SERMON: Ordinary Preaching
TEXT: Acts 2:14-41 (ESV)
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re continue our series through the book of Acts — which we’re calling “Ordinary” — because we’ve come to see that every follower of Jesus is pretty ordinary — we’re all called to be witnesses — someone who shares the news about what Jesus accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection — we all have the same purpose and mission in life — and that makes us all pretty — ordinary.
Now last week — we saw the power we’ve been given to accomplish our mission. And the power we’ve been given is the Holy Spirit — God’s Spirit — who lives in us to empower us to do all that God has commanded of us. And we saw that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to every Christian. We looked at some of those gifts last week — and today — we’re going to hear a sermon on a topic you may have never heard a sermon on before — because we’re going to take a closer look at one of those gifts given — the gift of preaching.
But today, we’re not going to talk so much about the preacher as we are about preaching. And here’s the question I want us to answer.
What makes a sermon a good one? Even if you’ve never thought about asking that question before, you answer it every time you listen to a sermon. Because it’s impossible to listen to a sermon without evaluating it. So what makes a sermon a good one to you?
Maybe for you it’s the length of a sermon. A long sermon is bad and a short sermon is good. In fact, the shorter the sermon the better!
Maybe it’s how the sermon makes you feel. If the sermon leaves you with positive vibes — then it’s a good one. If the sermon leaves you feeling convicted — or feeling like you need to change — then it’s a bad one.
Maybe it’s not how the sermon makes you feel, but how you think the sermon would make your unbelieving friend or family member feel. You think, “Man, if my roommate had shown up today and heard this sermon they’d never go to a church again.” That equals a bad sermon. Or “Man I wish my son or daughter had shown up today — they would have loved the sermon.” That equals a good one.
Some of us like topical sermons — give me a sermon on “how to be financially prepared for retirement, or how to improve my marriage, or how to raise my children to be upstanding citizens” and we’ve got a good sermon on our hands.
Others of us want in depth sermons. Give me the Greek and Hebrew. Go deep theologically. Tell me something I didn’t know when I walked in today.
What about you? What makes a sermon a good one?
But here’s a different question — and — I think — a better question — What does God say makes a sermon a good one? And does His definition of a good sermon and yours agree with each other?
Today, we’re going to see what makes a sermon a good one according to God. We’re going to see — what you might call — a very ordinary sermon. Ordinary preaching done by an ordinary follower of Jesus. And we’re going to allow this ordinary sermon to help us better understand what we should look for in a sermon — what we should expect in each and every sermon — so that — when we evaluate whether or not a sermon is good — we’re doing so in agreement with God’s definition of what makes a sermon a good one.
So let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter two. We’ll be looking at verses fourteen through forty-one.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Now let me remind us what’s been going on in the book of Acts before we answer our question “What makes a sermon a good one?”
You probably know that Jesus was crucified on a cross and that death could not keep Him in the grave. And we’ve seen that for forty days after His death, Jesus appeared teaching and preparing His disciples for the mission He was going to give them. And on the day of His ascension — the day He went up to Heaven — Jesus gave His followers their mission.
And Jesus, “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4b-5 ESV)
And then He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)
And with His last words, Jesus gave His disciples — all one hundred and twenty of them — their mission. And He promised that they would be given the power needed to accomplish their mission — they would be empowered witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
And now the disciples are in Jerusalem. And last week we saw the promise of the Holy Spirit come upon them — the power they needed to accomplish their mission. And our text today is what happens right after the Holy Spirit has come.
And — remember — there’s a crowd of people who’ve seen something happen to the disciples and they’re a bit confused by it all. And to explain everything, Peter stands up to give his first sermon — and we’re going to use Peter’s sermon to help us understand what makes a sermon a good one.
MAIN POINT 1
And here’s the first thing we notice about Peter’s sermon. Peter’s sermon connects the crowd’s experience to the Bible. In preaching to the crowd, Peter shows them how what they’ve just experienced is directly connected to the Bible. Look with me in verse fourteen.
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'” (Acts 2:14-21 ESV)
As we saw last week — in response to the Holy Spirit coming — some in the crowd assume that the best explanation — for this current event — is that the disciples are all drunk as a skunk. And here we see Peter connect the crowd’s experience to the Bible — Peter uses the Bible to help the crowd understand what’s going on. “We’re not drunk,” he says. “This is what the Bible said would happen.”
