Summary: What message should the church be proclaiming today?
They Just Don’t Preach Like This Any More
Martyn Lloyd Jones constantly reminded his parishioners in his sermons that the church did not suddenly arrive in the 1960’s, but has been around for two thousand years. He would recount all of the pundits of his day who tried to redefine the mission and message of the church to be relevant to the times. These church leaders felt that the church had to either adapt or die.
However, Lloyd-Jones took a different look at it. He could see the pathetic state of affairs in the church in England of his day. Only 5 percent attended Christian worship services on a given Sunday. Many who identified themselves as “Christian” were only culturally so. Lloyd-Jones instead pinned the church’s identity crisis and loss of power on the fact they left the Christian message behind and replaced Bible study with social gatherings, preaching with drama and skits, the message of the cross with a political and social message.
Dr. Jones invited the church to go back to its roots if it wanted to turn things around. The record of Apostolic preaching can be found in the Book of Acts. He spent many years preaching through the first eight chapters of Acts and these sermons have been preserved in books and some audio if you care to inquire further. He was far more eloquent than I would ever hope to be.
This morning, we see an example of apostolic preaching. The occasion was brought around by the healing of a lame man at the gate of the Temple. As this was at the hour of prayer, the Lord knew that a large crowd would be gathered at that time. The man had been carried there for forty years to beg at the Beautiful gate. As a cripple, he was not allowed to enter the sanctuary itself dud to a Rabbinic interpretation of the words of David when he was besieging Jerusalem. The healing allowed him to enter the Temple, into where the Jewish people felt was where the Lord was most present. The crowds knew this man. They had seen him for years. They could see when they looked at him that his feet were deformed. And they were utterly amazed to see him not just walking but jumping. This was no miracle like we would see today when a surgeon performs an operation and makes a cripple able to walk. That person would have to go through extensive physical therapy and would have to learn and walk just like everyone else. But this man immediately received strength, and started walking and jumping. Even the Jewish authorities could not gainsay what happened.
Naturally, the buzz spread throughout the crowd and caused many to turn aside to see this man. Here was a burning bush moment when God distracts us from the everyday affairs, even the humdrum of a church service, to get our attention. So they all gathered to the covered porch of Solomon. A place where rabbis often taught, or should I say “approved” rabbis.
Peter saw that the crowd had their attention and being led by the Holy Spirit began to speak. First of all, he tells them that they are fixing their attention on the wrong thing, that is upon Peter and John or upon the miracle itself. Peter and John were just instruments of Jesus who actually performed the miracle through them. It is not enough to distract the world for a minute, the distraction has to be rightly focused. Peter was fast to correct the misconception that the 120 in the upper room were drunk on new wine and from there redirected the experience to its proper focus which was it was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Now that Peter had redirected the attention upon Jesus, he goes on to proclaim Jesus. In it, he does not candy coat the gospel like we see today. His approach was direct and blunt. Today a lot of people including many who call themselves “Christian” try to deflect the blame. He could have started with the fact that Pilate the Roman and maybe some of the Jewish leaders in cahoots with Pilate caused the death of Jesus.
Peter starts by being somewhat conciliatory. He still calls them “gentlemen and Israelites.” They are still identified as the people of God. After the disclaimer, he gets to the hard preaching. He reminds them. Of the covenant relationship to the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was their privilege, but this relationship also had great responsibilities on their part to be faithful and obedient. The God of their fathers was to be held in uttermost reverence. But how had they acted? Instead of honoring God, they had rejected the very precious and promised servant whom God had promised to send them. It would have been bad enough if they had ignored Him, but they did more. They were all to blame. They stood condemned. They had betrayed an Israelite brother to the Roman authorities and had shouted for his death. The crowd could not pin the blame on their leaders or claim that they did not know. Of course there is a sense that they did not know what they were doing. But nevertheless as the common saying goes, “Ignorance is no excuse for the law.”