Early Examples of Evangelistic Sermons
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)
As we are working through the early chapters of Acts in our morning sermon series, it becomes clear that preaching was a key part of the early church’s expansion. Her evangelistic toolkit did not discard this ancient media of oral communication. John Stott, in his The Message of Acts, notes the importance of preaching God’s Word, recognizing that Luke’s Second Volume contains eight speeches by Peter, nine by Paul, one lengthy sermon by Stephen, and a shorter one by James. Stott concludes, “The addresses by Peter, Paul, and Stephen make up about 25 percent of the book.” (p. 69).
It is only to a church that has forgotten its focus that the role of sermons in the ministry of the apostles in Acts is unclear. These sermons often contain “both history and theology,” according to another NT scholar (I. Howard Marshall). Other students of the New Testament (and thanks to David Barry for pointing me to two of these essays) have also spoken to the importance of the role of preaching in the book of Acts. This Sunday’s sermon will continue our study of that.
However, note some of the following. In a 1942 classic, F. F. Bruce delivered a lecture in Oxford to students, summarizing the speeches in Acts. He categorized four types of sermons: evangelistic, deliberative, apologetic, and hortatory. As evangelistic sermons in that context, the frequent appeals to the OT make sense, but this is not to diminish the sense of the preachers to call for true repentance and conversion. Bruce went so far as to aver: “The speeches in the first five chapters at least contemplate as a practical possibility the complete national repentance of Israel and national acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.”
Another NT scholar, Herman Ridderbos, focuses on these sermons, primarily by Peter in the opening 10 chapters of Acts. He sees the early sermons as filling out the details of the expansion predicted in Acts 1:8, concluding that “the speeches in Acts are typical, carefully selected examples or illustrations of the witness to Christ in its progress from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.” As such, Ridderbos’ lens focuses more on the evangelistic expansion of the church than on a thematic-comparative tracing.
Ridderbos observes the following aspects of Peter’s pattern for evangelistic preaching: “(a) His ordaining by God; (b) His miracles; (c) His death and resurrection; (d) the agreement of the Scriptures; (e) His exaltation in heaven; (f) the apostles’ authority as His witnesses. Then follows in all three speeches: (a) the call to conversion in the light of the judgment; (b) the promise of the forgiveness of sins; (c) the call of the Jews first, and then the Gentiles.” All these speeches in Acts, says Ridderbos, “and particularly the three given by Peter, are composed on the same pattern and plan.” Should our church’s preaching not follow these same tracks?
He observes: “Peter is certainly the first in his preaching. Others will join him . . . But they will never exceed Peter in the gloriousness of his witness concerning Jesus Christ. For there is no other name, nor any higher name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved, than the Name which Peter proclaimed in the beginning under many names.” And on the recurrence of ‘repentance,’ Ridderbos is correct to note that apostolic preaching “demands a decision,” thus it issues a public, open appeal to the listeners.
Furthermore, “they are directed not only to the original audience, but to all who read them. Just as the whole of the Book of the Acts is a continued preaching of Christ, so it is also a concrete appeal to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This is nowhere expressed more powerfully than in the speeches.”
All of these experts agree that these early sermons, which extolled Christ and his saving work, spread the word evangelistically. Won’t you pray and invite your friends to hear the evangel every Sunday with us? We ask you to join in helping others come to where the gospel is being preached. And each time we hear the life-giving Word, let us rejoice that we are included in God’s family.