The First Christian Sermon — Part Two
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The First Christian Sermon — Part Two

Acts 2:24–41  (ID: 2442)

Peter proclaimed the meaning of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension on the day of Pentecost. How could Peter have such confidence in the work of Christ? Alistair Begg explains that the Gospel transformed doubting Peter into God’s instrument of evangelism in the early church. As we rely on the Spirit’s work in our own lives, we can share in Peter’s confidence of Christ as Savior.

Series Containing This Sermon

When the Church Was Young

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 26401

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from the Bible and following up from what was read by Pastor Mills this morning in 1 Peter. And we’ll read from the point at which we stopped, which was the twelfth verse. First Peter chapter 1, and we’ll begin to read at the thirteenth verse:

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when [Christ Jesus] is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”


Well then, let’s just pick it up from where we were this morning. Some of you were not here this morning, and I should tell you that we’re dealing with the first recorded Christian sermon. We have noticed that the preacher on this occasion was none other than Peter, that he immediately turns to his Bible and seeks to let his listeners know that what has taken place, as Luke has described it, is nothing other than that which the Old Testament had predicted. And having established the focus of the people, he then, from verse 22 on, begins to state the facts concerning Jesus. In verse 21, he has quoted the verse “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And then we noted that he didn’t go into immediately sharing his experiences of this, but he went into the stating of the person and work of Jesus.

And I think we drew from this, this morning, not only how we ourselves might be saved, but also, we were beginning to get an idea of the sort of framework that we might use when we’re speaking to others about Jesus: that we might make sure that we do what the apostles did—and that is not necessarily in this same structured fashion, but that we will make sure that we speak concerning Jesus as a man and as a figure of history, Jesus as the promised one who would die for sins, Jesus who is the resurrected Lord and King.

And we noted that that was really the way in which Peter was approaching things. In verse 22, he begins with the fact of Christ’s life and the way that it was attested to by God in his miraculous signs, which are recorded for us in the Gospel—at least some of them. And then he proceeds in verse 23 to speak concerning the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. And although he doesn’t work out the doctrine of the atonement the way it is worked out later on in the Epistles, nevertheless, we wanted to be clear that he did not sidestep, but rather, he made much of the fact that the people who were listening to him were actually culpable because they had been responsible, with the help of wicked men—presumably a reference to the Romans, his words being addressed primarily to the Jews—they were responsible for the death of the Lord Jesus. And they were responsible for this in a way that was completely in confluence with God’s foreordination. Because although they were acting according to their own desires, they were unwittingly fulfilling God’s purpose from all of eternity.

And this, of course, is one of the classic places in the Acts of the Apostles where you have human responsibility and divine sovereignty set side by side. It’s interesting, for those of us who are tempted to tie ourself up in knots when it comes to this issue, that the Bible doesn’t just address both of these issues but frequently puts them right beside one another. And Marshall, in his commentary on Acts, says, “Here we have the paradox of divine predestination and human freewill in its strongest form.”[1]

And although Peter doesn’t work it out here, let us remind ourselves and be careful to ensure that when we speak to our friends and neighbors concerning the gospel, that we make sure that the cross, the message of the cross, is at the heart of what we’re saying. Because it is in the message of the cross—although it is foolishness to those who are perishing, it is the power of God to those who believe.[2] And it is only when men and women are confronted by the cross that they see the wonder of God’s amazing love. Augustine referred to the cross as the pulpit of God’s love.[3]

And I was thinking—I’ve been thinking a lot—about the boy Jeff Weise ever since I quoted him from the New York Times. I’ve been thinking so much about how it is a tragedy that in so many lives, not least of all his own, apparently, nobody was there to tell him of the nature of God’s redeeming love, of the wonder of his desires and designs for those whom he has made, and also that all of his wrongdoings and all of his bad ideas and all of his dreadful animosities towards his family—albeit for whatever reasons—all of that hatred and all of that anger, all of that spite and all of that rebellion has been dealt with in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make sure that when we speak to our friends, we are telling them about the gospel: that he who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him[4]—so that we explain to them that great exchange.

