This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on October 18, 2009.
Acts 2: 22-36
Like everyone else, Christians have struggled to understand some basic questions. Who are we? What is our purpose? What is our message? Why is that message important? How do we deliver that message, in words and conduct, in ways that are faithful to who we are and the purpose for our being?
In a nutshell, Peter’s sermon at Pentecost answers those basic questions about the Church. We are followers of Jesus Christ. We have important news about Jesus. The world needs to know that news. We are here to deliver that news and call on stake their lives on it. Whether they do so or not will determine their directions and their destinies.
But the Holy Spirit first had to draw attention to the little band of people who were the first followers of Jesus. As I mentioned last Sunday, He did so by miraculously equipping them to speak and understand languages of people from across the Mediterranean region. That miracle gave the followers of Jesus to send their message about his resurrection beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and even beyond Palestine.
The Church is Jesus-Centered. From beginning to end, Peter focused his message at Pentecost on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter and the other believers were not the issue. They were messengers who had been miraculously equipped by the Holy Spirit to tell people from different cultures and communities about Jesus Christ. Once the Holy Spirit gave them the opportunity and ability to do that, Peter talked about Jesus.
You and I, like Peter and the first Christians, must always stay focused on Jesus. Jesus is the reason for our calling. Jesus is the authority we represent. Jesus is central to who we are and what we do. Whenever we shift attention to anything or anyone else, the Church is off base. People do not need to know more about us. They need to know about Jesus. We matter to them for God by helping them know about Jesus.
Being Jesus-centered is our first and constant responsibility as Christians. It is also one of our most urgent challenges. We are constantly tempted to forget that we are messengers, not the message. The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to claim the spotlight for ourselves instead of for Jesus.
But we are announcers, not the main event. We are on stage to introduce people to Jesus Christ, the main event. We are there to introduce Jesus, promote Jesus, direct attention to Jesus. Not ourselves. Not our buildings, budgets, and other things. Our job is to introduce people to Jesus Christ, tell them about Jesus Christ, and show them what believing in Jesus Christ means for our living. When people ask us why we live as we do, act as we do, love as we do, forgive as we do, hope as we do, and keep on doing as we do, whatever we say and do should point them to Jesus Christ. Why? We are his witnesses. We are not the story. He is. We are not God’s answer to life’s challenges. He is. We are not the reason people can and should live in hope, strength, and joy. He is. We are simply His announcers.
Now we can never introduce people we do not know. If we are not introducing people to Jesus, is it because we do not know him? If we claim to be his followers, but do not know him, then we are frauds. If we know Jesus, and claim for ourselves the attention He deserves, we are thieves of the attention He deserves. We are thieves of the gifts and opportunities that the Holy Spirit provides us to introduce people to Jesus. If we claim to be followers of Jesus and are not Jesus-centered, we are either frauds or thieves. We are either false followers or unfaithful followers.
People must see themselves through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When Peter spoke about Jesus at Pentecost, he quickly tied the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the lives and destinies of his audience. Peter first told his audience that God sent Jesus to humanity and how humanity responded to Jesus. Look at Acts 2:23-23: “Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you–the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought—out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him.”
Peter preached that Jesus was God’s messenger to the world, and that what Jesus did, he did by the authority of God. Yet, Jesus was rejected and eventually killed. He came from God. We knew that God was working through Him. But we rejected Jesus. When all was said and done, human religion and power conspired to kill Jesus.
The message that God sent Jesus into the world and that human religion and power rejected Jesus raises a powerful question. What hope is there for us when we have killed God’s best messenger? How can humanity be saved after we reject our Savior? How can God love us when we have been so hateful toward His Son? That is the message every person struggles with in life—the terrible knowledge that somehow, we have rejected God’s best.
Peter’s message did not stop there, and neither must we. It is true that humanity rejected Jesus. It is true that Jesus was rejected by his own ethnic group. Yes, religious leaders conspired with corrupt politicians who executed Jesus. But we must not stop at Calvary. Calvary is important, to be sure. At Calvary, God’s love was rejected. At Calvary, God’s truth was cursed and vilified. At Calvary, human religion and politics was exposed at its worst. Yes, Calvary tells us how humanity rejected God’s great love in Jesus. We cannot introduce Jesus accurately without saying talking about Calvary.
However, we cannot complete the introduction until we mention the resurrection. At Acts 2:24, we read these words from Peter. “But God untied the death ropes and raised him [Jesus] up. Death was no match for him. At verse 32, Peter continued. This Jesus, God raised up. And every one of us here is a witness to it.” Like Peter, we must emphasize to people that God raised Jesus. Human sinfulness and death do not rule supreme over humanity. No. God raised Jesus, and love still lives. God raised Jesus, and hope still lives. God raised Jesus, so God’s love and hope over-rules everything else, including human sinfulness and death.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that life is not futile. Because God raised Jesus, our failures need not determine our fate. Because God raised Jesus, people can know God can raise them from every power that claims death-like influence over them. Because God raised Jesus, people can know new life, new hope, new joy, and new purpose.
The challenge for followers of Jesus is to introduce people to Jesus so they can decide whether to accept that life, live in the strength of that hope, and live with the purpose and power of that joy in the face of every situation and circumstance they will experience. The Holy Spirit equips us to make that introduction. The Holy Spirit will draw attention to us so we can introduce people to Jesus. The question is whether we are using the spotlight that the Holy Spirit shines on us to introduce Jesus, the living Savior.
We are followers of the resurrected Jesus. The resurrected Jesus has sent us to tell people that he is raised from death. The resurrected Jesus has sent His Spirit to equip us to tell people about Jesus. The resurrected Jesus has commissioned us to live in the power of His resurrection, love in the power of His resurrection, hope in the power of His resurrection, and overcome all things in the power of His resurrection.
We have a resurrection gospel to live that points people to Jesus. Let us be faithful and honest witnesses of Jesus Christ, so that people will know Him, and through Him, know the love, truth, peace, joy, and resurrection power of God.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.