. We have repeatedly made the point that the chief task of the church in its mission work is the preaching of the gospel. In other words, mission work consists mainly in the preaching of the Word of God. This is what the missionary must do both publicly and from house to house (cf. Acts 20:20). In our study of missionary methods we wish to examine the preaching of the apostles especially, and other aspects of their work as that is recorded in the Epistles, but especially the Book of Acts. There are several sermons recorded in Acts which we propose to study. These sermons are recorded for a reason, not merely for historical interest. We can and, indeed, we must learn from them. If we wish to know what the church must preach and how the church must preach on the mission fields we can do no better than to pay attention to apostolic preaching.
Since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost marks the beginning of the work of the exalted Christ in gathering His church out of the nations we begin with that event. When the day of Pentecost was fully come the Spirit was poured out upon the one hundred and twenty. The signs of the Spirit’s presence were the sound of a rushing mighty wind, the cloven tongues like as of fire, and the speaking in tongues. A large multitude gathered, to which the disciples preached. This multitude which was from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) was amazed to hear the disciples speak in their various tongues the wonderful works of God (vs.11). Some doubted as to the meaning of it all, while others mocked saying the disciples were drunk. At this point Peter rises and preaches his sermon. To this sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-40, we direct our attention. From it we can learn much about proper preaching in the mission context.
If the reader will consult his Bible he will notice that Peter comes with no gimmicks, no sophisticated sales pitch, and no slick Madison Avenue prepackaged gospel appeal. There is a good deal of writing and talk in Missiology these days about the proper approach on the mission field. How ought the missionary to approach people? How can he best approach them and present the gospel in order to win them for Christ? The whole assumption is that with the proper approach one will be successful in winning souls, and with an improper approach he will not. Let us learn from this example of Peter. What did he do? He was faced with a tremendous opportunity. He stood before a multitude of people who numbered in excess of three thousand. And they wanted to know what was going on. How was it possible for these unlearned men to speak in all these languages? What did Peter do? He did what every missionary and minister of the Gospel must do. He simply expounded the Scriptures! Peter told them that what they witnessed was spoken of by the prophet Joel. Then the Apostle quoted Joel 2:28-32, where the prophet speaks of the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh. Then Peter showed them from Psalm 16:8-11 that David spoke of the resurrection of Christ. And from verse ten of that Psalm the Apostle showed that David spoke of the ascension of Christ to the right hand of God. Peter expounded the Word of God. He simply preached Christ crucified and raised and exalted at the right hand of God from the Holy Scriptures.
This was the content of that sermon: Christ crucified. Jesus of Nazareth, Whom they knew from the miracles, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, was crucified by their wicked hands. This Christ was raised up and He has shed forth the Holy Spirit, “this which ye see and hear” (vs. 33). The conclusion is this: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (vs. 36). Note well that in preaching Christ crucified the Apostle preached sin. In fact, in rather blunt language Peter told them that they had taken the Lord’s Christ with their wicked hands and crucified Him. That simply meant that, apart from the Christ whom they wickedly crucified, they stood condemned. If, therefore, the church will be faithful in its preaching to the nations, it must preach the great theme of sin and grace. It must mince no words. The church must declare to all who hear that they are depraved, wicked sinners. The church must preach that their only hope is in Christ crucified. The church must not be afraid to do this. Peter was not. We must follow his example in our mission preaching.
Because the sermon is Christocentric it is Theocentric. Peter preached God in all His sovereignty and glory. God did the miracles and wonders and signs by Jesus so that Jesus was approved of God among the Jews. Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Note that! The Apostle did not hesitate to preach the counsel of God. That is profound and deep doctrine! God raised up Jesus from the dead. God did not suffer His Holy One to see corruption but He raised Him up and exalted Him at His own right hand. Christ received the promise of the Holy Spirit from God the Father. In sum, God made Jesus both Lord and Christ through the terrible way of the crucifixion. That was the message the Apostle preached that day. The very heart of it was God in all His sovereignty and great glory as revealed in the crucified, raised, exalted Lord Christ. It was, as Herman Hoeksema was fond of saying, no “gospel on a thumbnail,” it was no simple Sunday School lesson. Peter did not come with some easy steps to finding happiness in Jesus. That sermon of the Apostle was full of sound doctrine and based on an exegesis of the Old Testament Scriptures. It is precisely that kind of preaching which is needed on the mission fields in our day. Altogether too much mission preaching is far too superficial and, worse than that, a corruption of the gospel. Certainly it is true that the truth must be explained carefully and in language that people who have had no contact with the gospel can grasp. It is also true that the whole counsel of God must be preached. That is what Peter did and, as we hope to see, that is what Paul did. That, therefore, is what we must do.
Exactly because, in faithfulness to the infallible Scriptures, Peter preached God in Christ, there was no well-meant offer in the Apostle’s sermon. Peter I I did not offer salvation in Christ to that multitude. He did not tell them they had the will to choose Christ nor did the Apostle urge them to do so with some kind of “altar call.” Some among the multitude were pricked in their hearts as a result of Peter’s sermon (vs. 37) and they said, “…Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (vs. 38). The Apostle did not beg or cajole or offer. He commanded them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Those verbs are in the imperative! Peter continued by giving the ground for this double command: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (vs. 39). The Apostle preached the command of the gospel and the particular promise of the gospel. That promise is unconditional and particular. It is to you and your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. For that reason they must repent and be baptized. In addition we are told that Peter testified and exhorted with many other words saying, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (vs. 40). In the hearing of that vast multitude the Apostle preached the particular Gospel of Scripture together with its particular promise. He simply commanded those who had been pricked by the Holy Spirit in their hearts through the sermon to repent and be baptized. In the light of this evidence the charge that the Reformed churches which preach a particular gospel and promise have no gospel to preach, especially on the mission fields, is sheer nonsense. Peter preached the only gospel and promise that Scripture knows. He preached the gospel of sovereign grace in Christ, in Whom alone the multitude then, and we now, find remission of sins.
By anyone’s standards the Apostle was “successful.” Approximately three thousand souls gladly received the Word and were baptized. These continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship (vss. 41,42). That was the fruit of Peter’s preaching that first Pentecost. Let the missionaries of God’s Church go forth into the nations of the world, preaching and teaching that same precious Gospel of sovereign grace in Christ which gives the glory to God. That preaching will bear rich fruits. Perhaps there will be no multitudes of three thousand. There will, however, be fruit. The elect will be pricked in their hearts and they will gladly receive the Word and be baptized. Unbelievers will scoff and oppose and even persecute. They shall perish. In both we triumph in Christ, and in both we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God (II Corinthians 2:14-17).