Missionary Methods (3)

. Continuing our study of the preaching of the Apostles we concentrate our attention on the second sermon of the Apostle-Peter recorded in the Book of Acts. This sermon is recorded in chapter three verses twelve through twenty-six. (Since the passage is too lengthy to quote in its entirety the reader is asked to consult his Bible.) It is our thesis that the church in its mission work today must follow the same pattern laid down by the Apostolic Church. The church, also today, must preach the gospel, herald the good news, evangelize. In doing so the church must emulate the Apostolic pattern. Specifically this means that the church must preach the same gospel in the same way in which the Apostles preached. The Holy Spirit, we firmly believe, preserved these sermons so that the church of all ages might learn from them. They teach us, if we will but listen and learn, how to preach and what to preach, especially in the mission context. 

The sermon was occasioned by a wonderful and well-known miracle. As was apparently their custom, Peter and John were on their way to the temple at “the hour of prayer” (vs. 1). As the Apostles approached the temple they encountered a man who had been lame (unable to walk) from birth lying near the gate of the temple called Beautiful. This lame man was brought daily to the temple where he asked alms of those who came to worship and to pray. When he saw Peter and John he asked alms of them. Peter, commanding the man to look at them, said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (vss. 5, 6). Peter then “took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (vss. 7,8). He was really healed! He not only could stand for the first time in his life, and he not only could take a few tentative steps, but immediately after Peter had spoken he leaped to his feet and he continued walking and leaping and praising God! The effect of this miracle of healing on the people was instantaneous: they took note that this leaping man was he who sat daily asking alms at the temple and they were filled with wonder and amazement (vss. 9-10). Soon a crowd gathered in Solomon’s porch; all were greatly wondering (vs. 11). 

When Peter saw the crowd he began preaching. It is obvious that the purpose of the miracle was to serve as an occasion for the preaching of the gospel. But before we examine the content of this sermon we ought to answer an objection that might be raised. It is conceivable that some may argue that this sermon cannot serve as a model for contemporary mission preaching because it is addressed to “children of the covenant.” It is addressed to a Jewish audience. Of that there can be no question. It is also true, however, that these people, though they knew Jesus of Nazareth, had not yet believed on Him and in fact had crucified Him. If ever there were a potentially hostile audience it was here! Let us note how Peter “handles” them, the approach which he uses. We can learn much from this. 

The main theme of the sermon is this: the miracle which they had just witnessed was a manifestation of the power of the resurrected Christ Whom they had crucified. This theme the Apostle drove home along the following lines. Peter denies that he and the Apostle John had healed the lame man by their own power. Why do you marvel at this and why do you look at us as if we had done this and made this man walk, Peter asks. Peter emphasizes that it was not on account of their holiness or power that the man was healed. The Apostle explains that God had glorified His Son Jesus, Whom they had delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate (vs. 13). The Apostle deliberately speaks of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the covenant God, the ever-faithful God of their fathers. One must be impressed with this emphasis. Just as he had done in his Pentecost sermon, the Apostle now proclaims the God of the covenant, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God’s power by which that man was made to walk, not man’s. God brought glory to His Son Jesus through this miracle. It was ail the work of God, the Sovereign One. This certainly is a key element, no, indispensable element of all proper preaching, also mission preaching. The missionary must, if he will be faithful to Christ Who sends him, preach God as He is revealed in Jesus Christ in all of His sovereign power and glory. Those to whom the missionary is sent must be brought into a confrontation with the sovereign God in Christ through public preaching and private counsel. Missionary preaching as well as all preaching must be God-centered. It is precisely at this point that so much preaching, especially mission or evangelistic preaching is to be faulted. It is not so much that there is heresy being preached (though there is plenty of that too!) but much contemporary preaching on the mission fields fails to bring the people face to face with the Sovereign God in Christ of the Scriptures. Preaching, especially evangelistic preaching, concentrates on “a Jesus” who is sweet and lovely, who loves all men and wants to save all. In so doing, this preaching fails to bring people to come to terms with God in all His glory. It inevitably becomes man-centered. This runs contrary to the whole thrust of the Bible. In Scripture the first priority is not man and his salvation but God and His Christ and His glory. This is what mission preaching must proclaim. 

The Apostle continues by pointing to the sin and guilt of the people. If one faithfully proclaims God in Christ he will necessarily preach sin. They denied the Christ before Pilate even when Pilate was determined to let Him go (vs. 13). They denied the Holy One and the Just and desired a murderer instead. They killed the Prince of Life (vss. 14, 15). All this they did in spiritual ignorance (vs. 17). Peter declared that God raised Christ from the dead. Note that emphasis once more. God did that! God raised Christ from the dead! “And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all,” says Peter (vss. 15, 16). Peter explains that all the things concerning the suffering and glorification of Christ were the fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold. In other words Peter emphasizes that Scripture had been fulfilled by Christ. They have no excuse for their sin (vs. 18). 

What does all this mean? It means they must repent of their sins and be converted: “that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And He shall send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you: Whom heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (vss. 19-21). The Apostle concludes by pointing to Moses’ prophecy concerning Christ as a Prophet Whom they must hear. Those who do not hear Christ the Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people. Not only that but all the prophets from Samuel on had spoken of these days (vss. 19-24). Finally, Peter reminds them that they are the children of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with the fathers. The Apostle emphasizes that God sent the gospel of Jesus Christ Whom He raised from the dead to them first of all (vss. 25,26). 

As is the case with the Pentecost sermon, so also in this sermon the one element which most people, even in Reformed circles, claim to be essential to preaching generally and to mission preaching especially, viz., “the free or well-meant offer,” is missing. If the “offer” is so crucial that some go so far as to claim that the Protestant Reformed Churches are not able to preach from their pulpits and certainly are not able to preach in a mission context, why do we not find an offer either in this sermon or the Pentecost sermon of the Apostle Peter? There simply is no “well-meant offer” of the gospel. The whole idea is foreign to Scripture. Using not one but two imperatives the Apostle by virtue of his holy office commanded them to “repent and be converted” (vs. 19). Peter preached no offers. He confronted that multitude with the promise and command of the gospel. He brought them before their obligation. Christ is not to be accepted or rejected, He must be believed and served! God must be worshipped and praised as He is revealed in Jesus according to the Scriptures. This is not an option for man. It is a must. All who refuse perish. All who believe, “by grace through faith, the gift of God,” are saved (Ephesians 2:8). Peter proclaimed the sovereignty of Almighty God and the sovereignty of His grace in Christ Jesus. 

And the fruit? Many opposed the gospel in unbelief (4: 1, 2). The leaders put Peter and John in prison (4:3). But many believed. The number of the men which believed was about five thousand (4:4). God gave a tremendous increase. That is always the fruit of the pure preaching of the Word of God. Where the Word is preached in all of its truth and power the thoughts and intents of the hearts of men are revealed. The elect are converted and brought to faith in Christ. The rest are hardened and they stand condemned, for they reject the Lord’s Christ. In both God is well pleased. In both the Church of Christ triumphs (II Corinthians 2:14-17). 

May God grant the missionaries and preachers of His Church the grace to preach that gospel of sovereign grace faithfully and to the glory of His Name.