And all good sermons should do this. For a sermon to be a good one, it’s got to show you how the Bible and life intersect. It may not be the topic you were hoping to hear about — it may not even appear to intersect with your life at this exact moment in history — but what I’m saying is that the sermon should show — in some way — how the Bible and life intersect. Maybe it will remind you of an experience from your past, or something you’re presently going through, or maybe it’s preparing you for something you don’t know is in your future, but — in some way — the sermon should take a passage of the Bible and intersect God’s Word with life.
Now there’s a lot of debate about which should come first when preparing a sermon. Should life experience come first or a Bible passage. And — so you know where I stand — I lean towards the Bible passage coming first and then the experiences of life. Meaning, if I allow life experiences to be what drives the sermon I preach each week — and then go find a verse or two that fit that particular life experience — I’m not sure I’m brave enough to tackle some life experiences that God’s Word addresses.
What do I mean? I mean if my sermons are driven by topics first — I could easily cave towards non-controversial topics. Topics you want to hear — not topics you need to hear. What kind of topics would I be tempted to avoid? Topics like adultery. Or God’s view of divorce. Or racism. Or materialism. Or even — what makes a sermon a good one — that’s a great example, actually. Think about it.
If we weren’t going through the book of Acts and you showed up today to hear a sermon on “what makes a sermon a good one” — what would go through your mind? Maybe, “I wonder if Josh has gotten some complaints about his preaching so he’s defending himself today?” Or “Does Josh even have a clue as to what’s going on in the world — or in my world — a sermon on what makes a sermon a good one? — come on — this is so impractical. I’m sure glad my unbelieving friend didn’t show up today.”
Now compare those thoughts with: Why is Josh preaching Acts chapter two verses fourteen through forty-one today? Well, because he preached Acts chapter two verses one through thirteen last week and these are the next verses in the chapter. And next week he’ll be preaching Acts chapter two verses forty-two through forty-seven. Why? Because they’re the next verses in the chapter.
And why is Josh preaching about what makes a sermon a good one? Well — because — this passage is an example of a good sermon preached by the apostle Peter. And Josh is allowing Peter’s sermon to teach me what makes for a good sermon so I know how to evaluate his preaching — and all preaching for that matter — according to God’s standard.” And suddenly a sermon that seems impractical is very practical — because — as I said earlier — all of you evaluate every sermon you hear. And if you’re going to listen to a sermon — no one’s forcing you to come to church and sit through a guy preach — so if you’re going to listen to a sermon — why wouldn’t you want to know what makes a sermon a good one?
Now let me pause and say something that’ll sound like I’m contradicting myself. Earlier I said, “there’s a lot of debate about which should come first...life experience...or the Bible.” And I said, “I tend to lean towards the Bible passage [coming] first.” So let me give you some exceptions to that.
If there’s a national or world crisis — and even this is hard — because there’s some sort of national or world crisis every week it seems — but when there’s something I — or the elders — deem significant enough that it needs to be addressed immediately — I’ll allow life experience to drive the sermon that week.
Same is true for Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas. Sometimes the book of the Bible we’re going through will work for these special weekends and sometimes it won’t work. So we have to evaluate carefully and be ready to adjust for the holidays. It’d be kind of weird to be going through the book of Leviticus on Christmas Eve.
And — finally — there are some topics that no one passage of the Bible addresses fully on its own, but the topic is important enough to be preached. Sort of what we did with the “Under God?” series earlier this year where we looked at God’s view of race, life, and marriage — we looked at lots of Scripture in order to better understand God’s view of these topics.
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 1
But — regardless if we’re going through a book of the Bible or taking a break to look at a specific topic — an ordinary sermon connects the Bible to life. A good sermon shows us where the Bible and life intersect. This intersection may seem practical — like “how to be a more honest person” — but the intersection may seem very impractical — at first glance — like a sermon on your identity in Christ because “the reason why you struggle with honesty is because you care to much about what others think of you — you have an identity issue — where your self-worth is found in the opinions of other people instead of God’s opinion of you. And the only Person who’s opinion of you that ultimately matters is God’s. And if you believe in Jesus, God is eternally delighted in you. So you have no need to lie about who you are or what you’ve done. You’re free to be who you are — with all of your flaws and insecurities — because the God who made the universe loves you.”
That last example is just as much of an intersection of the Bible and life as “how to manage your money in a way that honors God” is. We tend to focus so much on the practical — “how to” advice — when we evaluate a sermon — “how does this apply to me right now in some tangible, practical way” — that we miss the many deep things of the soul God may be wanting us to experience. Those places in our heart where life and the Bible intersect.
