On Sunday morning, I spoke from Acts 2 about the Day of Pentecost. Sunday marked fifty days since Easter Sunday, so it was timely to examine one of the most well-known chapters of the Bible. I love Acts 2 because it was the fulfillment of promises made through the Old Testament from Joel, Isaiah, Daniel, Micah, and even King David himself (Psalm 16:8-11). Through this chapter, we can see God’s redemptive plan being communicated to the very group of people who put Jesus to death.
Acts 2 is also the first time that the Gospel was preached. In verses 22-24 Peter communicates the message of Christ and him crucified, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
Peter had no need to prove the miracles of Jesus because this crowd had seen them, and they themselves saw to his crucifixion so they knew that it was true. Finally, Peter masterfully used the passage from Psalm 16 to show that David was not talking about a resurrection for himself but the resurrection of the Messiah, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up; of which we are all witnesses. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” (v. 29-33).
Peter’s sermon used scripture that the audience was intimately acquainted with and logically tied it together so they could understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything they had been waiting on. Then, he concluded his message with the familiar statement “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” What an awesome sermon.
Still, I think most of us would agree that what happens in verses 37-38 makes this chapter memorable to us. Verse 37 says the people were “cut to the heart” and asked Peter what they could do to make it right. His response was “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Through Peter, the message of Christ was revealed and the path to salvation was made clear. The Gospel requires a complete change of lifestyle, the death of the old self, and the birth of the new man out of the waters of baptism.
As I studied for this lesson, and even as I presented it Sunday morning, I could not get verse 37 out of my mind. It says the crowd was “cut to the heart.” 3,000 precious souls were saved that day because the message of Jesus dying for them broke their hearts to the point that they HAD to give him their lives in response.
My biggest fear as a preacher is that hearts are no longer being broken by the Gospel.
Every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night preachers stand up and proclaim the message of Jesus in the way that Peter did. Certainly, we are not under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit like Peter was, and we were not witnesses of the events of Calvary in the same way that he was. We may not be as eloquent or have the credibility that Peter had standing before the crowd that day, but the message is the same. Yet, we do not see responses in the way that Peter did or even in the way that preachers have in previous generations. I often wonder why.
Is it time for us to re-visit the invitation or the way that we offer it?
Should we preach about the consequences of not obeying the Gospel more than we do?
Are we simply living in a generation of cynicism and skepticism that has made its way into the Church and rendered emotional responses to the Gospel unthinkable?
That could be it.
Or, and I pray this is not the case, are our hearts hardened to the point that they can no longer be cut or pricked even by the death of our Lord?!
Once again, my biggest fear as a preacher is that hearts are no longer being broken by the Gospel.
When that fear enters my mind, though, there are two corresponding thoughts that remind me that my biggest fear will never be completely realized. The message that Peter preached will always be effective in my generation and the next, and here’s why:
1) The POWER is in the message, not the preacher.
Whenever I get discouraged I have to remind myself that the Gospel is what has the power to save. My feeble attempt at presenting the message has little to do with someone accepting it. The power of the message is Jesus dying on the cross, not my ability to share the scriptures from the pulpit.
2) GOD Gives the Increase
Apparently, the human allegiance to preachers that we see today is not a new problem. In Corinth, the church was very much divided over who “their preacher” was. In chapter 3 Paul gives them an insightful reminder as to who does the converting (hint – it’s not the preacher), “For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:4-7). My fears are calmed when I realize that as long as I preach truth and cultivate that message in the hearts of the members of our church family, God has promised to take care of the rest.
As preachers, we must do everything we can to touch the hearts of our listeners and persuade them to obey the Gospel. However, when we get discouraged because of a perceived lack of response, we have to remember that God has provided us the power in the message and promised to give the increase.
And one final thought…
If my preaching career were to span one hundred years, and I only reached one, receptive, willing heart, it would be worth it!
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” – 2 Cor. 9:15