Stating the Fact of the Resurrection

From life to death to resurrection. Verse 24: “… wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death”—a reminder to us of the agony that Jesus faced in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter was there. Peter had one of the ringside seats for that event. Peter and his colleagues were the closest. They were a stone’s throw away from Jesus, and they saw how agonized he was, how he was brought to the point of virtual distraction.[5] And Peter here is clear that what had happened in death was an agonizing thing, in all of its immensity, in all of its atrocity.

Remember, too, that the one who’s preaching this sermon is part of the group that was frightened and disheartened only a short time before—he was one of the people who apparently had the beginning of the story but no end to it—and how it was that Jesus appeared to him. And how wonderfully Jesus appeared to Peter himself, didn’t he? What a wonderful Savior is Jesus! What a wonderful friend is he! How gracious to come to Peter after all of his denial! How wonderful to come to Peter—to meet him there at the point of his own sort of disheartenment at the end of John’s Gospel, when Peter says, “Well, I’m going to go fishing,” and a few of his friends say, “Well, we may as well go fishing too,”[6] whether he was saying, “I’m going back to fishing,” or “I’m just going to go fishing anyway.” And there, in that moment, there is a virtual reenactment of what had taken place before. And as soon as Peter realizes that it is none other than the Lord, he jumps over the side, having wrapped his outer garment around him, and he jumps into the water, and he heads for the shore, and he heads for the gaze of the Lord Jesus, and Jesus makes him breakfast along with the others. And “when they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’”[7] God is the God of the second and the third and the fourth chance. God is the God of reinstatement. God is the God of reconciliation.

It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Jesus. We have been placed in Christ. Because we are in Christ, we, too, will be resurrected.

And when Peter here speaks concerning the resurrection in this triumphant tone, he is able to affirm the reality of what he himself had encountered. God raised him from the dead because “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” I think we sing it in one of our songs, don’t we?

[And] bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave he arose again!
And as he stands in victory,
[Sin] has lost its grip on me,
For I am his and he is mine.[8]

Incidentally, this is why any of us can anticipate being resurrected. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Jesus. We have been placed in Christ. Because we are in Christ, we, too, will be resurrected. Because we are in the Lord Jesus, we will be resurrected to eternal life. We will be resurrected to life, and not to judgment, and not to death.

And Peter affirms this. And he does so in such a way that it is a reminder to us of what we noted before—namely, how important it was for them to get the teaching from Jesus; how important it was that they were on the receiving end of what Jesus had promised them. Remember: “I have much more to say to you”—John 16—

“… than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth[, speaking not] on his own; [speaking] only what he hears, [telling] you what is yet to come. [And] he will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

“In a little while you[’ll] see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

[And] some of [the] disciples said to one another, “What does he mean … saying, ‘In a little while you[’ll] see me no more, and … after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” [And] they kept asking, “What does he mean … ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he[’s] saying.”[9]

Incidentally, if you were writing a Gospel—remember, if you were writing, if you were inventing, a story, as we’re so often told—you’re not going to make the disciples out to be a bunch of dimwits. You’re not going to invent a story and write it down where they keep getting it wrong, where they keep missing the point, where they haven’t got a clue what’s going on. This has all the marks of authenticity, doesn’t it? And then, when you say to yourself, “Well, how does someone who’s in this group say, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t know what’s going on. I never met Jesus. I don’t know Jesus. I never heard of the man! I don’t know the man! I’m going fishing,’ to ‘Men of Israel, listen to this, and listen carefully to what I’m telling you: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God by the mighty miracles that he did, which you yourselves know, was put to death at the hands of wicked men according to God’s foreknowledge…’ Where did all this come from? How did Peter get to here?” In fulfillment of what Jesus had said!

