Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

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Title: Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

Text: Acts 2: 22-23, 36-41

Time: April 13th, 2008

 

Today there is a lot of confusion and controversy surrounding how pastors should preach, or in other words, how the gospel and the Bible should be communicated to the contemporary culture. If you turn on the television you will find all kinds of different styles of preaching and teaching ranging from the syrupy smiley face of Joel Osteen who teaches a positive, friendly message that hardly anyone would ever find offensive to the angry, loud, and highly offensive language of Barak Obamaha’s Pastor Jeremiah Wright in Chicago who teaches that God should damn America. But if you were to take a survey of all churches, of all sermons preached, you’d find that the vast majority are more like Joel Osteen’s than Jeremiah Wright’s, or in other words, most sermons preached in most churches are the kind, gentle, tame side of the spectrum. But if we ask the question, “What should a Christian sermon by a Christian pastor sound like?” we can do no better than refer ourselves back to the Bible. Here in the Book of Acts we see the very first sermon by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. If we want to know what Christian preaching should look like, I suggest we study the preaching of the Apostles, not the sermons of preachers on television. What we find when we go back to the Bible instead of to the television is that the Apostles preached a combination of sweet and sour sermons. They didn’t preach like Joel Osteen, which is all the time positive and feel-good, often ignoring passages in the Bible where God is trying to communicate something negative and serious. Neither did they preach like Jeremiah Wright, which is racist and unnecessarily inflammatory. What they did preach was a balance of the law of God and the grace of God, a balance of the justice of God and the love of God, a balance of condemnation and forgiveness. What we see today is an imbalance of either one or the other. Some people have grown up in churches that preach a lot of the law of God but none of the grace of God, while other people grow up in churches where the only thing preached is the love of God but with no mention of God’s law. People who only hear of the law of God are tormented by fear and guilt in their relationship with God, while people who only hear of the love of God are blind to their own sins and never see any need to be convicted, confess or repent of anything since God is love and forgives them anyway no matter what they do. Both of those extremes are wrong. But people are very confused today because they don’t understand the Bible’s balance. It’s hard to find a church that is balanced between the law and grace, justice and love, judgment and mercy. But if there is any over-emphasis that is clear to point out today in churches it is the over-emphasis on God’s love over God’s justice. This false emphasis leaves people with nothing to confess or repent, since they’ve never heard God’s law preached and never experienced the conviction of their conscience concerning their own sins. The Apostle Peter offers us a good example of balanced preaching, an example we should follow in looking for and finding a good church and good preaching. Let me mention three things about Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2: 22-23, 36-41.

First, Peter exposes sin by preaching the law of God. Acts 2:22-23, 36, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and sings, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 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. . . . Therefore let all Israel by assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Within the course of just two sentences, Peter blames the Jews multiple times for the death of Jesus. “This man was handed over to YOU by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and YOU, with the help of wicked me, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter lays a great big guilt trip on the Jews of Jerusalem for the death of Jesus the Messiah of Israel. Now you don’t hear that kind of preaching very much today anymore. Why not? Because people are offended by it. People are offended when you blame them for something. People don’t naturally like to be condemned and blamed and judged guilty for something. If given the choice, most people will decide not to listen to anyone who is blaming and condemning them, even if they are guilty! Today, preachers are more concerned about pleases the audience with their message than telling the truth, and so they avoid saying anything that would so offend the people listening to them. Well, the Apostle Peter, along with the Apostle Paul and others, followed the tradition of Jesus and the prophets and spoke that which was true rather than that which was pleasant to hear. In other words, the first consideration of Peter and Paul and other Christian teachers was that the truth was preached. What truth? The truth of God’s Word, the truth of God’s law, the truth of God’s will. Then they were careful to call for confession of sin for everyone who had fallen short of God’s standards of right and wrong. Then they called for repentance, or turning away from what is wrong and turn to what is right, God’s righteousness. And then finally, committing or recommitting oneself to God. They didn’t attempt to sugar-coat the message like Joel Osteen and other preachers today who seem to be more interested in getting popular than getting the message from God right. Peter doesn’t shy away from laying the blame where the blame lies – with the Jews, for the death of Christ. He exposes their sin, he uncovers their disobedience before God, he confronts the guilty with God’s truth. Now I’m sure that didn’t make him very popular at first. I’m sure these people really didn’t want to hear about their guilt and blame. Who does? I don’t know anyone who like to have their sins exposed. Did David enjoy the prophet Nathan confronting him on his sin of adultery with Bath Sheba? No. But he needed to be confronted nevertheless. It’s the same today. Nobody likes to be confronted with their own personal sins, nobody enjoys it, but it’s like a dirty dog and a bath. The dirty dog might not like getting a bath, but that’s besides the point; he needs it and any good, responsible pet owner will give their dog a bath whether he likes it or not because. All the dogs I’ve ever owned never wanted to be confronted with a bath, but they all needed a bath because they all got dirty. It’s the same with people yesterday and today. Nobody likes to be confronted with God’s law, nobody likes to be reminded of their sins, but whether we like it or not, we all need to be so confronted. The Apostle Peter wasn’t afraid to do so, and neither should preaching today be afraid to do so. Listen to someone who isn’t afraid to call sin, sin.

