Was Peter a trained exegete that delivered sermons in the book of Acts?
In the previous post of this series, “Peter the Pulpit Preacher – Part 1“, I tried to introduce the gist of a well established and contemporary view of preaching. That view equates preaching with what would be better termed, “sermonizing.” In summary, the definition of preaching according to the view in question is that it is distinguished by four major characteristics:
Furthermore, the premise in question is that preaching as demonstrated by Peter in the book of Acts is not extemporaneous, but made ready, and executed according to plan. Moving ahead, the treatment of this topic is not to demean the benefits of prepared, diligent, and carefully studied exposition for God’s people. The treatment shall be to demonstrate something that I feel carries more weight given the context. What Peter does in the account written in Acts has nothing akin to what we call preaching today. Nor is what Peter does adequate for the instruction or teaching of God’s people when they have gathered as an assembly to be edified.
It is my burden to demonstrate that appropriate and adequate preaching is precipitated by obedience to the doctrine of Christ, and thus, a facilitation of powerful gospel proclamation. Expectantly, there will be a contrast drawn between what is often labeled preaching in today’s context and what we can refer to as preaching in a New Testament context. The question then is, was what Peter doing at Pentecost delivery of a previously prepared sermon?
(Acts 1:8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The Apostles heard it once from the Lord to make disciples (Mt 28:19) and to teach them to observe all the things Christ had commanded them (Mt 28:20). But they did not just act on instruction alone. They acted based on the visual account and personal knowledge of Christ’s life, miracles, death, and resurrection.
Now Peter finds himself at the feast of Pentecost in 1st Century Jerusalem. Not many days previous the Christ ascended into the Heavens, leaving the band of disciples on solid ground, marching orders in hand, and a promise that they would be endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Along with his present surroundings Peter has eleven constituents, also granted the same flaming power and ability to proclaim Christ as witnesses. It is speculative, but it appears the others stood to preach long before Peter gathered the gusto to do so himself. But with the Holy Spirit comes courage, and Peter gathered his as he stood among the others proclaiming to the masses the message they were witnesses of.
Hearing the words of Christ still fresh in his mind, Peter rose up (Acts 2:14-15) and began to open his mouth. Seizing the opportunity to emphasize the truth of Gods work in the miracle of the now miraculous speech of a band of Galileans, Peter speaks with Joel 2:28-32 as a reference. With the phrase “the last days” Isaiah endorses the prophetic ministry of Joel and with Peter reminds the hearers of the coming desolation soon to befall those who disobey the warning to come to the Lord with true repentance (Isa 2:2).
Peter was motivated to speak to the validity of the Lord Jesus Christ as being confirmed as the Jewish Messiah. Beckoning to his hearers to call upon the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21) attributes positional equality with the Father (Psa 79:6, Zec 13:9). With this knowledge, Peter would have at least thought in part the end was near and a new order and sacrifice was already here. What did that mean for the modern temple and the system of things currently in place? What would it mean to the hearers who were not yet converted to believe Christ as Messiah!
There are a few certainties unique to Peter’s messages in the account of Acts and they are all very similar, rest on the premise of a previously formed miracle, and reassure the position of Christ as Messiah through his death and placement on the throne of power by the Father. Peter long believed Christ was the Messiah (Matt 16:15-17), it is not far fetched to believe several years of discipleship and witnessing miracles have not confirmed this in Peter’s consciousness.
Peter and the others had just recently been blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit. The proximity of this blessing and the application of the gifts given them leaves me questioning the notion that Peter actually prepared his message ahead of time. Instead I read the events precipitating the messages he delivers in Acts to be spiritually inspired and a stirring of the devotion to God in the life of the disciples. Their dedication and ability to see Christ as the Messiah has given them a lens to view the world through that no others were yet privileged to experience. This enabled Peter and the others to stand firm on a message that was more than just a convincing argument – it was a move of the Spirit to change the hearts of its hearers (Acts 2:37).
It is also noteworthy that the preaching that took place was to those who were not believers. The evidence contained in the messages of Peter as evidence of systematic and rhetorical sermonizing just does not exist. Any reference to these texts as such is forced and contrived, forcing justification for a practice that inevitably monopolizes today’s church services. This then promotes my current contention and dissatisfaction with most assemblies – there is no space for the presence of the gifts of others. If that is so, then it is not a gathering of the church it is a lecture or study session.
So the first characteristic that defines today’s modern preaching – Prepared, is not what occurred at Pentecost. At least, today’s standards of sermon preparation are hardly inherent. Instead, the preparation takes place through the obedience and diligent application of a life that was lived by the side of Christ. This is a life that we can live today as well. This same preparation enables us to proclaim the same evangelistic message that was given by Peter and the other disciples present.
Was the message brought to those hearers on the day of Pentecost a carefully planned message? Did Peter sit down and evaluate what he would say when the time came to preach to the masses gathered for the festival?
Please check back for the next entry exploring the systematic nature of Peter’s preaching in Acts in this series and how Peter shows us how true disciples preach the Gospel in Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Systematic or Consistent? – Part 3
This post is part of a series.
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Intro – Part 1
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Obedience – Part 2
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Systematic or Consistent? – Part 3
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Worth dying for – Part 4a
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Worth dying for – Part 4b
- Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Summary and Conclusion – Part 5