3rd Sunday of Easter, proper B3
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 3:12-19 Sermon
April 26, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
397 "Love Divine All Loves Excelling"
104 "Praise The Saviour, Now And Ever"
106 "Come Ye Faithful, Raise The Strain"
461 "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour"
CRITIQUING A SERMON
TEXT (vs. 17-19): "[Peter said] Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..."
How many sermons do you think you've heard in your life? Do you think you could count them up? Now I'm not talking about a sermon in the loose sense of the word, like when you've been scolded by your parents, or a teacher, or a judge. No, I'm talking about a regular sermon, preached from a pulpit in a church. Do you have any idea how many you might have heard?
Okay, let's do a little figuring here. There are 52 Sundays in a year; so if you figure that you miss, let's say 10 Sundays in a year, that makes 42 Sunday sermons. Then if we add Lenten services to that, that's another six. Then we can add Advent services for another three. Then there's Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Christmas, another three. We're up to 54 now. And then we can throw in a couple funerals and a couple weddings for good measure, bringing the total up to 58. That's at least 58 sermons that a regular church attendee probably hears in a year's time. That's a lot!
Now I'm 54 years old. If I take that figure of 58 sermons and multiply it by my age, that means that in my lifetime I have heard roughly 3,132 sermons. Now I have been in the ministry for over twenty years, and apart from about four Sundays a year, I preach every time. So let's add back the ten Sundays I originally subtracted, making the figure 68; and subtracting about 4 Sundays a year that I don't preach, the total is now 64. So of those 3,132 sermons in my life, I have preached 1,280 of them myself. Of course these figures aren't any more than wild guesses. And if I were to also figure in how many sermons I've read just in the course of my ministry, I couldn't even begin to arrive at a reasonable number.
Up until now, I've used myself as an example; how many sermons do you think you've heard in your lifetime? It may be more or it may be less than the numbers I was using; but I think it is safe to assume that you've heard your share of sermons in your lifetime.
Now here's the real clincher: how many of those sermons do you actually remember hearing? As for myself, I can remember some that I've heard, but I would be hard pressed to give you an accounting of what most of them contained. And I daresay that you would be in much the same position in which I find myself.
If you want a staggering figure, it has been said that the average worshipper remembers only about three to five percent of the sermon once they walk out the church door; and through the week, that percentage gets less. Considering this, the pastor has an enormous responsibility to preach sermons that people not only remember, but will also find useful in their individual lives. So we can't just shake them out of our sleeve and hope for the best. There needs to be a good deal of thought and preparation.
Now I realize that people do not have steel traps for brains, and they will not remember a lot of sermons. That's the way human beings are. Even with myself, before I write a sermon, I have to look through past sermons on a particular text to be sure I don't repeat something I used before; and even that isn't foolproof. As you probably know, it has indeed happened where I've unknowingly used something in a sermon that I have used before. Even though people might not be able to remember a particular sermon, you can bet that if you repeat something, someone will remember it.
When it comes to remembering sermons, there's an old illustration that you may have heard before, but it is still well suited to this topic.
A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. "I've gone for 30 years now," he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me I can't remember a single one of them. So I think I'm wasting my time . . . and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all."
This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher: "I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked
some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall what the menu was for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be dead today."
It's an old illustration, but it makes a valid point. We cannot make a value judgment upon what we do and do not immediately recall about a particular sermon. But what we do know, is that we are fed and nourished and sustained and strengthened through God's Word. God's Word applies to not only ourselves in our own lives, but there is application for all of humanity in the entire world.
When we think of sermons, our point of reference is usually what comes from the pulpit here in church. That's a sermon. However we tend to overlook another great source of sermons, which is the Bible itself. Scripture records numerous sermons, like Jesus' very famous "Sermon on the Mount," or Solomon's Temple dedication sermon.
Today we have one of the sermons contained in the Bible as our text for today. It is the words of our first lesson. And this is a sermon that the Apostle, Simon Peter preached to a group of assembled Jews. It is not only a great sermon, but it also is a hard-hitting one. And the thing that you all would probably find the most attractive, is that it is short. So today as we focus upon our first lesson, let's do a critique of Peter's sermon.
The situation which brought this all about was a healing miracle. Jesus had empowered his disciples to perform miracles as a way to authenticate the message and the ministry they had. And this miracle is the springboard Peter was able to use for a very powerful sermon indeed.
Peter and John were in Jerusalem, and it was three o'clock in the afternoon. It was time to go to the temple to pray. And as they were going, they spotted a man who had been crippled from birth. He was at the gate called "beautiful" and he was begging money from those going to the temple. So when Peter and John approached him, he asked them for money. But instead, Peter performs a healing miracle. The man was no longer crippled.