Second, the people were convicted of their sins through the preaching of the law by the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Now what was taking place here? The preaching of the law of God through the mouth of the Apostle Peter convicted the consciences of these Jews and it made them feel guilty, remorseful, and shameful. Now if you look around society today you see just the opposite – people who have no conviction of sin, no remorse, no guilt, no shame, no second thoughts for anything they do, just brazen self-justification and pride. Now why is this? Partly because they are never hearing anything in any of their churches that would convict their consciences of their sins. Preachers today have decided they want to be popular instead of prophets. Most pastors today want everyone to feel good so they return next week and the next week and so on. Most churches today want people to feel so good they won’t tell them the truth about sin and judgment and eternal punishment. No wonder most people don’t have much of a conscience concerning sin – their churches don’t cultivate their consciences with a balanced preaching of God’s law and grace. All they ever hear is that God loves them, period. Well, God does love us, but he also requires things of us. God’s love isn’t the only message God communicates with us in His Word, He also communicates to us His justice, His wrath, His judgment, His punishment to unrepentant sinners. Our society is seeing the results of its distorted emphasis on only positive truth – people have lost their ability to hear their consciences speaking to them. These Jews heard what Peter was preaching and were clearly effected by it. What was their response? It says that they were cut to the heart. The KJV says, “They were pricked in their heart.” Today’s English Version says, “They were deeply troubled.” Phillips Modern English says, “They were cut to the quick.” The NLT says, “Peter’s words pierced their hearts.” I think we get the point. Have you ever had your conscience bother you? Have you ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit of your sins? Jesus said that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to convict our consciences of sin, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment,” John 16:8. So it’s perfectly ok to feel guilty over something you’ve done wrong, over sin, over disobedience to God. I’m not talking about false guilt. Sometimes we feel bad over things that are not our fault; that’s false guilt. But that is not our society’s problem today. Our problem is that we don’t feel guilt over true guilt. Because churches are not preaching sin properly, people don’t even know when they should feel guilty. They don’t know that they should feel ashamed. So consequently, today, people won’t put up with preaching that makes them feel guilty or convicts their consciences – they’ll just walk out and never come back. Well, that may be, that’s their choice. But the church’s job is to keep preaching God’s Word whether anybody listens or everybody walks out or not. Speak the truth in love, the Apostle Paul says, but nevertheless speak it; don’t hold back. Look for a church and a pastor who cultivates a healthy conscience in you, not just one who tells you you’re already fine just the way you are.

