Every Sunday, I preach to my congregation. Sometimes, my sermons are ill-prepared and poorly delivered. Other times—hopefully, more often than not—they are well-prepared, well-delivered, and spiritually effective.
The Apostle Peter preached the first recorded sermon of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). In it, he proclaimed the gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. The English word gospel comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which the Romans transliterated as evangel. Preaching is an evangelical activity. It brings good news to its hearers.
When I read Peter’s sermon, I see four characteristics of a good sermon:
First, it is apologetically sensitive. I don’t mean that a preacher says “I’m sorry” a lot from the pulpit. Apologetics is that branch of theology that provides a defense (Greek, apologia) of the Christian faith. In Acts 2:1-13, we read about the disciples’ spiritual experience on the Day of Pentecost. Some bystanders think the disciples are drunk. But Peter defends them. “These men are not drunk as you suppose” (verse 15). A good sermon is always aware of the alternative explanations people offer for spiritual experience, and it defends the truth.
Second, it is biblically grounded. Peter doesn’t offer a subjective defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience. He doesn’t say, “Well, I just feel like this is God at work.” Instead, he says, “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (verse 16); and “David said” (verses 25, 34). In other words, Peter grounds his defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience in Scripture. Specifically, he quotes Joel 2:28-32 and Psalms 16:8-11 and 110:1. A good sermon always grounds itself in the objectivity of God’s Word rather than in the subjectivity of human experience.
Third, it is Christ-focused. The Bible is a big book. It says many things that are not always easy to square with one another. What readers need is an interpretive key to unlock Scripture’s meaning. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and showed them that he is that key: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). When Peter quotes Joel and the Psalms, he does so because they illuminate Jesus Christ: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (verse 36). A good sermon always keeps the focus on Jesus.
Fourth, a good sermon is decision-oriented. In light of his biblically grounded, Christ-focused defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience, Peter calls on his audience to make a decision: “Repent and be baptized” (verse 38). If Jesus really is the good news of the Bible, then all of us need to respond to him with love and faith. A good sermon requires us to make changes in our lives.
Acts 2:1-47 narrates the paradigmatic revival of the Christian church. It includes an experiential dimension (verses 1-13). But it also includes an evangelical dimension (verses 14-41). Let us always strive, like the early disciples, to ground our spiritual experience upon the evangel of Jesus Christ!