When I was in Lebanon, I had the opportunity to attend a worship service at Resurrection Church Beirut. And — though I was listening to the sermon through a translator — I was encouraged by how the pastor — pastor Hikmat — showed his congregation how the Bible connected to life. I mentioned the refugee situation in Lebanon a few weeks ago. And Hikmat’s church is the one who has over 700 refugees attending it. So as he preached, he connected the truth of God’s Word to the refugee situation they have in their congregation and community. Now I’m sure someone showed up that day hoping to hear a sermon on “how to get your deadbeat husband back on track” or “how to raise your kids without losing your mind” or even a sermon on the book of Revelation — but just because they didn’t hear one of those sermons doesn’t mean the sermon they did hear was a bad one. It was a good sermon — according to God — because it connected the Bible to life.
Let’s look at another trait in Peter’s sermon.
MAIN POINT 2
Something we see, is that Peter’s sermon interprets and explains scripture in light of Christ. If you look carefully at Peter’s sermon, you’ll notice that he takes different passages of Scripture — from what is our Old Testament — and interprets and explains them with Christ in view. Let me show you. Look with me in verse twenty-two.
“"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, "'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
29 "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool."’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."” (Acts 2:22-36 ESV)
Here we see that Peter is preaching from the Old Testament. He preaches from the prophet Joel and from two different psalms. But in preaching from these Old Testament passages — he shows his listeners — and us — how Jesus is the point of the passages. That running through the Bible is a single theme — one thread of hope — His name is Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible has one hero — Jesus. One Savior — Jesus. One Warrior. One Sacrificial Lamb. One Redeemer. One True Israel. On and on I could go. My point is that no matter where you are in the Bible, Jesus is the point of what you’re reading.
England’s Prince of Preachers — Charles Spurgeon — said that Jesus is the point of all of Scripture this way. “Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon. You remember the story of the old minister who heard a sermon by a young man, and when [the old minister] was asked by the [young ] preacher what he thought of [his sermon] — he was rather slow to answer, but at last he said, “If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon.” “No,” answered the young man, “because I did not see that Christ was in the text.” “Oh!” said the old minister, “but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, ‘There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.'” “Well,” said the young man, “but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?” “Then I will go over hedge and ditch but I will get at Him.”
Jesus is the point of every passage of Scripture — He’s the point of everything. So if you’re here today and you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus — Peter and Spurgeon would ask you, “What are you waiting for?” Look around and you’ll find people who’ve looked for hope and joy and purpose in all kinds of places only to discover that nothing satisfies the longing of the heart except Jesus. Nothing will conquer your fear of death — except Jesus. Nothing will give you a reason to get out of bed when the darkness of depression is upon you — except Jesus. Nothing will give you unending joy in this disappointing world — except Jesus. And no one can take one sinner’s words — my words — to a group of other sinner’s — you all — and use them to bring about life change. Only Jesus can do that.
This sounds strange to our ears today — but Christians centuries ago used to say things like — “The preacher explains the text; if he says what is true, it is Christ speaking.” And “We both, pastor and listener, are only pupils; there is only this difference, that God is speaking to you through me. That is the glorious power of the divine Word, through which God Himself deals with us and speaks to us, and in which we hear God Himself.” And “when thou hearest the minister preaching the truth, thou hearest not him, but the Son of God, the teacher of all truth, Christ Jesus.”
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 2
So as you evaluate whether a sermon is a good one or not — ask yourself this — “Was Christ preached?” Because an ordinary sermon links the passage being preached to Christ. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the Old or New Testament. Whether we’re looking at the life of Abraham or David or deciphering the prophetic visions found in the book of Revelation — all Scripture — the entire Bible — is to be interpreted and explained with Christ in view. Because as Christ is preached you are hearing from Christ Himself.
While listening to Hikmat preach in Lebanon — I was so encouraged by his knowledge of Scripture and — particularly — how he kept bringing the congregation back to Christ. At one point, he quoted a lengthy portion of Philippians chapter two to connect the point of his sermon to Christ for his listeners. And a significant responsibility comes with each of his sermons as he is one of the most popular Arab speaking pastors in the world. His sermons are broadcast — via satellite — to over 23 million viewers each week — 23 million. And — in speaking with him — I could tell that he feels the weight of the responsibility he’s been entrusted with to make sure he points his congregation — and his global audience — to Jesus in each of his sermons.