Third, finally, Peter calls people to repent and believe. Acts 2:38-41, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words, he warned them; and pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Now today we might think that any preacher speaking so harshly to an audience would automatically be ignored and rejected by them all. Nope. Quiet the opposite effect is seen here. Instead of fleeing, they stayed. Instead of tuning out, they tuned in and asked, “Now what should we do?” They waited for Peter to tell them what to do next. They heard God’s law concerning their sins. They felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit showing them their disobedience in rejecting Jesus as Messiah and allowing His death. Now they turn to Peter and want to know what they need to do in order to get right with God. The real question they were asking was, “What can we do now to get right with God?” You see, the first step in getting right with God is realizing that you aren’t right with God, but today that’s hard to do because so many churches and so many pastors are telling everyone that they are already ok with God. “I’m ok, you’re ok, with God,” is the message today coming from most churches. If this is so, what’s the big deal about confessing sin, or repenting of sin, or recommitting one’s life to God again? But Peter never preached that people were already alright with God, in fact, the very opposite. The Apostle Paul taught more about this point in Romans when he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “There is no one righteous, no not one.” The truth is that we are all in need of confession and repentance, so Peter calls the people to repent, which means to change – change their attitude, change their actions, change their mind, change their relationship with their sins. Instead of loving sin, hate sin. Instead of turning towards sin, turn away from sin. But not just repent, not just the message of John the Baptist, but also turn towards the Savior Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. That’s where the believing or trusting part comes in. It’s not enough to turn away from sin, we have to turn towards Jesus in whole-hearted trust. For Peter and the early church baptism was the sign of faith, “Those who accepted his message were baptized.” Baptism is the outward symbol of the inward faith in Christ. Amazingly, thousands of people were baptized as a result of Peter’s sermon. It’s hard to believe but those people stood there and listened to Peter preach the law of God to them, then they stayed there and got convicted for their sins and begged Peter to tell them what they should do to get right with God. And finally, they placed their faith in Christ for forgiveness and salvation, getting baptized as a public sign of their new faith.

Now the question I ask myself is, could such a thing happen today, in our guilt-free, no-fault age? It’s very clear that the law of God is missing from most of society today, even in churches, God’s law if rarely heard. It’s also very clear that today people simply don’t want to be reminded of their sins, and consequently, most people stay away from churches on Sunday morning because they don’t want to hear how they’ve failed or how they should live this way or that. We live in a very sinful and prideful age. We suppose that freedom means being free from guilt and shame even if we are deserving of these negative emotions. Our thinking is that since nobody is perfect, nobody should be pointing a finger at anybody else and laying a guilt trip on anybody else. Freedom means being free from all condemnation and conscience. But that isn’t God’s viewpoint on freedom. For God, freedom doesn’t mean that people can ignore sin and disobedience in their lives. It doesn’t mean that one can live irresponsibly. Freedom carries with it responsibilities, the greater the freedom the more responsibilities not less. As individual Christians we need to resist the trend in our society away from personal responsibility; we need to take responsibility for our own sins and failures. If we’ve sinned, if we’ve disobeyed God, we need to permit the Holy Spirit to convict our conscience and drive us to confess and repent of our sins. We need to make sure we attend a church – I hope like this church – that’s preaches a balanced message of God’s law and God’s grace. We need to remind other people who are hooked on television preachers who only give us messages we want to hear or love to hear, we need to remind people that God’s Word is balanced and a healthy sermon is balanced too. We need to warn people who are hooked on sugar-coated, syrup, cotton candy preachers that all they are getting is junk food. It’s like a little kid needs to be reminded to eat a balanced diet of food because if adults don’t remind them, all they’ll eat is candy and junk food and sugar-coated cereal. But we all know what will happen if adults let a kid just eat what they want, the sugary stuff, that they will get sick and tired and run down. Why? Because it’s not healthy, it’s not a balanced diet of the main food groups. It tastes good, but it’s not healthy. Just like a lot of the sermons preached today on television and on radio and in churches. Sure, it tastes good, it’s so nice to hear, but it’s not a balanced biblical spiritual diet. It’s not what the preachers in the Bible preach like. Those prophets of the Bible preach a balance of both God’s law and God’s grace, of God’s justice and God’s love, of judgment and forgiveness. It isn’t a case of either or, it’s a case of both/and. If you are ever tempted to run off to a church that serves up feel-good messages, remember Peter’s very first sermon on the day of Pentecost, and resist the urge. It’s better to hear sermons that make you good, rather than sermons that make you feel good.

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