Monday, July 15, 2013

Identifying a Biblical sermon

Acts 2:14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.

Yesterday we looked at the importance and significance of biblical preaching.  In today's post I want us to take a close look at the first sermon ever preached in church history: Peter's inaugural sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-40.  In this Sermon we find identifying marks of a Biblical sermon.

1. Proclamation Acts 2:14-16
The text tells us that Peter "raised his voice and declared to them."  Preaching at its very core is a proclamation and declaration to all present about what God is saying in the scripture to them about Jesus Christ and their need to trust in Him.  A tone of urgency accompanies Peter as he addresses the thousands that would had been gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  Like a town crier or royal page, Peter is summoning all within earshot to hear what has happened and is happening as a direct result of Jesus Christ's accomplished work and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

2. Public reading of the text. Acts 2:17-21
After his notable introduction, Peter recites the text of Joel 2:28-32.  To recite or read a scripture publicly meant the same thing in the Jewish mind.  As Paul writes in Romans 10:17 "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."  This is often why preachers do (or should) read whatever text they are going to preach so as to prepare the audience and themselves for the reception of God's Holy Word.  Public reading of the scripture is used by the Spirit to convert sinners and stir the hearts of believers.

3. Progression of thought. Acts 2:14,22,29,37
Throughout Peter's Sermon we see the phrase "men of Jerusalem" repeated at various intervals.  Like any good preacher, Peter indicates movement within his message.  Sometimes a preacher will use "points" or "key headings" to communicate to their audience the next thought they are intending.  Other preachers will repeat a phrase or simply repeat what they just said.  

In order to reinforce in the listener's ears the key thoughts of the sermon, we see Peter employing the following components that should lie at the heart of any sermon:

a. Exposition or explanation: Acts 2:17-36.
As Adrian Rogers once noted: "tell what you are going to say, say it and tell what you just said." Peter centers his sermon mainly around Joel 2:28-32 and explains how the events of the day of Pentecost are the fulfillment of least part of Joel's text.  Furthermore, Peter also shows how the sending of the Holy Spirit demonstrates Christ's Session or Kingship at the Father's right hand. Exposition is not a method or style of preaching, it is preaching.  Preaching aims to "expose" the listener to the text of scripture so that they can hear what God is saying to them, hence the term "exposition." 

b. Illustration Acts 2:15, 22-23
Peter chooses to use other parts of scripture to illustrate what he is saying.  In other sermons in the Book of Acts, we may see occasional illustrations drawn from the culture of the day (Paul's sermon on Mars Hill), however the bulk of sermon illustrations derive from other portions of scripture.  Illustration is crucial to connecting the reader's attention to the text at hand. 

c. Cross-referencing
Peter uses other scriptures to bolster what he is talking about.  He uses Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection from the Gospels in Acts 2:22-24.  We also see him employing Psalm 16 in Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 110 in Acts 2:34-35.   These three methods of moving the sermon along: exposition, illustration and cross-referencing are examples of ways Peter preached God's Word to his listeners.

4. Exhortation  Acts 2:37-40
A good sermon not only engages the mind, but also the heart.  Exhortation means to urge the heart and the conscience to make a firm decision and to not rest on opinion but on conviction.  From what we can tell, Peter uses the latter part of His Sermon to drive home to his listeners their need to repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Any good preacher knows that the most effective word in building the bridge of application is the word "you".  On five occasions in Acts 2:37-40, Peter addresses his audience with the personal pronoun "you" or by direct appeal.  

5. The Holy Spirit's power Acts 2:41
As Peter exhorts his listeners to repentance, he summarizes what he just preached and quickly concludes his address.  The result? Acts 2:41 states that 3,000 souls were added to the church that day.  The first sermon ever preached in the church age resulted in conversions.  God had moved through this Biblical sermon.  It was not Peter who brought about the conversion, but rather the Holy Spirit. True biblical preaching will be marked by the attending work of the Holy Spirit, whether we are talking about conversions or the saints of God being caused to more deeply reflect on Jesus Christ or being moved to greater levels of faithfulness.  Often it may take days, weeks or even months before some other types of spiritual fruit are born.  Nonetheless over a period of time, any preaching ministry ought to be marked by the Holy Spirit's signature presence as lives are changed and greater love for Jesus Christ is issued forth.  

As we have surveyed Peter's inaugural sermon on the day of Pentecost, here is what we have noted about the identifying marks of a Biblical sermon: Proclamation, Public Reading, Progression of Thought, Exhortation and the Holy Spirit's power. 

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