THE SECOND GOSPEL SERMON
T. PIERCE BROWN
The sermon recorded in Acts 3:11ff may not be the second gospel sermon preached, but it is the second recorded. It may not be as significant as the first one in many respects, but it is worth our serious study. In this article we shall pay special attention to the occasion, structure and content of the sermon.
It started with an event that attracted interest and was of concern to the people. The principle here is that we should always start where people are as we study with them. This is true geographically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and otherwise. We should try to find a thing of common interest and build upon it.
On one occasion as I was studying with a person, she said, “I hate God!” I started there with her concept of God. I discovered that she did not hate Jehovah God, who loved her and sent Jesus to die for her. She hated her concept of God, which was false. If I had started where I was rather than where she was, I would never have been able to win her for Christ, for normally I would have assumed that she hated the God I knew.
Once inAustraliaI knocked on a door one Sunday afternoon and was greeted by an irate man who said, “Every time I try to rest, some crackpot Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon knocks on my door. What do you want?” I said, “First, I want to apologize for waking you, but now that you are up if you have just a moment I would like to ask you a question. Is there anything in the world that you consider important enough for you to be awakened from a rest on Sunday afternoon?” I started where he was, and he was eventually baptized into Christ.
In Peter’s case, he started with the miracle, immediately connected it with “the God of our Fathers” and moved to Christ. Here is a second principle. No matter where you start, lead as quickly as possible to Christ. We can find more powerful principles in one minute in Peter’s sermon than one can find in most of ours in an hour.
Note first that he makes four points that show the goodness of God, contrasted with their sinfulness. Both those points are important to make, and to make them as he did simultaneously strengthens both ideas. Note how he does it. God glorified Him, but you delivered Him up. You denied Him, but Pilate, as mean as he was, found no fault in Him and released Him. You rejected a holy, just man and released a murderer. You killed Him, but God raised Him up. Do you see how the contrast between God and them, and then the contrast between Pilate and them highlighted their depravity?
We could analyze the sermon in terms of the emphasis placed on Christ. First, there are the titles by which he is called. He is the Son and Servant of God, the Holy One and Just One, and the Prince of Life. Second, the emphasis is on how they treated Him. They delivered Him up, denied Him before a scoffer and tyrant, demanded that an innocent man be condemned and a guilty, condemned man be set free. They not only killed Him, but crucified Him. We need to let persons know when they refuse to obey the gospel how that involves their treatment of Christ.
Third, he emphasized the importance of Christ in His relationship with God. God glorified Him and God raised Him from the dead. This was an important point to make to the Jews, and is important to make to anyone who has any respect for God.
Fourth, he emphasized the results of the work of Christ. Sins were blotted out, kindreds of the earth were blessed, and people were turned from iniquities. Notice an important thing in all our analysis of his sermon. He was not merely analyzing a sermon or some passage of scripture as we may often do. He was preaching Christ! In the furor several years back about “THE MAN OR THE PLAN” some overlooked the fact that one cannot properly preach Christ without preaching the plan of salvation he authorized. It is possible, however, to preach elements in the plan without the proper connection with theMan.We have heard preachers of denominations who have preached repentance as if it had some saving power apart from the blood of Christ, for we never learn from their sermons how to come into contact with the blood of Christ. Some preach about the importance of baptism, but do not connect it with salvation that is in Christ.
If we analyze the sermon from another viewpoint, we discover that he began with a strong statement involving God’s goodness, foreknowledge and power. There is a reason for this. Paul says in Romans 2:4 that the goodness of God leads to repentance. Recognition of His foreknowledge and power would lead to respect and reverence. When those two are combined, there are powerful motives to obedience.
He did not hesitate to emphasize their wickedness. Contrary to the opinions of many today that plain and pointed sermons are non productive, Peter knew, and the Holy Spirit revealed to us, that a person must be convinced of his sin and convicted before he will repent. It was not enough to convict a man of sin. He must be told what he must do to get rid of it. They were plainly told that they must change their minds and turn from wickedness. The fact that the word “repent” does not mean reformation or restitution has led some to the strange conclusion that if a person repents, he is not required to determine to reform or make whatever restitution he can make. One who claims to be a preacher of the gospel even went so far as to say that a penitent thief did not even need to restore what he stole if it were possible for him to do so. The basis of his conclusion apparently that these Jews could not restore Christ from the dead, but they could repent. The conclusion is invalid and the reasoning wrong, but that is not our purpose in this article. Although the preaching was positive and plain, it was loving and kind. He did not cut and slash without providing salve for the wound. He calls them brethren, identifying with them, for they were Jewish brethren. He admits that they did it in ignorance. He did not say that to excuse them, but to show that he understood their viewpoint. Ignorance is one of the grounds of mercy. Paul said that he received mercy because he did it ignorantly and in unbelief. Ignorance is not an excuse for sin, but it makes possible the option of learning and obeying.
He sets forth the sinlessness of Christ, not only to make their guilt more apparent in contrast, but also to help them to see that there was a perfect offering for their sins. His death, burial and resurrection not only prove His love, but His power, wisdom and purpose.
He does not just present some general facts and pretend that it is the gospel. He revealed that the gospel of grace includes the terms of pardon. They involved repentance (a change of mind), a turning again. The expression “be converted” is not passive in the Greek text, but first aorist imperative. It is not something done to you, as the English rendering suggests, but something we are commanded to do. Turning again involves a change in mind, action and state. When they had changed their mind about Christ and about their desire to continue in sin, then they needed to act as a result of their belief and repentance. When they acted by divine directions, they would be baptized into Christ and change their state or relationship with Him.
In whatever way we may analyze this sermon, it involves these four significant points: First, God loves you and cares for you as evidenced by the fact that he sent Christ, acknowledging Him as His Son and Savior. Second, you are lost, for you denied His mission, rejected His mercy and crucified His Messiah. Third, although this increases your guilt, the way of pardon is provided through Him. Fourth, since His authority and power is proven even further by the miracle done in His name, accept Him as Lord and obey Him by being baptized for the remission of your sins. The same kind of message, preached with the same force and urgency will produce the same kind of results today, provided the hearts are the kind that gladly receive His word.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600