Now, they were a quick learn once the Holy Spirit got ahold of them. And Peter, again, is making use of the Bible. Once again he goes to exposition. “It [is] impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” And then he quotes from the Old Testament. Verse 25: “David said about him…” And then he quotes from the Psalms. And then in verse 29: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that David can’t have been referring to himself.” See? In other words, “Here is a psalm.” Remember when we did the big picture? We said that the Psalms had fulfillment that would be in some senses immediate, often partial, and would be pointing forward to its complete fulfillment that would actually be found in Jesus. Peter didn’t get this. It was only after the Emmaus Road incident that Peter and the rest of them had the Bible course. Jesus gave them God’s big picture. Jesus gave them the course that he’d given to the two on the Emmaus Road, and he showed them how the whole panorama of redemption fitted together. Peter got it. John 16:12 and 13 is fulfilled in Peter. Peter, now having got it, the Spirit of God bringing to his recollection things that he’d known before but couldn’t put the jigsaw together, now stands and addresses his own people and is able to explain to them that David actually was speaking about Jesus—that this actually was a description, ultimately, of Christ.

And the way in which he makes it clear is he says, “David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet”—verse 30—and he “knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.” And “seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.”

Incidentally, that’s how, if you were doing an exposition of this psalm, you could not do a faithful exposition of this psalm without understanding the way in which this psalm is expounded when you find it in the New Testament. And that’s one of the clear indications of how to tackle a particular psalm.

Here, Peter does the exposition:

Therefore my heart is glad … my tongue rejoices;
 my body also will live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
 nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

“Well, the fact of the matter is,” he says, “we can go and look in David’s tomb. So if we can go and look in David’s tomb, then it surely wasn’t David referring to himself. No,” he says, “David was actually seeing what was ahead. He was speaking of the resurrection of the Christ.” So, verse 32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” So Peter combines the Old Testament quotes with the testimony of the witnesses, which, of course, become the testimony of the New Testament. So, basically, what he’s doing is he is addressing the fact that both the Old Testament and the New Testament join in testifying to the resurrection of Jesus.

Stating the facts concerning his life, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his exaltation there in verse 33. Because the obvious question that people may ask is “Well, where is Jesus now?” The answer is he’s “exalted to the right hand of God,” and “he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” This is the point he’s making: “You want to know what’s happening in Jerusalem? This is what’s happening in Jerusalem: Jesus has accomplished the work of redemption. He has been brought back by his Father to his right hand in heaven. The Father has given to him the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out, lavished.”

And once again he quotes from the Psalms—Psalm 110 this time. He says, “And this isn’t about David either. If David wasn’t resurrected from the dead, he clearly can’t have ascended to heaven. So therefore, when you read in Psalm 110, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet,”’ then this clearly refers to Jesus too.”

And although here we sit on a Sunday night in the east side of Cleveland, with the whole world chasing on, with all of the great concerns of our world, with the developments of science, and the concerns of medicine, and the destruction in many areas of humanity, and the demise of morality, and everything else; many times we may be prone to discouragement and to feeling as if we should simply throw in the towel. And we have to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and

He sits at God’s right hand
Till all his foes submit
And bow to his command
And fall beneath his feet.[10]

It may not seem like that tonight, but on the authority of God’s Word, that is true.

And so he gets to his “Therefore…” in verse 36. “Therefore,” he says, “let all Israel be assured of this: [that] God has made this Jesus, [the one] you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Jesus is Messiah, Lord, and God.

Jesus is the source, the sustainer, and the goal of all created reality. And God has declared him in reality and power to be what he has always been by sovereign right.

Quite a sermon, wouldn’t you say? Incidentally, I’m sure this isn’t all of it. The speeches in Acts must be summary statements. If you just read it through, it only takes you about three minutes to read it through. I can’t imagine that Peter preached a three-minute sermon on the day of Pentecost, although I suppose it’s possible. So I think what we have in the speeches in Acts is Luke’s summary—and remember, he was doing his careful research and providing the heart of what was said. But the bones of it are there. It was very good, wasn’t it? He’s doing exposition—first of the prophecy of Joel, then of the unfolding story of Jesus, and then he says, “You just need to know who this Jesus is. He is the source, the sustainer, and the goal of all created reality. And God has declared him in reality and power to be what he has always been by sovereign right.”

Responding to the Appeal

And then the final thing we notice, and just say a word on it, is that not only does Peter, in his preaching, set the focus and state the facts, but he also responds to the appeal.