Now in today's society, such a miracle might not be so welcome. A person collecting welfare would suddenly have to go to work and start earning a living again, and quit living on hand-outs. Unfortunately our society tends to reward those who don't want to work, so being handicapped is an advantage. But in Peter's day, such was not the case. A beggar's existence was not one to be envied.
After Simon Peter heals the man, the other Jews who were also going to the Temple to pray were astonished. How could Peter have performed such a miracle? Who gave him the power? So even though the people weren't assembled for worship, Peter uses this as a golden opportunity for a sermon. And in preaching it, Peter minces no words; he gives it to them straight from the shoulder. So let's pull this sermon of Peter's apart, put it in an outline form, and look at the points he was making in a very few words.
First, Jesus was one of them. He was sent by the God of their ancestors, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had glorified Jesus. He was God's true and only begotten Son, the Saviour God had sent into the world.
Second, Jesus was no stranger to them. He was the one whom the Jews had rejected and handed over to Pilate to be killed. And here is where Peter really lays the blame on them. Even though the people who were there might not have been at that illegal trial that sentenced Jesus to death on the cross, he still makes them responsible for it. The Jews as a whole shared in the guilt, even though it was the Jewish Sanhedrin that actually handed him over. Purely by their association, they in effect had given tacit approval of what had been done.
In verses 13-15 of our text, Peter really lays it on thick: "...You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life..."
Wow. Those words had to cut hard and cut deep. But they needed to know what had happened, and the great injustice that had been done in their name. They needed to know their sin and be responsible for it.
Third, Jesus' history did not end in the grave; he was physically raised from the dead. In verse 15 Peter says, "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this." It's here that we need to remember one very important thing. Peter and John were both there with this group of people. According to Jewish law, it took only two witnesses to establish a matter as being fact. In this case, there were two witnesses present with the exact same testimony. So in the eyes of the assembled Jews, Jesus' resurrection was an established fact. They had to recognize that even though the Sanhedrin sought to get rid of Jesus by killing him on the cross, God had other things in mind when he thwarted their plans.
Fourth, faith in Jesus' name had restored this beggar's health. In the first three parts, Peter makes a very pointed application of the law. These Jews had been convicted of their sin and guilt. And now was the time to introduce a new concept, which is the element of faith. In verse 16 Peter says, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see."
Faith is the all-important element here. This man wasn't healed because he was a good person, or because he did some heroic act of service, or because he was a drinking buddy with the Pharisees. He was healed through faith alone, and that faith is something that Jesus gives as a gift through the Holy Spirit. God chose him and gave him faith, and not the other way around.
Fifth, Peter tells them not to let guilt keep you from approaching God; what was done to Christ was done in ignorance. These people needed to know what kind of love Jesus has for them. They were guilty by association, by simply and blindly following lock-step with the Pharisees. They were the church leaders, they should know what's going on and the best way to go, right? Wrong!
But all this had to happen to fulfill prophecy. God's love would be extended to the whole world, and even them. Jesus came to pay the price for their sins, to suffer and die on the cross so they would be redeemed. This is the Saviour they needed, and not someone to deliver them from earthly oppression. They would be delivered from the oppression of sin, death, hell, and Satan.
The sixth and final point Peter makes is to tell them to repent and turn to God, who will wipe away your sins. The words Peter uses in verse 19 read, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
What welcome news this had to be! To have a load of guilt like this completely removed from them is certainly a testimony of God's grace; and then to be offered refreshment from that same forgiving hand is almost too much to comprehend. But they were able to see what kind of God they were actually dealing with, and not the picture of a demanding and angry God the Pharisees had.
If we bring these six points of Peter's sermon together, all of the important elements are there. We see who Christ is, what he did to save us, how he defeated death and Satan, how faith alone in Jesus Christ saves a person, how he accepts everybody regardless of who they are or what they've done, the need of repentance, and the promise of an eternal reward for those who are saved. Peter certainly didn't miss much in those few words of his sermon in our text for today.
In our own lives, these points are important for us as well. And as we think about all those sermons we've heard in our lives, we always come to the same important point, which is Jesus Christ, and him alone. Faith alone in Christ is the thing that will save us and bring us into eternal life with him, regardless of who we are or what we've done.
Thinking again about those Jews to whom Peter was preaching, I doubt if his sermon would be one they would soon forget. Those words weren't fancy or eloquent, but straight and to the point. The Holy Spirit working through those words brought souls to faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly the words that bring life and salvation to souls dead in transgressions and sins are words that should never be forgotten.