Because there’s something that happens in a sermon when the pastor leads you to Jesus from the passage being preached. You begin to worship Jesus right then and there. You begin to be changed right then and there. Because your eyes have been fixed on Jesus — Your Savior — Your King — Your Hope — Your life — the One who began a good work in you and has promised to see it to its completion.
One thing I do — from time to time — is search for the words “Jesus” and “Christ” in my manuscript to see how many times they’re found — the count is sixty-three for this sermon — not counting “He” and “Him’s” that refer to Jesus. I do this as a way for me to evaluate whether or not I’ve helped to move us from our text — whatever text it may be — to Jesus — that I’ve taken us down the road to Jesus — or jumped over the bushes and climbed out of the ditches — if need be — to get you to Him from our text.
Because a good sermon should link the passage being preached to Christ.
MAIN POINT 3
A final thing we notice in Peter’s sermon. Peter calls the people to action — he calls for a response to what they’ve heard in his preaching. Look with me in verse thirty-seven.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37-41 ESV)
Having connected the Bible to life and demonstrated how Jesus is the fulfillment of the texts he’s preached from — Peter then calls the people to respond — he calls them to respond to what they’ve heard from God’s Word — and really — Peter calls the crowd to respond to Jesus.
Peter tells the crowd to repent — and by way of implication — to believe in Jesus — and to be baptized. And though each sermon may call you to a specific response — one response that’s always appropriate — is the response of repentance and belief. As you’re listening to the sermon — ask yourself — where am I not believing or obeying the truth I’m hearing preached? That’s an opportunity for repentance and belief.
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 3
And an ordinary sermon calls you to action. There will be a call to do or believe something based on the text of scripture being preached.
The way pastor Hikmat called his congregation to action — was by giving them an opportunity to support a refugee family by providing them with food for a month. The church is hoping to provide food for over 200 families each month at the cost of $70 per family. Some folks in the congregation — I’m sure — needed to repent of their apathy towards the refugees — how they’d become comfortable ignoring people — even in their church — who were in desperate need of help. Many felt the call to action — I’m sure — and signed up to give towards the need. But the call to action was clear in Hikmat’s sermon.
Now some of you may be wondering — “Why all of this information about how a pastor in Lebanon preached a sermon?” Well I’ve been telling you about Hikmat because he’s going to be visiting with us on July 8th. While in Lebanon, he and I met and discussed ways for Gateway and Resurrection Church Beirut to partner together. And there are some exciting opportunities ahead for us.
For instance, these refugees — that Hikmat’s church is caring for — many of these refugees are coming to faith in Jesus. Then they go back to their home country and are beginning new churches in some of the most difficult countries in the world to be a Christian in. Go look at a map — find Lebanon — and look at the nations surrounding it. Most of them aren’t on your future vacation destinations list. Yet churches are being started all throughout the Middle East because of Hikmat’s church.
And Hikmat will be with us on July 8, for an evening service at our CR9 campus. It’s going to be a time for us to hear about the work he — and his church — are doing. And to hear about the ways that we — Gateway Church — can have a role in what God is doing in the Middle East. So mark your calendar for July 8 as Hikmat will be with us that evening. More to come on his visit in the coming weeks.
We’ve been looking at what makes a sermon a good one. Some of you may have come here today hoping to hear a sermon on something else. But I hope you’ve seen how this may be one of the most important sermons you ever hear — because now — as you evaluate the sermons you hear — which you can’t help but do — you’ll be able to evaluate them according to God’s Word. Did the sermon connect the Bible to life? Was Jesus preached? And was there a call to action?
Good preaching is pretty ordinary. It may not be what you expected it to be — but ordinary preaching is what God uses to make us into the witnesses He’s called us to be. Let’s pray.
PRAYER OF APPLICATION
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of preaching and the preachers You use to help us become the men and women You’ve created us to be. Remind us — as we hear the Bible preached — of what good preaching is. It connects the Bible to life. It points us to Jesus. And it calls us to action.
Father, for anyone here today who — in listening to Peter’s sermon — heard words about Jesus that stirred a desire in their heart to follow Him — I pray that they would do just what Peter said to do. That they would repent of their sins — turning from their sin as they turn to Jesus in faith — and ask You for forgiveness. That they would become an ordinary follower of Jesus through baptism and by being a witness of all that Jesus is doing in our world.
We can’t help but evaluate the sermons we hear. So Father, we ask You to help us to evaluate them according to Your standard so that we grow in our spiritual maturity as individuals and as a church. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.