A “Great Commission” Composition

I am preaching through the book of Acts right now.  The text of Luke’s account of the early church is stunning — when I am able to read it with fresh eyes.  Jesus ascends.  The Spirit descends.  Timid disciples become empowered ambassadors for Christ and His gospel.  It is an exciting read.

This week my preparation is easier, because I am preaching someone else’s sermon.

“What??  Plagiarist!  Someone notify Colin!”

Just a moment, Internet.  In this case, I am happy to preach another man’s sermon.  Acts Chapter 2 records Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, and it is a preacher’s dream text.  I get to read Peter’s points, and preach them.

Here’s what strikes me:  As I studied Peter’s sermon (and Luke’s commentary on the events surrounding it), I heard echoes from Christ’s commission to his disciples, as recorded by Matthew:

  •  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make    disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you  always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20) 

Peter’s first sermon was a magnificent application of this command to “make disciples.”  Here’s just a few snippets:

“… make disciples”
After the sermon is complete, we see that Peter had larger aims than just “stating his case” or just explaining the signs and wonders announcing the Spirit’s arrival.  Upon hearing his message, his hearers were “cut to the heart” and asked what they must do to be saved.  In 2:38, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized …”  A person becomes a disciple of Christ by first recognizing their fundamental need for the redemption that only Christ can provide.  But then 2:40 tell us, “and with many more words he bore witness and continued to exhort them.”  Peter was not out to get names on a “decision card.”  He was making disciples of Jesus.  So, the only people who were baptized were “those who received his word” (2:41).   The purpose of this article is not to debate infant/credo baptism.  The purpose is just to show that Peter knew his commission was to make “disciples” by “baptizing them” and “teaching them.”

“… of all nations”
I just find it interesting that 2:5 describes the crowd gathering around the disciples at Pentecost as “devout men from every nation under heaven.”  The disciples would soon go to the “ends of the earth” but for now, the ends of the earth had come to Jerusalem.  The text tells us that these were Jews from every nation.  But the gospel would soon go forth to both Jews and Gentiles.  Peter refers to this when He tells his Jewish brothers, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (2:39).

“… in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
It is easy to think that Pentecost was all about the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, the central issue in the early part of Chapter 2 is that Jesus’ promise came true.  The Spirit of God had come to empower the disciples to “be [His] witnesses” (1:8).  But Peter’s sermon is thoroughly trinitarian.  A rundown of the stats:  Peter references God (the Father) in verses 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 32, 33, 36, and 39.  He refers to Jesus (the Son) in verses 22, 23, 31, 32, 36, and 38.  He mentions the Spirit (The Holy Spirit) in verses 17, 18, 33 and 38.

Interestingly, when Peter calls them to be baptized, he seems to use the name of Jesus exclusively: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (2:38).  However, context shows that The Father and The Holy Spirit are nearby in Peter’s teaching.  The “name of Jesus” is prefaced in verse 36 with the truth that God (the Father) had made him “both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  And Peter tells the candidates for baptism that when they are baptized in the name of Jesus, they would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38b).

I’m not saying that his sermon was a treatise on the Trinity.  But when Peter lays out a full presentation of the gospel of Christ, he is Spirit-led to call on the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the commission he received.

So much more
To be sure, there is a lot going on in Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  He draws on prophecy, coming judgment, and predestination as he proclaims the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In Peter’s proclamation, it is beautiful to hear echoes of the Lord’s commission.  This is not the Peter who boasted in his own faithfulness.  This is a newly empowered preacher who shines the light on God, in all of His trinitarian, redemptive glory.

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