READ – Acts 2:21-41 | THE FIRST SERMON
Acts chapter 2 is all about firsts. Luke tells us about the first day of the church – the day of Pentecost (2:1-14). He paints a powerful picture of the first church in action (2:42-47). But at the center of everything was the first sermon ever preached (Acts 2:21-41). It was the highlight of the first day. It was this sermon that inspired thousands to be baptized and join this radical new movement of people that believed Jesus was risen and reigning over the world. Does it strike you as one of the most (if not THE most) powerful and effective sermon/speech ever? What’s most notable about the sermon is that leaves the audience asking, “What should we do?” (v.37). Isn’t a good Christian sermon all about telling people what to do and not to do? Maybe we’ve got it all wrong.
Peter’s sermon is essentially an exposition of one verse from the book of Joel. As Peter explains each phrase of this verse, we see what the central message of Christianity is and how we get it all wrong if we think it’s about what we do.
Peter explains that the last days spoken of in Joel 2 have come. A new inclusion has come to the world. It’s something neither Israel nor the world had ever seen or ever thought possible. In the last days God will call “everyone” into a new community – i.e. “sons and daughters”, “young and old”, “servants both male and female”. The Holy Spirit was poured out equally on all regardless of gender, age, social class or race (language). Peter’s sermon is announcing to all: Jesus is the most inclusive force the world has ever known. Jesus is inclusive to everyone.
Peter’s sermon is given to “devout Jewish people from every nation”. This is a gathering of the most religious and faithful people in the world at the time. Peter’s message to them – you are just like everyone. You need to call out to the Lord just like those who you think are “far off” (v.38). He called them to repent. Their religious devotion couldn’t save them. Peter is clear – Jesus doesn’t just offend “sinners”; Jesus offends everyone who thinks their goodness is better than anyone else’s. Jesus is offensive to everyone.
2. “WHO CALLS ON”
When Peter pauses to catch his breath, the crowd asks, “What should we do?” (v.37) We can imagine Peter thinking, “Do!? Have you been listing to my sermon! I didn’t say you needed to do anything. I’ve been talking about Jesus - It’s all been done by Him. Just turn your life toward Him, He will do it for you and in you. Be baptized in his name. Let your name (all that you are and have done) be washed, covered and submerged into His name (all that He is and has done).” It’s that effortless, like water being poured over you. We just call on Him and he does the rest. Calling on Jesus is more effortless than anything.
You might be thinking, “If it’s that effortless and easy then why isn’t it automatic? Doesn’t something need to happen for someone to become or to grow as a Christian?” Yes! But it’s not something we can just do or decide upon ourselves – like a new diet or a self-help resolution. The Word has to pierce us and cut us in the deepest place in the core of our being (our heart, v.36). No one calls out until they’re first cut to the heart.
How does the human heart get pierced? It’s when the words “Jesus, whom you crucified” become personal. The cross show us the true nature and depth of our sin. But at the same time, the cross shows us the true nature and depth of God’s love for us, personally. What pierces the heart is when one can say "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - and I am the worst of them.” (1 Tim 1:15). Calling on Jesus is more painful than anything. It’s this painful piercing that finally breaks the hardness of our hearts so that God can pour in His Spirit, his love, his forgiveness and his grace.
3. “THE NAME OF THE LORD”
Peter spends most of his sermon showing how calling on the “name of the Lord” means calling on Jesus. In the bible “name” = “person”. The name of the Lord is shorthand for all of who Jesus is and all that he has done, is doing and will do. This puts everything we do into perspective. Nothing we do to become Christians or grow as Christians is outside of our personal connection, union and relationship to Him. Everything must come back to the name of Jesus. We don’t call on Jesus to get something from Him. We call on Him. What we most need is not to get something from Him, what we most need is His name - Him.
Peter also shows from Scripture that calling on Jesus means calling on Him as Lord. In quoting Psalm 110 (v.34-35), Peter announces that Jesus is the Lord at God’s right hand and that everything must (and will) come under the name of Jesus. The bible says there are only 3 categories of persons in the universe – the Lord, those who call upon the name of the Lord and the enemies of the Lord. What Jesus shows us in His life, death and resurrection is that the hostility is not on God’s side but on ours. We could summarize the whole ministry and teaching of Jesus as announcing to the world, “God is NOT your enemy!” This is the lie beneath all other lies. Our true enemies are our own self-centeredness/independence, our self-righteousness, sin, the flesh, the world and the devil - everything that works to keep us away from God and knowing that he loves us and he made us for joy in his presence. Here is the key to Christian obedience - when we see God is not and never can be our enemy. Everything he calls us to surrender to Him is for our ultimate good. This is the message of the cross (Romans 5:10) When we see this, we gladly submit everything to him.
4. “WILL BE SAVED”
There is a certainty in these last three words. As Peter concludes, he says we can know with “certainty this Jesus is Lord and Messiah”. When we look for certainty in what we do, how good or consistent we are, or how we feel we will be disappointed. These things are not certain. When we look for certainty in finances, success, achievements, relationships, theology, doctrine, we will be disappointed. None of these things are certain. But when our certainty is found in “this Jesus”, He will never fail us.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. In what ways can churches or Christians communicate exclusion instead of the radical inclusion of Jesus (even unintentionally)? What can be done about this?
3. How does Jesus especially offend devout, religious, good people? Has he offended you in this way?
4. How can becoming and growing as a Christian be more effortless and more painful than anything – at the same time? Have you experienced this dynamic in your relationship with God?
5. Have you ever realized you were calling out to Jesus more to get something from Him than to get “more of Him”? Is there anything wrong with this? What’s the difference?
6. What do you most struggle with placing under the Lordship of Jesus? Do you think it could be rooted in the belief that God is your enemy? Why or why not?
7. What feels most uncertain in your life right now? How might knowing with certainty that Jesus is Lord and Messiah give you endurance, encouragement and hope?
BONUS EXERCISE - The First Sermon – A Gospel Test
You know it’s not the gospel if…
1. It causes you to look down on, exclude, denigrate or ignore any person, in any way because of their age, gender, race or social class.
2. It doesn’t offend you by calling you to repent of your best religious efforts and goodness.
3. It’s telling your main problem are due to a lack of self-effort.
4. It doesn’t cut you to the core and pierce your heart.
5. It minimizes or excuses sin.
6. It makes a bigger deal about or focuses more on sin than on the name of Jesus.
7. It’s more about getting something from Jesus than about knowing more of Jesus.
8. It doesn’t call you to bring everything in your life under Jesus, no exceptions.
9. It makes God out to be your enemy.
10. It points you toward certainty in anything or anyone other than Jesus (who He is and what He’s done).
· Do you disagree with or have reservations/questions any of these 10 statements? Explain.
· Which of these do you tend to most lose sight of or is hardest for you to grasp? Why?
· Which of these do you most need to remember and hold onto in your life right now? Why?