power to turn a few score people to faith. However, to see 3,000 people saved is something we have never seen. We can see that the sermon was centred on the Bible. It focused attention on Jesus the Messiah. The preacher was fearless in his presentation. And the sermon was reasonable.
The Sermon was Saturated with Scripture. Peter not only provides exposition of the Scriptures, but he cites the Scriptures! Luke’s account of the sermon Peter preached requires 23 verses of this chapter of Acts. Of those 23 verses, twelve quote Old Testament texts, two are introductory, eight are expositional, and one is application. The ratio of Scripture to exposition is about one to one. Perhaps the quotation of Scripture is slightly more extensive than is the exposition of the Word of God. This is unusual, especially when we compare Peter’s sermon to preaching today.
We tend not to tolerate so many Scripture quotations today, complaining if the preacher reads too many verses of the Bible or cites too many biblical references. This is because, in the main, our generation is biblically illiterate! Few people are sufficiently conversant with the Word of God to make the connection when a verse is quoted; we need someone to explain what is being said. Consequently, we are uncomfortable when too much Scripture is read. In fact, we are not always aware when the preacher is quoting Scripture if he fails to identify his quotation as coming from the Bible!