You’ll notice that the appeal comes from the listeners; it’s not an appeal that comes from the preacher. We’re familiar with preachers making appeals, right? The preacher is supposed to get to therefore. Once he gets to therefore, then he makes an appeal. And the appeal is made from the preacher to the people. Here, the appeal is made from the people to the preacher. Would to God that this was the pattern—that we were enabled by God to so teach and gossip the gospel to our friends and neighbors that when we had had the opportunity to lay out for them the facts of the matter, that they said to us, “Well, then what should we do?”

That’s what we pray for. That is something only God can accomplish. I mean, somebody up here making an appeal can use all kinds of strategies and gimmickry and ways to get people to respond. In the midst of all of that, God saves people. There’s no question about that. I’m not arguing that point. But the real indication of God at work is when the heart of the person spoken to cries out—if not to the preacher, at least to God—“God, what should I do? What am I supposed to do?” And of course, it’s at that point that we need to be ready to tell our friends what they need to do.

I can think of only a few occasions in my life… One in particular comes to mind, in suburban Philadelphia—I think I’ve told you about it before—when as a very reluctant prophet, I explained to a young man, who’s now a pilot with US Airways… He was a great tennis player at that point and working pumping gas in the Philly airport. He was interested in religion and was contacted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And I, on demand, was assigned the responsibility of sharing the gospel with him. And we sat down, and I shared the gospel with him. And I remember when I finished, there was just a silence, and he said, “Well, then, what am I supposed to do?” And I was bowled over, ’cause I didn’t expect any kind of response at all. And I think I said, “Well, you have to have a change of heart and mind and a change of direction. That’s what it means to repent. And it’d be a good idea if you got baptized so that what is taking place inside of you will be apparent outside of you. And you will receive the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “God will forgive you, and he will fill you. God will give you a clean page, and he will give you a new power to indwell you and to transform you.”

That’s what we’re able to say to people: “If you will call upon the name of the Lord, he will save you. He saves all who call upon him. Call upon him to save you. Your sins will be forgiven. They will be blotted out. He will remember them no more. He will give you a whole new start. He will give you the Holy Spirit to live in your life, and the Spirit of God will begin to incline your heart to the things of Jesus. And all of a sudden, things will change, and they will be different, not as a result of you embracing an externalism but as a result of a new power and a new affection unleashed within your life.”

It really is a wonderful story that we have to tell. “And this,” says Peter to those who are listening to him, “this is not a promise that is simply for you, but it’s also that which extends to your children as they, in turn, would come to Christ. It’s not something that’s localized in Jerusalem. It’s actually for all who are afar off.” I think he probably means far off, there, from God rather than far off from Jerusalem—because remember, when Paul writes, he talks about “[We] who [were once] far away have been brought near.”[11] And this is a promise to “all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

“Oh, but I thought it said in verse 21 that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ And then in verse 39, it says, ‘The promise is for … all whom the Lord our God will call.’ Wait a minute. Who’s doing the calling, here? I mean…” The Lord calls, and the echo comes from our hearts. Because until the Lord speaks into our lives, the gospel’s irrelevant to us. The story of the cross is a nonsense and foolishness.

And “with many other words”—that’s why I said to you I think this is a summary—“with many other words he warned them; and … pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” And “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” So let us learn, then, from Peter’s example, shall we, when we speak, to set things in focus, to state the facts, and to be clear in the way in which we respond by way of follow-up.

Father, I pray that your Word may rest in our hearts. I pray that you will equip us to be ready with an answer for those who ask a reason for the hope we have.[12] We want to be able to tell them what Jesus means to us, but we want also to be able to tell them who Jesus is and what he accomplished, and we want to be able to share with them this wonderful gospel, and then to tell them about the benefits of responding to the gospel and to warn them of the perils that await them should they reject the gospel. Hear our prayers. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.


[1] I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 75.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 1:18.

[3] Attributed to Augustine in Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958), 175.

[4] See 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[5] See Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:39–46.

[6] John 21:3 (paraphrased).

[7] John 21:15 (NIV 1984).

[8] Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone” (2001).

[9] John 16:12–18 (NIV 1984).

[10] Charles Wesley, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (1744).

[11] Ephesians 2:13 (NIV 1984).

[12] See 1 Peter 3:15.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.