The first two sermons recorded in Acts, though having a variety of differences, share a very instructive core pattern worthy of serious consideration. With the understanding that biblical methodology is instructive, let us analyze these early presentations to see what we might glean.
An indispensable component in a public presentation is the public. In our two biblical examples, the miraculous provided for the gathering of listeners. This, however, does not mean we are left without recourse. There are a variety of ways to get an audience, especially in our technological age. Creativity tempered by common sense allows for good brainstorming opportunities. A congregation or any other group of brothers and sisters could share and refine effective strategies.
Jesus is the clear focus of the two sermons we are unpacking. For that matter, Jesus gets center stage throughout the entirety of New Covenant revelation. While this rather obvious truth is abundantly evident, we are not assured that it will therefore receive its due respect. Public outreach is first of all a telling of the Good News, and the news is about Jesus!
Here let us be reminded of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The command is “make disciples.” The explanatory participles are “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.” We are not converting people to the church. Neither are we converting them to a pattern of response; nor are we converting them to a particular set of doctrines we embrace, but others do not. The church, the pattern of obedience, and the teachings of the church are certainly part of the larger picture, but the lost need to first make a commitment to Jesus!
A possible objection at this point might be to note that those in denominational settings have already been introduced to the Christ. While this is of course true, the fully biblical Jesus may still be a stranger to them (Matt. 7:21-23).
Our two sermons then begin to add weight to the identity of Jesus. He is strongly connected to passages from the Old Covenant that point to the coming Messiah and which clearly find fulfillment in Him. The biblical narrative is robustly connected to Him as it shows Him to be the one who has come to bring in a new day of hope and rescue.
Additionally, a vital point is made relative to the Lordship of Jesus. He is the promised great King, the son of David. He sits at the right hand of God. As Moses predicted, He has come as the great prophet who is to be obeyed in all things.
It is here that the contemporary condition of knowing about Jesus rather than knowing Him needs special attention. If He is to be chosen, He must be chosen as Lord! In very stark terms, the person coming to Jesus must understand that he or she, as Bonhoeffer said, “comes to die.” The new Master expects to be obeyed, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Here the two sermons depart. The gathering at Solomon’s Porch is interrupted before a response takes place. The need to “repent and return” as well as the association of Jesus with various Old Covenant themes of refreshing associated with the Messianic Age are, nonetheless, given voice. God was indeed “restoring the kingdom to Israel” in the much greater glory found in Jesus as King.
Hearts were pierced. Guilt was felt. Relief was sought. If our preaching does not create a need, why would anyone want to respond?
Jesus was publicly acknowledged, minds were persuaded to change, and those who came to Jesus came to die with Him that they might begin again the journey of life.
We now see the “make disciples” command coming to life in the lives of those who were baptized. The need to be “taught all things whatsoever (Jesus) commanded” found powerful expression: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42).
I find it amazing that within about two years these disciples and many more were, when “scattered abroad,” able to go “everywhere preaching the word.” If there has ever been a testimony to the tepid nature of modern “discipleship,” this would surely be it! The contrast between how the church grew by vigorously applying God’s plan then and how we “grow” today is stark! Let me be so bold as to repeat: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”